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January 17, 2011

College Football Report - Good or Bad Move: Undercalssmen Declared For 2011 NFL Draft:

It’s too late to turn back now. The college prospects that have declared themselves eligable for the 2011 NFL Draft have dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s. For some, that’s a good thing, even a great thing. For others, not so much. In all, 56 college underclassmen will enter the draft, up from last year’s 49 players.

Although it wasn’t a large jump, an increase in numbers was expected due to the NFL labor talks and potential rookie cap in the future. Still, it wasn’t enough to keep sure-fire first rounder’s such as Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Florida’s Janoris Jenkins and Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon from turning down the money and head back to school.

It’s a risk leaving school early, no matter what the NFL Draft committee says. Of the 49 players who left early last season, seven went undrafted and are currently out of the NFL. Others, like Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer, who received a first round grade, fell to the sixth round. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clauson, who received a high first round grade, fell to the late second.

Of the 54 players who left early this year, there’s going to be some who won’t get drafted. There’s going to be some who go higher than projected. Some lower. In the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, there’s going to be a lot of talk and a lot of close watching.

Below is a list of 20 players - The players who made the right move, and the ones who didn’t make their best decision:

*A full list of underclassmen can be found on the far right side of the page.

Take the Money and Run: The Smart Move Players…

Blaine Gabbert (left), Quarterback – Missouri

Projection – Top Ten

Gabbert’s move to the NFL became a great one the day Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck announced he’d be staying in school. Gabbert has a big arm and good mechanics, but he still makes the errant throw on occasion, thinking he can squeeze it in. Still, his decision making is the best in the 2011 quarterback class.

Da’Quan Bowers, Defensive End – Clemson

Projection – Top Five

The stock in Bowers back pocket is never going to be higher than it is right now. Considered a possible No. 1 overall pick by some, Bowers is a rare talent when it comes to rushing the passer. Along the lines of Julius Peppers and Mario Williams, Bowers size and speed is off the charts, but there’s always room for improvement in his hand technique.

Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle – Auburn

Projection – Top Five

Like Bowers, Fairley’s stock can’t get any higher. Another year of college, especially after winning a national title and Lombardi Award, could have really only hurt him. Fairley has the power and quickness scouts look for in a defensive tackle and actually better hand technique than Bowers.

Mark Ingram, Running Back – Alabama

Projection – Top 20

The 2011 class really isn’t a strong class of running backs. Ingram is the clear favorite to be the first drafted and looks to be the most NFL ready. His running style may need to be tweaked a little at the next level, as the physical pounding he took at Alabama won’t last as long in the NFL. Ingram’s straight-line speed is in question, but his burst and lateral quickness have always been superb.

Kyle Rudolph, Tight End – Notre Dame

Projection – 2nd round

Like Ingram, taking the leap because of a weak class around him, the move for Rudolph turns out to be a smart one. Before the hamstring injury that cost him a lot of the 2010 season, Rudolph was listed by some as a sure-fire first rounder. His size and pass catching ability alone, should be enough to get him into the second round, despite the injuries.

Tyron Smith, Offensive Tackle – USC

Projection – Top 20

Smith became part of the black hole effect going on at USC. Often forgot of stemming from the USC sanctions, Smith is a talented offensive lineman. A lot of where Smith goes in the Draft may depend on Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Colorado’s Nate Solder, but Smith should hear his name called in the mid to late first round. His workouts could even push him higher.

Brandon Burton, Cornerback – Utah

Projection – 2nd –3rd round

Burton isn’t getting a whole lot of talk, but I still like the move. He’s not particularly big, at 6-foot-0, 185-pounds, but he’s got pretty decent technique. Burton is also a guy that if he runs well at the combine, he could push himself up even higher. I would have liked to see Burton play a year in the PAC-12, like he would have in 2011, but the move still feels like a good one.

Akeem Ayers (right), Outside Linebacker – UCLA

Projection – Top 15

Ayers may be the best pure outside linebacker in the 2011 class. He’s played in a 4-3 and a 3-4 while at UCLA and has the ability to play either at the next level. Ayers drops well into coverage, picking off six passes in his last two years, but at 6-foot-4, 250-pounds, he’s capable of getting after the quarterback; proof in his 14 collegiate sacks. He’ll most likely be the first linebacker taken.

Mikel Leshoure, Running Back – Illinois

Projection – 2nd round

Along with ESPNs Todd McShay, I seem to be the only one really liking the move by Leshoure. Built like a Sherman tank at 6-foot-0, 230-pounds, Leshoure is the inside runner NFL teams covet. He’s also got enough speed to take it outside once in a while, but the combine should show what he’s got. Along the lines of a Willis McGahee or Marshawn Lynch, but with an upside, Leshoure should drop off the board in the second. It’s a good move because the life of a power-back in the NFL isn’t a long one.

Justin Houston, Outside Linebacker – Georgia

Projection – 1st round

Unlike Ayers, Houston projects as a 3-4 rush outside linebacker in the NFL. He’s used to a 3-4 base defense, having played in it for two years at Georgia. In his two seasons as a rush linebacker, Houston brought in 33.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. His workout at the combine, particularly his 40-time, could boast him even higher into the first round.

One More Year! One More Year: The Should Have Stayed Players…

Darren Evans, Running Back – Virginia Tech

Projection – 4th–5th round

Following his sensational freshman season, injuries and durability problems have followed Evans around throughout his college career. He tore an ACL before his second season even got started, and he’s been running like it ever since. Another year, with Ryan Williams out of the way, to improve as a featured runner and prove the injury is behind him would have improved Evans stock by at least a couple rounds.

Lawrence Guy, Defensive Tackle – Arizona State

Projection –5th round

Guy is a player where teams will be trying to think where he can fit. He’s got pretty good size at 6-foot-5, 300-pounds, but it’s not particularly big for an NFL defensive tackle. I think Guy’s next move will be to a 3-4 defensive end, where he’ll be a space-eater. He’s got decent athleticism but he’s also an inexperienced player, and it shows at times. A transition to a 3-4 end will only push him lower.

Will Hill, Safety – Florida

Projection – 6th round

Every year there’s a move by an underclassmen to enter the draft that really leaves you scratching your head. Meet safety Will Hill, 2011’s version of that player. Hill has had just one year at Florida as a full-time starter, and it wasn’t all that great. He’s very athletic and hits with the best of them, but so is everyone who’ll be getting drafted in April. Another year would have worked wonders for the once five-star recruit.

Dion Lewis (left), Running Back – Pittsburgh

Projection – 4th–6th round

Workouts will write the story for Lewis. At 5-foot-7, he doesn’t appear to have the speed or quickness to be very successful at the next level. Only a redshirt sophomore, Lewis had a breakout freshman season, only to drop off the map early this year. Although he came on late, Lewis could have used another year, maybe two. The coaching change appears to be the reason behind the move.

DeAndre Brown, Wide Receiver – Southern Miss

Projection – 4th–6th round

If size and potential were enough to get Brown an early round paycheck, a team would have already started writing Brown’s name. It’s not, however. After a stellar freshman season at Southern Miss, when he brought in over 1,100 yards and 12 scores, Brown has regressed every year. Injuries stemming from a broken leg in the last game of the year his freshman season have contributed. Another leg injury held him from seven games this season.

Zane Parr, Defensive End –Virginia

Projection – 6th–undrafted

Of all the bad moves that were made, Parr might top the list. He’s not particularly gifted at any one thing and may have made the move for personal seasons, but it still doesn’t make it a good move. At 6-foot-6, 275-pounds, Parr has good size but he’ll need to prove, most likely as an undrafted rookie, that he can do something with it.

Aldon Smith, Defensive End – Missouri

Projection – 2nd round

Smith is an intriguing prospect. As he proved this season, he’s a pure pass-rusher with 11.5 sacks, but his size may steer some off. At just 260-pounds, Smith doesn’t have the athleticism to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he also may not have the strength to be an every-down lineman. His potential will be enough to drop him off the board early, but another year of making a name for himself would have moved him higher.

Tori Gurley (right), Wide Receiver – South Carolina

Projection – 6th–undrafted

Only a redshirt sophomore, Gurley was stuck in the shadows of another sophomore at USC, in Alshon Jeffery. He’s got good size at 6-foot-5, 230-pounds, but his lack of production will hurt his chances in the draft. Big receivers are becoming more and more common. Apart from the Vanderbilt game, Gurley didn’t prove a whole lot this season.

Sealver Siliga, Defensive Tackle – Utah

Projection – 6th-7th round

Could Siliga be another player not wanting to play in the new PAC-12? He’s got the size and the nasty attitude to be successful at the next level. But it doesn’t appear that he’s ready along the same level as most around him. A year to prove he could play with the big teams every week could have moved Siliga into the mid-rounds.

Jacquizz Rodgers, Running Back – Oregon State

Projection –3rd round

Rodgers appeared to be a lock to head back to Oregon State, especially after his brother was granted another year of eligibility. Not the case, though. A team is going to take a chance on Rodgers, based solely on his athleticism and play-making potential. He’s a lightning bug player, a lot like Charger running back Darren Sproles. Another year, maybe a little more bulk to his frame, proving he can take the beating would have moved him up a round, maybe even more.

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All writing and views subject to © Drew P. Kochanny, All Rights Reserved. Photo's credited to rights owner.