Commentary

Quarterbacks Bradford, Stafford lead huge crop of underclassmen

Todd McShay's latest Draft Buzz looks at what could be a record number of underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft.

Originally Published: December 12, 2008
By Todd McShay | Scouts Inc.

A perfect storm is bearing down on college football's NFL talent pool, and it's due to hit Jan. 15, the deadline for draft-eligible underclassmen to declare whether they are entering the draft or staying in school.

Underclass Entries

The number of underclassmen entering the NFL draft has increased steadily since 2000.

Year Entered Drafted
2000 31 20
2001 54 31
2002 43 26
2003 54 32
2004 44 35
2005 57 38
2006 62 34
2007 40 29
2008 53 39
Remember, the trend in recent years has seen the number of underclassmen entering the draft increase significantly. The 2000 draft saw 31 underclassmen declare; there were 53 in 2008; and there hasn't been a draft with fewer than 40 underclassmen available since that 2000 crop.

That trend is being accelerated by two factors. The first is uncertainty about a possible rookie wage scale. Rumors of a changes to the NFL collective bargaining agreement and a potential pay scale for rookies are spreading like wildfire. Many underclassmen and their families are being told that the pay scale could come into play as early as 2010, which means the upcoming draft could be the last time for rookies to break the bank the way Matt Ryan did in getting $34 million guaranteed from the Falcons.

The second factor is a marginally talented senior class. Most underclassmen are aware of the competition at their respective positions and have some idea where they stack up in relation. Unfortunately, many are being fed misinformation about where they stand, and that will only increase the size of the group.

Draft Buzz Extra
Which underclass prospects warrant attention on the defensive side of the ball? Todd McShay has the answers. Draft Buzz Extra Insider
Sources on both the college and the NFL sides -- including agents, scouts and other talent evaluators -- have told Scouts Inc. that this year's crop of underclassmen could shatter the record of 62 set in 2006. In fact, nearly all agree that there will be at least 70 underclassmen in the mix in 2009, and many think the final number will be north of 80.

With all that in mind, here's a brief breakdown of the offensive players among the top 40 underclassman prospects who could declare for the 2009 NFL draft:

Quarterbacks
Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (6-foot-3½, 218 pounds) | Grade: 98
Biggest asset: Accuracy as a passer
Biggest concern: Making transition from a shotgun-based offense with an excellent supporting cast
Status: On the fence

Matthew Stafford, Georgia (6-2½, 235) | Grade: 97
Biggest asset: Elite arm strength
Biggest concern: Inconsistency
Status: Likely leaving

Mark Sanchez, USC (6-2½, 225) | Grade: 94
Biggest asset: Natural tools (arm strength, quick release, footwork)
Biggest concern: Durability
Status: Likely returning

Nate Davis, Ball State (6-1¾ 217) | Grade: 88
Biggest asset: Playmaker
Biggest concern: Lacks ideal size
Status: Likely leaving

Josh Freeman, Kansas State (6-5½, 238) | Grade: 86
Biggest asset: Size and arm strength
Biggest concern: Erratic accuracy/decisions
Status: Likely leaving

[+] EnlargeKnowshon Moreno
Kim Klement/US PresswireKnowshon Moreno appears ready to make the jump to the NFL.
Running backs
Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (5-10¾, 207) | Grade: 93
Biggest asset: Instincts/competitiveness
Biggest concern: Only adequate top-end speed
Status: Likely leaving

Chris Wells, Ohio State (6-1, 235) | Grade: 92
Biggest asset: North-south runner with excellent vision and burst
Biggest concern: Toughness/durability
Status: Likely leaving

LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh (5-11, 205) | Grade: 91
Biggest asset: Big-play threat with versatility
Biggest concern: Not a power back
Status: On the fence, despite reports he is returning

C.J. Spiller, Clemson (5-11¼, 190) | Grade: 89
Biggest asset: Home run hitter as runner, receiver and return man
Biggest concern: Marginal size/durability
Status: Likely leaving, although the hiring of Dabo Swinney as head coach increases his chances of returning

Shonn Greene, Iowa (5-10¾, 233) | Grade: 87
Biggest asset: Center of gravity
Biggest concern: Lacks elusiveness
Status: The 23-year-old likely is leaving

Wide receivers
Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (6-2½, 208) | Grade: 97
Biggest asset: Playmaker
Biggest concern: Not a burner
Status: Likely leaving

[+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
Scott Rovak/US PresswireJeremy Maclin has the ability to run away from everyone every time he touches the ball.
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (6-0⅝, 198) | Grade: 96
Biggest asset: Speed
Biggest concern: Unpolished route-runner
Status: On the fence

Percy Harvin, Florida (5-10¾, 187) | Grade: 91
Biggest asset: Versatile big-play weapon
Biggest concern: Durability
Status: Likely leaving

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (6-1⅞, 203) | Grade: 90
Biggest asset: Vertical speed
Biggest concern: Inconsistent effort and hands
Status: Likely leaving

Kenny Britt, Rutgers (6-4, 215) | Grade: 86
Biggest asset: Big, physical target
Biggest concern: Prima donna
Status: Good as gone

Brandon LaFell, LSU (6-3, 212) | Grade: 82
Biggest asset: Athleticism for his size
Biggest concern: History of drops (although much-improved in 2008)
Status: Uncertain

Tight ends
Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma (6-5, 266) | Grade: 94
Biggest asset: Complete skill set (size, athleticism, strength, instincts)
Biggest concern: Occasional drops
Status: Likely leaving

Jared Cook, South Carolina (6-5, 243) | Grade: 84
Biggest asset: Natural pass-catcher
Biggest concern: Marginal blocker
Status: On the fence

[+] EnlargeAndre Smith
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireAndre Smith still must improve in pass protection.
Offensive line
Andre Smith, OT, Alabama (6-4⅞, 341) | Grade: 98
Biggest asset: Overpowering at the point of attack
Biggest concern: Mirror-and-slide skills are good for size but not elite
Status: Likely leaving

Eben Britton, OT, Arizona (6-5½, 310) | Grade: 90
Biggest asset: Agility and body control
Biggest concern: Unpolished and lacks explosiveness
Status: Uncertain

Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State (6-5¼, 303) | Grade: 89
Biggest asset: Natural feet
Biggest concern: Lacks bulk/power
Status: Uncertain

Ciron Black, OT, LSU (6-5, 325) | Grade: 86
Biggest asset: Good initial quickness for size
Biggest concern: Struggles to redirect
Status: Uncertain

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