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University of Kansas Jayhawks Draft Prospect Profiles: Austin Booker, Dominick Puni, Mason Fairchild




The 2024 NFL Draft season has officially begun with the college football season over and done with. For one of those programs, the Kansas Jayhawks, this season went exceptionally well. The Jayhawks posted their best record since 2007, were ranked in the final AP Poll, won their first bowl game in over 15 years, and are projected to be one of the top dogs in the new-look Big 12. That success would not have been possible without some major impact players, three in particular are rising on draft boards and will potentially get the opportunity to play on Sundays. Let's analyze each.


Kansas Jayhawks Draft Prospect #1: Austin Booker, EDGE/DT

Austin Booker was an outstanding addition to the Kansas defense this past year. The sophomore transfer from Minnesota racked up 8 sacks, a Big 12-leading 38 pressures, 56 total tackles (40 solo), and 2 forced fumbles. He won Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and was an All-Big 12 First Team Defense member. After this spectacular season, many were speculative about what Austin would do next, as he had plenty of options. His Minnesota and Kansas teammate Gage Keys transferred to Auburn, and there was a chance he would follow. There was also a chance he would stay another year at Kansas, however, Booker decided he was ready for the NFL Draft. A decision a few were skeptical about at first, but after stellar workouts and a solid performance at the Senior Bowl, things are trending up. Booker is undersized at 6'6", 245 lbs, however, what he lacks in size he makes up for in speed and athleticism. An 81 and 1/2-inch reach that he uses well to get off blocks, extremely physical, a great get-off, and quick, persistent pursuit are what define his strengths. His weaknesses are, as mentioned above, his size, his inexperience, and his coverage skills. Booker was hardly ever dropped into coverage with the Kansas defense, so that's perhaps the biggest question mark. If Booker can bulk up and show that he can cover serviceably, he should improve his draft position from mid or late-round to possibly a Day 2 pick. However, do keep an eye on his size and coverage ability potentially being a factor.





Jayhawks Draft Prospect #2: Dominick Puni, Offensive Line

Dominick Puni is perhaps the best draft prospect the Jayhawks have. He is a versatile, athletic, physical lineman who gets out of his stance quickly, bullies defensive linemen of any size and excels in combo blocks. Puni is the best chance the Jayhawks have at getting a Day One pick for the first time since Aqib Talib. He allowed no sacks, no QB hits, and just eight hurries this season, earning him All-Big 12 FFirst-Teamirst Team honors. Puni stands at 6'4", weighs in at 323 Ibs, and has a wing span of 81 and 6/8 inches. While his size is below average, causing him to struggle a bit with larger defensive linemen, he makes up for it in tenacity, get-off speed, and athleticism. If he can improve his pass blocking a little more, he is a "Shoe-in" Day One prospect that will make any NFL team happy, but the size is a bit of a concern as well. Overall, if a team can look past his size and help develop his pass blocking (which still isn't bad, just the weakest part of his repertoire) he will be a great O-line addition.




Kansas Jayhawks Draft Prospect #3: Mason Fairchild, TE

Last but not least, we have Mason Fairchild, who in 2023 was an underrated factor in this explosive Kansas offense. Fairchild's stats don't pop off the page by any means, 27 receptions for 451 yards and three touchdowns last year are exactly eye-catching numbers. You have to watch Mason's film and look at his yards per catch average to truly understand why he is catching eyes around the league as a potential late-round/undrafted prospect. Fairchild averages 16.3 yards/catch, which for a tight end is impressive. He's versatile in his receiving and blocking abilities, is a reliable pass-catcher, and is quick on his feet. He plays low, physical ball with his size at 6'3" and 248 Ibs, which also contributed to his receiving and carrying abilities. His weaknesses are that he was under-utilized and he is below the average NFL tight end height. However, players such as Jonnu Smith and Tyler Conklin, who Fairchild has drawn comparisons to, are successful NFL tight ends and both were "undersized and under-utilized". Whoever selects Fairchild will certainly not regret it. He plays with an exceptionally high motor, is faster than his workout speeds might suggest, and has a lot of good intangibles on top of his athletic skills. If he can be taught better route-running and if teams can overlook his size, they will get a solid guy to add to their roster.





Conclusion

Other Jayhawks that could hear their names called include quarterback Jason Bean, who shows a ton of speed and, if confident, can throw the ball very well. Kenny Logan, Jr. is a hard-hitting safety who led a stellar Jayhawk secondary to being one of the better units in the conference. This is the first time in a long time that the Jayhawks have a legitimate chance at having a high-round draft pick. With the job that Lance Leipold has done to not only the team at large, but with these individual players being stars at their positions, it is hopefully a sign of things to come for this Jayhawk Football program. This shows that you can come to Kansas and develop into a player who can have a successful NFL career. A key recruiting tool that serves as a sign of a bright future for this program.


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