New Canaan’s Lucas Niang set for NFL Draft spotlight

Lucas Niang, a former football star at New Canaan High School, will very soon have one of the biggest days of his young life.

Whereas this coronavirus pandemic has suspended play in the NBA, NHL and Major Leagues, one major event among the four major sports will go on as scheduled.

The 2020 NFL Draft will take place as scheduled Thursday, Friday and Saturday, albeit in virtual form.

At some point within those three days, more likely Friday but perhaps Saturday, there will be either a coach, general manager or someone else from some NFL organization who will call Niang to inform him that that certain NFL team has just drafted him.

The first round of the first 32 picks will take place Thursday, beginning at 8 p.m. and ending somewhere close to the midnight hour.

It will most likely be Friday when Niang receives that coveted phone call if one puts credence in recent mock drafts. Most of them have him projected to be drafted anywhere from late in the second to late in third round. The second and third rounds occur Friday, beginning at 7 p.m., and the final four rounds begin Saturday at noon.

This past fall Niang was a 6-foot-7, 328-pound senior offensive tackle who had a very good career for Texas Christian University end too soon when he suffered a season-ending hip injury in October.

Niang appeared on watch lists for the Outland Trophy and Senior Bowl early in the 2019 season. He started all 13 games at right tackle as a junior, did not allow one sack all season and was selected to the All-Big 12 Second Team.

Niang was rated by Pro Football Focus as the top returning offensive tackle in the Big 12 going into the 2019 season. In the sixth game of the season on Oct. 19 he injured his hip during a 24-17 loss at Kansas State.

Niang received advice from a specialist to have immediate surgery for a torn hip labrum to avoid the risk of making the injury more severe. But Niang chose to play the following week in the big home game against 15th-ranked Texas and TCU won, 37-27, Then Niang had his season-ending surgery. The Horned Frogs improved to 4-3 with that win and then lost four of their last five games to finish 5-7.

Niang, a 2016 graduate of New Canaan High School, was an All-State First Team selection by both the Connecticut High School Coaches Association and the New Haven Register as a senior offensive lineman in the 2015 season.

He made All-FCIAC First Team as a junior and senior, he also played defense and was a key cog toward helping coach Lou Marinelli’s Rams win state championships during both of those seasons.

Because of his season-ending injury and the fact that the medical staff of NFL teams could not get to personally check up on Niang given the current situation, a similar scenario to top quarterback prospect Tua Tagovailoa from Alabama, Niang’s questionable status has him all over the place in current mock drafts.

Offensive tackle is a premium position for NFL teams, so at some point Niang will be receiving that phone call.

Even with his current questionable status, random samplings of eight recent mock drafts on various sports websites have Niang being drafted anywhere from the middle of the second round until late in the fourth round.

The highest projection for where Niang would be selected was Dan Schneier’s mock draft updated April 21 on the website. Schneier has Denver selecting Niang with the 46th overall pick in the middle of the second round.

As for the other seven recent projections, with the dates when those mock drafts were last updated in parenthesis, the website (April 21) had Niang projected to be picked 54th overall by Buffalo, Bobby Sylvester from (April 15) has him going 56th overall to Miami via a trade, Kevin Hanson of (April 17) has Niang going to Tennessee with the 61st overall pick, Luke Easterling of (April 21) projects him to Cincinnati 65th overall with the first pick of the third round, Ryan Wilson of (April 21) has Niang going to Tennessee with the 93rd overall pick, Chad Reuter from (April 18) has him picked early in the fourth round by Arizona with the 114th overall pick, and (April 16) has him going as late as  near the end of the fourth round with the 140th overall pick to Jacksonville.

When Niang does get drafted, it will be the second straight year in which a former New Canaan Ram standout will have been drafted.

Zach Allen had an excellent career as a defensive end at Boston College and last year the Arizona Cardinals selected him with the 65th overall pick, which was the first pick of the third round.

The 6-foot-4, 281-pound Allen suffered a neck injury in Week 4 against Seattle and had to be placed on injured reserve, ending his rookie season with eight tackles, including one for a loss.

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