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Next year's NFL Draft should include more Cats

If you are a Kentucky Wildcats football fan, you have one stone-cold obligation for 2009.

Starting with Saturday's Blue-White scrimmage and running through the '09 regular season, you need to show the love to Trevard Lindley.

The UK star cornerback gave up the near certainty of being a first-day pick (first two rounds) in this weekend's NFL Draft to play his senior season in Lexington.

If the Hiram, Ga., product had turned pro this year, he would have been "maybe the second or third cornerback taken in the draft, and you know how valuable those guys are," says long-time draft analyst Jerry Jones. "We're talking second round, maybe even late first."

The NFL Draft, amazingly, has become one of the most anticipated weekends of the American sports year. Yet when it comes to watching the proceedings, UK fans have often felt like they had noses pressed up against the window watching how the other half lives.

Between the 2004 and 2007 drafts, Kentucky had a whopping one player (defensive end Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns) picked. By way of comparison, Louisville had 14 players selected over the same time frame.

Last year, things finally turned for UK football when four ex-Cats — Jacob Tamme; Keenan Burton; Andre Woodson; and Steve Johnson — heard their names called on the draft's second day.

Yet draft weekend was still a bittersweet experience for the Kingdom of the Blue.

Having been mentioned as a possible first-round choice during the 2007 season, quarterback Woodson saw his draft status plummet after a shaky Senior Bowl and wound up going in the sixth round to the New York Giants.

To make it worse, Wesley Woodyard, Kentucky's undersized but stellar linebacker, did not hear his name called at all. (He subsequently made a mockery of that by making the Denver Broncos roster as a free agent and turning in a solid rookie year).

With Lindley as well as fellow UK junior defenders Micah Johnson and Jeremy Jarmon choosing not to enter this year's draft, Jones says Kentucky backers are headed for another quiet NFL draft weekend in 2009.

Defensive tackle Myron Pryor is the Wildcat being most talked about in pre-draft scuttlebutt.

ESPN.com has the 6-foot-1, 319 pounder ranked as the 161st best prospect in the draft. If that projection held, it would make Pryor a fifth-round selection.

Jones — a former Cincinnati-area pharmacist who started doping the NFL draft back in 1972 as a wager with a friend — does not have Pryor ranked that high.

"I definitely think he's the most likely (UK player) to get drafted," said Jones, whose Drugstore List pre-draft analysis is available at drugstorelist.com.

Jones has Pryor as a likely seventh-round pick or a preferred free agent.

"The hit that Pryor gets, he's not very tall," Jones said. "Myself, I think that can be as much an advantage as disadvantage because it allows you to get under (blockers). The other thing I've heard that some people have as a concern is that he has a hard time getting off blocks against the bigger players."

Jones thinks UK safety Marcus McClinton and punter/kickoff specialist Tim Masthay have a chance to sneak into the seventh round. He expects outside linebacker Johnny Williams to be invited into an NFL camp as a free agent.

The hot draft name among players from Kentucky colleges is Louisville center Eric Wood. "He could go at the end of round one," says Jones, "but probably at the start of round two."

Before last year, U of L quarterback Hunter Cantwell was being touted as perhaps the best senior QB in the country.

But in an uneven season, "he did not impress anyone," Jones says. "I think he'll go very late, in the seventh round."

Jones expects next year to be, by UK standards, a big NFL draft for Cats players.

He says middle linebacker Johnson "made a very good decision going back to school. He's got ability and has a chance to really help himself with a good year."

Defensive end Jarmon's junior season was not as good as his sophomore year, Jones says, "so going back gives him a chance to get his numbers back up."

Then there is Lindley. Did he make a bad business decision in returning to Kentucky for his senior year?

"Maybe he made an error in staying," Jones said. "But I don't second guess these decisions either way. By staying, I think there is a very good chance Lindley will enter next season as the No. 1 cornerback prospect on draft boards. That's not a bad place to be."

Reach Mark Story at 231-3230 or (800) 950-6397, Ext. 3230, or at mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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