As far as Marcus Buggs is concerned, he has nothing left to prove as a football player.
The former Vanderbilt linebacker isn’t among the nation’s hottest professional prospects, but still believes he’s earned a spot in this weekend’s NFL Draft.
“Do I think I deserve to be drafted? Yeah,” Buggs said.
Buggs wrapped up a productive VU career in 2007 by recording 76 tackles, third most on the team, while helping the Commodores finish 16th in the nation in total defense.
Buggs can run, plays with aggressiveness and packs a punch. Problem is, he’s generously listed at 5-foot-11. Many NFL teams seeking more prototypical size have steered clear.
Still, there is interest in Buggs, a Nashville native and graduate of Goodpasture High. He visited the Chicago Bears this spring. The Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts have also made contact.
Whether Buggs is drafted in a late round or works his way into an NFL camp as a free agent this summer, he’s put himself on the radar.
“He’s one of the more underrated and undervalued outside linebackers in this draft,” said Tony Pauline, NFL Draft analyst for SportsIllustrated.com. “He can run sideline to sideline. I like his game a lot. He could sneak in and get drafted in a late round.”
Speed fuels Buggs. He arrived at Vanderbilt as a 190-pound safety, then bulked up to 225 over the years after coaches moved him to outside linebacker.
He led the Commodores with 10.5 tackles for loss of yardage in 2006. In 2007, he ranked among the top 20 tacklers in the Southeastern Conference.
“I feel great about what I did here at Vanderbilt and what I did on Saturdays for this school,” Buggs said. “I represented my team and my family well. I represented myself well. I have no regrets. I think I’ve done enough and done what I needed to do.”
Now comes the waiting. If Buggs isn’t picked by the time the draft ends Sunday, he’ll gladly field free-agent offers.
“It would be nice just to have the opportunity,” he said. “If my name gets called on Sunday, I’ll be happy. I couldn’t imagine myself being any happier. If it doesn’t, I’m not going to panic. I feel like I’ll get my fair shot.”
Buggs looks to Colts’ starting middle linebacker Gary Brackett for inspiration.
The 5-foot-11, 235-pound Brackett was undrafted out of Rutgers but latched on with the Colts in 2003. Despite being undersized, Brackett has been a productive three-year starter.
Pauline, however, said Buggs might be selling himself short.
“He’s probably more athletic than Brackett,” Pauline said.
Still, the lesson is clear.
“It can be done,” Buggs said. “People make it as free agents every year. If I get drafted, great. If I don’t, we’ll just have to roll with that.
“It’s just me. There’s not too much out there I don’t think I can do.”
HIGH HOPES: According to analysts, the 2008 NFL Draft could be a memorable one at Vanderbilt.
As many as five former Commodores could be drafted this weekend. Since the draft was reduced to 12 rounds in 1977, no more than four VU players have been picked in any year. Four were selected in 1985 and 2001.
Offensive tackle Chris Williams is expected to be a first-round draft choice, perhaps to the Chicago Bears in the No. 14 slot. The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Williams was an All-SEC pick in 2007.
Pauline projects wide receiver Earl Bennett and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff to be third-round picks. Bennett, the leading receiver in SEC history, chose to bypass his seniors season in 2008 to enter this year’s draft.
Other Vanderbilt hopefuls include defensive end Curtis Gatewood, who projects as an outside linebacker in the professional ranks, and Buggs. If either is picked, Pauline said it will most likely be Sunday when rounds four through seven are held.
Former VU defensive tackle Theo Horrocks, offensive tackle Brian Stamper, defensive tackle Gabe Hall, center Hamilton Holliday, guard Josh Eames, quarterback Richard Kovalcheck and running back Cassen Jackson-Garrison have also drawn interest from NFL teams and could sign as free agents after the draft.