Top 10 NFL draft weekend surprises 

April, 27, 2009
For any college football fan, the NFL draft is always entertaining. Here are 10 things that most surprised me from the draft weekend:

1. Rey Maualuga as a second-round pick: I don't think there is a person in the world, not even in Clay Matthews' family, who would have believed you if you told them a year ago that former walk-on Matthews would be a first-rounder and Maualuga a second-rounder.

2. New Jersey, first-round hotbed: I've hit on this a few times in the blog in the past few months, but it still was pretty stunning to see that five of the top 15 draft picks (Eugene Monroe, B.J. Raji, Knowshon Moreno, Malcolm Jenkins and Brian Cushing) were all Jersey natives. If you added Donald Brown (27th) and Kenny Britt (30th), you had seven in the first 30 picks. That's amazing. Rutgers also produced much more than just Britt by putting out a school-record five draft picks. The state also produced the first pick of Day 2, running back Shonn Greene. When colleges do their recruiting side projects to assess where they might need to send more coaches, staffs might find the high number of drafted players who are New Jersey natives as reason to canvass the Garden State in the spring evaluation period.

3. South Carolina had more players drafted than any other team in the SEC: Seven Gamecocks were drafted this past weekend, more than twice the total of the University of Florida, which has won two national titles in the past three seasons. And yet Steve Spurrier's team rarely was a Top 25 team. That proves how important it is to have a capable quarterback.

4. Darrius Heyward-Bey is better than Michael Crabtree? Seemingly everyone else has piled on, ripping the Raiders' selection of the speedy former Maryland wideout over Crabtree. I'm shocked, too. Yes, the ex-Terp is faster than Crabtree, but he simply disappeared in too many games at Maryland.

5. The onetime 95th-rated recruiting class produced some big-time talent. Props to Wake Forest's staff, which is either a lot better at evaluating talent or developing it (or both) than it seems. It took what Rivals ranked as the 95th-best class in 2004 and put out four players in the top 118 of the draft, Dan Collins writes.

Linebacker Aaron Curry, cornerback Alphonso Smith, safety Chip Vaughn and linebacker Stanley Arnoux will join a former classmate, defensive end Jeremy Thompson, who never redshirted and thus has already spent a season playing in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers.

"It's unfortunate how off-target those [rankings] can be," Smith said. "It really doesn't matter to us. What I attribute that to is Coach Grobe and his coaching staff. We're the 95th recruiting class coming out of high school, yet I think player for player, position for position, we can compete with anyone in the country."

Truth is, as I've said many times before, it's all such a crapshoot. So many factors are at work. For example: These kids are probably more driven by the slight of not being a five-star guy; the analysts who rank them probably don't have as much invested in them or haven't spent much time studying them; and development staffs such as Wake's are very underrated and are really savvy in helping find guys who can flourish in their system.

6. Not a good weekend for the Florida schools: Seven Sunshine State teams play supposed big-time football, yet only seven players were drafted from Florida schools including just one first-rounder, UF's Percy Harvin. Then again, because UF, Miami and FSU will return almost their entire two-deeps this season, the low number of draft picks probably is a good thing for those schools. In case you were wondering, Ohio FBS schools produced 16 draft picks.

7. Those USC-OSU games must've been something: I wonder whether anyone would've imagined last season that the game that would feature the most 2009 draft picks would be Ohio State-USC. Actually, the real stunner was that it tied with the USC-Oregon State game, as both had 18 drafted players.

8. Is the Pac-10 stronger than we thought? I've received a few e-mails from folks pointing out that the Pac-10 produced 32 selections in the draft, or 3.2 players per team, which is a greater average than that of the 12-team SEC, which had 37 selections but an average of just 3.1 players per team. The downside is this might also fuel the notion that the Pac-10 leans on its top team much more than any other, as evidenced by not only USC's incredible run of league titles but also that with 11 picks, the Trojans were responsible for more than 33 percent of the league's draft choices. That percentage ranks higher than TCU's five picks of the MWC's 16 or Ohio State's seven of the Big Ten's 28.

9. Parity? Yes, we all know how well the non-BCS schools have done in BCS bowls, but it sure appears that this wasn't a good argument for the parity debate about BCS versus non-BCS as just one "mid-major" player, Northern Illinois' Larry English, was selected in the first round. What's really surprising is that this is the third time in four years when only one mid-major has been selected in the first round. The flip side: A bunch of schools that no one thinks of as powerhouses filled up the first round, as players from Baylor, Wake Forest, Ole Miss (two), UConn, Louisville and Rutgers were selected. Meanwhile, no first-rounders hailed from Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma or Michigan.

10. Hunter Cantwell signs as a free agent. OK, so this probably isn't much of a surprise but more a cautionary tale. Draft analysts hailed the Louisville quarterback at one point as the projected top quarterback in his class, but instead he was bypassed in all seven rounds and signed by Carolina.

Random stuff

• It's only spring, but am I very curious about Washington quarterback Jake Locker's development this offseason. He was sizzling this past weekend in the Huskies' spring game, throwing 16 of 18 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. And as Bob Condotta points out, one of the incompletions was dropped by Jermaine Kearse, while another was just a little high and off the hands of Chris Polk.

"I thought Jake was really sharp," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "He's playing much more relaxed than he was early in spring. He's just delivering the ball, he's comfortable."

Among those also watching Locker avidly was former UW quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, one of roughly 200 ex-Huskies in town for a reunion organized by the new coaching staff to coincide with the spring game that enhanced the party-like atmosphere. "I was real impressed," Tuiasosopo said. "We all know he can run -- that's not the problem. But he looked very comfortable in the pocket. He's going to be better and this team is going to be better and it's going to be a lot more fun next year."

My three cents: I'm upping the win total (four games) I predicted the other day because if Locker can complete 80 percent of his passes, U-Dub is going bowling!

• Bravo to Buckeyes fans, as a record 96,000 fans showed up for Ohio State's spring game. Almost all of them will be talking about QB Terrelle Pryor, who was 13-of-18 passing for 191 yards. Maybe more importantly, Ken Gordon writes, there was no sign of the awkward, shot put-like throwing motion he sometimes displayed last season.

"I think I played exceptionally well," he said. "[I'm] getting better at those little things -- footwork, throwing the ball in there and learning the offense."

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