Which juniors jump?

Every year teams lose stars a year early to the NFL draft.

Heck, sometimes they even lose middling players -- see California tight end Cameron Morrah leaping early last winter so he could catch one pass for three yards as a Seattle Seahawks seventh-round draft choice.

Some big Pac-10 names appear to be on the cusp of bolting early so they can get paid to play on Sundays.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

Here are the candidates.


TE Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski figures to be torn. He's said he will return to Arizona if he's not a certain first-round draft pick. He's certainly got first-round talent. The issue will be whether NFL teams will be worried about the back injury that sidelined him the entire season. And Gronkowski surely has to look at the quarterback Nick Foles and the offensive firepower the Wildcats will welcome back in 2010 and know he could play his way into the top-half of the first round with a big showing next fall.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? No.


RB Jahvid Best

Best is a first-round talent who might fall out of the first round for a variety of reasons, chief among them his durability. That also is a big reason the Best should take the leap. Running backs only have so many years in them.

Should he return? No. Will he return? No.

Oregon State

DT Stephen Paea

The first-team All-Pac-10 defensive tackle didn't put up huge numbers this year and he's still learning the game, but he is a powerhouse whose measurables would be impressive and he might star in the right scheme.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? Yes.

WR James Rodgers

Rodgers has put together three consecutive strong seasons, each better than the last. He's not big, but he's a playmaker with diverse skills and will be one at the next level. Of course, he's poised to become a star next fall, which likely will be his last opportunity to play beside his brother, Jacquizz.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? Yes.


RB Toby Gerhart

He's gone. Good for him.

Should he return? No. Will he return? No.


DT Brian Price

Price was the most dominant defensive player in the Pac-10 this year. He might be a first-round pick, though there are some big-time D-tackles who figure to get selected ahead of him. If he came back, he might be the first one taken in 2011.

Should he return? No. Will he return? No.


WR Damian Williams

Williams was the best pure receiver in the Pac-10 this year and he also can return punts. He could be a late first-round pick. In fact, he might be the second receiver off the board behind Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant.

Should he return? No. Will he return? No.

DE Everson Griffen

Griffen is a great talent and he had a good year, though not a great one. NFL scouts will be impressed by his combination of size and speed and his ability to rush the passer off the edge. Of course, with the Trojans entire front seven returning next fall, he could put up huge numbers and play his way into the top-10 in 2011.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? No.


QB Jake Locker

For some Washington observers, even great admirers of Locker, it seems slightly strange that Locker is widely projected as a top-10 pick, perhaps the second -- or even first -- quarterback taken this spring. Locker is an outstanding talent who eclipsed expectations with how quickly adapted to a pro-style scheme, but he's still a work in progress. The reason to return is fairly simple: At his present pace of development, Locker would go first overall in the 2011 draft.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? No.