Some of the juniors who leave for the NFL early are expected. Guys like Sheldon Richardson, Johnathan Hankins, even Robert Woods had in their minds (and in the minds of evaluators) that they were set to declare for the draft early by the beginning of their junior seasons.
But each year, expected non-Top 3 round prospects declare for the NFL Draft, for good, bad, or indifferent reasons. This year is no different. And two new, surprising names to be added to the draft eligible juniors list in Hawaii cornerback Mike Edwards and Utah defensive end Joe Kruger.
I’ll start with Edwards (who declared per the Honalulu Star-Advisor), the former highly thought of cornerback/returner started his career at Tennessee (before being kicked out for armed robbery charges), left for junior college and ending up at Hawaii as a sophomore in 2011. The thin defensive back and playmaking returner quickly became among the best in the WAC at both, especially as a fluid turning cornerback.
Despite his think build and 5’10, 180 pound size, he chops his feet quickly, allowing in accelerate horizontally and vertically in coverage. A little high in his initial back pedal, he shows a willingness to utilize his hands and stay active and tight with receivers down the field, consistently frustrating their path downfield. His hips and quick-to-top-speed running ability allow him to work in man coverage down the field. His lack of ability to consistently (and physically enough for the NFL level) help in run support is an issue, and despite his speed and adequate fluidity, his lack of size hurts him against bigger receivers as they work down the field.
As a returner, he showcases sudden change of direction skills and gets to his top speed quickly once in the open field. This may be the best way the 5th round prospect can contribute to the NFL in the short term.
As for Utah’s Joe Kruger (declared via College Football Talk), he likely will have a better shot of being a highly viewed prospect come draft day for two reasons. One, he enjoyed success this year playing next to arguably the top defensive lineman in the country in Star Lotulelei. And two, his brother, Paul, has enjoyed a career thus far with the Ravens at the outside linebacker position
The 6’7, 280 pound defensive linemen likely will fill the 5-technqiue role for an NFL team, a position that tends to draw serious interest in the draft process. Finding potential 3-4 edge setters isn’t easy, and we’ve seen the impact a long talent like JJ Watt (similarly built to Kruger) can have on a defense.
With reportedly sub-4.8 speed and flashes of pass rush body control on the inside, strong hands with the ability to collapse and pinch on the inside, and the upside to still develop with more time, and a prospect like Kruger could shoot up draft boards with the type of NFL Combine workout that we should expect.
Neither player, at least at this point, warrants a Top 100 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. And by entering the draft, these juniors need to wait until the NFL Combine to get a chance to impress NFL teams once again. But it only takes one team for both of these players, Edwards as a returner and Kruger as a 5-technique, to consider them in the 2nd or 3rd round and validate their seemingly risky decision.