News, notes on junior prospects

News, notes and opinions about some of the top junior prospects who could end up declaring for the 2010 NFL Draft:

It’s no secret that the top quarterback prospects in next year’s draft will likely end up coming from the junior class. With the possibility of Sam Bradford, Jake Locker and Jimmy Clausen all coming out after the season, the talent in the 2010 quarterback group should improve considerably. However, one guy to keep an eye on throughout the junior decision-making process is Florida State’s Christian Ponder. Ponder was one of the few bright spots for the Seminoles this season and has improved his play significantly since last year. He’s a smart kid who showcases good accuracy and timing in the pass game and understands how to audible his team out of a play and take snaps from under center. Ponder is coming off a separated shoulder injury that forced him to miss the last three regular-season games, and there were reports that he would not enter the draft. But that was before the retirement of Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, and the fact that Ponder already has his degree might make him give second thought to the decision.…

One junior position group that could really see the floodgates open in the coming weeks is wide receiver, where names like Dez Bryant, Damian Williams, Demaryius Thomas, Arrelious Benn and Dezmon Briscoe could all very quickly leap toward the head of the class. However, one guy I would strongly discourage from coming out early is LSU’s Terrance Toliver, a big 6-4, 206-pound wideout who displays some natural athleticism for his size. However, when watching and comparing him to fellow LSU wideout Brandon LaFell, it’s simply no contest. Toliver lacks any kind of lateral quickness or wiggle off the line and really struggles to get into routes vs. press coverage. Plus, he lacks burst out of his breaks and gets too leggy when trying to break down and change directions. He’s a big kid with some natural hand/eye coordination when asked to go up and pluck the football. But from the standpoint of creating separation and beating press coverage in the NFL, he isn’t anywhere close to being ready….

Right now, Idaho senior guard Mike Iupati looks like the nation’s top eligible interior offensive line prospect. However, Florida juniors Mike and Maurkice Pouncey could both end up having something to say about that. The Pouncey twins possess a rare combination of size, power and fluidly and do a great job not only opening up run lanes inside but sliding their feet and mirroring laterally in space. Center Maurkice Pouncey grades out slightly better than guard Mike at this point, but both look like they could carve out starting roles early in their NFL careers.…

Another talented class that will be fun to sort through on draft day is the junior defensive end group. With Derrick Morgan, Carlos Dunlap, Everson Griffen, Greg Romeus, Cameron Heyward, Jason Pierre-Paul and Adrian Clayborn all at least entertaining the idea of declaring early, we could see one of the deepest defensive end classes in years. Plus, this is a big defensive end group that possesses an ability to mature into three-down players at the next level. Also, Heyward and Dunlap have the versatility to play as either 4-3 defensive tackles or five-technique defensive ends in the NFL. Ultimately, this year’s DE group has the makings of one of the top classes in the draft.

One team that could really be picked bare by the rush of early junior entries is the North Carolina Tar Heels, who feature a defense loaded with young, intriguing talent. The group of possible early departures includes DT Marvin Austin, OLB, Bruce Carter, ILB Quan Sturdivant, FS Deunta Williams, CB Kendric Burney and possibly redshirt DT Tydreke Powell. The Tar Heels still have one of the nation’s top sophomore defensive ends returning in Robert Quinn, but if head coach Butch Davis’ name continues to emerge as a potential suitor at Notre Dame, it will be interesting to see how many North Carolina underclassman decide they’ve had enough and take their game to the next level….

Typically it’s only Tennessee safety Eric Berry you hear as the guy who could end up leapfrogging USC’s Taylor Mays as the draft’s top safety prospect. However, two other juniors worth keeping an eye on are LSU’s Chad Jones and Georgia Tech’s Morgan Burnett. Both are big, well-built safety prospects who exhibit impressive range for their size and are very instinctive. And if there’s one major knock on Mays, it’s his lack of ideal instincts and inability to read and react quickly to plays in the pass game. Although I can’t see both Jones and Burnett being selected ahead of Mays, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them have better overall NFL careers.…

As junior tight ends such as Aaron Hernandez and Weslye Saunders continue to dazzle, one name that seems to have been forgotten is Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski has been out all season with a back injury after undergoing season-ending surgery in September. It’s still uncertain if Gronkowski will decide to return to Arizona in 2010 or elect to take his game to the pros. It looks like the tight end class is shaping up to be a good one, but if Gronkowski can prove he’s 100-percent healthy in postseason workouts, he definitely has the talent to become the top tight end off the board in April, even over fellow injured tight prospect Jermaine Gresham.

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