Panthers could be popular at the NFL Draft

With all of the functions going on trying to impress recruits from around the country, one thing I have not seen mentioned often is how big a recruiting tool the NFL draft is. When colleges are recruiting the high profile super blue chippers, the ability to place players in the NFL is a big deal to them. The University of Pittsburgh has had its share of players in the league, but not with the same regularity of most of its competitors in recruiting circles.

Pittsburgh has not had a player selected in the first round of the NFL players draft since the Buffalo Bills selected OG Ruben Brown with the 14th pick in 1995. For most of the upper echelon teams it's not a question of if they will have a first round pick, it's how many first round picks will they have? Outside of the first round, Pittsburgh has not been successful at having any players drafted at all. The program has not had more than 3 players selected in a single draft since 1992. Sean Gilbert, Steve Israel, Jeff Christy, Keith Hamilton, Ricardo McDonald, and Dave Moore were all taken in the first seven rounds of the draft that year. Most of those players enjoyed very productive careers in the league.

This year however, could signal a change for the Panthers. As many as 6-8 former Panthers could have their name called by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue or Gene Washington. After reading several publications, and reading all the experts' opinions, I have decided to give my own opinion of how I think the Panthers will fare on April 24th and 25th.

WR Larry Fitzgerald 6'3", 221, 4.5 - Larry was the 2004 Biletnikoff Award winner. If there is a more complete receiver in the draft, I'd like to see it. Larry caught 96 passes for 1,672 yards and 22 TD's during his sophomore season. He possesses great hands and has a knack for going up in the air with defenders draped on him and coming down with the ball. He has good size and strength, which is a necessity at the next level, when trying to free him from coverage. Runs precise routes. His character and maturity set him above everyone else. He will break the jinx on first rounders from Pittsburgh. He should be selected in the Top 3 picks of the Draft, depending on trades. Projection: Round 1

QB Rod Rutherford 6'3", 225, 4.7 - Rutherford is unique. Due to his size and athleticism he could end up at another position at the next level. Most of the credit for Rod's statistics are given to Fitzgerald, but he is still a very capable signal caller. Rod threw for 3,679 yards, 37 TD's and 14 INT's, while completing 60% of his passes. While he won't be confused with Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, or Philip Rivers anytime soon, someone will take a chance on him. I see Rod having success with a West Coast style team such as Oakland. He has a penchant for moving around in the pocket too much, but with a quality offensive line that may cease. He has a strong arm and is mobile, very raw still as a QB. With a team that has the time and the coaching to tutor him, he could surprise. Projection: Round 6

RB Brandon Miree 6'0", 230 4.6 - If not for injuries during his senior season, Miree may have been a Heisman candidate. Miree is the type of big bruising back which several teams desire; he has good vision, adequate hands, and is an above average blocker. A big knock on Miree is his fumbling, but what running back that handles the ball don't you hear that about? Could be a Kevan Barlow type back in the NFL if given the chance. Projection: Round 5

FB Lousaka Polite 6'0", 245 4.6 - Depending upon what site or publication you look at Lousaka is ranked as one of the Top 3 at his position. He is rated by most as the best blocking fullback available. At the combine Lousaka was the fastest fullback and one of the strongest, although he may have not shown enough overall athletic ability to be considered a RB in the pros. Had the ability to be a featured back in college. A tremendous receiver out of the backfield, with running back abilities to elude after catching the ball. Polite was a true warrior at Pitt; he has the respect of any fan who ever watched him play the game. Projection: Round 4

TE Kris Wilson 6'2", 248, 4.6 - Came to Pittsburgh as an undersized linebacker and will leave as an NFL tight end. Kris is a bit short as far as the standard size for a TE but his speed, soft hands, and athleticism should cancel that out. Even though he is undersized he is still a tough and effective blocker at the point of attack. Wilson would best fit a team as an H-Back to take advantage of his strengths. Impressed at the NFL Combine, the quickest tight end there. Projection: Round 4

DE Claude Harriott 6'4", 255 4.7 - To say Claude under-produced his senior season would be a grave understatement. During his junior season he was one of the most feared DE's in the country. He is athletic and has that long and lean physique that a lot of teams like for an outside rush end. If he gets back to basics and is healthy and focused he could be a player in the league. Projection: Round 4

OLB Lewis Moore 6'1, 234 4.6 - Moore was moved to the middle last season to replace Gerald Hayes, and he was not as effective as he was as an OLB. Moore is athletic and a very hard worker who is dedicated to his craft, has very good lateral speed, and good hands. Someone will give him a shot; he may have to make his mark on special teams. Projection: Round 6

CB Shawntae Spencer 6'2", 180 4.4 - When you talk about players' private workouts helping raise their stock, none helped themselves more than Spencer. He wasn't even invited to the NFL Combine, yet he has positioned himself to possibly be selected at the end of round one or in round two of the draft. Spencer is a very good cover man, a sure tackler. He has the size which NFL scouts love and has been consistently timed in the 4.4 range and the NFL loves speed. Honed his skills by covering Larry Fitzgerald for 2 years in practice and Antonio Bryant before him. Projection: Round 2

P Andy Lee 6'2", 205 - Lee is one of the best punters in the nation, can coffin corner kick, doesn't out-kick his coverage. Very solid for Pittsburgh in his time here, should get selected by someone; if not he will surely be signed as a rookie free agent. Projection: Round 7


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