EAST HARTFORD, CT - AUGUST 30: Yawin Smallwood #33 of the Univeristy of Connecticut Huskies celebrates with teammates Jesse Joseph #91 and Sio Moore #3 following his sack of Mike Wegzyn #11 of the University of Massachusetts Minutemen during the game on August 30, 2012 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
UConn had five players selected in last month's NFL Draft, a school record. Of those five, four were on defense -- Dwayne Gratz, Sio Moore, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Trevardo Williams -- and it's reasonable to think that three of them could see considerable playing time as rookies.
But the best defender of the bunch might still be in Storrs. Rising junior Yawin Smallwood caught the attention of NFL scouts with his performance last season. And now, ESPN's Mel Kiper has Smallwood among his top inside linebackers for 2014. NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang agrees, ranking Smallwood third among all inside linebackers.
But another way: if the 2012 All Big East first-teamer can replicate in 2013 what he did in 2012, expect him to go before this year's talented crop, which heard their names called in the third round. Here's what SI.com draft analyst Tony Pauline wrote about Smallwood after UConn defeated Maryland last September:
Smallwood has played productive football all season yet his performance during the victory over Maryland was incredible. He stood out in all phases as Smallwood forcefully defended the run, showed strength on the blitz as well as smarts in pass coverage. His statistics, which included 14 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble as well as several pass deflections, just scratches the surface of the performance Smallwood turned in. The third-year sophomore is a complete linebacker and three-down defender that will soon be NFL ready.
And now he's on Kiper's radar. And before long, we suspect a lot of other people will know Smallwood's name.