Decision by junior quarterbacks to enter draft just got a lot tougher

Associated Press
Injuries to top QB prospects Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow could have repercussions in the 2010 NFL Draft.

The 2010 NFL Draft is shaping up to be the "Year of the Quarterback", and the flood of signal-callers entering the league will likely be keyed by a number of underclassmen opting to bypass their final years. While the mass exodus of junior prospects has become the norm recently, this year's migration might be tied directly to the spate of injuries to top quarterback prospects in recent weeks.

Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Florida's Tim Tebow have suffered injuries this season. While their dings are not expected to affect their long-term futures, the prospect of having their draft status altered by an injury could make several highly rated underclassmen passers toss their hat into the NFL ring.

Washington's Jake Locker, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, Ole Miss' Jevan Snead and Bradford are a few of the young signal-callers with tough decisions to make at the end of the college season, and their choices may alter the top of the draft. Bradford is still viewed by some scouts as the best quarterback prospect in this year's class after being widely hailed as the potential No. 1 overall pick last year had he entered the draft. His decision to stay in school might have cost him more than $41 million in guaranteed money (Matthew Stafford signed a six-year, $78 million deal with $41.7 million in guarantees as last year's top pick), and his shoulder injury could cause NFL teams to downgrade him before next spring.

Whereas Tebow has other obstacles potentially obstructing his path to the first round, the former Heisman Trophy winner's recent concussion provided a scare that other potential hopefuls are sure to notice. The threat of taking a career-altering hit is always a concern, but the latest developments have now brought that concern to the forefront of every NFL prospect's mind.

Another factor that could play into the decision of junior quarterbacks is the early success New York Jets rookie Mark Sanchez is enjoying this season. Sanchez entered the 2009 draft against the wishes of USC coach Pete Carroll, who thought the quarterback wasn't ready for the NFL with only one full season as the Trojans' starter. However, Sanchez is off to a fast -- and somewhat flawless -- start with the Jets, and his lack of collegiate experience doesn't appear to have hindered his development.

Underclassmen contemplating making the jump, however, should consider the cases of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. The rising NFL stars stayed through their senior seasons, and the extra year of collegiate experience enabled them to make quick transitions to the pro game. Both logged a significant number of starts during their collegiate careers (Ryan had 34 at Boston College and Flacco 26 at Delaware), which proved to be invaluable experience for both quarterbacks.

Games this week on the radar of NFL scouts
Penn State at Illinois, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Scouts will focus on the battle between Illinois guard Jon Asamoah and Penn State DT Jared Odrick. This should be a good battle since both prospects carry high grades at their respective positions, and scouts will pay close attention to how well each competitor bounces back from negative plays. Another battle to watch is the one between Illinois tight end Michael Hoomanawanui vs. PSU junior Navorro Bowman and possibly Sean Lee. The Nittany Lions' highly rated linebacking duo has been snake-bitten by injuries, but could be on the field together for the first time this season.

UCLA at Stanford, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Scouts will attend this battle between Pac-10 foes to witness the showdown between Stanford running back Toby Gerhart and UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter. Gerhart rushed for a career-high 200 yards against Washington, and he is climbing up draft boards as a coveted every-down back. With Carter emerging as a tackling machine in the center of the Bruins' defense, scouts are anxious to see how well he fills the alley against a big, bruising back like Gerhart.

LSU at Georgia, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
The matchup garnering the most attention in this SEC battle is between Georgia defensive tackles Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins against LSU's formidable front line. Owens and Atkins haven't fared well this season as pass rushers and their stock has dipped a bit as a result, but a big game against the Tigers could reverse their fortunes. Scouts will also scrutinize the performance of Tigers tackle Ciron Black during the matchup to continue to assess his skills as a potential franchise offensive tackle. Black's footwork and movement skills at the position have been questioned, so each game against elite competition provides him an opportunity to silence his critics. Keep an eye on LSU running backs Charles Scott and Keiland Williams to see if they can finally break out after struggling for the first quarter of the season. With the senior running back class being rated as mediocre in minds of many NFL teams, Scott and Williams need to put together a string of solid showings to enhance their draft status.

Oklahoma at Miami, 8 p.m. ET Saturday
This matchup gives Soooners tackle Trent Williams an opportunity to showcase his blocking skills against a pro-style defensive line. Williams made the move from right tackle to the left side this season, and he needs to show scouts that he has the feet to play against elite rushers. For the Hurricanes, scouts are curious to see how well defensive end Eric Moncur and linebacker Darryl Sharpton play against the Sooners' spread offense. The wide-open scheme will lead to a number of rush opportunities for Moncur, and give Sharpton a chance to showcase his movement skills in space. Good performances by both players could raise their profiles in scouting circles. Oklahoma announced Thursday that QB Sam Bradford will not make his return this week.

USC at Cal, 8 p.m. ET Saturday
This battle between Pac-10 heavyweights features an intriguing matchup between Cal defensive end Tyson Alualu and USC left tackle Charles Brown and guard Jeff Byers. Alualu has an intriguing set of skills that will test the Trojans' duo at the point of attack. In addition to watching the battle in the trenches, scouts will take a hard look at cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson's coverage against the Trojans' young receiving corps. Trojans receiver Damian Williams is a promising future prospect, and his skills are reminiscent of players who play on Sundays. How well Thompson fares against Williams could give scouts a solid indicator of his pro potential. Also keep an eye on Trojans tight end Anthony McCoy. The polished pass catcher has quietly moved up draft boards after playing well this season.

Sleeper to Watch: Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon
The ultra-athletic tight end put on a spectacular performance against Cal last week (11 receptions for 148 yards with three touchdowns) and has shot up draft boards due to his exceptional receiving skills. Dickson is not only a precise route runner, but he is an explosive runner with the ability to turn screens and short passes into big gainers in the open field. While the Oregon star still needs some work as a blocker, his immense potential as a game-breaking tight end has created a buzz in the scouting community.
The Sweet 16
Bucky Brooks' updated list of the top 16 senior NFL prospects for the 2010 draft class, in order of when they might get drafted:

Russell Okung 1. Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State: Okung is a dominating lineman with exceptional size and nimble feet. He continues to impress scouts with his superior skills as a run and pass blocker, and is undoubtedly a franchise-caliber left tackle prospect.

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska: Scouts continue to marvel at Suh's exceptional strength, power and athleticism. He is a dominant interior player with the skills to terrorize opponents as a run stuffer or pass rusher, and his unique skill set makes him the top defensive prospect in the draft.

3. Taylor Mays, FS, USC: Some scouts rate this hard-hitting safety as the top defensive player in the 2010 draft. An exceptional athlete with outstanding instincts and awareness, Mays is the prototypical enforcer defensive coordinators covet in the middle of the field.

4. Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama (6-5, 365): The mammoth run stuffer is immovable at the point and gobbles up double teams with ease. Cody's ability to clog the middle is invaluable in the pro game, but concerns about his weight may cause his stock to drop prior to the draft. Nevertheless, few defensive tackles have the potential to impact a defense like Cody.

5. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (6-3, 210): McCoy has not put up impressive numbers this season but remains a highly regarded quarterback prospect due to his superior intangibles. McCoy shows good accuracy, awareness and anticipation as a pocket passer, and continues to surprise scouts with his athleticism on the perimeter. McCoy's overall package makes him the top choice among senior quarterbacks.
Complete list ...