Commentary

Underclassmen lead top draft-eligible pass-rushers

Todd McShay's latest Draft Buzz looks at the top five draft-eligible pass-rushers in college football and updates Scouts Inc.'s rankings of the top 32 overall prospects.

Originally Published: November 14, 2008
By Todd McShay | Scouts Inc.

Pass-rushers always rank high on NFL wish lists come draft season. The pickings were slim in 2008, which in my opinion led to some teams reaching for overrated talent such as Vernon Gholston (Jets, No. 6 overall) and Derrick Harvey (Jaguars, No. 8 overall). Depending on how many of the top underclassmen leave school early, there could be a much deeper crop of sack artists in next April's draft.

Below is a breakdown of the top five pass-rushers that could be available in the 2009 draft. The rankings are based purely on pass-rushing potential, not overall skill level. (* denotes draft-eligible underclassmen)

[+] EnlargeEverette Brown
Joel Auerbach/US PresswireEverette Brown is coming on strong late in his junior season and pointing the way for the Florida State defense.
1. Everette Brown*, DE/OLB, Florida State
Brown is peaking down the stretch. Six of his nine sacks this season have come in FSU's last three outings. Brown is a bit undersized but he is fast and athletic, and he is a perfect fit as a rush-linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He is using his initial quickness, body control and closing burst to generate pressure both around the corner and on inside stunts. A fourth-year junior, Brown is practically a lock to bolt school early for the 2009 draft. If that's the case, he will be in the mix to be the first of his kind -- the 'tweener DE/OLB hybrid -- selected.

2. Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Texas
Orakpo displays good anticipation, above-average initial burst and he hugs the rail tightly when turning the corner as an edge rusher. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior also displays more power than his frame would indicate. He uses quick and strong inside moves to keep opposing offensive tackles guessing. Orakpo was off to a torrid start with nine sacks in Texas' first eight games but he suffered a setback with a sprained left knee in the Texas Tech loss and did not play last week versus Baylor. Durability concerns could hurt Orakpo, but I still believe he's first-round material.

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3. George Selvie*, DE/OLB, South Florida
Despite missing nearly three full games with a high ankle sprain, Selvie still has five sacks to his credit this season. When he's fully healthy, no pass-rusher in college football is more feared. Last year he led the nation with 31.5 tackles for loss and finished second with 14.5 sacks. While he lacks ideal size (6-3, 250) and top-end speed, Selvie is instinctive, quick, powerful and relentless. He projects as a mid-first round choice in either 2009 or 2010.

4. Jerry Hughes*, DE/OLB, TCU
Hughes has burst onto the national scene as one of the most disruptive defenders in college football this season. He currently leads the nation with 14 sacks in 11 games played (1.27 per game). At 6-2 and 242 pounds, Hughes will make the move to rush-linebacker in the NFL. In addition to his outstanding initial burst and speed to turn the corner, Hughes displays enough fluidity to occasionally drop into coverage at the next level. There's no word regarding his intentions following this season but Hughes looks like first-round material whenever he throws his hat in the NFL draft ring.

5. Greg Hardy*, DE, Ole Miss
Hardy can be an absolutely devastating pass-rusher when he flips the switch. Just check out his 1.5-sack showing versus Florida this season or his three-sack performance versus Alabama last year. Problem is, his motor runs as hot-and-cold as any defender in college football today. He also is dealing with a nagging foot injury that kept him out of the Auburn game and may do the same versus Louisiana-Monroe this Saturday. Needless to say; Hardy's boom-or-bust qualities are a turnoff to many NFL teams.

10 others worth mentioning
Clint Sintim, OLB, Virginia
Michael Johnson, DE/OLB, Georgia Tech
• Jermaine Cunningham*, DE, Florida
• Auston English*, DE/OLB, Oklahoma
• Brandon Graham, OLB, Michigan
• Brandon Williams*, DE, Texas Tech
• Sergio Kindle*, OLB, Texas
Antonio Coleman*, DE/OLB, Auburn
Cody Brown, DE/OLB, Connecticut
Connor Barwin, DE/OLB, Cincinnati

The Top 32
Below is a look at our updated rankings of the top 32 prospects for the 2009 NFL draft. The top 10 is unchanged and the underclassmen continue to dominate the rankings as Missouri's Jeremy Maclin is knocking on the door of the top 10 and Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham has cracked the list. Until the official decision date in mid-January, we will continue to include in our top 32 and overall rankings all underclassmen we deem worthy of a first-day (Rounds 1 and 2) grade.

(Note: * denotes draft-eligible junior; ** denotes draft-eligible third-year sophomore)

Scouts Inc.'s Top 32 Prospects
Player Position School Height Weight Grade
1. Andre Smith* OT Alabama 6-4⅞ 341 98
2. Sam Bradford** QB Oklahoma 6-3½ 218 98
3. Vontae Davis* CB Illinois 5-11⅞ 203 98
4. Malcolm Jenkins CB Ohio State 6-0 195 97
5. Matthew Stafford* QB Georgia 6-2½ 235 97
6. Michael Crabtree** WR Texas Tech 6-2½ 208 96
7. Eben Britton* OT Arizona 6-5½ 310 96
8. Michael Johnson DE Georgia Tech 6-7 259 96
9. Michael Oher OT Mississippi 6-5 330 95
10. Brian Orakpo DE Texas 6-3½ 255 95
11. Jeremy Maclin** WR Missouri 6-0⅝ 198 95
12. Aaron Curry OLB Wake Forest 6-1¾ 247 95
13. Chris "Beanie" Wells* RB Ohio State 6-1 235 95
14. Terrence Cody* DT Alabama 6-4½ 375 95
15. Mark Sanchez* QB USC 6-2½ 225 95
16. Sen'Derrick Marks* DT Auburn 6-0⅞ 289 94
17. Rey Maualuga ILB USC 6-1⅞ 260 94
18. Russell Okung* OT Oklahoma State 6-5¼ 303 94
19. James Laurinaitis ILB Ohio State 6-2 240 93
20. Eugene Monroe OT Virginia 6-5⅛ 310 93
21. Brian Cushing OLB USC 6-2¾ 253 93
22. Everette Brown* DE Florida State 6-4¼ 252 93
23. Geno Atkins* DT Georgia 6-1¾ 294 93
24. Knowshon Moreno** RB Georgia 5-10⅜ 207 93
25. Greg Hardy* DE Mississippi 6-4⅛ 267 92
26. Brandon Pettigrew TE Oklahoma State 6-5⅝ 260 92
27. George Selvie* DE South Florida 6-3⅞ 240 91
28. Percy Harvin* WR Florida 5-10¾ 187 91
29. LeSean McCoy** RB Pittsburgh 5-11 205 91
30. Jermaine Gresham* TE Oklahoma 6-5 266 91
31. Taylor Mays* S USC 6-3 225 91
32. Darrius Heyward-Bey* WR Maryland 6-1⅞ 203 90

Todd McShay is the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998.