Cam Newton and Nick Fairley have yet to make it official, but they each played their final game for the Auburn Tigers in the BCS Championship Game Monday night. Both men should soon declare for the NFL Draft, forgoing their final seasons of eligibility in the NCAA. Hoping, perhaps, not to have his announcement overshadowed, Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure made his declaration Tuesday morning.
Draft declarations are tricky things to predict, as the whole world of college football found when Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck elected to stay in school despite being the presumptive top overall pick in April. Still, there are a number of great underclassmen who should absolutely come out after this season. Read on for the 10 best.
Newton is the first and most obvious player who should and will declare, especially now that Luck is out of the mix among elite quarterback prospects. Newton's legacy at Auburn will be half greatness, half controversy, but he gains nothing by returning for a senior season in which he could hardly be more impressive than he was in 2010.
Newton should go in the top 12 picks, to one of a few teams searching for a new start at quarterback: Tennessee, San Francisco and Minnesota.
Fairley should go even higher than Newton, perhaps as the top overall pick if the Carolina Panthers decide to fix their meager defensive line under new defensive whiz coach Ron Rivera. He has a reputation as a dirty player in the college game, but that poor sportsmanship tends to get repackaged as aggressiveness and/or intensity at the next level. Fairley should slip no further than the third pick overall, which would be Buffalo.
Blackmon set every receiving record for a single season at Oklahoma State this year, and although some think he will come back instead of risking being drafted into a league that may not play next season, he surely has nothing left to prove in the NCAA either.
Blackmon put up numbers in 2010 he simply cannot repeat next season, and Larry Fitzgerald laid the groundwork for sophomores three years out of high school to make the leap when he did it in 2004. Blackmon seems likely to follow that lead.
Here's a brain teaser: Which quarterback led the nation in passer efficiency this season? Cam Newton? Ryan Mallett? No, it was Kellen Moore.
Okay, you say, but Moore is a mess of a passer from a mechanics standpoint, is not an exceptional passer and (at six feet tall and 187 pounds) is a bit undersized. Shouldn't he play one more year and try to fix some of that?
Probably not, if history is any indication. Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow and Jake Locker all would have been better served to bolt for the NFL sooner than they did, and Andrew Luck just might learn that lesson the hard way, too. Moore should at least entertain the idea of going pro as a project backup who could be the next Drew Brees or Steve Young.
If anyone thought Jared Crick's excellent season as a tackle on the Nebraska defensive line in 2009 was the product of playing beside Ndamukong Suh, he proved them sorely mistaken. He had the same number of tackles and one more sack in 2010, and he profiles as a light version of Wisconsin's J.J. Watt: Tall, long and athletic, but massive enough not to get pushed around as an interior lineman.
The strength of this year's wide receiver crop might discourage Floyd from coming out, but the 6' 3", 227-pound possession guy might be well-advised to do so anyway. In college, a player like Floyd has less chance of making real waves than the faster, smaller players do, and more chance of getting physically punished since their coaches often have no one else to send over the middle.
Floyd is big and athletic, the kind of guy who can make big plays and is not solely a possession wide receiver. He probably will not declare, but he should.
A record-breaking NCAA hurdler who stands 6' 2", weighs 220 pounds and just happens to have passed for over 3,500 yards in the previous season should probably merit more attention than Griffin has received as an elite dual-threat quarterback prospect. If nothing else, this guy has the raw skills to play a number of different positions, and he should take advantage of his great season by declaring now.
Here is where I begin pleading on behalf of reason. There remain four days before the deadline for players to declare for the draft, and though some have already said they will return for their senior seasons, they still have time to change their minds. One of the nice things about not getting paid to be a college athlete is that if you decide to leave after you said you would stay, there really is no way to stop you from doing so. These guys are not under contract.
Andrew Luck may very well go first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, but then, he may not at all after having his leg snapped like a twig. He may struggle through a season without coach Jim Harbaugh and go in the third round. He may be the next Matt Leinart.
Why risk so much just to stay in school? Money is not everything, we all know, but this decision is purely foolish for Luck. He has four days yet to come to his senses.
Jenkins, at least, has some upward mobility, and his choice to return to Florida even without Urban Meyer in 2011 is defensible. It just isn't smart.
Jenkins would easily fit inside the top 20 in this year's draft, and unless he is counting on being the top corner available next season (there are definitely two above him this year, which likely factored into his decision), there isn't much reason to push that envelope. Inside the envelope is a lot of money, and too many guys have pushed that envelope right off a cliff in the past.
Pryor's season ended with all manner of mixed signals. He was suspended for the first five games of 2011 if he returns to the Buckeyes, but he quickly announced that he would. He also underwent surgery on his right foot on Friday.
In other respects, though, Pryor had the sort of breakout season that should raise a lot of eyebrows. In the eminently tough Big Ten, Pryor posted great numbers: 2,772 yards passing, 8.6 yards per attempt, 27 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, 754 yards rushing and 5.6 yards per carry. He also emerged as a Buckeyes leader and made fewer mistakes, given his higher degree of responsibility within the offense, than he had the previous year.
One can understand his choice to stay put, but he could rise higher than some expect if he did declare, and could then get started developing the way whichever team selects him would like.