Early entry juniors: Part I

• I don’t know all the factors that went into the decision of Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead to declare early for the 2010 NFL Draft, but from a pure football standpoint, he needed another year to develop and mature. Snead struggled as a decision-maker, had a tendency to force the football down the field and really seemed to press as the season went on. As a result, his accuracy was less than impressive and he looked like a shell of the quarterback we saw a year ago. Now, on the bright side, Snead is one of the few quarterbacks in the draft with a big-time NFL-caliber skill set. However, as of now I can’t grade him out any higher than a developmental type guy who has the physical capabilities to mature into a starter. But he needs time to reach his potential.

• Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga made it official this week and has decided to enter the draft. Bulaga came into the season as the NFP’s top-rated offensive lineman but failed to play up to expectations after battling through a thyroid condition in the early part of the year. There’s no doubt in my mind that with some time to re-commit himself in the weight room, Bulaga can regain the type of base strength and power he displayed as a sophomore. But the tape doesn’t lie and he did have a rough time trying to block power off the edge this season vs. some of the nation’s top defensive end prospects. However, he’s one of the few linemen in this draft with the ability to develop into a legit left tackle in the NFL. And although he might have been better served staying for his senior year, I can’t see him falling outside the first round.

• Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen will be sidelined for the next 2-3 months after undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right big toe. Clausen is still expected to throw in front of scouts in early April, but it will be interesting to see how his surgery affects his draft stock. Clausen will be unable to work out at the NFL combine and will end up having a “make-or-break” type of throwing session at his pro day. With both Clausen and Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford banged up and having only limited opportunities to work out in front of NFL officials this draft season, it might be difficult for some franchises to invest top-five money in a quarterback they don’t have a great feel for.

• We all know about the two elite defensive tackle prospects in this year’s draft -- Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy. However, I’m not so sure we won’t be including another defensive tackle in that group when it’s all said and done. UCLA’s DT Brian Price proved all season he has the talent to dominate the line of scrimmage. His ability to gain leverage on contact, maintain balance and disengage from blocks vs. the pass screams impact-caliber defensive lineman at the next level. He doesn’t quite play the run as well as McCoy or Suh at this stage, but he still looks like a guy worthy of a top 10-15 selection.

• One small-school defensive tackle to keep an eye on is Western Illinois standout Abe Koroma. Koroma is a former Penn State transfer who was dismissed from the program for “personal reasons” before the 2009 season and does have some past character concerns. However, he’s a 6-3, 317-pound lineman who possesses impressive overall athletic ability and will likely make for an intriguing developmental-type player in the mid/late rounds.

• Speaking of character concerns, no one might have more on their resume than Syracuse wideout Mike Williams. Williams sat out the 2008 season after a cheating allegation but returned this season and quickly became one of the nation’s top receiver prospects. However, he abruptly quit the team during mid-season and declared his intention to leave early for the 2010 draft. Character questions aside, I had Williams ranked as high as No. 12 on the NFP’s Super 30 at one time and think from a pure talent standpoint he might be the nation’s most physically gifted receiver. So it will be interesting to see what he says for himself during the interview process, because if/when he’s decides to grow up, the guy has the skill set to be an impact-type wideout in the NFL.

• We all know how important the workouts are at the combine, but there’s that fine line between “workout warrior” and “physically gifted football player” that NFL teams have to fret over each year. One guy who I think could give evaluators some trouble is Ohio State defensive end Thaddeus Gibson. Gibson is an undersized pass rusher at 6-2, 240 pounds, but he exhibits an explosive first step off the edge and is capable of running/working out extremely well. However, when watching tape of him, I think he falls into the category of “physically gifted but raw.” He has all the makings of a big-time 3-4 OLB, but he’s still polishing out some rough edges to his game. Now, if Gibson runs wells and showcases elite speed, will he get over-drafted? Most likely. But with time, I think he has the ability to mature into an impact pass rusher off the edge.

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