The 73 underclassmen who decided to make the NFL jump will enrich the draft significantly. It is the largest group of underclassmen in history, eight more than entered the draft one year ago. NFL scouts say as many as 23 of them have the potential to be first round picks, and as many as nine of them could be top 10 considerations.
The top 10 possibilities are Cal receiver Keenan Allen, Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, Georgia outside linebacker/defensive end Jarvis Jones, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo, Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Florida State defensive end Bjorn Werner.
According to NFL men who have studied the juniors, an underclassman could be the first player chosen at these positions: wide receiver (Allen), running back (Alabama’s Eddie Lacey), tight end (Stanford’s Zach Ertz), offensive tackle (Joeckel), defensive end (Moore, Mingo or Werner), outside linebacker (Jones) and cornerback (Milliner).
The junior group especially bolsters the draft at four positions—wide receiver, running back, defensive end and defensive tackle.
In addition to Allen, other underclassmen wide receivers who could be in play to be first round picks are DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson, Justin Hunter of Tennessee and Robert Woods of Southern Cal.
Underclassmen could be the first four running backs off the board. First round possibilities are Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard, Lacy and, if his knee checks out OK, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore.
In addition to Mingo, Moore and Werner (and Jones if you consider him a defensive end), other underclassmen ends who could be first round material are Sam Montgomery of LSU and Corey Lemonier of Auburn.
Florida’s Sharrif Floyd joins Hankins and Richardson as potential first round defensive tackles.
George linebacker Alec Ogletree also is almost assured of being a first round pick, and LSU linebacker Kevin Minter could go in the first as well. Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson has the athleticism to be a first round consideration. He is raw, but if he blows up his workout and a need for the position exists, he could sneak in the first round as well.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune @chicagotribune.com