· The 2008 NFL Draft class has the potential to be the most elite running back class ever assembled — that is if the top underclassmen declare. University of Central Florida standout Kevin Smith, who's one of the nation's spectacular underclassmen, has an opportunity to surpass Oklahoma State legend Barry Sanders in the record books. On Saturday, Smith had 39 carries for 284 yards and four touchdowns against Tulsa, which brought his season rushing total to 2,448 yards on 415 carries and 29 touchdowns. He's just 180 yards behind Sanders with one game remaining; UCF's appearance in this year's Liberty Bowl. When an underclassman at the running back position produces record-breaking numbers, it's almost certain he'll enter the draft. But nothing is certain that Smith will forego his senior season and be lured away by NFL millions. However, if he's tempted to test his skills at the next level, he's a mid-to-late first-round selection.
· Hawaii is known for its high-powered offense, but no one talks about their defense. The Warriors have two outstanding junior linebackers, Adam Leonard and Solomon Elimimian. At 6-foot, 218 pounds, Elimimian is an undersized outside linebacker who's a tackling machine. He's a rangy player who reads the action well and attacks the opposition. He has 127 tackles (65 solo, 62 assisted), 10.5 for a loss, and 1.5 sacks this season. But Leonard, who stands at 6-foot, 236-pounds is an even more impressive prospect. He's a tremendously skilled all-around player who's instinctive against the run and shows great awareness in coverage. He has 100 tackles (50 solo, 50 assisted), 12.0 for a loss, two sacks, and four interceptions. Elimimian and Leonard have promising futures, but should return to Hawaii for their senior seasons.
LB Curtis Lofton
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· Oklahoma junior middle linebacker Curtis Lofton has been a consistent force all season for the Sooners. At 6-foot, 238 pounds, Lofton has emerged as a playmaking linebacker who has the ability to change the pace of a game. He immediately reads the action, takes good angles in pursuit and wraps up the opposition. He plays with a high motor and positions himself well to make a play. He drops well in coverage and has good ball skills. Lofton played a huge role in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday night, finishing with nine tackles, three for a loss, an interception, and a sack as the Sooners knocked off top- ranked Missouri 38 –17. Lofton plays at middle linebacker for the Sooners, but his future at the next level resides at the weakside linebacker position. Even though Lofton had 142 tackles, 9.5 for a loss, a sack, and three interceptions in 13 games this season, he should stay in school for his senior season and improve his draft stock for the 2009 draft.
· A player that had really improved his game this season is UCLA FS Dennis Keyes. Keyes has ideal size, standing at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, for a free safety at the next level. He takes good angles in coverage and uses his size to muscle-up the opposition. He has a good burst and has improved his run defense and tackling technique. Keyes led the Bruins in tackles this season with 106 (68 solo, 38 assisted), four of which went for a loss. In addition to his improved tackling, Keyes improved his coverage skills, and it has paid off this season with his three interceptions. In his last three games, Keyes amassed 36 tackles and an interception, including his 19-tackle performance against the Trojans this past weekend. Keyes is a mid-to-late round selection, unless he improves his forty-time during the offseason.
· Everyone is looking for the next Devin Hester, a playmaker whot can strike fear in the opposition on special teams. One player that has gone under the radar in the WAC, but has produced impressive numbers, is Utah State senior Kevin Robinson. The 6-foot, 200-pound Robinson is a threat on special teams anytime he touches the ball. He's fielded 20 punts for 378 yards (18.9 YPR) and a touchdown, as well as returning 43 kickoffs for 1,260 yards (29.3 YPR) and three touchdowns. Robinson also led the Aggies in receiving with 55 receptions for 640 yards and five touchdowns. He's not a burner like Hester, but he has a unique blend of good speed (4.48, 40-time), sure hands, quick feet, and excellent vision that makes him a dynamic player who'll receive fifth- to sixth-round consideration.
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.