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Draft King Analysis

July 1, 2008
Lou Pickney,

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Happy July to you all. For football fans, this is the time of year when many start to get a bit antsy. Football starts (at least on one level or another) next month, and the pre-season NCAA football hype has begun. I just watched Kirk Herbstreit run through his top five teams who could win it all, though in typical 6 PM ET SportsCenter style, they turned it into a two-parter to keep people watching. In a funny moment, Herbstreit (an Ohio State grad) said that he loved Florida -- but shook his head "no" as he said it. As always, body language speaks louder than words.

Don't take that as a knock on Herby, though; he is a great television broadcaster, particularly impressive with the way ESPN has shipped him all across the country, mixing pre-game on-location studio work with color commentary. For all the negativity and criticism that comes with sports at times, I like to acknowledge those who perform at a strong level in covering it.

And, with Ohio State on my mind after seeing that segment, now seems like a good time to preview two Buckeye seniors who are very likely going to be high draft picks in the 2009 NFL Draft: Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis.

Jenkins could have ended up as the top corner taken in the 2008 NFL Draft, but he opted, along with Laurinaitis, to return for school for his senior season. Ohio State lucked out in keeping those two. Of the three superstar defensive players from 2007, only DE Vernon Gholston jumped to the NFL. Jenkins and Laurinaitis would have almost surely been first round picks and likely would have been starters as rookies in the NFL. Now? They return to a strong Ohio State team is coming off of two consecutive BCS Title games.

Malcolm Jenkins was arguably the best CB prospect in college football last year, and he should be able to shut down virtually any wide receiver prospect in man-to-man coverage. At 6'0" 200 pounds and running an estimated 4.45 40, Jenkins has the physical tools to take care of business, and he has proven in past years that he has the smarts to play solid coverage as well.

James Laurinaitis is a beast at inside linebacker. The son of pro wrestling legend Road Warrior Animal, Laurinaitis has his father's athleticism and the instincts at inside linebacker that make him very dangerous. The stats on him match the prototype for the ILB/MLB position: 6'2", 240 pounds, and he reportedly can run a sub-4.6 40. He brings the big hits, has the vision to not overpursue plays, and possesses the speed to cover sideline-to-sideline.

In the past couple of years, the reality was that making it past Laurinaitis took a concerted effort by an offense. How did teams do it? The process wasn't easy against the very savvy Laurinaitis, but teams went after him by trapping or pulling a guard or doing something similar to put a helmet on him ahead of a running back. But, with another year of seasoning, even offenses set on blocking Laurinaitis may have a tough time doing so.

James Laurinaitis
Don't doubt the awareness of James Laurinaitis. (Icon SMI)

The crazy thing is that, as good as Laurinaitis is, he might not be the top inside linebacker taken in the 2009 NFL Draft with USC senior MLB Rey Maualuga in the mix. 2009 should be a very good year for teams drafting in the top ten that need a middle linebacker.

It could be argued that the primary benefactor of the decision by both Laurinaitis and Maualuga to return for their respective senior seasons was Tennessee LB Jerrod Mayo, who New England used the #10 overall pick on in the 2008 Draft to fill an ILB spot in its 3-4 defense. Mayo made what in hindsight turned out to be arguably the smartest move to go pro by a linebacker that I can think of in the past 10-15 years.

The Buckeyes have QB Todd Boeckman and RB Beanie Wells returning, and if their line (on both sides of the ball) can play even moderately well, Ohio State is a strong favorite to be playing for the BCS Title in January 2009. The early-season trip to USC will be a challenge (albeit a fascinating matchup), but Ohio State looks stacked.


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