Every senior playing college football would like to make his final season his best. This is especially true of highly regarded players coming off of strong junior years. A strong senior year can further boost a player’s draft stock and cap a standout career.
Unfortunately, sometimes a player’s final season can be disappointing and results in him being drafted lower than expected. An excellent example of this is what happened to Dan Marino during his senior year. Marino had a fantastic junior year that ended when he threw a laser down the seam for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter to beat Georgia in the 1982 Sugar Bowl. Pitt was a serious national championship contender and Marino a Heisman favorite entering his senior year. However, Marino had a subpar senior season as his touchdown passes dropped and number of interceptions rose. There would be no national championship for Pitt or a Heisman Trophy for Marino. The senior struggles resulted in Dan Marino dropping to the 27th pick of the 1st round and being the 6th quarterback selected in the 1983 NFL Draft. He proceeded to have a Hall of Fame career with the Miami Dolphins.
The following players had high expectations entering their final season and things just have not gone as planned. I certainly do not expect any of these players to have NFL Hall of Fame careers, but, despite remaining talented players, they are likely to drop on draft day.
QB Curtis Painter, Purdue- The Boilermakers have a rich tradition of producing NFL quarterbacks (Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Drew Brees and Kyle Orton). Painter succeeded Orton at Purdue and had a strong junior season (29 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and MVP of the Motor City Bowl). He has had a tough final year (6 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions) as Purdue has overall (3-7 to date). Painter also separated his shoulder, which forced him to sit and end his consecutive game streak at 40. The 3-year starter’s supporting cast was not as strong this year as Purdue lost TE Dustin Keller and WR Dorien Bryant to the NFL. Painter has a strong and accurate arm with a pretty quick release. He should be available late in the draft (5th or 6th round). The Purdue signal-caller has some nice tools for a NFL coaching staff to develop.
RB James Davis, Clemson- Davis is a loyal team player who chose to return to Clemson for his senior year and not enter the NFL Draft after a productive junior season (1,064 rushing yards, 5.0 average and 10 touchdowns). Clemson had high hopes of winning the ACC championship this year due to its skill-position talent. Unfortunately, inexperience and injuries to the offensive line has rendered the Tigers’ offense toothless and cost head coach, Tommy Bowden, his job. The Clemson running back’s production has naturally dipped (526 yards rushing, 4.9 per and averaging only 12 carries a game) in what has turned out to be an offensive quagmire. Davis could have been a late 2nd round draft choice had he had a banner senior season. He may fall to the 4th round after this year and would represent excellent value.
WR Kenny McKinley, South Carolina- The 1st team All-SEC selection in 2007 (77 receptions, 968 yards and 9 touchdowns) was primed for a big senior year. A hamstring injury resulted in him missing 3 games. A very young and unstable quarterback situation also did not help the passing attack. South Carolina’s all-time career leader in receiving yards (passing Sterling Sharpe) has reliable hands and excellent ability to run after making the catch. McKinley will benefit from a pro quarterback being able to zip him passes on time on slants. That is his strength as a receiver and is presently not being taken advantage of. McKinley is likely a 4th round selection at this point and could have gone as high as the 2nd round with an outstanding final year.
TE Travis Beckum, Wisconsin- He led the nation in receiving yards by a tight end (982 yards on 75 receptions, 6 touchdowns) in 2007. The Badgers’ top offensive weapon has been derailed this year by a hamstring injury and a broken leg that ended his season in October. Beckum has outstanding hands and is a great athlete. He can come down with passes thrown in his general area by acrobatically out-maneuvering defenders for the ball. The injury issues and concern over his durability will adversely effect his draft stock. I still really like him and believe he is a player who will outperform his draft position.
DT Terrance Taylor, Michigan- The three-year starter was coming off a 2nd team All-Big Ten selection in 2007. Taylor entered this season as a highly regarded run-stuffer and a prime nose-tackle prospect for the NFL. A new coaching staff at Michigan headed by Rich Rodriquez has proven to be a very rocky transition. Taylor has not been as active as last year’s outstanding 55 tackles effort. The Wolverines are having one of their worst seasons in history as the team struggles with confidence and new schemes. Taylor is a likely 4th or 5th round draft choice at this point. He is a very stout run defender who plays with leverage. A team will be able to pick up a possible starting nose-tackle at a bargain price.