Louisville has 6 Seniors that I believe will draw interest from the NFL this off-season. Below I’ll outline which 6 guys I’m thinking will get opportunities and where I expect them to go in the NFL Draft/Undrafted Free Agent process.

Joshua Appleby – UDFA – Josh had a great year punting the ball for the Cards.  Consistency is his biggest issue, but Appleby has a big leg and a soft touch for kicks inside the 10.  There is enough tape for Josh to make a camp, but it would be hard for a GM to spend a draft pick on him (like most punters).

James Burgess – 3rd to 5th Round – James Burgess is the model of reliability.  92 tackles (9.5 TFLs, 1 INT) in 2015,  71 tackles  (10 TFLs, 3 INTs) in 2014,  71 tackles in 2013, 27 tackles in 2012.  He’s also a fantastic ambassador of himself and Louisville Football and contributes greatly to the community.  The biggest drawback on James is his size at 6’0, 229.  The NFL Draft loves its prototypes….but eventually the actual NFL loves its production.  Burgess probably moves down draft boards because of his size (like Elvis Dumervil) but once he makes camp he’ll make a team and play for a long time in the NFL.  If I were a GM I’d find a spot for him on my team.

Aaron Epps – UDFA – At 6’7, 288 pounds Epps could definitely draw some draft intrigue but ultimately I’m going to say that Aaron gets a shot after the draft as a UDFA.  Epps could be hurt because he is so light for his size and teams will want to make sure that Aaron’s speed makes up for that as well as Aaron’s overall strength is up to par.  Those will be the biggest questions.  If I’m Epps I’m working hard to maintain my flexibility, agility and adding strength.

Sheldon Rankins – 1st to 2nd Round – Sheldon Rankins is one of the best athletes in the upcoming draft and is described as a ‘technician’ by nearly everyone who evaluates him.  Rankins with 53 tackles, 12 TFLs, and 6 sacks was consistently the focus of double teams and has the versatility that NFL teams covet in the 3-4 scheme that most NFL teams run these days.  Rankins should be Louisville’s highest draftee in the 2016 Draft.

Pio Vatuvei – 7th to UDFA – Pio has a lot of ability. But he just lacks a lot of production.  I’m not going to say that he’s completely out of the draft because a team will probably love his athleticism and might take a flier on him late in the draft.   But for the moment I’m going to project Vatuvei as an UDFA and will make his impact in an NFL camp.

John Wallace – UDFA – Kickers aren’t typically drafted and John didn’t have a career year compared to his previous 3 at UofL.  Bobby Petrino talked about the FG protection some after the Kentucky game that really limited John’s efficiency in 2015, but Wallace’s history should get him into a camp in the NFL and he’ll have an opportunity to make a team.  Kicking in the NFL is extremely competitive so it would be fantastic if Wallace could land somewhere.

Potential Early Entries

I identified 6 players with eligibility remaining for 2016 that may give pause to the 2016 NFL Draft this May.   Personally I wouldn’t advise any of these six to leave because I think each player would be leaving money on the table in the long-term.   Below I discuss each player and where I think they would be drafted using my own analysis and where they are currently projected by various draft sites.

DeAngelo Brown -5th to 6th Round – DeAngelo had a really fantastic year at Nose for the Louisville Defense.  Personally I think D. Brown should (and will) return but he is a 4th year Junior and the thought may cross his mind about entering the NFL Draft early.  DTs are hard to find and DeAngelo did just make the ACSMA ALL-ACC 2nd Team after his 38 tackle, 6.5 TFL performance at the Nose position (which is outstanding).  It would probably be best for DeAngelo Brown to return for his senior season for him to improve his draft stock, but we’re big D. Brown fans either way.

Devonte Fields – 3rd to 4th Round – Fields is an interesting case because he statistically had a great year with 55 tackles, 19 TFLs, 7.5 sacks and 2 Forced Fumbles.  The reason why I believe Fields needs to return is because he DOMINATED lesser opponents on the schedule late in the year but really does not have great film or production vs. Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Houston, and the better teams on Louisville’s schedule.  Part of that was probably because Devonte showed up to Louisville out of shape and really was able to make an impact as the season went on and his endurance improved.

Fields needs to return because IF he can play at his season’s end level throughout 2016 he could easily play his way into 1st or 2nd Round status.  The one year salary difference between 1st Round ($5M-$1.5M)  & 4th Round ($500K) meaning that if Fields believes he is a 1st round talent he’ll be costing himself a minimum of $4 Million by leaving early and potentially as much as $18 Million.  It is in Devonte Fields’ best interest to come into Fall Camp fully in shape and play well in the prime games and dominate throughout the season.  If he does that, he’ll move into the 1st round and make himself a really nice chunk of money.

A lot of mock drafts have Fields from the 4th to 6th round, but I doubt he lasts past the 4th, but as you can see from the contract scales below that really makes a small difference.  If I were advising Devonte I’d tell him to return.

Josh Harvey-Clemons -4th to 6th Round –  Josh is a draft curiosity because of his size at 6’5, 212.  JHC has the potential to be an outstanding player at the college level, but until he consistently makes plays at UofL it’s hard to project him higher than the 4th round.  My argument for Devonte Fields to return is the same as Harvey-Clemons because I think both guys are 1st or 2nd round players but didn’t play up to that potential in 2015.  JHC should return and make more money in one year than he would in 3 if he leaves early.

Keith Kelsey -3rd to 4th Round – Keith Kelsey had an outstanding season.  100 tackles.  12 TFLs.  3.5 sacks. That’s a lot of production and then consider this:  He probably was shorted 20 tackles by statisticians throughout the year.  Still Keith was named 1st Team ALL-ACC by the ACSMA and now the question on whether or not to leave early really will begin to creep in to fans’ minds.

We all have our favorites and Kelsey is probably my favorite Cardinal on the 2015 squad, so naturally I don’t want him to leave.  But looking at Draft projections I’m not seeing him in the first two rounds anywhere and that will always be my qualifier as to whether or not player should leave or remain in school.  It will be interesting to learn what feedback he receives from the NFL.  Keith is clearly going to play in the NFL one day and it is a tough decision for him and his family.  I do think that Kelsey & Stacy Thomas would be an incredible duo for 2016 at inside linebacker and playing for a 9-3, 10-2, 11-1 team carries much more clout than a 7-5 team.

Jamari Staples -5th to 6th Round – Jamari was OUTSTANDING when healthy and led the Cards in receiving in 2015 despite only playing in 9 games (maybe 7 fully healthy).  Staples hauled in 36 catches for 610 yards and 3 TD but because of his late impact he currently doesn’t show up on many draft projections.  If he decided to declare he’d get invited to the combine and he’d be worth a selection, but this isn’t a situation where Staples should leave.  He’s going to have a lot of buzz heading into 2016 and can use that to propel him to bigger things.  He MUST stay healthy.

Trevon Young -5th to 7th Round – Trevon broke out midway through the 2015 season and has NFL talent.  Young needs to play more consistently and also MUST not let his team down as he did by getting suspended prior to the final game of the season.  Young could decide to go but it wouldn’t be advisable.  An additional year in college with the Louisville Defense that is potentially returning could really turn some heads for Trevon and UofL.

2015 Actual NFL Rookie Total Contract Value Scales

1st Round:  High $25,351,277   Low $7,613,229

2nd Round: High $6,120,557  Low $3,711,548

3rd Round:  High $3,313,500  Low $2,952,710

4th Round:  High $2,851,615  Low $2,625,692

5th Round:  High $2,527,853  Low $2,446,254

6th Round:  High $2,428,152  Low $2,370,487

7th Round:  High $2,359,497  Low $2,332,783

As you can see here the real pay day out of the Draft is the 1st & 2nd Round.  The difference between Late 2nd Round and Late 7th Round players in their total contract value is $1.3M which really isn’t all that much.  Any player that believes that he can play himself into the 1st or 2nd round and is currently in the 3rd Round or Later really should wait to enter the NFL Draft or that player risks losing an opportunity as a serious amount of money.  Players that are 3rd round or later certainly make nice livings and can make generational type money with their 2nd contract……..however the average career length of an NFL player is 3.3 years.  It’s wise to strike for as much as possible when a player enters the league.

Also any player that does not yet have his degree would do well to make sure that they are a 1st or 2nd round selection, otherwise the decision is ill-advised.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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