By Todd McShay
An influx of underclassmen (who had until Jan. 15 to officially declare) has changed the complexion of the 2007 draft, especially the first round. LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell will likely draw consideration for the No. 1 overall pick, and prized pass-catchers Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech) and Dwayne Jarrett (USC) have significantly upgraded a previously unimpressive receiving class.
Here are the top-20 underclass entries:
1. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech; 2. JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU; 3. Alan Branch, DT, Michigan; 4. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma; 5. Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas; 6. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal; 7. Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC; 8. Reggie Nelson, S, Florida; 9. Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Ohio State; 10. Charles Johnson, DE, Georgia; 11. Lawrence Timmons, OLB, Florida State; 12. Darrelle Revis, CB, Pittsburgh; 13. Jarvis Moss, DE, Florida; 14. Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina; 15. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii; 16. Greg Olsen, TE, Miami-FL; 17. Robert Meachem, WR, Tennessee; 18. Zach Miller, TE, Arizona State; 19. Brandon Siler, ILB, Florida; 20. Brandon Jackson, RB, Nebraska.
Biggest surprise staying: Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville
Brohm's decision to return to school was driven by two major factors.
First off, his roots run deep at the University of Louisville. His father played for the Cardinals and both his brothers remain on the coaching staff as assistants. Secondly, Brohm isn't satisfied with his current draft stock. Although his team soared to new heights with an Orange Bowl victory, Brohm knows his body of work can improve. He doesn't want NFL scouts to measure his potential based on a junior season that included two and a half games missed with a thumb injury that continued to affect his velocity and accuracy even when he was back in the lineup.
By returning to school, Brohm now has an opportunity to become the top quarterback selected in 2008, instead of the third behind Brady Quinn (Notre Dame) and JaMarcus Russell (LSU) in this year's draft. The unfortunate truth is that quarterbacks oftentimes are wiser to leave school a year early for the NFL draft. Brohm has now opened himself up for intense scrutiny over the course of the next 15 months. Just ask Matt Leinart and Quinn how much they enjoyed that process.
Biggest mistake leaving: Bernard Jackson, RB, Nebraska
Jackson was correct in his assumption that this year's running back class is void of elite talent and quality depth. Although that inevitably will improve his draft stock slightly, it won't overshadow his glaring lack of experience.
NFL teams are already paranoid about insufficient evidence when it comes to drafting underclassmen. So the fact that Jackson carried the ball only 291 times in three seasons at Nebraska -- and 103 times prior to the 2006 season -- is sure to make some general managers even more trigger-shy than usual. Jackson has enough talent to warrant second-round consideration in April's draft, but he could have nailed down a first-round spot in 2008 by returning to school for a healthy and productive senior campaign.
Offensive position helped most: Wide receiver
Jeff Samardzija and Dwayne Bowe are the best senior receivers that the 2007 class has to offer. Imagine the concern NFL teams in need of a difference-maker at that position had just a few weeks ago. Needless to say, those worries have since subsided with the star-studded additions of underclassmen Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Jarrett, Ted Ginn Jr., Sidney Rice, Robert Meachem and Anthony Gonzalez.
Johnson is the only surefire top-10 pick of the bunch, but Jarrett and Ginn Jr. are all but locks to come off the board in the first round. Rice, Meachem and Gonzalez are expected to go in the first two rounds and each can earn a spot in the opening round by impressing scouts during pre-draft workouts. The only ones worried now are the senior receivers who just lost plenty of coin thanks to this youth movement.
Defensive position helped most: Defensive end
There might not be a Shawne Merriman in the group, but this year's crop of defensive ends is deeper than Merriman's class of 2005 -- and any other class in the past five years, for that matter. The seniors have strong representation with Gaines Adams, Quentin Moses, Adam Carriker, Tim Crowder, Victor Abiamiri, LaMarr Woodley and Anthony Spencer, all of whom project as first- and second-round picks. Now they have strong competition thanks to the additions of underclassmen Jamaal Anderson, Charles Johnson and Jarvis Moss. Anderson is the complete package physically and his stock is soaring after a 13.5-sack junior campaign. Johnson needs to be more consistent and Moss needs to get stronger in order to better defend the run, but each possesses enough athletic ability to steal a first-round spot away from one of the aforementioned seniors.