The University of Louisville Football program had 10 players selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. A school record…….previously the Cards had a high of 6 players selected in the 2005 NFL Draft. In addition to the 10 NFL Draft selections the Cards currently have 8 Undrafted Free Agent players (6 with contracts) in NFL Rookie Camps.
Bobby Petrino’s 1st Year (2003) at Louisville saw ZERO Cards drafted in the 2004 Draft. HUGE Difference in Year One of Petrino at Louisville 2.0. Especially considering that the Cards had THREE 1st Rounders drafted in the 2014 Draft along with Buffalo Bills leading tackler in 2014 Preston Brown who was selected in the 3rd Round. Louisville has sent a HUGE number of talent to the NFL the last two seasons.
But when Petrino arrived in 2003 Louisville was actually replacing its highest number of draftees (4) ever in the 2003 Draft matching its previous high in 1997. In between, Louisville didn’t impact the NFL draft like it has the past two seasons. In fact, after beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl (1-2-2013) to cap the 2012 season, Louisville had ZERO players drafted in the 2013 Draft. But the Petrino era spawned the most successful 4-year period in the NFL Draft in school history where the Cards had 19 players drafted during the 2005-2008 NFL Drafts.
With all of the NFL caliber talent departing the program, there are two questions: 1) Can Louisville maintain the same level of success? 2) Who makes up the next crop of Cards to the NFL Draft?
The First Question: Absolutely. Bobby Petrino has done a marvelous job of producing talent into the NFL during his career. Petrino coached teams run a pro-style offense & defense allowing players to develop into a system and easier to evaluate for NFL scouts. This is especially important with the influx of spread offenses and the defenses that are adapting to the college game…..Petrino runs the Classic Pro Style. Even as the NFL transitioned from a traditional 4-3 defense to now mostly 3-4 concepts, Coach Petrino changed philosophies to match the pros.
Getting talent in recruiting is the 1st step….but developing that talent and placing that talent in the right position is even more important. The list of players not highly regarded that flourished in college with Petrino and later in the NFL is LONG. Most notably Breno Giacomini who caused some confusion in Louisville on Signing Day when a 6-7, 230 lbs player from Massachusetts without a position. Now, a Super Bowl Champion (Seahawks) Breno Giacomini is one of the highest paid New York Jets. Petrino can get players and he can develop players. He’s proven that.
The Second Question:
Moving into 2016, Louisville has had a lot of talent waiting in the wings, some coming in, and some fans already know about. The number of scouts that attended practice during the 2014 season was astounding, and they’ve no doubt familiarized themselves with the future draft eligible prospects of Louisville Football.
Who Leaves Early? That is another question that will help us understand who might be selected in the 2016 or 2017 Draft. But without projecting that, here are my thoughts on 2016 Draft Eligible prospects.
Sheldon Rankins: Sheldon returned for his senior season after a junior season where Rankins tallied 53 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, and 8 sacks and was 3rd Team All-ACC. The main thing Sheldon has to do to be drafted in 2016 is to stay healthy. That’s really been the big problem for Rankins during his career and in 2014, he was healthy and he was dominant. Returning for another season will certainly benefit Rankins because I think he can play himself into the 1st three rounds.
James Burgess: Burgess will get knocked in the combine process due to his size at linebacker….but put on the tape. The kid can absolutely ball and comes from great pedigree. Plus he has much more heft than it appears and has outstanding speed and will be an absolute steal in the middle rounds of the 2016 Draft. Burgess is a tackling machine, the NFL Draft loves its prototypes, but the National Football League loves production. James will do well in the league.
DeAngelo Brown: Technically, DeAngelo could have another year available after missing 2013 with an achilles injury. But I’m listing him as a senior here. There isn’t a more important player for the Louisville Defense than DeAngelo Brown. He’s strong & athletic and also made THE PLAY of the game to bring down Everett Golson vs. Notre Dame late in the 4th Quarter. DeAngelo played 2014 injury free and was outstanding. He isn’t extremely tall, but he packs a huge punch. I see DeAngelo as a 3-5 Round Defensive Tackle right now, but I onl
Pio Vatuvei: Pio has added 24 pounds from his listed weight from last year and is now nearly 300 lbs. Injuries slowed his production in his 1st year in 2014, but there was little drop off when Vatuvei rotated in with BJ Dubose who just was Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Vatuvei can play at a high level and with great energy…he’ll need to stay home in his principles a little more often but coaches will often accept aggressive mistakes over passive miscues.
John Wallace: Kickers don’t necessarily get drafted very often, but it does happen. But Wallace is going to leave Louisville with a lot of individual, career, and season records. He’s been consistent and he’s hit some game-winners. If nothing else Wallace will get picked up as an undrafted free agent and have a chance to make a team in training camp.
Aaron Epps: Aaron is an interesting case. He’s been in the program for a long time he’s transformed his body and finally got a chance to shine in the latter half of 2014. But when Epps was plugged into a starting role, Louisville’s offensive line steadied out. Epps has lost about 12 pounds since the season (based on post-Spring roster), and I’m not sure if that was intentional or if that weight will be restored by the time the Cards kickoff in the Georgia Dome. Louisville needs Epps to pan out in 2015 and he has a lot of mobility and intelligence. Aaron has a shot to hear his name called, but this is his season to earn it. Epps is very difficult to slot in the NFL Draft….with a fantastic year he could shoot way up the board but he could easily be a late round, or even another UDFA.
Need to See More
Corvin Lamb: If Lamb can remain healthy we might be able to see an entire season of his speed, agility, and ability. He’s been a hard luck kid at UofL, we are all rooting for him. But an NFL team is going to need to see it on the field and they are going to need to see some durability before spending a draft pick on Corvin. Perhaps UDFA based solely on potential at this point.
Jermaine Reve: Reve has done a lot in his career, he’s dealt with injury, he’s played multiple positions and he’s wonderfully versatile. Personally I think Reve has NFL ability and size, but scouts probably want to see more on-field production. Jermaine sat out the Spring and is poised for a big final season.
Trevon Young: Trevon came to the Cards last year out of junior college and had injury issues while playing behind Lorenzo Mauldin. We honestly haven’t seen enough and can’t know enough about his game projecting to the NFL level at this point. Young will need a big season to turn some heads.
Kelby Johnson: Kelby was #1 this Spring at Tackle, but struggled to crack the line-up last season when the Cards were searching for answers at Tackle. UofL went with Aaron Epps in 2014, but a year later Johnson is going to have every opportunity in 2015. The window is extremely limited for Kelby to put his work on tape.
Draft Eligible Juniors & Sophomores
This is a group of players who may have decisions to make after the 2015 season. Certainly there are other players who could play their way into future drafts not listed here…or even the 2016 Draft with a huge season like Gerod Holliman who came up with a huge season in his 1st year of action.
Devonte Fields: Comes to Louisville from Junior College after being the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12. It’s hard to say that Fields will come to the Cards in the same form that he left TCU in (see Michael Dyer) but the skill set is certainly there. It’s possible that it takes Fields time to round into form and it’s also possible that he comes in right away and plays like an All-American. Either way Fields makes a lot of sense in the Draft either in 2016 or 2017.
Josh Harvey-Clemons: JHC is already familiar with Todd Grantham’s defensive system having played in it while at Georgia and also during his transfer season. Josh is a RARE size and speed for a safety and has shown a great ability to cover a great deal of ground while also being physical. Harvey-Clemons is a problem for opposing offenses and will have two years of eligibility at Louisville but don’t be surprised if he has a huge year and declares for the 2016 draft.
Keith Kelsey: Keith Kelsey has already made a significant impact at Louisville. Entering his junior year, I expect him to be even better. He’s an incredibly intelligent player with a lot of athleticism. Kelsey should have had 4-5 Defensive Touchdowns in 2015, he was always in the right place at the right time but either officials calls, drops, or something else prohibited Keith from making the play. Keith will rack up a huge number of tackles in 2015, but if he houses some of those opportunities…he’ll go into the 2016 NFL Draft as a playmaker. One knock may be that he is about 10 lbs light to be an NFL Linebacker, but he’ll have time to add that weight between now and then and ultimately NFL teams want guys who make plays and that’s Keith Kelsey.
Shaq Wiggins: Just like Harvey-Clemons, Wiggins also has a great deal of experience in Grantham’s system and has already performed at a high level at Georgia. Wiggins missed some of Spring with an injury but is expected back for Fall Camp. Wiggins can cover, tackle, and can be an elite corner in college football. I’m not entirely sold on an early exit for him just yet, but Shaq will be a redshirt sophomore in 2015 for the Cards.
Ja’Quay Savage: Another redshirt sophomore transfer, Savage comes to Louisville from Texas A&M. In practice Ja’Quay looks to be a DOMINANT wide receiver. Not quite on the level of DeVante Parker, but Louisville’s weapons at wide receiver in 2015 will allow a great deal of room for Savage to work. Could have a huge season. But Ja’Quay will play 2015 as a sophomore and probably ought to have a big year in 2015 & 2016 and shoot for the 2017 Draft.
Players to WATCH:
These players could have huge years but right now we’re calling them darkhorses for the 2016 Draft. (quick note)
Keith Brown- (going outside needs to stay healthy)
James Quick- (need to showcase leadership and consistency as a #1)
Cole Hikutini- (have heard great deal about ability, needs to stay healthy)
Brandon Radcliff – (RB shelf life might force early entry with big year)
Nick Dawson-Brents – (tons of potential at OLB, could have huge year like Holliman and breakout)
Alphonso Carter – (Big WR, someone is going to breakout at WR in this bunch)
Jamari Staples – (same as Carter…already familiar with system. WRs deep and talented)
Keith Towbridge – (lots of potential, good attitude, and underrated athleticism at his size)