big running back and hybrid pass rusher ****************** ESPN.com news services Louisville: Running back Eric Shelton has decided to give up his senior season to make himself eligible for the NFL draft in April, ESPN.com's Pat Forde has learned. Shelton rushed for 938 yards, a 6.4-yard average, with 20 rushing touchdowns, helping Louisville to a one-loss season and a Liberty Bowl victory. Shelton also had six catches for 35 yards this past season. Maryland: Junior linebacker/defensive end Shawne Merriman, one of the ACC leaders in sacks and tackles for loss over the past two seasons, will bypass his senior season of eligibility to enter the 2005 NFL draft, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli has learned. Merriman, who has filed the pertinent paperwork with the league, will announce his decision Wednesday. He met with Ralph Friedgen on Tuesday and has the blessing of the Terps head coach. "It's something I had been thinking about for a long time," said Merriman, a fierce pass rusher who posted 8½ sacks each of the last two seasons. "In terms of talking it out with my family and stuff, I kind of made the decision on my own, but I've got great support." Merriman did participate in the evaluation service offered to underclass players by the NFL, in which personnel directors and scouts review him and make an assessment of his potential draft status. Their recommendation was that Merriman figures to be a first- or second-round selection. Part of the appeal of Merriman, who is only 20 years old and checks in at 6-feet-4 and 262 pounds, is that he is the kind of hybrid "edge" player so many teams are seeking these days. Merriman played principally at linebacker but also lined up at defensive end in "nickel" situations. One scout said Tuesday night that he felt Merriman could play either of the outside linebacker spots or end in the NFL, and acknowledged that the Maryland standout is a "very rare" player. "He's a pup who should become a big dog," said the scout, who works for an AFC club, but who is precluded by league rules from discussing underclass players for attribution, until they are officially accepted into the draft pool.