Pick five: Cats may shine in next NFL draft

Despite the fact that they won a share of the Big Ten title last year and were ranked in the Top 25 for more than half of the season, eventually dropping out after the massacre at the Alamo, no Wildcats heard their name called at last weekend’s NFL draft until the final round.

Northwestern’s key losses from last year’s 8-4 squad – players like defensive end Dwayne Missouri, who led the Cats with nine sacks, or wideout Teddy Johnson, who led NU with 595 receiving yards and seven touchdowns – were forced to sweat things out all weekend before the prospect of an NFL career finally became a reality.

It was a totally different story for the two teams with whom the Cats shared the 2000 Big Ten title. Michigan had three players drafted in the first round Saturday, including first-team All-American wideout David Terrell, who went eighth to Chicago.

And Purdue’s Drew Brees, the conference’s two-time offensive player of the year, was scooped up by San Diego as one of two Boilermakers to go in the second round.

As for NU, Missouri was taken by the Baltimore Ravens with the 231st pick of the draft. Barring a rash of injuries, he will struggle to find any playing time on a defensive line that proved to be one of the best all-time during Baltimore’s run to victory in Super Bowl XXXV.

Johnson wasn’t selected in the draft, but signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills, where he hopes to join the likes of Eric Moulds and Peerless Price on the field next season.

NU cornerback Harold Blackmon was the first Cats’ player chosen Sunday, when Seattle picked him in the seventh round with the 210th pick. And former defensive linemen Conrad Emmerich and Javiar Collins, both pillars of stability for NU’s front four last season, signed free-agent contracts with Chicago and Dallas, respectively.

The Cats could have made some more noise in the draft’s early rounds if Damien Anderson had decided to go pro and skip his senior season. But next year should be a complete 180 for NU come draft day, where Anderson will lead a talented group of five Cats that should be high on pro teams’ draft boards and has the potential to make an impact in the NFL.

Anderson probably would have gone in the first three rounds this year and will likely be a first- or second-round selection after completing his senior season – especially if he carries a Heisman Trophy into the draft.

If Anderson wins the honor as next season’s best player, he will probably be listed as 2001’s top running back, which would make him a prime candidate to be a No. 1 pick.

Here’s why Anderson could go No. 1: The Houston Texans, the NFL’s newest franchise, have the first pick next year and will be looking to pick a impact player to build their team around. Most teams in that situation take a quarterback or a running back – the Cleveland Browns took quarterback Tim Couch as an expansion team in 1999.

Anderson won’t be the only NU player whose draft stock should have Mel Kiper Jr. and Chris Berman talking next April. The Cats’ trio of senior linebackers – Billy Silva, Napoleon Harris and Kevin Bentley – all have a chance to go in the early to middle rounds barring injury.

Silva, who didn’t even start full-time two seasons ago but led the Cats with 124 tackles last season, is a preseason Bronko Nagurski Trophy nominee. If Silva ends up winning the trophy as the nation’s best defensive player, his stock will soar like Miami linebacker Dan Morgan’s – he won the trophy last year and was the No. 11 pick over the weekend.

Harris, the only other NU player to notch more than 100 tackles last year (115), should catch the eye of NFL scouts with his size and versatility on the field. Harris proved this spring he can play both linebacker and defensive end, and Bentley, although undersized, was a Bronko Nagurski Trophy candidate in 2000.

Although Anderson and NU’s linebacking trio have the best shot to be big-time draft prospects next spring, the Cats may have a diamond in the rough on the offensive side of the ball.

With Johnson gone, wideout Sam Simmons will become the leader of an otherwise young receiving corps next fall. If he continues to put up numbers similar to those he posted in the spring game –