A periodic look at some of the most intriguing draft prospects in sports
First things first: that name. How in the world did Barbara Johnson and Hugh Mingo settle on Barkevious for their third son? Simple. Mom started with the first part of her name, suffixed it with the tail end of cousin Alkevious's, and Dad went along with it.
Barbara's handiwork, says Barkevious, 22, ensured that she "had to work with me every day to make sure I spelled my name right" as a kid. But correct spelling never guaranteed correct pronunciation, and it wasn't until the high school basketball and track star was reborn as one of the best linebacker-end prospects in the country that bar-KEE-vee-us started to roll more smoothly off the tongues of folks in his hometown of West Monroe, La. That and a particular online competition. In April 2009, riding popularity befitting a blue-chip prospect, Barkevious Mingo upset the likes of Iris Macadangdang, Taco Vandervelde and Crystal Metheny—all real people—for the title of Name of the Year in an online poll. When Mingo arrived at LSU that fall, locals were greeting him with cellphone pictures of the dogs they'd named after him.
But by the time of LSU's pro day, on March 27, those most close to him had taken to calling Mingo by his childhood nickname of KeKe. There the 6'4", 237-pound pass rusher kept representatives for all 32 NFL teams mesmerized during a series of speed, agility and field drills. From a set of bleachers far from the action, Johnson looked on—flanked by sons Hugh Jr. (a.k.a. Mookie), Hughtavious (Taye), Malik (Leekie) and LaDarain (Dee)—as KeKe put up eye-popping numbers.
"He's winning in three of the athletic areas that would win a mismatch on the field," said Rams G.M. Les Snead. "We would like to have two of the three. Maybe even just one." But then this: "The thing that teams are trying to figure out is why his playing stats don't match."
Those stats: 60 tackles and 15 sacks (only 4½ as a junior) in 40 games at LSU, just 15 of them starts. Suddenly, Mingo looks less like the second coming of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul—another late bloomer, who anchored New York's Super Bowl XLVI--winning team—and more like Vernon Gholston, the Jets' sixth overall pick in 2008, who impressed in workouts but had zero career sacks before fizzling out of the league last year. Mingo has been projected to go as high as a top five pick and as low as the early 20s in the April 25 draft, and the deliberation process over his potential speaks volumes about the leaguewide rush to crown America's Next Top Sackmaster.
PASS RUSHERS AND left tackles sit level in importance on the totem pole of NFL positions, just below quarterback, but there's an ironic difference in how the two positions are evaluated coming out of college. The measuring sticks for blind-side tackles are mostly innate—height, wingspan, butt size. Using the bigger is better rule of thumb, the great ones can be separated from the good ones with little more than an eyeball test.
Pass rushers can be evaluated by those measureables, but they also receive statistical credit for their work—sacks, tackles, pressures. And somehow, that extra information makes them more difficult to assess than tackles.
The best of the defensive-end crop tend to get gobbled up early in each draft. Fifty-eight edge rushers (defensive ends and outside linebackers) have appeared on All-Pro teams since 1997, and 35 of those have been first- or second-round picks. Teams are getting bolder. Last year, seven defensive ends were selected in the first 32 picks, a 16-year high; this year, six look to go in the first round.