With more and more teams dropping out of the race for the Lombardi Trophy, i.e the NFL Playoffs, more and more teams are starting to turn their attention directly to the 2011 NFL Draft, which is coming at us faster than we think.
The last week or so has been an interesting time for those teams. Many of the ones that have been out of the hunt made good headway into creating draft boards for April, only to see top prospects like Andrew Luck and Justin Blackmon fall off the board.
Some teams, though, have found themselves adding new names to the board, names of players like Mikel Leshoure who declared for the draft when people least expected it.
Those are the people worth talking about right now. We all know how the lack of Andrew Luck sends the NFL Draft into chaos, and we all know that popular opinion says that he made the wrong decision. What about the other guys though?
Let's take a look at the guys who ended up declaring who perhaps shouldn't have done so.
If there was ever a time for Shane Vereen to come out for the draft, it would've been last year.
Obviously, though, that wasn't possible, so Vereen chose to come out for the draft his year instead.
Despite the fact that there is a bit of a shortage of running back talent in the NFL draft this year, Vereen struggled a lot at Cal this year, and his draft stock has suffered because of it.
As far as I'm concerned, Shane Vereen is a talent that could end up exploding onto the scene on a team with some talent, but he could've used another year in school to bump up his draft stock and improve the figures on his rookie contract a bit.
In keeping with continuity, let's stick with running backs, shall we?
Mikel Leshoure had a breakout season at Illinois, posting 1,697 yards and 17 touchdowns on 281 carries (6.0 yards per carry average).
He's got a lot of what NFL teams would want in a running back. At 6-1, 230 pounds, Leshoure is a big back who can take on a full workload and a lot of punishment and still come out on top. He combines that with great speed and agility that make him a threat in the open field.
At the same time, though, it's hard to take this as full indication of his abilities, especially considering the fact that this was his first year as a full time starter.
Leshoure would be best served giving it another year at Illinois. As it stands, he's sitting in the ranks of the mid-round prospects, but another solid season could go so far as to propel him into the first round.
This one doesn't have much to do with Jacquizz Rodgers so much as the situation that he finds himself in.
Oregon State had a disappointing season this year. After many predicted them to give the rest of the Pac-10 a run for its money, the Beavers ended up falling flat on their face, despite showing a lot of promise.
Part of that was on account of new quarterback Ryan Katz. Part of that was on account of the season ending injury to James Rodgers.
In any case, Jacquizz didn't get the opportunity to really showcase his talents this year, his draft stock dropped, and he, and the rest of the Oregon State football team, feel like they still have things they need to accomplish.
While staying in school would certainly improve his draft stock, the bigger thing would be that it gives him (and Oregon State at large) a chance for a little redemption.
Most of you probably have no idea who Thomas Keiser is, and there is a reason for that.
Keiser plays for Stanford, and his name is not Andrew Luck.
Keiser, formerly a defensive end in Stanford's old 4-3 scheme, was switched to outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme introduced this past season by first year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. His production has always been solid, but there are some questions surrounding his ability to perform in the professional leagues.
As it stands, Keiser is hardly on many radars, despite producing nine sacks last year as a defensive end and five sacks plus one interception this year as an outside linebacker (versatility being the point here).
Instead of giving himself another year to build on that success, though, Thomas has bolted for the NFL.
Another solid year as a part of the new-look Stanford defense could've given Keiser the spotlight he needs to bump up his draft stock to the middle rounds.
As it stands now, though, Keiser is likely going to have to wait until Day Three to hear his name called.
Should've followed Andrew Luck's example.
J.J. Watt's draft stock may be about as high as it is ever going to get, but this isn't just about moving up the board on draft day.
Watt probably has a bit of a sour taste in his mouth from Wisconsin's close loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl this year. He put up a good effort, but it ultimately wasn't enough.
Wisconsin returns a good amount of their skill players next year on offense, namely star running back Montee Ball, and adding Watt's name to the list of returning guys would have not only aided Wisconsin in recruiting, but would probably have also put them out as favorites to make a run at the National Championship next year.
Alas, though, the allure of professional contracts tends to supersede college glory these days.
This is really about proving the flash-in-the-pan bit wrong.
Justin Houston came on strong this year for the Bulldogs, posting 10 sacks and one interception through the course of the year.
This is a good improvement over the seven sacks he had last season, which bodes well for him.
However, Houston still has to prove that he isn't just a one-time star.
As it stands, Houston is one of the top five outside linebackers in the draft this year (not including DE to OLB converts), but another solid season could boost him to the top of that list in the 2012 NFL Draft, and it would certainly secure him a selection in the first round.
Houston is making a good choice in coming out this year, but I can't help but feel like he'd do a whole lot better in the 2012 draft.
I'm generally against sophomores declaring for the NFL draft, and this case is no exception.
Aldon Smith is good, don't get me wrong. He had 11 sacks and a forced fumble in his freshman season and added another six sacks and an interception to that total this past year.
That having been said, the fact that his numbers are down and that he missed three games hasn't done great things for him.
Perhaps he's trying to get while the getting's good, but the sensible play for him would be to stick around through his junior year, try to put up another freshman year-like season, and then enter the draft. I guarantee that would put him up at least another round, if not more.
You know, I get that it isn't great playing second fiddle to Alshon Jeffrey, but declaring for the draft just doesn't seem to be the way to solve that problem.
Sure, Tori Gurley is a third year sophomore, so his age on draft day could go into his draft stock, but that still doesn't much justify him jumping ship after only two full seasons at South Carolina.
He didn't even break 500 yards in either of his two seasons.
Gurley is going to find himself buried under a lot of great wide receiver talent in this draft, despite the fact that a couple of players like Justin Blackmon have chosen to stay in school.
Simply put, he should've given college another year. Worst case scenario, his draft stock doesn't change much and he gets a degree to go along with whatever contract he may get in the NFL. Best case scenario, he has a breakout year and his draft stock shoots up.
As I go over the numbers and some tape on Boykin, I continue to wonder why he is jumping ship for the NFL.
Boykin grabbed three interceptions this year, which not only shows no improvement over last season, but could be a little deceiving. Boykin's three grabs this year came against three different teams: Louisiana-Lafayette, Idaho State and UCF.
Only one of those picks came against a good team.
Boykin could use another year in college, if only to prove that he can improve. Besides, he's going to be buried under a lot of cornerback talent in the draft this year. He'd get a bump up in the 2012 Draft simply because there's going to be less talent on the board.
I feel like there should generally be a rule that fullbacks should stay all four years at their respective schools.
Sure, it's a physically punishing position, so you'd like to have an extra year to use in the NFL instead, but fullbacks generally don't attract a whole lot of draft attention, so declaring early doesn't typically do much for them.
Aside from that, Hynoski is entering a draft class that has a lot of talent in both hybrid backs and blocking fullbacks, so getting attention is going to be difficult.
Perhaps he just wanted to escape the coaching mayhem at Pitt, but either way, he probably should've staid put.