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December 21, 2014

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Football:

NFL Draft expected to be a quiet weekend for area players

The list of players with local ties who could hear their names called may not go more than two deep

Image

Associated Press

Former UNLV linebacker John Lotulelei runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013.

Just as the 2013 NFL Draft lacks the regular buildup because of the absence of marquee quarterbacks, it doesn’t appear like it will be an eventful weekend for Las Vegas-related NFL hopefuls.

Only one former Las Vegas prep player seems assured of hearing his name called, and calling Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams a lock even seems like a stretch. Still, the Valley High grad is expected to be the first area player selected — and there’s a chance he could even be the only one.

The best bet to join him among the drafted is UNLV’s John Lotulelei. Opinions vary pretty wildly on the middle linebacker though his solid performance at the NFL combine can only help. If he were selected, Lotulelei would be the first UNLV player drafted since 2010, when offensive lineman Joe Hawley went to the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth round.

Last year five former Las Vegas preps were selected. Here’s a closer look at the two with the best chance this year plus a couple of other players with local ties who are hoping to continue their playing careers:

    • Utah State running back Kerwynn Williams, a Valley grad, runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 24, 2013.

      Kerwynn Williams, RB/KR, Utah State

      5-foot-8 1/8, 195 pounds

      Senior year

      Rushing: 1,512 yards on 218 carries (6.9 ypc), 15 TDs

      Receiving: 697 yards on 45 catches (15.5 ypc), 5 TDs

      Returns: 16 yards on 1 return

      Career totals

      Rushing: 2,515 on 382 carries (6.6 ypc), 22 TDs

      Receiving: 870 yards on 64 catches (13.6 ypc), 5 TDs

      Returns: 3,543 yards on 146 returns (24.3 ypr), 1 TD

      Projected round: Fifth (CBSSports.com); Sixth (ESPN.com)

      Breakdown: Williams, a Valley grad, filled a lot of roles for the Aggies. He started out as a return specialist, making his name on kick returns and then adding punt returns as a sophomore and junior.

      Williams was so good he held the WAC record for kick return yardage before his senior season. And it’s a good thing, because Williams was needed more in the offense, forcing him to return just one kick and finish with 3,408 career kick return yards.

      Williams filled that void by amassing 2,209 total yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns as a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. An inconsistent showing at the NFL combine shouldn’t stop some team from taking a chance for the returning possibilities if nothing else.

    • John Lotulelei, LB, UNLV

      5-foot-11, 233 pounds

      Senior year: 120 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 1 INT, 1 FF

      *Career totals: 180 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 1 INT, 1 FF

      Projected round: Seventh (ESPN.com)

      Breakdown: The Rebels’ leader in tackles in 2012, Lotulelei is an example of a junior college player taking full advantage of an opportunity on a bigger stage later in his career. While the defensive line and secondary lost players to injuries at various points during the season, Lotulelei started all 13 games and rarely missed a play.

      At the NFL combine in Indianapolis he had the best vertical jump (35.2 inches) and three-cone drill time (6.91 seconds) of any inside linebacker. Lotulelei was middle of the pack in most of the other skills tests.

      That performance certainly helped but Lotulelei is likely going to have to sweat out the draft. Considering this was just a dream at this time last year, that’s probably just fine. If he goes undrafted, Lotulelei will certainly get a chance to join a team’s camp.

      *This includes only the two seasons Lotulelei played at UNLV. He started his career at Merced Community College in California.

    • Utah wide receiver DeVonte Christopher, a Canyon Springs grad, runs with the ball in a 31-14 loss to Washington on Oct. 1, 2011, in Salt Lake City.

      DeVonte Christopher, WR, Utah

      6-foot 1/4, 192 pounds

      Senior year: 301 yards on 22 catches (13.7 ypc), 2 TDs

      Career totals: 1,662 yards on 105 catches (15.8 ypc), 13 TDs

      Projected round: Undrafted

      Breakdown: Christopher seemed primed for a great senior season after leading the Utes in receiving yards as a sophomore and junior, but it never came to pass. He caught nearly half as many passes as the previous year and scored only two touchdowns after crossing the goal line 11 times over the 2010-11 seasons.

      Christopher, the 2007 Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year, was a star at quarterback for Canyon Springs before moving to receiver after his redshirt season. The switch yielded some very positive results heading into the year but he failed to finish on a high note.

      Christopher fell out of favor, at least in part he admitted, because of bad practice habits. That’s a big warning sign to NFL coaches. Still, Christopher is speedy and athletic enough to possibly get an invite to camp. Getting drafted, though, would be a surprise.

    • Bradley Randle, RB, UNLV

      5-foot-7, 190 pounds

      Junior year

      Rushing: 635 yards on 138 carries (4.6 ypc), 8 TDs

      Receiving: 80 yards on 8 catches (10 ypc), 1 TD

      Career totals

      Rushing: 1,233 yards on 275 carries (4.5 ypc), 11 TDs

      Receiving: 151 yards on 14 catches (10.8 ypc), 1 TD

      Projected round: Undrafted

      Breakdown: Randle was a pleasant surprise as Tim Cornett’s backup last season, filling a role the Rebels really needed after Dionza Bradford’s departure. What was more surprising was Randle’s announcement in January that he would forgo his senior season and put his name into the NFL Draft.

      Randle redshirted when he first got to campus and he’s on track to graduate soon, so from that perspective it makes some sense. Also, Northwestern transfer Adonis Smith is the heir apparent for the backup job and barring injury, Randle would have been little more than a really nice third-string running back. However, it’s no guarantee Randle will even get into a training camp.

      Really there’s no reason for Randle not to give it a shot, though. Even if nothing happens, he doesn’t really lose anything as long as his expectations are realistic.

    Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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