NFL Draft’s First Two Rounds Will Feature Some Illini

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For the fourth year in a row, the first couple rounds of the NFL Draft will feature a couple names from your Illinois Fighting Illini. Tailback Rashard Mendendall went in the first round in ’08, cornerback Vontae Davis was the 25th overall pick in ’09, and last year, wide receiver Arrelious Benn was just a couple picks off from being a first round selection.

With all this next level talent in Champaign, you may wonder “how come they went 8-16 during 2008-09? Well, that’s why we saw two new coordinators come in the summer before 2010. Explains a lot.

This draft will see three prospects likely to go in the first two rounds. We won’t see as many Illini choosen in this draft as we did last year, but this trio of underclassmen RB Mikel Leshoure, DT Corey Liuget and LB Martez Wilson will go higher (or as Bulls analyst Stacey King said “GO HIGHER”) than last year.

But this year, the draft seems much more satisfying because the Illini actually won a bowl game; their first since 1999.

By Paul M. Banks

martez

Fun fact: Illinois is one of just four schools this year (Alabama, Auburn and Pittsburgh) to have three juniors declare early for the draft.

Here’s where I have the Illini mocked:

ROUND ONE

22. Indianapolis Colts Mikel Leshoure RB, Illinois

The news that the Colts had decided to fire Gene Huey, who had served as the team’s running backs coach for 16 seasons, came as a shock to many fans, and plenty of them were quick to label the dismissal as scapegoating for Polian’s inability to assemble a strong offensive line — the real problem behind Indy’s lackluster running game.

While there’s some truth to that notion, Huey might or might not have had to do with the disappointing lack of progress made by second-year back Donald Brown, a first-round draft pick in 2009 who fell to third on the depth chart behind Joseph Addai and 31-year-old Dominic Rhodes, whom the team signed in December for a (brief) third stint in Indy. The Colts need to hire a replacement who can teach the same techniques Huey taught, namely pass-blocking. The team also needs to monitor the statuses of senior offensive assistant Tom Moore and linebackers coach Mike Murphy, who both consider themselves year-to-year when mulling retirement.

Indy was ravaged by injuries more than any other team in the NFL (well, possibly Green Bay) this past season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they focused on shoring up depth at key positions. And yes, actually drafting offense first. Joseph Addai will be in his sixth season (middle-aged by NFL running back standards) and Dominic Rhodes will be in his 10th (geriatric by league standards). Also, Illini players (see Jeff George, Kelvin Hayden, Jack Trudeau, Ken Dilger, Howard Griffith) have a tendency to be drafted by the Colts for some reason (cuz it’s only a couple hours away and easy to scout I guess?)

The Illini runner was second team All-American by the AP, and when it came to efficiency statistics, arguably the best running back in the nation.

For more on why Leshoure is the next Rashard Mendenhall go here

For more Colts draft analysis

IND draft possibilities: OT, rush LB, DT, WR

For the entire first round mock go here

30. NYJ Corey Liuget, DL Illinois

The Jets need to find a way to bring more pressure consistently in an increasingly pass-happy league. But to be more consistent, they need another disruptor. Liuget (that’s pronounced “Legit” like Hammer: “2 Legit 2 Quit”) was a force all season. Liuget dropped 30 pounds in the offseason to get down to 285 in hopes of being more mobile and harder to block. It seems to have paid off.

For much more with, and about Corey Liuget go here

ROUND TWO

21. Indianapolis Colts Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois

Cincy needs an inside linebacker and despite the fact that he really only had one solid season of starting under his belt, the Illini Wilson is the #1 guy on the charts at this position. He’s still more potential and measurables than he is stats, but man has he overcome a lot during his years in Champaign-Urbana just to get here.

Much of Wilson’s growth stems from the now-infamous stabbing incident in December 2008, when he was out at a local bar called Fubar with one of his former teammates – Eastern Illinois standout running back D’Angelo McCray – and two of McCray’s friends from Eastern. The following year, he missed pretty much all of 2009 due to a neck injury. Wilson’s health is certainly not in question now; as he owned the combine. But his pro day showed less than optimal footwork, and his stock plummeted a bit.

We added a second round! go here to check that out.

Round three here

For our 2012 Mock Draft go here

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

He does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.com You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and Facebook

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