The Bears' former director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel has over 30 years of experience in NFL scouting and he'll be breaking down the top NFL prospects to watch this college season and other NFL news each week here at Pro Football Weekly. You can follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
The deadline has passed for college underclassmen to enter the 2017 NFL Draft. It will still be a few days before the NFL releases the official list, but by my count there are 95 players who have given up there college eligibility to try and play as a professional.
In recent years, the NFL has waited three days before they release the official list, the reason being they give the players those extra days to change their mind and return to college. As long as the player has not signed with an agent, it is fine with the NFL if he returns to college life. In fact, the league’s public stance is they would prefer the players to remain in college.
If things hold true to form, about 50 percent of those who declared will be disappointed come draft weekend. They will either not get drafted or they will get drafted later than they thought they would be selected. Many of these players think they are first-round selections, but the fact remains that only 32 players can go in the first round and some of those will be seniors.
The position where this draft needed quality players and underclassmen still didn’t declare was the offensive line. The offensive line class was weak to begin with and only six underclassmen declared. Of those six, only three are natural left tackles. Cam Robinson from Alabama, Rod Johnson from Florida State and Garett Bolles from Utah played left tackle at a high level in college. Robinson could be the first tackle selected while Bolles has talent but needs strength and bulk. Bolles could be a first-rounder this year but in other years he would be drafted later. Johnson is another guy who needs strength and bulk as well as technique work.
Ryan Ramczyk from Wisconsin played left tackle in college but will be a right tackle or a guard in the NFL. USC's Damien Mama is a guard while Florida’s David Sharpe at 350-plus will most likely also play guard.
The two positions that underclassmen really helped strengthen in the draft are running back and edge pass rusher. Leonard Fournette from LSU, Dalvin Cook form Florida State and Christian McCaffrey from Stanford could all go in the first round.
Players like Samaje Perine from Oklahoma, D’Onta Foreman from Texas and Wayne Gallman from Clemson won’t go in the first round but are part of what may be the strongest running back class in years. A few others are James Conner from Pitt and Jeremy McNichols form Boise State.
The first three quarterbacks to be selected will all be underclassmen. It remains to be seen in what order they will be selected, but Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky will all go in the opening round. Again, workouts and interviews will play a large part in who gets selected where.
Except for last year, the wide receiver classes in recent years have been strong. This year will be strong again because of the underclassmen who have declared. Players like Mike Williams form Clemson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, from USC, John Ross form Washington and KD Cannon from Baylor make an already good class even better.
We seldom see the old-fashioned, strong blocking tight end anymore. In today’s game, the “tight end” is a huge wide receiver who can create mismatches. This year there are two underclassmen who will be getting a lot of interest from scouts and coaches and they are David Njoku from Miami and Bucky Hodges from Virginia Tech. Njoku has some special to him and may well get drafted in the opening round of the draft.
Later in the week we will take a look at some of the top underclassmen on the defensive side of the ball who have entered the NFL Draft.