Or, Who Now Shall Catch Our Passes, Take Two.
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The 2008 Draft is already bulging with underclass receivers: three different wideouts declared early last weekend along with a pair of receiving tight ends (Martellus Bennett and Jermichael Finley), followed Wednesday by Michigan's starting wideouts, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington, who didn't like where they fit (or didn't fit, to put it more precisely) in Rich Rodriguez's offense; much less attention was paid to unlikely early entrants Mario Urrutia (Louisville) and Taj Smith (Syracuse), neither of whom is projected to be drafted in April. Four more names to add to the glut Thursday: Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly, Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett, Hawaii's Ryan Grice-Mullen and West Virginia's Darius Reynaud.
Kelly is the most notable because - though he received a second round grade by the League's undergraduate advisory committee - he instantly moves ahead of James Hardy in some projections as the top-rated receiver in the class, this year's best possible combination of size (6-4, 218), deep speed and hands, which happened to be ignored on occasion by the Sooners' run-first offense:
Kelly had seven touchdowns last year in OU's opening thrashings of North Texas, Miami and Utah State, but only two the rest of the season, failing to catch any pass in the upset loss at Colorado and missing the Fiesta Bowl wipeout against West Virginia with an injury. It's a good thing he has the talent to make it at the next level, though, because his future in the music industry is not nearly so bright:
(I dunno, maybe he just needs the right production.)
The rest of the ostensibly be elated at the departure of Bennett, who was first team all-SEC as a freshman and junior, second team as a sophomore and the only remotely SEC-caliber offensive weapon on Vandy's roster post-Cutler, but his presence didn't result in a sniff of a bowl bid for the Commodores and his stock is on the decline:
In Bennett's case, we really did hardly know him.
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Reynaud and Grice-Mullen are unknown quantities in a couple ways: both are too short to be elite prospects, and their production was skewed in directly opposite ways by their respective offensive systems: Grice-Mullen, following June Jones, Davone Bess and graduating Colt Brennan and Jason Rivers as the last hyper-productive escapee of Hawaii's suddenly collapsed run-n-shoot empire, caught 237 passes for more than 3,300 yards over his three years in Jones' system, for more yards per game than any other active receiver. That's more than twice the catches and yards of Reynaud, but options for wide outs in Rich Rodriguez's spread are geared as least as much to blocking and running end arounds as catching passes, duties Reynaud handled quite well even while hauling in 64 passes this year, most of them of the short-and-easy variety to keep things easy for future pro receiver Pat White. The more productive-than-talented Grice-Mullen and the more-talented-than-productive Reynaud will probably meet somewhere in the fifth round.
Also Declaring Early: As expected, Clemson defensive end Philip Merling followed teammate James Davis into the draft today, and, as reported, Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall officially announced his entry at a press conference. Knock `em dead, men.