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USF's Pierre-Paul ready to make splash at draft



TAMPA -- Of all the football experts who have projected USF defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul as a first-round NFL draft pick, perhaps the first was Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, who didn't hesitate in his evaluation after the Bulls beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee back in September.

"Yeah, 90 is a definite first-round guy, I think," Trickett told reporters two days after USF's win, back when even football people didn't know Pierre-Paul by name, much less reputation.

On Thursday night, after just one year of major college football, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound pass-rusher will likely be taken in the middle of the first round, becoming USF's highest-ever draft pick and only the second first-rounder in the program's 13-year history.

"It would mean a lot, to be the highest pick," Pierre-Paul said three weeks ago after he worked out for 50-plus NFL scouts on USF's campus as part of what should be the deepest draft class the Bulls have ever produced.

In addition to Pierre-Paul, safety Nate Allen and cornerback Jerome Murphy are expected to be taken in the first three rounds. Receiver Carlton Mitchell, a junior from Gaither, could be selected by then as well, and in one draft, the Bulls could have more players taken in the first three rounds than in all the previous drafts combined. Defensive end George Selvie and linebacker Kion Wilson are also potential draft picks.

"When I first got here, I remember saying the Class of '05, we were going to change everything," said Murphy. "We've come a long way, but now some of us will be playing against each other in the league."

Pierre-Paul, of course, stands out from the group, perhaps from the entire draft, because he hasn't come a long way. His phenomenal athletic ability -- he can do a standing back-flip in pads, and a popular Youtube video shows him casually doing 14 back-handsprings in a row -- has impressed NFL scouts enough that he's discussed as a potential top-10 pick. That's rare for someone with only one year in the spotlight, with just the 6.5 sacks as he had last season with the Bulls after spending two seasons at junior colleges in California and Kansas.

But he showed plenty in his short time at USF -- he was named a first-team all-conference selection, even over teammate George Selvie, a former consensus All-American. Pierre-Paul forced a key fumble against FSU, returned an interception for a touchdown at Syracuse, his long arms and quick first step causing consistent problems for opposing quarterbacks.

The JPP-mania boiled over this spring -- at one point, most mainstream mock drafts had him going No. 3 to the Bucs, though that's cooled, with the highest projection now being 8th, to Oakland. Pierre-Paul didn't hurt himself at the combine, registering an unofficial 40-yard time of 4.64 seconds. He's versatile enough that some teams think he could take his hand off the ground and play as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

The most common match for Pierre-Paul is Tennessee, which picks 16th and is expected to take a defensive end early in the draft. In the past week, he's visited the Giants (15th) and 49ers (13th and 17th), who pick in the same part of the first round.

Even the low projections for Pierre-Paul rave about his potential. One mock draft this week had him going 32nd to New Orleans with the final pick of the first round, but said the Saints could turn him into an "elite rusher." Life is good when the worst scenario has you as the top pick of the Super Bowl champions.

"I don't really care where I go. I just want to play football," said Pierre-Paul, who was not invited to New York for the draft. "I'm ready. Put me on the field and see what I can do."

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 8:31pm]


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