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April 25, 2011

The Draft: K.J. Wright

This might make me out of place here in SEC country, but the NFL Draft is every bit as exciting to me as national signing day. I find it much more controlled, predictable and clean.

So, you can imagine my excitement now that draft week is upon us. Mississippi State has twice as many players expecting to get drafted this year as it did last year, with Derek Sherrod, K.J. Wright, Chris White and Pernell McPhee all expecting to hear their names called.

Our draft previews start today with Wright. We'll get to projections later, but I'll tell you now, Bus Cook - Brett Favre's agent - represents all four of MSU's prospects, and he advises his clients not to talk about specific teams they've visited or talked to.

What we do know, is that Wright, along with the other graduates, has been working out with MSU strength coach Matt Balis.

"Since pro day I've just been working out," Wright said. "I am still in school, and I am set to graduate in May. I have taken some visits to work out with a couple of teams, but it is hard to get a feel for which team might draft me, and I am wide open to any team. It is just a wait-and-see process. I've heard anything from the third round to the fourth round. But I try not to listen to those projections and just wait to see what happens."

Wright prefers, as Cook directed him, to not discuss specific teams. He does admit, however, that a number of them have been talking to him and showing interest.

"Yeah, but I don't really want to say anything," Wright said. "I've just been talking with a few teams. There's a few teams who have been interested in me, as far as I know. I just see what they're talking about, go on visits, and just take it from there."

What Wright has been able to do is prepare himself. He said the workouts with Balis have been less intense than the usual summer workouts, saying the goal is to just stay in football shape.

As far as the football goes, Wright said he has been picking the minds of the many former Bulldogs who were in and out of MSU's spring practices.

"Yeah, I actually talked to [Kyle] Love today about what they do at rookie camp," Wright said. "I've been talking to older guys who went through the draft about what they do in camp and how the practices are during the season to try and get ahead on what I need to expect."

Wright said he is happy to have former teammates in the NFL to lean on, and that is an advantage he wants all future Bulldogs to have. He was particularly excited to be able to extend the streak of linebackers being drafted out of MSU, after Jamar Chaney was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010.

"Keeping that string going is real big for our class, and we should have several guys get drafted this year," Wright said. "I was actually talking to Jamar yesterday about that. He said they started the trend up last year of getting to the NFL, and our class wants to keep that tradition going. I hope Charles Mitchell and Quentin Saulsberry and some other guys keep it going next year, too."

Wright believes Mullen is building a team full of players of that caliber, and he said playing in the SEC has helped prepare him for the NFL.

"I think playing in the SEC was real big for me because you see a lot of competition in the SEC," Wright said. "Everyone is fast and strong, just like it will be at the next level. And I got to see a high level of speed in the SEC."

So the question is, where will he go? Wright said he's heard third to fourth round. Fourth round is more likely, though I think he's a good value at that point. Mel Kiper did not list Wright in his three round mock draft, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution listed him as "on the fringe" in their list of the top 10 linebackers in the draft, which I'm assuming is the equivalent of "also receiving votes" in top 25 polls.

If Chaney was a seventh rounder last year, it's not unreasonable to think Wright will be drafted late. However, he does have more natural size and athleticism at 6'3", 246 pounds than Chaney did.

Various mocks - some credible and some not - have consistently had Wright as a fourth or fifth rounder, and that should be about right.

As for the specific team, there are a few things to look for.

1) A team with a glaring need at outside/pass rushing linebacker who is likely to draft multiple linebackers.

2) Or a team with more of a "medium" need at linebacker, but has greater needs elsewhere.

Teams with those views on linebackers are more likely to draft Wright because of his perceived draft value - not high and not low. Last year, the Eagles had no pronounced need at linebacker and basically took a flier on Chaney, who was apparently valued pretty low, which worked out well for both parties involved. They would not have done so, and obviously didn't, in the fourth or fifth round.

An example of the first scenario is the Detroit Lions, which is where I've had a hunch Wright will end up. Of course, once you get past the second round, it's really all a crapshoot, so I'm more likely to be wrong than right (Wright?). Sorry, had to make that joke.

But, the Lions are looking for two starters at outside linebacker in this draft, and they almost certainly won't draft a linebacker in the first round, simply because a linebacker of first round ability will not likely be available.

Which brings us back to Wright. No team views him as an elite talent, but virtually all teams view him as guy they can plug in immediately, having started three years in the SEC, a team captain as a senior. Because of this, he will be a value in the middle rounds, and he will likely be drafted by a team who plans to play him soon, though not necessarily rely on him.

I told Wright my Lions theory, but he didn't really bite, saying, "That'll work for me, it don't matter."

Now, the other scenario includes many more teams. The New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys (Wright's favorite team), Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams (where Croom is employed) San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears are all examples of teams with that "medium" level of need at linebacker who are likely to draft a linebacker in the middle rounds.

Another thing Wright has going for him is his game speed and pass-rushing ability. It seems nearly every team in the NFL is looking to bolster their pass rush, which makes sense as it has become a quarterbacks league. Some teams may not get that guy early in the draft and look at Wright as an option.

It's a lot for a college kid to take in. Wright could get drafted to the NFL and graduate college on the same day. So what are his plans?

"It's gonna be the same routine, me and my daddy at my house watching the draft like we always do," Wright said. "It ain't gonna be anything special, maybe do something afterwards."


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