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: 13
2012 NFL Draft picks: 1 - DL Kendall Reyes (2nd round, 49th overall)
Under former head coach Randy Edsall, the University of Connecticut emerged from the Division I-AA ranks (now known as the FCS) into a legitimate power in the Big East conference, proving that the school best known for its success on the hardwood could also compete at a high level on the gridiron.
During Edsall's 12-year tenure, the Huskies were not only successful in the won/loss column (74-70, including winning a pair of conference titles and leading the Huskies to bowls in his final four seasons), they also developed into a legitimately consistent producer of NFL talent for the first time in school history. The 13 former Huskies drafted by NFL teams from 2008-12 was more than Connecticut had produced since 1962... combined.
Paul Pasqualoni took over the program when Edsall moved on to coach at Maryland. Though only player was drafted from Pasqualoni's 2011 roster, the future could be bright for a program that continues to rely on the running game and speed (if not size) on defense.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. TE Ryan Griffin (6-5, 248)
The Huskies featured their tight ends as downfield targets rather than just dump-off options much more so under Pasqualoni than under previous regimes, which helped Griffin (pictured above) emerge as a legitimate prospect a year ago. Blessed with good size and athleticism, Griffin is the Huskies' leading returner receiver (33 catches for 499 yards, three touchdowns and one two-point conversion) and the Second Team All Big East selection has already earned a spot on the initial Mackey Award list as the nation's top tight end. Griffin only caught two more passes a year ago than he did in 2010 but his average yards per catch exploded from 7.9 yards as a sophomore to a gaudy 15.1 in 2011 -- a number that ranked higher than NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated tight end for the 2013 draft, Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert (who averaged 12.75 yards per catch), as well as star wideouts in the conference like Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu (10.49) and West Virginia's Tavon Austin (11.74). The onus will be on Griffin, who signed with UCONN as a lightly recruited athlete, to prove that last year's breakout campaign was no fluke but Griffin has good size, soft hands, surprising athleticism and has proven to be a willing blocker, as well.
While the NFL generally prefers bigger, bulkier linebackers with the game shifting to more of a passing attack, speed and instincts in coverage are proving valuable commodities on draft day, which is why Moore could earn significant attention from scouts this fall. Having started 21 games at outside linebacker over the past two seasons for the Huskies, Moore has registered 196 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 11 passes broken up and three interceptions, proving his ability to make an impact at the line of scrimmage, behind it and as a pass defender. At his size, Moore will need to continue to improve his strength in taking on and shedding blocks, but he reads the action quickly and has the speed to close, making him a classic 4-3 weakside linebacker candidate.
Wreh-Wilson will have to prove he's completely over the knee injury that robbed him of half of the 2011 season, but he offers the combination of size, athleticism and starting experience (enters 2012 with 30 career starts) that scouts are looking for. Voted a team captain in 2010, Wreh-Wilson looked like a potential all-conference selection before suffering the knee injury against Buffalo on September 24. After missing five games, Wreh-Wilson returned to play in the final three and was tested often. Despite not being 100%, he registered nine passes broken up, which tied his previous career high. Scouts are anxious to see if Wreh-Wilson can put it all together for a final big season in 2012. He's certainly shown the flashes of being an intriguing prospect, possessing not only the physical characteristics scouts are looking for but also a flair for the dramatic. Not only has he already tied a school record by returning two of his seven career interceptions for touchdowns, his two interceptions this past season came against top competition (Vanderbilt, Rutgers).
With Wreh-Wilson sidelined for much of the 2011 season, Gratz emerged as UCONN's most reliable cornerback a year ago and therefore will enter this season rated higher than his teammate by some scouts. Like his teammate, Gratz is experienced, having started 29 games already. Gratz isn't flashy but he's a sound football player who is willing to help in run support. Scouts like that while his total tackles dropped a year ago (from 63 in 2010 to 53 a year ago) as offenses shifted their focus towards lesser-experienced defenders, Gratz doubled the number of assisted tackles in 2011 (from nine to 18), showing greater recognition and willingness to get involved in the physical nature of the game. A Second Team All Big East selection a year ago, Gratz has 136 tackles, 22 passes broken up and five interceptions for his career.
The Huskies know that the loss of not only star Kendall Reyes but fellow starting defensive tackle Twyon Martin will hurt so they're hoping for big seasons from returning impact defensive ends Jesse Joseph and Williams. Joseph has been the more consistent player of his career and he enters his senior campaign having already started 34 games. While obviously undersized, Williams' ability to wreak havoc on quarterbacks will earn him considerable attention from scouts. Williams emerged as one of the nation's most feared pass rushers last season, registering 12.5 sacks, including nine in the final five games. With 12.5 sacks over 12 games last season, Williams joined Houston Texans' first round pick Whitney Mercilus in being one of only two players in the FBS to average more than a sack per game. While he lines up at defensive end in UCONN's scheme, to make it in the NFL Williams will have to prove that he has the flexibility, speed and instincts to handle the shift to outside linebacker.
RB Lyle McCombs (5-08, 175)*
DE Jesse Joseph (6-3, 262)
DT Shamar Stephen (6-4, 315)*
WR/KR Nick Williams (5-10, 185)
OT Kevin Friend (6-6, 295)*
For more 2012 college football draft previews click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire