NFL Grabs Vasher, Thomas; Bypasses B.J. Johnson

CB Nathan Vasher was picked by the Chicago Bears in the fourth-round (110th overall) of the NFL Draft Sunday while WR Sloan Thomas, a Houston native, was selected by the Houston Texans in the seventh-round (211th overall). Four Longhorns were taken this weekend, but what about FL B.J. Johnson?

For info on the Draft's first day, see Williams Joins Rogers, Redding in Detroit.

Vasher and Thomas join WR Roy Williams (1st Round/7th overall/Detroit Lions) and DT Marcus Tubbs (1st Round/23rd pick/Seattle Seahawks) as former Longhorns taken in the 2004 Draft.

Personally, I had expected Johnson to be taken off the board during the sixth or seventh round with Thomas emerging as one of the more intriguing free agents. Johnson's February 9 diagnosis of a stress fracture in his left tibia (that he played on during his senior season) caused him to miss the NFL Combine later that month. Then, on Pro Timing Day in Austin last month, reports circulated that Johnson's stock plummeted after he was clocked at no better than at 4.7. Afterwards, head coach Mack Brown dismissed a Houston Chronicle report that cited unnamed NFL sources who disparaged unnamed UT athletes for refusing to participate in some of the Timing Day drills.

"B.J. had a pull," Brown said. "If I had had a pull, I wouldn't have run either."

Johnson was also hurt by the fact that this Draft was overloaded with WRs (a record seven WRs went in the first round Saturday). Johnson, who came to Texas in 2000 as the most highly touted of the three receivers, was considered the top receiver of that year's Parade All-American squad. But this spring Thomas impressed scouts with his speed, and anyone who meets Thomas is usually impressed with his intelligence.

If 100 percent, Johnson will get an NFL shot (as should DE Kalen Thornton) but as non-drafted free agents.

The 2004 Draft marked just the third time since the 1950s that Texas has had a receiving duo drafted. The last time was in 1991 when Keith Cash was selected in the seventh-round by the Washington Redskins while the Green Bay Packers made Johnny Walker their eighth-round choice. The Draft was limited to seven rounds in 1993.

How quickly loyalties change! Vasher is now a teammate of Oklahoma DT Tommie Harris (drafted Saturday) and a division rival of former teammates Roy Williams and Cory Redding. Vasher's position coach will be former Longhorn DB Vance Bedford, now in his sixth season in Chicago. Bedford was a four-year letterman (1977-81) and was a fifth-round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982.

A three-year starter at Texas, Vasher worked at both cornerback and safety to equal the longest standing school record with 17 career interceptions. The Longhorn INT mark, set by Noble Doss in 1941, is also a Big 12 record. Vasher also shattered Big 12 and Texas records with 64 career PBUs. In 49 career games (39 starts), Vasher tallied 155 tackles, 14 TFLs and two sacks. Playing strong safety as a sophomore, he matched the school season record with seven INT. Vasher also registered a Texas season record of 26 PBUs and six picks (T-No. 6 on the UT single-season list) and five tackles for loss as a senior. The Thorpe Award semifinalist earned first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior.

As a punt returner, Vasher set a new school record with 1,314 yards on 94 career attempts. He tied the school record with two career punt returns for touchdowns.

Last season, Thomas caught 20 passes for 336 yards and two TDs. But as Texas shifted to a Zone Read running offense in mid-2003, the running joke among Longhorn receivers was who would lead the trio in downfield blocks. That distinction goes to Thomas, who led UT wideouts with 50 knockdown blocks. Thomas would have started for any team that did not have someone named Williams (Roy Williams at Texas, Mike Williams at USC, Reggie Williams at Washington). In a career that saw 20 starts, Thomas recorded 88 receptions (No. 10 on the UT all-time list) for 1,362 yards and 12 TDs (T-No. 8 on the UT all-time list).


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