Media Days Marathon: Draft Questions From Conference USA
By Matt LaPan
The newly expanded Conference USA extends its reaches from North Carolina (where East Carolina plays) down through southern Florida and through the panhandle of Texas. With this expansive range, the conference has started to develop more draft ready talent in recent years, and the 2014 NFL Draft should see many C-USA players selected.
With only one day to cover an entire conference, many draft questions need to be asked. Here are three as we continue on with our Media Days Marathon.
1. How many draft ready players are on East Carolina's offense?
By no standards are the Pirates offensive juggernauts, yet this season they have a chance to produce good, draftable talent on offense. Overall, the Pirates have a solid group of three players who should be on most draft boards, even if only on the fringes.
This group is led by junior wide receiver Justin Hardy. Hardy does not have overly impressive physical stature but is what many call "a gamer". Hardy uses every bit of his 6-foot frame to establish himself as a very good red zone threat. Although Hardy is listed as an inside receiver, he has the speed, strength and ability to play both inside and outside.
The ECU offensive line also has a good group with rising draft stock. The linemen are largely unproven but are led by senior guard Will Simmons, a natural run blocker with good explosion off the line and a powerful drive. He also has very good ability in pass protection. He needs to work a little on bending at his knees as opposed to his hips, but his overall draft stock should rise as he learns to play with his large frame, which has added nearly 65 pounds since his freshman year.
The final guy with true draftable talent is senior running back Vintavious Cooper. Cooper is a perfect fit for the Darren Sproles/Danny Woodhead mold of a small running back with ability in both the run and pass game. The one major problem with Cooper is a recent suspension that could jeopardize his season. That will remain to be seen, but if he plays, Cooper is a very good talent.
2. Can a good prospect come from a winless team?
Not many teams go 0-12 in the current college football landscape. And although Southern Miss did so last year, it has some good talent on the team. Not only did the Golden Eagles send Jamie Collins to the New England Patriots in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they have a good defensive back in Deron Wilson that nobody seems to talk about. Wilson is a senior cornerback who has started 38-straight games going into 2013. He has a great natural ability to locate the ball when in flight. Working off of this ability, Wilson showed he also has strong hands that help him swat passes away from opposing receivers. And even though his team might not post the best record, Wilson should make a good name for himself this season.
3. Where did all these wide receivers come from?
Conference USA had, by all accounts, a successful 2013 NFL Draft by sending two wide receivers to the NFL via the draft. Aaron Dobson of Marshall went to the Patriots and Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech was selected by the San Francisco 49ers.
If that was a success then the 2014 draft could be an "all-time" type of year for the conference. Currently, Hardy (East Carolina), Ryan Grant (Tulane), Willis Wright (Florida International), Jordan Leslie (UTEP) and William Dukes (Florida Atlantic) all have legitimate chances of being drafted. Hardy and Grant lead the group, both showing strong hands and a great hybrid ability to play inside or outside.
Wright and Leslie are true outside threats. They both show good speed and great foot awareness near the sidelines and in the end zone. Both face big obstacles in 2013 with Wright playing in a system that does not often attack vertically and Leslie coming off an injury, but both names should surface come next year's draft.
Dukes is a speedy receiver who has great hands and is willing to go over the middle and make the hard catch, something most NFL teams need.