With millions of dollars to spend on
top selections, NFL personnel make it their business to know as much as
possible about potential draft choices and free agents.
Fayetteville-based pro sports agent
Ralph Vitolo, whose clients include Houston Texans fullback Vonta Leach
and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Joe Horn, says an interesting
phenomenon has occurred as pro scouts have broken down tape of East
Carolina running back Chris Johnson.
The scouts' evaluations have resulted
in some interest in Pirates tight end Jay Sonnhalter, offensive tackle
Josh Coffman and versatile offensive lineman Matt Butler – seniors who
helped open holes for the speedy Johnson.
Vitolo expects Johnson to be chosen in
the second round from overall pick No. 45 to No. 63. Almost the entire
Carolina Panthers coaching staff, including coach John Fox, were on hand
to see Johnson work out in Greenville.
"They didn't come to see him just
because he has dreadlocks," Vitolo said.
The agent cited the factors that will
keep ECU's all-time leader in all-purpose yards from going in the first
round. Johnson is 5-foot-10 3/8 and 192 pounds, according to the pro
"He's almost too small," Vitolo said.
"He has great pure speed but he's not a natural wiggler in terms of
making people miss. He's not an every down back. There are concerns
about injuries. Some people have said his hands are small."
Some much for the negatives. Johnson
ran 40 yards in 4.24 seconds at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
"You get him in the right situation –
give him a crease – and that's what the pros like about him," Vitolo
said. "He's so fast and quick, probably an H back. He can be successful
with the right team. You can do things with speed. He's great in open
The Denver Broncos and Kansas City
Chiefs have also shown significant interest in Johnson, according to
Vitolo, who has agreed to represent Sonnhalter.
Vitolo likes Sonnhalter's potential.
"He didn't run that fast on pro day, a
high 4.8 and a low 4.9, but he's 6-foot-4 and he's got better game speed
than his 40 times indicate," the agent said. "He had a pulled hamstring
on pro day. He can get to 270 pounds in the pros without losing speed.
His game speed is exceptional. He's a smart kid with a mean streak. He's
a hybrid tight end that can run."
Teams that have shown interest in
Sonnhalter include Tennessee, Washington, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and
Coffman came to ECU as a tight end but
made a successful transition to tackle. The pros have concerns about his
shoulder that kept him out of action during a portion of the latter
stages of his ECU career. Butler has played several positions on the
offensive front, including center, and that enhances his value in the
eyes of pro evaluators.