Cougs await NFL draft

FORECASTING THE NFL draft is a little like herding frogs -- bodies are going every direction and you don't really know where they're going to land until they do. Take Cougar receiver <b>Devard Darling</b>, for instance.

Depending on which analyst you believe, he could be taken in this weekend's draft anywhere from high in the second round to low in the fourth round.

Or how about Cougar sack master D.D. Acholonu? Most observers have ticketed the defensive end-who-projects-as-linebacker for free agency, yet some think he could go as high as the fourth round and one outfit, nfldraftblitz.com, tells us he'll not only get drafted, but pinpoints the round -- sixth -- and the team -- Miami.

Eight Cougars have been projected by one rating service or another as possible draft picks, with another seven speculated expected to sign with pro clubs as free agents.

Besides Darling and Acholonu, the eight on the potential list of draftees are:

Defensive tackles Tai Tupai and Jeremey Williams are variously rated among the top 45 DTs available, which would likely earmark them to be drafted in the low rounds.

Erik Coleman, the 2003 Pac-10 interception leader and honorable mention All-American, is widely considered the No. 13 best prospect at free safety, which could see him go anywhere from the fourth round on down. He had an oustanding NFL combine performance in February.

Strong safety Virgil Williams also had a strong NFL combine and could sneak into the seventh round. The same goes for first-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Jason David and Isaac Brown, the swift defensive end forecast as an outside linebacker.

The likely group of Cougar free agents include quarterback Matt Kegel, kicker Drew Dunning, offensive tackle Josh Parrish, receive/returnerr Sammy Moore, linebacker Don Jackson and running back Jonathan Smith.

Parrish has seen his stock among analysts rise in recent weeks, with two leading forecasters rating him among the top 20 OTs. Asked earlier this year Parrish wasn't getting more attention, Cougar offensive line coach George Yarno said he was perplexed, because the Chewelah native has what it takes to crack heads at the next level. Yarno, by the way, was passed over in the 1979 draft and ended up playing in the NFL for 13 seasons.

Darling, who opted to forego his senior season at Wazzu, has been forecast to go as high as the 38th overall pick, making him the eighth receiver to go in a well-stocked class of wideouts.

The draft takes place on Saturday and Sunday, with day one coverage live on ESPN and day two live on ESPN2.

THE COUGAR RECORD:

The most Cougars ever drafted in a single year was eight, back in 1978. Coincidentally, two of those chosen are current WSU assistant coaches: Ken Greene (first round, St. Louis) and Mike Levenseller (sixth round, Oakland). The rest of that class included safety Don Schwartz (fourth round, New Orleans), running back Dan Doornink (seventh round, Giants), linebacker Don Hover (eighth round, Washington), punter Gavin Hedrick (eighth round, San Diego), tight end Eason Ramson (12th round, Green Bay), and defensive back Mark Patterson (12 round, Detroit).

The closest that the 1978 record has come to being surpassed occurred in 1990, when six Cougs -- led by Steve Broussard in the first round -- were selected. (One could argue that seven were chosen, as the Phoenix selection of QB Timm Rosenbach in the 1989 supplemental draft counted toward their first round pick in the 1990 draft).

THE FIRST ROUNDERS: Since the first NFL draft was conducted in 1936, 12 Washington State greats have been honored as first-round NFL selections.

This elite fraternity is made up of the following: CB Marcus Trufant (2003, Seattle); QB Ryan Leaf (1998, San Diego); LB Mark Fields (1995, New Orleans); QB Drew Bledsoe (1993, New England); RB Steve Broussard (1990, Atlanta); QB Timm Rosenbach (1989 supplemental, Phoenix); DL Keith Millard (1984, Minnesota); QB Jack Thompson (1979, Cincinnati); DB Ken Greene (1978, St. Louis); DB Clancy Williams (1965, Los Angeles Rams); WR Ed Barker (1953, Los Angeles Rams); QB Ed Goddard (1937, Brooklyn)

The late Leon Bender, the defensive anchor of WSU's 1997 Pac-10 champion team, missed the first round by one spot, going to the Oakland Raiders with the first pick of the second round in 1998.

Another WSU defensive lineman, Rob Meier, was the very first player chosen in the 1999 Canadian Football League draft. The Vancouver, B.C. native was still a junior when his hometown Lions attempted to lure him north. Meier was flattered, but chose to return for his senior season on the Palouse before heading off to the NFL's Jacksonville Jaquars.

Eric Williams, a standout defensive tackle in the Jim Walden-era who went on to a long NFL career, was a 1984 first round pick by Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals of the short-lived USFL. Millard also went in the USFL's first round, to Arizona.

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