Every year college football's top junior prospects are faced with the dilemma of choosing between staying in school one more year or going pro and entering the NFL draft.
For whatever reason, the 2008 junior class has become the most populated ever in draft history with 50 early entries. This influx of junior talent has caused NFL scouts to do a lot of extra homework in the months leading up to the draft, trying to grade out all the eligible junior players.
But now is the time when these underclassmen really start to make a push up NFL draft boards, and here is our list of the rapidly rising juniors in 2008.
Darren McFadden- Running Back Arkansas (6'2, 205)
A tremendous athlete with a rare blend of size and speed, McFadden possesses quick feet and a special burst at the line of scrimmage that allows him to hit the hole quickly and explode to the second level. He is the best overall talent in the 2008 draft, and he only confirmed his athletic ability at the combine. He looks like a lock for the top 10.
Vernon Gholston- Defensive End, Ohio State (6'4, 265)
An amazing physical specimen that showcases long arms and a good burst off the edge, Gholston has the speed to consistently threaten the corner as a pass rusher and does a good job disengaging from blocks against the run. A workout-warrior type who displayed amazing speed and strength at the Combine, Gholston's stock is definitely rising.
DeSean Jackson- Wide Receiver, California (6'0, 172)
A very natural athlete who is blessed with world-class speed and explosion, Jackson is a dynamic player in the open field with great shiftiness and agility to make people miss. He has a second gear that not many NFL players possess, and all he needs is a crease to take it the distance.
Branden Albert- Offensive Guard, Virginia, (6'7, 315)
Albert is a natural athlete who gets off the snap quickly and does a great job moving laterally. He's very flexible in his hips and is a natural knee-bender, who does a nice job dipping and staying low for a man of his dimensions. He is a phenomenal athlete for the position and has the feet and quickness to actually play tackle in the NFL. He just looks so natural pulling around the line of scrimmage as a lead blocker; it's hard to find a guy his size who can move with such grace and agility.
Jonathan Stewart- Running Back, Oregon (5'11, 230)
Stewart demonstrates a great blend of speed, power and quickness for a frame his size. He plays with good leverage and forward lean when hitting the hole, and he is a load to bring down. He possesses very strong legs and finishes his runs hard. Stewart's an absolute workhorse who will be able to pound the ball 20-25 times between the tackles in the NFL.
Rashard Mendenhall- Running Back, Illinois (5'11, 210)
A strong, physical runner who plays with a low pad level, Mendenhall possesses good lateral quickness and has the ability to make a man miss and change directions quickly. He has good vision at the line and does a nice job picking his way through traffic while keeping his feet moving. He takes very short, choppy steps and has very good balance, making him extremely tough to tackle if you don't wrap up.
James Hardy- Wide Receiver, Indiana (6'5, 218)
Hardy displays an outstanding blend of size and athleticism. He has good short area quickness and shows decent sharpness as a route runner. Hardy's a long strider, and it takes him awhile to get up to full speed. But he is a menace to defend in the red zone and on jump balls. He performed a lot better than expected at the Combine and showed teams he has some deep speed, posting a 4.47 time in the forty.
Martellus Bennett- Tight End, Texas A&M (6'7, 255)
Bennett flashes the straight-line speed to threaten the seam, works hard after the catch and is a load to bring down. He's still learning the nuances as a receiver but is a complete TE who takes a lot of pride in his blocking. Bennett demonstrates good power as an in-line blocker and will give you just as much in the run game as he does in the passing game.
Phillip Merling- Defensive End, Clemson (6'5, 272)
A good-looking defensive end with a strong upper body and a nice combination of burst and lateral mobility, Merling has a good motor and makes a lot of plays in pursuit. He has a good first step off the edge and displays good awareness, as he is always the first defensive lineman moving off the snap. H is at his best on the move where he can use his explosive sudden step to slip blocks and make plays in the backfield.
Pat Sims- Defensive Tackle, Auburn (6'3, 310)
Sims possesses very good feet and change of direction skills at the line of scrimmage. He's a natural athlete, who plays with good knee bend and power in the lower body with the ability to get penetration while beating the double team. He lacks some awareness off the snap, but he has the ability to play as a one-gap or two-gap tackle in the NFL. He demonstrates a strong frame and does a nice job anchoring and holding the point of attack when run at. He looked more athletic than scouts expected at the Combine, especially when he posted a 5.08 time in the forty.
Ray Rice- Running Back, Rutgers (5'9, 200)
Rice is a bit undersized but is a very tightly wound running back. He plays with good balance and shows excellent foot speed to change directions quickly. He's a natural cutback runner with terrific peripheral vision to see the cutback lane and explode laterally in an instant. He runs well behind his pads and plays with good leverage and power for a man his size. He performed as well as any back at the Combine during position drills, looking very fluid and natural in and out of his cuts.
Devin Thomas- Wide Receiver, Michigan State (6'2, 215)
Thomas showcases a nice package of size, speed and quickness and is a big play waiting to happen. He has excellent foot quickness and is tough to bring down in the open field. He has the deep speed to run by defenders with the frame and body control to go up and win jump balls. He's a natural athlete who is learning the nuances of the position and is still raw as a route runner, but he possesses very good body control and does a nice job extending his arms and plucking balls away from his body.
Justin King- Cornerback, Penn State (6'0, 186)
A cornerback who is blessed with blazing speed (4.31), King has no problem at all running with receivers down the field. He has a good hip turn and is a very flexible athlete who doesn't lose any speed in his transition. He displays good lateral mobility and good burst in and out of cuts. King struggles in bump coverage re-routing receivers and lacks the physical make up to keep receivers from getting inside of him consistently, however.
DaJuan Morgan- Safety, N.C. State (6'1, 205)
Morgan breaks down well at the point of attack and is a strong wrap up tackler. He has good range in the secondary and gets his hands on a lot of balls. He could have used another year to polish some rough edges, but he has jumped toward the top of a weak ‘08 safety class and looks like a first day pick.
Chilo Rachal- Offensive Guard, USC (6'5, 315)
Rachal is a good athlete who gets out of his stance quickly and plays with good flexibility in his knees. He has good foot quickness and power with the ability to hold the point of attack in the run game. A very solid player who is starting to move up draft boards thanks to a very strong Combine, Rachal definitely has the ability to play in the NFL for a long time.
Jonathan Dingle- Defensive End, West Virginia (6'3, 270)
A real lunch pale, blue-collar guy who has a strong lower body and plays with a great motor, Dingle lacks elite burst outside to threaten the corner but has good body control and long arms to work inside and disengage from blockers as an interior pass-rusher. He could be a nice fit as a DE in a 3-4 scheme somewhere at the end of day one.
Orlando Scandrick- Cornerback, Boise State (5'11, 188)
Scandrick is a physically underdeveloped corner who needs to add strength and bulk to his frame to hold up in the NFL. He is blessed with long arms, has great straight-line speed and really turned some heads with a 4.33 time at the combine, however. He showed decent bend and fluidity in position drills, and he has the ability to run with NFL receivers down the field. He has good instincts in zone coverage, with the burst to break well on the ball.
Franklin Dunbar-Offensive Tackle, Middle Tennessee State (6'5, 330)
The small school prospect from Middle Tennessee State has good size and power for the position with a nice tall frame and thick lower body. Dunbar lacks consistent lateral mobility and technique but is an ideal RT. He did hold up well vs. Virginia DE Chris Long this year and even showed the strength and power to push him around a bit in the run game.
Wes Bunting has been mentored by some of the brightest minds in NFL scouting, names such as GMJR President and former Cleveland Browns scout Russ Lande, former Coordinator of the Year Marc Trestman, 31-year NFL and college football scout Joe Butler and Sports Xchange President and longtime NFL scout Frank Cooney.
Rapidly Rising Juniors
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