Rivals.com's top 20 college football signees in 2009:
RB Bryce Brown Tennessee
WR Rueben Randle LSU
OT D.J. Fluker Alabama
DT Sheldon Richardson Missouri
QB Matt Barkley Southern Cal
RB Trent Richardson Alabama
QB Russell Shepard LSU
DE Devon Kennard Southern Cal
LB Vontaze Burfict Arizona State
LB Jelani Jenkins Florida
CB Dre Kirkpatrick Alabama
LB Manti Te'o Notre Dame
ATH Ray Ray Armstrong Miami
DE Alex Okafor Texas
DT Jacobbi McDaniel Florida State
DE Donte Moss North Carolina
CB Janzen Jackson Tennessee
QB Garrett Gilbert Texas
ATH Patrick Hall Southern Cal
S Craig Loston LSU
Bryce Brown and Janzen Jackson wasted a lot of their talents during shorter-than-expected stints with the University of Tennessee football team, but this is hardly the week for looking back.
The two most touted members of Lane Kiffin's whimsical 2009 signing class are hoping one of the 32 NFL franchises can look beyond their wayward pasts in the draft, which starts Thursday night and concludes Saturday night. Jackson is being projected from the fifth to seventh round, while it is unlikely that Brown, Rivals.com's No. 1 prep prospect nationally in '09, will get drafted at all.
"There just isn't a body of work there with Bryce Brown," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said. "You can't look at what he did in high school, because this is not like the NBA, where high school tells you where you're going to be. I know he has the perfect physical components to be a good running back in this league, but the body of work is not there.
"The bottom line is that if the production would have been there, then he could have been an early-round guy."
Brown rushed for 104 yards against Western Kentucky in his Tennessee debut and finished the '09 season with 460 yards in relief of 1,345-yard rusher Montario Hardesty. On the first day of Tennessee's spring practice in 2010, he left the program for personal reasons. He ultimately transferred closer to his Wichita home by enrolling at Kansas State.
The 6-foot, 220-pounder had to sit out the 2010 season and had just three carries for 16 yards for the Wildcats last year before leaving that program in early October.
Jackson has more of a collegiate worksheet than Brown, having played two seasons with the Vols before being dismissed last August and transferring to McNeese State, where he played last fall. Yet the 5-11, 190-pounder from Lake Charles, La., reportedly failed multiple drug tests during his time in Knoxville.
"Janzen is a talented kid who can play corner or safety," Kiper said. "He could get a little stronger in the weight room, but he's got the kind of measurables you look for. He has off-the-field concerns, and he had a disappointing combine workout as well.
"When you have the combine that wasn't up to the level that was expected for a kid who's such a great talent on top of the off-the-field concerns, instead of a second- or third-round pick he becomes a day-three pick."
Jackson was a second-team All-SEC selection as a sophomore in 2010, when he made 69 tackles, four for loss and five interceptions. His freshman year was overshadowed by an arrest on attempted armed robbery along with Vols first-year teammates Mike Edwards and Nu'Keese Richardson, but charges against Jackson later were dropped.
"I made some mistakes, and I admit I made them," Jackson said recently on WWL 870 in New Orleans. "I was young. I was away from home, and I didn't make the right choices back then, and I paid the price. It humbles you no matter how good you think you are. I know the NFL knows all about those issues, and I have no reason to back away from them, but I also know that I learned from those errors in judgment.
"I am trying my best to keep my focus right and let my talent speak for itself."
Brown was not among the 327 players invited to the NFL combine, but he did create a stir during a private pro-day workout last month when he ran the 40-yard dash between 4.37 and 4.45 seconds. His time of 4.37 would have ranked among the top five at the combine.
So it's either believing in Brown's speed and potential or being chased off by the fact he's rushed three times total the past two seasons.
"You're talking about maybe 30 running backs who could be ahead of him, so he's probably undrafted," Kiper said, "but if somebody feels like his potential and his workout was enough to say, 'Let's roll the dice in the seventh round,' then maybe. I'll still say an undrafted free agent who can get to a camp and maybe surprise a little bit."