Jay Valai, UW captains story
Jay Valai (2) had three pass breakups and an interception last season.

A self-described football junkie, Jay Valai figures he'll be glued to the first-round coverage of next week's NFL draft.

The former University of Wisconsin strong safety might even tune in for rounds two, three and four.

But when it comes time for the final three rounds, Valai doesn't plan on being anywhere near a television. If he gets drafted — and Valai knows there's no guarantee of that happening — it'll be somewhere during that stretch.

Rather than waiting for his name to pop up on the screen — or not pop up on the screen, as it may be — Valai plans on finding something to do that will make the time go a little faster.

"I'm not standing around that TV, just sweating every five minutes," he said earlier this week after a workout session at the McClain Center. "I'd rather just be surprised than be upset watching it over and over. I'm just going to chill."

Valai figures he's done all he can do - now it's in somebody else's hands. He had a productive career with the Badgers, starting 37 games over his final three seasons.

Pro Football Weekly has Valai ranked as the 15th-best strong safety in the draft. Not surprisingly, scouts love the 5-foot-8, 203-pound Valai's ability as a big hitter but question his size and limitations in pass coverage.

That was the book on Valai throughout his UW career.

"You've always got to be who you are," Valai said. "I'm not going to go in the league and go from being a hitter to being (Deion Sanders).

"I can do other stuff than just hit. I can cover. I'm very vocal. I'm a leader on the defense. But hitting is what I'm known for and it's what I love to do. I'm not going to steer away from who I am."

Valai has spent part of the evaluation process assuring teams that his health is not an issue. He tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during training camp last season, suffered a broken rib in October and tore a muscle in his right calf in November.

But Valai still managed to start 12 games as a senior and says he feels as healthy as he's ever felt. All he asks is that a team gives him a shot to prove he belongs in the NFL.

"When I find out where I'm going, it's going to be good," Valai said. "Whoever I end up with is going to have a little angry short man on their roster."

It's a bad year for safeties, and it's unlikely any will go in the first round. Free safety Rahim Moore, who skipped his final season at UCLA, is the best of the bunch.

The cornerback group is much better, with LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara among the top 10 players in the draft.

Peterson, who's also a dangerous kick returner, has been compared to Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson because of his combination of size (6-0, 219 pounds) and athleticism.

Cornerback Niles Brinkley, like his former UW teammate Valai, will play the waiting game next week.

Brinkley's father, Lorenzo Brinkley Sr., was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972, but Niles' most likely route to the NFL will be as a priority free agent.

It didn't help matters that the 5-9, 193-pound Brinkley injured his groin at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, though he was pleased with the way he bounced back in front of scouts at UW's pro timing day last month. Pro Football Weekly calls Brinkley "tough and competitive" but also says he's inconsistent.

Brinkley has plenty of experience against quality competition, starting 26 games during his final three seasons with the Badgers.

"I've played a lot of football," Brinkley said. "There's definitely a lot of film (on me). Hopefully they just look at that and take that into consideration of how much talent I've played against and how talented our team has been over the last five years since I've been here."



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