While all eyes were seemingly glued to the NFL playoffs this past weekend, some of the NFL's future stars were submitting their names for a chance to someday play under the brightest lights in football. January 16th signaled the deadline for which underclassmen had to declare their entry into the 2005 NFL Draft. While the official list will be released by the NFL after the all the lesser known names are gathered up, here are some of the biggest names that have decided to throw their hats in the ring.
This year's group of underclassmen has names on both sides of the ball that will be called on the first day of the draft in April. On the offensive side of the ball, juniors Aaron Rodgers (California) and Alex Smith (Utah) could be the top two quarterbacks taken in the draft. The running back position is made stronger with the addition of juniors Marion Barber (Minnesota), Frank Gore (Miami) and Vernand Morency (Okla. State). The position most affected by the influx of underclassmen is at wide receiver. Technically, Mike Williams (formerly-USC) enters the draft as a junior and is viewed as the best of the bunch overall. He is joined by a trio of juniors; South Carolina's Troy Williamson, Dante Ridgeway of Ball State and Utah's Steve Savoy. Another junior receiver entering the draft is West Virginia's Chris Henry, who has enough talent to play at the next level but has huge questions about his attitude and maturity. Of all the underclassmen on the offensive side of the ball, the one player that may be the class of the field and make the most immediate impact on his NFL team may be Virginia tight end, Heath Miller.
On the defensive side, a lot of NFL coaches and defensive coordinators are smiling with the options that have been provided by the influx of underclassmen. This is especially true at linebacker with the addition of Florida super-sophomore Channing Crowder. Joining him are juniors Shawne Merriman (Maryland), Odell Thurman (Georgia), Daryl Blackstock (Virginia) and Lofa Tatupu of USC. The secondary has another sophomore in its ranks in cornerback Brandon Browner of Oregon State. In addition to him, Michigan's Ernest Shazor, Georgia's Thomas Davis (Jr./FS), Adam 'Pac Man' Jones (Jr./CB) of West Virginia, Brodney Pool (Jr./FS) of Oklahoma and Justin Miller (Jr./CB) of Clemson round out a talented group of underclassmen defensive prospects.
We will post the official list once it is released by the NFL.
Be sure to check out the underclassmen page in the Draft Section for a list of juniors that have declared themselves eligible.