2005 VT NFL Draft Preview

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While most of the attention has been focused on
VT’s spring practice and the emergence of new names on the Hokie depth chart,
this Saturday is a graduation of sorts for a number of the seniors that led VT
to the ACC Championship and a Sugar Bowl berth last year. ESPN’s Punxsutawney
Phil, Mel Kiper Jr. (note the strikingly similar straight hair), will once again
emerge from radio and become the center of attention for draftniks everywhere.
He’ll tell us all about “can’t miss” prospects that eventually will, and
“limited” players on the second day of the draft who will make numerous Pro
Bowl and Super Bowl appearances. Despite knowing all that, it will still be a
great weekend for the hardcore NFL fan.

Unlike last year, the Hokies are not top heavy
with potential first day selections in 2005. Most of VT’s top notch talent is
in its younger classes, particularly the rising redshirt sophomore class.
However, a number of Hokies will hear their names called this weekend, and
plenty more should garner free agent contracts and get a chance to prove
themselves at training camp. What follows is an evaluation, based on information
from numerous sources, of the strengths and the weaknesses of VT’s senior
class. I’ll also provide a guess as to where they will get drafted, if
applicable.

First Day Possibilities (first three rounds)

The
only guaranteed first day selection for the Hokies this year is cornerback Eric
Green
. Corners have become increasingly valuable in the NFL with the
proliferation of four wideout attacks, and Green brings a lot to the table.
Green has solid, but not great, size at 5”11” and 198 lbs. He has good
technique on double moves and does a nice job in press coverage. Green also has
good hip movement which allows him to get in and out of breaks quickly. He is
not a Deion type corner, but instead is willing to come up and force the action
in run support.

When the Hokies played nickel coverage Green also
got experience covering in the slot. That experience is important as he might
project as a nickel corner (depending on the team that drafts him) in his rookie
year. Teams want to get something out of a top draft choice immediately, and
Green doesn’t return kicks like several of the other corners in the draft.

On the negative side of the ledger, Green
occasionally gets caught peering into the backfield too long, and that tendency
gets him beaten on big plays. Green also did not time particularly well in his
40, although I think most scouts would agree that he plays faster than the mid
4.5 he ran.

This is a solid draft for corners. The prevailing
opinion of many insiders is that as many as five corners could find their way
into round one: Miami’s Antrel Rolle, West Virginia’s Adam “Pac Man”
Jones, Auburn’s Carlos Rogers, Nebraska’s Fabian Washington and Clemson’s
Justin Miller. Green falls into the middle of the next tier of prospects which
includes Michigan’s Marlin Jackson (although I think he projects as a safety),
LSU’s Corey Webster, FSU’s Bryant McFadden, Stanford’s Stanley Wilson and
Howard’s Ronald Bartell.

My expectation is that Green will be selected in
the middle to latter portions of round two although he could slip into round
three if a few veteran corners such as Philip Buchanan and Patrick Surtain are
dealt on draft day (note: Buchanan was just dealt to the Texans). Teams shopping
for a corner on the first day of the draft – without regard for draft position
because that can change with on the clock deals – include the Titans, the
Redskins, the Panthers, the Chiefs, the Saints, the Bengals, the Jaguars, the
Broncos, the Jets and the Patriots.

Jim Davis
could also be a first day selection. Edge pass rushers are a prized commodity in
the NFL, perhaps second in importance only to quarterbacks. This is a defensive
end class with some talent at the top, but overall the depth is not as
impressive.

Davis
has good anticipation and a solid burst off the line. His hand play is above
average, and he shows the ability to penetrate and disrupt plays. Davis also
benefits from his versatility. By playing some at defensive tackles last fall,
Davis likely enhanced his stock with 3-4 teams looking for a weakside end. Don’t
underestimate that, as there may be as many as eleven teams next fall in the NFL
using the 3-4 regularly (or, stated differently, roughly a third of his
potential employers).

Davis measured at nearly 6’4”, 277 lbs., and
his size is a plus. He weighs as much or more than all but one of the potential
nine first round defensive ends or 3-4 pass rushing outside linebackers (only
LSU’s Marcus Spears is bigger, and he projects as a strongside 3-4 DE).

As for some areas that scouts have questioned,
Davis does not have a great outside burst. He also lacks that one great,
defining trait that NFL scouts look for in a prospect. His run defense is solid
as a 4-3 end, but there will still be some questions as to whether he is stout
enough to be an every down player as a 3-4 end.

In many evaluations Davis is rated among the top
ten draft eligible players at defensive end, and he is in almost everyone’s
top fifteen ends available. He probably will appeal more to a 4-3 team, while
someone like UVa’s Chris Canty would fit in better with a 3-4. My best guess
is that Davis comes off the board sometime in the late third or early fourth
round area.

Second Day Draftees

Vincent Fuller
heads up Virginia Tech’s second day prospects. Fuller has played both corner
and free safety for the Hokies, which attests to his coverage skills. Again,
much like Green, his experience in covering slot receivers makes him more
valuable to potential NFL suitors. Based on what I’ve heard, the majority of
the NFL teams like Fuller better as a safety than as a corner.

Fuller
has good free safety speed and anticipates the ball well in the area. He is an
instinctive cover man who is intelligent and pays attention to detail (i.e., the
film room). He would seem to be a good fit for teams that like to play a two
deep zone because of his ability to break on the ball in the air.

The primary concern with Fuller is his slight
build. At only 6’1”, 189 lbs., he is undersized for run support. Some
coaches will be concerned over having him as the last line of defense for a
Ronnie Brown or Cedric Benson type back.

Fuller is one of the top six or seven free
safeties available, in my opinion, but his draft value may not be commensurate
with his ranking. Typically safeties slide in the draft because it is a position
where second day picks have proven capable of contributing early, so many teams
don’t feel any immediacy in filling the position on day one of the draft.

Also, certain teams may prefer physical, run
stuffing free safeties. Those teams likely would prefer Iowa’s Sean Considine,
Ohio State’s Dustin Fox or Georgia Tech’s James Butler rather than Fuller.
For teams looking for a pure cover guy, however, Fuller would be very tempting.

My guess is that Fuller goes sometime in rounds
four or five. Teams that might be interested in selecting a safety include the
Cowboys, the Saints, the Packers, the Colts and the Falcons.

The last Hokie that is a solid bet to get drafted
is 6’7”, 328 lb. Jon Dunn. Dunn is a massive right tackle prospect
that does a nice job in the running game. Dunn excels at “position”
blocking, using his massive lower body to drive defenders and create running
lanes. He also has long arms, which help in pass protection.

Some criticisms of Dunn are that he does not have
good knee or waist bend, thereby weakening his base. That leads to him being off
balance more than you would expect for a player of his size. Dunn does not
project at all as a left tackle, as he struggles with speed rushers.

Overall the crop of offensive tackles this year
is very weak. Even the three first round candidates (FSU’s Alex Barron,
Oklahoma’s Jammal Brown and Washington’s Khalif Barnes) have question marks.
They might not be a first round pick if they were coming out in next year’s
banner offensive tackle class.

Dunn is a top 15 offensive tackle on most boards,
and I expect him to be selected in the fifth round area. It’s very difficult
to try to project certain teams that might be interested, but it is safe to say
that by the end of round five I would expect roughly half of the teams to have
selected an offensive tackle. It is a position of chronic need for NFL teams, as
the demand annually exceeds the supply.

Second Day Possibilities

There are several other Hokies who have a chance
to be drafted on the second day, but they are not consensus draft choices. They
are “eye of the beholder” picks – certain teams that like them certainly
will consider them strongly based on what transpires during the draft and what
veteran street free agents are available.



Leading this group is the ACC’s Offensive
Player of the Year, quarterback Bryan Randall. Randall’s strengths are
obvious to any VT fan. He is an outstanding leader, an intelligent player, and
he has good arm strength. Randall did not time particularly well (high 4.6s),
but he plays faster than that on the field. He’s a good all around athlete
that might be able to play some special teams if necessary. Finally, his
character helps make him attractive as a developmental prospect at quarterback.
There are literally hundreds of candidates to fill the 32 “young QB” slots
around the NFL. Teams will not give that chance to a player that is a discipline
problem or that gets in trouble off the field. That won’t be a concern for
Randall.

Randall’s accuracy, particularly on the deep
ball, is a concern. He also has less than ideal height (between 6’0” and 6’1”)
for a drop back quarterback. His decision making under pressure is something
that will need to be improved, as he tends to lose his mechanics when rushed
(although that criticism can be fairly made of a lot of QBs).

I do believe Randall will have a legitimate
chance of making an NFL roster, but if I had to guess I would say that he will
not be drafted. With that being said, I think that could be a significant
advantage for him. As a free agent, he and his agent could select the best
possible situation for him. I see him as a good fit for a west coast offense
that allows him to get outside the pocket and make plays on the run.

Although I don’t think either will be drafted,
I expect two VT specialists to garner NFL attention. Punter Vinnie Burns
(5’10”, 203) shows flashes of NFL potential as he gets solid hang time on
his punts and makes some excellent angle kicks. However, his inconsistency and
his relatively low average will need to be solved for him to make a 53 man
roster.

Many fans will forget about him, but Travis
Conway
(6’3”, 260) has a solid chance of making an NFL team as a long
snapper. He has great velocity on his snaps and has also been very accurate. He
will need to prove he can snap well for both field goals and punters, but if he
has a good camp he could make a roster. Long snapping is a specialized skill,
and it is highly valued by veteran NFL coaches. Also remember that the other
school that offered Conway coming out of high school was Michigan State, and a
fair number of those coaches (Nick Saban and staff) are now in the NFL.

Free Agent Contracts

There are several other Hokies who will be
evaluated by the NFL and considered for training camp spots. James Miller,
a 6’6”, 298 lb. offensive guard prospect, should get a training camp
contract. He has a nice frame and improved over the course of his college
career. He is not a mauler on the inside, nor is he Elton Brown pulling around
the corner, but he is a competitive kid who should garner some interest.

Kevin Lewis
(6’1”, 288) is a battler who did a solid job against the run game in
college. Several knee injuries have robbed him of some mobility, and he doesn’t
have the gap explosion NFL teams look for from a defensive tackle. He’s also
older than a lot of the draft eligible players, so NFL teams may think that he
has peaked. However, his toughness and the lack of defensive tackle depth in
this class could lead to a free agent deal.

Jared Mazzetta
(6’4”, 265), James Griffin (6’0”, 192) and Brandon Manning
(6’0”, 222) will all have to endear themselves to a special teams coach in
order to make an impression on the NFL folks. In my opinion Mazzetta stands the
best chance of getting a free agent deal because he has prototype size and good
hands. He also has significant special teams experience. Griffin needs to be
more consistent in everything he does, although he does have talent, and Manning
tests well but those numbers don’t always translate to field athleticism.
Manning was a special teams star, and the way he handled himself after going
from a starter to a role player should help his standing with NFL teams.

Other seniors like Mikal Baaqee (5’10”,
224), Jason Lallis (6’0”, 264), Mike Daniels (6’0”, 194)
and Richard Johnson (5’10”, 194) will be hoping for a free agent
call, but they lack the measurables – either height, weight or speed – and
that will be difficult for them to overcome if they try to move to the NFL.

Finally, I’d like to thank all of
this year’s seniors for their dedication and hard work. This article focuses
on their NFL prospects, and certainly the Hokie Nation would love to see all of
them succeed there, but I wish them well regardless of their future endeavors.

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