Jayhawks could make splash in upcoming NFL Draft

photo by: AP Photo/Butch Dill

National offensive lineman Dominick Puni of Kansas (71) during the second half of the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, in Mobile, Ala.

The Kansas football program has only had one player drafted since 2020. It will almost certainly exceed that total in a single draft later this month, with offensive lineman Dominick Puni and defensive end Austin Booker expected to go in the middle rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft.

If either player goes in the third round, he would become the highest-drafted Jayhawk since Aqib Talib went 20th overall in 2008.

In fact, the prospect that both players’ positions exceed that of the top KU draftee since then — Darrell Stuckey, who went 110th overall as a fourth-rounder in 2010 — is looking increasingly likely, as quite a few publications have started to roll out seven-round mock drafts with less than two weeks to go until the real thing. The first round is set for April 25, with the second and third rounds unfolding the following day and the remaining four on the 27th.

In a sample of five recent full mock drafts from the likes of CBS, Draft Countdown, ESPN, Pro Football Network and The Sporting News, all have Puni in the third round, with Vinnie Iyer of The Sporting News projecting him as high as 78th overall, and both ESPN’s Matt Miller and PFN’s James Fragoza slotting him in at 93rd, a selection owned by the Baltimore Ravens.

“A college tackle, Puni could battle for the starting left guard spot in camp while also providing insurance across the offensive line as a five-position player,” Miller wrote on March 27.

Indeed, Puni moved outside from guard to serve as the starting left tackle for the Jayhawks during the 2023 season, earned first-team all-conference honors, and was one of the highest-graded players at tackle in the country with an 80.6 score from Pro Football Focus. He has even played some center in his offseason preparation for the draft.

The 2023 campaign was Puni’s sixth year playing at the collegiate level, and he’s come a long way since spending his first four at NCAA Division II Central Missouri.

Booker also started his career elsewhere, as a bench player at Minnesota, but after one breakout year at KU ended up with 56 tackles, eight sacks and two forced fumbles. After he opted out of the Jayhawks’ bowl game, forewent his remaining eligibility and declared for the draft, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound edge rusher dazzled talent evaluators with his length and athleticism early on in the pre-draft process.

His showing at the NFL Combine hampered him somewhat; PFN’s Ian Cummings wrote, “His NFL Combine numbers — a 4.79-second 40-yard dash, a 32″ vertical, and a 10′ broad jump — weren’t quite as good as expected, but Booker still presents plenty of upside as an EDGE prospect who’s just starting to blossom.”

KU coach Lance Leipold recently compared him to Malcolm Koonce, the Las Vegas Raiders defensive end who has begun to thrive opposite Maxx Crosby, and whom Leipold coached at Buffalo.

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Wednesday that Booker was visiting the Carolina Panthers, his fourth team visit with two more scheduled, along with local events he participated in for the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.

Of the sample of five mock drafts, two have Booker slipping into the third round (in the final three selections), while the rest have him waiting a day longer to get selected in the fourth.

Both he and Puni participated in the Senior Bowl.

The lingering question is whether any other Jayhawks, many of whom participated in other college all-star games (and still more of whom participated in the new Big 12 Pro Day event at the end of March), will manage to hear their names called.

Fragoza (sixth round to the Seattle Seahawks) and CBS’ Chris Trapasso (seventh round to the Green Bay Packers) have teams selecting longtime KU safety Kenny Logan Jr., a four-year starter who racked up 386 tackles, six interceptions and five forced fumbles. Logan played in the East-West Shrine Bowl and made two tackles while serving as a kick returner.

Iyer has the Buffalo Bills taking a surprising late-round flier on hometown product Dylan McDuffie, a 1,000-yard rusher for the Buffalo Bulls (under Leipold) in 2021 who only ran for 522 yards in the remaining five seasons of his collegiate career, including as KU’s third-stringer in 2023.

Five additional Jayhawks from this past year participated in college all-star games: cornerback Kwinton Lassiter, defensive end Patrick Joyner Jr., linebackers Rich Miller and Craig Young, quarterback Jason Bean and tight end Mason Fairchild. McDuffie, center Mike Novitsky, defensive backs Kalon Gervin and Andrew Russell, defensive tackle Devin Phillips, kicker Seth Keller and linebacker Hayden Hatcher also attended the Big 12 Pro Day.

If a third Jayhawk such as Logan were to get selected in 2024, KU would match its total number of draftees from the previous eight NFL drafts.

Current Jayhawks in the NFL include Dorance Armstrong, who recently signed with the Washington Commanders, as well as the likes of Hakeem Adeniji, Kyron Johnson (KU’s last draftee from 2022), Kwamie Lassiter II, Lonnie Phelps Jr. and Steven Sims Jr.

photo by: AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Kansas defensive lineman Austin Booker runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Indianapolis.

photo by: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

East’s Kenny Logan, of Kansas, returns a kick during the East West Shrine Bowl NCAA college football game in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.


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