Underclassmen shake up first roundBy Todd McShay
The official underclassmen list is in, necessitating change to my initial mock draft. Surprisingly enough, there are 22 fewer underclassmen departures than last year's record-setting total of 62. Among the biggest surprises returning to school were quarterbacks Brian Brohm (Louisville) and Colt Brennan (Hawaii). Brohm has experienced some durability issues (thumb and shoulder) over the course of the past year and must prove to scouts as a senior that he can stay healthy for an entire season. Brennan was also wise to pull out of the draft in the eleventh hour, as he needs to improve his size and strength in order to solidify a first-round spot in the 2008 draft.
The 2007 class recently took another hit when Notre Dame WR Jeff Samardzija opted for baseball over football at the professional level, as the flame-throwing pitcher signed a five-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. Although Samardzija will be missed, his stock was dropping out of the first-round due to the influx of quality receivers from the underclassmen pool. In fact, those receivers -- Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn Jr., Dwayne Jarrett, Robert Meachem and Sidney Rice -- make up just five of the 18 underclassmen prospects in my most recent mock draft. Here's a look:
x -- Still to be determined by coin flip
y -- Still to be determined by Super Bowl
+ -- Underclassman
1. Oakland Raiders (2-14)
Projected pick: +JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU
Russell vs. Brady Quinn? Let the great debate begin. Most teams have Quinn ahead of Russell, but Raiders owner Al Davis could fall in love with Russell's size and strong arm.
2. Detroit (3-13)
Projected pick: Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame
The Lions passed on Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler a year ago. It's hard to imagine them passing on another potential franchise quarterback with the second overall pick in this year's draft.
3t. x-Cleveland (4-12)
Projected pick: Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin
Russell or Quinn would be a possibility if available. Otherwise, it would become a tough decision between Thomas and Michigan DT Alan Branch. Thomas seems to make more sense, as he could be the piece that finally solidifies the Browns' offensive line.
3t. x-Tampa Bay (4-12)
Projected pick: +Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech
The Bucs have other more pressing needs, but coach Jon Gruden can't pass on the draft's most dynamic offensive weapon.
5. Arizona (5-11)
Projected pick: Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson
As usual, the Cardinals are a prime candidate to trade down. If not, they should use their pick on the best available defensive playmaker. Adams, Branch and Jamaal Anderson could all be considered.
6. Washington (5-11)
Projected pick: +Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas
Anderson is a no-brainer for a Redskins defense that set a team record for the fewest sacks in a season (19) in 2006. Anderson is the complete package physically and should capitalize on 13.5 sacks as a junior in 2006.
7. Minnesota (6-10)
Projected pick: +Ted Ginn Jr., WR/RS, Ohio State
The Vikings need speed on the perimeter in order to open-up their offense. Ginn is a bit of a reach this early, but his world-class speed will be attractive to coach Brad Childress and his staff.
8. Houston (6-10)
Projected pick: +Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma
Drafting Peterson here would help to overshadow the Texans' colossal mistake of passing on Reggie Bush with the top overall pick last year.
9. Miami (6-10)
Projected pick: +Alan Branch, DT, Michigan
Branch is a good value pick here. At 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, he can play NT and/or DE in a 3-4 scheme, as well as DE in a 4-3 scheme. That type of versatility should be attractive to the Dolphins.
10. Atlanta (7-9)
Projected pick: Levi Brown, OT, Penn State
The Falcons could consider a safety (LaRon Landry or Reggie Nelson) with this pick, but Brown would help the transition to a bigger, more physical offensive line that coach Bobby Petrino is looking to make.
11. San Francisco (7-9)
Projected pick: +Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC
Jarrett is a dynamic playmaker with extraordinary hand-eye coordination. He needs to run well to sneak into the top-15. If so, Jarrett would be a fine young weapon for QB Alex Smith.
12. Buffalo (7-9)
Projected pick:: Leon Hall, CB, Michigan
The Bills will be in the market for a top-shelf cornerback if they lose free agent Nate Clements. Hall lacks elite speed, but he makes up for it with instincts, size and athleticism.
13. St. Louis (8-8)
Projected pick: Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville
The Rams are looking to improve their size and toughness up front defensively. Okoye is still a bit raw, but his playing weight is close to 300 pounds and he displays good upside as a 19-year-old prospect.
14. Carolina (8-8)
Projected pick: +Reggie Nelson, S, Florida
Nelson, a speedy center fielder with excellent ball skills, would provide the type of range and playmaking ability that the Panthers are missing at the safety position.
15. Pittsburgh (8-8)
Projected pick: LaRon Landry, S, LSU
Landry is a ball-hawking free safety who would instantly upgrade the athleticism of the Steelers' secondary.
16. Green Bay (8-8)
Projected pick: +Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal
Brett Favre could help maximize Lynch's explosiveness and versatility if they're working in the same backfield in 2007.
17. Jacksonville (8-8)
Projected pick: +Jarvis Moss, DE, Florida
The Jaguars need perimeter speed along their defensive line and Moss fits the description as one of the fastest defensive ends in the 2007 class.
18. Cincinnati (8-8)
Projected pick: +Charles Johnson, DE, Georgia
The Bengals would rather take a big, run-stuffing defensive tackle here, but there's no value to match the need. Instead, they could continue the trend of drafting Georgia defenders to upgrade that side of the ball.
19. Tennessee (8-8)
Projected pick: +Robert Meachem, WR, Tennessee
QB Vince Young needs more weapons to work with on the perimeter. Meachem, a hometown product, is a fast-rising junior with impressive size and speed.
20. N.Y. Giants (8-8)
Projected pick: +Darrelle Revis, CB, Pittsburgh
The Giants must upgrade their cover-corner situation. Revis displays the athleticism and ball skills to fit their needs. He also brings value as a proven playmaker in the return game.
21. Denver (9-7)
Projected pick: Marcus McCauley, CB, Fresno State
The tragic death of Darrent Williams will force the Broncos to reevaluate their personnel needs this offseason. McCauley is a boom-or-bust prospect who tanked as a senior but possesses rare physical tools to develop into a shutdown-corner.
22. Dallas (9-7)
Projected pick: Daymeion Hughes, CB, Cal
The Cowboys need a cover-corner who can hold up opposite Terence Newman, and Hughes could be the right man for the job. His eight interceptions as a senior are witness to Hughes' improved instincts and stellar ball skills.
23. Kansas City (9-7)
Projected pick: +Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina
Rice's draft stock could fluctuate greatly depending on his postseason workouts. Assuming he grades out as a late first-round prospect, the Chiefs would welcome his pass-catching services on the perimeter.
24. New England (from Seattle)
Projected pick: Patrick Willis, ILB, Ole Miss
There's speculation that Tedy Bruschi will retire this offseason and Mike Vrabel is nearing the end, as well. With that in mind, the Patriots' top priority in this year's draft should be to get younger across the board at linebacker. Willis is instinctive, tough, quick and versatile enough to earn a starting job as a rookie.
25. N.Y. Jets (10-6)
Projected pick: Tank Tyler, DT, NC State
Tyler is a bit overrated, but at 323 pounds he could be the Jets' answer at nose tackle.
26. Philadelphia (10-6)
Projected pick: +Lawrence Timmons, OLB, Florida State
Timmons is a freakishly gifted athlete for his size. Although he is a bit inexperienced, Timmons' stock should skyrocket once he works out for NFL scouts at next month's combine.
27. New Orleans (10-6)
Projected pick: +Chris Houston, CB, Arkansas
The Saints need a youth movement at cornerback and Houston could emerge as a good value late in the first round. He's flying under the radar right now, but the more film I watch of him the more impressive his natural cover skills become. Houston did an excellent job of limiting top-flight WRs such as Jarrett, Meachem and LSU's Dwayne Bowe as a junior this past season.
28. New England (12-4)
Projected pick: Paul Posluszny, OLB, Penn State
Continuing with the linebacker theme, the Patriots seem like a perfect home for a versatile, hard-nosed and proven talent like Posluszny.
29. Baltimore (13-3)
Projected pick: Quentin Moses, DE/OLB, Georgia
The Ravens may chose not to re-sign free-agent OLB Adalius Thomas, so drafting a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker like Moses makes a lot of sense. The Ravens could also be in the market for a cornerback or offensive tackle with this pick.
30. San Diego (14-2)
Projected pick: Dwayne Bowe, WR, LSU
Safety is a possibility here, but the Chargers could get a better value in Bowe, who displays the size, speed and playmaking skills that QB Philip Rivers needs on the perimeter.
31. y-Indianapolis (12-4)
Projected pick: +Brandon Siler, ILB, Florida
Siler might be a reach in the first round, but he has the athleticism to emerge as a solid starting linebacker in the NFL. His quickness would fit well in the Colts' speed-driven defensive scheme.
32. y-Chicago (13-3)
Projected pick: +Greg Olsen, TE, Miami-FL
The Bears annually seem to ignore their need for a pass-catching tight end, but maybe this is the year they finally give in. Olsen's collegiate career was a roller coaster ride, but he possesses the size, athletic ability and hands to emerge as a consistent threat down the middle for QB Rex Grossman.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN Insider.