Hernandez eyes first round destination in draft

UTEP+graduate+Will+Hernandez+is+projected+to+be+the+first+Miner+drafted+in+the+first+round+of+the+NFL+draft+since+1968.

Adrian Broaddus

UTEP graduate Will Hernandez is projected to be the first Miner drafted in the first round of the NFL draft since 1968.

Adrian Broaddus, Copy Editor

Former UTEP standout guard Will Hernandez is on pace to become a top-40 draft pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

He would be UTEP’s highest draft pick since Thomas Howard was selected 38th overall to the Oakland Raiders in 2006.

But if he gets drafted on Thursday, Hernandez could be the first Miner picked during the opening round in exactly 50 years.

Miner great Fred Carr is the highest drafted player in the program’s history at No. 5 to Green Bay Packers, followed by guard George Daney, who went 22nd overall to Kansas City Chiefs—both coming in the 1968 NFL draft.

So where does Hernandez fall?

Some NFL analysts have him going in the mid-20s of the first round, while others say the hybrid guard will go at the top of the second round.

Teams like Miami, Carolina, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Detroit, Dallas, Tennessee, Philadelphia, New England, New Orleans and Jacksonville all need a guard and each have a first-round pick.

But that list can expand beyond that to teams that simply need an offensive lineman, such as the New York Giants, Atlanta, Cleveland, Arizona, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City and Baltimore.

Opportunities seem endless for his draft stock.

“As long as I get picked up, it doesn’t matter to me,” Hernandez said following his pro day in March. “I just need an opportunity.”

Despite finishing his college career on an 0-12 squad with the Miners, he finished by starting all 49 games of his career at the left guard spot. He was named to the second team AP-All American in both 2016 and 2017, and was recognized by being named to the All-Conference USA team each of his four years.

“Will can make a difference from the get-go,” said UTEP quarterback Ryan Metz, who played alongside Hernandez for three seasons. “Not only is he strong, a great athlete and a great football player, but the guy is a great person as well. He’s somebody that any NFL team would want. He has a great opportunity and I think he’ll make the most of it.”

He made a case for being a first-round choice during his NFL Combine performance. At the nation’s biggest college showcase, Hernandez pounded 37 reps on the bench press, showcasing his strength, and ran a mid-tier 40-yard dash at 5.15 seconds, which both were among the best for lineman.

“I definitely think they’re starting to value guards and interior linemen more,” Hernandez told reporters at the NFL Combine. “I’ve heard it from teams themselves. I think it’s starting to even out a little bit between tackle and guard.”

Still, there is push back from linemen being drafted in the first round. No offensive lineman was drafted in the first in 2017, and just two were drafted in 2016 at 28th and 31st overall.

He will also compete with Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, who is now projected to be a top-10 pick in the draft.

“I think he’s a top guard,” senior receiver Warren Redix said. “Some people got (Nelson) because it’s a big school, but at the end of the day, I would take my guy Will Hernandez for sure. If not, someone’s gonna get a steal with him in the second round for sure.”

None of this matters to Hernandez, though. Instead of being in the limelight in Dallas this weekend, he chose to stay home to be with family and friends in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A recent trend has a pattern of mock drafts pinning Hernandez to the Panthers, Bills or Bengals.

“I don’t keep up with it at all,” Hernandez said after his pro day. “Only time I hear about it is when someone tags me on it, I take a quick look at it, and then forget about it.”

But still, his former teammates are basking in his potential and rooting for him to shoot as low (drafted) as a team will take him.

“Every player goes in and dreams of being in the first round,” Metz said. “To be in the first round, to know you were picked or to even be in the first round, that’s gotta be such an awesome feeling.”

So now for his fans, for his teammates and for Hernandez himself, they will all play a waiting game to see where he gets drafted.

“A few weeks ago it seemed like Cincinnati (Bengals) was a for sure thing,” said former teammate Derek Elmendorf. “This is for sure an offensive line class, but we’ve been there every step of the way and some days it feels like he’s going to be somewhere for sure, and then other days it’s different.”

The 2018 NFL draft will take place in Dallas from Thursday, April 26 through Saturday, April 28.

  Follow Adrian Broaddus on Twitter @adrian_broaddus.