2004 NFL Draft: Hurricane Flood

It's become an annual occurrence. National Football League coaching staffs and executives flock to Coral Gables every year to get an up close view of the latest talent coming out of the University of Miami. And the majority of them leave town wishing they could snatch a player or two.

"I've been down there every year since 1986 and I'll tell you they always have somebody you really want," says an NFC East scout who visited the school last month. "My only wish is that we could take all these guys."

That won't happen. But there are plenty of former UM players who will figure prominently in the 2004 NFL draft, starting today in New York. The Hurricanes could have as many as six players selected in the first round of this year's draft. That would break the school-record of five, established in 2002.

"That should tell you something right there," said Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green. "Three of the five first-rounders they had in 2002 were starters in the league and to think this class could be better is just amazing."

Fresh off their fifth National Championship the Hurricanes had five players taken in the first round of the 2002 draft, highlighted by seventh overall pick Bryant McKinnie, currently with the Minnesota Vikings. Today NFL teams will be scrambling for safety Sean Taylor, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebackers D.J. Williams, Jonathan Vilma and offensive lineman Vernon Carey.

Of the players Carey might be the only one left out of the first round.

"I don't care who takes me," said Taylor, who led the nation with 10 interceptions last season, while adding 77 tackles for the Hurricanes. "I'm ready to go to work and make a difference on a football team, no matter who it is."

Taylor, an outstanding athlete and punishing tackler, has drawn rave reviews in part because of his versatility. The 6-3, 220-pounder played free safety at Miami, but could play on the strong side in the NFL. Taylor's speed allows him to play from sideline to sideline although he also defends the pass very well. He could go anywhere from No. 4 (N.Y. Giants) to No. 6 (Detroit Lions).

Winslow no doubt has the skills to be one of the best ever. The combination of speed, size and blocking ability make Winslow a likely top-five draft pick. Winslow has impressed many around the league with the speed he's shown after making a catch. However, Winslow has developed a bad rap for his perceived arrogance throughout the draft process.

The 6-2, 334-pound Wilfork is clearly a big presence who occupies a lot of space on the defensive line. Like Taylor, Wilfork is getting a positive outlook for his ability to play the run and pass. His size enables Wilfork to work through double-teams and has a quick first step. Both should come in handy in the run and pass.

"If this kid can stay in shape he's going to be a special player," said the NFC East scout. "For a guy his size Vince has excellent instincts and moves very well."

Williams might not have the instinctive skills of some of his former teammates. But he certainly fills the bill in other areas. The 6-1, 245-pounder has exceptional speed, athletic ability and range. Thank to his speed Williams makes closing in on the ball carrier look easier than what it is. Williams could be ready to start right away.

Vilma, 6-0, 228, is already being questioned for his lack of size. But it's not anything he hasn't heard before. What Vilma does have is a knack for the ball and ability to sniff out a play before it even develops.

Among other former Canes that could be drafted: Carlos Joseph, Jarrell Weaver, Maurice Sikes, Alphonso Marshall and Jarrett Payton.

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