RENO - Former Wolf Pack offensive lineman Joel Bitonio is shooting up the NFL draft board.
"To get recognized by these teams, man, it's a dream come true," said Bitonio.
ESPN's Todd McShay lists Bitonio as a first-round pick in his Mock Draft 4.0, going 28th overall to the Panthers.
"It's exciting man. I just can't stop smiling about it," added Bitonio.
Bitonio has been on the rise since his performance at both the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine. He's made visits to the Bears, Rams, Cardinals and the Giants. Plus, an additional eight teams have come out to Reno for private workouts.
"The main thing people always say is that I have a lot of energy and I have a mean streak when I play. They like that I finish plays. They like that I don't want to lose."
The teams also love his versatility. Bitonio was a tackle at Nevada, starting his final 38 games on his way to First Team All-Conference honors his senior season. But many teams are targeting him as a guard in the NFL.
"Some teams are like, 'Oh I think you're going to be a guard, but in a pinch if our left tackle goes down, we think you can play left tackle for a game.' That's another thing that coaches say," said Bitonio. " We like that you're versatile. We think you can play all five positions on the O-Line."
Bitonio was projected to be a possible late-round pick at the start of last season. But now he's expected to be taken somewhere in the second round. And if McShay's prediction is true, he would become the first Wolf Pack player ever taken in the first round of the NFL Draft.
"The goal is to get drafted obviously; that was the goal to start. And you want to get drafted as high as you can, and that's what the process is about. But luckily I've gained a lot of good momentum. I'm going to be happy regardless, but that would be unbelievable if that really came true."
Bitonio plans to spend draft day with his family down in Long Beach, California. The NFL Draft begins on Thursday, May 8th.