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December 18, 2007

Leaving early: Who's ready, who's not

Underclassmen have made a huge impact on the NFL Draft over the past two decades, and this spring younger players will once again have a strong presence in the Draft - especially in the early rounds.

Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the 2008 Draft. The players will then have three additional days to change their minds. Anywhere from 30 to 50 prospects each season forego their remaining college eligibility to enter the draft.

To help the players make informed decisions, the NFL has provided an experienced advisory committee that evaluates underclassmen and gives players an idea where they might be selected. The estimation is based on evaluation by NFL scouts, but it is only their subjective opinion.

Below, Rivals.com NFL Draft partner Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com gives his evaluations of several dozen underclassmen who may be considering entering the Draft.

(* - Denotes redshirt sophomore. Players must be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the NFL Draft.)

Already declared
DE Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
This tall end displayed some big play ability in spurts this fall, which has led to his decision to turn pro now.
FS Kenny Phillips, Miami
This talented safety has the athleticism necessary to become a premier selection in April.
WR Mario Urrutia, Louisville
A big receiver, Urrutia struggled through an erratic season. He must impress in the offseason to be more than a second-day selection.
Highly Probable to turn pro
DE Calais Campbell, Miami
This tall, athletic defender developed nicely over the 2007 season. Campbell has the package necessary to rank with the blue-chip prospects.
DE Vernon Gholston, Ohio State
This explosive outside defender came is one of the nation's top ends. He had impressive games against top talent, and could be a high selection if he declares.
WR James Hardy, Indiana
This big, athletic wideout is one of the key reasons Indiana is going bowling. Hardy has developed nicely over this season and could go in the late first/early second round if he declares.
DE Derrick Harvey, Florida
This fast edge rusher has shown big-play ability for the Gators. He has the burst of speed necessary to come off the edge despite issues related to his size and development.
LB Erin Henderson, Maryland
This fast linebacker has drawn raves from NFL scouts over the past two seasons. He is strongly leaning toward turning pro in the next few weeks.
WR DeSean Jackson, California
Fast wideout/returner can be a difference-maker every time he touches the ball. He had a very average 2007 season, but he will still probably declare in January.
CB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
The Buckeyes produce blue-chip corners, and Jenkins is the next in line. He is expected to rank near the top of the class of corners with a first round grade.
LB James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
Explosive defender had a strong season that should rank him with the elite prospects. He has the physical talent to play in either NFL scheme either inside or outside.
RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas
This blue-chip feature back will be the best player in the Draft if he declares. He is expected to turn pro and has a chance to make an immediate impact in the NFL.
RB Ray Rice, Rutgers
A compact and strong tailback, Rice has been a workhorse for the past three seasons. He is expected to declare for the Draft after another huge year.
RB Steve Slaton, West Virginia
This fast scatback is well developed as both a runner and receiver. He is capable of being a big-play performer early in the NFL.
RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon
Powerfully built back has breakaway speed - a rare package for the position. He will have to prove durable in the NFL, but he is strongly considering joining the pro ranks.
WR Devin Thomas, Michigan St
Fast-rising receiver displayed both deep speed and run-after-the-catch ability this season. He is leaning strongly toward turning pro after a breakout performance in the Big Ten.
Likely to turn pro this week
TE Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M
A very athletic tight end, Bennett has been underutilized in the Aggies' struggling passing game. He has enormous upside potential as a pro player.
WR Davone Bess, Hawaii
Bess is a smaller receiver who has flourished in the Hawaii passing game. He should be able to step in and produce in any pro air attack.
OT Ryan Clady, Boise State
This agile left tackle has been a dominant performer over recent seasons. He is physically ready to move on to the NFL.
RB James Davis, Clemson
This fast back has displayed natural running skills and has the speed to hit the home run.
CB Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech
Flowers is a fast cover man who has come on strong late in the 2007 season. He would rank with the top prospects at the position.
DE Tyson Jackson, LSU
A very physical defensive end, Jackson has been a key performer on the Tigers tough front line. He can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
WR Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma
Big-play wideout has fine triangle numbers and solid production, but he would benefit from another season of development in college.
RB Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois
This large tailback had a monster season in the Big Ten and is tempted to make the leap to the NFL.
DE Phillip Merling, Clemson
This mobile end has been a force in the ACC over the past three seasons. He could be one of the gems from this group of underclassmen.
CB Reggie Smith, Oklahoma
Smith is a blue-chip athlete who has rare triangle numbers for a corner. He also has the size and instincts to play the free safety position.
CB Aqib Talib, Kansas
This agile corner is a gambling cover man with big play ability in coverage and in the return game. He appears to be headed for the NFL.
On the Fence
Beckwith is a mobile linebacker who has been a key defender on the Tigers front seven. He has the physical tools to play in the NFL now.
WR Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt
This very productive junior wideout set an SEC record for career receptions. He has the ability to be a legitimate deep threat as a pro. He could challenge for the top spot at the position with a strong postseason.
OT Alex Boone, Ohio State
This tough, mobile left tackle is the best Buckeyes lineman since Orlando Pace. Boone is ready for the challenge of the NFL.
RB Jamaal Charles, Texas
This tough tailback has been productive this fall especially late. However, he may be surprised to find out that he likely won't be a first-round pick if he declares in January.
TE Chase Coffman, Missouri
This big and mobile receiver has had a fine career in the Big 12. If he stays, he could play a huge role in the Tigers offense next season.
WR Jarett Dillard, Rice
This quick wideout has excelled in the obscurity of the Rice program. He may be ready to test the NFL waters.
DE Pannel Egboh, Stanford
Egboh has the athleticism and tools to become a rare defender, but he probably needs another season to fully realize his potential.
LB Marcus Freeman, Ohio State
This fast defender has been a fixture on the Buckeyes defense and will be tempted to join the pro ranks.
LB Geno Hayes, Florida State
This fast linebacker could be the next Seminoles underclassmen to surprise early in his NFL career.
CB Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin
This athletic corner had an inconsistent 2007 season and would benefit from further development.
RB Felix Jones, Arkansas
This fast all-purpose performer coupled with Darren McFadden to form the most explosive backfield in recent memory. He has the talent to be a difference-maker in the NFL in a few roles.
CB Justin King, Penn State
This quick junior cover man had a fairly good '07 season, but Penn St. rarely losses underclassmen to the NFL.
SS Reshard Langford, Vanderbilt
This tough safety has been a physical defender against the run and has shown the agility to play in coverage.
LB Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma
This explosive tackler has a chance to be a premier pro prospect if he continues his development.
WR Mario Manningham, Michigan
This smooth junior receiver has well-developed skills for the position, but Michigan rarely loses underclassmen. He is a blue-chip prospect with a big upside as a pro.
WR Kenny McKinley, South Carolina
This big-play receiver has the package to develop into a top-flight prospect, but he is still rough around the edges. He would benefit greatly from another season in the SEC.
CB Mike Mickens, Cincinnati
This quick ballhawk has flashed big-play ability in coverage with a high level of ability in man situations.
SS DaJuan Morgan, North Carolina State
An instinctive safety, Morgan had a breakout 2007 season and could be a surprise addition to the underclassmen list.
OT Michael Oher, Mississippi
This large, mobile left tackle has excelled against NFL-caliber talent, but he may return for a final SEC season.
TE Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State
A huge, athletic tight end, Pettigrew has an awesome package for the position. However, he needs further development that another college season would provide.
RB Javon Ringer, Michigan State
Ringer has been a productive runner in the Big Ten despite sharing time in the Spartan backfield. His best football is ahead of him, and he is capable of being a real sleeper at this position.
RB Kevin Smith, Central Florida
Rare 2,000-yard rusher has natural running skills and a high level of development that will entice him to turn pro. If he receives a top-50 grade from the advisory committee, he'll likely join the NFL.
WR Isaiah Williams, Maryland
This athletic wideout has had an erratic and short career in the Terps' inconsistent passing game. However, he could be a surprise addition to the draft pool.
WR Jaison Williams, Oregon
This large, agile receiver flashes big-play ability and fine skills, though his production fell late in the season.
May declare, but shouldn't
RB Toney Baker, North Carolina State
A strong betweens-the-tackles runner, Baker went down with an early season injury and must prove himself before being ready for the NFL.
RB Andre Brown, North Carolina State
This slashing tailback struggled through an injury-riddled season that should warrant a return to the Wolfpack.
WR Greg Carr, Florida State
This huge wideout has interesting potential, but he is still raw in many key areas. Another season with the Seminoles would be beneficial.
OT Anthony Collins, Kansas
A nimble tackle, Collins was a key component in Kansas' surprising season. He has fine pro potential, though he needs to refine his skills.
QB Chase Daniel, Missouri
This savvy passer had a great 2007 season but needs work to refine his skills for the pro game.
FS Courtney Greene, Rutgers
This talented athlete struggled late in the 2007 season. He needs to improve his play recognition and develop his coverage skills.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland *
This smooth, athletic third-year sophomore flashes impact ability at times. His potential has scouts interested, but he needs much more development.
TE Darius Hill, Ball State
This fast tight end has shown the ability to get into the deep seam and make the big play. He has a chance to be a blue-chip prospect with improvement as an inline blocker.
RB P.J. Hill, Wisconsin *
This powerful third-year sophomore needs more development to be ready for the professional ranks.
TE Cornelius Ingram, Florida
Hybrid wideout/tight end has become a valuable weapon in the Gators passing game. He needs his pro position to be defined, and further strength work is necessary.
OT Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma
This imposing tackle has an awesome athletic package that could eventually rank him among the elite pro prospects. However, his lack of experience is a problem at this point.
OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia
A young, developing left tackle, Monroe had an outstanding 2007 season. He didn't allow a sack, but he needs further development to be ready to handle the speed rushers in the NFL.
TE Shawn Nelson, Southern Mississippi
This mobile tight end has been a playmaker as a receiver since early in his career. However, he needs to develop his blocking skills to be effective.
RB Branden Ore, Virginia Tech
This quick tailback struggled through the 2007 season and lacked the power and consistency to be ready for the NFL.
OG Jeremy Perry, Oregon State
This rugged lineman missed most of the 2007 season with a leg injury. He needs to return to the field and prove he can perform at a high level over a full season.
WR Brian Robiskie, Ohio State
This big-play weapon has had a breakout season for the Buckeyes, but he is still raw in many areas and would benefit from another year of development.
OG Duke Robinson, Oklahoma
A powerful and mobile guard, Robinson has been a dominant inline blocker for the Sooners. However, he needs critical development in pass protection.
DE George Selvie, South Florida *
This fast edge pass rusher has been a force this season. He has been one of the premier sack artists in the nation. A third-year sophomore, he has the growth potential to fill out further and improve in run support.
DT Pat Sims, Auburn
Sims is a wide-bodied tackle who can stack the middle against the run, but he has only started for the Tigers for one season.
OT Ryan Stanchek, West Virginia
This physical tackle has been instrumental part in WVU's explosive offense. He is a powerful drive blocker, but needs further work on his pass protection skills.
RB Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern
This scatback flashes playmaking ability, but he needs further development in many areas.
WR Derrick Williams, Penn State
This highly regarded athlete has talent and good triangle numbers, but he needs overall development in most areas.
Potential top-100 players stating that they will stay in school
TE Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
RB Ian Johnson, Boise State
OC Jonathan Luigs, Arkansas
OC Alex Mack, California
RB Jorvorskie Lane, Texas A&M
LB Sean Lee, Penn State
LB Rey Maualuga, USC

Frank Coyle is a nationally known NFL scout who publishes Draft Insiders' Digest and www.draftinsiders.com. Draft Insiders' Digest is dedicated to year-round coverage of NFL and NCAA Football. Coyle covers the NFL Draft and free agency extensively with a veteran scouting staff that provides insightful and unique information on players and team potential in the coming seasons. Draft Insiders' Digest is an extensive publication that produces more than 20 issues throughout the year, beginning with an Online Pro Prospects Preview and Fantasy Football Rankings in August and a 200-page Draft Yearbook in March.

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