ESPN Insider's Underclassmen Eyeing NFL DeadlineTuesday, January 4, 2005
By Todd McShay
The majority of the first round of the upcoming draft has been decided following Week 17 in the NFL. San Francisco already was locked into the top pick, but we now know the Dolphins will select at No. 2 and the Browns at No. 3.
It is ridiculously early to be making any projections, but considering team needs and the potential top draft prospects, there's a good chance the 49ers will have a difficult decision to make between USC's Matt Leinart and Cal's Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers announced Monday that he will skip his senior season to enter the draft.
The Dolphins and Browns could both be looking at quarterbacks, and the Dolphins also will be in the market for a running back following the Ricky Williams saga. As a result, Leinart, Rodgers and one of the top running backs (Auburn's Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams, and Texas's Cedric Benson) could be the first three picks of the 2005 draft.
Back to the future
The NFL draft rumor mill is spinning out of control. Underclassmen are returning home from bowl games this week to find letters from the NFL's special advisory committee sitting in their mailbox. With two weeks to mull over the information prior to the league's Jan. 15 deadline, some players are beginning to tip their hand.
# Sources close to the University of Georgia tell us that ILB Odell Thurman already has made the decision to forfeit his final year and has signed with an agent. His teammate OG Max Jean-Gilles is in the final stages of making his decision, and is currently deciding between two agents for representation.
Thurman's decision is understandable because this year's ILB class is weak in terms of talent at the top of the draft. His best move may have been to return to school next year, after missing games early in the season due to a suspension, but he finished the season strong and should come off the board in the second or third round.
Jean-Gilles could be making a mistake in our opinion. Not only could he improve his physical skills and technique by returning to Athens for his senior season, but he has also picked a year in which the OG class is abnormally strong. Virginia's Elton Brown, Mississippi's Marcus Johnson and Michigan's David Baas are all late first- and second-round prospects.
# The other rumor circulating is that Florida ILB Channing Crowder is indeed going to follow teammate Ciatrick Fason to the NFL. Like Thurman, Crowder will benefit from a weak ILB class, but after missing several games due to injury and suspension, Crowder did not come close to maximizing his potential as an NFL prospect.
The departure of Ron Zook played a huge role in Crowder's decision. In our opinion, he would be better served by playing under Urban Meyer for one year while improving his size, strength and flexibility.
# Heisman Trophy finalist Alex Smith announced Tuesday that he's leaving Utah a year early for the NFL draft. With head coach Urban Meyer departing for Florida, and Smith coming off one his finest performances on a national stage, the decision to "strike while the iron is hot" seems like the right one for Smith.
Despite his lack of ideal bulk (203 pounds) and arm strength, Smith is still a first-day prospect. His intelligence, athletic ability, tall frame, accuracy and competitiveness make him an attractive prospect.
The other rumor involving the Utes is that WR Steve Savoy is planning on making the leap, but only if Smith does first. Savoy is only a sophomore, but is eligible because he spent a year at prep school before enrolling at Utah. He notched 60 receptions and 11 touchdowns this season and has to figure his draft stock will never be higher, especially if Smith isn't around to distribute the ball.
# Oklahoma State RB Vernand Morency said he will forgo his senior season with the Cowboys to enter the NFL draft. The third-leading rusher in the Big 12 this season, Morency already has submitted his paperwork to the NFL and signed a standard representation agreement with agents Drew and Jason Rosenhaus of Miami.
# There isn't a program in the country with more at stake concerning underclassmen decisions than Virginia. Head coach Al Groh and his staff have done as good a recruiting job as any in college football over the last three seasons, but that success also is accompanied by the problem of keeping those elite players around for four full seasons.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and OLB Darryl Blackstock reportedly plan on returning to Charlottesville. Conversely, I continue to hear that ILB Ahmad Brooks and TE Heath Miller are leaning toward departing.
Both Brooks and Miller could very easily be the first players taken at their respective positions. Brooks should be a top-15 pick and Miller is most likely to come off the board in the bottom half of the first round.
# It came as no surprise that West Virginia WR Chris Henry announced following the Gator Bowl loss to Florida State that he would skip his final season of collegiate eligibility.
Henry is a 6-4, 210-pound playmaker with the physical tools of a first-round draft pick. However, his immaturity and unpolished play are red flags to decision makers in the NFL who don't want to risk big money on a potential problem.
# Boston College DE Mathias Kiwanuka and Notre Dame DE Justin Tuck both appear to be wavering in their decisions. Kiwanuka is a physical phenom with terrific athleticism at 6-7, 255 pounds. He has been one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the country, with 19.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks this season. However, he is still an unpolished player who could improve his value by returning for another season.
If Kiwanuka gets a strong consensus that he will be selected in the first round, which I think should absolutely be the case, he has hinted he will make himself available for the upcoming draft. Tuck was expected to leave after this season prior to the announcement of Charlie Weis as Notre Dame's new head coach.
I still hear that Tuck is leaning heavily toward making the leap to the NFL, but he wants to take more time to ponder his decision. Tuck thinks Weis could be a valuable asset to him a year from now because of his experience and connections in the NFL as a long-time offensive coordinator under Bill Belichick.
Scouts Inc.'s Top 32
RANK NAME POS CLASS SCHOOL PREV
1. Matt Leinart QB JR USC 3
2. Aaron Rodgers QB JR Cal-Berkeley 1
3. Braylon Edwards WR SR Michigan 6
4. Ronnie Brown RB SR Auburn 4
5. Cedric Benson RB SR Texas 5
6. Derrick Johnson OLB SR Texas 9
7. Mike Williams WR JR USC 7
8. Carnell Williams RB SR Auburn 8
9. Ahmad Brooks ILB JR Virginia 11
10. Antrel Rolle DC SR Miami-FL 10
11. Erasmus James DE SR Wisconsin 12
12. Travis Johnson DT SR Florida State 13
13. Adam Jones DC JR West Virginia 14
14. Thomas Davis DS JR Georgia 15
15. Dan Cody DE SR Oklahoma 19
16. Alex Barron OT SR Florida State 18
17. David Pollack DE SR Georgia 17
18. DeAngelo Williams RB JR Memphis 16
19. Matt Roth DE SR Iowa 21
20. Mathias Kiwanuka DE JR Boston College 24
21. Ciatrick Fason RB JR Florida 22
22. Marcedes Lewis TE JR UCLA 20
23. Corey Webster DC SR LSU NR
24. Heath Miller TE JR Virginia 23
25. Justin Miller DC JR Clemson 26
26. Rodrique Wright DT JR Texas 27
27. Mark Clayton WR SR Oklahoma 28
28. Carlos Rogers DC SR Auburn 29
29. Marlin Jackson DC SR Michigan 30
30. Jammal Brown OT SR Oklahoma 31
31. Marcus Spears DE SR LSU 32
32. Eric Green DC SR Virginia Tech NR