Replacing the 2008 NFL Early
2008 Early Entries & Projections
- The 2007 Early Entry
Although juniors and
redshirt sophomores will forego their final years of college eligibility
for a variety of different reasons, the goal for each is always the
same—fulfilling a boyhood dream by making it to the NFL.
Every January, anywhere from three to four dozen players declare as
early entries into that April’s NFL Draft, sobering news for the
campuses they leave behind, but not so bad news for the heir apparents
eagerly hoping to move up the depth chart. The reality is that for
every athlete that leaves with unused eligibility, there are at least
two or three holdovers staring at the opening with wide eyes. It’s the
natural cycle of athletics that’ll continue as long as the NFL pays for
From Miami to Hawaii, applications are already being taken for a bunch
of new jobs that have opened up over the past couple of weeks.
G Branden Albert, Virginia
Opens the door for…Patrick Slebonick. After caddying for Albert
in 2007, Slebonick is poised to see the most extensive action of his
Cavalier career. A well-sized lineman at 6-5 and 296 pounds, the junior
is a heady player with an outstanding work ethic. However, most of
Slebonick’s experience over the last two seasons has come on special
WR Adrian Arrington, Michigan
Opens the door for…Greg Mathews. The departure of not only
Arrington, but also Mario Manningham, means Mathews has a chance to
improve on last year’s 39 receptions, even in Rich Rodriguez’s new
run-oriented spread offense. A physically imposing receiver, he really
polished up his overall game in last year’s second season in Ann Arbor.
WR Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt
Opens the door for…Alex Washington. There’s no easy way to
replace the production of Bennett, one of the best to ever play for
Vandy, on and away from the field. Taking a stab at it will be
junior-to-be Alex Washington, a diminutive slot receiver who’s caught 12
passes in his first two seasons. Mostly a return man in 2007, he needs
to provide some support to George Smith and Sean Walker, the Dores’
starting X and Z receivers.
TE Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M
Opens the door for…Frank Avery. Another rangy target like
Bennett, the 6-5 Avery is hoping to someday provide similar
pass-catching production from the tight end position. The freshman
redshirted in 2007, using his time to get better acclimated to college
life, while adding some much-needed bulk in the weight room.
WR Davone Bess, Hawaii
Opens the door for…Aaron Bain. With Bess goes 293 career
receptions and 41 touchdowns, another sign of the changing times at
Hawaii. Bain has caught 17 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns in
the last three seasons, numbers he’ll likely surpass in his senior
season alone now that the path to the top of the depth chart has been
DE Calais Campbell, Miami
Opens the door for…Courtney Harris. With Campbell moving on,
Harris gets his best shot to date to show why he was such a coveted
recruit in 2005. Built like a strongside linebacker, he’s added some
muscle without losing the quickness off the edge or burst off the snap.
In a limited role in 2007, Harris had 10 tackles, three tackles for
loss, and half a sack.
RB Jamaal Charles, Texas
Opens the door for…Vondrell McGee. One of the country’s premier
recruits of 2006, McGee gets a shot to be the feature back a year
earlier than expected. More of a north-south runner than Charles, who
can lower his shoulder and deliver a pop, he got his feet wet as a
redshirt freshman, rushing for 297 yards and eight touchdowns on 75
T Ryan Clady, Boise State
Opens the door for…Matt Slater. Slater was going to take over
for Clady at some point, but now he gets thrown into the deep end of the
water as a third-year sophomore. A good all-around athlete at 6-5, he’s
gradually added weight since leaving River Falls, Wisc. in anticipation
of a full-time opportunity.
T Anthony Collins, Kansas
Opens the door for…Matt Darton. After starting one game for
Collins last fall, Darton will spend the spring and beyond convincing
the staff that he’s ready to start all 12 in 2008. A big bookend at 6-6
and 305 pounds, he hasn’t seen much relevant action since leaving San
Diego for Lawrence in 2004.
DE Johnny Dingle, West Virginia
Opens the door for…James Ingram. Seemingly headed toward a
breakout year, Ingram’s sophomore season was wiped out after September
because of a nagging back injury. He displayed flashes of being a
terrific edge rusher as a freshman in 2006, showing off the quickness
and long arms that the Mountaineer staff craves now that Dingle has
TE Jermichael Finley, Texas
Opens the door for…Blaine Irby. Irby was recruited as the
eventual successor to Finley in the passing game, but just not in 2008.
One of the nation’s top-rated high school tight ends a year ago, he
moves like a wide receiver and has terrific hands, making the first two
catches of his Longhorn career as a true freshman last fall.
CB Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech
Opens the door for…Rashad Carmichael. After backing up Macho
Harris at field corner a year ago, Carmichael is the likely candidate to
shift to boundary corner and take over for Flowers. Carmichael played
in all 14 games as a redshirt freshman in 2007, showing the speed and
rapid change of direction that’ll compensate for a 5-9, 175-pound frame.
DE Vernon Gholston, Ohio State
Opens the door for…Lawrence Wilson. Had Gholston returned to
Columbus, Wilson might have struggled to regain his starting job now
that freshman sensation Cameron Heyward has become a fixture on the
line. Lost for the season to a broken leg in the opener, Wilson is a
6-6, 275-pound future pro that’s determined to have that breakout year
which was supposed to happen in 2007.
WR Ryan Grice-Mullen, Hawaii
Opens the door for… Michael Washington. Washington has had a
limited role in the Warrior passing game the last three years, catching
just 19 passes, but that changes in 2008 with last year’s top three
receivers off campus. One of the team’s smallest players at 5-7 and 175
pounds, he’ll be looking for soft spots underneath against opposing WAC
DT Letroy Guion, Florida State
Opens the door for…Emmanuel Dunbar. A top reserve at both
defensive tackle spots last year and the starter in the Music City Bowl,
Dunbar will be making the natural transition to the first team in 2008.
While he’s been slowed by a bad back early in his career, he’s healthy
again and capable of having the type of breakout year Guion had in
WR James Hardy, Indiana
Opens the door for…Terrance Turner. Turner is not Hardy, but he
does share some of his attributes, such as an imposing frame and the
potential to make plays downfield. He was a monster in the spring game,
abusing the Hoosier defensive backs, but tore his ACL early in the year,
temporarily derailing his road to big things in Bloomington.
DE Derrick Harvey, Florida
Opens the door for…Carlos Dunlap. Although Harvey will certainly
be missed, Dunlap has all the physical tools to be just as effective in
time. How long it’ll be hinges on how hard he works in the offseason.
At 6-6 and 250 pounds, he’s uncommonly explosive for a young defender
just one year removed from high school. Both Dunlap and classmate
Justin Trattou have the potential to be beasts off the edge for the
LB Geno Hayes, Florida State
Opens the door for…Marcus Ball. After picking up 24 tackles as
Hayes’ understudy in 2007, Ball is well-positioned to win the job as he
enters his junior season. While built more like a strong safety, he
plays with tremendous quickness and range, showing the speed to wreak
havoc on the blitz. Stronger than he looks, Ball is on the brink of a
breakout year in 2008.
LB Erin Henderson, Maryland
Opens the door for…Adrian Moten. It was evident throughout his
redshirt freshman season that Moten was ready for a promotion. As a
backup, he had 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5, doing most of
his damage late in the year and in the Emerald Bowl. The Terps are also
very fond of another freshman, Alex Wujciak, who sat out last season
with an ACL tear.
CB Jack Ikegwuonu, Wisconsin
Opens the door for…Josh Nettles. There's a long line of
candidates hoping to supplant Ikegwuonu, with Nettles standing at the
head of it. One of the better all-around athletes in the secondary,
he’ll have to polish up his pass coverage skills to fend off other
contenders, including Niles Brinkley and Otis Merrill.
WR DeSean Jackson, California
Opens the door for…Nyan Boateng. Boateng is walking into an
ideal situation provided he can clean up the legal mess he created last
fall. A transfer from Florida and a superb talent, he hopes to join a
Cal offense that returns just one player that has caught a pass in
college. The wide-open competition in the spring and summer will also
shine the spotlight on young players, such as Jeremy Ross, Michael
Calvin, and members of this year’s recruiting class.
RB Felix Jones, Arkansas
Opens the door for… Michael Smith. Smith saw the field in nine
games as a sophomore last year, rushing for 291 yards and three
touchdowns on just 39 carries, a pretty believable impression of Jones.
Averaging 6.8 yards a carry through two seasons, he’s a 5-7 jitterbug
that provides a nice change-of-pace for the Razorback offense.
WR Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma
Opens the door for…Quentin Chaney or Adron Tennell. With
Kelly leaving and QB Sam Bradford returning, some young Sooner receiver
is going to blossom into a star alongside veterans Juaquin Iglesias and
Manuel Johnson. Chaney is a 6-5 mismatch, who finished the season with
six receptions and a pair of touchdowns in his last three games.
Tennell is another well-sized future star from the Class of 2006, who
must first rebound from an ACL injury suffered toward the end of last
CB Justin King, Penn State
Opens the door for…A.J. Wallace. Wallace has the experience,
size, and closing speed to do just fine as the successor to King, but he
and Lydell Sargeant better stay off the injured list in 2008. The
Nittany Lions appear to be perilously thin at cornerback, a situation
that’s been exacerbated by King’s early departure to the NFL.
QB Xavier Lee, Florida State
Opens the door for…Christian Ponder. Drew Weatherford will
be the starter in 2008, but Lee’s exit creates an opening for Ponder to
be the understudy. A member of the Noles’ Class of 2006, he has a
lively arm and the quick feet to escape pressure. He got those feet wet
in the Virginia Tech game last November, going 8-of-18 for 105 yards, a
touchdown and two picks.
LB Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma
Opens the door for…Lamont Robinson. By virtue of being the No. 2
guy last year, Robinson has a head start to be the starter in the
middle, but is no lock to win the job. The junior-to-be is going to get
pushed hard by former JUCO All-American Mike Reed and former high school
All-American Austin Box, neither of whom saw action in 2007.
WR Mario Manningham, Michigan
Opens the door for…Junior Hemingway. Whoever is throwing passes
in Ann Arbor next season will want to look for Hemingway, a top recruit
from 2007 that lettered as a true freshman. While he’s not a blazer, at
6-2 and 200 pounds, he can outmuscle smaller defensive backs and leap
above them to make the difficult catch.
LB Jerod Mayo, Tennessee
Opens the door for…Ellix Wilson. If defensive coordinator
prefers experience in the middle, he’ll tab Wilson, Mayo’s backup a year
ago and a veteran of 40 games in Knoxville. If he opts for upside
potential, there are a number of options, including shifting linebackers
around in an effort to get the three best on the field at the same
RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas
Opens the door for…De’Anthony Curtis. Michael Smith, last year’s
third-leading rusher, will certainly get touches, but at 5-7 and 175
pounds, he’s not a feature back. Curtis, on the other hand, just might
be. Provided he sticks with his original commitment to Arkansas, he’d
be on the right campus to push for immediate playing time after arriving
RB Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois
Opens the door for…Daniel Dufrene. It’s a good thing Dufrene got
carries in every game last season because they’ll help to prepare him to
the shoulder the load in 2008. A transfer from the
the Sequoias a year ago, he ran for 294 yards and two touchdowns, almost
half of which came in the Illini’s upset of Ohio State in November.
DE Phillip Merling, Clemson
Opens the door for…DaQuan Bowers. Although Kevin Alexander is
next in line on the depth chart, and sure to play a role on the 2008
defense, he’ll have to be special to keep Bowers out of the lineup. One
of the nation’s top recruit, and the most heralded kid to ever sign with
Clemson, Bowers has the size, speed, and athleticism to make leave an
impression in his rookie season.
S DaJuan Morgan, NC State
Opens the door for…Javon Walker. Walker played well as a
redshirt freshman last year, and has much upside as any Wolfpack safety,
but could lose ground rehabbing a knee injury suffered late last fall.
If he’s not at full strength by next summer, Jimmaul Simmons, who
redshirted in 2007, could step into the vacancy left by Morgan.
LB Lamar Myles, Louisville
Opens the door for…Mozell Axson or James Bryant. While
Axson will get a look because of his three years experience with the
program, Bryant offers greater upside and potential as a run-stuffing
middle linebacker. A 6-3, 250-pound transfer from Miami with obvious
physical attributes, he’s also a bit of head case, which is why Axson
can’t be completely dismissed.
S Kenny Phillips, Miami
Opens the door for…Anthony Reddick. The only thing that can
soften the blow of Phillips leaving would be Reddick making a full
recovery from last spring’s ACL tear in his right knee, the second one
in two years. An All-ACC-caliber defender, injuries and a ugly
suspension following the 2006 brawl with Florida International have kept
him from fulfilling his potential.
G Chilo Rachal, USC
Opens the door for…Zack Heberer. Heberer started twice last
season for Rachal as a redshirt freshman, so he’ll be no stranger to
taking over on a full-time basis in 2008. One of the highest-rated
guards coming out of high school in 2005, he’s very quick out of the
blocks and getting stronger every year since signing with the
QB Bobby Reid, Oklahoma State
Opens the door for…Alex Cate. Reid’s departure has no impact
on starter Zac Robinson, but it does thin the Cowboys’ depth at such a
critical spot on the field. Robinson takes a lot of hits outside the
pocket, meaning Cate better be ready to go at a moment’s notice. An
accurate thrower with good zip on his passes, he did not throw a pass as
a redshirt freshman in 2007.
WR Darius Reynaud, West Virginia
Opens the door for…Brandon Hogan. Dorrell Jalloh, Tito Gonzales,
and Wes Lyons may catch more passes in 2008, but Hogan is the closest
thing the Mountaineers have to a reincarnation of Reynaud. An
undersized burner that’ll be used a number of different ways, he can hit
a seam and just keep running when there’s daylight. Hogan had 12
catches in eight games last fall, numbers that are sure to rise next
RB Ray Rice, Rutgers
Opens the door for… Kordell Young. As if replacing a Rutgers
legend won’t be hard enough, Young will try to do so less than a year
after suffering a season-ending ACL tear. When healthy, he’s the future
at the position for the Scarlet Knights, but the injury allowed the
staff to also get a better look at freshman Mason Robinson, who earned
36 carries last season.
CB Orlando Scandrick, Boise State
Opens the door for…Brandyn Thompson. It’s a good thing that
Thompson was one of five Broncos to play as true freshmen in 2007
because he’s about to be thrown into the deep end of the pool. With
eight games of experience, he’s the leading candidate to replace
Scandrick in a conference that demands its corners to be thick-skinned.
DT Pat Sims, Auburn
Opens the door for…Mike Blanc or Zach Clayton. Blanc and
Clayton, a pair of lightly-used redshirt freshman a year ago, will be
counted to pick up the slack of Sims, an emerging star in the SEC.
Neither lineman arrived on the Plains with top billing, meaning both
could be pushed for playing time when freshman Charles Deas joins the
program in the summer.
RB Steve Slaton, West Virginia
Opens the door for…Noel Devine. Devine was going to have a key
role in the Mountaineer offense no matter what Slaton decided, but now
he’ll have a chance to be the feature back earlier than expected. A
jackrabbit in the open field, he bolted for 627 yards and six touchdowns
on only 73 carries in his debut as a true freshman.
RB Kevin Smith, UCF
Opens the door for…Phillip Smith. Smith is likely to be replaced
Smith, but that’s where the simplicity of the transition stops for the
Knights. The Smith that will be returning to Orlando has good size like
his predecessor, and has played extensively in his first two seasons,
carrying 101 times for 422 yards and four touchdowns.
CB Reggie Smith, Oklahoma
Opens the door for…Dominique Franks. A depleted Sooner secondary
forced Franks into the starting lineup for the Fiesta Bowl, a role he’ll
grow familiar with in 2008. A blue-chip recruit from 2006, he possesses
outstanding straight-line speed and the size to match up well with some
of the Big 12’s rangier receivers.
WR Taj Smith, Syracuse
Opens the door for…Lavar Lobdell. If Lobdell was ever going to
respond to a wake-up call, now would be the time. Although he has the
size and athletic ability to be a playmaker opposite Mike Williams, that
hasn’t translated into production for the rising junior, who has caught
just 13 passes for 154 yards over the last two seasons.
RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon
Opens the door for…Jeremiah Johnson. Provided his torn ACL heals
properly and academic issues are resolved, Johnson is a terrific Plan B
to the departed Stewart. Playing a complimentary role the last two
seasons, he’s rushed for 988 yards and 15 touchdowns, showing a knack
for snapping off long runs. Just to be safe, the Ducks have signed JUCO
transfer LaGarrette Blount, a 6-2, 230-pounder that looks like he’s cut
from the same mold as Stewart.
CB Aqib Talib, Kansas
Opens the door for…Kendrick Harper. Talib’s departure leaves a
gaping hole in the Jayhawk secondary that Harper and few others will
attempt to fill. A transfer from Butler Community (Kans.) College, he
fought through injuries in 2007 to appear in eight games, making three
starts and 19 tackles.
WR Devin Thomas, Michigan State
Opens the door for… B.J. Cunningham. Although you don’t get
better by losing a player of Thomas’ abilities, the Spartan coaching
staff absolutely loves the upside of Cunningham, who redshirted last
season. He’s a big-body receiver with just two years of experience
playing the game, feeding the notion that he’s not even close to
reaching his ceiling in East Lansing.
WR Mario Urrutia, Louisville
Opens the door for…Scott Long. The Cardinals are cutting ties
with last year’s top four receivers, making No. 5, Long, an important
cog in next year’s passing game. After failing to catch a pass in 2006,
he played well when Urrutia was dinged up last fall, finishing the
season with 27 catches for 358 yards. He has the good size to pull down
balls in traffic and the speed to settle under some of Hunter Cantwell’s