Cardinals set pace in strong final-day run for local NFL draftees

Posted Saturday, Apr. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Getting the call A look at players from local high schools or area/Big 12 colleges who were selected in Saturday’s final day of the NFL Draft:
Rd.Player, PositionSchoolTeam
4Josh Boyce, WRTCUNE
4Alex Okafor, DETexasARI
4Landry Jones, QBOklahomaPIT
4Sean Porter, OLBTexas A&MCIN
4Chris Harper, WRKansas StateSEA
5Stepfan Taylor, RBStanford/Mansfield HSARI
5Kenny Stills, WROklahomaNO
5A.J. Klein, LBIowa StateCAR
5Joseph Randle, RBOklahoma StateDAL
5Stansly Maponga, DETCUATL
5Tanner Hawkinson, OLKansasCIN
5Luke Wilson, TERiceSEA
6Ryan Swope, WRTexas A&MARI
6Rufus Johnson, DETarleton StateNO
6Justin Brown, WROklahomaPIT
6Kapron Lewis-Moore, DENotre Dame/Weatherford HSBAL
6Braden Wilson, FBKansas StateKC
6Stacy McGee, DTOklahomaOAK
7David King, DEOklahomaPHI
7Carter Bykowski, OTIowa StateSF

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After two days of waiting for most local NFL prospects not named Luke Joeckel, the floodgates finally opened Saturday for lots of players with Texas connections and those from Big 12 schools.

The Arizona Cardinals took players who fit that description with their first three picks Saturday, setting up a Lone Star State reunion in training camp that will include Texas defensive end Alex Okafor, Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope and Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, a former Mansfield High School standout.

Okafor, Taylor and Swope — selected in that order by the Cardinals — were among 20 players with ties to local high schools or area/Big 12 colleges who saw their NFL futures come into focus on the final day of the 2013 NFL Draft in New York.

Arguably the most relieved player to hear his name called Saturday was Okafor, who logged 12.5 sacks last season —including a career-high 4.5 in Texas’ 31-27 victory over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl — and was projected at one point as a potential first-round pick. But questions about his inconsistent performances caused him to fall into the fourth round, where the Cardinals selected him with plans to make Okafor an outside linebacker in the team’s 3-4 defensive scheme.

“It was a long wait. I expected to be called Friday,” Okafor said during a news conference in Austin. “But I couldn’t be any happier. It was worth the wait, and I think I’m in a great situation. I’m confident in my athletic ability and I know I can play that position for them. They trusted me, and we’ll see how it works out.”

Okafor will be joined in Arizona by Taylor, Stanford’s career rushing leader (4,212 yards) who played in three BCS bowls during four seasons with the Cardinal. Taylor, the only player in school history with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons, owns a share of the school record for career touchdowns (44) and emerged as Arizona’s fifth-round pick.

“My strength is I feel like I am a complete back,” Taylor told reporters in Arizona. “I run the ball, pass protect and catch the ball. I’m coming in to compete [for immediate playing time]. That’s definitely a goal.”

It is a goal shared by Swope, who left A&M after four seasons with 252 receptions, 3,117 receiving yards and 24 TD catches. Although he ran a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, Swope dropped into the sixth round because he dealt with multiple concussions in college.

“With Ryan, multiple concussions are a hot button issue these days,” said Mike Mayock, draft analyst for NFL Network. Without the concussion issues, Mayock said Swope’s other measurables are comparable to those of a second- or third-round pick.

Swope, who also returned kicks in his college career, said Saturday his head injuries have been “very minor” and he is not concerned about the issue impacting his NFL career.

“I couldn’t feel better. I’m 100 percent right now,” Swope said in a conference call with reporters in Arizona. “My head feels great. My body feels great. I want to go in and play as soon as possible. If they need people out there on special teams, then they’ve got a guy willing to do it. I’m excited.”

Another player who waited longer than he would have preferred to hear his name called was Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. The Sooners’ career record-holder for passing yards (16,646) and touchdown passes (123) went to Pittsburgh in the fourth round. Jones, who returned for his senior season, had been projected as a potential first-round pick if he had entered the 2012 draft but drew criticism from NFL scouts for regressing late in his career.

“It was such a weird draft this year for all quarterbacks,” Jones said. “You’re expecting to go earlier, but it was a strange draft.”

Jones said his wife, former Oklahoma women’s basketball player Whitney Hand, was “pretty pumped” about his NFL destination because one of her teammates at OU was Carlee Roethlisberger, younger sister of Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

But Saturday’s largest collection of local talent is headed to Arizona, where Okafor — selected with Saturday’s 103rd overall pick — will join former Texas teammate Sam Acho, a fellow defensive end/outside linebacker selected with the Cardinals’ 103rd overall pick in the 2011 draft. The two players discussed the irony Saturday.

“It’s nuts. It’s crazy that it’s the same round, same time in the draft, same team and they come after me,” Okafor said. “It’s just a blessing.”

Asked which former Longhorn would turn out to be the better 103rd pick, Okafor said: “We’ll figure that out on the field.”

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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