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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Analysts give early NFL draft fortunes for Wildcats

    UA senior wide receiver Syndric Steptoe turns up field in a 24-20 win over California on Nov. 11 at Arizona Stadium. Steptoe, who led the team in receptions, is projected to go on the second day of the NFL draft.
    UA senior wide receiver Syndric Steptoe turns up field in a 24-20 win over California on Nov. 11 at Arizona Stadium. Steptoe, who led the team in receptions, is projected to go on the second day of the NFL draft.

    As the Arizona football team’s list of prospects for April’s NFL Draft solidifies, experts are weighing in on where each athlete may be selected.

    If junior running back Chris Henry does not choose to return next season, he joins a group of Wildcats whose spots on the draft board figure to vary greatly depending on workouts before scouts and other league personnel.

    Junior cornerback Antoine Cason and junior defensive end Louis Holmes both were widely predicted to be drafted high but have opted to come back next season to improve their draft stock.

    First day – rounds one through three

    Of the Wildcats’ current entrees, safety Michael Johnson should be selected earliest, despite being sidelined with thigh injuries for a good chunk of this season.

    Safeties like Johnson who have good size (6-foot-2-inches, 205 pounds) and can defend the run and the pass tend to rate highly on teams’ draft boards, said Rob Rang, senior analyst for nfldraftscout.com.

    A recent example is the Buffalo Bills’ Donte Whitner, who many analysts predicted would go in the second round yet ended up the No. 8 overall pick because his skills fit the team’s desperate need for secondary help. He started 15 games for the Bills this season.

    “”With Johnson, I like his ability as a pass defender, and at times, he’s a big, physical run defender,”” Rang said. “”I think his potential could make him the highest-drafted Arizona player of the bunch.””

    Johnson and wide receiver Syndric Steptoe have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 21-27 in Indianapolis. There, representatives from the league’s 32 teams can witness their skills firsthand.

    Johnson will also play Saturday in the ESPN2-televised East-West Shrine Game at 5 p.m.

    “”With good workouts, he could go as high as the second round,”” said Robert Davis, a draft analyst with footballsfuture.com.

    Second day – rounds four through seven

    The majority of Arizona’s draft candidates face a nerve-racking waiting period.

    As the draft progresses into its latter half, teams start to pick players more by how their skills fit a given system than their name value.

    If an athlete possesses something that catches the eye of a scout or general manager, he can go early in the day. Or, if not, he may not be picked at all.

    Davis said he thinks Steptoe will be picked sometime on the second day, but his lack of height (5-foot-9) means a team will most likely choose him for his skills returning kicks.

    “”His special-teams ability, he can do a lot with that,”” Davis said. “”That’s where he’s going to make his money.””

    Steptoe caught one pass for 18 yards as his Kai team fell 18-10 to the Aina team in the Hula Bowl Sunday.

    Steptoe missed an opportunity to wow scouts during a nationally televised contest and will have to run well to cement a selection, said Kyle Trembley, a draft analyst with draftclass.com.

    Because Steptoe is short for a wide receiver, he sits in a group of a dozen or more athletes with similar drawbacks who are on the fringe of bring drafted, Trembley said, adding that Steptoe would benefit from having a 40-yard-dash time of under 4.4 seconds.

    “”Those guys can usually go into the fourth or fifth round, but only if he’s the best of them,”” Trembley said.

    Henry has not been invited to the Combine as of Monday. The list of invited prospects will be released sometime during the final week of January, said Jesse Wallace, a spokesman with National Football Scouting, Inc., which organizes and runs the Combine.

    Analysts and mock drafts agree Henry could be selected anywhere from the third to seventh rounds, pending his performance at the Combine.

    But even if Henry fails to attend, he could still bolster his stock by participating in workouts before NFL teams on a college campus, Trembley said.

    Corey Edmond, an Arizona strength and conditioning coach, is in charge of organizing the Wildcats’ pro day this year, said a secretary in the football office whowished to remain anonymous. She said Edmond plans to hold the event within the next couple of weeks.

    The secretary did not say where the event might take place on campus or which Arizona athletes will participate, referring further questions to Edmond. He did not return phone calls yesterday afternoon.

    “”One way or another, scouts are going to see this guy work out,”” Trembley said of Henry. “”He’ll have his opportunity to shine.””

    Henry amassed only 859 rushing yards during parts of three seasons, averaging 3.4 yards per carry. His athleticism and potential for an impressive workout appear more enticing to scouts than his unflattering statistics.

    Rob said he thinks Henry will be chosen in the late rounds because he is weak in important areas like vision, a trait crucial to success coming out of the backfield.

    “”I think he’s a better athlete than a football player than a running back at this point. He looks like a linebacker,”” Rang said. “”You see the game against Oregon (Nov. 18, 212 total yards), he can be all over the field. But there’s a reason why he wasn’t able to be a consistent contributor.””

    After the draft – the free-agent route

    Although kicker Nick Folk has an NFL-caliber leg, he is likely to become a priority free agent after the draft because few kickers are usually taken, Davis said.

    Folk, who has not been invited to the Combine, will participate in the Jan. 27 Senior Bowl on the NFL Network at 1 p.m.

    Trembley said Folk’s presence should give him an advantage over kickers who will not attend. Professional scouts scour the practices leading up to the game, and each team is traditionally headed by an NFL coach.

    Folk could benefit from the exposure Çÿ la San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, Trembley said. Rivers was a likely second-round selection in 2004 but ended up the No. 4 overall pick after his Senior Bowl coach, Marty Schottenheimer, became enamored of him.

    If Folk doesn’t impress and fails to make a league roster this offseason, he should still have a chance to make an impact in the NFL. When the Dallas Cowboys dumped starter Mike Vanderjagt in November and brought in free agent Martin Gramatica, they could just as easily have gone with a talented undrafted rookie, Trembley said.

    “”That’s how most kickers latch on,”” Trembley said. “”If you look at a lot of the guys in the NFL who are successful right now, a lot of them were free agents.””

    Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said he anticipates the Wildcats’ other fringe draft picks, like defensive end Marcus Smith, getting into the league somehow in the coming months, whether through the draft or free agency.

    Punter Danny Baugher, safety Darrell Brooks and defensive end Copeland Bryan each signed with teams as undrafted free agents last spring. Baugher and Bryan are now practice-squad players with the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears, respectively.

    However the picks end up, Stoops should improve on the number of Arizona players selected last year, when only offensive guard Kili Lefotu (Washington Redskins, seventh round) was taken.

    “”To me, you have a more well-rounded group,”” Rang said.

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