With a possible lockout for the 2010 season looming expect to see a record number of juniors and red shirt sophomores declare for the 2009 college draft. The uncapped season would allow the NFL to institute a rookie wage scale and fearing the loss a significant bonus dollars, look for many top and borderline first day players, to take their chances with the current rookie friendly system
Quietly, I would have to say that many scouting staffs and college directors throughout the league are welcoming these underclassmen since potential first round candidates among the senior class appear to be few and far between.
Granted a number of high profile junior prospects decided to forego their senior season and enter the 2008 draft, but unless a significant number of underclassmen enter this spring's draft, look for many established clubs within the league to move as many mid to late round selections as possible in exchange for future draft selections and or established veteran players.
Lets take a quick look at this year's crop of senior offensive prospects and I'll give you my thoughts on which of thses people I believe are the top prospects for next springs player draft.
I didn't think I saw a center who I would consider in round number one although there were a good number of possible first day selections at the position. Max Unger of Oregon U, California' Alex Mack and possibly Jonathan Luigs of the U. of Arkansas are all good football players, but I just don't see any of them as first round selections.
LSU guard Herman Johnson may well be the biggest man I've ever seen in all my years in the game of football. Weighing in at an amazing eighteen pounds at birth, he is said to be the largest baby born in the state of Louisiana and quite possibly the entire United States! He's not pretty in terms of movement nor was he particularly nifty in space, but as a pass blocker, absolutely nobody at any level is going to consistently bull rush him and it may take them about two plays just to run around him! I don't think he's a top round guy, but I do think he's going to play and play quickly. I loved the way he finished people in a limited area and when he got his hands on you, the game was over. Duke Robinson of the U of Oklahoma is another big wide body, who needs to become more overall consistent in his play and a far better finisher. He does have a good deal of talent (movement, feet and power), but I believe he should have been a far more dominant football player. His backside effort left much to be desired. Duke in my opinion has top round potential in terms of playing skills, but I'm really concerned about the way he consistently shut it down prior to the whistle. University of Cincinnati guard Trevor Canfield looked to me more like a free agent prospect than the third rated offensive guard in the country coming into the 2008 season. He's on the ground far too frequently and had very limited efficiency off the line of scrimmage.
Based on my exposure, I'd have to say that the offensive tackle position is one of the deepest in terms of quality that I viewed during the 2008 college season.
Eugene "The Blocking Machine" Monroe is a pretty special player with explosiveness, feet, body balance and consistency. The New Jersey product is a natural left tackle who should play quickly. I see him as a sure fire top round selection within the league. Michael Oher is an American success story. Virtually living on the streets, he and his brother were adopted and raised by a very well to do family who have virtually changed his life. In terms of skills, I saw foot quickness, playing range, good hand use and outstanding size, but he's not a big finisher as a run blocker and most importantly I thought he played a tad stiff legged. A lot of people associated with the program (both the new and old staff), have questioned his toughness, motivation and overall work habits. How important is the game to him is still anyone's guess, but rest assured by the time the NFL draft comes around every team psychologist will have the answer to these very important questions. There are some questions, but overall I didn't see much I didn't like about this players skills set or playing potential. Jason Smith is another very athletic individual with quickness, body control, feet and range. I would like to have seen him working out of a three point stance with more regularity, but I really liked his pass sets, hand use and recoveries were solid. He's a very good athlete, but I also believe he still needs better playing strength and to improve his run blocking skills (finish).
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew of Oklahoma State, quite obviously has a big league body and a tremendous amount of athletic ability. Although I didn't think he was a natural route runner, I like the way he addressed and caught the football. After the catch, he's a real load who can break secured tackles and run away from people. As a run blocker, I thought he really flashed some special skills, but again is going to have to become more consistent in this area. In spite of missing time (three games due to a high ankle sprain) and not having top play production, I believe in a pro system, Brandon has a chance to become a real play maker. I would like to see him in an All-Star game, but if I were in the market for a tight end, I don't believe you could find a better one in the upcoming player draft. Chase Coffman is as fine a receiving tight end, or should I say slot receiver, as I have seen in some time, but from the outset I don't think he can run a lick nor have I ever seen him called upon to block anyone in their system of play. In actuality, I can't remember ever seeing him in a three point stance! Chase is a highly skilled receiving prospect and a class act off the field, but I don't think he's any better than a mid to late third round selection within the league.
For the second season in a row the wide receiver position was particularly disappointing. University of Florida wide receiver Louis Murphy has the size and track speed you look for, but he did not run to near his track times on the football field, did not have what I would consider soft hands, showed little in the way of creativity after the catch and I just didn't see him win consistently when competing for contested balls. He sure is pretty in a uniform, but based on what I saw in 2008, I'd be hard pressed to consider him on day one. Aaron Kelly from Clemson U has ideal size and is the ACC all time leading career receiver, but he also lacks the speed to separate and I thought he dropped far too many catchable balls. Juaquin Iglesias from the University of Oklahoma has made some big game changing plays this season. He shows vertical speed and also impressed me with his deep ball adjustment skills. I would like to know more about his route running skills, hands and what he does away from the football before talking about him as a top round selection, but I've liked what I've seen to this point. Derrick Williams of Penn State University looks like the closest thing to the real deal I've seen in 2008. He's got speed, is very versatile and is the most explosive kick off return man I've seen in quite some time. He needs some work on his route running (control and footwork), but in my opinion he is without question the most talented of all of the senior receiver I saw this season. I really liked his speed, size and athletic ability, but I'm just not sure at this stage if he's a natural catcher. Without conformation, I would be hard pressed to consider until round two or the top of three. Greg Carr of Florida State U. is a big, strong, football player with very good hands, but unlike his position namesakes former Giants Henry Carr and Roger Carr of the Baltimore Colts (boy, I'm starting to really date myself), he just doesn't have the juice and for that matter the quickness to become a top front line professional player.
The only quarterback I truly liked during the 2008 was Texas Tech record setting passer Graham Harrell. He's an extremely accurate passer, gets the ball out quickly, can make time in the pocket (excellent feel for the rush) and was as productive a player as I've seen in college football. I'm more then aware that the offensive system is statistically friendly, but the plays he made in critical situations (see Texas game in 08) over the past two years have made me a big believer in this player. I did think he was a little bouncy in the pocket and fell of too many throws, but this is an awfully good player and prospect. Senior Bowl week will be critical for this player, but I sure as hell wouldn't bet against this player becoming a very solid professional signal caller. Oh and by the way, in spite of the four letter sports network and the National newspaper, which have literally hijacked the Heisman Trophy award, he like Peyton Manning and Joe Hamilton before him, should have captured hands down captured the award this season. Sam Houston State quarterback Rhett Bomar was clearly the best freshman signal caller in the country four seasons ago as a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, but transferred after it was found that he was essentially being paid for a no show job. After two injury plagued season in Huntsville, Bomar had a truly outstanding 2008 season and with a solid post season performance (All-star game and or spring workouts) he could well become a very hot commodity prior to the draft. He can really spin the football and make plays in critical situations. Don't get me started on Hunter Cantwell. Hunter was ranked by one supposed draft expert with great hair, as the number one college quarterback in the land this past summer, but after viewing him in 2008 games versus Kentucky U., the University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia U. I would say his chances of being a top round selection are pretty much non-existent.
Last season no fewer than eight top rated running backs opted to forego their final season and enter the 2008 draft, leaving this year's senior class virtually void of legitimate top round selections. Clemson U running back James Davis, has been as productive a back as I've seen in the ACC over the past four seasons, but as a senior, I just didn't think he made consistently good running decisions, nor did I think his speed was first rate. I did think he caught the ball well and ran good routes, but he was a poor blocker and has put the ball on the ground more than I expected. Late in the season I was told that Davis played his entire senior year with a knocked down shoulder. That factor alone certainly restores much of the faith I previously had in this individual, but I still don't believe he has what it takes to be given top round consideration. Javon Ringer of Michigan State caught my eye last season, but I was very disappointed in his overall game in 2008. I really didn't see the necessary speed or running strength. On wide plays, I didn't think he got the corner consistently and in space didn't show the juice to run away from many second and third level defenders. Arian Foster of the U of Tennessee, sure looked the part physically and also caught the ball well in the flat, screens or down the field, but I just didn't think he was either very tough, physical or instinctive as a runner. I see him at best as a back up player in the professional ranks and a second day selection on draft day. Rashad Jennings of Liberty University by way of the University of Pittsburgh is a big back who looked to have good receiving skills, but in terms of overall playing skills, you just never see much in the way of consistency. I see him as a one shift runner who I thought should have hit it up inside and move the pile with more authority. Rather than the second rated back as he appeared in one online publication late in the season, based on his size, hands and adequate playing production, I see him as having a chance to factor. He certainly flashed some skils, but in order to merit early draft consideration in the NFL, a player at this level of competition needs to totally dominate. Overall I see him as no better than a mid to late league draft selection.