North Carolina's Giovani Bernard was the first running back selected in the NFL draft
CHAPEL HILL — For the third time in the past five years, at least five North Carolina players were selected in the NFL draft, which began last Thursday and ended on Saturday. It was another productive draft for the Tar Heels, who have produced four first-round picks during the past three drafts.
Before some thoughts on UNC’s draft class, a recap of when and where the Tar Heels went:
--Jonathan Cooper, OG: 1st round, seventh pick, Arizona Cardinals
--Sylvester Williams, DT: 1st round, 28th pick, Denver Broncos
--Giovani Bernard, RB: 2nd round, 37th pick, Cincinnati Bengals
--Brennan Williams, OT: 3rd round, 89th pick, Houston Texans
--Travis Bond, OG: 7th round, 214th pick, Minnesota Vikings
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
--Casey Barth, K, Atlanta Falcons
--Erik Highsmith, WR, Minnesota Vikings
--Kevin Reddick, LB, New Orleans Saints
When healthy, UNC had one of the best offensive lines in the nation a season ago. So it’s not surprising to see the Tar Heels’ offensive line well-represented in the draft. UNC hadn’t had two offensive linemen taken in the draft since 1985. The last time three members of the Tar Heels’ offensive line were picked in the same draft? 1949. So a draft class like this, featuring three members of the same offensive line, doesn’t come around that often. What struck me most about this draft for UNC is that its two highest picks – Jonathan Cooper and Sylvester Williams – both took highly unlikely roads to the NFL. I wrote about both players in recent stories. Here’s the one about Cooper. And the one about Williams.
Cooper going to the Arizona Cardinals is a win-win for both player and team. The Cardinals’ offensive line was terrible a season ago, and allowed the most sacks in the NFL. On top of that, Arizona also ran for the fewest yards in the league. The team not long ago acquired veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, and improving his protection was an obvious priority for the Cardinals. Cooper will come in, start immediately and have a chance to establish himself as one of the best young interior lineman in the game.
Most to prove:
After his pro day at UNC, Giovani Bernard dismissed the question of whether he could be an every down back in the NFL. To him, there is no question. Bernard said he didn’t want to come off the field in the NFL, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Bengals utilize him as a punt returner, and how much they utilize him in the passing game. Bernard during his college days proved himself in both areas. Still, he’ll have plenty of competition. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the incumbent back in Cincinnati, and he’s coming off a 1,000-yard season. It’s likely Bernard starts off in a situational role, which might not remain all that situational for long if he proves himself.
I was shocked that Kevin Reddick wasn’t drafted. Reddick, who was UNC’s best linebacker a season ago, ran just a 4.72 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and his height (6-foot-1) was never going to impress scouts and front-office types. But Reddick’s strength was never going to be measured in inches, or by a stopwatch. He finished each of the past three seasons with more than 70 tackles, and his 18.5 tackles for loss led UNC a season ago. Reddick was projected as a mid-round pick but instead signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent.
Another good NFL draft for the Tar Heels, and you can be sure that coach Larry Fedora and his staff will be remind recruits that UNC has had its share of success in recent seasons of putting players into the NFL. Of course, that begs the question: Have the Tar Heels underachieved with all this NFL talent? I’d argue no, at least not last season. UNC’s strength was on offense – and particularly up front and in the backfield. So it’s fitting that three linemen and running back Giovani Bernard were selected. Defense was UNC’s weakness, and the draft reflects that.