More to underclassmen than Newton, Fairley

Todd McShay
Scouts Inc.

The Auburn duo of QB Cam Newton and DT Nick Fairley have gotten a lot of attention for their decisions to enter the 2011 NFL draft, and rightly so, but they're not the only 2011 underclassmen worth talking about.

Fairley could be the top overall pick when all is said and done thanks to his size, quickness and ability to disrupt, and Newton could come off the board in the middle of the first round because of his enormous potential. As for the other underclassmen, there are plenty of underrated/overrated prospects and one position group in particular that received very little help from non-seniors.

Most underrated
1. Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert -- There has been a lot of talk about Gabbert in recent days and he might not be as underrated as he was a week ago, but the more tape we study the more he grows on us. He's not on the same level as Andrew Luck, but Gabbert is similar to Mark Sanchez coming out of USC. Gabbert has the size, arm strength, accuracy and toughness to become a very good NFL starter when he makes the full transition to a pro-style offense.

2. Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure -- He's flown under the radar because of his team's lack of overall success, but Leshoure looks like he's built to succeed in the NFL. He has good size and runs with good pad level, and while he's not a burner Leshoure excels in terms of lateral quickness and making sharp cuts to get upfield. Mark Ingram and Ryan Williams will get most of the attention but don't be surprised if Leshoure is right there in the discussion with them.

3. USC OT Tyron Smith -- He needs to add some bulk and strength but Smith has tremendous feet and balance and plays with a mean streak. In an offensive tackle class that lacks elite talent he will challenge the likes of Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo and eventually work his way tin the middle of the first round.

Most overrated
1. Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett -- His is a tough evaluation because Mallett can make throws no other quarterback in this class, and even some current NFL starters, can make. The ball explodes out of his hand and he moves well outside the pocket for a 6-foot-6 prospect. However, he does not handle pressure well, especially up the middle, and his accuracy suffers in the face of the pass rush. There are also concerns about his intangibles and leadership, and teams will be digging hard before investing millions of guaranteed dollars.

2. Wisconsin RB John Clay -- I've heard some scouts label Clay a second- or third-round pick, but I just don't see it. He is a bruising runner but has carried a heavy load in college and been nicked up as a result. I like how hard he runs and the passion he plays with but Clay doesn't bring much to the table in terms of lateral agility, big-play ability or versatility. He's a Day 3 prospect in my book.

3. USC DT Jurrell Casey -- He is talented and shows the quickness to disrupt plays in the backfield, and Casey can also be strong at the point of attack. Because of those positives I believe Casey can develop into a solid NFL starter at some point, but he just didn't seem to take that next step and make a big improvement in 2010. Casey moves well for his size and flashes on tape but he does not finish enough plays and is not a dominant force. He looks like a late-second round pick at this point.

Little help for tight end class
The 2011 tight end class did not get a significant boost from the underclassmen. Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph is the top prospect, and while he can make plays in the passing game he's a second-rounder coming off a season-ending hamstring injury.

After Rudolph the next three prospects on the list are no better than third-rounders. Tennessee's Luke Stocker has great size and is one of the better blockers in the class but will never stretch the field and become a difference-maker as a receiver.

Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks is a tougher, slower version of New England Patriots rookie TE Aaron Hernandez, a player who must catch on with a team that can find the right role for his skill set. D.J. Williams of Arkansas is very similar to Kendricks and has solid overall hands in the passing game.

Finally, Weslye Saunders is the most naturally talented tight end on the board but major character concerns and the fact that he was dismissed by South Carolina without playing a game this season make him a mid-round prospect.

Top returning underclassmen
1. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford -- Luck is clearly the most NFL-ready quarterback in college today and would have been the No. 1 overall pick if he declared. If he stays healthy and has a productive 2011 season Luck is a slam dunk as the top pick in the 2012 draft.

2. CB Janoris Jenkins, Florida -- The shoulder injury that kept him out of the Outback Bowl was likely going to cost Jenkins a big part of the pre-draft process as well. If gets back to 100 percent he's an early-first round prospect for 2012. He can make plays in man coverage and held the trio of A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffery to an average of 4.7 catches for 38 yards with just one total touchdown between the three.

3. WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State -- He would have been a mid-to-late first-round pick this year but Blackmon made the right decision. Green and Jones are locked in at the top of the 2011 class, and with a year to improve Blackmon will be fighting for the top spot in 2012 rather than the No. 3 spot this year.

Scouts Inc.'s Top 32
Scouts Inc. The decisions of underclassmen to enter the draft or return to school has meant big changes to our ranking of the top 32 overall prospects. Underclassmen now occupy 18 spots, including seven of the top eight, and only two offensive players are in the top 10 overall.

Scouts Inc.'s Top 32 Prospects
Player Position School Height Weight Grade
1. Da'Quan Bowers* DE Clemson 6-4 280 97
2. Nick Fairley DT Auburn 6-4 288 97
3. Patrick Peterson* CB LSU 6-1 211 97
4. A.J. Green* WR Georgia 6-4 208 97
5. Prince Amukamara CB Nebraska 6-0 203 96
6. Blaine Gabbert* QB Missouri 6-5 240 96
7. Marcell Dareus* DT Alabama 6-2⅝ 303 96
8. Robert Quinn* DE North Carolina 6-4⅝ 254 96
9. Von Miller OLB Texas A&M 6-3 238 95
10. Ryan Kerrigan DE Purdue 6-4 259 95
11. Stephen Paea DT Oregon State 6-1 304 95
12. Julio Jones* WR Alabama 6-4 211 95
13. Adrian Clayborn DE Iowa 6-3 285 94
14. Nate Solder OT Colorado 6-8 300 94
15. Cameron Jordan DE California 6-4 280 93
16. Tyron Smith* OT USC 6-5 291 93
17. Mike Pouncey C Florida 6-5 309 93
18. Akeem Ayers* OLB UCLA 6-3 249 93
19. Gabe Carimi OT Wisconsin 6-6 318 92
20. Jake Locker QB Washington 6-2 229 92
21. J.J. Watt* DE Wisconsin 6-5 279 92
22. Anthony Castonzo OT Boston College 6-7 295 91
23. Mark Ingram* RB Alabama 5-10 215 91
24. Cameron Heyward DE Ohio State 6-5 278 91
25. Corey Liuget* DT Illinois 6-3 300 91
26. Justin Houston* OLB Georgia 6-3 254 90
27. Allen Bailey DE Miami 6-3 287 90
28. Cam Newton* QB Auburn 6-5 248 90
29. Brandon Harris* CB Miami (FL) 5-10 193 89
30. Ryan Mallett* QB Arkansas 6-6 238 89
31. Justin Houston* RB Virginia Tech 5-10 210 89
32. Drake Nevis DT LSU 6-0 289 88
* denotes draft-eligible underclassmen