2012 NFL Draft Preview: Virginia

Virginia’s Chase Minnifield Has High Hopes That the NFL Draft Boards Will Reward His Aggressive Play

Leading up to this month’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 43 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 26 and 28.

The key to the Virginia Cavaliers‘ 2011 resurgence was its defense, so naturally, several of those pieces will be headed to the NFL later this month. The losses make a dent, since all three of the players we’ll profile here were leaders, heated competitors and some well-recruited athletes who’ve set the bar around Charlottesville a little bit higher from now on.

Chase Minnifield, CB, Senior

What scouts like most about Chase Minnifield is his aggressive pass-coverage skills, which will definitely come in handy at the pro level. While small (5’10”, 185 pounds) and only average speed (4.65 40-time), his willingness to stick with receivers and always get a hand on the ball are glaring signs that he could be a successful NFL DB. The interesting part will be how his game translates to camp first, and the adjustments he’ll need to make. Ideally, teams would probably like him to both bulk-up and speed-up a bit, though both can take time. While he’d be an ideal third-corner to bring in, most of the NFL’s receivers can out-jump him, and his run-defense is not the best either. Teams will take the flier on his potential for turnovers though, and he should go in the late-third or early-fourth round.

Cam Johnson, DE/OLB, Senior

More height than weight, the 6’4″, 280-pound defensive end showed himself an athletic and active force on the edge while in school. Unfortunately, however, that frame doesn’t translate to an NFL defensive line, and he’ll likely be converted to outside linebacker. He runs a moderate 4.81 40-yard dash, which would be fine if not for his subpar bench press reps (just 16 at 225 pounds). If Johnson’s going to make it as a professional linebacker, he’s going to have to have to bulk up his upper body a bit. The ball-carriers he’ll be up against back a much bigger punch than what he’s used to, and forced to play in a bit more wide open space, he’s going to rely on wrapping up quickly. Overall, his instincts should get him selected in the fourth round, so long as he puts in the necessary work to improve.

Matt Conrath, DE/DT, Senior

A monstrous 6’8″, 290 pounds, Conrath made a living stuffing the run at Virginia. And he could very well do so again as an NFL defensive tackle, so long as he bulks up. The odd part about Conrath is how for someone his height, he rarely gets batted balls, and doesn’t figure that much into the pass-rush. As a professional D-lineman, these are the type of things that scouts immediately point out, and expressive some serious concern about (and with good reason). His big advantage (beyond his under-used height): his quick first-step. Though he scored alright in the 40-time (5.18), his agility scores were even better, proving he knows how to beat his blocker. Now an NFL team just has to be willing to take the time to really teach him how to be not just an effective defensive weapon, but a dangerous one. If someone’s up for it, Conrath will be selected. Otherwise, he’ll try to make his way to camp as a free agent.

Previously: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami (FL), NC State, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse

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