Draft analyst tabs Ainge mid-rounder

Former Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge is projected as the fourth-best senior quarterback in the NFL draft by analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

But another draft analyst – Mike DeTillier of South Louisiana – isn't as high on the No. 3 all-time passer in Tennessee history.

``I think he'll be a middle-round pick,'' DeTillier said. ``He'll be a fourth- or fifth-round pick and be a career backup in the NFL.

``He's a big kid who has really done well. He throws the ball down field very accurately. The big negative on him is his lack of mobility skills. You look at the NFL today, how important it is (to have mobility) when you see all these speedy guys up front chasing after you.

``I think it's apparent when you break down film on him, he's much more effective in the pocket than he is on the move.''

DeTiller said the 6-foot-6 Ainge reminds him of former Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac, a solid NFL backup who ``didn't have the East-West movement skills you're looking for'' to be a starter.

DeTillier said Erik Ainge's decision making, a concern earlier in his college career, has gotten much better under the coaching of David Cutcliffe.

``He (Ainge) knows how to get rid of the ball at critical times,'' DeTillier said. ``He really impressed me this year because of the fact he lost so many receivers to graduation and the NFL. He did a nice job distributing the football around to some young receivers, guys that didn't have a tremendous amount of playing time or starting time.

``He made it work. Listen, he got you to the SEC Championship game. It might have been like hitting 21 with seven cards, but he did get there.

``He showed a lot of football smarts in his ability to utilize the talent on the club. With David Cutcliffe, you could see the finer points in Eric's game. ''

Ainge was sacked only three times as a senior, the best mark in the NCAA. Some credited Ainge with calling the right pass protections and avoiding sacks. Others said he got rid of the ball too soon for fear of getting hit.

Ainge played the entire season with a broken little finger on his throwing hand and a banged up shoulder that didn't allow him to throw downfield, Cutcliffe said.

Scouts should like that toughness.

While Kiper, in his latest draft chart, has Ainge ahead of Kentucky's Andre Woodson, DeTillier projects Woodson to go in the first round, maybe as high as No. 15. Woodson is a better athlete and doesn't throw many interceptions, DeTillier noted.

Tennessee running back Arian Foster, who rushed for almost 1,200 yards in 2007, had a round two grade from the NFL advisory board. Foster decided to return to UT.

Was that a good decision?

``Absolutely,'' DeTillier said.

DeTillier said Foster might have had a shot at going in the second round, but when juniors such as Darren McFadden and Felix Jones of Arkansas, Jonathan Stewart of Oregon, Steve Slaton of West Virginia, Jamaal Charles of Texas, Robert Mendenhall of Illinois and Ray Rice at Rutgers declared, that dropped Foster's stock.

``To me, Foster made the only decision he could make, and that was to come back,'' DeTillier said.

DeTillier said the number of junior running backs who came out early took the position from weak to one of the draft's strongest.

While Foster stayed, linebacker Jerod Mayo will bypass his senior season. DeTillier said the draft board that projected Mayo as a third rounder made a mistake.

``I don't know who did that, but that's an absolutely terrible grade,'' DeTillier said. ``For a league starved for inside performers, he's one of the quality ones in the draft. I think he could be a very early second-round pick. When you talk about teams picking late in round one, most of those teams draft for need. He could possibly sneak into there.

``When you break down the film and look at him, how good of a player he is, how instinctive, how smart he is, his ability to play off blocks, he's a flow guy that can make plays. He's very athletic. I don't know who graded him a third-round pick, but whoever did that, that one can hit the garbage.''

DeTillier said Mayo's grade reminds him of the third-round grade given to New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, who would up a top-five pick.

DeTillier also said Mayo reminds him of former Miami Hurricanes' linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a first-round pick of the Jets. Only, Mayo is bigger.

Mayo also benefits from star linebackers at Ohio State and USC deciding to remain in college.

Here is DeTillier's opinion of some other SEC players who came out early:

* McFadden of Arkansas: A top three overall pick.

* Jones of Arkansas: A late first-rounder whose stock has risen because he is a terrific returner.

* Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey: A mid-to-late first-round pick.

* LSU receiver Early Doucet: Late first-rounder if he runs well at the combine.

* LSU linebacker Ali Highsmith: Early second round. Cover skills hurt his stock.

* Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves: Middle to late first rounder.

* Auburn defensive tackle Pat Sims: Early second-round selection.

* Carson-Newman receiver James Banks: A very good athlete with baggage. Seventh-rounder or free agent.

* Vanderbilt receiver Earl Bennett: The Marvin Harrison of the SEC. A lot of teams will regret not taking him higher, if he lasts to the third round.

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