April 17, 2008

Next in line

The litany of former Boilermaker defensive ends now playing in the NFL isn't likely to hurt Cliff Avril's chance to be an early pick come draft weekend.

You'll find them scattered across league rosters, from Shaun Phillips in San Diego to Chike Okeafor in Arizona to Akin Ayodele and Anthony Spencer in Dallas. And Avril will be added to the list April 26-27, when one NFL team is likely to select him in the first few rounds of the draft.

"Since I moved to D-end, everybody has always asked me if I'm in the next one in line or whatnot," said the former Purdue defensive end/linebacker. "I'm definitely excited to be in that rotation, just to be listed with Anthony Spencer, Shaun Phillips, Rosevelt (Colvin) and all of those guys. Now, I just have to go to the league and play like them basically.

"I'll go out there and give it 100 percent, see how it works out."

In the past couple weeks, Avril says he's visited Pittsburgh, Buffalo, New England, Atlanta, Tennessee and Detroit, touring facilities and talking to coaches at each of those organizations. One of those teams, or any of the NFL's 26 other, is likely to take Avril with a pick in the draft's first three rounds, where most prognosticators are projecting him to go.

"You never know with this process," Avril said of his draft position. "It's something that out of your control, so you just have to wait. But I've heard anywhere from late first- to third-round. But I really don't paid too much attention to it."

Avril's draft stock has increased since the end of Purdue's season, when he collected 41 tackles, 15 for loss, and 6.5 sacks on his way to becoming an All-Big Ten second-team selection by the league coaches. At the February NFL Combine, Avril ran an impressive 4.51 in the 40-yard dash and tested among the best in defensive end and linebacker drills.

Avril's got experience at both positions, having played linebacker in his first two seasons in West Lafayette before making the switch to down lineman. But most, including at NFL.com where he's ranked as the seventh-best LB in the draft, consider linebacker to be Avril's natural pro position. Rivals.com, which lists Avril as a D-end, projects Arizona will pick him with the 51st pick overall (No. 19 in the second round).

But at 6-foot-3, 253-pounds, Avril's likely too light to be considered an every-down defensive end. He could play there as a pass-rush specialist or be a full-time linebacker.

"In a 3-4 defense, teams want me as an outside linebacker," Avril explained. "But a couple who run the 4-3 want me as a D-end and some (who run a) 4-3 want me as a linebacker. It's good to be versatile, but I'm not sure where I'll end up."

No matter where Avril goes, he's set to become Purdue's ninth drafted defensive end in the 12 years of the Joe Tiller Era.

"It hasn't hit me yet," he said. "But taking some of these visits and meeting some of the guys on the teams that you always hear about is kind of shocking. I mean, to go out and meet Vince Young or someone like that, it's kind of crazy because you always hear about them and one day I'll get to play with or against him. I think it's a tremendous blessing.

"It's everybody's dream that plays in college to be able to do some of these things. I'm just happy and fortunate to be a part of it and I just want to take advantage of it."

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