"Michigan vs Louisville basketball 2019" by MGoBlog is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

There’s no shortage of one-time Louisville Cardinals currently making a name for themselves at the next level — Teddy Bridgewater, Montrezl Harrell, Donovan Mitchell, Terry Rozier, and reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson … and so many more. The UofL-to-the-pro’s pipeline isn’t drying up anytime soon. Over the next few years, you’ll see many more Cardinals be top-round picks in the NBA, NFL, and other pro leagues.

Louisville baseball sends five or six players to the pros annually. But, for now, let’s count down recent UofL football or basketball players waiting in the wings to join the pay-for-pay ranks. To borrow a term from the best sportsbooks, the “smart money” is on these next student-athletes to do so:

Jordan Nwora, basketball, power forward

One has to start with Nwora, who will likely hear his name called in a matter of days at the NBA Draft.  The 6-foot-8 Nwora averaged 18 points per game as a junior last season, making 44% of this field goals attempts and 40% of his 3-point shots.

Nwora’s skill set as a stretch-forward lends itself well to the current NBA game. In his junior year, Nwora proved to be a sharpshooter from beyond the arc, connecting on 40 percent of his 189 three-point attempts. With the right coach and personal development, Nwora can stick around the league for a long time as a role player.

Tutu Atwell, football, wide receiver

Atwell, a sophomore, has out-of-this-world speed. At the combine, he could run below a 4.30, which might put him atop his entire draft class.

Instantly, top-line speed like Atwell’s draws him comparisons to back-breaking NFL receivers like Hollywood Brown and Tyreek Hill. The three also share similar statures of 5-foot-9 or so. That limited height may have hurt Atwell’s NFL chances 10 year ago. However, due to the successes of Hill and Brown, that short-guy stigma is less of a thing nowadays.

Dez Fitzpatrick, football, wide receiver

Dez Fitzpatrick has scored two touchdowns during his senior season, his longest for 82 yards (“Dez Fitzpatrick hauls one in” by MGoBlog is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.)

Another pass catcher makes this list. While Atwell hogs the limelight, Fitzpatrick is the more complete receiver of the two. He has a more traditional 6-foot-2 frame and is in the midst of a career senior year.

Fitzpatrick toyed with entering the 2020 NFL Draft which was loaded by wide receiver talent. Returning for one final year may have helped his cause, though. Not only has he elevated his game — seemingly living in the end zone as a touchdown machine — he’ll also have less competition to become a first-round pick come the 2021 Draft.

Samuel Williamson, basketball, small forward

With the previously-mentioned Nwora en route to the NBA, it opens the door for Williamson to make his mark on the program and in the eyes of NBA scouts. The former five-star prospect is long (6-foot-7) and can shoot lights out. Based on raw talent, one would expect Williamson to be a early-round prospect.

He’s going into his sophomore year at the U of L after a relatively quiet freshman campaign. He averaged a meager 4.4 points per game while playing under 16 minutes a game. Expect those numbers to climb significantly in year two. One does have to wonder how the ongoing pandemic will affect his personal development (official practice with the team has been cut short(. But all the talent is there for Williamson to reach NBA starter status as a streaky-shooting wing player.  

Micale Malik Cunningham, football, quarterback

Cue the Lamar Jackson comparison. While Cunningham doesn’t have Jackson’s blazing speed, he’s still incredibly dangerous with his feet — both in racking up yards for himself and buying time to throw the  ball downfield.

It’s the latter of which that could vault him into a high NFL draft selection. Look at the best quarterbacks in the NFL today — Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, and yes, Jackson — the common denominator between them is mobility. In many ways, Cunningham rivals those four in that regard.

Javian Hawkins, football, running back

Hawkins, a redshirt sophomore, declared his intentions to go the pros this week, cutting his college career short three games before the end of the regular season. He will be a good one, the only running back in UofL program history to rush for more than 1,500 yards in a single season.

That completes my list. Did we miss anyone? Or did we over hype someone? Let me know what you think.

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