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Draft King Analysis

January 15, 2008
Lou Pickney,

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The race to the finish is over, as the deadline date for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft arrived today. Ohio State has to be happy about getting both ILB James Laurinaitis and CB Malcolm Jenkins back for 2008; both would have likely been first round picks in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Oklahoma didn't fare so well; not only did they lose CB Reggie Smith (who some thought would return due to a broken toe suffered in the Big XII title game) and WR Malcolm Kelly, but the Sooners also lost LB Curtis Lofton, the team's leading tackler in 2007. Lofton's NFL entry came as a surprise to many Sooner fans, since he was primarily a special teams contributor in 2006, but Lofton has opted to strike while the iron is hot.

My favorite information slip-up of this past off-season was made by new Arkansas defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Last Thursday, 1/10, he was asked about Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, since he had coached against them for the past three years at Mississippi State. "They're great players," Johnson said. "I wish they weren't leaving."

Naturally, this sent Arkansas into panic mode, where they denied that any decision had been made. Right. As expected, the official announcement on McFadden and Jones entering the NFL Draft came on Monday 1/14. I can only imagine Bobby Petrino's reaction upon finding out about the leak.

It's entertaining to look at the mock draft board now that everyone is locked into place. Certainly some adjustments will be made next week, but it's not a bad start IMO. Time will tell if Ryan Clady really ends up as a top five pick, but given the Chiefs' desperate need for a young, quality offensive tackle, it wouldn't surprise me.

Ohio State's gain is very likely New England's loss. With the Patriots perched at #7 (thanks to the 49ers), it appeared very likely that the Pats would take one of two Ohio State juniors who would have fit very well into their system: CB Malcolm Jenkins or ILB James Laurinaitis. But to the disadvantage of the Patriots, and the rest of the Big Ten, Ohio State was able to lure both of them back. The Buckeyes weren't able to keep DE Vernon Gholston, but two out of three isn't bad. It sure beats zero out of three; if you doubt me, ask Oklahoma fans how they're feeling right about now.

For a brief time today I had a mention on the front page on here that Tennessee RB Arian Foster had decided to return to Knoxville for his senior year; I removed it due to concerns over clutter. But that story received more play in the mainstream sports media than I expected (especially relative to the relatively lackluster coverage given to Smith's down-to-the-wire decision.) I doubted that Foster would have thrown himself into the mix of what may go down as the best running back class of all time. 25 years after the famous QB class of 1983, we may be in the Year of the Running Back.

As for Foster, barring injury, he will very likely end up going much higher in the 2009 Draft than he would have in the 2008 Draft. Supply and demand is a powerful thing.

While there is one off-the-charts RB in Darren McFadden, the quality and depth at the running back spot is really something. When I wrote an article last month about who I considered to be the top junior eight RBs, I had no idea that all eight of them would end up entering the draft.

Owen Schmitt
Don't forget about Owen Schmitt in the 2008 Draft. (Randy Snyder/Icon SMI)

The RB depth in this draft is going to be crazy. The round to watch closely is round two, where you can anticipate teams will be making all kinds of moves to land running backs who would be likely first rounders in another year. Rounds three and four might be more of the same. While it requires time to tell how players end up panning out, at least for now it will be very interesting to watch play out.

Another thought: how will the glut of RB talent impact West Virginia FB Owen Schmitt? His skill set is unique enough to where he may end up going ahead of more traditional type running backs. Could Schmitt go ahead of smaller but prolific RBs like Ray Rice and Kevin Smith? I wouldn't count it out.

The great irony of this is that there is relatively little demand for a primary running back going into the draft, and that's before San Diego RB Michael Turner hits unrestricted free agency. Green Bay looked that the team in greatest need of a franchise RB at the midpoint of the season, but with RB Ryan Grant's strong play down the stretch and his 201 yard performance against Seattle, that may not be the case anymore.

Further complicating the situation is that, with only a few exceptions, there aren't many teams that would be entirely disinterested in adding RB talent. In a league where RBs take a beating and where depth may be needed at any time (such as this past Sunday by San Diego in Indianapolis), and with the "two RB approach" being en vogue after the past Super Bowl featured teams in the Colts and Bears that utilized that approach, you could end up seeing some real surprises by teams looking to not only add depth, but starting quality caliber depth... at second round (or lower) prices.


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