The college football season has come to an end for a number of teams around the nation and several highly-rated underclassmen have decisions to make. With the deadline for application to the NFL draft seven weeks away, the non-seniors must decide whether they should opt for April's event. Scouts expect a record number of underclassmen to enter next year's draft, so this week's column concentrates on the draft stock of a dozen non-senior prospects.
Amari Spievey/CB/Iowa: Two years removed from junior college, Speivey is fast becoming a favorite in scouting circles. He offers NFL size, athleticism and has shown steady progress in his game. The Hawkeyes have put several good defensive backs into the draft recently, but the feeling is that Speivey could turn out to be the best of the bunch.
Jerrell Powe/DT/Mississippi: Powe is turning into a dominant player and has consistently shown the ability to control the line of scrimmage. He's a terrific combination of athleticism, size and power. Powe became a full-time starter this year after rotating into the lineup as a sophomore. Scouts are excited about his upside potential and feel the big defensive tackle may just be fulfilling his potential.
Brian Price/DT/UCLA: Price has been the dominant defensive player for a resurgent Bruins program that is headed to a bowl game. He's an explosive interior lineman that opponents have a tough time handling. His 20 tackles for loss lead the Pac-10 Conference and he has seven sacks this season. He presently grades as a first round pick for an NFL team that would use him as a conventional defensive tackle.
Golden Tate/WR/Notre Dame: Absolutely electrifying whenever the ball is in his hands, Tate breaks games wide open with long receptions or alters the momentum with his ability to take it the distance while returning kicks. He lacks classic first-round size and his game needs polish, yet the ability to score from anywhere will make this junior a real commodity when he enters the draft.
Aaron Hernandez/TE/Florida: He's taken his game to another level this season. A junior with 46 receptions, he's Tim Tebow's favorite target. He's also done a very effective job blocking for the Gators' rushing offense, which ranks first in the SEC. Hernandez does not possess great measurables, but effectively handles all his tight end responsibilities and will get early round consideration if he enters the draft.
Adrian Clayborn/DE/Iowa: He's typical of his predecessors who hail from the Iowa program in that he's a little undersized and not really fast, but still a terrific football player. His career-high 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks this season rank among the best in the Big Ten. NFL teams will ultimately be swayed by either the great game film that Clayburn produces on a weekly basis or his less than desirable size/speed numbers. Scouts thus far have chosen his on-field performance and think highly of the junior.
Thaddeus Gibson/DE-OLB/Ohio State: Another Big Ten junior who has taken his game to another level this season, Gibson leads the Buckeyes in tackles for loss (11). Area scouts feel he has big time potential. He's thought to be a more dedicated and instinctive version of Vernon Gholston, the sixth pick of the 2008 draft.
Antonio Brown/WR-RS/Central Michigan: He could be one of the best-kept secrets in the nation. Brown has been an all-conference performer since his freshman season and he led the nation last year with a punt return average of 20.5-yards. He's totaled 90-plus receptions in each of the past two seasons and is likely to break that barrier again this year. A dynamic performer with the makings of a top-100 pick.
Chad Jones/S/LSU: Jones moved into the starting line-up on a fulltime basis this season and has turned into one of the most forceful safeties in the nation. He's built like a linebacker at 230-pounds and plays to his size. There's talk he'll enter the draft, and will likely be a top-45 pick.
Jimmy Clausen/QB/Notre Dame: Notre Dame's starting signal-caller draws a variety of opinion from large numbers of people. Clausen offers tremendous physical skills and the word is that he will to take them to the NFL next April. It's a choice that raises concern in the scouting community. Scouts feel Clausen has the foundation to eventually start at the next level, yet is a long way from NFL-ready. They point to his inability to finish games and pull his team through in the clutch. His total of just 16 wins as a starter in three seasons is also a bit disconcerting. Clausen offers great potential, but NFL decision-makers think it's possible that he'll make a Brady Quinn-like drop through the first round should he opt for the draft.
Donovan Warren/CB/Michigan: He looked like a star in the making early during his Wolverines career, yet the junior has never taken his game to the next level. His play has been inconsistent, and all too often Warren does not make plays when he's in a position to do so. The word is he will enter the draft, yet most scouts feel he'll be better off staying in college another season.
Dominique Franks/CB/Oklahoma: He looks like a man among boys at times. The junior offers incredible physical skills, but makes an inordinate amount of mental errors on the field, which result in long pass completions. Franks is another junior defensive back who is expected to enter the draft, a prospect who comes with a great amount of upside potential as well as an equal amount of downside risk.
Notes: In recent years, the Michigan Wolverines have produced defensive linemen whose play fell flat the season before they entered the NFL draft: Alan Branch, Gabe Watson and Terrance Taylor. Senior Brandon Graham is ready to break this trend. His relentless attitude and production on the field have been among the few positives for in a bleak period for Michigan's program. He's combined for 45 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks the past two seasons, but the question for NFL decision-makers is how to use Graham at the next level.
Graham's measurements (6-5, 275) are not what teams want at defensive end, and his 40 speed (4.75 seconds) is not necessarily conducive to a move to outside linebacker. Several scouts have told me that they liken Graham to a bigger version of Elvis Dumervil, the fourth-year Denver Broncos linebacker who has 12.5 sacks this season and 38 for his career. Like Dumervil, scouts feel Graham has a natural ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and almost a sixth sense about beating larger and seemingly dominant offensive tackles off the snap. This may be an instance where size/speed numbers are discounted on draft boards for a prospect who is just a terrific player.