Underclass Bolsters Draft
With so much talent declaring for this April's draft, we have quickly gone from mediocre to fairly strong.  At the running back position alone, we have added possibly four first round picks and another two or three at receiver.  I would love to focus on every position, but the offensive skill positions were the most affected with nearly every top junior prospect throwing his name in the hat.

Going with running backs, it is hard to say which franchises will make that move but a plethora of options now exist.  Starting with Darren McFadden of Arkansas, this dynamic superstar in the waiting could go number one overall to Miami but will likely fall later in the top five.  A lightning quick back with an upright running style that mimics Eric Dickerson, he is likely to put up similar numbers.  A quarterback in high school, McFadden had the opportunity to run a version of the option game in college with fellow early entrant Felix Jones.  Jones, given the opportunity of an every down back, could have easily gained 2000 yards this year for the Razorbacks.  Yet, because he shared time, he was only able to gain over 1000 yards this year on nearly eight yards per carry.  Both Razorbacks could be off the board by the time the eight hour first round finally comes to a close. 

Focusing next on the Pac-10's leading rusher Jonathan Stewart, this Washington native made every Duck fan in the Pacific Northwest happy as hell when he chose Eugene over Pullman just three short years ago.  Stewart battled his way through injuries his first two years at Oregon before erupting in 2007 with nearly 1800 yards rushing (the pinnacle of the glimpses he had shown us early).  Stewart is a sure fire first round pick and should find himself somewhere in the top 15.  He is a dynamic total package back with a low to the ground running style on a beefed up frame.  He also has the ability to catch the football as well.  Stewart is going to make one GM look very smart come late April.  

Texas sprinter Jamaal Charles is next on the list.  A personal favorite of mine, Charles is blessed with world class speed but make no mistake, he is an every down back.  Jamaal is said to have run a blistering ten second 100 meters during track season.  Now that is fast!  If I was a GM (which I am not), I would not hesitate to go Jamaal, if I was a team like Seattle picking late in round one. 

Next, we move to the FBS leading rusher Kevin Smith who ran for over 2300 yards this past season for Central Florida.  Blessed with great feet and patience, there is no doubt this college workhorse can carry the load on Sundays.  Look for him to be gone late first round to mid second. The one thing that could hurt his stock is that he played in the weak Conference USA. 

Now we continue on to the Big East with a couple of preseason Heisman hopefuls with West Virginia's Steve Slaton and Rutgers’ Ray Rice.  With Slaton, you get a game breaking back that really fell off late in the season, thus hurting his stock immensely.  Yet, if you want to take a back in the late second or first part of the third round, Slaton is definitely your man.  Aside from low productivity, he may be labeled a system back as he played exclusively in a spread option attack and got beat out late in the year by rising star Noel Devine.  On to Ray Rice, Rutgers’ all-time leading rusher and a workhorse back, who played in an effective pro style offense for Greg Schiano.  This guy Rice is a power back with a compact running style.  He has the ability to stay patient and seemingly always falls forward for the extra yards--an excellent value late in round two. 

Next, we get to the Big Ten offensive player of the year in Rashard Mendenhall from Illinois. He would have been a sure fire first round pick next year and could slip in late if he shows well at the combine.  He would have had one more year under his belt, but he sat behind Saints’ running back Pierre Thomas for two seasons.  This kid has the total package and should be quite successful at the next level. 

The last of the early entrants at running back is James Davis of Clemson fame.  I was surprised when I saw his name on the list, but you cannot blame him for dreaming of NFL riches.  He should be a day two pick as he was a consistent between the tackles runner and the thunder to the lightning quick C.J. Spiller.  On a side note, it will be entertaining, at least to me, to see if Spiller can be a primary back next year for what should be a very good Tigers team. 

Running backs aside, we move to a very talented receiving group to look at come April. Starting in the Big 12 Conference with my new number one receiver overall, we get Malcolm Kelly from Oklahoma.  Though he missed quite a bit of time due to injuries, he will definitely be a top fifteen pick.  At 6’4” and about 225 pounds, this guy has number one receiver written all over him.  Although he is not in the class of last year’s Calvin Johnson (few are), he comes with outstanding route running abilities, great hands, and a stature that is coveted by scouts throughout the league.

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n no particular order, we now go to the pair of receivers from Big Blue, Mighty Michigan.  Mario Manningham may be a little overhyped for my liking, but he should be a good complimentary receiver for a number of teams.  Leaving Michigan with Manningham is Adrian Arrington, a player who should have stuck around despite the coaching change to Rich Rodriguez.  A talent in his own right, he may not come off the board until perhaps the fifth round of the draft. Manningham, the better of the two by leaps and bounds could go somewhere in the second round, although he could slip.  Manningham as well as Arrington had subpar years in my eyes as Michigan’s offense fluttered at times this season. Manningham's best quality is his ability to create space and make the big catch when it seems merely impossible.  Both players come with big frames, and they both are definitely draft worthy.  However, I think they still should have stuck it out for their senior campaigns. 

Let’s move on to another pair of teammates from Hawaii.  Starting with Davone Bess, this small receiver has all the tools to be successful and may be the first Rainbow Warrior selected on draft day.  He is lightning quick and very well built.  Bess will be a great slot receiver in the NFL, a position many teams draft specifically for.  His teammate Ryan Grice-Mullen was a bit of a surprise to the draft declarations and should go late on day two. You cannot blame Ryan, however, with both his head coach June  Jones jumping ship and his star signal caller Colt Brennen going pro.  These two players were without a doubt Brennen's two favorite targets and will headline a Hawaii class that included fellow senior receiver Jason Rivers. 

Next, we land at Cal with electric kick returner and wide receiver DeSean Jackson.  He reminds me a lot of Ted Ginn from the 2007 draft and could be gambled on with just as high of a pick. When I say he is electric, I mean it. However, how valuable is a guy who may just make his living returning kicks?  Jackson is a little overrated as well as Ginn was last year.  Both remind me of Peter Warrick who was a big flop in almost everyone's eyes. 

James Hardy from Indiana was the offenses’ biggest weapon by far, and he also has big things to offer NFL teams.  At nearly 6’6” and 220 pounds, this playmaker is what scouts look for in a number one receiver.  A definite red zone threat, Hardy could be the next Randy Moss or the next Tyrone Calico.  I guess we will just have to wait and see. 

With West Virginia's Darius Reynaud, you get a former quarterback that turned into a heck of a receiver (probably a mid to late day two pick).  Reynaud made his living running screens with Pat White.  It will be tough for him to find a niche in the NFL, but you know what they say, big things often come in small packages.  It will be interesting to see if this undersized physical receiver can do it. Time will tell. 

Saving perhaps the best for last is Vanderbilt’s Earl Bennett.  Bennett led the SEC, college footballs’ best conference, in receiving yards as well as catches.  This guy is the total package, but his time in the forty at the combine may determine his draft position.  I definitely see this guy going on day one, probably in the second round.  This guy flat out gets it done at the college level. 

This is only the receivers and running backs that are early entrants.  Some could rescind their wishes and head back to school.  Just a small part of what the NFL and draft day is all about. One player that has rescinded already is the aforementioned James Davis from Clemson.  This decision is clearly in his best interest as he has the chance to compete for a National Title next year with the loaded Clemson Tigers—not a big surprise.  

By T. Lewis, 20Yardline.com
January 19, 2008