NFL-prospect Notes: Goings and Leavings
Offensively there has been a lot of chatter in scouting circles as several top underclassmen prospects are deciding their next more. Two just happen to be quarterbacks.
It is common belief that USC passer Matt Leinart will enter the draft. Commanding a team that will be playing for a national title in January, Leinart's advisors have given every indication he will make his announcement to leave for the draft immediately after the Orange Bowl. Leinart will then be one of the first two players selected.
The situation surrounding Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a bit more complicated and tied in with his head coach, Jeff Tedford. One of the hottest coaching prospects in America right now, Tedford's decision whether or not to stay in Berkley will dictate if Rodgers remains in college for another season. A source in the Bay area has told us with great confidence both will leave for "greener" pastures yet remain together. How? Tedford presently has the inside track to the Niners head-coaching job as his cerebral approach to the game and offensive genius has many in the organization harkening back to the days of Bill Walsh. San Francisco will likely end up with a top three pick in next April's draft as well, which they hope to use to acquire Rodgers. Especially if Tedford is running the show.
There is a lot of news coming from the running back position, especially when it involves the topic of underclassmen. DeAngelo Williams of Memphis, T.A. McLendon of North Carolina State and Eric Shelton of Louisville are all expected to enter the draft in what is becoming a running back rich selection process. Add in Oklahoma State's Vernand Morency and Florida's Ciatrick Fason, (having a sensational season and very upset Gator coach Ron Zook was fired) and the position just gets stronger.
One top running back prospect still very much on the fence is Frank Gore of Miami. Gore is struggling with his decision and getting advice from many as to what his next move should be. Even his former high-school football coach is guiding the talented Hurricane ball carrier. What is the thought process in the Gore camp? If he tops the 1000-yard mark and performs well in the post-season (specifically the Sugar Bowl if Miami is selected) Gore will throw his hat into the ring.
The big story from the receiver position was seemingly not even reported. Several weeks ago wide out Mike Williams signed with a new agent who promptly announced that his new client was back at USC attending class and working out to prepare for next February's combine. Nothing was further from the truth. Several sources told us Williams was neither going to class nor working out. In fact is the big pass catcher was doing more hanging out then anything else. Williams recently made a cross-country trip to the state of Georgia where he is now reportedly working out in preparation for next April's draft.
It's too bad Eric Winston suffered a season ending knee injury in early October. We previously reported Winston was ready to enter the draft and would have been a top 15 pick. Seems we short-changed the big tackle as several teams had Winston slated to be the first lineman selected somewhere between picks 8-to-12. Right now Winston has publicly stated he will return to Miami for his senior campaign but has privately told sources should he be a "guaranteed" first round pick he would then definitely consider leaving for the draft. His injury not as serious as first thought and the game plan is to keep Winston out of spring practice, instead having him work on conditioning...assuming he stays in Coral Gables.
Another Miami prospect planning on staying for his senior campaign with the Hurricanes is defensive tackle Orien Harris. Though big things were expected from the junior this year Harris is quietly having a disappointing campaign and has privately been told his stock is slipping.
One whose ranking is going in the other direction is Oregon's Haloti Ngata. The big junior tackle is having a solid campaign and Duck coaches are planning for life without him next season, expecting Ngata will enter the draft. This comes on the heels of two Duck defensive tackles, junior Igor Olshansky and Junior Siavii, being selected with the 35th and 36th selections last April.
Another defensive lineman who is looking at the success of a former college teammate is Boston College's Mathias Kiwanuka. One scout told us he believes Kiwanuka is the most underrated prospect in the nation, something we totally agree with. Look for the big defensive end to enter the draft and become a top five choice next April.
Two highly rated junior defensive backs are also expected to enter the draft.
Clemson's Justin Miller, one of the nation's better shutdown corners and a game breaking return specialist, could announce relatively soon that he will enter the draft. Miller was heavily leaning towards leaving Clemson prior to this weekend's rivalry contest against South Carolina. The events which took place, including the university's self-banishment from post-season play, has just about sealed Miller's decision to leave for the NFL.
Tennessee Volunteer defensive back Jason Allen is also leaning towards entering the draft.