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April 28, 2011

The Draft: Derek Sherrod

It's been 15 years since a Mississippi State football player was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, and that dry stretch likely ends tonight, thanks to Derek Sherrod.

The left tackle is projected to be picked between No. 19 and No. 32 overall. Sherrod said he will represent his Bulldogs as he takes the next step in his journey, and he considers it an honor to potentially be the first MSU player selected so high since Eric Moulds and Walt Harris did it in 1996. Sherrod said he is proud.

"Yeah, oh yeah," Sherrod said. "I have no clue, obviously, where I'm going to, but I'd be proud to go anywhere, just to get drafted has always been a dream of mine. Wherever I do go, I'm gonna definitely represent Mississippi State to the fullest."

Sherrod has always had that humble manner, and his draft day plans are nothing less than you would expect. He said he will be watching the game with family and close friends in his hometown of Columbus tonight - a pretty low key event for such a big night in Sherrod's life.

Sherrod was not invited by the NFL to attend the draft in New York, though a few players projected to be drafted later than Sherrod will be in attendance. Crazy though it may sounds, Sherrod will watch the draft the same way we do - on our TV at home.

Certainly, though, Sherrod will find out where he goes before we do, when he gets that phone call.

Sherrod said he has been staying in touch with teams constantly over the last couple of months as he waits for that moment.

"You just have to keep in constant contact, because you really can't tell who's going to go with who or anything like that," Sherrod said. "You just gotta try to put yourself in the best position."

When interviewed by groups of reporters during MSU spring practice, Sherrod declined to mention specific teams who have called him or worked him out.

However, Sherrod spoke with the Clarion Ledger's Brandon Marcello over the phone on Monday and told him he had worked out for two teams - the Chicago Bears and the Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom are seriously looking at offensive linemen.

The Chiefs may look elsewhere, though they do love SEC players, but the Bears seem to be the most consistent spot for Sherrod to end up. It makes sense. Chicago's offensive line was terrible last year and gave Jay Cutler almost no chance.

Chicago's general manager Jerry Angelo holds Sherrod in high regard, it turns out.

"You are not going to get any dirt on Sherrod when you look for it. I always say we are in the dirt business," Angelo told The Chicago Tribune. "That's what we're trying to do first, make sure what's underneath that hood. He's impeccable in terms of his citizenship, his work ethic, very intelligent."

It's hard to imagine anyone would question Sherrod's off-field character and on-field intelligence, but there have been questions about his actually play. Some says he "lacks a mean streak," and he is often referred to as a technician, which can be taken as both a positive and negative.

For those reasons, most draft analysts - we don't know what any teams actually think - consider Sherrod the fifth best offensive tackle in this draft, and generally the sixth or seventh best offensive lineman overall.

The tackles in front of him, generally, have been USC's Tyron Smith, Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi and Nate Solder of Colorado, though some have Solder and Sherrod as interchangeable. The guards often rated higher than Sherrod are Baylor's Danny Watkins and Mike Pouncey from Florida, though a team looking for a guard won't be likely to draft Sherrod anyway, as he is a tackle at the next level.

Where Sherrod lands all starts with the Dallas Cowboys at the No. 9 overall pick. No, the Cowboys won't draft Sherrod, not with the ninth pick, anyway. However, the Cowboys are very likely to draft an offensive tackle, and they will more than likely be the first team to do so.

If the Cowboys draft Smith or Castonzo, it starts the run on offensive tackles, which moves Sherrod up each team's board when they cross off one of the other guys. The thing to watch with Dallas is the possibility they move out of that slot. They have been heavily rumored to want to trade down. How far down they go could again affect the draft order of the offensive linemen.

Now, let's look at the teams in the first round likely to draft an offensive lineman.

After the Cowboys, the Detroit Lions are considered a possibility to draft an offensive lineman at No. 13, though cornerback is also a strong possibility.

Next is the New England Patriots at No. 17, who also pick at No. 28 and No. 33 overall (the first pick of the second round). It would be considered a surprise if they do not take an offensive lineman with one of those picks, but no one really knows which one it will be.

At No. 19, the New York Giants are projected to look offensive line, and this is the highest I've seen Sherrod go in any mock draft.

The Chiefs pick at No. 21, and as we discussed, they have visited with Sherrod. The consensus seems to be that KC will take the best player available, but if they have lost faith in left tackle Branden Albert, they could look for the best offensive tackle.

The next two picks after the Chiefs, the Colts (22) then the Eagles (23), have been consistently tied to offensive linemen, the Colts moreso than the Eagles. Philadelphia may look for a cornerback or perhaps an offensive guard at this spot, though some mocks have sent Sherrod to City of Brotherly Love. We know Indy spent time at the combine talking with Sherrod, and as a high intelligence guy, he fits their profile. Few teams need an upgraded line as much as the Colts.

Skip over the Saints at No. 24, and you find another pair of teams rumored to be in the market for tackles, the Seahawks (25) and the Ravens (26). Seattle drafted their franchise left tackle in the first round last year, so I'm not sure why some mock drafts have sent Sherrod to the west coast. They would be drafting him as a right tackle, and ignoring bigger needs all across the field, including quarterback.

Baltimore, however, is a very likely destination. They feel current left tackle and former Rebel Michael Oher is more of a right tackle, and there is a school of thought that the Ravens could draft Sherrod and move Oher back to right tackle. To me, this is one of the more likely teams to pick Sherrod.

The Atlanta Falcons pick next, then the Patriots second pick and the Bears at No. 29, all of whom we've covered.

The Jets are at 30, and then the two final teams to draft could be looking for an offensive lineman. The Pittsburgh Steelers (31) are in terrible need of help at just about all spots on the offensive line, though they usually draft with a best-available approach.

Last is the Super Bowl Champion Green bay Packers, the spot where Mel Kiper projected Sherrod will get drafted. Much like the Steelers, the Packers are likely to draft the best player left on their board here, but they will put a special emphasis on linebackers and offensive lineman. If Sherrod falls this far, he's likely to join the reigning world champions.

The wild card in all of this, of course, will be teams trading picks, moving up and moving down. With so many teams looking for quarterbacks, and with the perceived lack of "elite" players in this draft class, there is sure to be significant shuffling of draft picks.

Whatever happens, MSU fans would be wise to turn the TV to ESPN at 7 p.m. tonight, as Sherrod will likely end the 15-year drought of first rounders from Mississippi State.

When you see his highlights, or video of "the call," don't worry - if Sherrod has his way, it won't be the last time you see him.

"I definitely plan on coming back, because this is my home, Columbus and Starkville," Sherrod said. "I'm definitely going to show my face around here a lot."


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