Southern California left tackle Matt Kalil is "set to return" for his senior season, a source close to the situation told NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang.
Kalil, 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, just finished his second season as the Trojans' starting left tackle. He earned first-team all Pac-12 honors and is rated by NFLDraftScout.com as the No. 3 overall prospect in the country. Though his older brother, Ryan, returned for his senior campaign at USC prior to the center being drafted in the second round of the 2007 draft by the Carolina Panthers, most expected Matt to leave early.
A high-ranking NFL scout confirmed that he'd heard Kalil was "definitely leaning towards returning" and that the decision surprised him and his scouting peers, as well.
"If he does indeed return, it would be a bit surprising. He's the top offensive tackle in the country. The senior class (at offensive tackle) is a weak group. At worst, he'd be looking at a top-10 pick. That fact alone would send most guys into the draft."
Kalil's remarkable combination of size and athleticism had kept the Dallas Cowboys' 2011 first-round pick, Tyron Smith, playing on the right side during his career with the Trojans. That didn't keep Jerry Jones and his staff from selecting Smith with the No. 9 overall pick.
Should Kalil return, it could set off of chain reaction pushing other talented USC underclassmen — including quarterback Matt Barkley — to shun the NFL and return for their senior seasons.
TOP WR BLACKMON TO ENTER DRAFT
Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon is NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated receiver for the 2012 NFL Draft, and he indicated he's ready to move on to the next level after the Cowboys play Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.
"I'm pretty sure that it will be (my last game)," Blackmon told ESPN.com.
A finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, Blackmon has 113 catches for 1,337 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
"I think it's just time," he said when asked why he's ready to turn pro. "It's that time to go. I came back last year to win a Big 12 championship, set us up for a BCS bowl and I think we did that."
NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang has Blackmon going No. 2 overall to St. Louis in his mock draft, but he'll have to put together solid on-field workouts and off-field interviews between now and the draft.
Blackmon has good size at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, is physical and has as strong a pair of hands as and receiver in the country. But he lacks great top-end speed, has a DUI arrest in 2010 and is fighting the history of former stud OSU receivers such as Adarius Bowman and Rashaun Woods who flamed out in the NFL.
Blackmon could find early success in the NFL using his physicality out of the slot on slants and crossing patterns, and he's a strong runner who can make defenders miss in the open field.
REGIONAL COMBINES COMING
The NFL launched eight regional combines that will feed into a Super Regional Combine, all supplementing the National Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and designed to give prospects and former pros who have been "out of the league for some time" a chance to be evaluated by NFL executives.
The National Scouting Combine is open to roughly 330 prospects each year. Players who aren't invited to that event most often use their on-campus testing day, known as pro days, to work out for pro football evaluators.
"The NFL Regional Combines program provides players — who may not have had the chance before — the opportunity to work out for NFL personnel executives," said NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson. "It allows all 32 clubs a chance to further evaluate future prospects."
The NFL will test and measure all qualifying prospects and players with college experience seeking to gauge their pro potential. Results will be entered into a database available to all 32 NFL teams, according to the league.
With the exception of the Jan. 28 event in Los Angeles, the regional workouts will take place at NFL team facilities in Houston (Feb. 4), Baltimore (Feb. 11), New York (Feb. 25), Chicago (March 3), Atlanta (March 10, 11) and Cleveland (March 17). The Super Regional Combine will be held in Detroit on March 30-31.
The NFL Scouting Combine, attended by coaches and scouts from all NFL teams, invites the top prospects to Indianapolis for agility drills, medical testing and interviews at Lucas Oil Stadium and the surrounding complex from Feb. 22-28.
Draft report: Top prospects give indications?
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