Rod Baber sitting down

HAVING LIVED through the process, AM 1300 The Zone’s Rod Babers knows a bit about the NFL Draft. From the combine to signing a contract and playing professionally, he ran the gauntlet from start to finish in 2003. The New York Giants drafted Babers in the fourth round that year, and he later went on to play three seasons at cornerback. Through his NFL career, Babers played

for five teams, including the Giants and the Detroit Lions.  Horns Illustrated sat down with Babers to talk about the NFL’s pre-draft procedure and how this year’s crop of Longhorns may fare.

How was your draft experience? 

Great. In the end, I was the 123rd pick. I got my phone call at home in Houston, with my family. For the six months leading up to the draft you go through an extensive process, but it’s also one of the most exciting times of your life.

The combine is a meat market. For three or four days they put you through the pressure cooker. They poke and prod you. Every team wants to get their own doctor’s opinion so it’s possible to get examined by 32 doctors. I got examined by 16. They wake you up early every morning and put you through your paces. Most of it’s a psychological examination to see how you’ll handle the pressure. Then you have your pro day, and then you travel to work out with individual teams before the draft. That period of time is chaotic, but it all culminates in the day you’ve been waiting for your whole life.

Have you talked to any of the guys going through that process right now? 

I have talked to Kenny Vaccaro and Marquise Goodwin about the process. Both of them are handling it well. Because of all the stuff that Marquise has been through — going to the Olympics and then flying back to get to fall two-a-days — this is nothing new to him. He did great at the combine and he handles pressure well. Vaccaro ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash at combine, which is considered slow for a defensive back. Ironically, his stock has increased since because what people have seen on tape.

How will Marquise Goodwin do in the Draft?

Marquise Goodwin doing a shuttle drillI originally said he’d be the biggest steal in the draft, but that’s not the case anymore. He ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Marquise will do great in the NFL. He’s committed, and he’s used to the big stage. I personally think he’ll go to the Pittsburgh Steelers. At the UT Pro Day, the Steelers general manager and head coach were here. It’s rare to bring those people to a pro day unless you’re very interested in someone. I don’t think they’re interested in Vaccaro or Alex Okafor because they already have safeties and Okafor wouldn’t fit their system. They lost Mike Wallace as their outside speed guy and I think they’ll replace him with Goodwin. Speed just doesn’t have a bad day in the NFL, especially when you’re committed the way he is. He’ll probably catch 55 balls for whatever team drafts him next year.

Teams in the Hunt: Steelers, 49ers, Texans, Redskins.

Draft Prediction: Late 2nd, 3rd. 

Kenny Vaccaro?

Kenny Vaccaro has his wingspan measured at UT's pro-dayDue to the proliferation of the spread offense in the NFL, a player like Vaccaro is highly valued. The NFL is having the same reaction to the spread offense as Texas had. When Oklahoma brought the spread to the Big 12 in 1999, coach Duane Akina figured out quickly that he couldn’t have his best cover man out on the island. The quarterbacks threw to the slot receivers more. So Akina decided to take the same guys that played corner and teach them to play safety and move them inside. This included guys like Nathan Vasher, Earl Thomas and Michael Huff.

Vaccaro can play physical man-to-man defense in the slot, and can play physical against the run. The film shows that Vaccaro has covered some of the best slot receivers in the country — like Tavon Austin and Ryan Swope — and has shut them down. This is why teams are overlooking his 4.6 40 time. His stock is rising because he’s a five-tool defensive back that can cover.

Teams in the Hunt: Cowboys, Bengals, Vikings, Giants.

Draft Prediction:1st round, top 12 picks, easily top 15. 

Alex Okafor?

Alex Okafor running a 40 yard dash at UT's Pro DayOkafor lost himself some money because he ran a slow 40 (4.88s) at the combine. He’s not a hybrid who can stand up and rush the passer. He’s the guy who has his hand in the dirt. He’s going to be a 4-3 defensive end, maybe a 3-4 DE — although I seriously doubt it. He came in very light to the pro day, so he doesn’t have enough bulk to be a 3-4 DE like J.J. Watt or Bruce Smith. Now only 4-3 teams are going to look at him, which cuts his draft possibilities in half.

He’s going to be a great player, and a steal for whoever drafts him because of his pass rushing ability.

Teams in the Hunt: Bears, Vikings, Lions, or possibly the Cowboys as they’re moving to the 4-3. 

Draft Prediction: Late 2nd round, early 3rd round. 

Who else will land an NFL job?

Jeremy Hills had a great workout on pro day. He ran a 4.3 40 and had 20 reps on the bench. He’s definitely going to get a shot, and considering his brother Tony Hills is an NFL player too, his name is known. I don’t think he’ll get drafted, but he’ll have a shot in free agency. D.J. Monroe will get a shot too, likely as a practice squad guy and then moving into special teams. He ran a lightning fast 40 (low-4.3s) and there a lot of NFL rosters that would like to have someone like him in their system.

Rod Babers can be found on twitter @rodb314

James Schleicher

James Schleicher is the publisher of Horns Illustrated magazine. He's also a fifth generation Texan and lifelong Austinite. Follow @HornsIllus twitter to keep up with all things Horns Illustrated.

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