It seems early, but the fact is work on the 2009 draft began months ago, and teams have their college scouts fanned across the country right now, visiting campuses, watching games, getting measurables and putting together reports on the 600 to 700 draft-eligible players playing college ball right now.
The lists are starting to come out as well. Defense looks to dominate the top ten at this point, and three LBs sit near the top of the list. There's still an awful lot of work to do, and there is a lot of movement to come, obviously. But for all the Chiefs, Lions, and Rams fans out there, the quarter pole seems as good a time as any to look toward the future.
Michael Oher, T, Mississippi — At 6'5" and 318, he has the size of a prototypical left tackle. The Outland and Lombardi Trophy candidate is durable, having started 34 straight games, and has excellent athleticism, long arms and a good base. He's everything NFL teams are looking for in a cornerstone tackle.
Eugene Monroe, T, Virginia — Another guy who looks the part, with good height, long arms and a thick lower body. He has quick feet and mirrors well in pass pro, plays with good balance and leverage, and can be effective at the second level, though he still has to improve that part of his game. He hasn't yet shown himself to be as dominant a player as Oher, but he figures to be selected in the top half of the first round. He must improve on his play of a week ago. Against Duke he gave up a sack for the first time since 2006 and was called for a holding penalty.
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State — Jenkins, already an All-American and a Thorpe Award favorite, is a shutdown corner in the mold of Champ Bailey. He has elite size and speed and excellent ball skills. He can be physical in press coverage and is a sure tackler who is willing in run support. There's not much not to like. Jenkins was all over the field against USC, making 10 tackles, but he didn't have much help. His stock isn't falling.
James Laurinaitis, ILB, Ohio State — Winner of the Nagurski Award as a sophomore and an All-American and the Butkus Award winner a year ago, Laurinaitis is the face of the Buckeyes defense. He has a rare combination of size and athleticism and makes plays all over the field because of his ability to read and react quickly. Sheds and runs well and can hold up well between the tackles, but is at his best in the open field, where he is an explosive tackler. He has a great motor and is a high-effort player who uses his speed and athletic ability to its full potential.
Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech — Johnson may be the top prospect in the draft this year, but he had only one career start coming into the 2008 campaign and needed to prove that he could be productive week in and week out. He responded with a sack, fumble recovery, blocked FG and two passes defensed against Mississippi State last week. He is a natural pass rusher who has flashed big-play ability throughout his career. If he can prove to be a reliable starter, his stock will rise. At 6'7" and 258, he is a strong candidate to play OLB in a 3-4 defense.
Rey Maualuga, OLB, Southern Cal — Former SC 'backer Keith Rivers is making an early claim on NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Maualuga may be better. Blessed with size, speed and athleticism, he plays fast and his ability to read the play quickly has him in position to make plays all over the field. He can do it all on a football field. He will likely sit out this week's game against Oregon due to a mild knee sprain, but he is expected back this season. Look for teammate Brian Cushing, who will work at MLB this week, to find his way into the top ten over time as well.
William Moore, FS, Missouri — A great athlete and natural playmaker, Willie Mo has played free and strong safety. He has the speed and range to play as a single deep safety in coverage but can also be an intimidating hitter in the middle of the field. Sidelined with a sprained foot, he is another player with great potential who must prove he can provide production on a weekly basis.
Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas — Orakpo played only nine games as a junior, his first season as a starter, due to a knee injury, but proved to be very productive. He recorded nine tackles for a loss and 5½ sacks in those games. He is a disciplined run defender, can drop in coverage, and has the ability to rush the passer with his hand down or from a standup position. He's another smart, high-effort player who can play DE in a 4-3 or OLB in a 30 front.
Aaron Curry, OLB, Wake Forest — Curry is a ballhawk who as a junior had four picks and returned three for touchdowns. A real playmaker who attacks the game at a relentless pace, he may be the best all-around LB in the college game right now. He can stack and shed, has speed and range on the edge run, will run through backs on blitzes, and excels on special teams. He's an immediate impact player for an NFL team.
Duke Robinson, G, Oklahoma — Robinson's size is his greatest asset. He's a 335-pounder who engulfs defenders and dominates at the LOS. He's a natural knee bender who is strong enough in pass pro, but he is a roadgrader in the run game, with a quick first step that allows him to get into defenders quickly off the snap.