NU-NFL path more probable than ever

Jonah Rosenblum

When the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft ended Thursday night, not a single Northwestern player had been granted his ticket to the pros.

Not that it should come as a surprise. The Wildcats’ day of reckoning will likely come Saturday, when linebacker Quentin Davie and defensive tackle Corbin Bryant may or may not be included among the final picks of this year’s draft.

The stakes are high, something Davie is readily willing to admit.

“It means everything to me,” Davie said. “It means everything to get drafted and play football at the next level, and if I don’t get drafted I will, I know one thing for sure, I’m going to be in someone’s NFL camp.”

The question is which NFL camp and by what means.

Bryant and Davie are hoping for a repeat of last year’s windfall, when quarterback Mike Kafka and defensive end Corey Wootton were taken in the fourth round and cornerback Sherrick McManis was taken in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

The pair look to join what has become a proud fraternity of NU draftees, and although neither player was named in several mock drafts, NFL teams do have their eyes on both players.

Davie said teams have contacted him to express their interest in making him a late-round pick, and both defensive players were listed on the CBS Sports’ top lists for their positions. The site listed Bryant as the 23rd-best defensive tackle prospect and Davie as the 25th-best outside linebacker prospect.

Davie, who was married last Friday, says his relationships with God and his family have helped him make it through the turbulence of the draft process, allowing him to persist past being snubbed by the NFL Combine so that he could have a successful Pro Day.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have my religion,” Davie said. “I’m a Christian Baptist and I rely on that every day. That’s what got me here, and my family is big because it takes my mind off of everything I shouldn’t be thinking about in the first place.”

According to his former coach, Pat Fitzgerald, it’s this maturity combined with his physique that makes him such an exciting prospect.

“Quentin is a very long, dynamic athlete,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s grounded. He’s going to be going home to his wife every night after workouts and practices. He’s mature beyond his years.”

In addition to his relationships with his family and God, Davie has also gotten an assist from a former NU player, Prince Kwateng, who is currently trying to make his way into the NFL after a brief stint on the practice squad of the New Orleans Saints. Kwateng, who played outside linebacker for the Cats in 2007 and 2008, has had plenty of advice for Davie.

“We just talk about everything,” Davie said. “He is basically preaching to me that I already have all the tools I need and to not doubt myself, that I have what it takes to get to the next level.”

While Davie is generally known for his speed, something that could enable him to be an effective special teams player in the NFL, Bryant is primarily known for his size.

At 6-feet-4-inches and 300 pounds, Bryant can be a handful to deal with, according to rising senior linebacker Bryce McNaul, who has spent much of his career playing behind Bryant.

“The thing he did great was his ability to transition into pass-rush and control his gap,” McNaul said. “He’s a strong guy. I think everybody who sees Corbin would say that’s a big dude, and it translates well onto the field.”

Since Bryant didn’t begin playing organized football until his senior year in high school, the defensive tackle has plenty of untapped potential.

“That’s what we were most excited about him coming out of high school,” Fitzgerald said. “Where was the ceiling? Where would he max out as a football player? We got him pretty far along, but he’s not there yet. That’s what so exciting about him as an NFL player. Every year he’s been getting better and better, and where that ceiling is, I’m not quite sure.”

The question can also be asked as to what the ceiling is for NU. As the team has begun to pile up bowl appearances and winning seasons, the draft picks have piled up, a development that is hardly coincidental, according to McNaul.

“By going to a bowl game, by winning big games, like at Iowa, by winning the games that we needed to, it has helped thrust NU into that upper echelon,” McNaul said. “There are guys out here playing at an NFL-potential caliber. We just need to continue that success during the season, and more guys will have the opportunity that they’re having now.”

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