UPDATED: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” — Underclassmen Declaring for the NFL Draft

Steve O Speak

With the college football season over for most teams and the deadline for declaring for the NFL Draft coming up, dozens of young players are asking themselves this very question. For most players, the decision is obvious (though there have been multiple instances of players making the wrong call), but there are plenty of players for whom the decision is a bit tougher. So far we’ve seen almost 20 players declare early for the NFL draft, here is some insight into their draft/pro prospects, and if they made the right move or not:

DE Carlos Dunlap-Florida: Dunlap has the size and speed that is coveted by the NFL and could project to be the next Mario Williams/Julius Peppers. Dunlap has a habit of taking plays off, and doesn’t chase down ball carriers that aren’t on his side. He also had a DUI that forced him out of the SEC title game (think UF could have used him?). His skill level and size should have him taken in the top 5 picks, but his work ethic and decision making (on and off the field) will have him slide to at least the middle of the 1st round.

C Maurkice Pouncey-Florida: Pouncey is a versatile player who can play any position on the offensive line. His best position is center, and should be the first one off the board in April. While he’s the top center, he probably won’t hear his name called until the mid to late 2nd round.

DE Derrick Morgan-Georgia Tech: Morgan should be the top defensive end taken. He has nearly the same size of Dunlap, with none of the concerns about work ethic or production. Morgan will easily be in the top ten, and should have a huge impact his rookie year.

S Morgan Burnett-Georgia Tech: Burnett has good ball skills and will probably stick at free safety at the next level. He’s a good hitter, and a pretty sure tackler. Overall his game reminds me of Reggie Nelson, though I think his instincts need more refinement. The safety pool is pretty deep this year so I could see him sliding to the 3rd round.

RB Jonathan Dwyer-Georgia Tech: At one point it looked as though Dwyer might sneak into the first round, but he lacks the break-away ability of most 1st round running backs. He’s a tough between the tackles back, that should be a work horse in the NFL. I think he goes early in the 2nd round.

ILB Rolando McLain-Alabama: There really isn’t any case to be made for McLain to stay in school, he won a National Championship and is an easy first round pick. He could very well end up in the top 15, and reminds me some of another SEC ILB, Patrick Willis (though probably a touch slower).

S Chad Jones-LSU: Jones picked the wrong year to declare early, as he’s a first round talent who might not go off the board until the middle of the 2nd round. He shows some inconsistencies, but has the talent to play either safety position. He will need excellent combine numbers to sneak into the first round/early 2nd round picture, but should be starting safety for years to come.

FS Major Wright-Florida: Wright is a big hitter with a ton of speed, but his ball skills hold him back from being an elite safety prospect. He probably needed another year at Florida, but with all the coaching uncertainty there, it makes some sense as to why he’s leaving early. I don’t see him drafted before the mid-3rd round, and that’s only if he tests well at the combine and pro day. For a team that takes a chance on him, they could end up with an excellent starter down the line, given his physical tools.

RB Darius Marshall-Marshall: Marshall probably should have stayed in school and tried to rebuild his reputation. He was arrested last year on drug charges and has shown a lack of discipline and work ethic. He has some of the physical tools to play at the next level, but will need to persuade NFL teams that his trouble past is behind him for him to be drafted at all. I can’t see him being taken any higher than the 7th round.

CB Amari Spievey-Iowa: Spievey had a great year and a good bowl game so I can see why he’s making the jump, but I don’t really know if he can separate himself from the pack and be a top 50 pick. He’s a good corner, but doesn’t really do anything exceptionally, which will hold him back. I could see him fall to the 3rd or 4th round range, if he doesn’t run well in the 40.

OLB Rennie Curran-Georgia: I think this move has to do with the uncertainty of Georgia’s defense (as they still lack a coordinator). Curran could have gone back to school and been in the 1st-2nd round mix next season, but will have to settle for a 3rd round grade right now. The biggest knock on Curran is his size, which pretty much means he’s going to be a weak-side linebacker in the NFL. He’s got a lot of potential but is pretty raw overall.

RB Joe McKnight-USC: With Carroll leaving, a weak running back class overall, and some potential NCAA sanctions (suspension) hanging over his head, McKnight made the right call to enter the NFL. He has a lot of upside and talent, but didn’t always show it during game day. McKnight also has his share of injuries, which should knock down his draft status to the 3rd round. A team looking for a specific skill set could take a shot on him earlier (or the Seahawks), but the mid-rounds will be likely where McKnight comes off the board.

WR Damien Williams-USC: Despite all the 5 star recruits the USC offense boasts, it was a guy who transferred in (from Arkansas) that shined the brightest. Williams may get looked down upon given the recent history of busts the USC has produced at the receiver position, but that would be a huge oversight by the NFL. Williams might not be the fastest receiver or the biggest, but don’t be shocked if he’s the best out of this class. His route running and catching ability are excellent, and he shined despite having back to back 1st year starting quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Williams should go off the board in the latter third of the 1st round.

WR Carlton Mitchell-South Florida: Mitchell is another player whose leaving early seems tied to an uncertain coaching situation. He’s a raw prospect with a lot of potential, and great size, but likely won’t hear his name called until the late rounds.

WR Demaryius Thomas-Georgia Tech: In most situations you’d say Thomas should stay in school, since he’s unlikely to go in the top 2 (or even 3 rounds given the depth of this year’s class). But Georiga Tech’s offense isn’t most situations, they run the ball the majority of the time, and don’t allow Thomas to showcase his immense talents. Thomas has the size and speed to match up with any prospect in this draft class, but is about as raw as they come. I will say that Thomas reminds me of the size-strength-speed combo of Anquan Boldin, and could quietly become the steal of this draft class. I think someone will take a shot at him in the 3rd round, then again receivers very often can get over drafted.

FS Earl Thomas-Texas: Any other year Thomas would be the first safety off the board, but Eric Berry will have that honor. I still would be schocked to see Thomas around after the top-15 picks. He has excellent ball skills and should be a difference maker at the next level.

QB Jevan Snead-Ole Miss: I’ve already gone into great length about why Snead made the right choice. I do think his draft stock is hurt a bit, but given his size and tools he should be a great developmental quarterback in the 2nd-4th round.

WR Antonio Brown-Central Michigan: Brown is an odd player to declare, coming from a small school and given his numbers he has no shot of really going in the top 3 rounds. He would have been better served to stay another year and really show that his numbers aren’t a product of his QB (Dan LeFevour). That being said he is coming out with fantastic numbers, and you have to love his speed and agility. He could be a special teamer while he works his way up to being a slot receiver.

OLB/DE Jason Worilds-Virginia Tech: Worilds is a tenacious pass rusher, but he doesn’t really have the numbers to match up with his ability. I think he will need an excellent combine/pro day to have any hope of being drafted in the top 3 rounds.  It was an interesting move to declare early, especially given the number of pass rush specialists in this year’s class.

OLB/DE Thaddeus Gibson-Ohio State: Another interesting move to declare. Gibson isn’t a 1st or 2nd round pick, but has all the upside you look for in a rush linebacker. He’s too inconsistent to really project any higher than the 3rd round. Overall I like him as a prospect, but think he should have stayed another year.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul -South Florida: Pierre-Paul had a fantastic season this year, and has moved himself into the first round. While things could change that knock down his draft status, Pierre-Paul made the right call declaring early. He at times looks lost against the run, but is a top-notch pass rusher that will give tackles fits in the NFL. I think a late 1st to early 2nd projection is fair right now.

TE Aaron Hernandez-Florida: Hernandez is a one-dimensional pass catching TE, but his quite good at that dimension. He has great hands and has the speed and agility to pick up extra yards after the catch. Hernandez has excellent size as well, which makes him tough to cover and bring down. He needs to work on his blocking or he’ll get eaten alive by NFL DE’s, but now is the right time for Hernandez to come out with Tebow leaving and Meyer’s status up in the air. While he could sneak into the first round, I think its safe to say he will be a mid-2nd round pick.

OT Bryan Bulaga-Iowa: Bulaga is another 1st round LT talent. He excels at both run and pass blocking. While he won’t be the first tackle off the board he has the potential to end up being the best of the bunch in a few years. A lock to go in the 1st round and could push his way into the top 15 or 20 if he works out well.

CB Dominique Franks- Oklahoma: Franks is a bit of a surprise coming out early, as he definitely doesn’t project 1st round pick, and could slide past the 2nd round as well. That being said, he’s a solid corner with decent size and speed combination going for him. Given all the turnover on the Sooners defense next season, he probably wouldn’t have helped his draft status any by staying in school. His grade will change when its all said and done, but right now he should go in the mid to late 3rd round.

SS Reshad Jones- Georgia: Jones won’t be a 1st round pick, but some team will get an excellent football player in the 2nd or 3rd rounds. Jones has 11 career interceptions, and has shown excellent ball skills for a SS. He has great size and speed and could move to FS depending on the system. Given that a new Defensive Coordinator will be coming into to Athens next season, now seems like a good time for Jones to move on to the NFL. Maybe he could have gone back and been a first round pick in 2011, but it would be far from a guarantee. Jones should be off the board by the end of the 2nd round.

OLB Navarro Bowman- Penn State: Bowman is a first round talent on the field, but some lingering off the field issues could cause him to see his stock fall. While his issues are relativity minor, the fact that there are a couple of them will cause a red flag with some teams. Another knock against Bowman is his lack of versatility, he projects to be a very good weak-side linebacker, but doesn’t seem like a likely fit to be either a rush linebacker or transition inside in a 3-4 system. Given his weakness as a pass rusher (which is always more highly valued), his inability to play in the 3-4, and his off the field incidents, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bowman slide into the 2nd round. He’ll need a great combine (particually the interview) and workout to maintain his round 1 grade.

CB Joe Haden- Florida: This was a no-brainer decision for Haden, as he is the best corner in the draft and a sure-fire first round pick. He has the talent to go top-15 or even top-10. While I will temper my enthusiasm, and not use ‘elite’ or ‘shut-down’ to describe him, I think he can be a very good starting corner from day one, with a chance to be among the league’s best. Anything less than a top-15 pick would be a complete shock.

WR Arrelious Benn- Illinios: Benn is an interesting case as he didn’t have a great season, and he’s yet to reach his full potential, but made the smart move in leaving early. Illinios has perhaps the worst quarterback play among FBS teams, and that is a big part of the reason why Benn’s numbers were so inconsistent. There was no reason for him to stay another year, that could potentially hurt his draft stock even more. Given Benn’s size and potential he should be able to be a mid-2nd round to early 3rd round pick.

SS Eric Berry- Tennessee: Berry is an absolute stud prospect, he hits well enough and is a good enough tackler to stay at SS despite his smaller size. Berry also has the speed, agility and ball skills to move to free safety as well (he could probably move to corner back and be a good starter, but safety is his natural position). Wherever Berry plays he will make an immediate and major impact at the next level. Berry should be off the board no later than the 5th overall pick.

RB Javid Best- California: Best should get plenty of interest from teams looking to get their very own Chris Johnson. Best is extremely fast and agile and should be an excellent weapon out of the backfield. The Johnson comparison is probably a little much, but Best is still among the better backs in this draft. He should be off the board no later than the middle of the 2nd round.

WR Dezmon Briscoe- Kansas: Briscoe put up huge numbers for the Jayhawks this season, though showed some signs of inconsistency. I love Briscoe’s size and his playing speed looks pretty good (will be quite interested to see what he runs in the 40), but I don’t see him going off the board before the 3rd round. That being said, I think Briscoe made the right move, there are major changes underway in Kansas so you never know how that offense will be next year. On top of that, next season could be an incredible year for WR’s if a number of juniors declare (as they are expected to), and guys like Baldwin, Jones, Green, Floyd will all be ahead of Briscoe. As will a few other returning players and potentially a couple of breakout players.

WR Dez Bryant– Oklahoma State: Bryant is the top receiver in this class and pretty much had no choice to come out after the NCAA suspended him for of all things knowing Deion Sanders. Of the many transgressions that can befall a collegiate athlete, knowing Deion Sanders and not reporting it has to be near the bottom of the list. Bryant has excellent size and speed and won’t have any problems with his “off-field issue”. He’s not a true ‘elite’ receiver so I could see him falling more in to the bottom third of the first round.

OT Bruce Campbell- Maryland: Campbell is a top notch tackle, and every indication points to him playing on the left side in the pros. He flew under the radar given how bad Maryland was is but went up against some of the top pass rushers in the nation in the ACC and held his own this year. Campbell should be among the top 2-4 tackles taken in the draft and is a definite first round tackle.

QB Jimmy Clausen- Notre Dame: Clausen went from being a solid quarterback, with some future pro potential to possibly the top pick in April’s draft. Clausen set himself apart from the pack this season, despite being on a less than stellar Notre Dame team (and he was without one of his top receiver’s Michael Floyd for most of the season). The recent revelations about Clausen’s foot injury (and the surgery that is needed) answers a number of questions about his toughness and character. It could potentially bump him out of the top-5 to 10 picks if teams are leery about seeing only one workout before April’s draft. Either way he made the right call and has the tools and potential to be a Franchise quarterback.

OT Anthony Davis- Rutgers: Davis probably could have gone back to school and been a top-5 pick next season (though I’d say there is a chance he gets that distinction this year as well), as he is still a bit raw, but is a sure-fire 1st round pick this April. Davis might need to ease into the NFL as a RT or some seasoning on the bench, but he has an extremely bright future as an offensive lineman. He’s one of the top offensive lineman in the draft and should hear his name among the top 20 picks.

DE Everson Griffen- USC: Griffen is a big strong defensive end with good pass rushing skills. He could sneak into the end of the first round, but his inconsistent play could drop him into round 2 or 3. He will need a good combine and show that he has the skills to match up against more elite offensive tackles. Given his physical tools, Griffen could develop into a top notch defensive end. He’s primarily suited for the 4-3, but if he adds a bit more strength he could be a 3-4 end as well.

RB Ryan Mathews– Fresno State: Mathews had a fantastic season this year, and has the size to take the pounding of 20+ carries a game. He might not be an elite running back prospect, but you’ve got to like him for his effort and work ethic. Mathews will probably be a mid-2nd round pick, but has the potential to end up being a very good starter at the next level.

DT Gerald McCoy- Oklahoma: In any other year McCoy would be the top defensive tackle on the board, but this year he will likely have to settle for being just a top-5 pick. McCoy is an excellent pass rusher and penetrator from his defensive tackle position and which ever team ends up with him, will get an elite player.

DT Brian Price-UCLA: Price really set himself apart with his junior campaign and could end up sneaking into the back end of the first round. Not bad for a guy who was barely on the prospect radar (for this season) at the beginning of the fall. Price has a ton of upside and should be a great get, by a team that can’t take either Suh or McCoy.

WR Golden Tate– Notre Dame: Tate is another player who is zipping up draft boards due to his strong junior campaign. He was a threat every time he touched the ball, and should be an effective punt returner in the NFL as well. Tate’s numbers were even more impressive considering that for much of the year he was the primary target with Floyd out. Tate should be taken no later than the top to the 2nd round and could even end up being the 2nd receiver picked in the Draft.

CB Donovan Warren- Michigan: If not for Haden, Warren would have been the top CB in the draft. He will still be a 1st round pick, probably somewhere between 15-20. He has all the tools to be a top-notch corner in the NFL, and should be an immediate starter.

WR Mike Williams– Syracuse: Williams quit the football team, right before he was about to be suspended from the team (again). While his transgression’s aren’t anything legal (which is a plus), they bring to mind serious questions about his character and work ethic. As a guy who started the season as a 2nd round pick (with the potential to improve), I’d be shocked to see Williams go before the 4th or 5th round. After he left the team he didn’t have much choice to declare, but his stock has fallen, and unless he has a great combine (interview)/workout he is in danger of being undrafted.

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