The Super Bowl is over and the off-season has officially started for the NFL. Most franchises will now focus on several things including free agent acquisitions, re-signing or releasing players, and most importantly for the topic of this column, evaluating and then drafting college talent. For the college players on the bubble, or the hard workers who are determined to still prove something, between now and the April 25th NFL draft, this now becomes a crucial time.
In the case of the UNC Tar Heels who will undoubtedly be drafted in April,(Gio Bernard, Sylvester Williams, Jonathan Cooper, Kevin Reddick) the next question for this group after the combine and pro-days will be, “Who’s going first”? The Combine will be February 23-26, followed by the UNC Pro-Day that does not yet have a date. Both of these events could play major roles in the order this group of Tar Heels is selected in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Giovani Bernard is coming off of perhaps one of the more exciting seasons for an individual Tar Heel football player in a short minute. I believe his pre-draft workouts will only benefit him more unless something unexpected happens. Most big boards have him no lower than the 2nd or 3rd ranked running back and top 40 overall player coming out. Gio has some size resemblance to Doug Martin who now plays with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has the potential to produce at a similar pace as a rookie like Martin if he is put in a good situation. Bernard also has good hands out of the backfield and is an overall get-him-the-ball playmaker. Ask N.C. State fans about the versatility Bernard posesses after he showed more than just the “Triangle”area his punt return skills. This could potentially make him more appealing to an NFL franchise looking to boost their return game. Overall I’m confident Gio could become one of the more talented NFL players coming out in the 2013 NFL Draft, but I’m not a GM nor an NFL scout currently so who am I convincing. The fact that the running back position has become devalued now and talented backs are created behind good blocking schemes and 7th round picks, Gio probably won’t go in the Top 20, and more than likely will not be the first Tar Heel drafted in April.
That leaves defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and offensive guard Jonathan Cooper. I say just Cooper and Williams because currently linebacker Kevin Reddick to me is a dark horse to be the first Tar Heel selected. Reddick may have let some people down with his somewhat inconsistent Senior season, but I give the guy credit for coming back to Chapel Hill after the sanctions, despite big-name colleges offering the opportunity to transfer, and the talk of being drafted as high as the first-round last April.
Currently I think out of the two lineman, offensive guard Jonathan Cooper will be the first Tar Heel drafted and to me he is currently the favorite when it comes to consensus and mock big boards. The Wilmington, North Carolina native could potentially be the best guard available and behind Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel and Alabama’s Chance Warmack, he could be the best overall offensive lineman coming out. Cooper is a good run and pass blocker as well as an athletic 6’3”, 295 pound asset who could more than likely play center also.
Sylvester Williams is very talented in his own rite, and ultimately I think between Williams and Cooper its really a toss-up. Both have first round talent and it would not surprise anyone if both were drafted in the first round. A few other UNC names to listen for in the later rounds of the NFL draft are guys like OT Brennan Williams, WR Erik Highsmith, and possibly even OG Travis Bond.
Don’t forget to check back for constant Tar Heel and ACC alum updates leading up to the NFL combine and UNC’s pro-day. We will have the date for you as soon as it’s released.
In the meantime: