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Several Hokies expected to go in NFL draft

BLACKSBURG

As he prepared for the NFL scouting combine in late February, Virginia Tech's Antone Exum steadfastly pronounced himself a cornerback, even as more and more draft analysts saw him as a safety.

With draft day upon us, is Exum still married to the idea of being only a cornerback at the next level?

"It's definitely a marriage, but I understand that I might have to cheat a little bit," he said with a laugh. "I might have to break a vow or two possibly. I'm going to keep an open mind. Whatever a team asks me to do, I'm going to come in and do to help a team win games."

The NFL dream is about to become a reality for several Hokies expected to be taken in the draft's seven rounds, which will be split up over the next three days.

Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who is in New York City for the draft, is the only Tech player projected to go in tonight's first round. If it happens, he'll be the first Hokies defensive back to go in Round 1 since DeAngelo Hall went eighth overall to the Falcons in 2004.

But three of Fuller's teammates - Exum, quarterback Logan Thomas and defensive end James Gayle - are expected to be selected at some point in the three-day draft, even if every NFL team isn't in agreement about exactly what position they'll play.

For Exum, it's cornerback or safety. He played both at Tech, starting as a safety and moving to cornerback before his junior year. Following his ACL injury in January 2013, however, many draft analysts wondered if he still had enough quickness to play corner in the pros.

"He had some injury issues. That's going to hurt him a little bit," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I have him projected in the fourth round in my safety category. Some teams are looking at him, zone teams, as a corner. He's a physical, big guy that I think if he stays healthy and plays special teams, has a good future in the league."

Exum, who had individual workouts with the Falcons, Buccaneers, Titans, Panthers and Cardinals, views his versatility at both positions as a bonus and hopes, now that he's 16 months removed from knee surgery, teams won't view him based solely on last year's film.

"I'm feeling the best that I have," Exum said. "I can do everything that I used to be able to do, so I hope that they really clear up any medical concerns at this point and don't really judge me by that, but judge me by what I do on the field and what kind of person I am, face to face."

Thomas remains one of the biggest wildcards in the draft. Nobody doubts the 6-foot-6, 248-pounder's athleticism, but his accuracy is still a question mark.

"I am totally intrigued by this kid," Mayock said. "Somebody is going to want to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. He's got great tools. He's got some good tape, but mostly really bad tape. He needs a year or two to get everything straightened out. I have no idea where he's going to end up, but probably late-three to mid-four."

Mayock's not alone. Thomas' range of draft possibilities are all over the map, though mostly as a mid- to late-round flyer. History suggests NFL teams are willing to take chances on athletic quarterbacks with big arms, even if they're not very accurate.

Washington's Jake Locker, Kansas State's Josh Freeman and Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler were three quarterbacks drafted in the first round, despite a less-than-60-percent career completion percentage, just like Thomas (55.5 percent).

Other draft experts such as ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., who had Thomas at the top of his list of athletic freaks, think he could be a tight end down the line, a position switch Thomas is hardly embracing.

"The teams that say they want me to play outright tight end, I tell them that I really don't want to do that," Thomas said. "I'm a quarterback at heart. That's what I'm going to be.

"Now, if you have me sitting a couple years behind a pretty much set-in-stone starter, then if you want to have a package or so where I come in for two or three, four, five plays a game, you want me to do that, sure, no problem. If you're talking about a full-time switch, then I'm not really about that."

Gayle, projected as a late-round pick, has been looked at as both a defensive end in 4-3 schemes and an outside linebacker in 3-4 schemes.

They all have one thing in common: with the misinformation and smokescreens in the lead-up to the draft, none of them have any real idea of where they might go.

"In the long run, I have no idea," Thomas said. "I guess I'll know when everybody else knows."

Posted to: College Football Sports Va. Tech Football

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