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Friday, January 2, 2009

Reading the Tea Leaves

While Georgia wanted to celebrate its win over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, the biggest story afterward was what might be in store for the Bulldogs' underclassmen who may potentially head to the NFL. Matthew Stafford, Asher Allen and Knowshon Moreno have until Jan. 15 to declare their eligibility for the draft, but none have set time tables for when an announcement may come. So while it's purely a guessing game right now, there are some clues we can look at to come up with an educated guess...

Matthew Stafford

STATS: Stafford threw for nearly 3,500 yards this season, including both his first 300- and 400-yard games. He threw just 10 interceptions while tossing a school-record 25 touchdowns this season.

There isn't much in the way of quality seniors in this year's quarterback draft class, which makes Stafford's possible entry into the draft a potential coup for a bad team in need of a franchise QB. Several other underclassmen such as USC's Mark Sanchez and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, however, could also leave school early, potentially pushing Stafford down the first round. As Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn have found out in years past, possible No. 1 overall selections can quickly find themselves still waiting by pick 20.

ANALYSIS: The general consensus seems to be that Stafford will go to the NFL as a potential top overall draft pick by the Detroit Lions. While the prospect of throwing to Calvin Johnson might seem appealing to Stafford, the Lions also just finished 0-16, which has to be a consideration for any quarterback who might go there. Stafford's game could still use some improvement, too. While he clearly has the arm to be a top-flight NFL quarterback, he doesn't always have the touch. While he was exceptional in the second half of the Capital One Bowl, his first half featured a bevy of poorly thrown balls that illustrated why some scouts are wary of him. Still, his draft stock is high now, and as Matt Leinart and Quinn illustrated, sometimes a player needs to strike while the iron is hot.

HE SAYS: "It's going to be an extremely hard decision for me. Obviously there is the lure of the NFL, but to tell you the truth, I'm 50-50 right now, and I don't know what I want to do."

POSSIBLE CLUE: I've been a part of at least three different conversations Stafford has had with reporters during the past few weeks about the failures of NFL quarterbacks who left school early. That list includes infamous names like Ryan Leaf, Alex Smith and Tim Couch, but the one Stafford always brings up -- every time -- is Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was a fourth-year junior when he left for the NFL and has had far more success than any of his underclass brethren. Could Stafford be trying to make his case for leaving?

ODDS: 50/50... if he says it, I'll believe it.

Knowshon Moreno

STATS: Moreno finished 2008 with 1,400 yards rushing on the nose, becoming just the second UGA running back in history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. The third-year sophomore averaged 5.6 yards per carry and racked up 16 touchdowns on the ground, but in the latter stages of the season also demonstrated that he could be a threat out of the backfield. Moreno added 17 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns in his last four games of the year.

POTENTIAL: Should Moreno choose to head to the NFL, most experts have him pegged as the top running back on the board, with Ohio State underclassman Beanie Wells a close second. Moreno's blocking has improved this season, and while his strengths won't be highlighted by many of the statistical measures at NFL workouts, his game highlights speak for themselves. His competitiveness, his size and his instincts make him a favorite of scouts. Most draft boards have Moreno going between picks 15 and 25 overall.

ANALYSIS: While fans have plead their case for both Stafford and Moreno to return to school, it seems like most concede that if Moreno thinks he's ready for the NFL, that's the right decision to make. Unlike quarterbacks, running backs have a relatively simple transition to playing at the next level, which means Knowshon could be ready to succeed quickly. More importantly, runners tend to have far shorter careers. As the saying goes, a back only has so many hits in him, so he might as well make as much money from them as possible.

HE SAYS: "I'm going to go home, talk to my family and stuff like that, and that's when I'm going to make my decision."

POSSIBLE CLUE: Moreno told reporters after the Capital One Bowl that he hadn't given the draft much thought, but that he was going home to New Jersey to talk with family about his decision. A reporter then asked if he was going home for just three or four days or longer. Moreno responded by saying he hadn't planned any schedule yet. Well, classes begin Jan. 8, so if he was planning on attending them, you might think he'd have return plans from Jersey in mind.

ODDS: 75/25 he goes

Asher Allen

Allen finished his junior season with 53 tackles -- 11 fewer than 2007 -- but was often avoided by opponents who respected his coverage skills. He capped the year with a strong nine-tackle performance in the Capital One Bowl where he added a sack and nearly hauled in an interception along the sideline. That was a source of consternation for Allen, however, who finished the year without a pick.

Allen's performance this season probably didn't help his value much, but the news that he played much of the season with a broken hand might provide a bit of rationale for the drop in numbers. Allen has decent size, above average speed and plays physical. He runs in the mid-4.4s and has shown he can be an asset on special teams, too, despite not being used in that role this season. Allen could top out as an early second rounder this year, but could also fall to the third or fourth depending on how much stock teams put into his sub-par 2008 numbers.

ANALYSIS: While Moreno and Stafford get all the attention, Allen may actually be the toughest of the three for Georgia to replace next season. His experience and physical play anchor the secondary, and it's hard to identify anyone who could step in and replace his production. Still, Allen has the personality for the NFL, and it's now just a question of whether his game matches. His decision making and recognition skills have been questioned, and those are issues that could easily be rectified with another year of experience. As it stands, Allen is likely a second- or third-round pick, but with a strong senior year, he could be a first-rounder in 2010.

"I haven't decided yet, but it has to come up before the 15th. So I've got 14 days."

POSSIBLE CLUE: Allen said he has not received his review from the NFL advisory board yet, but he recently said he would need to learn he was a first-day pick in order to really consider leaving. That's exactly where some experts have him -- a mid-to-late second rounder.

ODDS: 75/25 he stays

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