Though the season has only reached the interval mark, I wanted to run the rule over ten of the finest college prospects, who from next April could leave a lasting impression on the league and many of the teams within it. Among this season's rookies to make an impression are Andrew Luck, RG3, Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris and Doug Martin.
Here are my 'perfect 10'...
1. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Taylor Lewan has drawn favorable comparisons to another established tackle to emerge from the Michigan stables - Jake Long of the Dolphins. Though he may not come to represent an exact replica from a stylistic standpoint, Lewan certainly appears worthy of the franchise prospect tag like his predecessor did when at Ann Arbor.
The 6ft 8, 309-pound junior has all the intangibles required of a man in his position, possessing the power, aggression and tenacity symptomatic of the ideal offensive lineman. The NFL player that Lewan most closely resembles however, at least from a physical standpoint, isn't Long it's Oakland's Jared Veldheer. Much like Veldheer, Lewan has every chance of evolving into a key component for any offensive line, and go onto become a real lynchpin.
If he indeed does declare for the 2013 draft, he'll certainly invite discussion as to his merits as a top – five pick, and possibly even a candidate to go as the number one pick overall, as was the case with Long in 2008.
2. RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Giovani Bernard has emerged as one of the most dynamic playmakers at collegic level. The lightening quick back is a genuine big-play threat that possesses the capacity to inflict major damage from the line of scrimmage, at every available opportunity.
In 2011 Bernard amassed 1,253 yards from 239 carries, averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry, and found the endzone 13 times. However, despite only playing six games to date this season, Bernard’s taken his performance levels to a whole new level and is now averaging an astounding 7.4 – yards per carry, accounted for 10 touchdowns, and plundered 930 yards from just 126 carries, all the more astonishing when contrasted with three of the NFL’s standout backs this season, Adrian Peterson – 151 carries, 775 – yards, 5.1 yards per carry, and 4 touchdowns, Arian Foster – 168 carries, 659 – yards, 3.9 – yards per carry, and 9 touchdowns, and New England’s Steven Ridley, who’s accumulated 716 – yards from 150 carries at an average of 4.8, and 5 touchdowns.
Also, at the time of writing, he sits 4th in the country with 1,194 all-purpose yards and 12th in the nation with 12 total touchdowns. The 5ft 10, 205-pound sophomore should, if remaining injury free, complete the metamorphosis from precocious talent to NFL stalwart, much like the aforementioned examples.
Though, given the pass happy culture that now exists in the NFL, and the standard of defenses, one would be well advised to hang fire on excessive eulogy, as college may be the ideal breeding ground for learning, the NFL is that most uncompromising of finishing schools, therefore time will us just how much Bernard can develop.
However, with all being considered, if Bernard's knee checks out with NFL doctors, there's no reason to suggest he can’t go as the number one pick for his position next April, thus beginning what could become a prosperous pro career.
3. DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Versatile defensive tackles are becoming are forever growing in importance in today's NFL due to the appearance of multi – lock fronts. One top defensive line prospect who has the skill set to excel in either a 4-3 defensive scheme or a 3-4 front (much like Jim Tomsula’s San Francisco defense) is Missouri's Sheldon Richardson.
Richardson has become an all-conquering domineering presence this season in Columbia. The 6ft 4, 295-pound junior currently leads the Tigers with 52 stops, including 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. The Marcell Dareus (Buffalo Bills) synthetic has the size, pace and power to be a majorly disruptive force in the NFL.
4. DE Dion Jordan, Oregon
Oregon's high-powered offensive attack has gotten most of the attention this season, and for good reason given it’s been pounding opponents to the tune of 54–points per game, and outscoring them 128 - 13. However, the true catalyst for their success this season has been defensive end Dion Jordan, who’s become the spearhead in taking a 67th ranked defense to 35th in the rankings, and reducing the concession of points from 52 per game to 24.
Despite his physically imposing nature and athletic ability, the former tight – end is still developing his understanding of what makes the quintessential pass rusher.
However, it's quite evident from his performances in 2012 that he's beginning to interfuse all the intangibles, thus getting the most out of his tremendous physical presence.
The 6ft 7, 243-pound leviathan has produced five sacks, seven tackles for loss and forced two fumbles this season, and he's shown a clear illustration of the intuition only found in elite pass rushers like the New York Giants Jason Pierre – Paul.
5. WR Terrance Williams, Baylor
The Big 12 has well and truly left it’s print on the NFL, by producing a plethora of top receiving talent, most notably in the form of Justin Blackmon (Jacksonville Jaguars), Kendall Wright (Tennessee Titans), Dez Bryant (Dallas Cowboys) and Michael Crabtree (San Francisco 49ers) . Now you can add the conference's latest standout pass-catching prospect - Terrance Williams.
With Kendall Wright now plying his trade at LP Field, Williams has embraced the responsibility of go-to receiver this season, as he's hauled in 60 receptions (at an average of 2.01 yards per reception) for 1,203 – yards, and nine touchdowns. Quite remarkable when taking into consideration that he’s already surpassed his efforts of 2011, where, from 59 receptions he had 11 touchdowns over 957 – yards. The 6ft 2 senior presents the ultimate marriage of size and speed, and arguably possess the elements to keep any NFL defense honest.
6. QB Matt Barkley, USC
When Matt Barkley surprised many by announcing his intentions to return to USC for his senior year, the media were more than happy to seal his coronation as Heisman favorite and the early front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick next April (quite amazing when you look at the performances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Oregon’s Marcus Mariata).
Though it must be said, Barkley has done little to dampen the media fan fare by completing 171 of 262 passes for a completion percentage 65.3, resulting in 25 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions, all of which contributing to a quarterback rating of 163.3.
That being said, his severe struggles in a disappointing loss to Stanford in Week 3 forced many to re assess if he is the precocious talent many believe him to be. Though 6ft'2 Barkley is seemingly devoid of the desired size or rocket arm that scouts look for in a top-of-the-line quarterback prospect, he does possess intangibles that compensate for the perceived lack of arm strength by showing leadership and intelligence.
In any case, Peyton Manning has never possessed superior arm – strength, and yet has gone on to establish an illustrious career…
7. CB Jonathan Banks, Mississippi State
Jonathan Banks has been a full-time starter at Mississippi State since his sophomore season back in 2010, and he's managed to continue to improve and get better with each and every year. Banks has now developed into a complete cornerback who has all the necessary physical tools to become a premier player for an NFL secondary.
The 6'2'', 185-pound senior is a big, athletic and instinctive cover man who has great coverage ability and ball skills, as evidenced by his nine interceptions and 14 pass breakups in his last 20 games.
Ultimately, Banks should become a solid starter in the NFL and turn into a similar type of player to Jacksonville's Derek Cox.
8. DE Sam Montgomery, LSU
Following a breakout sophomore campaign last year, in which he piled up nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, Sam Montgomery has been dominant once again this season. The 6ft 5, 260-pound junior has been an absolute nightmare for opposing offensive tackles, as he's already notched four sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Montgomery may be a bit undersized by NFL standards, but he more than makes up for it with his tenacious and relentless style of play and his non-stop motor.
The 2013 draft potentially could feature the deepest and most talented group of pass-rushers that we've witnessed for 20 years, and Montgomery will definitely be one of the most sought-after defensive ends if he decides to declare.
9. WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Tavon Austin was the most productive overall player in college football last season, totaling 2,574 all-purpose yards. He also scored 11 touchdowns in three different ways. This season, the dynamism has continued to the tune of 788 – yards from 74 receptions, and 9 touchdowns.
The 5'9'', 174-pound senior may be small by NFL standards, but this should not deter any potential suitors come the draft, as another 5ft 9 sample, a certain Wes Welker, has gone on to establish himself as one of the most respected figures within the game (7,962 yards, 34 touchdowns, and counting) Austin has a chance to emulate Welker, though this is dependent on a number of factors, one being a marriage with an offensive system that suits his skillset, and another being the triggerman providing the service, as it will be interesting to see how he fares without the beguiling Geno Smith not throwing him the ball…
10. QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
The most discussed quarterback in college football this year has been Geno Smith, one that has drawn many a comparison with probably the most widely discussed quarterback in professional football this season - Robert Griffin III.
If he hadn’t already, Smith certainly entrenched himself in the footballing domain with a mind blowing performances by going 45-of-51 for a completion percentage of 88.2 and 656 yards and eight touchdowns in a 70-63 win, coincidently over RG3’s Baylor.
Many view Griffin as the knight who has ridden to the rescue of perennially underachieving Washington, and you can guarantee there will be a fair few teams that will looking to Smith to have a similar impact in 2013.
Who should be the number one pick?
image: © neontommy