Perhaps it’s a sign of how far the University of Miami has fallen. Maybe it shows the strides FIU has made. Or it could just be a fluke.
Either way, something remarkable — and unprecedented — could happen come April: A Golden Panthers player might be drafted before any Hurricane comes off the board.
With a good week in Mobile, Jonathan Cyprien could go a long way to making that a reality. Cyprien, FIU’s safety from North Miami Beach, is the only player from either school participating in the Senior Bowl, the annual all-star game bringing together some of the nation’s top upperclassmen.
“It’s a big honor coming from a smaller school, a smaller conference,” said Cyprien, who will play for the North in Saturday’s showcase. “That does light a fire under me for me to play and compete.”
Cyprien, a big-hitting, 210-pound defensive back, is projected as a late-round pick. UM cornerback Brandon McGee could go late as well, but it’s entirely possible that no Hurricane will be taken at all — a staggering fall for a program that had a player selected in the first round 14 consecutive years.
Cyprien is the second Panther ever invited to the Senior Bowl, but will be the first to play in the game. T.Y. Hilton was asked to participate last year, but declined due to injury.
“I think he’s a guy that if you have an opportunity to draft him, you have to,” said former FIU coach Mario Cristobal, now an assistant with the Hurricanes. “He’s tough, physical … [with] a high football IQ. A great team leader. I think he’ll make a great pro.”
Practice for Cyprien and his fellow participants begins Monday, and the resort town on the Gulf Coast will be buzzing with NFL talent evaluators hoping to fill holes on their roster and draft board.
The Dolphins, as always, will have a contingent, led by general manager Jeff Ireland, who will address the media on Tuesday.
Front office types have mastered the skill of talking but saying little, yet if even if he wanted to, Ireland might be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of Senior Bowl players who might fit with the team’s 12th overall pick.
The first round of the draft is again expected to be dominated by juniors (who, by definition, can’t play in Mobile).
Only six of the 32 players in ESPN’s Mel Kiper mock first round will be at the Senior Bowl: tackle Eric Fisher (Central Michigan), defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (BYU), offensive lineman D.J. Fluker (Alabama), receiver Terrance Williams (Baylor), defensive tackle John Jenkins (Georgia) and defensive end Margus Hunt (Southern Methodist).
Williams would fill a need, but many believe he would be a stretch at 12. Ansah could be a possibility, but the Dolphins might go offense after a low-octane 2012. And few expect the team to take an offensive lineman in the first round again.
The Senior Bowl is rich with second- and third-round talents, however. Corners to watch include Utah State’s Will Davis, Leon McFadden from San Diego State and Connecticut’s duo of Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
“That’s one position you’ll always find depth,” Kiper said.
Williams and Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton are the only receivers at the Senior Bowl with a first- or second-round grade, according to CBSSports.com. But Kiper believes Denard Robinson — a running quarterback at Michigan who’s converting to receiver — will go higher than many think.
As for Cyprien, he’s heading north without any local company (at least on the collegiate level), but he won’t be alone. He has been training with William and Mary corner B.W. Webb and is friendly with Mobile-bound running back Mike Gillislee, a Florida Gator.
And while we’re three months from the draft, Cyprien said he already has had communication with at least one NFL team, the Carolina Panthers.
“I’m going to go there with a business mentality and learn as much I can,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot to prove.”