NFL Draft up next for Hilltoppers

December 21, 2015: Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) directs a teammate during the first half of the Miami Beach Bowl against South Florida at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015. Nick Wagner/HERALD

John Reecer

This weekend, hundreds of college athletes will wait for their name to be called at the 2016 NFL Draft held in Chicago.

While this is usually an event WKU athletics isn’t too involved with, this year will be a different story. Several Hilltoppers, including former star quarterback Brandon Doughty, will have a chance to be drafted.

As someone who has grown up with a watchful eye on sports at WKU, I simply cannot remember a previous NFL draft as important to fans of the Hilltoppers or to the school as this one is.

The intrigue begins, of course, with Doughty: easily the best player in the history of WKU football. He is the only WKU athlete to receive any kind of vote for the Heisman trophy; sportswriter Rick Bozich gave him a third-place vote in December 2015.

However, WKU’s potential this year doesn’t end with Doughty. Former tight end Tyler Higbee was projected to go in the first half of the draft; however, after his recent run-in with the law, it is unclear just how far Higbee will fall — if he falls at all.

Meanwhile, the trio of former seniors George Fant, Jared Dangerfield and Prince Charles Iworah have made a late surge as their draft stock has risen within the past few months.

So what exactly can Hilltopper fans expect from this weekend-long draft?

For starters, expect no action on Thursday night for any of these potential pros. There has been zero indication that any of these athletes will be drafted in the first round, so unless a miracle happens, don’t get your hopes up.

Things will start to get interesting late Friday night as the second and third rounds kick off the weekend.

Sadly, I wouldn’t expect any of these players to be drafted in the second round either. The only player who had an outside chance was Higbee, and I seriously doubt any team will use a second-round pick on someone with an assault charge.

That leads us to the third round. This is where Doughty will start to come into play. Teams like Arizona and Dallas that need a solid backup quarterback to develop for the future will be giving him a hard look starting here.

However, I am going to guess that both Higbee and Doughty will not hear their names called on Friday evening due to teams staying away from their small-school pedigree.

That prediction brings us to Saturday, which will feature the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds of the draft. Things will brighten up Saturday for the potential pro Hilltoppers.

I expect both Doughty and Higbee to be drafted between the fourth and fifth rounds.

Call me an optimist, but I just have a feeling that one team is going to take a chance on Doughty within the first few hours of Saturday’s portion of the draft.

Even with Higbee’s legal troubles, I think a team will chance on him towards the end of the fifth round.

Next up should be Iworah, who could go in the sixth round due to his talented showing at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and his strong showing at WKU’s pro day in March.

Fant and Dangerfield are absolute wild cards. I would not be surprised if a team takes a chance on either one of them as high as the sixth round. It’s also possible they might not be drafted at all.

Either way, it’s not going to matter if any of these five guys gets drafted or not because all these players will be picked up as free agents if not drafted.

These young men have put themselves in a position to have a shot at their dreams of being a professional athlete. However, it will be up to them and their play to determine just how long those dreams will last.