The 2012 NFL Draft is sure to turn several Arizona Wildcats into professional football players this weekend and while none proved to be first round material, each has the potential to become an impact player at the next level. UA may have suffered a relatively disappointing 2011 campaign, but it will be will represented this weekend as at least three former Wildcats expect to hear their name called at some point over the weekend.
Nick Foles could be the first to hear his name called, but that's not a guarantee. Foles' stock has been a virtual rollercoaster since the end of the 2010 season and he has taken the ups and downs in stride. Foles could be selected early as the second round and as late as the sixth; the draft is that unpredictable.
How Foles does as a pro is dependent on the situation he enters. If he goes somewhere like San Francisco – where he can sit an learn under one of the better head coaches at any level in Jim Harbaugh – Foles could develop into a successful starting quarterback in the NFL. He possesses all of the necessary tools to succeed in the NFL, but he needs proper guidance to realize his potential.
If Foles ends up in a place like Miami or Cleveland, the story may turn out a bit differently. If Foles goes to a franchise in rebuilding mode that doesn't contain the proper assets for him to succeed, he could end up being a career backup. Not that he can't work his way into being a successful quarterback with a poor franchise, but it would be better to go somewhere that has a coach with a history of developing successful quarterbacks or to play behind an elite gunslinger and learn.
Foles' favorite target in college, Juron Criner, could also end up being the first Wildcat called on draft day. Criner was a potential candidate to leave school early with the type of season he had as a sophomore, but he decided to stick it out all four years and will likely hear his name called somewhere between rounds two and four.
Criner's injury concerns that surfaced over the past couple of seasons is what hurt his stock more than anything. Combine that with a mediocre 40-yard dash time and it isn't a surprise to see Criner fall into the middle of the pack when it comes to draft stock.
This draft is loaded at wide receiver as well, so Criner may be flying a bit under the radar. He has all the makings of the type of player whose stock plummets before the draft, but ultimately produces at a high level once he gets a proper opportunity as a pro.
Criner was big-time playmaker in college and has the type of physical style that will help him thrive at the next level. If Criner goes to a team that knows how to utilize his strengths, then he could turn out to be one of the steals of the draft. His hands, size, strength and length are going to make him a tough target to defend, even at the NFL level.
It was an up-and-down four years for cornerback Trevin Wade, but for the most part, he was one of the bigger recruiting surprises of the Mike Stoops era. Wade has a knack for being in the right place and has shown that he has the physical makings of a solid cover corner or nickel at the next level.
Mock drafts have Wade all over the place. Some have placed him as high as a third round pick while others leave him off of their draft board altogether. In all likelihood, Wade will be selected on Saturday and will fight for a roster spot in training camp. Expect Wade to be a backup and special teamer early in his career with the potential to climb his way up whatever depth chart he's on in the coming years.
Three other former Wildcats to keep an eye on this weekend are linebacker Paul Vassallo, wide receiver David Douglas and defensive back Robert Golden. Douglas could see his name called in the late rounds and has drawn significant interest from the Detroit Lions. Douglas is a fundamentally sound player with great hands. He runs routes extremely well and is a reliable red zone target.
If Douglas doesn't get selected, he will get signed as a free agent. If he goes somewhere with a quarterback who possesses an accurate throwing arm, it wouldn't be surprising to see Douglas develop into a productive professional receiver.
Vassallo hasn't blown anyone away with his athleticism, but he produced big numbers in the Pac-12 and was one of the conference's leading tacklers as a junior. His nose for the ball-carrier is keen and he hardly misses a tackle. His fundamentals and production in college could earn him a spot on someone's roster in the NFL.
Golden is attractive to NFL scouts because of his physical nature and ability to play multiple positions in the secondary. Chances of him getting drafted are slim, but they still exist and Golden – at the very least – will be signed to someone's training camp roster if he isn't selected.
Arizona will be well represented with this class. There aren't any elite-level draft prospects, but there are more than enough to make this draft class respectable for UA.
Numerous Wildcats set to be drafted
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