The NFL Draft begins Thursday, despite the lockout and all the collective bargaining intrigue. Recently, the NFL Draft has been the highlight of the year for many Virginia football fans; despite often poor play on the field, UVa has generally been well-represented on Draft day over the years.
The 2011 Draft will not go down as the best draft ever, from a UVa perspective, thanks largely to the fact that CB Chase Minnifield decided to return to Virginia for his senior season. Some Cavaliers, however, will be watching the proceedings anxiously. Let's examine the possibilities.
* Ras-I Dowling, CB. At one time, Dowling was considered a possible first-rounder. Unfortunately, some leg injuries have caused Dowling's stock to drop somewhat, although he is generally considered to be as well-rounded a cornerback as you're likely to find in the draft. No one can question his production: 8 interceptions, 160 tackles, four forced fumbles. ESPN rates Dowling high for his physical attributes (especially his height), and for his intangibles: "Selected co-captain for 2010 season. No off-the-field issues to our knowledge. A hard worker who continues to improve both as a player and a leader."
I couldn't have said it better myself. For Virginia fans, Dowling represents the best chance to have a player selected on the first day. Prediction: late second round.
* Danny Aiken, LS. Aiken is widely considered to be the best long-snapper available from the college ranks this year. The general consensus is that Aiken has "the look of a successful career long snapper," and "13 years from now, some NFL team will be looking for his replacement." He appeared on more than 300 special team plays with the Cavaliers, and he'll be appearing on many more such plays on Sundays in the future. Prediction: sixth round.
* Zane Parr, DE. Parr surprised everyone, including his mother, by declaring for the NFL Draft after his junior season. Parr started 11 of Virginia's 12 games in 2010, and he was tied for second on the team with eight tackles for losses, tied for eighth in tackles (48) along with recording two sacks. While considered to have pro potential, almost everyone agres that Parr would have been better served to come back to Charlottesville for his senior season.
Parr has good size, and his speed is adequate, if not outstanding for his position. His technique needs work, but Parr has developed a reputation as a "relentless pass rusher." There is enough potential there that I expect an NFL team to take a chance on Zane in the late rounds. Prediction: seventh round.
* Joe Torchia, TE. Virginia has seemed on the verge of becoming known as Tight End University in recent years, and Torchia is the latest TE prospect to emerge from Charlottesville. It's likely that Torchia would have been higher on the draft boards if he hadn't sustained a season-ending injury to his shoulder against FSU last year. As it is, Torchia has been working out for pro teams, and is hoping for the best.
If he isn't drafted, Torchia is very likely to get a shot as a free agent, mainly because of items like this: "Good student. Hard worker. Passionate about the game and continues to improve. Classic overachiever." Also, this: "Effort is excellent. Not afraid to go over the middle. Appears to be very competitive on tape. Is feisty and plays with a mean streak." Prediction: Priority Free Agent.
* Best of the Rest: A number of other Hoos are unlikely to be drafted, but should have a chance to catch on as a free agent somewhere. OG B.J. Cabbell and RB Keith Payne are probably at the top of that list. Other Cavaliers who are seeking an NFL career are SS Trey Womack, LB Darnell Carter, DE John-Kevin Dolce, RB Raynard Horne, WR Dontrelle Inman, CB Mike Parker, OL Matt Conrath, and QB Marc Verica.