NFL Draft Preview

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- With the 2010 NFL Draft scheduled to kick off on Thursday evening, Inside Carolina takes a look at four Tar Heels that will potentially have their names called during the seven-round event that concludes on Saturday.

Height: 6'4"
Weight: 330 pounds
Arm Length: 34.59"
Hand Size: 10.5"
2009 stats: 23 tackles, 2.5 TFL, FR, BK
Agent: Hadley Engelhard, Enter-Sports Management

Projection: 2nd round
Mock Draft: 40th overall pick by the San Diego Chargers (FoxSports, ESPN)

The headliner of North Carolina's 2010 NFL Draft class will likely be Cam Thomas, a monster of a man who might scare you if not for the large smile and contagious laugh that accompanies him wherever he goes.

He is the epitome of a nose tackle – an immovable object in the middle of the defensive line that allows his teammates to work around him. Add in a strong dose of athleticism – as evidenced by his 798 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as a high school senior – and it's apparent why Thomas will likely be drafted before Saturday ever arrives.

"I've been working out ever since our bowl game," Thomas told Inside Carolina on Tuesday. "It's been a long process. It was the bowl game, then working out, then the Senior Bowl and working out some more, then the NFL combine and working out some more, and then our pro day and I'm still working out. So it's been long, but it's been good. I'm just ready for it to be over with."

Former Tar Heel first-round picks Hakeem Nicks (WR, New York Giants) and Kentwan Balmer (DT, San Francisco) have helped prepare Thomas for the every-man-for-himself mentality that he will encounter once he enters a NFL locker room.

But the effervescent tackle is not too concerned with his final destination.

"My agent has told me that a lot of 3-4 teams have contacted him about me, but he doesn't want me to worry about it," Thomas said. "He doesn't want where I might go to get into my head, just for me to keep doing what I'm doing… You don't want to get caught up in the things you can't control."

Thomas's overabundance of enthusiasm has turned out to be a head-turner for NFL scouts over the past several months.

"At Carolina, that's what our defense did – we whooped and we hollered, running around and laughing, having fun on the field," Thomas said. "I took that energy from Carolina and took it to the Senior Bowl, then I took it to the combine and then did the same thing at pro day. You've got to have fun, because life is short and you don't know when you're last play might be."

Height: 6'1.25"
Weight: 321 pounds
Arm Length: 32.2"
Hand Size: 9.39"
2009 stats: 15 tackles, 4.5 TFL, FF
Agent: Chad Speck, A3 Athletics

Projection: 3rd-5th rounds

If you're looking for proof of the talent Butch Davis has stockpiled along his defensive front, Al Mullins is a good place to start. Despite not starting a game during the '09 season, the 24-year-old rotated with Thomas at nose tackle enough to warrant giving up his final season of eligibility and putting his name in this weekend's draft.

"It's been a good experience," Mullins told Inside Carolina on Tuesday. "Just having this chance to go to the next level is great. The process is long, you work hard and you train, and eventually you get to the point where I'm at now, just excited to find out where you're going to be going."

Mullins' current weight of 321 pounds represents the most he's ever placed on the scale, but it's a comfortable weight for him and one that's necessary for the brutality of the NFL's interior line play. He pairs his size with a quick first step and plenty of speed to pursue quarterbacks and running backs behind the line of scrimmage, but inconsistency in maintaining his leverage has been one negative that has moved him down the draft boards.

The Wendell, N.C. native has utilized his coaching staff's ties to the professional ranks, meeting with Davis on numerous occasions to address any potential concerns, while also talking to former teammates that are currently playing for pay.

"It's very beneficial because you've got guys in the league now that can give advice about different things, like how the league is going to be in your first year," Mullins said.

Height: 6'2.5"
Weight: 286 pounds
Arm Length: 32.59"
Hand Size: 10.0"
2009 stats: 49 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 5 FF, 2 FR
Agent: Unknown

Projection: Late rounds or free agency

The talk surrounding E.J. Wilson heading into Thursday's draft has been where he might eventually play in the NFL. North Carolina fans have known the Lawrenceville, Va. native as their starting defensive end for the past three years, which is where most of the 4-3 scheme teams anticipate him playing at the next level.

But Wilson stepped on the Chapel Hill campus as a true freshman weighing 225 pounds after earning all-state honors in high school at wide receiver and all-region honors at defensive back. The possibility of dropping some weight and increasing his speed has intrigued a handful of 3-4 teams, which project him as a linebacker.

"Anything is a good fit for me," Wilson told the Winston-Salem Journal on Wednesday. "I'm the type of person that can adjust. When I came to UNC, I had never played defensive end in my life, and I ended up starting three years."

Wilson is a solid prospect when it comes to defending the run, but scouts' concern with his athleticism and foot speed – key aspects in pass rushing – may ultimately result in a free agency signing following the draft's completion.

Height: 6'6"
Weight: 311 pounds
Arm Length: 33.4"
Hand Size: 10.3"
2009 accolades: All-ACC honorable mention
Agent: Don Henderson

Projection: Late rounds or free agency
Mock Draft: 210th overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (FoxSports)

Several analysts have labeled Kyle Jolly as a tactician at offensive tackle as opposed to a mauler, but don't let that terminology lead you to believe that toughness isn't one of the Powhatan, Va. native's strong suits. He started 38 straight games at left tackle for North Carolina, including seven contests after the training staff determined that he had a stress fracture in his left foot following a loss at Virginia Tech in September '07.

"I'm very consistent in my play," Jolly told Inside Carolina on Wednesday. "I'm reliable because I played so many games in a row, whether I was hurt or not. I'm a tough player. Offensive line coaches like tough, gritty players, because the nature of the position is that you're going to have bumps and bruises and you're going to have to play."

Combine that toughness with ample intelligence and awareness, as well as a big frame, and it's understandable while Jolly will be watching the draft this weekend to see if his name will be called. Athleticism and foot speed are legitimate concerns, especially with the athletic specimens that are rampant at defensive end in the NFL.

"I've heard in the 5-to-7 rounds or maybe free agency, but you never really know," Jolly said of his potential draft position. "These teams play it so close to their chests. They could be telling you one thing and something else happens. They could talk to you after a pro day and another team sees it, so they think the other team is interested in you when they're really not. It's just a big business world out there."

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