Sizing up Harrison & Co.'s NFL draft outlook

JEROME HARRISON'S MONSTER 2005 season rocketed him from nowhere on most NFL draft boards to a projected late second- or early third-round choice. Scanning the early returns of a number of pundits who forecast the draft, the buzz on Harrison is increasingly positive but his size (5-9, 200) is a drawback. He'll have a chance to mitigate those doubts in a big way with a strong showing in the Jan. 28 Senior Bowl game -– and, more specifically, in the practices leading up to the game.

Scouts will document every move Harrison makes that week in Mobile, Ala. One analyst said Harrison's agility and break-away skills are enticing but wonders if his size prelcudes him from being an every-down type of back.

Among the top running backs available, most prognosticators rate Harrison between sixth and tenth. That would project him to go in the late second- or early third-round. Consensus Draft Services has Harrison ticketed to go to Green Bay with the fifth pick of the third round. NFLfans.com also sees Harrison going in the third and gives him a "draft value" of 61, which translates to "should definitely stick in pros -- may be a starter with some time to develop." They score him 9 out of 10 on athleticism and 8 out of 10 on speed.

There would be some irony if Harrison went in the early third round, because that's exactly where the man whose Cougar rushing records Harrison broke --- Rueben Mayes --- went back in the 1986 draft. Mayes was the second pick in that round, going to New Orleans --- where he proceeded to become NFL Rookie of the Year and earn two Pro Bowl berths.

USC'S REGGIE BUSH IS the top running back in this draft class -– and the likely No. 1 pick overall. DeAngelo Williams (Memphis), Laurence Marony (Minnesota) and LenDale White (USC) are other RBs considered sure-fire first rounders.

Aside from the Senior Bowl, Harrison will have a chance to impress pro scouts first-hand at one of the national combines and perhaps in a "pro day" visit to campus. The consensus first-team All-American also had been picked to play in the East-West Shrine Game, but decided to bow out of that one and focus his energies on the Senior Bowl.

TWO OTHER COUGS ARE pegged to be late-round draft selections: center Nick Mihlhauser and tight end Troy Bienemann. Linebacker Will Derting was also in the late-round category, but decided to undergo ACL ligament replacement surgery two weeks ago. That means his shot at the NFL will have to wait another year.

Cougar head coach Bill Doba said there's a chance Derting could still get drafted come April and then rehab with an NFL squad, but more likely he'll sign as a free agent in 2007.

However, Derting still will attend an upcoming NFL combine along with Harrison and Bienemann. He can still do some drills, such as the bench press, and talk with NFL scouts.

Derting, once pegged by The Sporting News to be drafted in the late first- or early second round, injured his knee in Week Four at Oregon State. He came back for a handful of plays in the last two games of the season but Doba said his ligament was "about one-third there." The knee was scoped following the season and evaluated by doctors two weeks later.

"The knee was pretty loose," said Doba. "And so they made the decision, he and Dr. (Ed) Tingstad and his family made the decision to go ahead and have the reconstruction."

Doba said Derting's recovery is ahead of schedule and he feels good. "His goal is to play in the NFL, and I'm sure he'll get the chance," said Doba.

NOTABLE NOTES:
* Mihlhauser, rated the 12th-best center prospect by Football.com, will play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 21. For the first time in eight decades, the game --- whose creator was none other than former Cougar coach Babe Hollingbery --- won't be in San Francisco. It's moving to San Antonio. And speaking of former Cougar coaches, the Shrine Game's player selection committee includes Jim Walden.

* Bienemann is listed the eighth-best tight end available by DraftDaddy.com, No. 10 by NFLfans.com and No. 16 by Football.com. The disparty could stem from the respective outlooks on the knee injury Bienemann suffered in Week 10 against Oregon.

* The Senior Bowl has a couple of deep connections to WSU. Former Cougar QB Mark Rypien is a member of the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame and former Cougar All-American guard Dan Lynch is the only player in history to have played in two Senior Bowls (he was granted a fifth year of eligibility after playing in the 1984 game and then returned in 1985 following his second senior season). WSU secondary coach Ken Greene, who would become a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals, played in the 1978 Senior Bowl. The first-ever Cougars to play in the game were Chuck Morrell and Bill Steiger, standouts on Jim Sutherand's stellar Cougar teams of the late 1950s.

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