Who’s In – A position-by-position breakdown of the latest early entries
Bobby Reid (Oklahoma State) – A 20-game starter over parts of the last three seasons, Reid was supplanted by sophomore Zac Robinson two games into this season. Despite unwavering support from head coach Mike Gundy, Reid recently announced that he would leave Oklahoma State, but rather than transfer to another school, has decided to enter the NFL draft.
At 6-3, 235-pounds, Reid possesses above-average size and athleticism and has demonstrated the ability to improvise, but as an erratic passer, will not be drafted. He will likely receive training camp invites as an athlete, with the intention of moving to receiver.
Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois) – Scouts’ assessments of Mendenhall are not as clear-cut as one would expect. Mendenhall did cap his Big Ten Player of the Year campaign with a 155-yard rushing effort vs. USC in the Rose Bowl, but as a one-year starter operating out of an option offense remains somewhat of an unknown quantity.
Mendenhall boasts an impressive 6.5-yards per carry career average, and at 5-11, 224-pounds is a hard-charging, north-south runner. He possesses the balance to rarely go down on first contact, and a thick and powerful base and leg drive to charge through arm tackles. However, questions remain about Mendenhall’s ability to consistently catch the ball and whether fumbling issues that arose in 2006 have ceased. Also, as a running back in Illinois’ option offense, Mendenhall was the beneficiary of operating in space on the perimeter, and appears tight-hipped changing directions.
Currently, Mendenhall is projected as a late first-round pick, but must still time well at his pre-draft workouts. With the tremendous influx of junior running backs declaring for the draft, namely Darren McFadden (Arkansas), Jamaal Charles (Texas), and Kevin Smith (Central Florida), not to mention Jonathan Stewart (Oregon), and James Davis (Clemson) who are expected to declare, competition will be fierce and Mendenhall could slide into the second round.
Kevin Smith (Central Florida) – After recently declaring that he would return to school, Smith has instead opted to enter the draft. The nation’s leading rusher, Smith came within 61 yards of breaking Barry Sanders' D-IA single season rushing record. However, an absurd 450 carries this season likely made Smith’s decision to leave school easier, given the propensity of running backs to break down following 375-plus carry seasons.
Scouts will question his speed and consider that most of his production came against porous Conference USA defenses. However, as the only legitimate weapon on an equally porous UCF offense, Smith was a target week in and week out and still managed to dance through opposing secondaries. He currently projects as a third-round pick, again, given the influx of junior running back talent.
Davone Bess (Hawaii) – Considered the most dangerous of Hawaii’s trio of productive receivers, the compact and quick-twitch Bess enters a receiver draft class void of top end talent. Texas senior Limas Sweed is the consensus top receiver, with blazing Houston senior Donnie Avery rising up the charts. Bess fits into that next tier of receivers, likely to be occupied by a “junior congregate” featuring DeSean Jackson (California) and Mario Manningham (Michigan) – neither of whom has yet to declare – amongst others.
Bess worked primarily underneath in Hawaii’s vaunted spread attack, and flashed impressive speed, agility, and ankle breaking moves, and was thus most dangerous after the catch. He projects as a slot, move-type receiver, similar to the way Pittsburgh utilizes Hines Ward, and is currently slotted for the second to third round.
James Hardy (Indiana) – The immensely talented former Hoosiers basketball player will take his game to the NFL gridiron. At 6-7, 220-pounds, Hardy is an obvious red-zone target, but also uniquely agile for his size and the best “hands catcher” in the draft. A constant work in progress, Hardy spent last off-season with NFL FS Darren Sharper and CB Ike Taylor to improve his route running. Hardy’s deficiency lies in his lack of speed, and as evidenced against Wisconsin’s Jack Ikegwuonu and Penn State’s Justin King (whom he still torched for 14 receptions, 142 yards and 2 TDs), he will struggle to separate downfield.
Hardy appears to have overcome a rough upbringing, which resulted in bouts of immaturity and a May 2006 arrest for domestic battery. Athletic ability and potential unquestioned, Hardy must foremost prove to NFL teams that stories lauding his transformation from malcontent to man are more fact than fiction. This aspect of his evaluation will ultimately determine whether he sneaks into the first round or falls into the second.
Devin Thomas (Michigan State) – In a conference featuring surefire first day picks, James Hardy and Mario Manningham, Thomas led the Big Ten in receiving yards. After starting just one game last season, the 6-2, 218-pound former JUCO transfer clearly burst onto the scene this season, amassing a school single-season record 1,260 receiving yards.
The muscle-bound Thomas is strong off the line and a capable downfield threat, but as evidenced in consecutive weeks vs. Purdue and Penn State, he must catch the ball more consistently.
Thomas is currently regarded as a first-day pick.