Underclassmen making mad rush for 2006 draft

A lot has happened since Monday and most of it has been surprising. Marginal underclassmen who project as late-round picks or worse have decided to make the jump to the NFL. What is causing a near record number of juniors to pin their hopes on next April's draft, and are there many coming out that can help the 49ers?

Two more North Carolina State juniors are out the door and to the NFL. Offensive tackle Derek Morris is set to leave even though the advisory committee projected him as late as the fifth round. Defensive tackle John McCargo is also leaving though he missed the final five games of the season with a broken foot. Considered the team's most consistent defensive lineman, McCargo could slide into the late part of the draft's first day if healthy.

TCU receiver\return specialist Cory Rogers declared for the draft late yesterday. The game-breaking wideout leaves TCU after tying Mike Renfro's school-record 17 career touchdown catches. A dynamic return man, he averaged 30.3 yards on 17 kick returns, bringing two back for touchdowns. Rogers also averaged 15.3 yards on 19 punt returns. A tall, slim wideout, Rogers is someone we spoke at length about during our pre-season report on the Horned Frogs yet is not a prospect we feel is NFL ready, and thus is not a candidate for the 49ers, who are looking for immediate help in both areas.

Derrick Martin, a cornerback prospect from Wyoming with loads of upside, has also declared for the draft. A second-team All-Mountain West Conference selection as a sophomore, Martin's play was uninspired last season and many scouts were surprised the junior left for the draft. Martin himself admitted '05 was a down year telling reporters, "the reason I didn't play well this past year was because I took a few plays off. I had a few injuries, stuff like that." The Niners will look at his upside potential, but don't expect them to bite unless it's at the very tail end of the draft.

Receiver D.J. Smith of Idaho opted to forego his senior season and is making himself available for the NFL draft. Citing family concerns as the reason for leaving, Smith caught 67 passes for 1,001 yards and seven touchdowns last year. A second team All-WAC player, he set an UI record for most receiving yards in a game with 269 on 11 catches against UNLV last September 10th. The 49ers will take a long look at all viable WR candidates.

One who won't be entering the draft is Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny. Winner of the Butkus Award as the country's top linebacker, Posluszny partially tore two ligaments in his right knee during the Nittany Lions' triple-overtime victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. He will need six to eight weeks of rehabilitation but could be ready when spring practice starts in late March.

One league source told us to expect the floodgates to open soon as the NFL expects a record number of underclassmen, most of whom will not be drafted, to enter the April selection process.

That's good news for the 49ers, though, as the more draftable prospects in the lottery increases their chances of getting better players at the high end of each round. San Francisco has nine picks in this year's draft, and will pick either sixth or seventh in each round on a rotating basis with the Oakland Raiders.

The 49ers and Raiders will flip a coin before the NFL Combine next month to determine who gets the sixth pick in the first round. The loser of that toss will pick sixth in the second round, with the team's flip-flopping positions in each ensuing round.

The reason so many underclassmen are making a run for this year's draft?

It's probably the speculative "rookie-salary cap" rumored to be a part of the next collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA. Sources have told us some agents are telling underclassmen it is in their best interest to leave for the NFL now, before a new CBA is agreed upon, with the reason being that a "rookie salary cap" would restrict their earning capacity during the early years. That won't happen to the draft class of 2006.

The problem with that is there currently is no rookie salary cap seriously being considered. While the present CBA designates each team a rookie-pool to sign first-year players, sources have told us their is no plan to implement a rookie salary cap.

All underclassmen must formerly declare for the draft by this Sunday in order to be eligible for selection.

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