College Football’s Top 32 NFL Draft Prospects
College Football's Top 32 NFL Draft Prospects
The college football season is at its midpoint and a number of players have improved their draft stock while some have seen their star shine not as bright as it did the previous year. Taking a look at the college football landscape and projecting players to the next level is one of the most challenging aspects of the sport, but at the same time also one of the more entertaining facets of the game.
I have identified the 32 best NFL prospects and ranked them from top to bottom. This is not a mock draft, but rather taking the players skill set and ranking them from 32 to 1. Therefore, the top player on my list is not necessarily the presumptive number one pick in April’s draft.
For example, if I have a quarterback at the top spot on my list and the Indianapolis Colts have the first pick in the draft, they are not going to take a quarterback after taking Andrew Luck last year.
Two early trends to monitor as the season rolls on are that the SEC continues to dominate in producing NFL talent, and offensive and defensive lineman are well represented.
The list is subject to change as the college season develops and players will move up and down the list and new names will appear. Please let me know who you think I have ranked too high or too low and players you think are worthy of being on the list.
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Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports and avid college football fan, and the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com Wednesday mornings from 8-10.
32. Stanford TE Zach Ertz
This year’s best tight end is following in the mold of his former teammate Coby Fleener and could sneak into the bottom of the first round with a great combine workout. Has shown he is a fine in-line blocker and can make catches down the field and can stretch the seam and beat linebackers and safeties. Is a hard worker that loves the game of football and has experience playing in a pro style offense.
31. Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas
Entered his redshirt junior season with comparisons to Cam Newton and some had him as the top quarterback prospect, but has failed to live up to the hype. He has been prone to bad mental mistakes and interceptions in his teams stunning losses this season to inferior teams. He has all the necessary tools to be a #1 pick, but needs more time to harness it all, so another year in college may be the best route for him.
30. Alabama OL Barrett Jones
Has lined up all along the Alabama offensive line the last four years and won the Outland Trophy starting as the left tackle on the national champions. A two-time national title winner, who possesses every intangible you look for in an offensive lineman, yet is not overly physical, nasty, or athletic but excels in leverage and taking the proper angles to seal off the defender. Cerebral player similar to long time pro bowl center Matt Birk.
29. Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson
Returned for his senior season at Arkansas, but lost his offensive-minded coach in the offseason and his team has lost some brutal games despite Wilson playing well for the most part. Has had monster games against inferior opponents but struggled against elite teams like Alabama. Had a concussion this season but came back and has continued to put up great numbers.
28. Tennessee QB Tyler Bray
Has great size at 6’5’’ and 225 pounds and has been a very productive player at Tennessee. Has really blossomed this season and has had some monster games throwing the ball, but would like to see more wins and a reduction in interceptions. A strong offseason and combine could push Bray high up draft boards as teams are desperate for quarterbacks with his size and arm talent.
27. Wisconsin OT Ricky Wagner
Wisconsin continually develops NFL offensive lineman as the draft is annually littered with the next crop of tackles, guards, and centers from the Badgers. Wagner is the next in the line of great tackles to come from Wisconsin following in the likes of former first round picks Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi. Will likely start out as a right tackle early in his career, but can develop into a starting left tackle with his above average footwork.
26. Florida DB Matt Elam
One of the toughest dudes in college football and plays bigger than his 200-pound body would suggest. Has a knack for making big plays in critical situations and forced a big fumble in the LSU game this year. A true leader with great heart and intangibles.
25. Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel
Is a very smart and aware left tackle that has started since his freshmen year at Texas A&M that plays with an aggressive and relentless motor while displaying nice athleticism. At 6’6’’ and 305 pounds he could stand do add some bulk to his frame which would improve his run blocking skills which are average at this point. Is consistent at pass protection with his knack for recognizing line stunts and blitzes, but could use work on his lateral quickness.
24. North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams
Two-year starter after coming over from junior college makes a lot of plays defending the run. Runs down the line to chase down the ball and has a high motor. Could use more refinement in his technique while rushing the passer, but has some decent moves and uses his hands fairly well. Just needs more experience and coaching to bring out his potential.
23. California WR Keenan Allen
At 6’3’’ and 205 pounds he looks the part of a #1 receiver, but questions about his top-end speed may limit his upside to being a #2 at the next level. He is an intense competitor who returned to school for his senior year is a savvy route runner who finds the soft spots in the defense. Has above average separation skills, and his ball skills are good enough to make difficult catches look ordinary.
22. NC State CB David-Amerson
Had 13 interceptions in 2011, but has found 2012 to be a bit of a struggle as quarterbacks have picked on him at times, especially vs. Miami, when the Hurricanes threw for more than 500 yards. Has three int’s this season, but has not taken the next step in his development and has been passed as the premiere corner in the draft class.
21. USC WR Robert-Woods
Exceptional hands that may be the best of any receiver in the nation, but is more of a possession receiver at 6’1’’ and 190 pounds and lacks elite top end speed. Has lined up on the perimeter and in the slot during his three years at USC and has developed quite the rapport with Matt Barkley racking up over 100 receptions a year ago for the Trojans.
20. LSU DT Bennie-Logan
Overshadowed by others on his own team, but in many ways is the key cog on LSU’s line. Makes plays in the backfield stuffing opposing teams in the run game. He will improve as a pass rushing tackle in the NFL as he incorporates an arsenal of moves to be a menace along the interior of the line. Good first step quickness that allows him to beat guards and centers to the point of attack.
19. Georgia LB Alec Ogletree
Has serious character and durability concerns, but his talent is not that far behind Manti Te’o as an inside linebacker. Has elite physical tools and will fly to the football in the run and pass game. Has potential to be a supreme pass rusher and can cover tight ends, but does not have great instincts or ball hawking skills.
18. Purdue DT Kawann Short
Returned to Purdue after being a three-year starter after receiving a grade from the NFL advisory board that suggested he would be a day two pick. Does not do one thing exceptional, but can do a lot of things well. Equally stout defending the run as he is rushing the passer from the interior of the line. He needs to improve his conditioning at 325 pounds to stay on the field because he can show fatigue late in the fourth quarter.
17. Auburn DE Corey Lemonier
Has been the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal year for Auburn and flashes his pass rushing skills week in and week out. Could stand to add 15-20 pounds to his 240 pound build, but with his relentless motor will not sacrifice the speed that has made him such a productive player. He is versatile having lined up at right and left end and while he hasn’t been asked to drop back in coverage, I think he could also line up as a 3-4 OLB. I love the way he uses his hands like a heavyweight boxer and his nasty streak is what you love to see from a defensive end.
16. North Carolina G Jonathan Cooper
Four-year starter excels as a pass blocker with quick and nimble feet. Is an above average blocker in the run game and delivers a good hand punch and a nasty demeanor. Can line up at either guard spots and play center in a pinch, but his best position is at left guard where he can get out and pull to the second level as well as any guard in America.
15. Alabama CB Dee Milliner
A tick under 6’1 and a biscuit under 200 pounds, Milliner has been taught well by Nick Saban at Alabama. Makes plays in the run game that few corners can make and can run with the top receivers in the SEC. Has above average ball skills and his instincts in reading the quarterback are among the best in the nation.
14. LSU DE Sam Montgomery
At 245 pounds he is more of a complete defender against the run than versus the pass. He finds and tracks the ball very well form the right end spot where he projects to play in the NFL unless he can improve his raw pass rushing skills. He does need to learn to use his hands better to shed offensive lineman to be a complete end. Is an intense competitor and vocal leader for a productive college defense.
13. Tennessee WR Justin Hunter
6’4’’ target has impressive ball skills demonstrating great body control and adjustment to the ball in the air. An above average route runner who has solid separation skills and fluidity to his movements for such a big receiver. Has the ability to stretch defenses and make the big play and can make the acrobatic catch look easy. Former long jump champ is recovering nicely from an ACL injury in 2011.
12. South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore
The top running back in the nation is still rounding into shape after an ACL tear in 2011. Has the ability to be a workhorse back at the next level and has improved as a pass catcher. Scouts will question his durability and heavy workload at South Carolina when deciding to make first round pick on him, but he is well worth a pick in the top half of the first round. He is the complete package with exceptional vision, power, acceleration, agility, and great football character.
11. Florida State Bjoern Werner
The best motor and relentless pursuit of any end in this year’s class who is equally adept at stopping the run as he is at rushing the passer. Has an untapped potential after playing just two years of high school football and could thrive under the right defensive line coach. Could play in a number of different fronts, but ideally suited as a 4-3 end.
10. Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks
The premiere corner in this class returned to school after potentially being a first round pick a year ago. Has ball hawking skills and can take it to the house when he gets the ball in his hands. Has experience on special teams as a returner. Banks has had success covering AJ Green, Julio Jones, and Percy Harvin among others in the SEC.
9. Georgia DT John Jenkins
Jenkins is a house at 360 pounds. May be suited best as a nose in a 3-4 defense which would limit his draft stock. Has pretty good initial quickness and will dominate in confined spaces, but will only be a two-down player as a result of his weight, he would be a far better player at 335 than 360. Jenkins is a player similar to former Alabama NT and current Baltimore Ravens massive NT Terence Cody.
8. LSU DE Barkevious Mingo
Slightly undersized defensive end and will have to add 20-25 pounds to his 240 pound body, but has the frame at 6’5’’ to add the bulk without sacrificing the speed that makes him a terror off the edge. His long arms, fluid hips, and first step quickness make him the elite pass rushing end in this draft class.
7. Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins
A true anchor in every sense of the word and man-handles offensive lineman and sheds them when playing against the run. Is not a pass rusher, but has upside if he can work on using his hands more effectively. Has great first-step quickness and makes plays outside the tackle box. Rarely comes off the field at Ohio State but needs to monitor his weight, he’s at 335 now, but has been north of 350 at times to realize his limitless potential.
6. Notre Dame MLB Manti Teo
Surprised many when he returned to South Bend for his senior year, but the folks at Notre Dame are counting their blessings and currently enjoying an undefeated season as a result of the #2 ranked scoring defense led by the ever-impressive Te’o. Is a complete linebacker that can make plays sideline-to-sideline and displays great instincts in the pass game. Is a passionate and vocal leader that displays maturity and resolve well beyond his years and will be a starter from day one in the NFL.
5. Alabama G Chance Warmack
The best guard prospect I have seen in years. Guards do not get drafted that high, but he can be the exception. He really has no weaknesses in his game and excels in the run and pass game while possessing exceptional field awareness, durability, and toughness. During his time in Tuscaloosa he has blocked for a Heisman winner in Mark Ingram and another Heisman finalist in Trent Richardson.
4. Utah DT Star Lotulelei
A massive and physical defensive tackle that tips the scales at 320 pounds that can be an anchor in the run game and occupy and shed multiple blockers. Struggles as a pass rusher, but can improve because he has quick feet and hands to fight off centers and guards in pass protection. Has a nasty demeanor and non-stop motor that scouts and coaches will love.
3. West Virginia QB Geno Smith
The runaway favorite to capture the Heisman trophy has opened the eyes of scouts in every NFL city with his eye-popping stat lines. Is not the refined passer as Barkley, and does not possess all the intangibles that Barkley does, but makes up for that with more velocity on his throws. Will be criticized for playing in a shotgun offense and throwing with a low ¾ release. Is a fast riser.
2. Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones
A natural leader on the field and the 6’2’’ 242-pounder is a nightmare for offensive lineman to try and block. Is the ideal 3-4 OLB and will be compared to former Texas A&M LB, Von Miller, but is not in his class, but still a very elite prospect.
1. USC Matt Barkley
The presumptive #1 pick after returning to school for his senior season has all the intangibles you look for in a quarterback and has been a leader since his freshman year at USC. Highly productive during his time under Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin and possesses above average accuracy and mobility while capable of making all the NFL throws. The only knock on him is his height, which is just below 6’2”.