Four former Colorado football players could be selected in the NFL draft over the next three days beginning tonight when Buffs All-American left tackle Nate Solder is expected to be taken in the first round. Cornerback Jimmy Smith is also a possible first-round pick.

The made-for-TV draft has altered its schedule once again this year with those big television ratings in mind. Only the first round will be conducted tonight beginning at 6 p.m., locally.

The second and third rounds will be televised Friday night and the final four rounds will take place during the day Saturday.

Colorado hasn't produced a first-round draft pick since former defensive lineman Tyler Brayton was picked by Oakland with the final selection of the first round in 2003.

Nate Solder puts a big hit of Denver Broncos scout, and former CU linebacker, Matt Russell, during an O-line drill.National Football League scouts came to
Nate Solder puts a big hit of Denver Broncos scout, and former CU linebacker, Matt Russell, during an O-line drill. National Football League scouts came to the CU campus to test former CU football players for the NFL draft. Cliff Grassmick/ March 9, 2011 ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

If both Solder and Smith are taken in the first round, it will mark the first time two Buffs have been first-round selections in the same draft since 1997 when former offensive lineman Chris Naeole was picked 10th overall by New Orleans and former wide receiver Rae Carruth was picked No. 27 overall by Carolina.

"It's extremely exciting," Solder said. "I'm just kind of looking forward to getting with a team and having a little more structure in my life. It's kind of too many question marks right now. I'm excited to have some of those questions answered I suppose."

Former CU cornerback Jalil Brown is expected to be taken at some point in the final four rounds of the draft on Saturday and former wide receiver Scotty McKnight is considered either a late-round pick or a post-draft free agent addition to one of the 32 NFL teams.

For players such as Solder and Smith, today will cap nearly five months of rugged training, travel, workouts and interviews with just about every team in the league.

The reward will be life-changing contracts that will pay them enormous sums, taking them from the peanut butter and jelly and Top Ramen existence of a college student to budgets that can pay for personal chefs if they desire.

Solder and Smith are likely to be in the league for several years at a minimum and could play for 10 years or more if myriad factors go right for them.

Brown and McKnight will likely enter the league with much to prove and will be paid far less for their services initially.

Solder has been rated anywhere from a top-10 pick -- possibly going to Dallas at No. 9 -- to later in the first round. He made personal visits to Dallas, Indianapolis, Washington and the New York Giants in recent weeks leading up to today.

Solder will watch the draft with family and invited guests tonight in Leadville with cameras from the NFL Network and ESPN on hand to capture his reaction to being selected.

Solder insists he is probably more confused than anyone about where he might go in the draft because he has had so many conversations with different NFL coaches, general managers and owners.

"I'm in the no-man zone," he said. "I don't know anything."

Smith and Brown did not respond to messages left for them Wednesday. McKnight said he plans to watch the draft with family and friends at his parents home in Southern California.

McKnight left CU as the program's all-time leading receiver, and despite four years of success in the Big 12 and a solid pro timing day in February at CU, there are doubts about his ability to produce similar results at the highest level of football.

"I'm excited to move forward in the process and have a sense of stability in where I'll be competing to play next year," McKnight said. "I feel I've done everything I could possibly do up to this point to put myself in position to succeed. I can't wait to celebrate with my family, whether it be after getting drafted or signing as a free agent, then moving on and getting to work."

Smith is one of the most intriguing cases to keep an eye on in the entire draft, not just from a CU perspective.

The consensus seems to be that Smith possesses unmistakable first-round skill. However, teams have questions about his character spawned by off-the-field situations before and during his time at CU, including failed drug tests and underage drinking tickets.

Those issues could cause him to slip into the second round on Friday, but he is not expected to fall further.

Colorado hasn't had more than two players picked in any draft since 2006 when five former Buffs were taken.

If Smith, Brown and McKnight are drafted, they will be the first players signed and developed at Colorado under former coach Dan Hawkins to be drafted. Solder was committed to the Buffs prior to the firing in 2005 of former coach Gary Barnett.