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April 18, 2009

Roundtable: Best pro from a non-BCS league?

At the College Football Roundtable, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in the sport.

Today's question: We're a week from the NFL draft. Which player from outside the "Big Six" leagues will end up being the best pro?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
Some of the responses are sure to pick Utah cornerback Sean Smith, and that's hard to argue against. But I'm intrigued by his Utah teammate, defensive end Paul Kruger. Last season, he had 61 tackles, with 16.5 going for losses. He was active in the Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama, with five tackles and one for a loss. At 6 feet 5 and 255 pounds, he's undersized for the NFL. But he has exceptional quickness and good speed and projects as an outside linebacker. I think he'll be a very good one.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
Without a doubt, Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English will be the best pro from the non-"Big Six" ranks. He has a quick rush off the edge, but at 270 pounds he probably lacks the bulk to play end in the NFL. With his future likely at outside linebacker, English will have to show an ability to drop into coverage and play in space. But many college defensive ends have made that transition successfully. In college, English was a two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year who had 31.5 career sacks. Look for that speed and athletic ability to translate well to the NFL, where English will be a primo pass rusher.

David Fox's answer:
Rice's James Casey won't be the first non-"Big Six" player drafted, but I think he'll be a good pro. Teams will hold his age (24) and size (6-3/246) against him, but that's what the NFL does. Casey reminds me of a small tight end/H-back already in the league Washington's Chris Cooley. Like Cooley, who starred at Utah State, Casey played at a smaller program. But there are other things I like about Casey. He's a former minor league baseball player and had three majors at Rice, a great academic school. There's little that will surprise him in the pros. He had a ton of responsibility on the field, too. He caught 111 passes as a senior, carried the ball 57 times, threw two touchdown passes and averaged 8.0 yards per punt return. The guy is like a Swiss Army Knife. He'll find a way to contribute.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
Utah cornerback Sean Smith has great size (he was measured at 6-4 and 214 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine), and he can run, too. He also was productive on the field, with nine picks and 15 pass breakups in his two seasons as a starting corner (he left school after his junior season). He will enjoy a long and productive NFL career.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I acknowledge I'm cheating a bit by picking someone from Utah, which has proved it's a national power even if it doesn't play in a "Big Six" conference. While I admit I'm not exactly choosing a guy who's flying under the radar, Utah cornerback Sean Smith is too promising a prospect for me to ignore. Smith's combination of height (6 feet 4) and speed (he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at Utah's Pro Day) would make him an intriguing prospect even if he hadn't played particularly well in college. When you give those types of measurables to a guy who just delivered an All-America caliber season, you have an ideal first- or second-round pick. Smith tied for the lead in the Mountain West Conference with five interceptions and showed his big-play ability by averaging 30.2 yards per interception return. He also played his best against big-name opponents. He recorded a sack and forced a fumble in Utah's Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama, and he picked off passes in victories over Michigan and TCU. This former running back and receiver should be an ideal fit in an NFL secondary.

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