The scuttlebutt started days ago. Who would be the first corner taken? Would it be the long time favorite (Leon Hall), or the guy with the rapidly-rising stock (Darrelle Revis)? After doing a masterful job repairing his own draft stock by running a 4.39 at the NFL combine, most pundits believed that Hall had solidified his position in the upper half of the first round. Some even had him going in the top ten. However, as the days progressed and more teams began to learn more about Revis, it became clear that the former Pitt standout would likely be the first corner taken. His rise up the draft boards was the primary culprit in Hall lasting until the 18th pick, where he was gobbled up by the Cincinnati Bengals.
In a much more surprising turn of draft day events, Alan Branch slipped out of the first round all together. The former Wolverine standout was initially downgraded for not being in tip top condition during postseason workouts, but those showings were seemingly explained away by the severe bout with the flu that he batted a few months back. Though the lackluster testing was clearly harmful to his draft stock, most pundits still had him slipping to the middle of first round. That was until rumors of a significant injury emerged.
A few weeks ago in Scout.com's "Player Visits and Analysis" column, Tony Pauline and Adam Kaplan reported one major reason for Branch's poor cardiovascular condition at the combine was the inability to workout due to shin injuries. Sources later informed scout.com that that injury was in fact a stress fracture. Whether or not that is true is unknown, but it is clear that questions concerning Branch's health status led to a draft day slide that didn't see him go off the board until the top of the second round. That's when the Arizona Cardinals packaged their second round pick with a fourth round pick to move up five slots and take Branch with the first pick in round two (33rd overall).
The next two Wolverines went off the board with back to back picks. Lamarr Woodley was nabbed by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 14th pick in the second round (46th overall) and David Harris was reunited with former linebacker coach David Harris when he was selected by the New York Jets with the very next pick in the second.
Woodley was thought to be on the first round draft board of many NFL teams directly after the season concluded, but when a hamstring injury limited him to a few practices in the Senior Bowl and kept him out of the NFL combine, many of those teams began to drop him down. They began latching on to his perceived deficiency… his atypical size for linebacker or defensive end (6-1.5, 266). One team that remained intrigued was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Known for their ability to take so-called tweener DE/LB prospects and put them in positions to excel in their 3-4 scheme, the defensive staff in Pittsburgh felt Woodley would fit what they do perfectly. When he worked out Michigan's pro-day last month, the Steelers brass was even more convinced. The Lombardi trophy winner turned in a vertical of 38.5 inches, had 35.25 inch arms, ran 4.71 40, and was on the verge of cracking 4.6 when he slipped en route to finishing his second attempt in 4.77.
“I was convinced that Woodley could play outside linebacker by his workout when we went to work him out at Michigan this spring,” said Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler. “I wasn’t sure about it because I hadn’t seen him do it since he was a junior. We went and watched him do it. He stood up and did the linebacker drills, as well as the defensive line drills, and did them well. He impressed me.”
If the Jets were listening to their linebacker coach as intently as the Steelers listened to theirs, folks in the Big Apple had to be jumping up and down when Harris was still on the board in the middle of the second round. Most pundits believed Harris had made the biggest move up draft board of any Wolverine… from late first day pick, to solid first rounder. It appeared that his sub 4.6 forty at the combine had erased concerns about his footspeed, but inexplicably, concerns over his ability in pass coverage remained. Jets headman Eric Mangini continued his draft day aggression by packaging his team's second, third, and sixth round picks to move up 16 slots and select Harris. The Jets also received a seventh round pick.
With four Wolverines selected in the top fifty picks, Michigan tied the record previously held by the LSU Tigers.