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.
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 16
2012 NFL Draft picks: 4 - DT Derek Wolfe (2nd round, 36th overall), RB Isaiah Pead (2nd round, 50th overall), DT John Hughes (3rd round, 87th overall), TE Adrien Robinson (4th round, 127th overall)
If one were to gauge college football teams strictly on the quality and quantity of NFL prospects produced, the University of Cincinnati is coming off of its most successful NFL draft in over 50 years.
Three former Bearcats were drafted within the first 100 selections for the first time since 1960. Top pick Derek Wolfe lasted just four picks into the second round before the Denver Broncos selected him – the highest selection of any Bearcat since the Detroit Lions selected defensive tackle Bob Bell No. 21 overall back in 1971.
Coming off a co-conference championship and victory over an SEC foe (Vanderbilt) in the Liberty Bowl, optimism is high that even with the loss of their four NFL-bound prospects, as well as starting quarterback Zach Collaros, Cincinnati will once again be a tough opponent in the Big East. A year after two of Cincinnati's defensive tackles went surprisingly high in the 2012 draft, scouts will be watching closely to see if the Bearcats' talented pass rushers and defensive backs can keep up the pressure this season and perhaps position themselves for similar NFL consideration in 2013.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
The NFL loves speedy pass rushers and with Stewart (pictured above) they may have another burgeoning young star to evaluate. Stewart signed with Cincinnati as a 216 pound linebacker and emerged as a standout at both outside positions as a redshirt freshman, registering 59 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman. As Stewart added weight, however, head coach Butch Jones and his staff elected to move him to defensive end a year ago and the results were impressive. Despite it being his first season at the position, Stewart finished second only to Wolfe in sacks (with six), while also registering 44 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss and led the Bearcats with four forced fumbles. Perhaps most intriguing about Stewart is the fact that he's not only fast off the edge, the instincts he developed while at linebacker came through at defensive end – where he finished among the country's leaders among front seven defenders with eight passes broken up. Highly regarded by the coaching staff due to his athletic talents, as well as his willingness to change positions and leadership, Stewart could be on the verge of a breakout campaign.
The loss of the Bearcats' top two defensive tackles will sting but the team is hopeful that the experience and leadership Frey provides on the back end can help Cincinnati remain at the top of the Big East conference. Frey's collegiate career didn't start off as he'd hoped. He dislocated his shoulder during the first camp of his true freshman season and was forced to redshirt. A broken arm a year later in his first career start ended his 2008 season prematurely, as well. Because the injury was sustained so early in the season the NCAA granted Frey a rare sixth year of eligibility. He's put it to good use, emerging as a 36-game starter (entering the 2012 season) who rose to First Team all-conference a year ago with 73 tackles, eight passes broken up and two interceptions – including one he returned for a touchdown in the regular season finale against Connecticut that made the Bearcats co-Big East champs (along with West Virginia). Frey has the size and instincts scouts like and appears to be an NFL caliber athlete. Scouts love intelligent safeties and Frey certainly boasts the smarts. He was his high school class Valedictorian, earned a spot on the 2012 Academic All-Big East team and is majoring in Architectural Engineering Technology.
With his incredible size, long arms and surprising athleticism Hooey boasts many of the physical traits that every NFL scouts is looking for in a developmental prospect. Unfortunately, Hooey has struggled to maintain a starting role for the Bearcats, likely due to the fact that he's been a bit injury prone. Hooey was expected to emerge as a bright spot for Cincinnati at right tackle a season ago but after initially playing well there, he suffered an ankle injury that ended his season prematurely. Jones and his staff moved Hooey to the all-important left tackle position during the spring. Should he have the breakout campaign that many close to the program believe he could, Hooey will draw looks from scouts as there is no denying his potential.
4. P Pat O'Donnell (6-4, 218)
Though he isn't likely to generate as much buzz outside of the program as some of UC's flashier athletes, O'Donnell makes the cut because, frankly, he's among the more intriguing punter prospects in the entire country. Blessed with great size, a strong leg, surprising overall athleticism and developing touch to pin opponents deep in their own territory, O'Donnell has all of the physical traits scouts are looking for. Jones characterized O'Donnell as one of his team's best athletes – quite a rarity for a punter. Perhaps most intriguing about O'Donnell is the fact that he not only beat the Big East competition by two full yards a year ago in punt average (43.8), he also served as the team's kickoff specialist.
5. TE Travis Kelce (6-5, 255)
Though Cincinnati's tight ends rarely earn the hype of their wideouts, the Bearcats are quietly developing a reputation as a producer of NFL talent at this position. Travis, the younger brother of former Bearcat and current Philadelphia Eagle offensive guard Jason Kelce, looked like a future star while splitting time between tight end and Wildcat quarterback as a freshman but ruined his chances at building on his early momentum by being suspended for the entire 2010 season for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Though Adrien Robinson, who was selected in the fourth round this past April by the Super Bowl defending New York Giants, started ahead of Kelce in 2011, Kelce saw significant playing time and actually finished with one more catch (13) than Robinson. Big and athletic, Kelce has the physical talent, bloodlines and opportunity to serve as a security blanket for new starting quarterback Munchie Legaux.
DE Dan Giordano (6-4, 262)
CB Dominique Battle (5-11, 185)
LB Maalik Bomarr (6-2, 220)
OG Austen Bujnoch (6-5, 282)*
WR Anthony McClung (6-0, 165)*
LS Tom DeTemple (6-1, 230)
OC Evan Davis (6-3, 282)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (6-1, 196)
For more 2012 college football draft previews click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire