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DRAFT TALK: NFL in their immediate future?

By Tony Pauline
Special To Jets Insider.com
December 27th, 2007
Arkansas' RB Darren (RUN DMC) McFadden could be the top pick in next year's NFL draft.
Arkansas' RB Darren (RUN DMC) McFadden could be the top pick in next year's NFL draft.
A record number of underclassmen prospects could be making life changing decisions over the next several weeks as they ask themselves, “should I stay or should I go?” January 15th is the deadline for draft eligible underclassmen to decide whether or not they will turn pro. Here’s the latest on what the first day prospects are thinking.

Running Backs

Darren McFadden/Arkansas: The Heisman Trophy runner up is ready to take his game to the NFL. Scouts put his leaving at 99% and expect McFadden to be the highest rated player in April’s draft.

Felix Jones/Arkansas: Scouts give Jones a first round grade and think the odds of him leaving for the NFL are at 70%. He could change his mind now that Arkansas has hired a big name coach in Bobby Petrino.

Rashard Mendenhall/Illinois: Mendenhall helped carry Illinois into a BCS game and significantly elevated his draft ranking. He is expected to leave for the NFL and will be a first round selection.

Jonathan Stewart/Oregon: He is another who carries a first round grade. Sources say Stewart decided weeks ago he would enter the draft.

Kevin Smith/Central Florida: Smith’s record setting exploits has his compass pointed towards the NFL. While he recently claimed he will be staying at UCF for his senior season scouts are not convinced and seem certain he will enter the draft.

Others Leaning: Ray Rice/Rutgers, Jamaal Charles/Texas, Steve Slaton/West Virginia.

Receivers/Tight Ends

DeSean Jackson/California: Jackson told people before the season began this would be his last on the college level. He will be a top 15 choice and the first receiver selected.

Malcolm Kelly/Oklahoma: Kelly would surprise people if he decided to stay at OU as the big play receiver has made his NFL intentions known for some time now.

Mario Manningham/Michigan: The Wolverines leading receiver has had an up and down campaign yet sources say the chances of him entering the draft are near 80%.

Davone Bess/Hawaii: Bess benefits from Hawaii’s wide open system but scouts love his receiving skills. He is 75% sure to enter the draft.

Martellus Bennett/Texas A&M: Bennett gave up basketball to concentrate on football. He’ll consult with the NFL Advisory Committee yet scouts fully expect the tight end to enter the draft.

Travis Beckum/Wisconin: He’s on the fence as to his return to Wisconsin and the tight end is 50/50 as to where he’ll be playing next year.

Others Leaning: Earl Bennett/Vanderbilt, James Hardy/Indiana, Aaron Kelly/Clemson, Mario Urrutia/Louisville, Cornelius Ingram/Florida, Brandon Gibson/Washington State.

Offensive Linemen

Ryan Clady/Boise State: The Broncos starting tackle has been interviewing agents since August and could make his announcement to enter the draft at any time.

Michael Oher/Mississippi: Oher grades out as a mid first round choice but he is wavering where he’ll be playing next season. Mississippi’s decision to hire Houston Nutt has given Oher a reason to consider returning to college.

Phil Loadholt/Oklahoma: The junior college transfer made a name for himself immediately at Oklahoma. Loadholt’s dominance has led Sooner insiders to believe he’s 75% sure of making the NFL his next stop.

Duke Robinson/Oklahoma: Alexander won All Conference honors in the Big Twelve. He presently grades as one of the top guard prospects in the country and like his teammate, is heavily leaning towards entering the draft.

Alex Mack/California: He’s been the dominant force on the Cal line and there’s an 80% chance Mack enters the draft.

Others Leaning: Jonathan Luigs/Arkansas, Antoine Caldwell/Alabama, Anthony Collins/Kansas, Jason Smith/Baylor.

Defensive Linemen

Vernon Gholston/Ohio State: He’s been a one man wrecking crew for the Buckeyes and is being compared to John Abraham of the Atlanta Falcons. Ohio State sources say they expect Gholston to enter the draft.

Calais Campbell/Miami-Fl: Campbell’s play this season has wavered between inconsistent and uninspired. He plans to get an opinion from the NFL Advisory Committee then make his choice. Sources say there’s a 65% chance Campbell turns pro.

Phillip Merling/Clemson: Merling is another who will seek opinions from the advisory committee. He recently stated his intention to return to Clemson next season but scouts are not sold and think there’s a 50% chance Merling enters the draft.

Derrick Harvey/Florida: Harvey took his game to another level last season and is a sought after prospect. Sources say there’s a better than 75% chance he enters the draft.

Others Leaning: Fili Moala/USC, Tyson Jackson/LSU

Linebackers

James Laurinaitis/Ohio State: The Buckeyes leading tackler is set to enter the draft according to people in Columbus. He’s already being compared to the greats from Ohio State and is a top ten selection.

Rey Maualuga/USC: Maualuga publicly announced his intention to stay at USC several weeks ago but many are not convinced. West coast scouts are sure he will enter the draft.

Curtis Lofton/Oklahoma: Lofton, named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, told the media he is seriously considering entering the draft. Sooner sources say they expect him to make the jump after the team’s bowl game.

Defensive Backs

Kenny Phillips/Miami: The Hurricanes starting safety has already announced he will enter the draft. Phillips should be the first defensive back drafted in April.

Malcolm Jenkins/Ohio State: Jenkins is the next great cornerback from the Buckeye program. He is likely to announce his eligibility immediately after the BCS title game.

Aqib Talib/Kansas: He produced at cornerback and receiver for the Jayhawks this season and Talib is now ready to take his game to the NFL. He will publicly announce his decision to enter the draft in the coming weeks.

Brandon Flowers/Virginia Tech: Flowers will consult with the advisory committee but in the end is expected to declare himself eligible for the draft.

Others Leaning: Justin King, Penn State, Reggie Smith/Oklahoma, Nic Harris/Oklahoma, Courtney Greene/Rutgers, Jack Ikegwuonu/Wisconsin.

Notes: NFL teams gathered their scouting departments in recent weeks to compile lists of players they want invited to the combine. Ahtyba Rubin of Iowa State came out of these meetings a big winner. The defensive tackle had an outstanding season for the Cyclones and has been stamped with a first round grade by a number of franchises. Joe Flacco is another name that left the meetings with a buzz. Delaware’s starting quarterback has several teams convinced he is a top 60 selection and a number of general managers have him rated higher than Kentucky’s Andre Woodson. The first indicator that there may be a record number of underclassmen entering April’s draft are the record number of requests for information the NFL Advisory Committee has received in recent weeks. The “committee” offers an opinion of where a college underclassman could be selected if he enters the draft.

In the past underclassmen would request an opinion from the committee who would then hand it down to several team general managers or directors of scouting. The grading and round prediction was usually done by someone in the teams scouting department but had the GM’s or director’s signature on it. Three or four opinions would be received on a player and a consensus would be drawn. The workload has been so great since the end of the college season this year the process has changed.

The committee will now select one team to handle a number of requests. The team in turn will then hand those requests off to the area scout which handles the college attended by the underclassman requesting the information. The area scout will then file a report and opinion. Instead of having three of four opinions as in the past the committee’s grade will come from a single area scout. The end result is likely to be a greater disparity between where the committee advises the underclassman he’s likely to be drafted and where he is ultimately selected.

Tony Pauline, NFL Draft analyst for Sports Illustrated.com the past five years, will be contributing to Jets Insider.com regularly, leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft.

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