BOZICH | Will Louisville's first-round NFL Draft streak end this year? Yes
Tight end Cole Hikutini and defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown project as Louisville's top NFL Draft prospects but the Cards' streak of producing first-rounders will end at three.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This is the year the streak ends. Yes, it was only a three-year streak, but never snicker at that number.
If you're discussing consecutive seasons producing a first-round NFL Draft pick, three is a mighty number.
From Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 to Devante Parker in 2015 to Sheldon Rankins a year ago, the University of Louisville football program dispatched five first-rounders to the NFL in those three seasons.
No big deal for Alabama, Clemson or Florida State? Maybe.
Big deal for everybody else? You decide.
These are the seven programs to put at least one player in the first round the last three seasons: FSU, Michigan State, Florida, Alabama, Clemson, Texas A&M and U of L.
Overall, the Cards' five first-rounders from 2014-to-16 rank second to Ohio State. The Buckeyes dazzled the world with five first-rounders last season and had two others in 2014. I didn't forget 2015. They were shutout.
U of L, Florida and A&M chased Ohio State with five first-rounders. That's a high-end neighborhood.
The back-to-back-to-back seasons were the first time in Cardinals' history that U of L produced first-rounders in consecutive seasons. Another hat tip to Charlie Strong, the guy whose staff recruited and started the development of those talented players.
Strong did more than uncover first-rounders before making his unsuccessful move to Texas. The record shows that 15 Louisville players were drafted over the last three years, a talent drain that last season's team overcame (until the final three games) by winning nine games.
No first-round confetti will fly when the 2017 NFL Draft opens in Philadelphia April 27. The mock drafts do not show a first- or second-rounder from Louisville.
As many as 11 Louisville players will try to grind their way into the NFL. Most will have to scramble through free-agent tryouts.
Depending on which mock draft you believe (or trust), the Cardinals projected to be drafted earliest are tight end Cole Hikutini and defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown.
Hikutini is projected as high as a third-rounder in one mock as well as the ninth-best tight end prospect. He's visited the 49ers. The Cardinals, Browns, Dolphins, Chiefs, Lions, Cowboys and Bears are reportedly intrigued by Hikutini.
They should be. He led Louisville in receptions (50) and receiving touchdowns (eight) last season. Those are big numbers for a guy who was a soccer player until late in his high school career.
Pair Hikutini with a sharp offensive coordinator as well as a quarterback with a sizzling arm, and he'll be a threat.
The one Cardinal who could sneak ahead of Hikutini is Brown, the mammoth defensive tackle. Teams like Brown's bulk and upper-body strength but wonder why he contributed only one solo tackle in Louisville's final two games. Great question.
Prior to the season, two other Louisville players -- linebacker Devonte Fields and strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons -- were considered prime NFL Draft prospects.
Harvey-Clemons is projected as a sixth- or seventh-round selection, the No. 10 strong safety by NFLDraftScout.com. Fields likely will also be taken on the third day of the draft in the sixth- or seventh-round. He is ranked No. 21 at outside linebacker. His size -- 6 feet 2, 236 pounds -- is legit, but teams wonder about his 4.72 40-yard dash.
The other Louisville prospects -- receivers James Quick and Jamari Staples; tight end Keith Towbridge; center Tobijah Hughley; halfback Brandon Radcliff; linebacker Keith Kelsey and long-snapper Colin Holba -- are all likely free agents.
This will be the year the first-round streak ends -- and then we'll find out if Lamar Jackson or Zaire Alexander can get the line started again in 2018.
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