Pair of Jayhawks could be highest Kansas football NFL Draft picks since Aqib Talib, highest of Leipold’s career

NFL Combine
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The 2024 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday and a pair of Kansas football players have a chance to hear their names called by the end of day two.

Offensive lineman Dominick Puni and defensive end Austin Booker are both projected to be third-round picks, with Puni having a shot to go even higher.

Puni is a great story.

After transferring from Division II Central Missouri in 2022, Puni became an immediate starter on a Kansas offensive line that was one of the top lines in the country when it came to sacks allowed. He also helped pave the way for the great rushing attack of Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw.

After a stellar 2023-24 season in which Puni started all 12 regular season games and didn’t allow a single sack in 743 total snaps, he was selected First Team All-Big 12.

Booker also had a tremendous year for the Jayhawks this past season.

After transferring from Minnesota where he played sparingly, Booker exploded onto the scene with 8 total sacks – highest since Dorance Armstrong Jr. in 2016 – and was named First Team All-Big 12 and Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year.

NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has Puni ranked as the No. 82 overall prospect and the fifth-best guard available in this year’s draft according to his latest Big Board rankings. Booker comes in as the No. 107 overall prospect and ninth-best outside linebacker.

Puni is being projected as both a guard and as a tackle – depending on which sites you look at. That versatility will only help his draft chances come Friday.

In Pro Football Focus’ seven-round mock draft put together by their analysts, they have Booker projected to go at Pick No. 68 to the New England Patriots. Puni is projected to go at Pick No. 90 to the New York Jets.

In the final seven-round mock draft by ESPN’s Jordan Reid, he has Puni going at No. 64 overall – the last pick of the second round – to the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Booker is projected to go at Pick No. 71 to the Arizona Cardinals.

If these mock drafts and rankings are accurate, then both Puni and Booker could become the highest NFL Draft picks of any former Kansas football players since cornerback Aqib Talib was drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

Since Talib was picked No. 20 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, no KU player has been drafted higher than the fourth round.

- Anthony Collins (guard, 2008): Round 4, Pick No. 112 overall.

- Derek Fine (tight end, 2008): Round 4, Pick No. 132 overall.

- Darrell Stuckey (safety, 2010): Round 4, Pick No. 110 overall.

- Dorance Armstrong Jr. (defensive end, 2018): Round 4, Pick No. 116 overall.

That could easily change by the time Friday night rolls around, and if it does, it would also make Puni and/or Booker the highest NFL Draft pick(s) among all former players under head coach Lance Leipold in his coaching career.

No matter when they get picked or where they land, Puni and Booker (and all Jayhawks hoping to hear their names called this weekend) will have a Kansas fanbase rooting for their success.