On Saturday April 20, Ashley Lelie (Radford HS and UH) made history by becoming the first University of Hawaii Player taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Joining Lelie in this years draft were former Hawaii athletes Toniu Fonoti (Kahuku HS and Nebraska), Clifford Russell (Campbell HS and Utah), and Ed Ta`amu (Iolani HS and Utah). Signing free agent contracts with dreams of playing on Sunday were former UH Warriors Manly Kanoa, Nate Jackson, Nick Rolovich, and Brian Smith. Former UH wide receiver Channon Harris signed a contract with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL as well.
Hawaii411 takes a look at the drafted players, the teams, and comments on their chances of making in the NFL today. A follow-up report on the UH free agent signings is coming soon.
Wide Receiver Height: 6-3 Weight: 197 40-yard dash:4.49s
19th Draft Pick Overall by the Denver Broncos
Lelie is a burner who's 40-yard dash time posted by
NFL.com was taken while Ashley was hampered with an injured hamstring. Lelie has been known to run a 40 under 4.3 seconds, and has an
impressive 36-inch vertical leap to compliment his speed. Although the second
receiver taken in the draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper had Lelie ranked #1. He has good hands, a nose for the ball in traffic, and runs well after the catch. Lelie will have to put some weight to take the punishing hits in the NFL as well as adding strength to avoid being jammed on the line of scrimmage.
The Denver Broncos are an excellent team for Lelie. He will have a golden opportunity to be mentored by veteran All-Pros Shannon Sharpe (12 yrs), Ed McCaffrey (11yrs) and Rod Smith (8yrs) and is projected to be the third reciever. He will be playing for the offensive minded Mike Shanahan and will add youth and speed to the aging trio. With McCaffrey coming off an injury, look for Lelie to get some playing time. Lelie must learn to adapt to the thin-air of Mile High Stadium, as well adjust to playing on natural grass. One drawback of playing for the Broncos is that they are an aging team and may take a few years to rebuild into a true contender.
Offensive Guard Height: 6-4 Weight: 349
39th draft pick San Diego Chargers
Fonoti once made reference to a comment that Samoans are vicious and ill
tempered. "It's true," he replied. It is this attitude that helped Fonoti set a Nebraska School record with 379 pancake blocks and gain the praise of Nebraska's storied offensive line coach Milt Tenopir as "the strongest and most explosive linemen I have EVER had here at
Nebraska." San Diego got a steal with Fonoti, who was projected by some to be a first round pick. The curse of the Nebraska
lineman is that they need to learn how to pass block in the NFL, so like former teammate Dominic Riaola (St Louis HS), he may take some time to adjust. On the upside, the chargers are looking for a punishing blocker to open gaping holes for Ladanian Tomlinson first, while Drew Brees takes some time to develop as a starting
Wide Reciever Height: 5-11 Weight 185 40-yard dash: 4.29 sec (University of Utah
87th draft pick Washington Redskins
Russell is another burner from Hawaii. When was the last time Hawaii high schools produced two NFL draftees in the same draft?
Never. This is a first. This Campbell product has good hands and is a superb athlete. A knock on him is that he needs to run better routes, and learn how to control his speed. On a positive
note, speed kills in the NFL and keeps players employed. The Redskins are a good team to play for
receivers, with Steve Spurrier testing his "fun-and-gun" offense in the NFL. The
only problem is, you have to make the team. Although the returning veterans are mediocre at best (pain-in-the-butt
Michael Westbrook is gone), Russell is competing against at least three former Florida Gators at the wide receiver position who are familiar with the offense. A third-round pick as a WR is no guarantee here, and Russell may have to show talent as a special teams wedge breaker to make this team.
Offensive Guard Height: 6-2 Weight: 335
132nd draft pick - Minnesota Vikings
Ta'amu is a converted defensive tackle. Ta'amu is very strong with quick feet and good explosiveness off the line. His
aggressiveness make him a good run blocker, but his inexperience hinders him in pass blocking. Ta`amu has a lot of upside, as he is relatively new to the offensive line position, but has the athletic ability to carry him in the NFL. Ta`amu must learn proper technique to excel in the NFL. The Vikings are looking to revamp their offensive line which was relatively ineffective last year. While Dante Culpepper is big enough to take more than his fair share of hits, he took a few too many last year and was injured. Ta`amu will be a bit of a project for the Vikings. He must really concentrate on learning pass blocking technique. Lelie and Fonoti are sure bets to make their team rosters this year. Lelie will definitely see some playing time, while Fonoti may be a year or two away. Russell must pick up the Redskins' new offense in a hurry or be impressive enough to be picked up by another team. Both Russell and Ta`amu have the physical ability to make their teams, but may require some time in the NFL Europe or on the practice squad to develop. Maybe a tutoring session with Warrior coach Mike Cavanaugh may be the perfect remedy to shore up Fonoti and Ta`amu's pass blocking skills (three Warriors in the NFL and counting - including first-year STARTERS Adrian Klemm and Kynan Forney).
Hawaii411 wishes these Hawaii boys the best of luck. Maybe we'll see them playing at Aloha Stadium one more time, in the Pro-Bowl, following the foot-steps of Mosi Tatupu, Jesse Sapolu, Mark Tuinei, Jason Elam, and Olin Kruetz.