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.
WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 11
2013 NFL Draft picks: 1 -- FB Tommy Bohanon (New York Jets, seventh round)
Wake Forest never had more than three players drafted in the same year for most of the school's history, but the Demon Deacons have sent four players to the NFL via the draft twice in the past five years. However, the team's two highest draft picks over that span (LB Aaron Curry and CB Alphonso Smith, who were both chosen in the top-40 picks of the 2009 NFL Draft) have been disappointments. While Wake Forest likely doesn't have a prospect who will be considered a top-40 pick for the 2014 NFL Draft, the Demon Deacons have a handful of intriguing prospects who won't be fits for everyone but might be able to find a home at the next level.
Top Wake Forest prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft
* Indicates underclassman
1. WR Michael Campanaro (5-foot-11, 195 pounds, 4.52)
One of the most productive pass catchers in the ACC, Campanaro has clearly established himself as the go-to weapon on the Wake Forest offense. He has produced 152 catches the past two seasons (73 in 2011, 79 in 2012) and needs just 55 receptions as a senior in 2013 to break the school record for catches, held by Desmond Clark (1995-98) with 216 grabs. Campanaro averaged an ACC-best 7.9 catches per game last season, which ranked top 10 in the nation, and he finished with a team high in receiving yards (763) and touchdown catches (6). He isn't the biggest or the fastest, but Campanaro wins with his savvy routes and natural hands, setting up his moves well at all levels of the field to catch defenders off balance and create space with his short-area quickness. He is used all over the field by the Wake Forest offense but does some of his best work from the slot, where he can use the middle of the field and take advantage of mismatches against linebackers or safeties. Campanaro plays the position like a seasoned veteran and will bring a strong resume to the NFL with another productive season for the Demon Deacons.
2. CB Merrill Noel (5-10, 180, 4.53)*
After a consensus Freshman All-American season in 2011, Noel's sophomore year didn't quite go according to plan as he struggled to match his gaudy first-year production. As a freshman, he finished with 66 tackles, 21 passes defended and two interceptions. As a sophomore, those numbers dipped to 33 tackles, three passes defended and no interceptions. Noel only started seven games last season, missing several due to suspension and injuries. He served a one-game suspension for a “violation of athletics department policy,” and several sources have reported that a positive drug test was the cause. On the field, Noel is an athletic corner who plays confident and isn't afraid to take chances going after the ball. He has smooth hips and fluid footwork to turn and run downfield, doing a nice job reading the receiver to know when to get his head turned and find the ball. Noel needs to tighten his technique and play with better balance and pad level off the snap, struggling when he decides to freelance and let his athleticism trump the fundamentals of the position. If he can rebound in 2013 and show some of the promise that he displayed as a freshman, Noel can be one of the better defensive backs in the conference.
3. DE Nikita Whitlock (5-11, 260, 4.74)
The main question for Whitlock and his NFL future is what position and scheme will he fit best? With his shorter frame and stout build, he mans the nose guard spot for the Demon Deacons, often lining up over the center. Whitlock was extremely productive in high school, but Wake Forest was the only FBS program to offer him a scholarship due to his height. Even then, the coaching staff wanted to move him to linebacker. But Whitlock has more than proved his worth on the defensive front, wreaking havoc against both the pass and run. His lack of size cannot be ignored, but Whitlock uses his shorter stature to his advantage to win with leverage and get under blockers' pads, always getting lower than his opponent. His smaller frame also makes it tougher for blockers to latch on and gain correct positioning with their hands. However, Whitlock will struggle to anchor and shed as easily against interior linemen at the next level and will probably be forced outside to defensive end. Regardless of the position that he plays, Whitlock will be one of those NFL players who will make it extremely tough on the coaching staff to cut him because of his toughness and relentless nature on and off the football field.
Other Wake Forest prospects worth watching:
QB Tanner Price (6-2, 205, 4.79)
An athletic passer, Price lacks ideal size and has a limited arm, but he is smart and experienced with 34 collegiate starts already under his belt.
RB Josh Harris (5-11, 210, 4.53)
The team's leading rusher from a year ago, Harris doesn't bring much flash or sizzle to the backfield, but his balance and toughness stand out.
DE Zach Thompson (6-5, 255, 4.87)
Entering his fourth season as a starting defensive end, Thompson led all Wake Forest defensive linemen in tackles (52) and sacks (4) last season.
FS A.J. Marshall (5-11, 190, 4.47)
An All-ACC Honorable Mention pick last year, Marshall led Wake Forest in solo tackles (41) and had the team's only interception return for a score.