Below is my list of five underclassmen who I feel should have waited a year before declaring for the draft, and five who made the right decision.
Five who should've stayed in school
1. George Farmer, WR, USC: It's hard to believe when someone who wasn't good enough to start in college decides he's ready to play in the NFL. Farmer (6-foot-1, 209 pounds) has been at USC for three years, and this past season was the first in which he really did anything, posting four touchdown receptions. That tells you that maybe he's beginning to learn how to play, and that it would probably have been in his best interest to stay in school and get even better. This is especially true at a position that is as stacked as wide receiver is in this year's draft.
2. Trey Williams, RB, Texas A&M: There are at least 15 running backs this year more talented than Williams (5-7 3/4, 190 pounds). You would think that somebody at this size would want to stay in school and maybe become a specialist. He did average 6.9 yards per carry this year, but he was used very sparingly in the passing game. When a guy who hasn't really done anything sensational in college has eligibility remaining, why wouldn't he want to use it to the fullest?
3. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma: Green-Beckham put up pretty decent statistics in his two seasons at Missouri -- 87 catches, 1,287 yards and 17 touchdowns -- but he was a big target who kind of just jumped up and caught the ball; he really didn't have any route-running concepts. For someone who hasn't played a lot but has tremendous potential, he'd have been much better off staying and getting experience at Oklahoma, where he transferred to, than coming out early and probably just sitting on the bench in the NFL. Green-Beckham has dealt with off-the-field issues, as well, and with immature players it often helps if they're allowed to be around and mature with people they grow with. The draft is very subjective, but I would not take him in the first round. My feeling is that Green-Beckham should have used his remaining two years of eligiblity -- or at least one -- to learn how to be a better route runner and more mature person.
4. Xavier Cooper, DL, Washington State: When Cooper (6-3 1/2, 295 pounds) made the decision to declare for the draft, Washington State coach Mike Leach reached out to me and asked me to look at Cooper's tape and tell Cooper what I thought. He had 13 sacks in his career, which is good for a defensive tackle, but he'll probably be somewhere between a sixth-round pick and a free agent. I just don't think it's in a guy's best interest to come out early and be a sixth-round pick. Why not stay in school and probably improve yourself three or four rounds?
5. Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State: To Smith's credit, he graduated in December with a degree in criminology. At 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, he looks like he's got a lot of upside, but he's not very consistent with his technique and has issues with pass protection. His workouts will be even more vital than usual when it comes to his draft position, and if he doesn't have a good combine he's probably going to be a sixth-round pick. Had he stayed in school and maybe lost some weight, I think he really could've improved his draft position.
Five who made right decision
1. Leonard Williams, DL, USC: Williams (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) made 34 career starts in his three seasons at USC, and his upside is off the charts. I believe his upside is that he can be a Pro Bowl player for years to come. He has outstanding athletic ability, and as he gets older and stronger, I expect him to become an even better player than he already is. You could just see his improvement last season, playing with a lot more competitiveness and showing an ability to knock players away rather than simply relying on his speed. There's no question in my mind that he's ready to play and start in his first season for whoever takes him; I see him being taken in the top five of the draft. Normally, I'm against guys coming out early, but when he's a player like Williams, it makes sense. He's a man among boys.
2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: Gordon (6-0 1/2, 215 pounds) reminds me a lot of St. Louis Rams RB Tre Mason; he's bigger and stronger, but he's got Mason's tremendous quickness. He's an interesting player because up until this season he had started only eight games. This year he started all 13 games -- 14 if you count the bowl game -- running for 2,587 yards, the second-highest total ever, and 29 touchdowns. Gordon improved in two key areas last season: He became a much better pass catcher, posting 26 catches after posting 16 in his three seasons before, and a more reliable player in pass protection. I think Gordon has enough strength to carry the ball 20 times a game in the NFL, and he should have a lot more success as a rookie than Mason did.
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Cooper (6-0 1/2, 210 pounds) showed a lot of ability in his first two seasons with the Crimson Tide, but this was really his breakout year, with 1,727 receiving yards and 124 catches -- 25 of those catches came on third down, so that tells you that he was really moving the chains. Anytime Alabama needed a big play, it would go to him even though he was often double- or triple-teamed. I see Cooper as a taller version of Odell Beckham Jr., although he doesn't quite have Beckham's speed.
4. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford: Peat (6-foot-6 1/2, 312 pounds) is a bit of a throwback in that he's a left tackle who is a much better run blocker than he is a pass blocker (and he's already a pretty good pass blocker). But because of his athleticism and long arms, he should have no trouble learning how to do a better job in pass protection. I would not be surprised to see him start at left tackle in his first year in the league.
5. Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State: Waynes started 27 consecutive games over the last two years, posting six interceptions and 13 pass breakups. He's very good in press coverage and run support and has very good ball skills. I think he's a better player than former Spartans CB Darqueze Dennard, who was picked in the first round last year by Cincinnati. Expect Waynes to start as a rookie and contribute.