The University of Virginia retired defensive end Chris Long's jersey prior to his final home game against Virginia Tech, Nov. 24, 2007, meaning Long will be taking the next step and entering the NFL Draft in April. Widely considered one of the top defensive players in college football last season, Long has elevated to the top of many draft lists in a short period of time.
Long played in only six games during his freshman year, as an illness sidelines him for five contests in the middle of the season. He recorded his first career sack that year and two tackles for loss despite seeing the field for only 67 plays.
His sophomore season was largely uneventful, as he finished with 46 tackles and two sacks in 12 games, all of them as a starter. Long began to blossom during his junior year, being selected as a Second Team All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick, registering five sacks and 57 tackles, 12 of them resulting in a loss.
Long's senior season was among the finest in the nation, as he recorded 14 sacks, good for third in the nation, and 75 tackles, 19 for a loss. Long was selected as a consensus First Team All-American for his efforts and led the Cavaliers to a 9-3 record including a 6-2 post in conference play.
Virginia Coach Al Groh utilized Long effectively in his 3-4 defense, allowing Long to rush from the outside on both running and passing downs. His athletic ability allowed him to register 69 career quarterback hurries, and break up 15 passes, including seven last year.
The most obvious positive is Long's bloodline. His father is NFL Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, who played 13 seasons with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, appearing in eight Pro Bowls and helping the Raiders defeat the Washington Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII. The elder Long passed on many of his positive traits to his son. Chris Long has his father's passion for the game and determination to succeed, along with leadership abilities that every coach is seeking.
Long was simply dominating during his senior season and has the ability to play as a speed end in a 4-3 scheme or a rush linebacker in a 3-4 lineup. His versatility should suit any professional defensive system, and he could give offensive lineman fits by playing from many different angles.
A phenomenal athlete, Long played baseball and basketball during a storied sports career at St. Anne's-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Va. He chose to pursue football in college after many offers from major colleges.
Long had an impressive workout at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine, running a time of 4.75 seconds in the 40-yard dash and registering a 34-inch vertical leap, further exhibiting his athletic prowess. He also finished in the top two of defensive lineman in the 20-yard shuttle and the standing broad jump.
Playing in Groh's Virginia pro-style defense, Long appears ready to handle the demands of an NFL playbook. His phenomenal work ethic and unsullied character will mesh with any defensive coordinator, and his willingness to play in any city will make him a popular draftee. He also showed excellent durability in college, having never missed a game due to injury.
At only 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, Long could get pushed around by larger, more physical offensive lineman, especially if his NFL employer plants him on the end of a 4-3 arrangement. He doesn't have exceptional quickness off the line, so he'll have to rely on speed and inside moves.
While Long had an outstanding senior campaign, the rest of his college career cannot be classified as elite, as 14 of his 22 career sacks came in his final year. Despite his recent emergence, it is possible that Long has hit his peak of athleticism and could struggle to maintain his high-energy style for many years at the pro level.
Expected Draft Placement
With the NFL Draft inching closer without a clear top pick, Virginia defensive end Chris Long finds his name among those being considered as the first called. He could find himself playing along side defensive end Jason Taylor and linebacker Joey Porter with the Miami Dolphins.
Groh and Miami's executive director of football operations Bill Parcells have worked together for many years in the NFL and continue to have an excellent relationship, leading many to believe Parcells might be leaning toward drafting Long with the first selection.
With very few top prospects at defensive end in the draft, Long won't fall far before being selected. If Miami doesn't select him or trades the pick, don't expect Long to drop out of the top five draftees. The comparisons to his father might be unwarranted, but whoever lands this supreme talent can only hope to own a mini-Howie - a talented young man with an eye and a passion for success.