Ever since Kenyatta Jones, Anthony Henry and Bill Gramatica made the nearly unprecedented move of being picked back-to-back-to-back in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, USF players have been trickling into the NFL. While Jones and Gramatica are out of the league, the Bulls will be replaced by some new names by the time the draft concludes Sunday.
A year ago, Kawika Mitchell set the standard when Kansas City selected him in the second round, 47th overall. None of this year’s crop of USF players are likely to have their names called that early, but any would certainly like to match Mitchell’s production. Due to injuries, Mitchell was pressed into duty last season, starting the Chiefs’ final six games and appearing in six others.
Maurice Jones was the man to replace Mitchell in the middle of the USF defense, and he should follow in his footsteps again as the first Bull taken this year. Although he was a three-year starter at USF, Jones is a more unknown quantity to NFL scouts. A dearth of a quality linebacks will drive down the value of the position, but Jones has the versatility to play both inside and out, a valued commodity. He also has the size (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) most of the linebackers in this class lack as well as good speed (4.65 in the 40-yard dash).
Look for Jones to find his match with the Cleveland Browns, led by former University of Miami coach Butch Davis, in the fourth round at pick No. 106. The Scouts Inc. mock draft on ESPN.com has Jones going undrafted, while the Sporting News has him in Baltimore, with the Ravens drafting in the seventh round (No. 246).
Not far behind Jones will be safety J.R. Reed. Like Jones, Reed’s stock is gaining value thanks to his versatility. With a nose for the ball — Reed broke Henry’s school interception record — teams are viewing him as a guy who can play safety or corner. He’ll fit in nicely in nickel and dime packages as a rookie with a chance to start later in his career. Reed’s only knocks, on making him an outstanding corner prospect, are his less than ideal height for a safety (5-foot-10) and a lack of blazing speed (4.5 in the 40).
Scouts Inc. tabbed Reed at No. 174 as the Atlanta Falcons’ sixth-round pick. The Sporting News slots Reed at No. 212, Pittsburgh’s seventh-rounder. I see the Minnesota Vikings grabbing Reed, also in the fourth round, at No. 115.
After that, it will be quite some time before another USF player goes. Much like last year, when receiver DeAndrew Rubin slid into the draft’s final 10 picks, wide receiver Huey Whittaker is an excellent candidate this year to go in the seventh round. His added value of blocking multiple kicks last season probably pushed him into the draft. When the compensatory selections start coming at No. 234, Whittaker should go.
Not figuring in the draft mix but definitely likely to earn an invite to someone’s training camp is running back DeJuan Green. The Georgia transfer rushed for 490 yards and five touchdowns in 2003 to lead the team.