2014 NFL Draft: Cincinnati preview
The 2013 draft should be just a one-year dry spell for the Cincinnati Bearcats. After sending only TE Travis Kelce (Chiefs) to the NFL, five senior prospects are intriguing scouts, starting with linebacker Greg Blair.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 15
In preparation for the 2014 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
2013 NFL Draft picks: (1) TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs, third round
Only twice in the last 11 years have the Cincinnati Bearcats yielded fewer than two selections in the draft. The most recent, of course, being this year with all-conference tight end Travis Kelce going to the Chiefs in the third round, and then in 2011 with his older brother, Jason, going to the Eagles in the sixth round. The 2014 squad boasts a seemingly better crop than last year and features five intriguing senior prospects led by LB Greg Blair and OG Austen Bujnoch.
Top Cincinnati prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft:
1. LB Greg Blair (6-1, 252, 4.72)
A 2011 transfer from Lackawanna Community College, Blair burst onto the scene at Cincinnati with 138 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions from the middle linebacker spot as a first-year starter in 2012. While he exhibits strong instincts and a physical, down-hill approach against the run, he also displays impressive awareness and anticipation in space when dropping into coverage. He's not incredibly fluid in reverse and lacks an elite first step when asked to break down and redirect, but he diagnoses early and will take good angles to compensate. He's also a bit "top-heavy" and might need to shed some weight to generate better explosiveness and suddenness, which would project more versatility and ultimately, higher value to pro scouts. Granted an additional year of eligibility for the 2013 season, Blair will have a shot to emerge as one of the '14 class' best linebacker prospects.
2. OG Austen Bujnoch (6-5, 285, 4.93)
A two-year starter for the Bearcats, Bujnoch enters his senior season with an opportunity to make a real name for himself among NFL scouts. At 6 feet 5, 285 pounds, Bujnoch plays a bit light, but there's no denying his quickness and agility, both when adjusting on the fly to square up at the second level as a run blocker and when asked to mirror interior rushers in pass protection. Bujnoch exhibits bend at the point of attack to generate early leverage and move heavier opponents off the block and possesses length and strong hands to keep himself clean when engaged. He does have a tendency to come off the line high at times and, as a result, can be relatively easy to knock back and control, so he'll need to show better consistency here, as well as work to get his weight up over that 300-pound threshold if he's to be considered a top guard prospect in '14.
3. QB Brendon Kay (6-4, 233, 4.76)
When Cincinnati starter Munchie Legaux was benched in '12 due to ineffectiveness, then-head coach Butch Jones called on Kay to assume the QB duties. The senior didn't disappoint, completing 63 percent of his passes including 10 touchdowns to two interceptions and totaling 1,250 yards passing over five starts, topped off with a 332-yard, four-touchdown performance against Duke in the Belk Bowl. At 6-4, 233, Kay possesses an ideal body for the position and displays the "plus" athleticism and mobility highly coveted by a growing number of NFL teams. As a passer, despite having plenty of arm to make all the throws, Kay's mechanics need some work as he tends to drop his arm angle frequently and makes far too many off-balance throws when he doesn't have to. When he does set his feet, Kay can put the ball into some pretty tight spots with good accuracy and shows nice touch when asked to drop the ball in vertically. Like Blair, Kay was granted an additional year of eligibility and will be a fifth-year senior in 2013 under new coach Tommy Tuberville. If Kay can show early that he has cleaned up some of the mechanical flaws, he could be one of the first five quarterbacks selected next May.
4. DB Deven Drane (5-11, 185, 4.52)
NFL scouts love defensive backs who can play multiple positions and, thus, there will most certainly be several sets of eyes on Drane in 2013. Over the last two seasons, he has totaled 16 pass breakups and five interceptions to go along with superb run defense from several positions including corner, nickel and even safety. Drane impresses with his physicality when asked to come up and jam receivers at the line and possesses the natural suddenness and explosiveness to mirror receivers downfield. He's late to recognize and react at times but gets up to speed quickly with a strong first step and closing burst, so he's able to correct. He's a consistent fundamental tackler who wraps up low and does a good job of disengaging downfield to close on the play, and he exhibits relentlessness and aggression in pursuit. His backpedal lacks consistent fluidity, and he'll lose a step from time to time due to late flip, but the tools are there to improve and put him in position to be a day 2 draft consideration.
5. WR Anthony McClung (6-1, 172, 4.53)
McClung enters his senior season with the hope of a breakout year, considering he'll have the opportunity to play a full season with a more prototypical "pocket passer" at quarterback in Kay. At 6-1, McClung possesses ideal length and range for the position and displays strong coordination and soft hands when asked to secure the ball off his frame. Despite appearing a bit high-waisted, McClung exhibits impressive shiftiness and stop-start ability in traffic and can really accelerate in the open field after the catch. He plays light, is often easy to knock off course in press and has really been at his best when he's able to separate across the field from the slot when given a few steps of space to work with off the snap. Thus, adding some muscle and turning up the level of physicality will be a must if he wants to project as a consistent outside target at the next level. McClung looks to be a mid-late round slot consideration who brings after-the-catch play-making ability and can also contribute in the return game, having averaged 13.2 yards on 16 punt returns as a junior.
Other Cincinnati prospects worth watching:
TE Blake Annen (6-4, 247, 4.87)
Recruited as one of Ohio's top tight ends coming out of high school in 2008, Annen will finally get his chance to be the go-to guy at the position, from which 2013 third-round pick Travis Kelce hauled in 45 catches for 772 yards and eight touchdowns and earned first-team all-conference honors last season.
OG Sam Longo (6-5, 286, 5.16)
The former Ohio State Buckeye sat out the 2012 season due to his transfer but will have an opportunity to earn a significant role this season. Like Bujnoch, Longo will need to bulk up if he's to be considered as a legitimate draft prospect, but he's known to play with some nasty and was touted for his athleticism coming out of high school.
DT Jordan Stepp (6-1, 268, 4.87)
Though not a tremendous athlete, Stepp plays with quickness and relentlessness that could have teams looking at him as a potential nickel rusher or rotational end prospect.
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