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UCLA junior defensive tackle Brian Price
Caption: USC senior defensive end Everson Griffen Photo Credit: Jeff Lewis / Sentinel
Local Stars Feeling A Draft
Price, Johnson and Griffen among hopefuls to hear name called in NFL Draft this weekend
By Evan Barnes
Sentinel Sports Editor For the first time in almost a decade, the local player with the best chance to be drafted first in the NFL this weekend doesn't attend USC or Cal. UCLA junior defensive tackle Brian Price could be the first Bruin selected over a Trojan since 2002 and after a stellar career, he's ready to earn his stripes at the game's highest level In a year with a strong class of defensive tackles--by likely Top-3 selections Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska) and Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma)--Price has played his way into anywhere from the late first round to the second round. The former Crenshaw High School standout--where his father Frank Price Jr. coaches softball and the JV football team--finished his final season in Westwood being named the Pac-10 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year and being named an All-American by several sources, including Sporting News (2nd team) and the Associated Press (3rd team). He'll also give Crenshaw head coach Robert Garrett another player in the NFL - the fourth he's seen drafted since 2007. The UCLA-USC rivalry may still tilt in favor of the Trojans, who could see as many as seven players drafted, but Price's selection on Saturday could give the Bruins another boost to go along with their Top-10 recruiting class earlier this year. On the other hand, USC senior tailback Stafon Johnson is just grateful for the chance to be considered after suffering a life-threatening, neck injury in September from a weightlifting accident. The Dorsey High School alum shocked nearly everyone by not only playing in the Under Armour Senior Bowl (three yards on four carries), but showing no ill effects of the injury on the field. Johnson showed off his skills at the Trojans' Pro Day earlier this month and with each run, he's not only regained his confidence but reminded NFL scouts why he was the Trojans' best tailback before his injury. His combination of power and speed made him an attractive prospect--as did his strong character--but now his heart has been on full display, and just being drafted this weekend is a win for him and his supporters. Both Price and Johnson are two examples of the L.A. City Section continuing to produce stellar talent and positive citizens off the field. Here's a brief look at other local prospects and where they are projected: Taylor Mays (USC)--If anyone is a cautionary tale for leaving early in this year's draft, it's Mays, who was a Top-10 pick last year but will fall somewhere in the late first round to early second. Mays was hailed as the Pac-10's best prospect in years but instead became the face of USC's worst defense in several years. Most observers saw him as a big hitter who wasn't a strong cover man. Most draft observers have him ranked right behind Tennessee's Eric Berry among safeties and he won't last beyond the Top 40 picks of the draft. It's a far cry from being a Top 10 prospect last year. Everson Griffen (USC)--The second-team All Pac-10 defensive end has seen his name pop on several draft boards ahead of Mays and could be a boost to a playoff team at the end of the first round. In addition to Price, he could be the first local player taken on Saturday. Joe McKnight (USC)--The junior tailback rushed for over 1,000 yards this season but in a weak draft year for tailbacks, McKnight is expected to be a fourth-round selection. An underrated receiver and inside runner at his position, McKnight's size has scared off teams in spite of his explosiveness. Still, he could be a steal if he's drafted to a team with a power back. Damian Williams (USC)--A big play threat for the Trojans this year, Williams is an example of game speed vs. clocked speed. Despite his 4.5 time in the 40-yard dash, he made an impact at wide receiver and punt returner. Williams could be taken in the second round as he also benefits from a wide receiver class that lacks a big name outside of Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State). Alterraun Verner (UCLA)--The All-American senior cornerback out Long Beach Poly HS raises questions about his size (5-10, 189 lbs) and speed but there's no question about his instinct on the field. Verner, who also made the Academic All-Pac-10 team this year, is expected to be a fourth-round selection. Reggie Carter (UCLA)--The All-Pac-10 middle linebacker could be selected on the draft's second day or find a home via free agency.