Dave Wannstedt was hired by Pittsburgh to bring the program back to its glory days, not only through his knowledge of defensive principles but also his NFL pedigree. Reaching into the state of Florida to pick up defensive ends like seniors Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard proves Wannstedt's ability to improve the Panthers' level of talent.
|RB Noel Devine is a pint-sized powerhouse for West Virginia. (US Presswire)|
Another dynamic duo makes this list -- Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson make up two-thirds of UConn's outstanding senior linebacking corps. The third, Greg Lloyd, could end up in the conference's top 10 before the end of the season. Wilson's explosiveness and speed make him an ideal fit for a team looking for a playmaking weak-side 'backer while Lutrus' strength, hustle and intelligence should be coveted by teams searching out a new middle or strong-side starter.
The number of elite prospects coming from the Big East conference has declined since the departure of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC and the existence of the conference itself was in question during the college football realignment talk over the summer.
But with the ascension of Pitt and UConn into the national scene and the consistency of West Virginia, NFL scouts are taking their time reviewing game tape of these players likely to be selected in the top half of the draft.
10. Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse, 5-9, 216, 4.52 Syracuse has had trouble keeping the team's most talented players on the field. Wide receiver Mike Williams quit the team in the face of another potential suspension (he missed the 2008 season due to academics), and Carter had to fight his way back onto the team while trying to settle an assault case that began with a snowball hitting Carter's car in February. The compact, strong back showed great balance and a nice burst in the open field last season while racking up 1,021 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Now that he's back on the roster, NFL teams will track his progress closely.
9. Zach Hurd, OG, Connecticut, 6-7, 325, 5.16 Hurd's massive build and fair straight-line speed lead us to project the 2009 first-team all-conference selection as a solid mid-round draft pick. He's played in every game over his three-year career, starting for two of those years (2008 at right guard; 2009 on the left side). His strong run blocking has led the way for multiple backs to succeed in UConn's offense, but improving his balance against quicker tackles in pass protection as a senior would help his draft stock immensely.
8. Scott Lutrus, OLB, Connecticut, 6-3, 240, 4.68 The three-year starter on the strong side has earned respect from NFL evaluators with his strength -- playing the run and pass. A stinger caused him to miss four games last season, but a healthy, productive year like he had in 2007 (107 tackles, eight for loss, four interceptions) and 2008 (106 tackles, second team all-conference) playing with Wilson and Lloyd could earn him a solid mid-round grade.
7. Armon Binns, WR, Cincinnati, 6-3, 210, 4.56 Binns proved a good foil to NFL-bound Mardy Gilyard last fall, racking up 888 yards on 61 receptions and 11 touchdowns. Typically, you would expect a receiver's production to slip when senior leaders like Gilyard and QB Tony Pike move on, but young Zach Callaros proved he could find Binns, as well, when stepping in for the injured Pike last year. Although he lacks great speed and scouts want him to improve the consistency of his hands, his height gives him a great advantage over cornerbacks deep downfield and his long strides allow him to make big plays.
6. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh, 6-3, 255, 4.76 Before the arrest, Sheard was gaining momentum as a potential second-round pick despite not owning elite size or speed for the position. Even his own teammate, former Pitt TE Dorin Dickerson, said in an interview last spring with NFLDraftScout that he thought Sheard was a better pass rusher than Romeus. Sheard needs to produce on the field and convince NFL teams in interviews that he can handle his anger off the field.
5. Brandon Hogan, CB, West Virginia, 5-10, 190, 4.43 The former All-Washington, D.C. Metro pick as a high school quarterback has made a successful transition to cornerback, earning first-team all-conference accolades with 70 tackles, an interception and 11 pass breakups. His reliable tackling, closing speed, good ball skills and ability as a punt returner should overcome his lack of size in scouts' minds, especially for teams who play a lot of zone coverage. His academic problems and citation for disorderly conduct/public urination in the spring may be red flags for teams of potential future problems unless they can gain some comfort during the offseason pre-draft process.
4. Lawrence Wilson, OLB, Connecticut, 6-1, 220, 4.63 The most productive of the three Huskies' linebackers mentioned here, Wilson always seems to be around the ball. His 140 tackles in his first-team all-conference 2009 season included 11 for loss and five sacks. His size won't turn on scouts and coaches but he shows a real knack for rushing the passer and getting into coverage from the weak side -- enough to be a starter sooner rather than later.
3. Jason Pinkston, OT, Pittsburgh, 6-4, 308, 5.12 Injuries shortened two consecutive seasons at right tackle for Pinkston before he came on strong on the left side in 2009. The first-team all-conference selection doesn't have the height or athleticism of most NFL left tackles, however, so it's unclear where he fits best at the next level. But even if teams believe he will have to move to guard or right tackle, his ability to contain pass rushers and strength off the snap blocking for the run make him a probable second-round value.
2. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia, 5-8, 180, 4.34 A top recruit coming out of Florida, Devine's size might have scared away some schools. The Mountaineers are more than happy Devine decided to take his game to Morgantown, as the 2009 first-team all-conference pick (1,486 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, 6.1 yards per rush, 22 receptions) has done nothing but electrify the team and showed great toughness since he arrived. NFL teams would do well not to allow him to drop too far in next year's draft based on his size.
1. Greg Romeus, DE, Pittsburgh, 6-5, 268, 4.79 Despite his prototypical size for the position and sack total over the past two seasons (15.5), Romeus still has work to do before locking up a slot in the top 10 overall selections. The NFL Advisory Committee did not give him a first-round grade after last season because he has not shown an elite first step to combine with his length to consistently beat top left tackles off the snap. Still, he's a potential mid-first-round pick because of his upside, ability to play against the run, and the importance of pass rushers in the NFL.
Top Five Underclassmen to Watch:
5. Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati, 5-10, 193, 4.38
4. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut, 5-9, 190, 4.43
3. Julian Miller, DE, West Virginia, 6-4, 260, 4.74
2. Robert Sands, FS, West Virginia, 6-4, 215, 4.57
1. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh, 6-5, 225, 4.54
Chad Reuter is a Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Email Chad at firstname.lastname@example.org.