Underclassmen – Should they stay or go?
With college football’s bowl season over and the deadline for underclassmen quickly approaching (It is January 15th), this is when NFL scouts are trying to get all the film watched on the underclassmen from their area that declare, so they can write their reports before the All Star game circuit gets underway. While the focus of most articles has been centered on predicting if a player will come out early for the draft, we have taken a different approach here. I offer my insight as to whether a prospect should leave early or stay in school and why. Below is a short breakdown of three underclassmen that have yet to officially let their intentions be known.
DJ Fluker, OT, Junior, Alabama (6060 E, 335 E and 5.40 E): A massive young man, Fluker already looks like an NFL offensive tackle and we expect he will declare for the Draft. While scouts originally told us they thought he would most likely be a high second round pick, the reality is that now that both Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews have stated that they will not be entering the Draft, Fluker is probably going to be a first round pick. Despite lacking great foot quickness and overall athleticism, Fluker moves well enough for a big man and can handle playing right tackle in the NFL. Blessed with long arms, great natural strength and good competitiveness, Fluker is consistently productive once he gets his hands on pass rusher. As he showed against Georgia and Notre Dame, he can be a physically dominant in-line run blocker. He gets movement on straight ahead run blocks and can collapse the entire side of the line on down/side blocks. One area he is not good as a run blocker adjusting to block a defender out in space. Overall, I do not think Fluker can improve his draft stock much, if at all, by staying at Alabama for another season as his level of his athleticism is not going to improve, so he should enter the Draft and get the clock started towards his second contract.
2. Dee Milliner, CB, Junior, Alabama (6010 E, 199 E and 4.50 E): Because the draft stock of cornerbacks is so greatly affected by workouts and the Combine (I do not believe this should be the case, but the reality is that many teams drastically change their cornerback rankings based on them), it is impossible to consistently predict where a cornerback who lacks premier speed will be drafted. Regardless of that unknown I believe Milliner’s on field play warrants being selected in the first round and therefore cannot recommend he stay in school another season. A muscular and very well built cornerback, Milliner seems to enjoy the physical side of playing cornerback more than most. He is willing to use his hands to play physical with receiver and can often re-route receiver off his “stem,” has no hesitation trying to break-up passes with well-timed hard hits and will come up and make strong, physical tackles on passes in front of him. Possessing good instincts and awareness, Milliner is able to click and close quickly on passes and has the ball skills to break them up. In a year without any premier cornerbacks who are sure fire top ten picks, it makes sense for Milliner to come out because even if one or two cornerbacks blow up this spring and jump past him on draft boards he is still likely to be a first round pick.
3. Logan Thomas, QB, Junior, Virginia Tech (6060 E, 260 E and 4.65 E): After a breakout 2011 season, Thomas was expected to improve greatly in his second season as a starter and challenge to be the first overall pick in the 2013 Draft. However, things did not go as planned this season as Thomas struggled with consistency right from the start. His footwork and overall mechanics were inconsistent and still not quick or efficient, which greatly hindered his accuracy. Additionally, for a player who flashed excellent decision making and poise in his first year starting, he forced too many passes and did not show the same poise within the pocket in 2012. There is no doubt that Thomas has the rare size, elite arm strength and ability to be an accurate passer than NFL teams love, but his play in 2012 was that of a mid-round pick. While I believe he might move up draft boards a little this spring if he did enter the Draft because of his physical skills, he could really make a huge move up draft boards with a strong 2013 season at Virginia Tech, which is why I think he definitely should stay in school for another season.
Email Russ at Russelllande@yahoo.com and Follow Russ on Twitter @RUSSLANDE