CHAPEL HILL (AP) — North Carolina’s James Hurst and Bryn Renner closed turbulent college careers with injuries that hindered their preparation for the NFL.
Now healthy after offseason surgeries, the offensive tackle and quarterback are ready to find out where they will end up in this week’s draft.
Hurst was a four-year starter who suffered a broken left leg in the Belk Bowl. Renner was a three-year starting quarterback who injured his left shoulder in November and missed the final five games. It is unclear how much those late-season injuries will affect their draft chances.
“We are the people that everyone’s forgetting,” Hurst said. “And that’s kind of a motivating factor, so you take it and run with it.”
The draft begins with Thursday night’s first round, with the second and third rounds coming Friday followed by the final four rounds Saturday. Hurst and Renner are projected as possible late-round selections according to NFL.com, while CBSsports.com lists Hurst as the No. 16 offensive tackle and Renner the No. 18 quarterback.
“We’re kind of in the same boat,” Renner said. “We talk about it all that time, that we’ve got to keep battling and keep fighting — and everything happens for a reason.”
Before the season, the 6-foot-5, 296-pound Hurst was considered a top lineman prospect with a chance of playing his way into the first round. He did nothing to hurt his stock in the opener at South Carolina while getting plenty of 1-on-1 matchups with potential No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, though the December bowl injury kept him out of the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine.
Hurst, who was able to work out with Renner at UNC’s pro day in March, expects to go sometime after the third round.
“There’s nothing you can do about the timing,” Hurst said of the injury. “All I can control is my workouts now and my recovery and the impact I can make when I get to a team.”
Renner’s status is more uncertain. One of the program’s top career passers, Renner shifted from a pro-style offense under former coach Butch Davis to a spread under current coach Larry Fedora before suffering a detached labrum and a broken bone when he was hit by two North Carolina State defenders on a scramble. He returned for two plays and even threw a 9-yard pass before leaving for the final time and having surgery four days later.
The 6-3, 228-pound Renner said he worked with former NFL and college coach Ted Tollner to prepare for the draft. He also worked out for the New England Patriots, the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers in recent weeks, though he has no expectation of being drafted and is content to pursue a career as an undrafted free agent.
Former NFL executive Bill Polian is high on Renner’s size, arm and poise.
“He to me is a guy I would tag on my draft board assuming that he’s (recovered) and say, ‘This is a guy we need to keep track of here and at the right time, let’s pull the trigger on him,’” said Polian, an ESPN NFL analyst.
Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson, who spent the past two years as UNC’s offensive coordinator, said Hurst and Renner were leaders during careers that spanned an NCAA investigation of the program for rules violations, Davis’ firing, a season under an interim coach and the transition to Fedora.
“They made the best of what was really kind of a strange, kind of crappy situation,” Anderson said. “It makes them both stronger. It’s going to make them better teammates. If they get into a place that’s got a stable environment, I think they’ll appreciate that and thrive.”
While Hurst said he plans to watch the draft, Renner said he plans to skip it and play golf.
“It’s such an unknown process,” Renner said. “That’s why I’m kind of on the edge of my seat: just what’s going to happen and what’s going to fall in place? … I’m ready to get back on the field. No matter what happens, I’m going to try to make the most of it.”