The NFL draft begins in nine days and UC might have the necessary funds to renovate Nippert Stadium if head coach Butch Jones had a dollar for every phone call he’s received about the Bearcats’ pro prospects.
“NFL teams have left no stone unturned,” Jones told me. “I’ve talked to just about every scout and a number of head coaches and general managers. So have our position coaches, (strength coach) Dave Lawson, and right down to Keri Thoman who heads up our academics. Teams have done their due diligence and it’s going to be a fun time for Bearcat Nation to see where they land.”
Isaiah Pead and Derek Wolfe are locks to be selected this year. Pead boosted his stock by being named the MVP of the Senior Bowl and was among the fastest running backs at the NFL Scouting Combine when he clocked a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder from team to team, and I’m hearing anywhere from second to third round with Isaiah,” said Coach Jones.
“He was under the radar until the Senior Bowl and he really blew up there,” said ESPN’s Todd McShay. “He’s versatile, quick, and I think he has a chance to be in that third round range and a steal for an NFL team that’s looking for a versatile back.”
McShay’s fellow ESPN draft expert – Mel Kiper – recently tweeted that Pead would be a good choice for Tampa Bay if he is still available early in the third round.
What does Pead think of the speculation?
“I live in a bubble,” Isaiah told me. “I’m still a college student and I don’t have cable or internet at home. I just hang out with the guys and stay away from that. You can’t get caught up in it because nobody really knows what goes on in the meeting rooms of NFL teams. I used to have butterflies early in this process, but now my emotions have calmed down and I’m just praying for the best.”
While Pead is widely projected to be the first Bearcat selected, Kiper’s latest mock draft shows New England selecting Wolfe with the next-to-last pick in the first round.
“I love the versatility he can bring,” said Kiper. “I projected Wolfe as a surprise first-round pick by the Patriots because a scheme-versatile team can use a guy like him, who can be a one-gap guy in a 3-4 or easily flip to a 4-3 defensive tackle up front. I’ve seen him on some boards as low as the third round. He should go higher.”
“I think Derek Wolfe’s stock is rising daily, which is a tribute to how hard he’s worked,” said Coach Jones. “The thing I keep hearing is that he has the reputation for being the hardest-playing defensive lineman in college football last year. I think that’s a tribute to (UC defensive line coach) Steve Stripling and to Derek for buying in.”
The other Bearcats who are most likely to be picked are defensive lineman John Hughes and tight end Adrien Robinson who clocked a 4.56 40-yard dash at 264 pounds at Cincinnati’s pro day.
“After about game four, John Hughes really came on,” said Jones. “I think that he’s worked himself into a position of possibly being drafted. And Adrien Robinson is really gaining great momentum going into the draft.”
J.K. Schaffer and Zach Collaros are generally not projected to be drafted, but could wind up in NFL training camps as free agents.
“I’m really proud of all of these individuals and how far they’ve come,” said Jones. “We take great pride in our players being NFL-ready and I think you see that. I think it’s a compliment to them, I think it’s a compliment to Dave Lawson, and I think it’s a compliment to our program.”
Connor Barwin, Brent Celek, Trent Cole, Kevin Huber, and Jason Kelce are among the former Bearcats who are playing big roles on their NFL teams and Pead hopes to join them.
On Saturday, I asked Isaiah where he will be during the draft.
“I’ll be in Columbus at my grandparents’ house with my family and friends and it’s an open invitation,” Pead said. “You can come if you want to.”
I appreciate the offer, but I’ll proudly watch on TV. Along with thousands of other Bearcat fans.
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