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September 24, 2008

NFL draft position rankings for 2009

RELATED: Early look: NFL draft top 100 prospects

With a record 39 non-seniors drafted in the 2008 NFL draft, the 2009 senior class lacks depth at the top of the draft. With eight junior running backs and six junior wide receivers drafted after last season, those positions seem to be lacking the most talent at this point. However, help is on the way in the form of a talented junior class that will boost position rankings across the board.

Here are the position rankings for the '09 draft as compiled by nationalfootballpost.com.

1. DEFENSIVE END

With pass rushers always at a premium in the NFL, this year's class looks good. Seniors Michael Johnson (Georgia Tech) and Brian Orakpo (Texas) possess an explosive first step and warrant first-round grades. But it's the junior class of ends that really makes this position deep. Six juniors could end up grading out as first-rounders: USF's George Selvie, Ole Miss' Greg Hardy, Oklahoma's Auston English, Indiana's Greg Middleton, Penn State's Maurice Evans and Florida's Jermaine Cunningham. Seniors Matt Shaughnessy (Wisconsin), Pannel Egboh (Stanford), Tyson Jackson (LSU) and Eric Moncur (Miami) provide depth in the middle rounds and make this the top position in the 2009 draft.

2. WIDE RECEIVER

The early departures of 2008 juniors Devin Thomas (Michigan State), Malcolm Kelly (Oklahoma) and DeSean Jackson (California) really left the cupboard bare. Seniors Demetrius Byrd (LSU), Derrick Williams (Penn State) and Louis Murphy (Florida) have the explosion and speed but lack the consistent production to be considered first-rounders. On the other hand, Brandon Gibson (Washington State), Aaron Kelly (Clemson) and Brian Robiskie (Ohio State) have been productive, but their lack of burst is a big concern among scouts. Underclassman Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech), Jeremy Maclin (Missouri), Brandon LaFell (LSU), Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland) and Kenny Britt (Rutgers) have the combination of size and speed to mature into go-to receivers and garner first-round grades.

3. CENTER

There hasn't been a center drafted in the first round since Nick Mangold was taken by the New York Jets in 2006, but it should happen again in 2009. Arkansas' Jonathan Luigs is a top-flight athlete with rare technique and consistently has opened holes in the Hogs' rushing attack. Right behind Luigs are three guys who could go in the second round: California's Alex Mack, Alabama's Antoine Caldwell and Oregon's Max Unger; all have the capability to start in the NFL. Louisville's Eric Wood, LSU's Brett Helms, Penn State's A.Q. Shipley and Illinois' Ryan McDonald round out the group as mid-round picks and supply the position with a lot of depth.

4. GUARD

Oklahoma's Duke Robinson and LSU's Herman Johnson are massive interior lineman with smooth feet and good power. Both rank as mid- to late first-round picks. Another five or six guards should easily find their way into the top 100 picks: Cincinnati's Trevor Canfield, Tennessee's Anthony Parker, BYU's Ray Feinga, Texas' Cedric Dockery and Wisconsin's Kraig Urbik.

5. OFFENSIVE TACKLE

With offensive tackles always at a premium at the top of a draft, NFL teams picking early will be focused keenly on Ole Miss' Michael Oher and Virginia's Eugene Monroe. Oher is a little more physical and powerful at the point of attack. Monroe is more of a finesse guy in the mold of former Virginia left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. South Carolina's Jamon Meredith, Ohio State's Alex Boone and Baylor's Jason Smith are athletic tackles who should find their way into the late portion of the first round or early stages of the second round. There is good depth in the senior class with players such as Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt and Oregon's Fenuki Tupou. A guy to keep an eye on is Illinois' Xavier Fulton; this is only his second season playing left tackle, but he has some of the best feet in the country and will only get better with time. He's a possible big-time riser at draft time.

6. RUNNING BACK

Underclassmen Chris Wells (Ohio State), Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) and LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh) bring different skill sets. Each is a gifted athlete who warrants an early to mid-first-round grade. Seniors James Davis (Clemson), Javon Ringer (Michigan State) and Keegan Herring (Arizona State) fall in behind the talented trio of underclassman and are likely second- or third-round picks. A bumper crop of seniors are forecast to fall in the mid-to late-round portions of the draft, Tennessee's Arian Foster, Boise State's Ian Johnson and Nebraska's Marlon Lucky among them. Fullbacks Eric Kettani (Navy) and Conredge Collins (Pittsburgh) give this class a lot of depth.

7. SAFETY

Missouri's William Moore leads this group. He's a physically imposing safety with great power and athleticism, and he looks like a potential top-15 pick. Juniors Taylor Mays (USC) and Myron Rolle (Florida State) are physically gifted and have the potential to move into the mid-to-late portion of the first round. Rutgers' Courtney Greene, Mississippi State's Derek Pegues, LSU's Curtis Taylor and Oklahoma's Nic Harris also rank among the top 100 players and should hear their names called in the first three rounds. Mid-round prospects C.J. Spillman (Marshall), Michael Hamlin (Clemson), Patrick Chung (Oregon) and Anthony Scirrotto (Penn State) give this group talent in the back end as well.

8. DEFENSIVE TACKLE

There is only an adequate class of senior defensive tackles in 2009, led by Michigan plugger Terrance Taylor. He's considered a borderline first-rounder at this point. Three-technique tackles Ziggy Hood (Missouri), Peria Jerry (Ole Miss) and Fili Moala (USC) look like second- or third-round picks at this stage, but Hood has been playing at a high level and looks to be moving up draft boards. A trio of junior tackles from the SEC have NFL scouts buzzing. Georgia's Geno Atkins, Auburn's Sen'Derrick Marks and LSU's Ricky Jean-Francois are explosive, quick-twitch linemen who make a living getting off the ball and into opponents' backfields. That trio adds a lot of talent to the top end of the class, and each is considered a first-round prospect.

9. QUARTERBACK

When you consider just the seniors, quarterback is as weak a position as it gets. Clemson's Cullen Harper, Fresno State's Tom Brandstater and Purdue's Curtis Painter (Purdue) lead the way, but they don't warrant much more than a second- or third-round grade. That opens the door for a trio of juniors with the physical tools and potential to make NFL executives drool. Georgia's Matthew Stafford, USC's Mark Sanchez and Kansas State's Josh Freeman are first-round prospects who give this quarterback class some punch at the top of the draft.

10. LINEBACKER

Two of the elite prospects in the draft are middle linebackers: James Laurinaitis (Ohio State) and Rey Maualuga (USC). Both are physically gifted and fit in toward the top of the first round. Outside linebackers Aaron Curry (Wake Forest) and Brian Cushing (USC) warrant late-first-round grades, along with juniors Rico McCoy (Tennessee) and Sean Weatherspoon (Missouri). There is good depth in the middle rounds at inside and outside 'backer, with a bunch of versatile athletes who can run sideline-to-sideline: USF's Tyrone McKenzie, Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, LSU's Darry Beckwith, Georgia's Dannell Ellerbe, TCU's Jason Phillips and California's Zack Follett. With the renewed importance of the 3-4 defenses, standup outside pass rushers always are a need. This year's class is led by Virginia's Clint Sintim and Connecticut's Cody Brown. Both are undersized end types who know how to get after the quarterback.

11. TIGHT ENDS

There is a sprinkle of everything in this year's tight end class. Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew and Missouri's Chase Coffman are well-balanced tight ends. They can block and get downfield, and both get late first-/early second-round grades. Pass receiving options include Wisconsin's Travis Beckum, Ball State's Darius Hill and Southern Miss' Shawn Nelson. Boston College's Ryan Purvis and Maryland's Dan Gronkowski are the most physical blockers of the group and both feature soft hands and quickness in the underneath passing game. Oklahoma junior Jermaine Gresham is by far the head of the class. Gresham features a great blend of size (6-6/262) and speed, (4.7) making him possibly the best tight end prospect since Vernon Davis in 2006.

12. CORNERBACKS

What looks to be an average senior class is led by Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins. He is a fluid and instinctive athlete with a lot of range in zone coverage, but he lacks the top-end speed to be an elite man-to-man corner at the next level. Illinois junior Vontae Davis is the most athletic corner in college football. His rare burst and speed give him a grade in the middle of the first round. The second tier of corners is made up of Maryland's Kevin Barnes, Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith, Connecticut's Darius Butler and Virginia Tech's Victor Harris. Each looks to fall in the second-/third-round range. After that, there is a bunch of intriguing size/speed prospects who give this position some good depth in the middle rounds, including Miami's Bruce Johnson, Oregon State's Keenan Lewis, Jackson State's Domonique Johnson, Stanford's Wopamo Osaisai and Penn State's Lydell Sargeant.

RELATED: Early look: NFL draft top 100 prospects

Nationalfootballpost.com is a new football insider Web site featuring Andrew Brandt, the vice president of the Green Bay Packers for the past nine years, and Michael Lombardi, who has worked in NFL front offices for 22 years - including nine years with Cleveland and eight with Oakland.



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