The NFL draft begins on Thursday, May 8th, but if your interest in the NFL is expressed through the prism of Longhorn players, you may not need to tune in until Friday or Saturday.
Much like Julio Cesar Chavez, the Longhorns will attempt to dominate the late rounds.
Some of our draft profiles read like a Mack Brown staff indictment, but there may be some value in there for NFL GMs willing to tease out causation.
Here's a quick rundown on the 2014 NFL Longhorn prospects along with my best guess.
Don't hold it against me if it doesn't happen this way - I'm not really good at handicapping the draft proclivities of a NFL GM group that ranges from Ozzie Newsome to Jerry Jones.
The former 1st round projection has slipped to a 2nd or even 3rd day draft pick (I suspect the Round 6 assessments being thrown around are NFL GM poor-mouthing to credulous journalists). Jeffcoat is a smart, instinctive player with natural pass-rushing ability, good speed and better than average mobility. Unfortunately, his career at Texas was injury riddled, he lacks S&C development and his effort level was inconsistent on run downs.
He effectively failed to improve much over his last 18 months on campus.
A clear 3-4 OLB or designated 4-3 pass rusher, the former sure thing is now a promising project with some real upside if placed into a comprehensive S&C program that can address his overall lack of power and fluidity.
Late Round 4.
The longtime starting cornerback blazed the 40 yard dash at his pro day (4.35 on a fast track) and has long arms, but a slight build, questionable big picture development and iffy run-stopping sink him below the money rounds. Despite the Duane Akina DB development cult, Byndom, much like his counterpart Diggs, demonstrated a huge upside early in his career and leveled out his last two years on campus.
Like Jeffcoat, Byndom actually offers some unrecognized value as a instant contributor in the nickel who could blossom into a solid NFL journeyman given a legitimate S&C program (there's no reason he can't walk around 10-15 pounds heavier), a little big picture coaching and a competitive culture. Byndom can cover and has demonstrated the ability to punish bad throws with six points going the other way - these aren't assets to be taken lightly in a NFL increasingly bereft of corner depth.
If others NFL GMs see that too, I expect him to go in mid to late Round 5.
No cold-blooded assassin like Justin Tucker, Fera is a good punter and solid field goal kicker whose versatility will likely earn him a paycheck once he begins an appropriate specialization. The NFL margin for error in the kicking game is tiny, but Fera will have a good chance of making a team or being on the NFL short list of early season kicking replacements once the starters begin to bust. His most important decision will be which specialization he chooses - right now he's not capable of consistently kicking the ball out of the end zone. Can he fix that? Or should he throw his lot in at punter?
Round 7/Free Agent.
Davis frustrates NFL evaluators as much as he frustrated Texas fans, intriguing both with an uncanny ability to change speed and lull single coverage into slumber while simultaneously demonstrating route, hands and effort... ummm...variation.
Like former Sooner Kenny Stills - a similarly frustrating character with a reputation for flakiness - Davis would benefit tremendously from going to a wide open passing game (New Orleans, Detroit, Atlanta) where he can compete for reps at #3 WR.
Hawkins was a very solid OT for Texas, excelling best when blocking down or finessing defenders with screening and body positioning rather than brutal manhandling. He's a versatile player with some potential for helping out at RT, but ideally he's a guard or center in a NFL offense that uses movement and space. It was not lost on me that his biggest knock is a lack of pure strength.
Highly intelligent, versatile and a reliable pass protector, Hopkins can credibly contribute at RT, guard and center, making him a potentially useful multi-tool that a finesse passing offense can keep on the roster as their reserve Swiss Army Knife. He has a good chance of making a NFL squad - taxi or otherwise. Hopkins actually added more base strength in draft prep than through most of his career at Texas - knocking out 28 reps of 225 on the bench despite his long arms (I don't value bench inordinately, but it's an indicator). The rumor is that he was knocking out 16-17 before his senior season.
Is that good?
Round 7 or sought after FA.
A wonderful natural athlete with good agility and burst, Mack's former coveted running back recruit may be a case of too-little, too-late in trying to make the Henry Melton/Lamarr Houston move. Whaley weighed 269 at the combine, demonstrating a clear attempt to address his lack of base by positioning himself as a 4-3 DE or 3-4 DE prospect rather than a 1-3 tech DT. Smart move. But the NFL isn't buying him as a 3-4 DE until he can show an anchor and 280+ pounds of good weight.
Good thing we had him playing NG for us.
Whaley is raw, coming off of an injury and though I would be reluctant to expend a draft choice on him, he should be a high priority free agent capable of making a NFL developmental squad. Nurture him through his knee rehab and you may have a future NFL asset on the cheap.
I've read a lot of NFL draft evaluations about our prospects and discouragingly they all seem to echo something I've been writing about for some time during their college careers:
1. Lack of overall skill development.
2. Lack of effective S&C.
3. Stiff. Inflexible. Robotic. See #2. Those words crop up in almost every Longhorn player profile.
4. Questionable desire.
We can pass on the obligatory dump-on-the-prior regime comments as none of this is news about any program in decay, but the value for NFL teams and some clever GMs is that some of these Longhorn athletes could offer some unrealized upside on the cheap if put into the right situations.
The bigger question Texas fans will have to wrestle with is...
How long will it take it to cure systemic ailments in the current program?