This Thursday night, the NFL Draft will begin, and in order, 259 college football players will have their dreams made. Four UNC Tar Heels are hoping that they’re among them and will get a chance to ply their craft at the highest level: wide receivers Josh Downs and Antoine Green, and edge rusher/linebacker Noah Taylor. Here’s everything we know about their pre-draft processes, and what we might be able to expect about where and when they could hear their names called.
- Josh Downs will almost definitively be the first Heel to hear his name called, as one of the top 6-ish wide receivers in the draft (that’s a rough average, some think he’s as high as 3rd or 4th-best while others have him as low as 8th). Last year’s 6th receiver drafted was Treylon Burks, who went #18 overall, but this is a weaker receiver class than last year’s by a fair margin, so Downs’ range is probably anywhere between the late first round and middle-second. Curiously, for a prospect of his stature, he’s only had one pre-draft Top 30 visit, with the Dallas Cowboys. This was remarked on by Ian Rapoport earlier this month, and the explanation seems to be that with a family member who’s currently working in the NFL, teams have a pretty good idea of who he is already off the field, and one of the big reasons a team might bring you in is for interviewing. Without that as an incentive, bringing Downs in might just be signaling interest to other squads. That said, here’s a quick mock draft round-up: NFL.com’s Chad Reuter has Downs to the Dallas Cowboys at #57, Pro Football Focus has him to the Indianapolis Colts at #35, CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso has him going to the Atlanta Falcons with pick #44, and The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has him going to the New England Patriots at slot #46.
- Antoine Green, Downs’ partner in crime, stands a decent chance of being drafted on Day 3; I’ve seen him rated between 32 and 45 among draft-eligible wide receivers. The historical average number of receivers drafted is around 35, and this year’s group is deeper than usual, so that’s probably less dire than it seems. Green’s reported interest at the Combine from the Detroit Lions, but hasn’t been on any Top-30 visits as far as I can tell. Brugler and PFF don’t have him selected in their 7-round mock drafts, but Trapasso sends him to Green Bay with the 242nd pick in the 7th round, while Reuter’s mocked him to the Jacksonville Jaguars with pick #202 in the 6th round.
- Asim Richards has been picking up some steam on Draft Twitter lately, particularly after a positive review from OL/DL expert Brandon Thorn. It probably doesn’t hurt that he’s now kind of a swing prospect; while he pretty much only played tackle as a Heel, he worked out at guard at the Senior Bowl and teams and evaluators seem to have liked what they saw for a guy with little experience at the position. He’s widely seen as a 4th-5th round-worthy selection, but had a slight hip injury at the Combine that kept him out of athletic testing — that’s probably why he’s been left off a couple of the mock drafts I’ve seen; people are probably looking at lists of Combine data and not seeing him. Brugler has him going in the 4th round to Jacksonville with the 127th pick, Reuter’s predicted he’ll go to the Detroit Lions with pick #159 (5th round), and PFF’s mock has him at #237 to the Seattle Seahawks in the 7th.
- Noah Taylor has probably suffered in this pre-draft process from still recovering from his knee surgery, which has meant he hasn’t been able to show off any movement skills either at the Combine or in any other settings. I noted in his pre-Combine profile that he was on record as wanting to show he could be a Micah Parsons-lite, which is an ambitious goal that he unfortunately hasn’t gotten the chance to try and prove his potential for. It seems unlikely at this point that he’ll be drafted, but it wouldn’t be shocking if a team took a flier on him in the 7th, and he’ll be a fairly attractive priority free agent if not.
The NFL Draft begins on Thursday night at 8:00 PM Eastern.