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An early NFL Draft preview

The Arizona Wildcats are done with football for this season. We now step into the Rich Rodriguez era and look to the filling out of his coaching staff and the analysis of spring ball.

I think it's important to take a step back and look at this senior class and what they meant to the Wildcats, because aside from a disappointing 4-8 season in 2011, there's a number of players who with Mike Stoops brought Arizona to relevancy.

What are their plans afterward? Where will they go in the draft, if at all?

The first name to mention would of course be Nick Foles -- he who became one of a handful to pass for 10,000 or more yards in a career (he did it in less than three years, too). 

Juron Criner was his favorite target, of course. Despite a weird offseason where he dealt with an ill mother, his cold shoulder to the media, and a midseason appendectomy.

Here's how I think they might stand:

Nick Foles, QB -- Second round

I've been about as harsh as a Foles critic as there can be (except for this deranged individual, who wrote this article like five times for five media outlets.) I'm not completely sold, but I pondered Foles' NFL success A LOT last night, and here's what I've got.

First, what we know.

He's got the size and body for an NFL quarterback. Foles is a smart dude, the hardest working guy on the team and fearless. He probably has a few broken bones on him now, but he'd still chug along if the Wildcats had a game to play. In a meaningless contest against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, he shouldn't have played -- he could've hurt his draft stock. But he did, and that's because Foles doesn't lack loyalty, and never gives in.

We also know that the spread offense could cast concerns over inflated numbers. I think it hurts him more in that we don't know what he looks like in a pro scheme, where the philosophies for a quarterback are very different.

My criticisms have come with his pocket presence and ability to remain calm when something breaks down. Of course, that's also hard to judge with a bad offensive line.

But quarterbacking is a very odd thing in the NFL. The drop-off from elite QBs to mid-level guys -- who will start for teams and bounce around to make for long careers -- is huge. Foles I believe can quickly find his way to becoming a starting quarterback for a bad team. How he improves in the issues I mention above will take him a long way. It's fixable, and with Foles hard work it's possible to overcome. 

But unless he adapts to a fast-paced pro game, I say his ceiling is limited. At least for now.

Juron Criner, WR -- fourth round

Criner did about as much as he could to hurt his draft stock. By the end of last season, he was a potential second rounder, but after going silent to the media until the ASU game this year and also struggling with inconsistency and injury, he did a darn good job of shooting himself in the foot.

At 6-foot-4 and athletic, Criner has the talent of a young Chad Johnson. But until he proves that he can stay healthy and survive his unwillingness to go down at first contact, his injury-riddled senior year could haunt him.

Futhermore, Criner appeared to be called out by his coaches several times throughout the season. It appeared -- often times I saw it watching games -- that Criner just wasn't his usual aggressive self while running routes and the like. Maybe that was injury, maybe it was mental. He's got to bring it everyday and prove to NFL scouts that'll be the case if he wants to move up the draft board.

Trevin Wade, CB -- Sixth round

Cornerback Trevin Wade didn't get enough credit this season. He was stellar in his freshman and sophomore years, but fell off during his junior season. This year, he found a new focus and was determined to lead the Wildcats.

That he did, although it was quiet as can be. From Game 1, teams picked on Shaquille Richardson opposite of Wade. The few times they did throw to the senior's side of the field, he made plays.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Wade go in the sixth or seventh rounds. Should he get invited to NFL Pro Day and impress in the events there, I could also see him shooting up the boards.