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Robinson: Pitt player surging up NFL Draft boards; `Sleeper of the draft?’

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TTom SavageThe former Pitt Panthers player is surging up the various draft boards, going from a mid-round projection before the NFL Combine in late February to being a projected second-round pick — perhaps very, very high in the second.

 

His rise is predicated on a very good NFL Combine workout in which he proved he was stronger than initially thought, and his draft position has steadily improved during numerous interviews and workouts with a majority of teams in the league.

 

Right now, he’s being called the surprise player in the draft.

 

Guess what? He’s not defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who now seems likely to go in the first round . Rather, it’s quarterback Tom Savage, who might have the strongest arm in the draft, according to several draft analysts who keep moving Savage up their charts as the May 8-10 draft approaches.

 

In fact, longtime Dallas Cowboys talent evaluator Gil Brandt, now of NFL.com, not calls Savage not only the “sleeper” quarterback in the draft, but the top sleeper, period. Brandt also referred to him on Twitter as “the hottest guy in the draft.” Brandt also likens Savage to “a young Troy Aikman.”

 

And ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s latest mock draft has the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Savage being the first pick of the second round, by the Houston Texans, who would have time to bring him along after adding QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to challenge Case Keenum following the departure of Matt Schaub.

 

Savage probably didn’t have much of an idea where he might go in the draft after wrapping up his senior season. He bounced from Rutgers to Arizona to Pittsburgh before finally settling into a program, and his senior season had peaks and valleys accentuated by the nation’s-leading 43 sacks he absorbed. (No other D-I QB was dropped more than 39 times.)

 

But Savage’s strong arm appears to be impressing team after team; his agent, Neil Schwartz, told SI.com that he is beginning to turn down in-person visit requests because Savage’s calendar is full. Schwartz estimates Savage will end up visiting 25 of the 32 NFL teams.

 

Savage is generating so much buzz around the league, NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks posted an extensive, 800-word analysis of him on the website. Among the highlights:

 

– “A classic dropback passer with exceptional physical traits for the position. He has a big, sturdy frame and body build that’s in line with the quarterbacks that have traditionally manned the position in the NFL for years. Additionally, Savage has big hands, which should allow him to `grip it and rip it’ in poor weather conditions.”

 

– “From an athletic standpoint, Savage ranks as a marginal athlete. He lumbers a bit when moving outside of the pocket.”

 

– “He capably makes every throw in the book with zip and velocity. … (His) accuracy woes show up on short and intermediate throws.”

 

– “Savage’s limited athleticism and movement skills make it imperative for him to shine from the pocket. … He has to display better awareness of the pocket breaking down and get the ball out of his hands before the rush arrrives.”

 

If Savage indeed goes in the top half of the second round, as Brandt projects, it would be remarkable for several reasons.

 

One, Savage played so little while twice changing programs; since beginning his college career, 97 other Division I quarterbacks have thrown more passes than he has. He threw more passes last season at Pitt alone (389) than he did in two seasons at Rutgers (368). He never got on the field at Arizona.

 

Then there’s this: Pitt quarterbacks simply don’t get picked in the draft.

 

No Panthers quarterback has been drafted at that position this century; the last to be selected was Alex Van Pelt in the eighth round by the Steelers 21 years ago, in 1993.

 

Savage would be only the SECOND Pitt quarterback drafted since Dan Marino went No. 27 to Miami in 1983, or 31 years ago (Van Pelt, of course, was the other). And he would be only the FIFTH Pitt quarterback ever drafted, joining Marino, Van Pelt, Rick Trocano (1981, 11th round) and Matt Cavanaugh (1978, 2nd round). Cavanaugh was the first Pitt quarterback ever taken in the draft at that position, according to the NFL’s database.

 

As Pitt fans were watching Savage go 238 of 389 for 2,918 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions (only three in the final nine games) last season, they probably had no idea they were watching a player who might make draft history at Pitt, which currently has 13 former players on NFL rosters — and has sent nearly 300 players to the league. But Savage might just do that.

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