NFL Draft: Horns Seek a 'League' of Their Own

It's been 27 years since Texas landed three First Round picks in the NFL Draft. It could happen again Saturday.

CB Aaron Ross, RT/G Justin Blalock and SS/FS Michael Griffin could hear their names called early Saturday during the First Round of the NFL Draft in New York City. While Texas has had at least one player selected in the First Round during six of the past eight Drafts, the program hasn't produced three First-Rounders in the same year since 1980. (That's when WR Johnny 'Lam' Jones, DB Johnnie Johnson and DB Derrick Hatchett went in the opening round following a 9-3 season).

Now, Ross is considered a lock as a mid-to-late First Round choice while Blalock is teetering between the last first and early second by most Mock Draft projections. There is also a chance that Griffin could join his former teammates before Round Two. But is history on Griffin's side? Depends on how you slice it.

The first school to produce consecutive Thorpe Award winners honoring the nation's top defensive back, Texas has re-established itself as a trusted pipeline for NFL secondaries. This Saturday will certainly mark the fifth time in six years that at least one Longhorn DB has been taken in the first Four Rounds (including Michael Huff, Cedric Griffin, Nathan Vasher and Quentin Jammer). The Burnt Orange bloodline bodes well for Griffin, but there have been only two occasions in the past 20 years when three safeties were picked in the First Round.

The consensus is that Louisiana State FS LaRon Landry will be the first DB selected while Florida's Reggie Nelson and Miami's Brandon Meriweather are also considered First Rounders. Yet, there is also a sentiment that Griffin is one of the top two or three safeties in this year's Draft. It's a bonus that Griffin is versatile enough to play both safety spots. The strong possibility that Griffin could be an immediate-impact player on special teams -- his eight blocked punts rank No. 2 all-time in Division-I history -- could make him the first Longhorn selected Saturday.

But that designation will likely go to the 2006 Thorpe Award winner. The casual fan would be surprised to note that Ross only logged 15 career starts. But his 80 tackles and, more impressively, his direct involvement in 11 turnovers last season (six INTs, three forced fumbles, two recoveries) established Ross as college football's best at his position. NFL scouts have listed Ross' size (6-1, 192) and closing speed as strengths. The fact that he averaged a respectable 11.8 yards on 76 collegiate punt returns, include three for scores, gives Ross dual-threat status and solidifies his selection as a mid-to-late First Rounder.

Yet he has proven susceptible to play-fakes and, at times, struggled to keep WRs between himself and the goal line (as evidenced by the five TD receptions against him in 2006). A prime-time national audience saw Ohio State WR Ted Ginn, Jr. blow right past him for a score just before halftime in September before another prime-time audience saw Ross suffer his worst outing of the season in the November loss at Kansas State. Iowa QB Drew Tate picked on him throughout the Alamo Bowl before Ross' end zone INT shifted the momentum to the Longhorn sideline in Texas's 26-24 win.

Blalock (6-3, 320), a consensus First-Team All-American in 2006 and a four-year starter at RT, is projected as a late-First Round or an early-Second Round selection. He posted a school-record 51 consecutive starts (the longest current Division-I streak) and did not give up a sack during his final two seasons. Blalock is versatile enough to play either tackle spot, but there is enough concern about his height and wingspan that most scouts project Blalock on the inside. Blalock finished his career at RG following Cedric Dockery's season-ending injury against Oklahoma. Blalock is not particularly quick -- he ran a 5.10 at February's Combine -- but has nimble enough feet that teammates nicknamed him 'Dancing Bear'. NFL scouts are particularly impressed with his strength, durability and consistency. They also like his lateral movements and ability to drive-block.

DE Tim Crowder (6-4, 270) is projected in most Mock Drafts as a late Second-Rounder as NFL scouts like his size, strength and overall speed and strength. His best time at the NFL Combine last February stood at 4.67 but some have questioned if Crowder is explosive enough off the snap. The First-Team All-Big 12 selection notched 47 career starts

LG Kasey Studdard (38 straight starts, two-time all-Big 12) will likely hear his name called on Sunday while C Lyle Sendlein (26 straight starts, two-time All-Big 12) hopes to. Sendlein was not invited to the NFL Combine, even though Longhorn offensive line coach Mac McWhorter has said Sendlein was the best center he's ever coached. Durability has been such a concern for RB Selvin Young that won't likely hear his name called until late Sunday, if then.

STOCK RISING
DE Brian Robison
Robison's impressive showing at the Combine likely leveraged his standing to no worse than a Fourth Round selection. In fact, among DE aspirants, Robison was considered the Best of Show with his 4.57 time in the 40, his 40.5-inch vertical jump and his 10'11" broad jump. Scouts have duly noted his strength and versatility, projecting Robison either at DE or at inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Folks have occasionally questioned Robison's overall speed but none have doubted his work ethic or heart.

STOCK FALLING
CB Tarell Brown
The poster children for "Wrong Place, Wrong Time" could still be a Second Round pick, but questions surrounding Brown's character and durability likely dropped him to at least mid-Third Rounder. Brown has two separate misdemeanor of marijuana charges within the past seven months. The charges were dropped following Brown's first arrest the Monday before the Ohio State game last September, and he tested negative for marijuana following his most recent arrest in late March. Otherwise, Brown is viewed as a tough, speedy CB who is physical enough to stop the run. (He logged a career-best 10 tackles against USC before suffering a broken hand late in the game following a goal line collision with Griffin). Brown's best time at the Combine clocked-in at 4.42.


Horns Digest Top Stories