Draft Preview: Longhorns, You're on the Clock

Relatively speaking, Texas will send few marquee players to the NFL this year, but a near-record number for a Mack Brown-coached Longhorn team may be selected in this weekend's Draft. No Longhorn letterman has seen his stock soar higher this off-season than SE Limas Sweed.

All told, 13 starters have completed their eligibility (14, if you count Drew Kelson) from last year's 10-3 team that finished No. 10 nationally. No fewer than six former Longhorns should hear their names called by Sunday evening. The total would equal the number of Longhorns taken from the 2005 national champion team and just one player shy of the seven tabbed in 2007, a record for the Mack Brown era.

Brown has had 33 players drafted during his first nine years in Austin. The Texas coach expressed pride this week in the number of NFL picks his program has produced, but cautioned "you don't want to just sell pro-ball (to players and recruits) because college football is about much more than that. You can't talk about one guy only, and only the things he can accomplish by himself, and then ask him to be part of a team. We point out to our players that only about one percent of college football players across the country get an opportunity to play pro football. You'd better come here because you want to be at The University of Texas. You'd better come because it's a great place to get a degree, even if you are fortunate to play pro football. It some cases, that transition has not been good for those who did not finish school."

There is no question that Limas Sweed tops the list of 2008 Longhorn draftees, but there was some question -- as recently as three months ago -- if Sweed had sufficiently healed from a wrist injury that cost him half his senior season. Initially, Sweed was projected as a mid-to-late-Second Rounder. Now, many view Sweed as a late-First Round pick and possibly the latest Longhorn to join QB Vince Young as a Tennessee Titan (Sweed may not fall as far as the Titans' No. 24 Draft choice. Both the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, picking just before Tennessee, have an expressed need for a larger wide-out). The prognosis, now, is that the 6-4, 215-pound Sweed has established himself as no worse than the third WR of this year's Draft, trailing only Michigan State standout Devin Thomas and possibly California's DeSean Jackson.

Sweed earned First-team All-Big 12 accolades as a junior, leading the team that season with 46 catches for 801 yards. His 12 TDs in 2006 tied Roy Williams' school record, but Sweed would break Williams' mark for touchdown catches in consecutive games with seven. Sweed was a 2007 Preseason All-American but his collegiate career was cut short by a wrist injury suffered during August camp. He accounted for 19 receptions for 306 yards and three TDs through six games before aggravating the wrist against Oklahoma. He opted for season-ending surgery but finished among Texas' Top 10 all-time leaders with 124 career receptions.

RB Jamaal Charles, who gave up his final year of eligibility when he declared for the Draft on January 5th, is expected to be the next Longhorn taken. Scouts love his go-the-distance speed and receiving skills; there remains some question about his size (6-0, 200), durability and ball-security. There is also some concern if Charles has the lower-body strength to move the pile. Charles is generally projected as a mid-Second Rounder but will likely have to bide his time while a number of other RBs (Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Illinois' Rashad Mendenhall, Oregon's Jonathan Stewart) are tabbed.

Charles ran for 3,328 yards in three seasons at Texas, trailing only Ricky Williams, Earl Campbell and Cedric Benson on the school's all-time list. He ran for 1,619 yards as a junior but more than half of that total came during the final five games of the season.

Charles was just the second Longhorn of Brown's Texas tenure forgo his final year of eligibility, but TE Jermichael Finley became Brown's first letterman to pass on his final two collegiate seasons. Finley is generally perceived as a mid-to-late Third Rounder. Scouts love his combination of size (6-5, 250), speed (4.61) and hands. The Big 12 may send up to six TEs into the NFL this year with Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett leading the way.

Offensive tackle Tony Hills could be the fourth Longhorn selected but probably won't hear his name called until Sunday. As many as five OTs could be selected in the First Round this year, but questions persist about Hills' season-ending ankle injury suffered in November. There is also lingering concern about the knee injury Hills suffered in a high school playoff game during his senior year. As such, he could see his stock fall from a mid-Third to a mid-Fourth Round pick. Otherwise, Hills brings good size (6-5, 310) and speed (5.1) for an OT.

DT Frank Okam remains an anomaly. Elite DTs and OTs come at a premium in the NFL, but Okam is projected no higher than a mid-Fourth Rounder. The Third-team All-American has the frame (6-5, 325), smarts and potential to ensure several quality years in the League -- with emphases on potential. His collegiate career was solid, though unspectacular. There is some question about Okam's passion for the game and that translates into whether he'll expend the effort every down.

Marcus Griffin is projected as mid-to-late Fifth Rounder at FS and will likely be the last Longhorn taken. Griffin does not have the size (5-10) or blazing speed (4.51) of a prototypical NFL safety and some have questioned his durability. But there is no reason to doubt his toughness nor his capacity to bring the wood.

A number of Longhorns still have their fingers crossed as potential Seventh Round steals. Kelson is a player to watch because of his strong performance at Pro Day. He didn't start during his senior year, but Kelson has the measurables and the smarts to be a surprise pick in this weekend's draft. There has been some speculation that former DT Derek Lokey could emerge as an undersized FB or that former DBs Erick Jackson and Brandon Foster could find a spot on special teams. Even so, an NFL career is but a brief and shining moment for the few whose names are called this weekend.

"You're still going to have a life after the NFL," Brown concluded.

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