By Jarrod Patterson @J_M_Patterson on June 25, 2014
Every year, a growing number of underclassmen forego any remaining eligibility in favor of a chance at the NFL. Quite often, these are players coming off spectacular statistical seasons who are destined for the NFL regardless. While sacrificing education is rarely a good decision, it can be a profitable one. Here are 15 players who should forego their senior years and enter the 2015 NFL Draft in order to maximize their career earning potential.
At 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, DT Ellis McCarthy has the size and strength to be a legitimate force in the NFL. Coming off of his best season at UCLA, McCarthy looks primed for a breakout campaign in 2014 for the Bruins. As a sophomore, he posted 31 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks in eight starts. With the NFL's need for DTs who can anchor the line at an all-time high, McCarthy could very well end up a first-round draft pick in 2015.
While Hurricanes RB Duke Johnson is still recovering from the ankle injury which caused him to miss four games last season, he is still expected to be a major contributor for Miami's rebuilding offense in 2014. With back-to-back 900-plus yard rushing seasons, as well as a ridiculous 20 all-purpose touchdowns over the past two years, there is no question Johnson has the skillset to contribute immediately in the NFL.
Alabama star RB T.J. Yeldon is about to have a monster year. With QB A.J. McCarron leaving for the NFL, the Crimson Tide will lean heavily on their running attack. While head coach Nick Saban is known for deploying a committee approach to the backfield, every additional carry Yeldon takes will ultimately cut into the longevity of his NFL career -- another unfortunate side-effect of playing the sport's most physically-demanding position.
Already entering his third year as a starter, LSU offensive guard Vadal Alexander has been one of the most consistent and productive players in the entire SEC. With experience at tackle and guard, Alexander's versatility will serve him well in his transition to the NFL. The 6-foot-6, 342-pound junior has also shown durability, entering 2014 with a streak of 22 consecutive starts.
WR Jaelen Strong burst onto the national scene this past season for the Sun Devils, posting an impressive 75 receptions for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns. With seven 100-plus yard receiving games and a ridiculous 29 explosive plays on the season, Strong showed his penchant for playmaking. It's clear the 6-foot-4, 215-pound playmaker is built for the NFL. Plus, with senior QB Taylor Kelly graduating in 2015, Strong will likely declare.
Gordon is a 6-foot-1, 207-pound homerun-hitter for the Badgers' backfield in Wisconsin. After redshirting in 2011 as a freshman, Gordon turned heads in 2012, rushing only 62 times for an astounding 621 yards and three TDs. The following year, he proved it was no fluke as he carried the ball 206 times for 1609 yards and 12 TDs. A preseason First Team All-American (Phil Steele) who averages 8.1 yards/attempt is sure to find an NFL home quickly.
To put things bluntly, Shaq Thompson and his entire 2011-12 UW recruiting class were wronged by former Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian, who decided to unceremoniously bolt from Husky Nation to their Pac-12 rivals, the USC Trojans. The way he did it likely agitated players in the locker room. That is clearly no reflection on new UW head coach Chris Peterson, who is a phenomenal coach. Rather, it's just natural for the connection to be severed.
Understandably, this one is a bit of a long shot. Most Stanford athletes stay through graduation. After all, who wouldn't want a free degree from Stanford? Yet, Hogan could be selected as high as the top 10 in the 2015 NFL Draft, depending on which other underclassmen declare and the type of season Hogan has. As it stands, the 6-foot-4, 228-pound deceivingly athletic pocket-passer may just remind fans of his predecessor, Andrew Luck.
Nothing boosts your draft stock like playing well on the world's biggest stage. When P.J. Williams earned Defensive MVP honors in the BCS National Championship Game, he vaulted himself into the limelight, earning the hype that had rightfully followed him to FSU. His career-high seven tackles and game-changing interception showcased his ball skills, as well as his outstanding size -- both traits which are all the rage in the NFL.
Amari Cooper is clearly the most talented wide receiver left at Alabama. While his playmaking ability is evident, he is about to undergo a great deal of change on offense. Former QB A.J. McCarron is gone, along with several other key contributors for the Crimson Tide. As a result, Cooper's numbers may take a hit this year. Fortunately, his combine numbers will surely prove his worthiness of being a first-rounder, giving him incentive to leave.
In 2012, Isaac Seumalo became the first freshman to start at center for Oregon State since 1978. He was given the job from day one and never looked back, earning all-conference honors both years as a starter. At 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, Seumalo has the strength and athleticism to successfully convert to any offensive system. The Beavers' team captain will also be losing his starting QB Sean Mannion in 2015, which should make his decision easier.
Their are some players who are just special on the field. That is the best way to explain USC DE Leonard Williams. Last season as a sophomore, the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Williams was second on the team in tackles with 76. Perhaps more impressively, however, he added 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and a forced fumble on his way to third-team AP All-American honors. Williams very well may be the best defensive lineman in the nation in 2014.
In just two seasons at the University of Georgia, Todd Gurley has proven to be the best running back in the country. The 6-foot-1, 232-pound behemoth has made a name for himself, steamrolling the very best the SEC has had to offer. However, with his Marshawn Lynch-like running style, Gurley would be best served limiting his number of carries prior to turning pro. After all, the tread on his tires will eventually be scrutinized come draft time.
Barring a dramatic downhill slide this season, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will be a top-five draft pick in the NFL Draft. The only question is, which NFL Draft? The standout QB prospect has prototypical size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and a big arm. Mariota also has the mobility that has become so fashionable in the NFL lately. With Chip Kelly's Oregon-style offense taking the league by storm, Mariota will be in high demand.
Clearly, Heisman Trophy Winner and National Champion QB Jameis Winston has immense talent as an athlete. Unfortunately, he seems to be unable to stay away from negative headlines. While Winston and his family maintain the QB's desire to achieve his degree, another strong season this year could put Winston in contention for the No. 1 overall pick. Given the intense NCAA scrutiny Winston's been under, NFL money could be hard to turn down.
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