NFL Draft Will Have Burnt Orange Tint

How now Norm Chow? Will the Tennessee Titans make Texas QB Vince Young their top pick in Saturday's NFL Draft? Or, will the Sports Illustrated cover boy even be the first Longhorn selected when the 71st NFL Draft gets under way at high noon (Eastern) in New York City?

At least six Horns from the 2005 national champion should hear their names called by the time the two-day affair winds down early Sunday evening. But the most intriguing question in this year's Draft has been the pecking order for the top QBs. Since January 4, Vince Young has been under the microscope more than the leading bacteria, and there is still no consensus if the First-Team All-American is the leading QB in this year's Draft. Former Dallas Cowboy Director of Player Personnel Gil Brandt lists Young as the Draft's top signal caller while other pigskin pundits insist that one of Young's former teammates will go earlier on Saturday.

There has been ample speculation that First-Team All-American SS Michael Huff may be the first Longhorn taken. Much of the pre-Draft buzz is that Huff will ride that Motown pipeline out of Austin and become the next recruit for The University of Texas at Detroit (joining former teammates Roy Williams, Cory Redding, Shaun Rogers). The Lions need a CB and Huff is versatile enough to slide over to the corner.

At the same time, a source close to the situation told Inside Texas a couple of weeks ago that the smart money is that the Titans would take Young. But that was just before New Orleans (with the No. 2 pick) signed former Austinite/San Diego Chargers QB Drew Brees to a six-year contract during the first week of free agency. Does that slide USC QB Matt Leinart, a proven pocket passer, into the No. 3 slot that the Titans hold? Our source also told us that Oakland was very interested in VY, and there has since been speculation that the Raiders would be involved in a three-way deal (with New Orleans and the New York Jets) with the intent of drafting VY with the current Saints' selection. (The Raiders hold the No. 7 pick in the First Round).

DT Rodrique Wright and OT Jonathan Scott should also hear their names called on Saturday while CB Cedric Griffin and TE David Thomas are the most likely Longhorns to be selected on Day Two. The last time as many as six Longhorns were selected was when a half-dozen members of the 1996 Big 12 championship team were drafted the following April. For now, these are the former Texas standouts whom we expect to be drafted as well as the rounds in which they are generally projected. Rounds One through Three are slated for Saturday.

FIRST ROUND
QB Vince Young, SS Michael Huff

But not necessarily in that order. Young's post-Rose Bowl analysis is so well-documented that most Horn fans could recite it in their sleep. The only question is whether the scale Saturday will tip in favor of his tremendous upside (explosive, elusive, strong, college football's most accurate QB at the end of the 2005 regular season and the most dangerous running QB to enter the Draft since Michael Vick) or in toward the perception that VY is a long-term project (the transition from a collegiate shotgun option attack to a pro-style passing game, as well as the age-old question concerning his unorthodox delivery).
Huff will go high but Young will go first. The QB situation is too unsettled at both Tennessee (VY's mentor Steve McNair is not expected to play much longer than two seasons and may not even be in a Titans uniform in 2006) and at Oakland (Kerry Collins future as a Raider is also up in the air).
It's not a particularly strong draft for safeties but Huff would be the cream of the crop at his position in most years. He dazzled pro scouts last month with his speed (4.55). He's got the closing speed to support the run as well as make a play on the ball. Huff is a self-proclaimed diagnostician and can dissect a play at the line-of-scrimmage. Versatile and intelligent, the only downside to Huff is his hands (just one INT last season).
This much is certain: the Thorpe Award winner and the Heisman runner-up will be gone by the middle of the First Round.

SECOND ROUND
DT Rodrique Wright

No one would be surprised if the First-Team All-American emerges as a low First-Rounder. Pass-rushing DTs are always at a premium on Draft Day. Wright is strong, smart and mobile for his 6-4, 305-pound frame. Scouts like his first-step off the ball but have questioned his durability. Wright's future home could very well be one these franchises hard-pressed for a DT: Carolina, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Green Bay.

THIRD ROUND
OT Jonathan Scott
J-Scott would have been a higher pick but this is a strong year for incoming OTs. The First-Team All-American is versatile enough to play either RT or LT and, at 6-6, 310-pounds, is considered a prototypical NFL outside lineman. Scott has long been known for his wing span and pass-blocking skills. The nagging question throughout much of his career is ability to consistently pick-up the blitz. His 44 consecutive starts are a testament to his durability.

FOURTH ROUND
CB Cedric Griffin
There were times when Griffin was so out of position during his collegiate career that it drove Horn fans crazy. But his wicked, teeth-jarring lick on Ohio State TE Ryan Hamby in the end zone has my vote as college football's most critical hit of the 2005 regular season. Hamby almost lost his head but, if he hangs onto the ball, the Buckeyes score and possibly knock Texas out of Rose Bowl contention. It's simply intended as a reminder that Griffin could compensate for blown coverages with aggressive play. The First-Team All-Big 12 selection logged 44 starts and would probably be selected on Saturday if it weren't such a strong year for CBs.

FIFTH ROUND
TE David Thomas
Horns fans know that any NFL franchise would be wise not to be a doubting Thomas. (Sorry. I've been waiting four months to use that line). Arguably the most versatile TE in Longhorn history, the 2005 First-Team All-Big 12 selection can play H-back and even line-up in the slot. Thomas has terrific hands and just enough speed (4.8) to stretch the field even in the NFL. But does size matter? Considered undersized for a prototypical NFL TE, Thomas stands just a shade under 6-3 and was listed at 245 for the Rose Bowl (that was probably with his cleats on). A thinking man's TE, Thomas could locate the soft spots in the coverage. Some have questioned his blocking but there were plenty of times during his 38 straight starts that Thomas would throw a block and then level another defender downfield. Thomas brought the wood every time.

FREE AGENCY
OG Will Allen
FB/RB Ahmard Hall
MLB Aaron Harris

Of the three, Will Allen is the most likely to sign as a free agent. Intelligent and tough, Allen logged 32 starts on the way to Third-team All-American honors. Allen is an adept pass protector but durability is a concern.
Hall is a feel-good story. Word is that he impressed at Pro-Timing Day and could end up on an NFL roster as a special teams player. Harris, meanwhile, was reportedly underwhelming when auditioning for pro scouts. He was MIA at times this past season and has Arena Football written all over him.


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