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NCAA Football

Top 15 College Football Players Who Should Return in 2013

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NFL Draft: 15 Juniors Who Should Return in 2013

Intro Slide
Thomas Campbell - US PRESSWIRE

The time forcollege football juniors weigh their options regarding the NFL Draft is upon us yet again. Will they choose to declare their intentions to play with the sports’ elite athletes and potentially sign a lucrative deal or return for one last blaze of glory and to up their stock come 2014?

It’s a tougher choice than it may seem for several. In some cases, players want to climb into the first round while currently being projected as getting picked early in the second, if not solidly in the middle of it.

Other players have to consider what means more in the short-term: immediate guaranteed millions or a national championship shot. In some cases that BCS title opportunity will be followed by big money no matter what.

Of course, there’s the potential for injury and how bad, no one can predict. You can’t stop bumps and bruises, but torn ACLs or what may eventually be known as “pulling a Marcus Lattimore” remains an unfortunate possibility. However, playing scared never helped anyone in the eyes of an NFL franchise.

Let’s look at this process with a more positive vibe, though. Here’s some advice for 15 collegiate warriors sitting pretty for this year's NFL Draft, but who could be sitting prettier. Yes, an education’s important, but that’s not the goal today. This is about getting these guys the most coin for their careers.

We’ll assume all goes well, no injuries occur and all fan bases involved get to applaud these young men come their final home game as they trot out onto the field.

Prefacing all of this guidance, it’s necessary to point out that the Cleveland Browns still get draft picks.

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DE Morgan Breslin – USC

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Steven Bisig - US PRESSWIRE

This class is deep with defensive ends and this year, there is no way Breslin cracks the first round. Depending on what happens on draft day, he might even slip into the third. There’s a large enough drop off that heading back for another year with the USC Trojans is in Breslin's best interests.

Sure, the season was disappointing, but you didn’t hear Breslin promising to settle unfinished business. This kid has 18 tackles for loss and 12 sacks so far this season. That’s before both the Pac-12 Championship and the Trojans' bowl game. 2013 offers him the opportunity to bust his way into day one.

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CB Bennett Jackson - Notre Dame

jackson
Mark L. Baer - US PRESSWIRE

Jackson’s been steady this year for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but he'll be lucky to get a few seconds of television coverage sitting by the phone waiting for a team to call at home during this year's draft.

Four interceptions and 44 solo tackles on the year is an impressive stat line, especially considering Manti Te’o's hogging the rest of those picks for himself. Whether or not Notre Dame wins it all, Jackson will have been a part of one of 2012’s best defenses. He needs to stay in South Bend, become a defensive cornerstone and reap the eventual rewards.

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DT Sheldon Richardson – Missouri

sheldon
Dak Dillon - US PRESSWIRE

How’s that “old man football” comment treating you these days, Sheldon? No worries, we all make mistakes.

The Missouri Tigers'’ star defensive tackle may have stumbled verbally, but he’s a potential first round talent. Why should he return? A second season working against SEC offenses is basically playing against the NFL Lite. If he’s back in 2013 and walks away with only a few minor scrapes, he’s an easy first round choice in 2014. He might want to lay low in press conferences, though.

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TE Jordan Reed - Florida

reed
Melina Vastola - US PRESSWIRE

The Florida Gators’ tight end is one of the best in this year’s NFL draft pool as of today, but he’s still sitting on the verge of dropping into the third round, if not later. The Gators are capping off a great year, and hopefully Jeff Driskel improves in the off-season so that Reed's stats can improve, but regardless, going against some of the best defenses in the country yet again won’t hurt.

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RB Le'Veon Bell – Michigan State

bell
Jesse Johnson - US PRESSWIRE

Bell didn’t have much of a chance at being called the best back in the Big Ten this season. Even if he matched the Nebraska CornhuskersRex Burkhead, he wasn’t getting past the acclaim that the Wisconsin BadgersMontee Ball was going to – and eventually did – get. Next season, he’ll be a veteran back and again the focal point of the Michigan State Spartans’ attack. He’ll also be considered a better pick than a fourth-round bargain bin selection come April 2014.

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DE William Gholston – Michigan State

william
Mike Carter - US PRESSWIRE

There’s nothing like a familiar face to motivate, so since Bell’s heading back to MSU, why not Gholston? He’s an acknowledged defensive specimen, but was underwhelming this season. Yes, he had to be neutralized, but doing so was far too easy. Sparty has such a soft schedule in 2013, it may as well be coated in buttercream frosting. Gholston needs to stick in East Lansing and chow down.

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DE Anthony Barr – UCLA

barr
Mark J. Rebilas - US PRESSWIRE

There’s a number of quality outside linebackers available this year. So many that the UCLA BruinsAnthony Barr could conceivably have solid combine numbers and feel comfortable about a second round pick. However, with Jim Mora quickly turning UCLA’s fortunes around and considering the kind of damage a savage outside linebacker can do in the Pac-12, Barr could go from sitting back in a recliner at home to finding a chair in Radio City Music Hall. Stay west, young man.

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DB Matt Elam – Florida

elam
Kim Klement

The college football world was violently introduced to the Florida Gators’ defensive back this season if they weren’t familiar with him before. Elam’s looked at as one of the best potential additions to an NFL’s secondary in this year’s draft, but it’s still not a guarantee that he’ll be taken in the first round. If you’re a high profile defensive back and aren’t assured a spot on the first day of announcements, it’s time to turn around and play that senior year out.

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DT Sharrif Floyd – Florida

Floyd
Kim Klement - US PRESSWIRE

A large number of NFL teams need defensive tackles to plug up holes in their roster, but whether or not Floyd will be included in the first round is still in doubt. This is an amazing statement considering that five other big men could go before him. Even with good combine numbers, it’d be in his best interest to stay put and improve his game. 11 tackles for loss is a good number for a defensive tackle. One sack is not. Consider this a dare.

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OT Jake Matthews – Texas A&M

jake
Thomas Campbell - US PRESSWIRE

It speaks volumes that the Texas A&M Aggies have bookend offensive tackles considered first round prospects. The volume gets louder when you consider they could be taken within the first 15 picks.

If everything points to Luke Joeckel getting picked first overall (and it does), Matthews needs to turn down the money for now, head back to College Station and spend more time with Johnny Manziel. If nothing else, there’s a mutual relationship that’ll only make Matthews look better and maybe, just maybe, he’ll be looking at a top five selection down the road.

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DT Johnathan Hankins – Ohio State

hankins
Pat Lovell - US PRESSWIRE

Hankins has a legitimate dilemma. Does he enter the NFL draft as a surefire first round pick or stay in Columbus, OH. for a shot at a national title?

Look at it this way: if Hankins stays, he plays with a number of current underclassmen that will only get better thanks to Urban Meyer, there’s no reason the Ohio State Buckeyes shouldn’t be considered a national title contender in 2013 and elite defensive tackles will always get paid. Stay for the chance at picking up hardware, Hankins.

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OLB C.J. Mosley – Alabama

Mosley
Marvin Gentry - US PRESSWIRE

Regardless of whether the BCS or a playoff defines college football’s postseason, the Alabama Crimson Tide will always have a good defense as long as Nick Saban scowls on the Tide’s sideline. Unfortunately for Alabama's awesome defensive athlete, the Georgia Bulldogs’ Jarvis Jones is the first outside linebacker getting picked and the LSU TigersBarkevious Mingo might sneak in second. Stay in Tuscaloosa, AL.

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QB Aaron Murray - Georgia

murray
Dale Zanine - US PRESSWIRE

Murray may have the option to return to defend a national title or get back to the BCS’ biggest game in its last year of existence. Even if neither of those are true, the Georgia Bulldogs’ signal-caller still needs to stay in Athens.

With guys like the USC TrojansMatt Barkley, the West Virginia MountaineersGeno Smith and the Arkansas RazorbacksTyler Wilson clogging up any likely first round quarterback picks, sticking around for another national title shot lets the crowd clear up for 2014.

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WR Robert Woods – USC

Woods
Jayne Kamin-Oncea - US PRESSWIRE

When the first USC wide receiver projected to be selected isn’t viewed as at least a probable first round pick, he needs to return to the Coliseum and play catch. Such is the situation with Robert Woods. Max Wittek gave it his all against Notre Dame and though the Trojans fell short, he showed monumental potential and not just with his arm.

Being on the other end of his development is just what Woods needs to become a bigger superstar, be featured on more highlight reels and bump himself into day one coverage. Besides, Wittek can't throw to Marqise Lee every time.

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DB Eric Reid – LSU

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Derick Hingle - US PRESSWIRE

While projected as a first round pick by many, the LSU Tigers’ defensive back is still sitting precariously close to dipping into the second. He’s played well this season. Too good to consider fence-sitting when it’s time for an NFL franchise to think about picking up the phone to talk to him.

That concludes today’s complimentary consultation for these 15 athletes. If one of your favorite players was listed and ends up coming back, no need to thank me. 'Tis the season, after all.

Brandon Cavanaugh is a college football columnist for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @eightlaces