January 21, 2010

This week, a bumper crop of talented underclassmen officially made themselves available for the 2010 NFL Draft (Full list here). Juniors will lead the way at almost every position in April with almost 20 currently graded as first-round picks.

Interestingly, Washington quarterback Jake Locker chose not to enter the draft, a move applauded by some scouts and derided by those who question the economics of the decision. With labor issues looming on the horizon for the NFL, there's a strong possibility the new collective bargaining agreement will include a strict rookie wage scale. If so, a player chosen in the early part of the 2011 draft could get a contract worth significantly less than a player selected in a similar spot this April. Locker was considered to be a top six pick had he entered this year's draft.

He's not the only one to have made a questionable choice. Here's a list of those who might have been better off staying in college for one more season of development and those who appear to have made the right choice, athletically speaking:

Eric Berry/S/Tennessee: Berry moves towards April as the draft's top-rated safety and ranks as a top-five selection. He improved his play every season at Tennessee and really had little else to prove on the college level.

Gerald McCoy/DT/Oklahoma: McCoy was unstoppable the three seasons he spent with Oklahoma and grades as one of the best defensive linemen in the nation. Considering McCoy witnessed several of his talented teammates succumb to injury over the past six months, his decision to enter the draft was understandable.

Damian Williams/WR/USC: Williams is rated by many scouts as the number one receiver in the draft and is considered the only true game-breaker with a first-round grade. His ability to alter the momentum of games as a return specialist makes him more enticing. Williams could have become a top 10 selection for the 2011 draft had he returned to USC, but the recent upheaval within the program made this a good time to get out.

Joe Haden/CB/Florida: The Gators shutdown cornerback clearly stands above everyone else in a draft that is full of question marks at the position. Scouts expect Haden to turn in a great workout at the combine next month. If he does, the talented junior could be chosen earlier than most think.

Maurkice Pouncey/C/Florida: Like his teammate Haden, Pouncey stands head and shoulders above all other players at his position. Although centers are rarely taken in the first round, Pouncey will likely be one of the exceptions.

Brian Price/DT/UCLA: Defensive tackles will be coveted as usual, and Price rates as one of its better prospects. Measurables are an issue because he's not much taller than 6-foot-2.

Demaryius Thomas/WR/Georgia Tech: Thomas is the big, game-controlling receiver teams look for in round one. Returning to play in Georgia Tech's run oriented, option offense would have done little to improve his draft grade.

Toby Gerhart/RB/Stanford: Gerhart comes off a monumental season culminated by a runner-up finish for the Heisman Trophy. The hard-charging interior running back pounds the ball on the inside and can handle a lot of carries. His playing style dictates a short shelf life in football, so Gerhart is wise to strike while the iron is hot.

Antonio Brown/WR/Central Michigan: Brown ranks as one of the better skills prospects in April's draft. He's an ultra-productive receiver and game-breaking return specialist. He does not grade as an early pick, but returning for one more season was a risky proposition given that his head coach left for greener pastures and his senior quarterback, Dan LeFevour, will graduate into the NFL.

Carlos Dunlap/DE/Florida: Dunlap's physical skills and ability usually warrant a spot in the draft's opening selections. Yet his inconsistency and lack of intensity have depressed his grade. Had Dunlap returned to Florida for his senior season and played to the level scouts expected, he could have been a top six choice in 2011. Right now he is struggling to solidify himself as a late first rounder.

Rob Gronkowski/TE/Arizona: Gronkowski looked like a star in the making after his sophomore season of 2008. He was expected to take another step forward this year, yet watched from the sidelines after suffering a back injury that required surgery to repair. Although Gronkowski was given a clean bill of health from doctors, a prospect who misses an entire season with a back injury will invariably drop down draft boards.

Jevan Snead/QB/Mississippi: Snead was justifiably considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation entering the '09 season. His play last season was nothing short of awful. He dropped at least two rounds on draft boards because of his play last season. Another season in school might have done wonders if he showed improvement.

Mike Williams/WR/Syracuse: Williams is a big play wideout who looks the part when he's on the field. Trouble is he missed the '08 campaign with academic issues then abruptly left the team last October. His physical skills have been given a first round grade by NFL scouts yet there are serious maturity questions surrounding Williams.

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