With North Carolina’s string of first-round draft picks at an end, the Triangle’s hopes for a selection in Thursday’s opening night of the NFL draft rest entirely with Duke.
Laken Tomlinson is projected by most of the draft’s self-proclaimed experts to be a second- or third-round pick, but he has slipped into the first round on at least one mock draft. The Duke guard probably has second-round ability, but his intelligence and leadership may be attractive to a playoff team picking late Thursday that can afford to use its first selection on a guard.
The state of North Carolina will be represented by Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson and Georgia running back Todd Gurley of Tarboro, but the Triangle could be shut out of the first round for the first time since 2010 and only the seventh time in the past two decades. And North Carolina, which has had a staggering total of 30 players drafted over the past seven years, and five players in each of the past two drafts, is likely to be shut out entirely.
The Tar Heels have done the first-round heavy lifting since 2006, when N.C. State’s Mario Williams went No. 1 overall. But the Butch Davis gravy train of pro-caliber offensive and defensive linemen has come to an end, and Duke and N.C. State have improved their recruiting, but not to the point where they’re generating top-tier NFL prospects – providing someone doesn’t take a liking to Tomlinson.
It’s a changing of the guard, the true and final end of the Davis era at North Carolina. Only two local players are even guaranteed to be drafted, and they’re both from Duke, an endorsement of the way David Cutcliffe has upgraded the talent within the program: Tomlinson and wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who will give Duke its third straight draft with at least one player selected. It would be a huge upset if a North Carolina player is even drafted (the same goes for N.C. State, whose best prospect is punter Wil Baumann).
East Carolina and Wake Forest will both have more players drafted than North Carolina. Tusculum and Newberry might as well. Davis’ old well finally ran dry in Chapel Hill.
Just as the Tar Heels are feeling the long-term effects of the changeover from Davis to Larry Fedora, N.C. State is in the same boat from an NFL perspective. Based on the quality of the Wolfpack’s incoming recruiting class, that may change down the road. But not this year. And maybe not next year.
While anything can happen next season, there are four Triangle players in NFLdraftscout.com’s early top 10 at their positions for 2016, led by Duke’s Jeremy Cash, the No. 1 strong safety in the next class after he decided to return to school instead of entering the draft this season.
And the prospects are better for the Tar Heels. North Carolina has the No. 2 guard (Landon Turner), No. 4 wide receiver (Quinshad Davis) and No. 8 quarterback (Marquise Williams), with the obvious caveat that these rankings are so early, with so much football to be played, that they’re nearly useless.
They are an indication, however, that there’s some talent in the Triangle that’s already attractive to the NFL, even if there isn’t much this year.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
End of an era?
For the first time since 2010, the Triangle isn’t expected to have a player taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
The last time ...
UNC has had a first-rounder for each of the past five years. The most recent first-round picks for other Division I programs in North Carolina:
* Manny Lawson and John McCargo also were first-round picks in 2006.
Triangle prospects ranked in NFLdraftscout.com’s top 400:
48. Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
110. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke
284. Takoby Cofield, T, Duke
343. Wil Baumann, P, N.C. State
19. Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
116. Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina
260. Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina