After waiting behind Isaiah Pead for his opportunity to be the feature running back for the University of Cincinnati, George Winn rewarded coach Butch Jones and his offensive line with a 1,334-yard, 13-touchdown season in 2012.
Winn’s play in 2012, a season in which he eclipsed the 100-yard mark in six games, including a 130-yard performance in the Bearcats’ 48-34 victory over the Duke Blue Devils in the Belk Bowl last December, caught the attention of draft analysts.
“George Winn from Cincinnati, I think, is very underrated,” ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. said in a conference call with the national media Wednesday.
“I like George. I like his running style. I like the fact that he improved in other key areas, like receiving, blocking and all the things you need to do. I like the way he runs hard. I think he plays a lot faster and is quicker than he times.”
Before his breakout season, Winn had run for a total of 376 yards and two touchdowns on 78 carries during his first three years at Cincinnati.
“You think about what George Winn is physically, and moving forward, I think he can hold up in this league,” Kiper said. “He’s five-foot-10-and-a-half, almost 220 pounds and played a lot faster than 4.69 (seconds in the) 40. I think he’s got a chance to be a guy that could help your football team.”
In addition to Winn, Kiper also liked the production he saw from Cincinnati tight end Travis Kelce.
Despite having what he called a sports hernia, Kelce caught 45 passes for 722 yards, averaged 16.0 yards per reception and scored eight touchdowns for the Bearcats, who went 10-3 this past season.
“Travis Kelce, what I like about him is he’s got pretty good run-after-the-catch ability,” Kiper said. “This is a kid that when he snags the ball and gets into the open field, with his size and his athleticism, can do some damage. I think Kelce in the fourth round is very viable.”
REBUILDING KNEES, DRAFT STOCK
Former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns on 249 carries during his freshman year in 2010, but since then, has had to work his way back from two serious knee injuries in back-to-back seasons.
Following his freshman year, Lattimore suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in 2011, and three torn ligaments as the result of a hit he took in a 38-35 win over Tennessee last season.
“In terms of Marcus, it’s a shame what happened,” Kiper said. “Hopefully, he can get back to where he was. Everybody I’ve spoken to feels like this will be a red-shirt year for him to just get him back to full strength, get him back to where he needs to be for the 2014 season.”
CLIMBING UP DRAFT BOARDS
Safety D.J. Swearinger, one of Lattimore’s teammates at South Carolina, has presumably caused his stock to rise after a senior season in which he made a career-best 62 solo tackles and 79 total stops. He also registered two of his six career interceptions last fall.
“When you look at the safety position, the fact that so many people have been eyeing up safeties, and it’s been viewed as such a good position for so long this year, everybody’s had eyes on him,” Kiper said. “He’s been a guy that’s done everything well during this process, doing everything you’re asked to do during the months leading up to the draft. He plays with confidence. He’s a rough, tough kid, and then, you’ve got to have the computer numbers to justify it, and he has. I think he plays faster than he times. You look at his production and his consistency, and you’ve got to think second round. That’s where I have him projected.”
VERSATILITY IMPRESSES KIPER
Oberlin High School product Hugh Thornton showed versatility while playing along the offensive line at the University of Illinois. In four years with the Fighting Illini, Thornton played both tackle spots, and also weak-side guard for two seasons.
“I’m projecting him to be a third-round pick,” Kiper said. “When you look at his versatility, I think he can settle in and be a heck of a guard in this league with, I think, very good athletic ability overall for a player his size. Good movement; good agility; I like him.”