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NFL Draft: 11th Hour Rumors

With just hours before the clock starts ticking for the 2011 NFL Draft, the league's franchises are in overdrive making moves and setting the stage for what is always a make-or-break night.
After sending a nation's-best 12 players to the 2011 NFL Draft Combine earlier this year, North Carolina has several that are going to get drafted at some point over the next three days---and the program could very well surpass the single-year school record of seven selections, which was set back in 1998 coming off UNC's 11-1 1997 season.
While at one time there was discussion of UNC having as many as six or seven first-round Draft selections in 2011, that's just not the reality as the hour arrives.
Right now it appears that the Tar Heels are going to have only one player---Robert Quinn---assured to be taken on Thursday night, with a few others waiting like many others for their moment to come.
It may come on Thursday night for guys like Marvin Austin and Bruce Carter, but more likely it will be Friday's second round.
Earlier this week it looked like the Cleveland Browns were all set to possibly draft Quinn with the sixth overall selection, but one source in Cleveland is saying now that the Browns are likely not to take him.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer said on a Twitter message Wednesday evening that Quinn was 'too risky' to take with the No. 6 selection.
Different outlets have Quinn projected everywhere from Cleveland with No. 6 to Houston at No. 11.
Fox Sports has Quinn going to San Francisco with the No. 7 overall selection, while ESPN Draft insider Mel Kiper and Pro Football Weekly has the former Tar Heel star going No. 10 overall to Washington.
What can probably be best deduced from this late-hour information is that appears highly unlikely Quinn will fall any farther than the top dozen picks given where things currently stand.
Quinn is clearly the top UNC prospect in this year's Draft, and for the moment he's the one sure bet as far as former Tar Heels to hear his name called on Thursday.
It appears that Friday's second and third rounds, which kick off at 6:00 pm, will be much more active from a North Carolina perspective.
Players such as Austin, Carter Quan Sturdivant, Greg Little, Da'Norris Searcy, Deunta Williams, and Kendric Burney are all potentially projected to be taken over the weekend.
Right now it looks as though Carter is the surest bet to be taken in the second round, with outlets projecting him in ranges from No. 44 overall to the Detroit Lions (ESPN) and No. 52 by the New York Giants (Fox Sports).
Mel Kiper suggested that the Lions taking Carter with its second round pick could complete a 'dream' scenario for the NFL Central club if they could also land Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara in the first round and then Florida offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert in the third round.
According to Adam Thompson of the New Bern Sun-Journal, Carter has visited Detroit, Denver, New England, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Dallas, among others, in recent weeks.
Austin is also a very likely possibility for a Friday selection---although the jury is still out as to just how far he's going to drop down given everything that's happened to him over the past year.
A sure-fire first-round projection before last July's onset of the NCAA investigation in Chapel Hill, Austin now is projected anywhere from the top of the second round to the third round.
Fox Sports projects Austin to be taken with the No. 32 overall pick---the first selection of the second round on Friday evening---by the World Champion Green Bay Packers, while ESPN drops him down to No. 62 overall to the Chicago Bears.
Another ESPN analyst, Todd McShay, suggested that Austin might be a neat fit for the New England Patriots' second round selection (No. 60) if he falls down that far.
"Marvin Austin could be the perfect replacement for Vince Wilfork if he doesn't come back (to New England), and the perfect fit to replace Wilfork on plays he has off if he comes back," McShay said.
"Austin is the real deal in the middle and would cause a ton of trouble with both him and Wilfork fresh and playing strong."
While it's certainly not an ideal scenario for Austin financially that he's not going to get taken in the first round, he's still going to get big money and a chance to come in and become an instant contributor for somebody.
No NFL franchise is going to waste a second-round pick on a player that they don't think can play.
Sturdivant could wind up getting selected either before Austin or after him, but there's a decent chance they could hear their respective names called around the same time on Friday.
Like Carter, Sturdivant has been projected by a major outlet (ESPN) to the New York Giants with the No. 52 overall selection.
Given New York's linebacker needs, it could very well be a scenario on Friday evening, depending obviously on who's already been selected, where the Giants may have to choose between Carter and Sturdivant if they're both still on the board.
The Giants naturally can't take both Carter and Sturdivant in the second round, but the possibility is certainly there that one of them could reunite with Hakeem Nicks in the Big Apple.
Todd McShay has projected Sturdivant to Denver with the Broncos' third round selection (No. 67), while Fox Sports projects him to the New England Patriots with their third round choice.
New England drafting both Austin and Sturdivant is certainly possible, although realistically pretty unlikely given all the variables of the NFL Draft.
If so it would certainly create an interesting dynamic in Foxboro with multiple former Heels performing for the perennial AFC East power.
Little is perhaps the biggest variable in the entire Draft from a North Carolina perspective.
While Quinn and Austin were known commodities to pro scouts going into last year, Little seemed to really need a big senior season at UNC in 2010 to set himself up as a potential early NFL Draft selection.
Even though one outlet (Fox Sports) suggests that Little could go as high as the No. 49 overall selection (second round) by the Jacksonville Jaguars, smart money has him going somewhere in the third round or later.
Jacksonville may really be on to something, for a player of Little's skill and athleticism is going to be a real steal for somebody if he does fall into the third round or beyond.
Austin, Carter, and Sturdivant are seemingly locks for Friday selections, while Little is a toss-up as to whether he'll get taken late Friday or on Saturday.
Players such as Searcy, White, Williams, and Burney are also possibilities for the third round, but they could very well fall into the fourth round or later as well.
Other UNC players such as T.J. Yates are more set in that fourth through seventh round range on Saturday, but the situation is that Searcy, White, Williams, and Burney could fall in a lot of different places depending on the various needs of the franchises.
By the third round, sometimes NFL franchises go into a 'best player available' mode instead of looking for specific needs, while other franchises go in a vice-versa route, looking for a specific position instead of trying to get the best player on the board at that time.
The wonderful thing about the NFL Draft---and football in general---is that once the big game gets started, it's totally unpredictable as to what will precisely happen.
Weeks and months of research, speculation, and commentary by a lot of smart people will go out the door once the players start coming off the board and franchises start making decisions that were previously unconsidered.
That's the beauty of the NFL Draft, and that's why Tar Heel fans are going to have to stay tuned all weekend to see where their favorite UNC players wind up heading to play their pro ball.