2011 NFL Draft: Rob Long, 2011 NFL Draft Pick?

By now, we all know about former SU punter Rob Long's successful battle with a brain tumor.

But don't forget that once upon a time, the Kipers and McShays of the world once projected Long as a late-round pick. He was arguably SU's best football player (he really refined his craft in the pre-Marrone era) and for a punter, that's the highest compliment there is.

Take a look at the stats from his junior campaign for a refresher on just how awesome Rob Long was at booting a football, courtesy of CBSSports.com:

"All-BIG EAST First Team selection…Ray Guy Award semifinalist…Phil Steele All-BIG EAST Second Team selection…Elected a team captain by his peers…Played in all 12 games as the punter, holder for field goal and PATs and was the kickoff specialist…His 43.76 yards per punt average ranked second the BIG EAST."

Make no mistake about it: Long was well on his way to becoming one of the most prolific punters in Big East history before the tumor shortened his senior season in 2010. He was sidelined for the Pinstripe Bowl, and he had to skip out on the NFL Combine in February for chemotherapy.

But believe it or not, Rob Long could still hear his name called on Saturday at MSG. Because other than his overall punting prowess, here are three things he has going for him:

Reason Why Rob Long Will Be Drafted #1: The Herzlich Effect:

Like the former Boston College linebacker (and another feel-good story of survival) Mark Herzlich, Long showed that his bout with cancer shouldn't make him undraftable. Herzlich, after all, worked his way up to be a possible fourth-round selection. In front of 24 NFL scouts at SU's pro day in March, Long had to move his workout to the Dome because his punts kept hitting Manley's roof. One team  the Philadelphia Eagles  were so impressed, they booked Long for a private workout. Other teams reportedly showed interest in Long, as well.

Reason Why Rob Long Will Be Drafted #2: NFL Teams Need Punters

More teams have a need at punter heading into the 2011 NFL Draft. Reggie Hodges did break this 68-yard run for the Cleveland Browns in replacing Dave Zastudil, but they could look for camp competition. When free agency begins, punter Ben Graham will be a hot-ticket item on the market that the Arizona Cardinals may not be able to replace. Two years ago, Tim Masthay was earning $10 an hour as a tutor at the University of Kentucky  now he's the Packer's punter, but only on a one-year deal. The Raiders don't have a punter on their roster, but the team that makes the most sense  especially after this botched extra-point attempt  could be the Redskins, who could use Long as a holder and a punter after Hunter Smith proved those tasks weren't his forte.

Reason Why Rob Long Will Be Drafted #3: The Looming Labor Situation

Depending on how the next couple days shake out from a legal standpoint, NFL teams may not be able to sign rookie free agents after the draft. For rookie punter-kind, that's no good; most rookie punters get picked up for NFL training camps as rookie free agents, and eliminating that process could make it hard on punters. But the opposite could happen, too. Around the 5th round, NFL teams may start targeting special teams players rather than projects. They'll know that they can't wait for rookie free agency because there won't be one.

And the wait might not be much longer than the 5th round for a talented, high-character, team-captain type player like Rob Long. 

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