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January 30, 2011

Roundtable: Breaking down NFL draft decisions

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Which underclassman who declared for the draft do you most expect to become an NFL star? And which player surprised you the most with his decision to stay in school?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
A.J. Green was a terrific receiver for Georgia and I think he will be equally impressive for any NFL team that drafts him. Although playing on some so-so teams at Georgia, he distinguished himself as one of the best players in a conference loaded with talent. Critics might point out he caught fewer than 60 passes in all three of his seasons at Georgia. But he played with three starting quarterbacks. He was the Bulldogs' only real big-play threat - and SEC defenses knew that. Yet, he still managed to make big plays. He's big (6 feet 4, 212 pounds), has excellent hands and good speed. If he's not playing in the Pro Bowl within three years, it will only be because his team is playing in the Super Bowl. Of course, many were surprised that Stanford QB Andrew Luck opted to return to school for another season. That may seem shocking because he was going to be the first player taken. But he's also an intelligent guy with academic goals and his family is financially set, so maybe that shouldn't have been the stunner that some think it is. I actually was more surprised that Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon decided to remain in school after posting such a dynamic performance in 2010. He had 111 catches for 1,782 yards, led the nation in receiving yards per game and with 20 receiving touchdowns. Can he have a better year than that? Obviously, Oklahoma State coaches and fans hope so.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I think LSU CB Patrick Peterson has "future star" stamped on him. At 6 feet 1 and 222 pounds, he has a freakish combination of size and speed. That makes him a potential shut-down cornerback, a rare commodity that NFL teams covet. If that's not enough, Peterson doubles as a deadly return man. This past season, he ranked fourth in the nation in punt returns (16.1) and ninth in kickoff returns (29.1), running back two punts for touchdowns. As for the most surprising decision to stay, I see absolutely no logical reason why QB Andrew Luck opted to return to Stanford. He was projected by most to be the No. 1 overall pick. I understand that potential labor unrest could ruin the 2011 NFL season. Still, why stay in college and risk a career-ending injury? And that his head coach, Jim Harbaugh, left for the NFL should have been another big reason for Luck to jump to the pros. But he'll be back. As a college football fan, I am happy Luck will be back. He will be the poster boy for 2011 college football and the Heisman front-runner. Here's hoping he stays healthy.

David Fox's answer:
Andrew Luck made by far the most surprising decision to stay in school. He would have been the clear top quarterback in the draft and perhaps the first overall pick. That is enough reason to make a return surprising (as it was with Sam Bradford). As with Bradford, he'll play behind a rebuilt offensive line as a junior. But unlike Bradford, Luck loses almost his entire coaching staff, and he doesn't play at a traditional power such as Oklahoma, where the path to the national title game doesn't have quite so many barriers. A handful of receivers returned (Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd), which is somewhat surprising, but this receiver class is too deep. The ones who most needed to return to school did. Speaking of receivers, I'm going to take a receiver to be the best underclassman out of this draft. If it's possible, A.J. Green may have been underrated. Georgia proved that much during his four-game suspension. What always impressed me about Green besides his ability at receiver was his role as a special teams demon. In a fantastic group of receivers, he stands out the most.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I think Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers can make an immediate impact as a pass rusher as a rookie and gradually mature into one of the best at his position in the league. He blossomed as a pass rusher as a junior this past season, leading the nation in sacks with 15.5. His play against the run always has been good, and his pass-rush skills finally caught up. I also think LSU CB Patrick Peterson is going to be tremendous, but I think Bowers will make more of an impact long-term. The biggest surprise is Andrew Luck. He's considered the No. 1 pick in the draft and his coach leaves, yet he remains in school? Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon also surprised me. He has excellent size and had a phenomenal season.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I don't know if there's anyone in this draft class who fits the bill as a no-doubt-about-it future star the way Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh did last year, but I believe Auburn DT Nick Fairley may come the closest to matching that profile. Fairley was the nation's best defensive player this past season. He consistently delivered dominant efforts while playing in the nation's toughest conference. His performances against LSU, Alabama and Oregon suggest he also has a knack for delivering huge performances in big-game situations. He isn't as much of a can't-miss prospect as Suh and probably won't make the same type of immediate impact, but Fairley still figures to develop into an outstanding NFL defensive lineman. Stanford QB Andrew Luck is the obvious choice as the biggest surprise. I understand that the son of West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck wasn't in any immediate financial need. I also realize Luck is an exemplary student who wanted to earn his degree in architectural design. That said, whenever a near-certain No. 1 overall pick chooses to delay his windfall by returning to school for one more year, you have to consider it a major upset. And there's little question Luck would have gone first overall if he had chosen to enter the draft. I also was surprised by the large number of quality receivers (Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, among others) who chose to stay in school, but no decision surprised me as much as Luck's.



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