January 19, 2011
The NFL's final, official list of underclassmen declaring for the upcoming draft contains 56 names, a record number of early entrants in one draft class despite the looming lockout that threatens to put the 2011 season at risk. Some of them are certain first or second-rounders, guaranteed millions with long careers in front of them; some have nothing to gain by coming back; some are driven by other motives entirely. And at least eight of them make no apparent sense whatsoever:
• DeAndre Brown, WR, Southern Miss. Brown was a mega-hyped, five-star recruit in 2008, and looked every bit the NFL-bound star that fall as 6-foot-5, 225-pound freshman All-American with 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns to his name. But if Brown ever fully recovered from the grisly broken leg he suffered in the '08 New Orleans Bowl, he still hasn't demonstrated it in a game. He missed all of seven games in 2010 to some combination of injuries and extended stays in the coaches' doghouse, and was largely absent from most of the others, finishing with just 19 catches on an offense that did just fine without him. If the pros are still willing to take a chance on his size and potential, he's going to have to deliver some face-melting workouts to move into first five rounds.
• Nick Claytor, OL, Georgia Tech. Claytor started 10 games at tackle in his first season as a regular starter for an option offense, and, well, there you go. His "drive to be great" may earn Claytor a phone call at some point in the final round, but probably not any sooner.
• Tori Gurley, WR, South Carolina. Gurley's towering, 6-4, 235-pound frame may get him picked in the sixth round or so, but he only played for two years after redshirting in 2008 and was vastly overshadowed by teammate Alshon Jeffery in both of them.
• Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh. Lewis is not only well below the NFL standard at 5-7, 195 pounds: After a breakout season as the nation's leading rusher in 2009, he was already showing signs of significantly diminished returns in '10 in his second season as the Panthers' top back. In fact, he didn't even qualify for that title for the vast majority of the year – it took about three weeks for everybody's All-American to begin yielding the majority of carries to fellow sophomore Ray Graham, who outrushed his more celebrated backfield mate 492 yards to 143 in September, with three straight 100-yard efforts. Graham, not Lewis, was still the Panthers' leading rusher entering the regular season finale at Cincinnati, on almost two full yards more per carry than their forgotten star.
Lewis finished strong with a career day against the Bearcats and another 100-yard effort against Kentucky in the bowl game to push him over 1,000 for the season, but that's not likely to get him into the top four rounds.
• Javes Lewis, DB, Oregon. Lewis also lost his starting job after a promising 2009 campaign, only he didn't get it back. John Boyett started all but one game (against I-AA Portland State) in Lewis' old free safety spot, relegating Lewis to nickel and garbage time sets, and likely to the ranks of he undrafted in April.
• Zane Parr, DE, Virginia. At least Parr was a key cog for one of the ACC's most porous defense, starting every game as a junior with two exciting sacks at Duke. But he will be very, very lucky to be selected at all in the draft.
• Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU. Ridley was a first-team All-SEC pick by conference coaches, one of only two backs (not including Auburn quarterback Cam Newton) over 1,000 yards on the ground in the regular season and may have some academic issues. But LSU tried in vain to persuade him to stay for a central role in an SEC and possible BCS championship run under a new offensive coordinator in the fall, and his subpar speed is likely to drop Ridley out of the first three rounds, at best. Assuming he'd be eligible, he could have set his sights on a championship and still been the 14th running back off the board a year from now.
• Sealver Siliga, DT, Utah. Siliga was a nondescript plugger on a generally nondescript defense, ending his three-year career on the Ute defensive line with 2.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He picked up a vote of two last year for the All-Mountain West team. He'd probably headed for free agency. Godspeed.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.