Early entry prospects: Part III

• Texas safety Earl Thomas has decided to throw his name into the ring for the NFL Draft after just finishing his redshirt sophomore campaign. Thomas is cashing in at a good time since he’s coming off a phenomenal 2009 season in which he led the Longhorns in interceptions and consistently displayed a knack for making the big play. He combines an impressive combination of fluidity, instincts and closing range in coverage and does a great job diagnosing plays quickly and getting early jumps on the football. So does all that add up to him being a top-10/15 pick on draft day? Probably not. Thomas has two things going against him that will likely keep him from being a high first-round pick.

1. He plays safety, a position that tends get overlooked on draft day.

2. He’s a bit undersized at only 5-10, 197 pounds.

Also figuring into the equation is that fact that this year’s safety class might be one of the best groups to come along in recent years. So there’s no reason to reach on a kid like Thomas early. Now, I still graded Thomas out as a guy who will play be able to play a role in an NFL secondary in 2010 and quickly mature into a starting-caliber defensive back. However, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have improved his draft stock if he had decided to stick around for another year or two, mature a bit more physically and ultimately make a run at the top 10 some time in the next couple of drafts.

• One wideout whom I’ve really had a hard time getting excited over this year is USC’s Damian Williams. Williams made it official after taking time to think it over and will enter the draft. There’s no denying Williams’ production during his time at Southern Cal; he knows how to catch the football, can set up defenders and cleanly get out of his routes. However, at 6-1, 195, he just doesn’t exhibit much of a burst to his game. Even against Boston College in this year’s Emerald Bowl, in which he had 12 catches and 189 yards, he still struggled to separate down the field vs. safeties when lined up from the slot. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a role for Williams in the NFL. But the idea that this guy is a legit starting-caliber wide receiver prospect who can separate vs. NFL corners on a consistent basis is a bit far fetched.

• One of the tougher evaluations that’s going to need to be made during draft season is of Georgia Tech wideout Demaryius Thomas. Thomas is a king-sized receiver at 6-3 and nearly 230 pounds who does a great job using his size to go up and get the football. He averaged over 25 yards per catch and was justifiably the only real threat in the Georgia Tech pass game this season. However, even though he went over 1,000 yards receiving and possesses a rare combination of size, body control and power in jump-ball situations, the jury is still out on his ability to separate as a wideout at the next level. Thomas is a raw route runner who hasn’t been asked to do much more than block on the outside and run the nine route in the Georgia Tech triple-option attack. To his credit, he does a great job adjusting to the throw and attacking the ball down the field, but he’s going to need time to learn the nuances of being an NFL wideout. Plus, at 6-3, 230, he isn’t the most explosive of athletes and looks more like a strider who will run somewhere in the 4.55/4.60 range. Determining exactly the kind of role Thomas can have on an NFL offense is key. Is he a big possession receiver? Is he an “off the line Y”? Is he a versatile H-back? Who knows? What we do know is that the guy has a really impressive physical skill set and that if given the opportunity, he’ll find a way to contribute to an offense at the next level.

• After a brilliant 13-catch, 178-yard, two-touchdown performance vs. Troy in the GMAC Bowl last week, Central Michigan wideout Antonio Brown has decided to enter the draft. Brown is a gifted all-around athlete who possesses the ability to not only make plays in the pass game, but is also dynamic with the ball in his hands and has developed into one of the nation’s top return men. At 5-10, 180 pounds, he doesn’t look like a guy who can win vs. press coverage on the outside and start at the next level. However, he’s the type of prospect who can instantly come in and carve out a niche as a slot guy/return man.

• Finally, Virginia Tech DE Jason Worilds is one player who’s definitely worth keeping an eye on throughout draft season. Worilds is an undersized pass rusher, listed at only 6-1

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