2017 Colorado NFL Draft Preview - Analyzing the Buffs' Pro Prospects

BuffStampede.com's Fan Correspondent takes an in-depth look at Colorado's 2017 NFL hopefuls, and when they might get drafted...

Chidobe Awuzie and head coach Mike MacIntyre will be in attendance when the NFL Draft kicks off in the Philadelphia Museum of Art - yeah, I was surprised, too - this Thursday, April 27th. Awuzie will become the first Colorado Buffalo in program history to hear his name called from the confines of the NFL Draft Green Room, an honor bestowed upon only the most elite prospects in any given year.

He’ll make the most of the moment, because not many believed he’d be a part of it. 'Chido' came to Colorado because of a close relationship with head coach Mike MacIntyre, who had just recently taken over the program and recruited him heavily while the head coach at San Jose State. Truth be told, though, he didn’t have many other options. He only received three total power five offers: Colorado, Utah, and Washington State.

Not long ago, Awuzie was considered to be the only likely NFL Draft pick for this Colorado Buffaloes team. The NFL wants winners, and Colorado hadn’t produced much of that throughout the previous decade.

The date was October 21, 2016, and I decided to look up the NFL Draft projections for a Colorado football team that was sitting just outside the Top 25 at 5-2. Their advanced defensive metrics placed them among the top 10 in the entire country, but draft scouts weren’t paying attention.

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Simply put, the talent on this team was being slept on in a pretty shocking way. A top 10 defense nationally, and only one player was projected to even get a sniff from the NFL? That’s insulting, and it wasn’t just CBS. Not a single NFL Draft pundit’s rankings showed multiple Colorado players ranked high enough to be drafted.

Not one.

Fast forward through five more victories, an appearance in the Pac-12 title game, the Alamo Bowl, and a slew of productive NFL Combine results, here are the current CBS rankings for the Colorado Buffaloes mentioned above.

  • Chidobe Awuzie: 4th ranked CB
  • Jordan Carrell: 31st ranked DT
  • Jimmie Gilbert: 37th ranked OLB
  • Samson Kafovalu: 54th ranked DT
  • Alex Kelley: 21st ranked C
  • Sefo Liufau: 16th ranked QB
  • Kenneth Olugbode: 15th ranked ILB
  • Tedric Thompson: 9th ranked SS
  • Josh Tupou: 26th ranked DT
  • Ahkello Witherspoon: 14th ranked CB

Winning really does cure everything. If the Buffs don’t finish the season ranked 17th in the country, these rankings wouldn’t be in the same stratosphere, and that’s a simple fact. This reality is probably my biggest pet peeve with the draft process overall. Too often scouts show their laziness by propping up players on teams who win. Now, I understand the logic, winning teams have talented players. However, that doesn’t mean every player on that team is talented, and it doesn’t mean you can’t find talent on teams who haven’t found success. The talent on this Buffaloes team didn’t change from October to today, the perception of them did.

Even with the NFL Draft just two days away, there appears to be little consensus on a majority of the Colorado Buffaloes who hope to hear their name at some point this weekend. Will we hear three of their names called? Five? Where does each of these guys land, and in what round? Who is underrated, or even overrated?

Let’s make some predictions...

Chidobe Awuzie

Awuzie is without question the jewel of this year’s class. He will be the first Colorado Buffalo off the board, but how long will he have to wait in the green room to hear his name? CBS pegs Chido as a 1st round selection, he’s ranked 27th overall on their big board as we speak. Bleacher Report’s draft expert Matt Miller agrees…

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Quite a few others have him slated for the 2nd round, including a few that have him ranked in the 50s on their big boards. This draft has been touted as one of the deepest cornerback classes in the history of the league, so what does that mean for Awuzie?

For me, this will likely cause a few CBs to slide down draft boards because teams will line up to fill other needs that don’t have as much depth in the draft. Teams are aware they can draft a starting CB in any of the first four rounds, that’s how good this class is. I expect a fair amount of teams to stay patient at CB, and start hammering them in the second and third rounds.

Chido is certainly among the top tier of CBs available, which in my eyes is a group that stands nine deep. Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Kevin King, Marlon Humphrey, Adoree’ Jackson, Quincy Wilson, Sidney Jones, and Tre’Davious White are the other tier 1 CBs that I expect to be first or second round locks.

Awuzie could certainly be a first round pick, but the odds probably suggest he’s slated to go early 2nd round at the moment. His range is probably somewhere between the 25th pick and the 50th pick, and here’s a few targeted spots I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land:

#33 Browns, #34 49ers, #42 Saints, #43 Eagles, #46 Colts.

Ahkello Witherspoon

Witherspoon is likely to be the 2nd Buff off the board, but he’ll definitely be waiting until Friday to hear his name announced. His range is definitely wider than Awuzie’s, with predictions ranging from late 2nd round to early 5th round. He’s a rangy athlete who impressed at the combine with his length and overall coverage range.

Some teams are going to be turned off by his lack of physicality in the run game, and others have mentioned he benefitted from having Awuzie opposite him. Despite being among the NCAA leaders in passes defended, his ball skills have been in question because he wasn’t able to finish some opportunities for interceptions. Personally, I don’t agree with that assessment, Witherspoon was one of the most impressive cover corners I saw across the country this season. The NFL has definitely fallen in love with taller corners in recent years, so there’s a pretty good chance a few teams have him higher on their board than the general consensus.

Witherspoon has improved more than anyone I’ve watched at Colorado in his time here, and I expect he’ll keep that upward trajectory in the NFL. In a press scheme, he has a chance to be pretty special. He’ll probably end up going higher than casual fans would expect, somewhere between picks 50-80. I’m probably the most comfortable with him being an early 3rd round selection.

Tedric Thompson

The book on Tedric is literally all over the map. The only thing I’m truly confident in saying about his draft stock is that he’s going to be drafted, and it’ll be on Day 3. I’ve seen projections for him in the third round, and I’ve also seen him pegged as one of the last 10 guys selected in the entire draft. People love his range and he’s capable of covering sideline to sideline as a centerfield safety. That range is a product of his football IQ more than his speed, as he measured as a guy who runs mid 4.6s. He made impactful plays on defense all year long, but did drop several catchable interceptions, which has elevated concerns about his finishing ball skills. It is also no secret that he struggled at times in run support and can be seen on film failing to take proper angles.

I loved Thompson as a college player, but sadly I have a feeling he doesn’t translate all that well to the NFL game. He’ll be successful in the right scheme, and should definitely contribute on special teams, but I’m probably the most confident with him being a fringe 5th or 6th rounder in a draft that has a ton of excellent safeties.

Josh Tupou

Tupou is definitely the most underrated prospect amongst the Colorado prospects this cycle in terms of on-field impact. His combine invite was rescinded due to new NFL policies restricting invitations to prospects without prior criminal issues, which really hurt his visibility among scouts. If you put on the tape, you’d probably conclude that Tupou was the MVP of the defense this season. He’s impossible to move off the point of attack, he possesses violent hands and quick feet, and can impact the game in a variety of ways.

He’s had issues off the field, though, and despite those being overstated, that will be a concern for many teams, especially for a late-round prospect. Additionally, he’s had issues maintaining weight when not in-season, both during the season he was suspended, and leading up to his Pro Day in Boulder. That is probably the biggest concern for me, NFL teams want players with discipline that don’t need to be babysat throughout the offseason.

From a talent perspective, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team take a shot on Tupou in the 7th round. If not, he’ll definitely have options in the UDFA market, but he needs to prove to teams he can be a professional. I’ve seen him move up draft boards of late, but I’m taking the “believe it when I see it” approach here.

The Rest

Listen, we all know I love Sefo Liufau. He’s a true warrior and one of my favorite Buffaloes of all time.

He’s not an NFL QB. His accuracy just can’t survive at that level. Teams will love his toughness, they’ll love his leadership, and for those reasons, he’ll get a chance to prove himself in a camp somewhere. He’s not getting drafted though, I feel pretty confident in that prediction.

LBs Kenneth Olugbode and Jimmie Gilbert just simply don’t have NFL size. I especially feel bad for Gilbert, who exploded this year and really would have benefitted from redshirting as a freshman rather than fast-tracking his college career. Teams will have interest in him as a pure pass rusher, but he struggled in college if the OL was able to get hands on him, and that’s going to be an even bigger issue at this level.

Samson Kafovalu is an undersized 3-4 DE with a mean streak and a solid run defending base, but those attributes don’t translate to NFL success. He just simply doesn’t have the burst or quickness to make the NFL. Jordan Carrell has the physical attributes but his film is riddled with missed opportunities behind the line of scrimmage. I expect Carrell to earn a camp invite, and he’s probably the one guy among the likely UDFA candidates that I could see finding his way onto a roster.

Following the continuing theme here, C Alex Kelley just doesn’t have the size or strength to transition to the NFL. He’s a smart player who doesn’t make many mistakes, but he would be physically overmatched against NFL quality nose tackles.

Overall, the 2017 NFL Draft is going to be a fun one for the University of Colorado. They’ll see a player drafted for the first time in three years. There will be multiple Colorado players with their names called for the first time since 2013, and likely three names selected by NFL teams, which hasn’t happened since 2011 when four Buffaloes were selected.

In a perfect scenario, six Colorado players could be selected, but safe money would say we’ll see just three go, with the possibility of four. Here’s to hoping that becomes more of a trend.


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