2018 NFL Draft Preview: UVA football prospects

uva footballThe ink on UVA football prospects the past couple of years has highlighted third-team AP All-Americans Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding. But it may be a defensive teammate of theirs who hears his name called first in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Defensive tackle Andrew Brown was a top-10 recruit coming out of high school, but didn’t earn a starting role until the 2016 season, when he led the ‘Hoos in tackles for loss (13) and recorded six sacks from the interior.

Then in 2017, Brown started all 13 games at defensive tackle for Virginia, with 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

The knock on Brown: consistency, but he’s a physical beast, as his 31 225-pound bench presses at the combine demonstrated, and 3-4 teams looking for physicality on the nose are likely to see the upside.

Brown is projected as a third- to fifth-round pick, putting him at the top of the UVA 2018 draft class.

Kiser, a linebacker, and Blanding, a safety, are projected fourth- to sixth-round picks, a bit of a dropoff for each in terms of expectations. Neither demonstrated much in terms of speed at the combine, raising questions about their ability to run sideline-to-sideline, and for Blanding, a 4.63 40 is a concern given that the knock on him already was that he might not be able to keep up with NFL wide receivers in coverage.

Kiser played inside linebacker in Bronco Mendenhall’s 3-4 scheme, but he offers an intriguing bit of flexibility with his ability to get to the quarterback, registering 19 sacks over his last three seasons, and help in pass coverage, with 11 pass breakups combined in his junior and senior seasons.

The final prospect expected to go in the draft, toward the latter stages, is quarterback Kurt Benkert, who threw for a school-record 3,209 yards and 25 touchdowns, against nine interceptions, in 2017, in leading UVA to its first bowl game in six seasons.

Benkert has a big-time arm, but the questions on him include his ability to play under center, after spending two seasons almost exclusively in the shotgun in offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s spread, and his decision-making, which can be hit-or-miss.

To Benkert’s credit, he did what he did as a senior without much, or really any, help from his offensive line, or any kind of running game.

Benkert could go in the sixth or seventh round, and if he isn’t selected, he will certainly get an invite to an NFL camp within minutes of the conclusion of the draft.

Story by Chris Graham

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