Home > Illinois football > Former Illini Leshoure, Liuget respected in first mock drafts

Former Illini Leshoure, Liuget respected in first mock drafts

For a Chicago Bears fan like me, it’s odd to think that in late January the offseason isn’t even on my mind. An NFC Championship showdown with Green Bay Packers on Sunday has a way of keeping my focus away from the looming labor strife, free agency, etc.

But for 28 other fan bases, NFL mock draft season is officially underway.

ESPN’s duo of dueling draft wizards released their initial 2011 mock drafts, and they give plenty of fodder for Illini fans.

Veteran analyst Mel Kiper Jr. sent out a mini-surprise when he listed former Illini running back Mikel Leshoure as the 28th overall selection, heading to the recently playoff-vanquished New England Patriots.

“The Patriots, year after year, manage to find solutions at running back. But there are solutions, and there are threats. And the fast-rising Leshoure, a chiseled 6-foot, 227-pound back who ran well in a physical Big Ten this past season, could be the alpha running back the Patriots could use. New England could go a lot of ways with this pick, but remember, the Pats have another pick just a handful of spots down the board and if they want a difference-maker at RB in a draft short on them, this is an option.”

Quick reaction: Is there a better fit? He goes to a loaded team and plays with a future Hall of Fame quarterback so he doesn’t have to be the man.

Meanwhile, Scouts Inc. director of football scouting Todd McShay – a.k.a. Kiper’s nemesis – does not list Leshoure in his first-round mock. But McShay’s early prognostication has the New York Giants selecting Illini defensive tackle Corey Liuget with the 19th overall pick.

And McShay offered high praise for Liuget in the process.

“After studying tape of Liuget we feel he’s not far behind Fairley and Dareus among defensive tackles. The Giants have spent a lot of money on ends and pass-rushers in recent years, and Liuget would help provide a strong presence in the middle as an every-down defensive tackle.”

Quick reaction: Great to finally see Liuget so highly respected. Opposing coaches know the impact Liuget makes on a game. He’d immediately bolster an already fearsome front four for the G-Men.

CBSSports.com also rolled out two mock drafts. Rob Rang had no Illini in the first round, but fellow senior analyst Chad Reuter had both Leshoure and Liuget going in the first round – in back-to-back picks.

He predicts Leshoure to the New Orleans Saints at No. 24 …

“Pierre Thomas is scheduled to be a free agent, Reggie Bush isn’t an every-down back, and the team’s lack of running game prevented QB Drew Brees from being at his best.”

… and Liuget to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 25.

“His Texas Bowl performance should convince scouts to bring his strength and quickness on board early in the draft.”

Quick reaction: OK, maybe the Patriots aren’t the perfect fit for Leshoure. The Champaign native could thrive as the next Illini workhorse for Brees, Colston, Bush, Shockey and company. Liuget would join a young, up-and-coming team and possibly be the anchor for a struggling defense.

So what can Illini fans take from this?

Not much, because we still don’t know how NFL scouts and general managers grade these players out. But these analysts are highly respected and – especially Kiper and McShay – have some influence during the draft process.

Most Illini fans already knew Liuget was a monster, but many around the country know little about the defensive tackle since he was on a mediocre Big Ten team with a struggling defense. But last season’s film, especially the Texas Bowl like Reuter alluded to, and workouts should help solidify Liuget as a top-40 pick.

Leshoure made the right decision in turning pro because this draft lacks complete running backs, with only Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram receiving an initial higher grade. Leshoure’s 40-yard dash time will undoubtedly heavily factor – for better or worse – into when he is selected … more than three months from now.

I’m sure we’ll see Liuget, Leshoure and linebacker Martez Wilson slide up and down in mock drafts. In the meantime, we still have the Super Bowl, spring training, Opening Day, the NCAA basketball tournament and the first round of the NBA and NHL playoffs to keep us busy.

Categories: Illinois football
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