Every underclassman deciding whether or not to come out early has a lot of variables to consider: from coaching situations to family considerations to where the NFL Advisory Committee says they might be selected.
Below is a list of top underclassmen who have announced their decision to forgo their remaining eligibility or return to school. Players who have declared they are headed to the NFL can still change their mind, as they have 72 hours after the deadline to withdraw their names.
Declaring for draft
Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame, 6-3, 217, 4.74 40-yard dash, NFLDraftScout.com projection: top 10
The NFL is a quarterback league, and Clausen has the requisite intelligence, arm strength and fiery leadership most teams like in their signal caller. Though Charlie Weis’ reign in South Bend wasn’t as successful as he’d hoped, the former Patriots offensive coordinator knows how to handle quarterbacks. Clausen isn’t perfect — no college quarterback is a finished product. But in a weak quarterback class, he’s as good as it gets.
Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma, 6-4, 223, 4.72, top 10
Bradford was considered a sure-fire top-five pick entering the fall because of his poise and accuracy. During his sophomore season, scouts were clamoring that they hadn’t charted a player so accurate in 10 to 15 years. But his lanky frame and lost 2009 season brings Bradford’s durability into question. NFL scouts are also starting to wonder if his 2007-08 success was a product of a more or less pro offensive line taking on college defenders. Still, teams in the first half of the first round needing a quarterback won’t pass on his talent, especially if his medical report checks out and he performs well at his personal workout before the draft.
Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma, 6-4, 298, 5.05, top 10
McCoy could have come out as a redshirt sophomore and been a first-round pick, but returning to the Sooners only increased his value. Few 300-pound players are as active throughout the game as McCoy, who could play the three-technique in a four-front man or end in a 3-4 scheme, where he often lines up in the Oklahoma defense. His athleticism and versatility give him top 10 value.
Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State, 6-2, 220, 4.58, early-to-mid first round
Bryant’s suspension for lying to NCAA investigators shouldn’t hurt his draft status too much, especially when teams needing a big-bodied receiver look at his film. He isn’t expected to run a sub-4.5 40 at the Combine, but he ran away from many Big 12 corners and his body control and huge hands put him in a class by himself.
Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame, 5-11, 195, 4.44, mid-first round
The departures of Clausen and Weis made Tate’s decision easy. The All-American has ascended from a converted running back to putting up 1,496 receiving yards and 15 scores this season. As tough to bring down after the catch as any receiver in the country, his superior hands and speed reminds many scouts of Carolina Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith.
Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers, 6-6, 330, 5.28, mid-late first round
Many project Davis as a top 10 to 12 pick because of his combination of size and athleticism. At times he looks like a dominant tackle, but many teams consider him an underachiever who lacks consistency and maturity. Still, his physical tools will make him far too tempting to drop out of the first round.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma, 6-6, 258, 4.78, late first/early second round
The All-American tight end had Sooners coach Bob Stoops announce his intention to leave school despite injuring his left knee in preseason practice. A probable first-round pick after the 2008 season because of his receiving and blocking skills, Gresham decided not to tempt fate with another injury in 2010, and turned down his redshirt. Like Bradford, as long as he checks out medically he should be a top 50 pick.
Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland, 6-7, 310, 4.97, late first/early second round
A big body with a lot of potential, the left tackle decided to leave Maryland despite starting only 17 games in his three years due to injury and inconsistency. Without question Campbell has the athletic ability to succeed at the next level, but will teams be wary of his maturity and lack of experience?
Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois, 6-2, 220, 4.50, late first/early second round
A disappointing junior season in which his receiving yardage dropped from 1,044 in 2008 to 490 didn’t stop “Rejus” from throwing his name into the hat. Scouts are aware that his quarterback was inconsistent, to say the least. Although not expected to run one of the top 40s at the Combine, his size, strong running and return ability should earn him a spot in the top 50.
Donovan Warren, CB, Michigan, 6-0, 185, 4.42, late first/early second round
Stating the obvious to anyone who has seen the corner play in recent years, Warren said he was confident in his ability to play at the next level. The fact the Wolverines aren’t lighting the world on fire probably had something to do with the decision as well. Warren has the requisite speed and aggressiveness to start on the edge in the NFL. A weak senior class and first- or second-round projection from the league made the decision easy for the second-team All-Big Ten pick.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Fresno State, 5-11, 220, 4.49, second round
After finishing among the NCAA leaders with 1,808 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns his junior year, including 144 yards and two scores against Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl, Mathews thought he had accomplished as much as he could at the college level. He is a powerful runner with all of the physical tools to be a successful NFL back, and even mixes it up in pass protection. But the devaluation of running backs, his lack of vision as a runner and inconsistent receiving hands might prevent him from being selected in the first round.
Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse, 6-2, 212, 4.49, second round
Physically, Williams could be a first-round pick because of his size, speed, body control and elusiveness after the catch. But his maturity issues can’t be overlooked. Williams missed the 2008 season due to academics, returned to the team after a year at a community college, then quit in October rather than being suspended for an off-field issue. Despite playing in only seven games in 2009, he led the Orange with 49 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns. If he can convince teams at the Combine that he’s not a character risk, a team will draft him earlier than expected.
Dezmon Briscoe, WR, Kansas, 6-3, 200, 4.62, mid-second/early third round
Briscoe’s a bit under the radar because of the other prolific offenses in the Big 12, the Jayhawks’ seven-game losing streak and the controversy surrounding departed coach Mark Mangino. But coaches still voted Briscoe first-team all-conference after he made 84 receptions for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns. His size and hands grab scouts’ attention, but Briscoe must prove he has the top-end speed and route-running skills to earn a top 50 selection.
Staying in school
Jake Locker, QB, Washington, 6-3, 226, 4.57, top 10
NFL scouts watched the progression of Locker under offensive guru Steve Sarkisian this season. And although Locker still is raw in some ways, any team in the top 10 needing a quarterback would have jumped at Locker because of his size, athleticism, arm strength and upside as a pocket passer. But Locker took the other path, deciding to return to the Huskies for another season so he can improve his game under Sarkisian before heading to the next level.
Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina, 6-3, 225, 4.57, mid-first round
Though his size and speed could make him the top linebacker off the board, Carter stated a desire to get his degree before heading to the NFL. If he becomes an all-around player for a talented North Carolina team potentially competing for the ACC title next season, a spot in the top 10 in 2011 seems likely.
Allen Bailey, DT, Miami, 6-4, 288, 4.79, mid-first/early second round
Bailey’s athleticism and versatility would have been greatly appreciated with so many teams either using the 3-4 as a base scheme or a change-up look. But another first-team All-ACC year in 2010 (11 TFL, seven sacks in ’09) could put Bailey in the top 10.
Dominique Franks, CB, Oklahoma, 6-0, 192, 4.48, late first/early second round
The first-team All-Big 12 pick (four interceptions) decided to make his decision early, electing to stay for his final season at Norman. Although he possesses the size and speed NFL teams want at cornerback, he can be undisciplined at times. Another season of experience at the position could help his draft stock.
Adrian Taylor, DT, Oklahoma, 6-4, 303, 4.94, second round
Taylor had an honorable mention All-Big 12 season in 2009, making 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks playing next to McCoy. He’ll be the star of the show in 2010, using his quickness and strength to climb up the defensive tackle ladder with McCoy and others leaving early to join the NFL.
Stanley Havili, FB, USC, 6-1, 230, 4.59, second round
The potential top 50 pick — because of his physical blocking and very good receiving ability — decided to return for his senior year after missing time with a shoulder injury.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa, 6-3, 282, 4.83, second or third round
Clayborn earned first-team All-Big Ten honors with 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in a breakout season for the Hawkeyes. His strength and active hands on the line made him a terror for opponents and a favorite among Midwest scouts. A strong defensive end class may have pushed him down boards, however, so he decided to enjoy his senior year in Iowa City before moving on.