A Look At Rutgers & the NFL Draft

It was a bittersweet weekend for former Rutgers players at the 2008 National Football League entry draft April 26-27 at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Two RU products, running back Ray Rice and offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah, were drafted in the first three rounds. But the rest of the draft was silent for NFL hopefuls coming out of Rutgers.

Rice was the first Rutgers player selected in the draft and the 55th overall pick when Baltimore selected the All-American in the second round on Saturday. Rice joins former Rutgers running back Brian Leonard as the second RU player drafted in the second round in as many days.

Zuttah was a surprise selection to some when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected the former RU offensive tackle as a guard in the third round. The Bucs snatched up Zuttah with the 83rd overall pick early on the second day of the draft.

Zuttah made an impact at Rutgers when he cracked the starting lineup as a freshman and played both guard and tackle at RU. He never relinquished his starting role and finished his career with 40 starts, including 28 consecutive starts. Zuttah did not allow a sack in his final two years on the Banks. He also registered his first official touch as a ball carrier in the 2007 regular-season finale versus Louisville Nov. 29 when he took a lateral pass from quarterback Mike Teel and rumbled 14 yards for a first down.

The Rutgers graduate will most likely move to the interior line at Tampa Bay. He joins a ball club that relies on ball control offense. He also goes to a franchise that is deep in young talent at guard, as the Buccaneers drafted Arron Sears from Tennessee in the second round of last year's draft and selected Davin Joseph of Oklahoma with their No. 1 pick (23rd overall) in 2006.

Chances are Zuttah will not get much playing time at guard during his rookie season in Tampa Bay, but there is a chance he will make the transition to center and will spend the year learning the pro game.

Other hopefuls who had a legitimate shot at a late-round selection were former Rutgers offensive tackle Pedro Sosa and defensive tackle Eric Foster. Sosa performed for teams at the NFL scouting combine at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis Feb. 20-26 but did not sufficiently impress scouts. Foster was not invited to the combine but performed for scouts at Rutgers' pro day and had interviews with a couple of teams prior to the draft.

Among other Rutgers hopefuls who were not selected in the NFL draft was Ron Girault, a co-captain at safety during his senior year at Rutgers in 2007. Girault, a hard-hitting four-year starter, finished his senior season with 55 total tackles and one interception but missed four games with injuries.

Mike Fladell, a hulking offensive lineman at 6-feet-7, 324 pounds, also went undrafted, as did linebacker Brandon Renkart, a co-captain on RU's 2007 squad. Fladell played guard on an offensive line that was second in college football in sacks allowed during his senior season while piling up school-record numbers in yardage. Renkart finished his senior season with 67 total tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Place-kicker Jeremy Ito, a four-year starter and all-time leading scorer at Rutgers, also was left off the draft board. Ito finished his career with 400 points at Rutgers and connected on 72 percent of his field goal attempts.

Hope is not lost for these players to make an impact in the NFL, as they still have hopes of signing free agent contracts. Recent Rutgers players who entered the league as undrafted free agents include Shaun O'Hara and Gary Brackett. O'Hara is the starting center for the New York Giants, the reigning Super Bowl champions. Brackett, a middle linebacker, was captain of the Indianapolis Colts defense that won the Super Bowl in 2007. Other undrafted Rutgers players who have made an impact in the NFL include former quarterback Ray Lucas and defensive backs Jay Bellamy and Deron Cherry.

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