The final day of the NFL Draft held plenty of surprises – good and bad – for Triangle area players.
The first – and only – NFL Draft pick Saturday from a Durham-based university was N.C. Central cornerback Ryan Smith. The senior was selected in the fourth round, No. 108 overall, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 5-foot-11, 187 pound Smith is the first Eagle selected since 2007. Smith came to NC Central having only played one year of high school football and switched from safety to cornerback before his junior year. He set school record for career solo tackles with 168 and recorded seven interceptions and 24 pass breakups.
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In the two games N.C. Central played against FBS level competition last year – Duke and Florida International – Smith had two passes defensed on just six targets, according to Pro Football Focus.
N.C. State cornerback Juston Burris was the next local product off the board Saturday, going No. 118 overall in the fourth round to the New York Jets. Burris has enviable upper body strength and overall size (6 foot, 212 pounds). Burris started 43 games over his Wolfpack career and snagged six interceptions while recording 31 pass breakups.
Other notable area picks include Appalachian State defensive end Ronald Blair (fifth round, 142 overall, San Francisco 49ers). Millbrook High grad Keith Marshall, a running back who struggled with injuries throughout his career at Georgia, was drafted in the seventh round (No. 242 overall) by the Washington Redskins.
The ACC defensive player of the year, Duke All-American safety Jeremy Cash, went undrafted. So did North Carolina guard Landon Turner, who was called “heavy footed” by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. Both will undoubtedly sign undrafted free agent deals, as will several other local products.
At 6 foot, 212 pounds, Cash isn’t big enough to be a linebacker, but teams obviously doubted his ability to drop into pass coverage against NFL receivers. While his “tweener” status didn’t hold him back in college, it is much more difficult to convince NFL teams that production can translate to the next level without a clear position.
N.C. State, which went 7-6 with a Belk Bowl loss to Mississippi State last year, was the only North Carolina ACC team to have players drafted. In addition to Burris, offensive linebacker Joe Thuney and quarterback Jacoby Brissett were both drafted in the third round by the Patriots.
Duke went 8-5 and won a bowl game for the first time since 1961 by beating Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl, but the program’s three-year streak of draft picks, dating back to 2012, was snapped. The Tar Heels have not had a player drafted in the past two drafts, but went 11-3 with an ACC Championship game appearance and lost to Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl on the field last year.
N.C. State OL Joe Thuney: Patriots, third round, No. 78 overall
N.C. State QB Jacoby Brissett: Patriots, third round, No. 91 overall
N.C Central cornerback Ryan Smith: Buccaneers, fourth round, No. 108 overall
N.C. State cornerback Juston Burris: Jets, fourth round, No. 118 overall
Appalachian State defensive end Ronald Blair: 49ers, fifth round, No. 142 overall
Millbrook grad and Georgia running back Keith Marshall: Redskins, seventh round, No. 242 overall