Rating the juniors
By John Murphy, Yahoo Sports
December 11, 2007
A group of selected NFL personnel directors are given the assignment of returning grades on these prospects. The prospects then receive an overall grade that takes into account the average of the scores received. It is not uncommon for several prospects at the same position to receive the same grade. For example, three running backs could receive second-round grades even though one of them would likely slide if all declared.
Overall, between 26 and 48 underclassmen have declared for the NFL draft during the past eight years (2000-2007).
I have evaluated the underclassmen who have confirmed or indicated that they plan to ask the NFL Advisory Committee for their current draft grade. I have added a grade per position.
QUARTERBACK (Grade C)
• Clemson junior Cullen Harper has asked for his grade based on a fine first year as a starter. Most scouts believe Harper should return for his senior season and be a possible mid-to-late first-round pick a year from now.
• California junior Nate Longshore said he plans to return for his senior year. He was banged up midway through the season after initially making a positive impact on evaluators with his early success.
RUNNING BACK (Grade A)
• Arkansas junior Darren McFadden seems set to make the jump to the NFL. He could be a top-5 pick in the draft. McFadden has rare speed/athleticism for his size, but it is his big-play ability that has NFL evaluators excited.
• West Virginia junior Steve Slaton is a slashing style back who has broken many long runs, which is one of the reasons he has sent in his paperwork. If Slaton returns, he and fellow junior Pat White give the Mountaineers a shot at winning a national championship. Slaton seems more interested in knowing where he stands than actually declaring.
• Central Florida junior Kevin Smith could break Barry Sanders' record for rushing yards in a season, but seems torn between taking his game to the NFL or returning with a chance to win the Heisman. Scouts differ on if he has the breakaway speed to continue being a big-play threat in the NFL. He has proven to be a workhorse who does not fumble.
• Illinois junior Rashard Mendenhall feels like it might be in his family's best interest for him to explore the NFL. His younger brother, Walter, is in-line to replace him if he were to leave the Illini early. Many feel that his draft grade will never be higher.
• Oregon junior Jonathan Stewart is a bruising between-the-tackles runner who also has the speed to break runs to the outside. He has better hands than you would expect for a big man and also returned kickoffs. His strength comes from his lower-body as he explodes through defenders and first contact. He can run in the 4.45 range at 230-235 pounds. He could end up being the second most productive running back in the pros behind McFadden.
• Arkansas junior Felix Jones could be a Heisman candidate next year and a possible first-round draft pick. He has shared the position with McFadden, but has an explosive second gear and can power up to full speed in a few steps. Should McFadden declare, Jones could earn himself a few extra dollars by staying behind.
• Clemson junior James Davis has a solid combination of size, power and speed. He has great upper-body strength, runs tough between the holes and has a nose for the end zone. He is not a natural pass catcher and has not done much pass blocking.
• Rutgers junior Ray Rice was expecting to make a run at the Heisman, but came up short. He is a powerful runner for his size, shows good hands out of the backfield and flashes an extra gear of speed once he hits the open field. Rice would likely be given a grade in the second- to third-round range.
WIDE RECEIVER (Grade B)
• Michigan junior Mario Manningham had more than 1,000 yards receiving, 11 touchdowns and a 97-yard catch for a touchdown. Scouts are concerned that he has been known to be hard to coach and get along with. The Wolverines' coaching situation combined with the fact that both Chad Henne and Mike Hart are graduating could very well open the door for him to leave if he receives a first-round grade.
• California junior DeSean Jackson is a dangerous return man and receiver. He is not a finished product in terms of his receiving, but has extraordinary speed and vision in the open field. Jackson's perceived 4.3 40-time would allow him the chance to break into the top half of the first round. He could decide to stay since his QB is returning and the Bears ended on a bad slide.
• Oklahoma junior Malcolm Kelly could be the first receiver taken if he skips his senior year. Has great size (6-4, 218 pounds), big hands and a long stride. He has big- play ability, catches well and runs tight routes. Kelly scored 19 touchdowns over the past two years. Some scouts believe he has first-round skills, but disappears for stretches of games.
• South Carolina junior Kenny McKinley is a highly productive two-way threat who has gained more than 1,800 yards the past two years while also being an exciting punt returner. He is viewed as a possible slot receiver with impressive speed and quickness. He is also elusive after the catch. He lacks the size of others in this group, and has stated he will only declare if coach Steve Spurrier leaves or if he receives a first-round grade.
• Washington State junior Brandon Gibson led the Pac-10 with 1,180 yards and scored nine touchdowns, averaging 18 yards per catch. He intends to return to school, but will check on his draft status to know what he should work on.
• Indiana junior James Hardy led the Big Ten with 16 receiving touchdowns. At 6-6, 210 pounds, he has ideal size. Should earn close to a first-round grade if he opts into this year's draft.
• Hawaii junior Davone Bess became the favorite target of quarterback Colt Brennan over the past two years. He's hard to evaluate because of the system the Warriors employ, but he shows good run-after-catch skills and runs very good routes. He is not a great deep threat.
• Vanderbilt junior Earl Bennett has set school records with 236 career catches and 2,852 yards. He has also returned kickoffs and punts. He has good size, runs crisp routes and shows the ability to make the tough catch in the middle of the field. Will likely to return to school. Scouts expect him to run good, but not great 40-times.
• Kentucky junior Dicky Lyons Jr. is a tough, precise route runner who makes the underneath grabs and shows the quickness to elude defenders. He had his best games against Florida and Mississippi State, but could use next season since he would be the school's top receiving option.
• Michigan State junior Devin Thomas is a junior college transfer who led the Big Ten with 1,226 yards and 28.1 yards per kickoff return. He has good size (6-2, 218 pounds) to go along with presumed mid-4.4 speed. He could end up being a first-three-round selection.
• El Camino CC (Calif.) Corey Surrency might lack the grades to continue with his college career. LSU and Florida State have recruited him even after he gave a verbal commitment to Colorado. He is about 6-5, 215 pounds with 40 times in the high 4.4s. He averaged more than 20 yards per catch last season. Schools expect a final decision on his academic status soon.
• Pearl River CC (Miss.) Roger Frazier was a standout pass catcher who lacks the grades necessary to move to a four-year program. Very fast, fluid strider, he is thought of as a vertical threat by Arkansas, Kansas State and South Florida.
TIGHT END: (Grade B-)
• Florida junior Corey Ingram has posted big numbers. He lacks ideal size (6-4, 235-240 pounds), so he is not a great in-line blocker on run downs. His athleticism (4.5 speed) and receiving skills could earn him a first-day grade. Averaged roughly 15 yards per catch.
• Texas A&M junior Marcellus Bennett has great natural size (6-6, 260 pounds) and more than 100 career receptions. He has improved over each of the past two seasons, especially as a blocker, but lacks consistency. The hiring of former NFL head coach Mike Sherman might help keep him with the Aggies.
• Missouri junior Chase Coffman is a second generation tight end; his father, Paul, played with Green Bay and Kansas City. He had 51 catches for 523 yards and seven touchdowns this past season. His ability to make plays down the field, block at the line of scrimmage and a nasty streak on special teams makes him the total package. Unless he gets a first-round grade, he will likely return to the Tigers.
• Wisconsin junior Travis Beckum has the look of a future 50-to-60 catch standout in a West Coast-style offense in the NFL. He moves very well for his size (250 pounds), is a fluid athlete and improving blocker. He has requested his current NFL grade, but has told people around campus that he plans to return.
OFFENSIVE LINE (Grade A-)
• Ohio State junior tackle Alex Boone might be at the top of this year's draft class thanks to his size (6-8, 325 pounds), footwork and work ethic. He does as much film study as he does weight room or classroom work. He has played on both sides of the line, but has settled into the left tackle position the past two years. Some scouts believe he needs to work on finishing and bringing more of a nasty streak.
• Boise State junior tackle Ryan Clady is one of the nation's top blockers and should warrant a first-round grade should he leave early. He promised his mother that he would complete his degree before moving to the NFL. His promise might be hard to keep as the 6-6, 319-pounder could be among the top-20 picks.
• Mississippi junior offensive tackle Michael Oher has all the tools, but could use next season to add some strength to his game and become more of a finisher. Now that Houston Nutt is the coach, Oher plans to wait for the 2009 draft.
• Oklahoma junior tackle Phil Loadholt has gone from junior college transfer to potential high NFL draft choice. He is massively built with the footwork and athleticism to play the all-important left tackle position at the next level. He has drawn too many penalties this season and would improve his grade by remaining in school.
• Stanford junior offensive lineman Alex Fletcher has the ability to play both center and guard at the NFL level. He gets the job done with fine technique, leverage and footwork. He has been timed in the 5.1 range at 6-3, 310 pounds. Fletcher would like to find out how much room he has to improve his grade over the next year. He will have completed his degree by the end of this semester.
• Oklahoma junior guard Duke Robinson was one of the most dominating interior linemen in the country. He has great size (6-5, 335 pounds), delivers a powerful punch off the snap, but also has the type of mean streak that the NFL craves. Robinson should receive a fairly high grade, but I expect him to return to the Sooners.
• Alabama junior center Antoine Caldwell is capable of playing both guard and the pivot spot. He moves well for his size, gets out of his stance quickly and shows very good power in his initial punch. Might lack the pure bulk to handle some of the larger nose tackles in the NFL, but his movement skills and intangibles make him an attractive package.
• Washington senior center Juan Garcia has received an extra year of eligibility thanks to past medical issues that cost him to miss time between 2003 and 2005. He has started the past two years, but announced at the team's recent banquet that he intended to make use of his extra season of eligibility and return to the Huskies.
John Murphy is Yahoo! Sports' NFL personnel and college prospect evaluator. Murphy's seventh annual NFL Draft Bible package for the upcoming 2008 NFL Draft coverage is now available. Learn more at www.nfldraftbible.blogspot.com.
Updated on Tuesday, Dec 11, 2007 12:55 pm, EST