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.
SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 11
2012 NFL Draft picks: 0
Considering South Florida didn't start their football program until 1997, the fact that the Bulls have produced 19 draft picks over the past dozen years is extremely impressive. After moving to the FBS-level in 2001, South Florida had their first NFL Draft pick that same year (K Bill Gramatica) followed by their first 1st round pick in 2008 (CB Mike Jenkins). The Bulls had a combined eight draft picks in 2010 and 2011, the most in school history over a two-year period. But South Florida failed to produce a draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the first time the Bulls were shut out on draft weekend since 2006.
Head coach Skip Holtz is entering his third season at the helm of the Bulls, a team considered by some to be the favorites in the Big East this season. Last year, South Florida started 4-0, including an impressive victory in South Bend over Notre Dame, but the Bulls finished just 1-7 with their lone conference win coming against Syracuse. However with a healthy B.J. Daniels at quarterback, the Bulls are a completely different team and could pull upsets in 2012 with both Florida State and Miami (FL) on the South Florida schedule.
While the Bulls don't have any Jason Pierre-Paul caliber talents for the 2013 NFL Draft, South Florida has a few quality prospects that can, and will, make NFL rosters next year.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. OT Mark Popek (6-7, 305)
In order for the Bulls to have a successful 2012 campaign, the South Florida offensive line needs to keep quarterback B.J. Daniels healthy. And the leader of the Bulls' offensive line is Popek, the senior left tackle and one of the top offensive linemen in the Big East. He was a late riser as a high school recruit out of Plant City, Florida, adding over 75 pounds before his senior season and redshirting in his first season at South Florida. Popek was an off-and-on starter as a freshman and sophomore tackle, starting nine games from 2009-10. He became the full-time starter at left tackle last season as a junior, starting all 12 games and earning praise from the coaching staff as the team's most consistent lineman. After spending more time in the weight room during the offseason, Popek is up to 305-pounds and has worked extensively to eliminate the dumb penalties and refine his mechanics at the position. He is the most experienced blocker on an offensive line that will break in a few new starters in 2012 and is expected to take on more of a leadership role as a senior.
2. SS Jon Lejiste (6-0, 210)
Entering his third year as a starter, Lejiste is a violent striker with the hard-hitting mentality that NFL scouts seek at strong safety. He was a two-star cornerback recruit out of high school, but moved to safety after his redshirt season and has since added 30+ pounds. After he served as a freshman back-up behind Nate Allen (Philadelphia Eagles), Lejiste earned the starting strong safety gig as a sophomore in 2010 (13 starts), posting a team-best 4.0 sacks. He started all 12 games last season, recording a career-best 47 tackles and taking on more responsibility in coverage. Lejiste has good size and strength for the position with the straight-line speed to close in a flash. He has enough range to play sideline-to-sideline, but needs to do a better job putting himself in position to make plays on the ball in coverage (only two career interceptions). If Lejiste continues to improve as a senior like his previous two seasons as a starter, he will be on many team's draft boards next spring.
3. DE Ryne Giddins (6-3, 265)*
Based on potential alone, Giddins might belong No. 1 on this list and many think 2012 will be his breakout season. Although a tick undersized, he shows the natural pass rush ability that will always attract attention from scouts at the next level. As a four-star recruit out of Florida, Giddins was the most decorated high school recruit in program history, choosing South Florida over Florida (received over 70 scholarship offers). He played in three games as a true freshman before an ankle injury ended his season, taking a redshirt year. Giddins returned in 2010 and served mostly as a back-up defensive end, finishing with 6.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He became a full-time starter in 2011 as a sophomore, setting career-highs with 44 tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles and earning Second Team All-Big East honors. Giddins is quick off the edge with the combination of speed and strength to beat blockers in multiple ways and collapse the pocket. He is still developing his pass rush moves and instincts for the position, but he flashes the potential to lead the Big East in sacks in 2012.
4. DT Cory Grissom (6-2, 315)
Besides B.J. Daniels, no returning player on the South Florida roster has started more games over his career than Grissom, who boasts 28 starts under his belt. He would be higher on this list if it wasn't for a broken ankle that he suffered in April, requiring surgery and sending him to the sidelines. Grissom is expected to return sometime in the fall, but when and how healthy will he be? Durability has been an issue in the past for the Georgia-native as he battled several injuries over his first two seasons, redshirting in 2008 and seeing limited playing time in 2009. However, Grissom stayed healthy as a sophomore and junior, starting 25 games and totaling 54 total tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He plays quick and fast off the snap with natural burst to occupy multiple blockers and fight his way through the trash. Grissom starred during spring practice and is slated for a big senior season, but the ankle injury creates some doubt. Although flying under the radar as a pro prospect, Grissom should see a rise up draft boards once he proves he's healthy.
5. QB B.J. Daniels (6-0, 215)
In 2009 when starting quarterback Matt Grothe went down with a torn ACL, redshirt freshman Daniels stepped in for the Bulls and surprised even the coaching staff with his playmaking ability, leading an upset of Florida State in his first career start. However, the career of the Tallahassee-native has been marred with injuries and inconsistencies. Daniels earned Big East All-Freshman honors in 2009, but had somewhat of a sophomore slump in 2010 with more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (11) and career lows in both passing and rushing yards. He started all but one game in 2011 as a junior and set career-bests in passing yards (2,604) and completions (215), but South Florida registered just five wins, the lowest total since 2004 when Daniels was a freshman in high school. Although he is listed at just six-foot tall, Daniels is a very athletic passer, using his legs to elude pressure and pick up yards on the ground when needed (1,634 career rushing yards). He is a poised and confident player in the huddle, but has streaky timing as a passer and struggles under pressure when forced to accelerate his delivery. If he wishes to have any future at the next level, Daniels needs to improve his accuracy, specifically the ball placement to his targets with a career completion percentage under 58.0%. He is a long-shot to get drafted at this point, but he has his senior season to show NFL scouts that he can stay healthy and consistent.
CB Kayvon Webster (5-11, 190)
ILB Mike Lanaris (6-0, 235)
K Maikon Bonani (5-9, 190)
RB Demetris Murray (6-0, 225)
WR/TE Evan Landi (6-3, 235)
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