You've heard of Andrew Luck by this point, but there are plenty of very talented Stanford Cardinal and Virginia Tech Hokies in tonight's Orange Bowl who will probably hear their name called in April during the 2011 NFL Draft. Let's face it; the reason a lot of football fans pay attention to these bowl games is because of the chance to scout players who might end up on their teams next fall. It's a semi-all-star game, to say the least.
Let's take a look at the most prominent names. All projections are courtesy of Mocking The Draft, the SB Nation NFL draft site.
Andrew Luck, quarterback.
Pro comparison: Peyton Manning.
You've heard plenty about Luck. He's operated out of a pro-style offense all season tailored to his talents, and has produced perhaps the best single season in Stanford quarterbacking history (and that's a list that includes John Elway and Jim Plunkett!). He makes all the right throws. He can audible at the line of scrimmage. He's mobile and strong, as shown by his Heisman-worthy moments this year. What is most striking is his mental acuity and sharpness, which is clearly a cut ahead of most other college quarterbacks ... and he's only a sophomore!
If he declares, he will certainly go #1. The question is, if he does, will the Carolina Panthers keep their pick, or will they trade it away because they've committed themselves to Jimmy Clausen?
Follow our SB Nation Bay Area stream dedicated solely to Luck's decision.
Draft projection: 1st round, 1st pick.
Sione Fua, nose tackle
The Cardinal defense was much improved from last season, and much of that stemmed from the 6'2, 306 pound Fua plugging up the middle in the 3-4 scheme that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio implemented. Although not as big as a typical 3-4 NT, his low center of gravity and ability to hold his ground against formidable Pac-10 offensive lines is a good sign for his professional future. The Cardinal moved up from 55th to 24th in rushing yards allowed per game. In a league that loves the 3-4 and loves nose tackles, Fua is definitely underrated and someone to look for up the middle.
Draft projection: 4th-6th round.
Owen Marecic, fullback
Probably the most underrated player on the entire board, this fullback has been critical in taking out opposing linebackers and freeing up his running backs for additional yardage. He can also catch and played inside linebacker last season as well for a much improved Cardinal defense. For any team that wants more power in the short-yardage game and wants a throwback to the power-I formation, Marecic's your guy. The only thing that stops him from going too high is that Stanley Havili is also coming out, and he's a more complete H-back than Marecic.
Note: If Jim Harbaugh does take a pro job in the next few days, look for him to take Marecic. As much as Harbaugh loves Gerhart and Luck, his bromance with his fullback is second to none.
Draft projection: 4th round
Ryan Whalen, wide receiver
Whalen's injuries will probably knock him down a round or two from where he was slated last season. Nevertheless, he has great hands and is a very strong possession receiver, and could be very useful in the slot for a team in need of improving their pass game.
Draft projection: 5th round
Andrew Phillips, offensive guard
At 6'5, 302 pounds, Phillips has the measurables to be a very good NFL guard. He pulls quick and strong and has helped unleash Toby Gerhart and Stepfan Taylor in the potent Stanford run attack. There's also a touching story involving him and his late father in Sports Illustrated that you should all take some time to read up on.
Draft projection: 6th round-undrafted free agent
Chase Beeler, center
At 6'3, 285 pounds, Beeler is probably a little too small to warrant serious consideration for an upper-level draft pick. He will get his looks though as part of a bruising Cardinal offensive line that allowed only five sacks all season, tops in the nation.
The Cardinal offensive linemen were well-equipped to dominate the college ranks with their grinding power style, but as the game gets faster in the pros, it'll be interesting to see how well guys like Philips and Beeler adjust.
Draft projection: 7th round-undrafted
Doug Baldwin, wide receiver
After a fairly nondescript first few seasons, Baldwin stepped up to become Luck's favorite target in 2010, making a host of strong catches as both Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu struggled to stay healthy. He'll be a late round pick at best, but it's been a strong season for the senior wideout who should land somewhere in the lower rounds. A good Orange Bowl performance can go a long way.
Draft projection: 7th round-undrafted