Conference Draft Preview: Conference USA

While Conference USA had plenty of dead weight during the season (eight teams finished under .500,) there were plenty of individual players who made their mark and put themselves on the radar of NFL Teams.

Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky

CUSA’s best offering this year and a likely first round pick, Lamp has attracted NFL scouts with his consistent blocking ability. Over his last three years on the line, he only allowed 31 quarterback pressures on 1,620 attempts.

Looking at how Western Kentucky’s line helped them cruise to two straight conference championships, it would be hard not to pay attention to Lamp’s winning pedigree. With all he has to give despite objections raised about his average sized frame, I expect him to go mid first round and provide a team with a solid prospect on the line to develop.

Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky

The first-team all conference pick racked up 1,730 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns last season to finish in the top five for each category and wriggle himself into the conversation as one of the best wide receivers in the nation. Besides the statistical backing, scouts have praised his ability to separate from coverage and get an advantage.

At the same time, those evaluates  said he benefited from the Hilltoppers’ scheme and weak cornerbacks in conference. Combine that with flashier, faster competition ahead of him and he will end up somewhere later in the third round.

Jeremy Cutrer, CB, Middle Tennessee

There was a reason Cutrer only had three interceptions this year: teams learned to stop throwing balls in his direction. After all, the senior allowed only one touchdown over his last 52 targets in a show of lockdown efficiency.

Scouts like his height and coverage decision making skills, but fear he’s too skinny and will fail to put on weight to compete with bulkier pro receivers.  Expect hip to fall somewhere in the late rounds, but don’t be surprised if teams turn up their noses.

Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic

The Owls’ all-time sack leader has the potential to become one of the highest draft picks in program history despite playing for 3-9 teams for much of his career. Racking up 29 total sacks, Hendrickson became know for his explosiveness off the edge and ability to get to the quarterback.

After going to the NFL Combine, teams raved about his lateral quickness and sense for forcing fumbles, but worried about letting smaller players get the edge on him including Florida International tight end Johnu Smith. The two-time CUSA first-team pick will probably go third round, but will be a steal if he stays on the board later.

Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International

Smith had a unceremonious end to his career with the Golden Panthers after his girlfriend, who was five months pregnant with his child, poured a boiling pot of water over him and caused season-ending burns . Smith still finished as the all time leader among FIU tight ends in receptions (178) and receiving yards(2,001), as well as third among all players in touchdown receptions (18).

The stats stack up but Smith’s physical attributes, including impressive broad and high jump numbers, are making some scouts salivate. Some issues with him include some dropped passes and catching for, but I expect him to go in the fifth round and surprise some people in the next few years.

Cameron Tom, C, Southern Mississippi

After starting three years as a mainstay in the Golden Eagles’ line, Tom has a chance to turn some heads if he gets a shot to play. Tom helped USM average 472.2 offensive yards per game as the fourth-best in CUSA, so don’t believe that was all due to fellow potential draftee and quarterback Nick Mullins.

Tom’s one of the more average sized players at his position in the draft and scouts say he’ll need some work on his form. But for all that, they do like his ability to stay low on defenders and success against rushes in pro style pass situations. Look for him to go early in the sixth, but he could also fall off the board.

Zach Pascal, WR, Old Dominion

Old Dominion has not had a player drafted since its program restarted in 2009, but that could change with Pascal. A player with talent for receiving kicks, rushing and effective pass catching always will draw some eyes, and the second team all-conference pick is no exceptions.

Those who have evaluated Pascal like his size but think his inability to get to full speed and sub-par route running hurt his draft stock. I can see a team taking a flyer on him in the seventh round and turning him into a development project.

Anthony Wales RB, Western Kentucky

Wales was one of the top backs in the conference last season, rushing for 1,627 yards of passing and 27 touchdowns (second and first respectively.) With a decent burst from behind the line and good surrounding pieces, the second team all-conference piece made a habit of cutting through opposing defenses.

A bit small at 5-foot-9 and 197, teams may have to be wary of the potential for him to fail to fit in among NFL sized talent (man, scouts really harp on size for some reason.) Expect him somewhere in the seventh round or as an undrafted free agent.

Aaron Jones, RB, UTEP

A good back on a middling team, Jones led the conference in rushing yards (1,773)and was tied for second in touchdowns (17.) All and all, Jones performances may have been one of the few things keeping the Miners afloat through last season and that may be the most impressive thing with the lack of consistent talent around him.

While not the fastest back, Jones’s other physical skills and 208 pound frame could attract some teams looking for a back in the late rounds. I say Jones is one of the last backs to go in the draft late in the the seventh round.

Others that could hear their names called in the NFL Draft:

  • Max Haplin, C, Western Kentucky
  • Emanuel Byrd, FB, Marshall
  • Dieugot Joseph, OT, Florida International
  • Ryan Higgins, QB, Louisiana Tech
  • I’Tavius Mathers, RB, MTSU
  • Xavier Woods, SS, Louisiana Tech
  • D’Nerius Antoine, SS, Southern Miss
  • Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech
  • Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky
  • Trent Taylor, WR, Louisiana Tech
  • Nick Mullens, QB, Southern Miss
  • Eric Keena, P, North Texas

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