After finishing the season on an uplifting note with an Insight Bowl victory against Iowa, the Oklahoma Sooners are finally able to take a break and think about ways to improve.
That is, except for the lucky few that now get to prepare for the NFL draft. However, that list no longer includes quarterback Landry Jones, who has decided to return for his senior year.
Even without Jones, there are still a few talented Sooners who will be representing the school come draft day.
The questions remain: When and where will they go? That's up for debate, but I'm willing to take a guess.
Pick No.: 36
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronnell Lewis certainly has first-round talent, but teams may be wary on taking him due to his reason for entering the NFL draft a year early.
Lewis became academically ineligible and was not able to participate in Oklahoma's bowl game. Unfortunately for Lewis, this was not the first time these problems have occurred.
Lewis' eligibility for the Sooners' season-opener was also in question due to academic struggles.
Whether he just can't get the job done inside the classroom or just doesn't have the motivation and right attitude is another question, but head coach Bob Stoops made it clear to the press even before Lewis officially declared that the junior linebacker was likely headed to the NFL.
So while it's likely that his draft stock may slip a little, somebody is going to take a chance on him. He has too much talent to go to waste. By my calculations, that lucky team is going to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers overpaid their current starting outside linebacker Quincy Black last season, and he, along with fellow linebacker Geno Hayes, have played terribly this season.
Lewis would have a chance to start immediately if he can perform in training camp.
Pick No.: 66
Team: St. Louis Rams
This is a dream pick for Oklahoma fans. With the Rams, Ryan Broyles would hook back up with former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford.
At Oklahoma, the two were a lethal combination. Even with the signing of Brandon Lloyd, Bradford still needs all the help he can get.
If the Rams end up with the second pick in the draft, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon will be waiting. However, the smarter choice for the Rams would be USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Bradford certainly needs weapons, but first he needs to be protected so he can deliver to those weapons.
Getting Broyles early in the third round would be a steal for the Rams. Broyles should be a first- or second-round draft pick, but coming off a knee injury will certainly hurt his draft stock.
Broyles in the slot with Bradford throwing him the ball is just too perfect to pass up.
Pick No.: 78
Team: New York Jets
Travis Lewis is another Sooner that has seen his draft stock slowly fall, but he's still almost a lock to be taken in the first three rounds.
Hampered by a lingering injury all season, Lewis saw his production suffer accordingly. Still, the senior linebacker was able to record 85 tackles on the year (and that's after missing the season opener).
With time now to rest and prepare, Lewis should leave all of his injuries behind upon entering the draft.
I have him falling to the New York Jets at No. 78. The Jets are in desperate need for outside linebacker depth, so much so that they may even take one in the first round. However, even if that's the case, I can see the Jets spending another high-round pick to bolster up the middle of their defense.
Lewis will bring a strong work ethic and leadership to an already above-average NFL defense.
Pick No.: 104
Team: Miami Dolphins
Honestly, for the season that senior defensive end Frank Alexander had, I hope that he gets drafted higher than round four. The guy left everything on the field this season.
For a defense that was supposed to be led by the linebackers and secondary, it was Alexander who stood out the most game by game. His 8.5 sacks led the Big 12 this season, and his vast improvement from a season ago shows that his work ethic is where it needs to be.
A work ethic is one skill that will transfer over to the NFL with ease, and that bodes well for Alexander. If he stays on the board until the fourth round, he will be a great pickup for a Dolphins team that is in dire need of depth and talent.
The Dolphins will address their major needs at quarterback, offensive line and secondary with their first few picks. With Alexander in round four, the Dolphins will be getting an immediate backup to both Randy Starks and Jared Odrick.
Pick No.: 144
Team: Dallas Cowboys
There's no question that the Dallas Cowboys need the most help in their secondary. The Cowboys will likely use their first-round draft pick on a cornerback like Stephon Gilmore from South Carolina or Alfonzo Dennard from Nebraska.
The Cowboys also need help finding an outside linebacker that can complement Demarcus Ware and an inside linebacker to replace Keith Brooking (if Brooking leaves during free agency).
Luckily, the Cowboys have no immediate needs on offense. They could use depth on the line, at tight end and even at quarterback (for the Romo haters, I suppose), but this draft will be all about defense for the Cowboys.
Fleming could be gone in the first three rounds of this draft depending on how he measures up at the combine. However, there's no telling how far he may slip, either. My round five projection seems pessimistic, but if he's still on the board here, it will be hard for the Cowboys to pass him up.
Pick No.: 201
Team: Buffalo Bills
At 6'6" and 307 pounds, Donald Stephenson has the size and athletic ability to be a starter at the next level. Whether that will be at tackle or guard is another question, but Stephenson will be able to adapt to any situation.
Along with Ben Habern and Gabe Ikard, Stephenson anchored what turned out to be one of the most impressive offensive lines in the country. The Sooners gave up only 10 sacks this season compared to 19 from a season ago.
It was Stephenson's job to protect quarterback Landry Jones' blind spot, and he did just that the entire season.
With the draft wrapped almost entirely up, the Bills would be in good shape taking Stephenson in the seventh round. With current left tackle Demetrius Bell becoming a free agent, the Bills will likely use a first or second round pick on a tackle, as well.
However, offensive linemen, especially tackles, are hard to predict. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bills end up taking three tackles in this draft with the hopes of one of them panning out.
Pick No.: 213
Team: Denver Broncos
ames Hanna is a guy who is flying way under the radar at this point. Currently, CBS sports has Hanna listed as the No. 26 tight end in the draft and No. 499 overall.
These numbers show that there is virtually no way that Hanna is getting drafted, but I think he is going to turn some heads at the combine.
At 6'4" and 243 pounds, Hanna has been a great combo-tight end for the Sooners. While he was used as a blocker for the majority of the season, Hanna was still able to catch 27 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns.
Frankly, I'm surprised Hanna wasn't more involved in the passing game this season. He has great hands, great strength, and is going to be an asset to an NFL team in need of tight end depth.
The NFL is seemingly turning into a league obsessed with the "hybrid" tight end, such as Antonio Gates or former OU tight end Jermaine Gresham. Even though Hanna isn't a 6'6" tight end that runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, he still has a lot of ability.
He might go undrafted, but I think he'd be a great late round/end of the draft pick for the Denver Broncos. If the Tim Tebow era is going to continue, he is going to need a go-to tight end that can bail him out occasionally.
James Hanna is the perfect fit. No risk, high reward.