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Arizona Football: Taking Stock on Wildcat NFL Draft Prospects

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The 2011 Arizona football season ended in a disappointing 4-8 record, but the outgoing corps of Wildcats should represent the program well at the pro level. That probably makes the 4-8 season even more disconcerting for UA fans, but I digress.

The 2012 NFL Draft is notable from a Wildcat perspective in that, for the first time ever, a UA quarterback will be selected. When his name is called this weekend and Foles put on the ball cap of whichever team selects him, remember great UA quarterbacks before him who did not earn the same honor: Willie Tuitama; Tom Tunnicliffe; Jason Johnson. In a way, his honor is their honor.

Of course, the road for Foles to the podium has not been without potholes.

Nick Foles' stock has risen like Google and sank like Bear Sterns at various times in the evaluation process. Yet even at its lowest, he has remained firmly entrenched in the top 10 of available quarterbacks.

Foles riding a draft rollercoaster should come as no surprise. Never in his career has he been a practice player.

Before landing in Tucson, Foles transferred from Michigan State with Kirk Cousins looking like the presumptive heir apparent to Drew Stanton.

After Tuitama's graduation at UA, Foles initially lost the starting job to Matt Scott, only assuming duties after Scott struggled at Iowa in 2009. But once he was the starter, Foles threw 19 touchdowns, completed nearly 64 percent of his pass attempts, and led UA to the Holiday Bowl.

Similarly, Foles was heavily criticized for his workouts at this year's Senior Bowl. Yet come game time, he produced the best figures of any quarterback, throwing for more yards (136), completions (11), the highest percentage (73) and a touchdown.

The latest round of criticism for Foles' play stems from his measurables. His 5.14 40-yard dash average hardly inspired scout's confidence. Then again, it's no mystery to those who watched Foles that his strength is not blazing speed scrambling out of the pocket, but rather threading needles with his arm.

Foles may not have had the same NFL-style tutelage as Ryan Tannehill, but his ability to call plays at the line and find openings virtually anywhere on the field make him a steal for the GM who selects him.

A primary credit for Foles' success both at UA and in the Senior Bowl goes to Juron Criner. The top target in a talented UA receiving corps the last three seasons, Criner's stock took its down dip because of concerns over his health.

He seems to be back on the high side though, projected at late second/early third round in several outlets. His 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame scream red zone threat, which is precisely what made him so dangerous at UA. The Wildcats have placed a few noteworthy receivers in the NFL in the last decade, including retired 10-year vet Dennis Northcutt and current Jacksonville Jaguar Mike Thomas. Criner has the potential to be the best of the bunch.

Fellow Wildcat wideout David Douglas may not be snagged in the seven rounds this weekend, but as Kevin Zimmerman detailed here at AZDesertSwarm.com, there are high hopes for his pro potential.

The most highly coveted UA prospect behind Criner is cornerback Trevin Wade. Wade picked off eight passes from 2009 through 2011, and remained a bright spot on the woeful secondary this past season. His five interceptions in 2009 earned him All Pac-10 honors, and forced opposing offenses to throw away from his the following two campaigns.

Wade's secondary mate, safety Robert Golden, made one of the most spectacular defensive plays in recent years this past season at Washington.

Golden would go in the seventh round, if at all, but will get an invite from some franchise, in some capacity.