This post begins a series previewing our guys' chances in the NFL Draft. Today we discuss everyone's favorite former Gamecock, Weslye Saunders.
Measurements: 6'5 / 270
Summary: As we all know, Saunders has had a truly bizarre and in many ways disappointing career at Carolina. He burst onto the scene in 2007 after being highly recruited out of North Carolina, became more of a fixture in 2008, and emerged as one of the nation's best TEs in 2009. Questions about character and lockerroom behavior plagued him throughout this period, though. Heading into the 2010 season, these questions appeared to be answered; Saunders was reportedly working harder than ever and was ready to have his best season yet. And then it all happened: Saunders was connected to the infamous Marvin Austin South Beach party, Whitneygate, and committed other, undisclosed off-field indiscretions. The 2010 Saunders soap opera appeared to conclude when Saunders was kicked off the team, apparently more at the instigation of Eric Hyman than Steve Spurrier. Saunders continued to draw attention to himself, though, by publicly lobbying to be reinstated late in the season, and as recently as a few months back there were rumors floating among fans that Saunders would attempt to gain reinstatement so he could use his final year of eligibility in 2011. It appears, though, that Saunders is now headed to the NFL...if someone will take a chance on him.
What the Pros Like: As a football player, there's not much they don't like. Saunders is raw as a run blocker, but other than that, he's a prototypical NFL tight end. He's big, has great hands, can make the tough catch over the middle as well as stretch the field with speed, and can gain yards after the catch due to his tackle-breaking ability. His body-type, moreover, suggests that he can solve the run-blocking problems with work. Before his off-field issues became such a big problem, many thought he might be a second-round pick or better depending on how 2011 played out, perhaps even the first TE off the board.
What the Pros Don't Like: Saunders's perceived character issues are his major problem. He is widely viewed as untrustworthy and as a toxic lockerroom presence, and scouts will rightly worry about committing lots of money to a guy whose commitment to his team is seen as shaky.
Are the Mocks Right?: Saunders is all over the boards right now, with some mocks projecting him as high as the third round and some as an undrafted free agent. 2011 features a weak tight end crop, so scouts looking for a TE are going to pay attention to Saunders. However, the character issues are serious enough that Saunders must convince someone to take a chance on him. Personally, I think Saunders will be drafted, as it's hard to see no one taking a chance on him in the late rounds. However, his off-field mistakes have ruined his chance of being taken early in the draft.