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5 Spartans hopefuls await NFL Draft fate

April 23, 2004

The 2004 NFL Draft is this weekend at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and a handful of former Spartans will be keeping a close eye on their status as future employees of the league. In the following, The State News looks at five Spartans with NFL potential that could hear their names called to work for one of 32 teams.

It's doubtful any of these players will be taken in the first round of the draft (there are seven total rounds) but plenty of today's NFL stars were taken in the later rounds.

Matthias Askew

Position: defensive tackle
Height: 6-foot-6
Weight: 294 pounds
Key stats: six sacks, 11 tackles for a loss and 69 tackles
Notes: Askew was a surprise early entry into the draft, giving up his senior season at MSU to pursue a pro career. Pro scouts like Askew's size and strength, but view him somewhat as a project with raw skills that need to be developed.
The State News' prediction: late 2nd round

Mike Labinjo

Position: linebacker
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 243 pounds
Key stats: 94 tackles, five sacks, and three interceptions
Notes: The one-time running back turned linebacker added speed and size to the Spartans' linebacking corps for three seasons. During his time as a Spartan, Labinjo was most known for his big-play ability, which makes him an attractive draft pick.
The State News' prediction: 6th round

Jeff Smoker

Position: quarterback
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 224 pounds
Key stats: 3,395 yards passing, 21 TDs and a 61.9 completion percentage
Notes: After his junior season was cut short due to substance abuse, Smoker rebounded for a stellar senior campaign. His past problems still will affect his draft position, but his accuracy, size and decision-making skills all work to his advantage.
The State News' prediction: 4th round

Greg Taplin

Position: defensive end
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 259 pounds
Key stats: 46 tackles, 10 sacks
Notes: Taplin's height, confidence and solid speed make him a pro-caliber talent. But Taplin's lack of girth might get in his way. At 6-foot-5, his build is reminiscent of the men playing behind him - linebacker - and that could lead to trouble battling NFL lines.
The State News' prediction: 6th round

Joe Tate

Position: offensive guard
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 295 pounds
Notes: Tate's greatest asset might be his work ethic. As a senior, Tate was a team leader, as well as one of MSU's captains. His teammates applaud his toughness. He has good size and footwork for an offensive lineman and has been healthy most of his career.
The State News' prediction: 7th round.

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