In seven of the past eight NFL drafts dating back to 2004, Virginia has seen at least one player drafted in the first 34 picks. Three positions represented prominently in recent years were offensive lineman, defensive end and cornerback. This year, those same positions promise to showcase more elite talent.
The Cavaliers aren’t the first program most think of when considering teams whose former players have made an impact at the next level, but Virginia has had some measure of success when it comes to producing NFL talent. Virginia ranks 26th in number of players drafted from 1991 to 2010 (64 total players), and is 19th in number of NFL starts by a former player in that timeframe (2,324 starts), beating out in-state rival Virginia Tech in the latter category. *According to the in-depth analysis by DraftMetrics.com.
While only one Cavaliers defensive end was taken in the first 34 picks from 2004 to 2011, it was a good one as Chris Long recorded 14 sacks and 75 total tackles as a senior in 2007. Cam Johnson finished his junior season with 6.5 sacks last year, and he’s poised for his second season at defensive end after moving from linebacker when Mike London and Co. switched to the 4-3 alignment. Johnson is one of several stud defensive ends in an ACC that also features North Carolina’s Quinton Coples and Donte Paige-Moss, and Florida State’s Brandon Jenkins.
Following in an impressive line of cornerbacks over the past couple of years is senior Chase Minnifield, who led the team with six interceptions last year (2nd in ACC, T-5th nationally). The Lexington, Kentucky product has played in every game since 2008, starting all 12 last year with sporadic starts in his first two seasons. With several cornerbacks being taken in the first round and early second round in recent years, Minnifield stands a very good chance of a first round selection in next year’s draft as one of the top corner prospects in the country, which would keep Virginia’s recent tradition of producing high draft picks alive.
Finally, there’s the most unproven, but highly-touted, of the three players I’m highlighting in this article: offensive lineman Morgan Moses. On London’s post-spring depth chart this year, Moses is listed as the co-starter at both right guard and right tackle. Seeing three Virginia tackles drafted in the first round since 2006 (two in the top 10), fans are excited to see what Moses does while he’s in Charlottesville. At 6’6 and 350 pounds, Moses is a huge, ballyhooed recruit from the 2009 class who enters the season after having started six games at tackle and one at guard a year ago following a stint at Fork Union Military Academy in 2009. The offensive line returns four starters this year and will feature some veteran leadership, but it’s the sophomore who many expect will prove the anchor of the unit.
Virginia has gone three seasons without a bowl game after their 9-4 season in 2007 that saw former head coach Al Groh named ACC Coach of the Year. London’s hiring has thus far been well-received as many recognised the progress he made with the program last year despite a one-win improvement from the previous season. London moved to the 4-3 defence and has expressed a desire to install a powerful ground game—which he had while he was the head coach at Richmond.
The passing offence finished ranked 25th in the country last year, but will be led by a new, inexperienced quarterback this year as London searches for a replacement for Marc Verica. That could mean a greater role for a running game that improved from averaging 96.6 and 99.1 yards in 2008 and 2009, respectively, to 139.3 yards in 2010. With Moses and a veteran line paving the way for Keith Payne and Kevin Parks, and a defence led by Johnson and Minnifield that has adapted well to the 4-3 defence, the Cavs are on the right path.
College Football Editor, TheXLog.com
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