It was just about a week ago when everyone waited in anticipation for the outcome of the 2007 NFL draft. Can it be too soon to look ahead to the next crop of talented college football players who will make up the Class of 2008?
The answer is a resounding no. Any personnel evaluator worthy of holding that title will tell you that every team in the league was well aware of potential candidates for next year while making their choices last weekend.
Our in-depth coverage and evaluation of these prospects will kick off next month. We'll review how they fared this spring as area scouts roamed the country to get updated size and workout numbers. But for now, here is a quick preview at some of the more interesting senior players who could become household names over the next 11 months.
A first look also will show that the senior class is lacking in early standouts at skill positions like running back, wide receiver and tight end. But it has a solid group of linemen on both sides of the ball and a few strong quarterbacks. The top-rated prospects at many key areas would be the well-known underclassmen, which we prefer not to include in rankings until they officially have declared for the draft.
Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville – Brohm rebounded from an early injury with a late-season flurry that could put him in contention for the Heisman Trophy and potential top overall pick in 2008. He comes from a football family and has shown the quick release and arm strength to dominate opposing defenses. Some evaluators have shown concern about him being something of a system quarterback, but if Brohm gets a few more reps under center and can show he is more mobile than the average pocket passer, it will go a long way toward disproving that notion. His Senior Bowl week will be closely monitored because he should be the top-rated senior QB entering those practices.
Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU – A late-season injury kept Dorsey, who likely would have been a top-15 to top-20 player in this year's draft, from declaring early after a strong junior campaign. He has ideal quickness, bulk and lower body strength to help collapse the pocket and draw double teams. Dorsey is a very hard guy to block thanks to that combination, and he plays with such good leverage that he still can make plays even when blocked off the snap. A stalwart like this who can control the line of scrimmage and even shows flashes of being a decent interior pass rusher is sure to be among the top 10 choices in next year's draft.
Jake Long, OT, Michigan – Many felt he would opt into the draft after last season because he had missed an earlier season due to a medical redshirt. Long has improved each year but will need to continue showing good footwork and the power to control his man at the point of attack and to finish off his blocks more consistently in order to remain the top-rated tackle in next year's draft. He is a little less athletic than Joe Thomas, and initial evaluations of him entering last season led some area scouts to believe he will be best suited to play right tackle at the next level.
Dan Connor, LB, Penn State – Connor is an ultra-active, very athletic linebacker who could be this year's Butkus Award winner, as well as a high first-round choice. He was considered the best pro prospect on the Nittany Lions defensive unit a year ago thanks to his closing speed, big-play ability and hard-nosed style of play. His decision to return will be rewarded with him being seen as the top-rated 4-3 outside linebacker in next year's draft.
Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii – Brennan opted to return after making a run at last year's Heisman Trophy. He felt like he had at least earned a trip to New York, and the chance to chase the Heisman, plus get another year of tutelage from head coach June Jones, was enough for him to pass on what some felt would be a late-first round grade from the NFL. Brennan has a quick release, very strong arm and terrific mobility in the pocket. He is a tempo passer who still can struggle at times when he forces the ball, but another 500-plus pass attempts should really help increase his stock. Jones is convinced that he will be the best QB he has ever coached; college or pro, but the postseason will be very telling once scouts get to see him out of the wide-open Hawaii system.
Tony Hills Jr., OT, Texas – Many would have USC's Sam Baker, who is coming off a knee injury or Clemson's Barry Richardson, a mauler-type tackler, rated in this spot. But Hills has started the past 24 games for the Longhorns at left tackle and is one of the most athletic linemen in the country. At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, the former prep tight end has been timed at 4.92 to 4.98 in the 40-yard dash, and with long arms, he has the potential to dominate with improved upper body strength. Hills also was a top prep basketball player; his athleticism will lead him toward the top of next year's draft.
Lawrence Jackson, DE, USC – Jackson will play a great schedule and possesses the type of skill level, size and speed to be recognized as the best pass rushing defensive end in next year's draft. He had an inconsistent junior season, but with most of the team's top defenders returning, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound edge rusher should become a more dominant all-around defender this season.
Paul Oliver, CB, Georgia – Oliver is an ideal-sized defender who combines terrific man coverage and ball skills. He was tempted to declare early, but his decision to return for a senior campaign should pay off with him being the top-rated senior cornerback. He has the ability to turn and run with most receivers, and his long arms and height (6 feet) keep taller receivers from being able to push him around or out-jump him.
Early Doucet, WR, LSU – Doucet has the best combination of size, speed and play-making skills of the senior crop of receivers. That will allow him the opportunity to be among the top 20 picks of next year's draft. Oklahoma State's Adarius Bowman has excellent size and is coming off a very productive junior campaign, while Texas' Limas Sweed should draw comparisons to USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett.
Jasper Brinkley, LB, South Carolina – Brinkley has a similar skill set to Mississippi's Patrick Willis. In a conventional 4-3 scheme he brings the necessary size, toughness and instincts to become a team's leading tackler. He shows more range and straight-line speed than expected for a 6-foot-2, 258-pound inside linebacker. The SEC has continued to develop solid front seven defenders each year, and with another strong season this former junior college All-American surely will impress if he can improve his 4.60 40-time between now and next year's NFL combine. That would put him in prime consideration for the first round of the draft.
Next to be discovered (top small-school names):
Josh Johnson, QB, San Diego
Heath Benedict, OT, Newberry (S.C.)
Kerry Brown, OG, Appalachian State
Kendall Langford, DL, Hampton
Bobbie Williams, DB, Bethune-Cookman