In preparation for the 2013 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.
DUKE BLUE DEVILS
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 0
2012 NFL Draft picks: 0
For most athletic programs in today's college landscape, football is king. But in Durham, North Carolina, basketball reigns supreme at Duke and that won't change any time soon. Head coach David Cutcliffe hasn't been a miracle worker, but he has helped improve the program, something that shows in his recruiting classes. The Blue Devils haven't produced a draft pick under his watch (Duke hasn't had a NFL Draft pick since 2004), but there is a good chance that streak ends next April.
With only seven players drafted in the past two decades, Duke will never compete with the top-level programs (Alabama had eight players selected in the 2012 draft class alone), but the Blue Devils do have NFL quality talent on the 2012 roster. And quarterback Sean Renfree leads the way, both on this list and on the field.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. QB Sean Renfree (6-5, 230)
The Blue Devils haven't had a player selected in the first five rounds since 1999, but look for Renfree (pictured above) to change that statistic in the 2013 NFL Draft. The fifth-year senior is entering his third year as the starting quarterback for Duke and will look to improve upon their 3-9 record last season. Renfree, who was a four-star recruit out of Arizona, became the starter as a sophomore in 2010 and earned team MVP honors. Last season, he finished among the ACC leaders in completion percentage (65.0%), passing yards (2,891) and led the conference in completions per game (23.5). Renfree is a traditional drop back passer and looks the part with a tall, filled out frame. He has a strong arm to easily make all the throws and does a nice job working through his progressions to find the open target. Renfree shows excellent chemistry with his receivers and is a confident thrower, never appearing shy to take chances downfield. The career statistics aren't glamorous (32-30 TD-INT ratio), but he has all the tools NFL scouts look for at the next level. And it won't hurt that his collegiate head coach is the same offensive mind that mentored Peyton and Eli Manning.
2. WR Conner Vernon (6-1, 195)
Although he isn't well-known name to most college football fans, Vernon is the only returning receiver in the ACC that has led his team in receiving the past two seasons. The Miami-native made a splash the moment he stepped foot on-campus for the Blue Devils, earning Second Team All-ACC honors as a true freshman. Vernon has surpassed the 70-catch plateau each of the past two seasons, finishing just shy of 1,000 yards each year, and has at least one catch in every game of his collegiate career (35 games). He is a bit stiff in his movements and lacks natural explosion to consistently separate, but he shows deceptive, straight-line speed. Vernon does a lot of his damage in the short-half of the field, mastering a lot of underneath routes to turn catches upfield. He plays with very good focus and body control to adjust his body to make tough catches away from his frame. Vernon isn't a top-flight pro prospect, but he is one of the top-25 senior receivers entering the 2012 college footballs eason.
3. OG Laken Tomlinson (6-3, 315)*
Only a redshirt sophomore, Tomlinson impressed coaches last season as a freshman, starting every game at right guard for the Blue Devils' offense. Out of high school, the Illinois-product received scholarship offers from Ohio State, Michigan State and Illinois, but he chose to accept an offer from Duke, redshirting in 2010. Tomlinson fought for playing time last summer and earned the starting nod at guard, impressing the Duke coaching staff with his aggressive and physical playing style. While he's still growing into his body and polishing his technique, Tomlinson has a bright future ahead of him as he continues to develop.
4. DE Kenny Anunike (6-5, 255)
A former tight end, Anunike led the ACC in sacks through the first four games last year before a knee injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. And despite playing in only four games, he still finished tops on the Blue Devils' roster last year with 4.0 sacks. Anunike was recruited as a tight end out of Ohio and chose Duke over Indiana, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. After spending 2008 and 2009 on offense, he made the transition to defensive end in 2010 where he served as a back-up. Anunike jumped out to a fast start last season when he became a starter, but the knee injury forced him to the sidelines, his second career knee issue. Although still raw, he is a good-sized athlete and will definitely get looks from NFL scouts, but Anunike needs to prove he can stay healthy.
5. RB Desmond Scott (5-9, 190)
Although he combined for just 792 rushing yards as a freshman and sophomore, Scott led the Blue Devils' ground attack both seasons. Last year, he struggled with injuries and finished second on the team with 367 rush yards, splitting time with junior Juwan Thompson. Scott was a top recruit out of North Carolina in 2009 and surprised many when he chose Duke over Georgia, Rutgers and several other prominent East Coast programs. He has 20 starts over his first three seasons, but has struggled to stay healthy even with a limited workload, averaging only 8.8 carries per game over his career. Scott is slated to be the starting running back in 2012 for the Blue Devils and has the speed and agility to give the offense a legitimate run threat. Projected as an undrafted free agent, he is also a reliable option as a receiver out of the backfield (77 career catches), but he will need to prove to NFL scouts that he can hold up with his smallish frame.
Just missed: C Brian Moore, LB Kelby Brown*, LB Austin Gamble, OT Perry Simmons*, S Walt Canty
Photo credit: Getty Images