After attending Kentucky's Pro Day Thursday morning, it's clear there's significant interest around the AFC North in the Wildcats' draft prospects.
While 26 teams were 'officially' represented at the event, three head coaches made the trip to Lexington. Chip Kelly was scheduled to, but did not attend, and two were from the same division as Marvin Lewis and Mike Tomlin, as they were joined by the Vikings' Mike Zimmer. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees and Steelers DC Keith Butler were also on hand, as were several scouts from the Browns.
Unsurprisingly, all of those teams are in need of pass-rushers in this year's draft, and Kentucky offers a pair of prospects in Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. If you've been keeping up at Cincy Jungle, you're familiar with Dupree as an NFL prospect: He's your typical tweener, playing as both an outside linebacker and defensive end over his four years at UK.
His final year saw Dupree used more as a 3-4 outside backer, but he put his hand down on the line enough to show he could at least be a situational pass-rushing DE. There's also the thought he could play SAM backer in a 4-3 defense while moving to DE on obvious passing downs. His role in the NFL remains to be seen, but he's drawing plenty of interest from 3-4 teams (Ravens, Steelers) and 4-3 clubs (Bengals, Vikings).
Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes was on hand lead Kentucky's DE and LB position-specific drills, giving him plenty of one-on-one work with Dupree, who later revealed the Bengals, Falcons and Chargers had scheduled meetings with him. He racked up 21 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss over his last three college seasons, and Dupree is all but a lock to hear his named called within the first 21 picks in April.
As for Smith, he's the less-heralded Kentucky pass-rusher, but he's still expected to be a top-100 pick come the draft. Unlike Dupree, Smith has a more defined position as a defensive end. He sets the edge very well and can stuff the run as good as just about any DE prospect in this draft, but his limited abilities as a pass-rusher are why he likely won't get selected until the third round.
Smith had 10.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss over his last two college seasons. After his Pro Day, Smith said he had set up meetings with the Ravens, Bears and Falcons.