Profiling football draft-hopeful seniors

Micah Kiser, Quin Blanding, Kurt Benkert, Andrew Brown look to put another Cavalier in the NFL


Andrew Brown (top left), Kurt Benkert (top right), Quin Blanding (bottom left) and Micah Kiser (bottom right) all hope to be selected in the NFL Draft.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics, Nick Zugris, Callie Collins, Richard Dizon

After the 2017 NFL Draft saw the Virginia football program’s 33 year streak of having a player drafted end, the program has a very favorable chance to start a new streak this year. Not one, but four graduating Cavaliers have gotten buzz around them as analysts have begun to break down the 2018 draft class. While surprises always pop up on draft day — and Virginia’s draft-hopeful prospects have some uncertainties around them — profiling each of the seniors can shed some light on when and where they might land.

Inside Linebacker Micah Kiser

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 240 lbs. 

Analysis: Four years as Virginia’s leader in the front seven has made Kiser a tackling force in the ACC. The Baltimore native led the ACC in tackles in 2016 and 2017, with his intense physicality giving him the edge over softer runners. His size and explosiveness makes him an elite run-stuffer up the middle, and he has shown a knack for getting to the quarterback as well, amassing five sacks in 2017. A common knock on Kiser by scouts has been his lack of wire-to-wire athleticism, which limits him from getting to the edge and making big run stops. Kiser’s leadership ability is a major intangible for teams to consider, however, as his football IQ has shaped him into an anchoring force for the Virginia defense.

Team Fit: The Los Angeles Chargers have a young and exciting defense, headlined by rising star defensive end Joey Bosa and formidable cornerback Casey Hayward. However, the team struggled to contain the run last season, giving up 131.1 yards per game on the ground last year, second worst in the league. Adding a run-stuffer like Kiser can prove a key piece to building out the team’s defense. Pairing him with Bosa can allow the Chargers to generate a great deal of pressure up the middle.

Round Projection: 2-3

Safety Quin Blanding

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 210 lbs. 

Analysis: Quin Blanding is a veteran of playing the safety position, having done so at a high level for Virginia under two different coaches. He started consistently from his freshman to senior season, overseeing a revival of the program which eventually led the Cavaliers to a bowl game in his senior year. Blanding is Virginia’s all-time leader in tackles with 495, a figure which places him at No. 6 all-time in ACC history. As a player, Blanding is a ball hawk and excellent tackler, performing very well in run defense. His leadership skills will be crucial in anchoring an NFL defense, though some weaknesses in coverage may make teams hesitant to take him early in the draft.

Team Fit: The Oakland Raiders’ defense has been atrocious the past two years, with glaring weaknesses in the front seven. The secondary, however, has been especially weak, allowing opposing quarterbacks to tear apart the Raiders. Blanding would be, if nothing else, a crucial add for depth in a secondary that has been plagued by injuries. The Raiders’ second-round pick in 2017, safety Obi Melifonwu, hardly saw the field due to injury, and the Raiders’ lack of depth — combined with veteran safety Reggie Nelson’s poor year — led to persistent problems for their secondary. Blanding could be cultivated into a potential replacement for Nelson at free safety, which he played at Virginia, and could provide an important voice of leadership to change the culture of a struggling defense.

Round Projection: 4-6

Quarterback Kurt Benkert

Measurables: 6-foot-4, 215 lbs. 

Analysis: Emerging as a real NFL prospect after an impressive 2017 season in which he broke Virginia’s single season record for yards passing and completions, Kurt Benkert finally demonstrated his natural talent as a gunslinger, racking up nine 200-plus yard passing games last season. Benkert’s arm talent led the Cavaliers back to a bowl game for the first time since 2011, as his touchdown strike to Andre Levrone led Virginia to victory over Georgia Tech. The main knock on Benkert, in addition to footwork, has been inconsistency. While he dominated the game against an outstanding Miami Hurricanes defense, starting the game 17/18 with 262 yards passing and three touchdowns, he flopped in the bowl game against Navy, posting only 145 yards passing in a game in which the Cavaliers scored only one touchdown. Despite his flaws, however, Benkert’s style translates well for the NFL game — particularly for a West Coast-style offense.

Team Fit: The Denver Broncos, initially projected to be Super Bowl contenders last year, fell off the map with a lack of consistency at the quarterback position. Benkert could be the answer for the Broncos, especially because of their wealth of draft picks. With 10 picks, the Broncos should be able to use multiple picks to address their void at the quarterback position, taking Benkert as a risky option to develop. The talent is definitely there for Benkert, and more importantly, he should fit into the West Coast scheme of Broncos’ new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Round Projection: 4-7

Defensive End Andrew Brown

Measurables: 6-foot-4, 285 lbs. 

Analysis: After a slow start to his career at Virginia coming in as a five-star recruit out of Chesapeake, Va., Brown burst out as a junior and continued to be productive into his senior season. He totalled 10.5 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss in his college career. Brown’s huge frame makes him a force as a pass rusher, and his quick first step allows him to blow by defenders if he gets the right jump. His field awareness gives him the ability to jump gaps on the line of scrimmage and disrupt running plays with his lateral movement. Teams may point to his lack of consistency and perceived lack of mental toughness in certain situations as a red flag. Brown has the propensity to lose his composure late in the game, as shown in his ejection against Virginia Tech in the final home game of his career. 

Team Fit: The San Francisco 49ers are a team on the upswing with young star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo under center, but its defense lacks a true dominant unit. The team finished among the bottom of the league with only 30 sacks, but have a promising young pass rusher in 2017 No. 3 overall pick Solomon Thomas. Pairing the bulkier Brown on the other end of the trenches can give the 49ers a scary one-two punch of quarterback disruptors as he and Thomas develop together.

Round Projection: 3-4

related stories