Daily Planet Staff
NFL Draft Day is upon us, and fans of the original Hit Squad will have to come to terms with the fact that, after this weekend, Deltha O’Neal, Sekou Sanyika and Matt Beck will no longer be Bears. At least not Cal Bears.
The Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers are reportedly among a growing list of pro squads potentially interested in linebackers Sanyika and Beck, and at this point, just about everybody seems to be down with Deltha. Though questions remain in the minds of some scouts and draft pundits about the adaptability of all three to the NFL game, it seems safe to assume that these three dominant defenders have the best shot, among eligible Bears, at getting drafted this weekend.
A First-round Steal?
After all the miraculous numbers O’Neal put up in his senior year at Cal (six touchdowns, four INT’s for TDs), it seems farcical that the number that brought him the most attention was the 4.38 he posted in a 40 in March. With the rumors on the cornerback’s speed sufficiently squelched, O’Neal has found his way onto most teams’ draft boards, and has been projected by some analysts as a first-rounder.
Among those expecting O’Neal to be selected in the opening round are ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., who has him going 19th overall to Seattle, and the ESPN online editor’s panel, which also sends him to the Seahawks, but with the 22nd pick. Russ Lande of Football Insider.com also projects O’Neal as a late first-round pick, expecting Minnesota to make him the draft’s 25th overall selection. Called “a natural ballhawk” by Pro Football Weekly, the Cal star is widely believed to have the ball instincts and athleticism to make an immediate impact in the pros.
Ohio State’s Ahmed Plummer has emerged as the other first-round candidate at the cornerback position, and is believed by many to have the edge on O’Neal. Minnesota, San Francisco and Kansas City – each boasting picks in the late first round – are all among NFL teams with documented weaknesses at defensive back. The fact that O’Neal played under 49er head coach Steve Mariucci in 1996 could also add another interesting piece to the puzzle, in light of the cornerback’s Bay Area popularity.
Projection: Seattle skips O’Neal, hoping he’ll still be around three picks later. He won’t, as Kansas City nabs him with the 21st selection.
Beck: How bad will the injuries really hurt?
Matt Beck has accumulated a lengthy list of bumps and bruises throughout his collegiate career, but anyone who has seen the linebacker play through injury knows he is anything but “soft.” A possible first-rounder before his foot injury last September, Beck dropped into virtual obscurity among NFL scouts, before a recent rekindling of interest reemerged the linebacker as a potential early-round pick.
Though virtually every draft report makes note of Beck’s history of injury, the defender’s on-field intensity and instinct have reportedly attracted interest from the Bears Packers and Colts – all in need of young linebackers. Considered anywhere from an immediate NFL contributor to a hopeless injury case by draft analysts, Beck’s draft position could fall anywhere between the mid-to-late second and fourth rounds.
Projection: Third round, to Indy or Green Bay.
No. 13’s lucky day?
With the number of quality linebacker available, Cal’s most productive pass-rusher may also be its biggest wild card going into today’s draft.
Sanyika impressed the right people with his record-setting 18 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 1999, and after putting up relatively competitive numbers in the combine, appears to have turned heads on many an NFL scouting staff. According to NFL Digest.com, Arizona, Chicago, Green Bay, Indianapolis and Oakland have all considered Sanyika.
While Sanyika’s ability to defend the run in the NFL has been questioned, his pass-rushing and general instincts, along with his leadership in the Beck-less 1999 season, put him among the top 10 linebackers on most analysts’ draft boards.
Projection: Fourth round, to Oakland
(subhed) The other guys
For Cal’s less-often discussed potential draftees, Sunday may be the day of reckoning. Defensive ends Mawuko Tugbenyoh and Jeremiah Parker both upped their stock with impressive senior season, and could be safe day-two picks for squads in need of help on the d-line, like New England, Buffalo, Arizona and Minnesota. The same scouts may also have their eyes on defensive tackle Jerry DeLoach, who entered his senior season virtually assured of an NFL future, before a stinger severely limited his minutes with the 1999 Bears.
Other Cal defenders eligible for this weekend’s draft are linebacker Keith Miller, who racked up 62 tackles in an injury-hindered 1999, and safety Pete Destefano, who led all Bears with a sky-high 88 tackles in his senior season. Despite the 1999 Bears’ horrendous offensive reputation, offensive guard John Romero - from Berkeley’s St. Mary’s High School - and fullback Joshua White both have a chance to continue their careers at the next level.