(Photo Courtesy of CBSSports.com)
From now until the start of college football season, NFLDraftScout.com will be profiling the top NFL draft-eligble prospects for FBS programs. Today, draft analyst Rob Rang profiled the University of Louisville. His top 5 list of Louisville prospects are (in order) center Mario Benavides, safety Hakeem Smith, defensive back Adrian Bushell, offensive guard Alex Kupper, and running back Dominique Brown. He lists his next five as linebackers Preston and Daniel Brown, tight end Nate Nord, running back Jeremy Wright, and wide receiver Andrell Smith.
Before getting started, Rang does slightly less than a quality job in assuming how U of L fans feel about Bobby Petrino. Rang states in his opening sentence, “Unlike some fans throughout the football landscape, most supporters of the University of Louisville Cardinals look back fondly on Bobby Petrino.” Maybe check with some fans next time, Mr. Rang. It is not that U of L fans did not love him when he was here, as a 41-9 record plus an Orange Bowl will make any fanbase giddy, but the breakup was not exactly on good terms. There is still quite the amount of bitterness towards the little man fond of both motorcycles he cannot handle as well as tall, young blonde coeds. Sometimes he likes them together.
Anyway, back to topic. Rang not only puts Benavides at the top of the list when it comes to U of L draft prospects, but ranks him as the 5th overall center prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft. Here is what was said about the man at the center of the offensive line:
1. OC Mario Benavides (6-4, 302) Toughness and reliability are two of the most important attributes NFL teams look for in interior offensive linemen prospects and in Benavides (pictured above) they’ll find both. A highly regarded prep prospect, Benavides elected to sign with Louisville despite playing his prep ball in Texas and has proven a star since, earning Freshman All-American honors in 2009 and All-Big East recognition after each of the past two seasons. Benavides’ ultimate pro grade could be determined by his medical, as he’s played through some tough injuries over his career, including a knee injury last year that sidelined him for the first three games of the season. I’d like to see Benavides play with a little more power this season but he has enough athleticism to make an NFL roster as an interior lineman and uses his hands well. He enters the year as NFLDraftScout.com’s No. 5 rated center for the 2013 draft.
Oh, that doesn’t excite you? Explain that to this man. Charlie Strong hashtagging NFL Draft Pick is likely the greatest thing to happen to Twitter this week. This month? Possibly. This year? I wouldn’t quite go that far, but…yes. Yes it is.
Rang has Hakeem Smith listed ahead of Adrian Bushell, but at most, that is a wash. Hakeem Smith is a terrific talent, but it is hard to say if the 2011 First Team All Big East safety is a better overall prospect than Bushell. Bushell, after all was a very late transfer who did not arrive on campus until the season was about to start. He had to learn the defense on the go, and not only did he learn it efficiently, he excelled in it. The man played in 9 games, registering 50 tackles, broke up 3 passes, had one interception, and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Connecticut (all stats courtesy of CBSSports.com and Rob Rang). Oh, and remember that little blocked field goal in the West Virginia game that Andrew Johnson took to the house, blowing kisses to the WVU cheerleaders in the end zone? Bushell’s hands set that one up with a nice block. One can only imagine how good he can be when he has a full offseason to train. The one big knock Rang had on him was academic and off the field issues. Under Charlie Strong, these are not likely of major concern any more.
Alex Kupper, the 4th top draft prospect according to Rang, is a hard-working, reliable offensive lineman. By all accounts, he is a high character young man as well. He is also diverse along the line, as he was able to move over from left tackle and play center when Benavides was out early last season. However, his size (6″3, 285) is a little undersized in comparison to other NFL left tackles, and at times was overpowered last season. It also did not help his chances when he went down with a sprained MCL in the Red-White game. Durability is huge in the NFL, and some scouts may see that as a red flag. Regardless, if anything, he has the work ethic and right attitude to make it in the NFL. He just needs a big season.
Brown definitely has the talent and easily has the athleticism to be an NFL running back. However, he is still a bit raw in the college running game, and it is yet to be seen if he can carry the load at running back. He will really need to have a big season to make the jump after this season, but with Michael Bush-like size (as Rang points out) and incredibly soft hands (another point Rang mentions), there is nothing stopping him from making the step to the next level eventually. Out of all the running backs, Jeremy Wright seems to be the most prototypical NFL running back with good size, lateral speed, along with a nice power running game, and will challenge Brown for carries, just as Senorise Perry, Corvin Lamb, and possibly even freshman Brandon Radcliff will. It will be tough for any of them to separate themselves from the group, but if Brown can do that, he could end up high on some NFL scouts’ wish lists.