Replacing the 2009 NFL Early
2009 Early Entries & Projections
- The 2008 Early Entry
- 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 life-long dream by making it to the
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. For the
accountant in you, a never-ending system of debits and credits. It’s the
natural cycle of athletics that’ll continue as long as the NFL pays for
From Southern California to South Carolina, applications are
already being taken for a slew of new jobs that have opened up over the
past couple of weeks.
CB Asher Allen, Georgia
Opens the door for…Brandon Boykin. Although he mostly played on
special teams in 2008, Boykin is first in line to succeed Allen. No
doubt in need of some time in the weight room, he’s a dynamite
all-around athlete with terrific speed and ball skills. He showed enough
as a true freshman to draw rave reviews from coaches and get named
Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
WR Kenny Britt, Rutgers
Opens the door for…Keith Stroud. Stroud is one of a number of
young Knights being asked to supplant Britt and Tiquan Underwood. At 6-3
and 205 pounds, he’s a big, physical receiver who looks like he’s cut
from the same mold as Britt. Tim Brown and Dennis Campbell are the new
veterans of this unit, but neither has the body control or ability to
pluck balls out of the air like Stroud.
T Eben Britton, Arizona
Opens the door for…Phillip Garcia. The Wildcats can’t wait to get
their first good look at Garcia, a junior-college transfer who sat out
2008 to rehab pre-existing injuries. A 6-7, 340-pounder, he has a good
feel for the Arizona system, and did a nice job of pass protecting at
his previous level.
RB Donald Brown, Connecticut
Opens the door for…Andre Dixon. Shortly after the Huskies’
International Bowl victory, head coach Randy Edsall asked Dixon if he
was ready to carry the load in 2009. The opportunity will be there now
that Brown has departed. Remember, this is the same Dixon who upstaged
Brown in 2007 with 828 yards and a spot on the All-Big East team. Jordan
Todman will also factor in prominently after a solid first season in
DE Everette Brown, Florida State
Opens the door for…Markus White and Kevin McNeil. It’s
going to take two players to replace Brown’s production, especially
since Neefy Moffett is also gone on the other side. White was productive
in his first year out of Butler County Community (Kans.) College, making
29 stops and getting named Defensive Newcomer of the Year. McNeil is
ready to reach the potential that made him a hot-shot recruit in 2006.
TE Carson Butler, Michigan ….
Opens the door for…Kevin Koger. Under Rich Rodriguez, the
Wolverines don’t use the tight end all that much, which had to play into
Butler’s decision. Koger, however, is trying to buck that trend after
catching six passes for 93 yards and a score in his first year out of
CB Jairus Byrd, Oregon ….
Opens the door for…Willie Glasper. For the last three years,
Glasper has been the good soldier in Eugene, the first man off the bench
and a regular on special teams. Byrd flying the coop means he’ll finally
get a chance to be a regular in his fifth season on campus. While
Glasper has 39 games of experience, the lesser experienced Talmadge
Jackson III might have more long-term potential.
TE James Casey, Rice
Opens the door for…Taylor Wardlow. Considering how much the Owls
like to use to the tight end, or inside “Y” receiver, Wardlow could be
in store for a very productive senior season. An athletic 6-6,
230-pounder with three years of experience, he’s turned his 32 career
receptions into 391 yards and five touchdowns. With Casey and Jarett
Dillard gone, he’ll be a preferred target for the new quarterback.
WR Jeremy Childs, Boise State
Opens the door for…Titus Young. Now more than ever, the Broncos
need Young to get his act together and get back in the good graces of
the coaching staff. A speedy and elusive athlete in open space, he was
suspended for most of 2008, a year after making 44 catches and scoring
seven times as a true freshman.
RB Glen Coffee, Alabama
Opens the door for…Mark Ingram. Yeah, it hurts losing Coffee, but
the emergence of Ingram as a true freshman will soften the blow. A
physical back who runs with good pad level, he rushed for more than 700
yards and 12 scores in his first year out of high school. Toss in Roy
Upchurch and Terry Grant, and the Tide should be just fine at the
WR Austin Collie, BYU
Opens the door for…O’Neill Chambers and Luke Ashworth. The
Cougars will look toward a bunch of underclassmen to make up for their
lost production in the passing game. At an athletic 6-2 and 200 pounds,
Chambers and Ashworth are a couple of Collie clones. Both players earned
letters in 2008, doing an apprenticeship under Collie at the “Z”
S Emanuel Cook, South Carolina
Opens the door for…Darian Stewart. Now that Cook is gone, Stewart
has a chance to use his senior year as his own launching pad to the NFL.
Heck, he even flirted with the idea of leaving early, but will become
the new anchor of the Gamecock secondary instead. He’s a physical force
in run defense, who’ll be taking over full-time at strong safety.
TE Jared Cook, South Carolina
Opens the door for… Weslye Saunders. Saunders is busting at the
seams with potential. Now, it’s up to him to realize it. At 6-5 and 275
pounds, he’s a human mismatch with the hands and the agility to dominate
opposing linebackers. However, his work ethic has been questioned since
arriving in Columbia, which needs to be reversed beginning in the
WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
Opens the door for…Tramain Swindall. While Swindall isn’t the
only returning receiver with game experience, he could wind up being the
best. As a redshirt freshman backup to Detron Lewis, he pulled down 46
passes for 561 yards and a pair of scores. Both Lewis and Swindall will
remain inside, one at the “Y” and one at the “H”, while a group of
untested kids will battle for Crabtree’s old position on the outside.
TE Andrew Davie, Arkansas
Opens the door for…Ben Cleveland. Technically, no one will be
replacing Davie, who was used more as a blocking tight end and a second
option to starter D.J. Williams. If anything, it loosens up the logjam
at tight end, allowing Cleveland, the 2006 rookie standout and Mitch
Mustain target, to get more reps than he did last fall.
QB Nate Davis, Ball State
Opens the door for…Tanner Justice. As the veteran of the
contenders and Davis’ backup for the last two years, Justice gets first
dibs on the opening. If he's slow to adjust to the promotion, however,
keep a close eye on freshman Kelly Page, who’s seen as the future at the
position for the Cardinals.
CB Vontae Davis, Illinois
Opens the door for…Tavon Wilson. The Illini is banking on
replacing one lockdown corner from the Washington D.C. area with another
lockdown corner from the Washington D.C. area. Now, Wilson won’t be
handed the opening opposite Dere Hicks, but he has tremendous upside,
and was groomed as a true freshman to be the heir apparent.
DE Maurice Evans, Penn State
Opens the door for…Eric Latimore. Now a sturdy 6-6 and 260
pounds, Latimore has grown into the prototypical strongside defensive
end. He played infrequently as a redshirt freshman, but that’ll change
now that both Evans and Aaron Maybin have opted to leave early. Latimore
has the burst off the edge to have a profound impact on the 2009 team.
QB Josh Freeman, Kansas State
Opens the door for…Carson Coffman. The next in a growing line
of family members to play at this level, Coffman is expected to shed the
backup title once spring ball begins. A strong-armed sophomore, he got
his feet wet in six games last fall, throwing his first career touchdown
pass in a loss to Missouri, where big brother Chase was a star tight
RB Mike Goodson, Texas A&M
Opens the door for…Cyrus Gray. Now that Goodson and Jorvorskie
Lane are no longer in College Station, the running game will be handed
over to Gray, who rushed for 363 yards and a score as a true freshman.
More Goodson than Lane in his running style, he’s got good speed and
quickness, preferring to do most of his damage outside the tackles.
RB Shonn Greene, Iowa
Opens the door for… Jewel Hampton. While Greene will certainly be
missed, the Hawkeyes aren’t panicking because Hampton returns for his
second year. As a true freshman, he ran with power and showed more
outside speed than Greene, gaining 463 yards and scoring seven
touchdowns on just 91 carries. With him and Jeff Brinson forming a
one-two punch, Iowa is confident it’ll land on its feet here.
WR Brian Hartline, Ohio State
Opens the door for…DeVier Posey. When Posey was making catches in
the Fiesta Bowl as a true freshman, you got the feeling he’s being
looked at as a prominent part of the future in Columbus. While there’ll
be plenty of competition, he’s one of the few Buckeye receivers with the
total package of size, speed, and the ability to spring a teammate with
WR Percy Harvin, Florida
Opens the door for…Deonte Thompson. While you don’t get better by
losing Harvin, it’s not like there’ll be a shortage of burners in
Gainesville. Thompson was a five-star recruit from 2007, who’s been
clocked in the 4.2 neighborhood, and is dangerous in the open field. He
only scratched the surface of his potential last year with 18 catches
for 269 yards and three scores. Also, pay close attention to incoming
recruit Andre Debose, who is already being dubbed the second-coming of
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland
Opens the door for…Torrey Smith. Heyward-Bey’s departure will
push the fast forward button on Smith’s ascent into the upper tier of
ACC receivers. He first showed his playmaking ability as a kick returner
before gradually expanding his role within the offense. In the final two
games of his redshirt freshman year, he burned Boston College for eight
catches and had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the bowl win
RB P.J. Hill, Wisconsin
Opens the door for…John Clay. Don’t be surprised if there’s a
minimal drop-off in the running game from a year ago. After rushing for
884 yards and nine touchdowns, Clay is ready to be the next workhorse in
the Wisconsin ground attack. At 6-2 and 235 pounds, he can run over
defenders, yet is surprisingly light on his feet. He’ll get plenty of
help from Zach Brown, who has 24 games of experience.
G Greg Isdaner, West Virginia
Opens the door for…Josh Jenkins. With Isdaner’s decision to leave
school early, the Mountaineers must find a new starter at both guard
positions. Jenkins is poised to fill one of them. One of the nation’s
top-rated linemen of 2008, he’s quick off the snap and a dominant run
blocker. He played a reserve role until dislocating his kneecap in early
DT Ricky Jean-Francois, LSU
Opens the door for…Al Woods. Woods won’t have a problem filling
in for Jean-Francois, a microcosm of the underachieving Tiger line in
2008. In fact, he’s a safe bet to follow him into the NFL a year from
now. At 6-4 and 323 pounds, he’s a prototypical space-eater in run
defense, but has yet to reach his high school hype.
DE Paul Kruger, Utah
Opens the door for…Derrick Shelby. At 6-3 and 245 pounds, Shelby
is really an outside linebacker, but his explosiveness and athleticism
have forced the staff to move him closer to the quarterback. Although he
actually spent most of the 2008 season on the inside, the loss of
Kruger could provide the impetus to move him back to one of the end
WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri
Opens the door for…Jerrell Jackson. While seniors Danario
Alexander and Jared Perry are known quantities and steady performers at
Mizzou, Jackson has the biggest upside. A fluid athlete with nice size,
he caught nine passes as a true freshman, while learning behind Maclin.
With a breakout spring, he could easily be Blaine Gabbert’s favorite
target next fall.
DT Sen’Derrick Marks, Auburn
Opens the door for…Zach Clayton. Like Marks, Clayton can play
anywhere on the line, which increases his chances for more playing time.
He stepped up in a big way when injuries struck the Tiger front last
season, finishing with 22 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.
After shifting all over, he’ll likely settle down at tackle, which is a
better fit for his size and skill set.
DE Aaron Maybin, Penn State
Opens the door for…Jack Crawford. Crawford is one of the nation’s
more interesting replacement candidates, a native of the United Kingdom
and a player with significant untapped potential. For someone who hasn’t
played the game for very long, he’s got good pass-rushing instincts
packaged in a massive 6-5, 265-pound frame.
RB LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh
Opens the door for…Shariff Harris and Chris Burns. After
enjoying a terrific spring camp last April, Harris drifted into the
background once the season began. An impressive north-south runner,
he’ll get a chance to land the starting nod now that McCoy has departed.
Being redshirted last fall didn’t prevent Burns from wowing the staff
with his vision, toughness, and knack for cutting out of trouble.
LB Gerald McRath, Southern Mississippi
Opens the door for…Hendrick Leverette. It’s a good thing the
Golden Eagles signed Leverette out of Pearl River (Miss.) Community
College because his services will be needed immediately. A prized
recruit out of the junior-college ranks, he originally signed with
Auburn, possessing the speed and tenacity to help offset the loss of
WR Andrew Means, Indiana
Opens the door for…Damarlo Belcher. In Belcher, the
Hoosiers are cautiously optimistic that they’ve mined another James
Hardy at wide receiver. Like Hardy, he’s a tall ex-basketball player,
who’ll continue to get better with more playing time. As debuts go, he
impressed as a true freshman, catching 25 passes for 337 yards and two
CB D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt
Opens the door for…Casey Hayward. As a true freshman, Hayward
appeared in all 13 games, making eight tackles and earning his first
letter. The Commodores got an unexpected glimpse of the future, when he
was forced to step in for Moore in the Music City Bowl, batting down a
couple of passes and generally playing well in his most extensive
RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia
Opens the door for…Caleb King. Don’t shed a tear for Georgia,
which rarely has a problem attracting blue-chip backs to Athens. King
has all of the tools to be the next big thing in the backfield. He’s a
5-11, 215-pound runner with the right combination of speed, power, and
balance to do a spot-on impersonation of Moreno.
TE Cameron Morrah, Cal ….
Opens the door for…Tad Smith. Smith is about to get his
best chance since being moved from defensive end to show that he’s more
than just a sixth linemen on running plays. At 6-5 and 265 pounds, he
has terrific size as a run blocker, but has a long way to go before
approaching Morrah’s ability to stretch a defense and pick up yards
after the catch.
CB Captain Munnerlyn, South Carolina
Opens the door for…Addison Williams. The Gamecocks had hoped
Williams would learn from Munnerlyn for one more year. Instead, he’ll be
learning on the job as a favorite to be in the starting lineup next
April. Undersized at 5-8 and 180 pounds, he compensates with good
catch-up speed and leaping ability.
WR Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
Opens the door for…Greg Little. The loss of not only Nicks, but
also Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster, heaps pressure on Little to become
T.J. Yates’ favorite target. An imposing 6-3, 220-pounder who’s bounced
between running back and wide receiver, he’s found a home in the passing
game out of necessity. After leading the Heels in rushing through
September, he went on to catch 11 passes for 146 yards.
WR Kevin Ogletree, Virginia
Opens the door for… Jared Green. Toward the end of last season,
the 6-2, 180-pound Green began playing more like a sophomore than a
second-year freshman. The son of NFL Hall-of-Famer Darrell Green, he
finished with 12 catches for 144 yards and one touchdown, and is capable
of securing the role as the No. 1 receiver in 2009.
CB Jerraud Powers, Auburn
Opens the door for…Neiko Thorpe. While he’ll certainly face
competition, Thorpe’s performance as a true freshman put him in an ideal
position to slide into Powers’ old job. Used as a nickel back and the
first man off the bench, he has the size and the ball skills to line up
with Walter McFadden in the Tiger defensive backfield.
QB Mark Sanchez, USC
Opens the door for…Mitch Mustain or Aaron Corp. If you
like spring quarterback battles, there’s a beauty brewing at USC.
Although Mustain has the more recognizable name, courtesy of his brief
stint and messy divorce at Arkansas, Corp actually passed him on the
depth chart at times during the season. Oh, and don’t lose sight of
can’t-miss freshman Matt Barkley, who’s already on campus and preparing
to practice in April.
T Andre Smith, Alabama
Opens the door for…John Michael Boswell. The best of a terrific
group of linemen from the 2008 recruiting class, Boswell played in eight
games as a freshman, including the Sugar Bowl. If he’s ready for it, he
could replace Smith at left tackle, or give way to veteran Mike Johnson
and remain on the right side.
CB Sean Smith, Utah
Opens the door for…Brandon Burton. After earning a letter on
special teams and as Smith’s caddy, Burton is positioned for a starting
role. He appeared in 11 games as a redshirt freshman backup, flashing
the speed and athleticism on the second unit that got him to Salt Lake
City in the first place.
QB Matt Stafford, Georgia
Opens the door for…Joe Cox. While Cox does not have Stafford’s
array of physical talents, he is a fifth-year senior, who does a lot of
little things well. A vocal leader with good feet and an accurate arm,
he’s already drawn comparisons to D.J. Shockley, who led the Dawgs to
the 2005 SEC title in his only year as the starter.
CB Donald Washington, Ohio
Opens the door for…Andre Amos. If Amos is ever going to
fulfill his lofty expectations in Columbus, right now would be a good
time to do it. Injuries, rather than a lack of ability, have been his
biggest hurdles, too often preventing him from competing. Chimdi Chekwa
has pretty much padlocked one of the corner jobs. Amos might land the
other if he can stay healthy and fend off a bunch of talented young
RB Chris Wells, Ohio State
Opens the door for… Dan Herron. As a redshirt freshman, Herron
laid the groundwork for what should be a feature role in 2009. A
powerful downhill runner, he was impressive in a reserve role, running
for 439 yards and six touchdowns on 89 carries. Always moving forward
and churning his legs, he scored in each of the last four games and was
rarely stopped behind the line.
DE Brandon Williams, Texas Tech
Opens the door for… Daniel Howard. The Red Raiders are set at one
end spot with McKinner Dixon. On the opposite side? Not so much. Howard
is a situational speed rusher, who was in the rotation throughout his
junior year. He finished the season with three sacks, including one in
Tech’s thrilling Nov. 1 win over Texas.