2008 NFL Draft Watch

Get the scoop on some of the emerging stars from the college ranks that your favorite NFL team could be scouting right now. NFL Draft Analyst Chris Steuber fills you in.

· This is the time of year for giving and receiving gifts, and that's exactly what Missouri's star junior quarterback Chase Daniel wants to receive an evaluation from the draft advisory board. Daniel, who led the Tigers to a 9–2 record, enjoyed a spectacular season where he completed 70 percent of his passes and threw for 4,170 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. That kind of production will generate a lot of interest from scouts at the next level. But Daniel is committed to staying at Missouri for his senior season — unless he receives something special, like a first-round grade.

· With the January 15th deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft still a month away, it's always interesting to see who will forego their senior season. Miami's star safety Kenny Phillips declared a couple of weeks ago, and he's a definite first-round selection. However, a surprising declaration came from Louisville's inconsistent but huge receiving target Mario Urrutia. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Urrutia can be a big-play wide receiver who can stretch the field, but he lacks focus and drops catchable passes. Battling injuries this past season caused him to miss four games, and he managed just 35 receptions for 501 yards (14.3 YPC) and three touchdowns. Urrutia would have benefited staying at Louisville for his senior season to continue his growth as a player, but with his intentions of entering the draft, he's no better than a fourth-round pick.

Clemson's Phillip Merling sacks Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

· The 2008 defensive draft class is already strong without the presence of the prospective underclassmen that may declare. But the infusion of underclassmen will only make the draft stronger. One player that has intriguing ability and is still developing is Clemson junior defensive end Phillip Merling. At 6-foot-5, 280-pounds, Merling is a tremendous run defender who makes plays in the backfield. He's quick off the snap, plays with leverage, and alters the opposition's offensive direction. He uses his hands effectively and has good range in pursuit. He has great balance, rarely gets knocked off his feet, and is fast off the edge. He's a durable defender who has started every game the last two seasons. Playing in all 12 games this season, Merling recorded 73 tackles (50 solo, 23 assisted), 16 for a loss and 6.5 sacks. If Merling declares for the draft, he'll receive Day One consideration and is a probable second-round selection.

· Former LSU running back Alley Broussard, who was a highly- touted high school recruit, had an interesting senior campaign. Broussard decided to leave the Tigers after looking at the depth chart in the backfield and noticing all the young talent that was vying for the starting job. After much consideration, Broussard stated that his heart was no longer in football and that he wanted to dedicate the fall semester to academics since he was to graduate in December. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound punishing runner never fully recovered from a season- ending right knee injury he suffered prior to the 2005 season. That insecurity filtered into him stating that football left his heart, but it returned a month later when he was expected to transfer to Division II power North Alabama. He was expected to report to North Alabama, but never showed up. Instead, he transferred to Missouri Southern State, a Division II school that competes in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. When the dust settled, Broussard became the starting running back at MSSU this season and played well. In 12 games, Broussard had 165 carries for 892 yards and 12 touchdowns. Broussard's football future will be decided this spring at the Combine. He will have to impress NFL executives during interviews and explain his comments that football left his heart, as well as his transfer situation.

· At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Tennessee defensive back Jonathan Hefney is a little big man playing the safety position. When he arrived at Tennessee, he started out as a cornerback before moving to safety as a sophomore. He's been playing both safety positions since that time and has been effective. But Hefney is no Bob Sanders and will not be drafted as a safety; he's going to have to play cornerback at the next level. There is only one Sanders, who's a 5-foot-8, 205-pound All-Pro dynamo playing safety for the Colts, and Hefney doesn't have the physical traits that are needed to last a full 16-game season. Although Hefney's durability at the collegiate level has been impressive, starting 49 of 50 games during his career, he won't last playing a physically demanding position, such as safety, in the NFL. Hefney's size will hurt his draft stock, but his attitude, speed, and versatility as a punt returner will be an added benefit that will make him a solid third-to-fourth round draft pick.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.

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