Every Saturday afternoon, numerous college football games attract our attention on many different channels. A lot of times, it is hard to keep an individual focus on just one game or team. We think to ourselves, “Should I turn to NBC and watch Notre Dame versus Oklahoma? Or how about CBS and tune into LSU at Georgia. Or maybe ESPN and watch Johnny Football and Texas A&M take on Arkansas?” So much football to watch, yet only one television. Perhaps it may be easier to simply focus on individual players that will a) hear their name called early in next April’s NFL Draft and b) be playing on Sunday’s next fall. Below is the list of the top ten draft eligible players in college football.
Jadeveon Clowney – DE South Carolina. Clowney may very well be the best defensive end prospect…well, ever. A freakish physical specimen, Clowney possesses an imposing 6’6”, 250 pound frame, but is also rumored to have been clocked in the 40 yard dash at an astounding 4.4 seconds. No human that large should be able to move that fast, yet for this reason many scouts consider him a better prospect than former North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers, who was eventually picked number two overall by Carolina in 2002. Clowney has had a slow start to this season, but a lot of this is due to constant double teams and defenses game-planning entirely around him.
Teddy Bridgewater – QB Louisville. Despite being the number two overall prospect, there is a large chance that Bridgewater will hear his name selected before Clowney due to the demand of the quarterback position in today’s NFL. Bridgewater was an unknown commodity last year to most college football fans until he lead the Cardinals to a blowout win over Florida in last year’s Sugar Bowl. In that contest, Bridgewater threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns over the highly touted Gators defense. Bridgewater has special athleticism that many teams are now coveting at the quarterback position due to the recent success of Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Colin Kaepernick.
Anthony Barr – LB UCLA. Barr likely would have been considered a middle-first rounder had he come out after his junior season last year. What is scary is that last season was his first playing on the defensive side of the ball. After playing fullback/tight end his first two seasons for the Bruins, Barr switched over to defense and recorded 13.5 sacks to lead the nation. A rare combination of size and speed, Barr is a terror off the edge and is considered to be a better prospect than last year’s number three overall pick Dion Jordan.
Jake Matthews – OT Texas A&M. Matthews has been considered by many scouts as the superior prospect compared to last April’s second pick, and college teammate, Luke Joeckel. The blood line of the Matthews family will continue its success in the NFL; Jake Matthews is the son of Hall of Fame tackle Bruce Matthews and cousin to Packers Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Mathews and Eagles linebacker Casey Mathews. The offensive tackle class in 2014 is very strong, but Matthews is the most well-rounded pass and run-blocker, and does not appear to have any clear weaknesses in his game.
Marcus Mariota – QB Oregon. In his second season as the starting quarterback for the high-octane Oregon offense, Mariota is solidifying himself as the potential Heisman Trophy favorite so far this season. Through four games, Mariota has thrown for 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns, while also rushing for 295 yards and 5 touchdowns. He has an ideal frame (6’4) and also some serious wheels, which have drawn strong comparisons to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. His skills project strongly to the next level and Kaepernick’s early success has undoubtedly raised Mariota’s stock even further.
Sammy Watkins – WR Clemson. The debate among many pundits during the offseason was who the best wide receiver in college football was: Watkins or USC wide receiver Marquise Lee? Not even halfway into the season, that answer clearly appears to be Watkins. While Lee has been plagued by injuries and inconsistent quarterback play, Watkins has simply shined. Watkins had a monster game against number three ranked Georgia in the season opener, catching six passes for 126 yards and a touchdown to lead the Tigers to victory. Watkins was considered the top freshman two years ago after recording 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, an inconsistent sophomore campaign led him to be overshadowed by future first round pick DeAndre Hopkins. Watkins is now again the main man in the Clemson offense and has been nothing short of impressive so far this season.
Brett Hundley – QB UCLA. Hundley, the second UCLA player on this list, is still a work in progress with a raw set of skills. However, when watching the Bruins quarterback, there is no denying that all of the physical tools (size, arm strength, intangibles) are constantly on display. Like Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Hundley is also a talented redshirt sophomore in the Pac-12. Hundley is not quite the caliber of athlete as Marcus Mariota, but he does possess a stronger arm and is a better decision maker. His talent was evident earlier this season in a game at 22nd ranked Nebraska, when Hundley threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns.
Louis Nix – DT Notre Dame. Nix was the most talented player on the defensive side of the ball for a Notre Dame team that made it all the way to National Championship game last season. That is quite impressive considering Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te’o and future first round pick (and current teammate) Stephon Tuitt were also integral parts to the Fighting Irish unit. At 340 pounds, Nix would be a perfect fit for a 3-4 team looking for a run stuffer. However, Nix is also quite deceptive as a pass rusher and is very quick for a man his size. He is a better prospect than Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe, who was selected with the 11th pick in the 2012 draft and has already made a huge impact so far this season on the Kansas City defense.
Cyrus Kouandjio – OT Alabama. The Crimson Tide may have had one of the best offensive lines in college football history last season en route to a National Championship. The line boasted two 2012 first round picks (Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker) and also All-American Center Barrett Jones. The scary thing is, the best of the bunch is still playing his college football in Tuscaloosa. Kouandjio, a junior, has been a three-year starter at left tackle for Alabama and has lived up to the hype as a blue chip recruit for Nick Saban’s squad. At an imposing 6’6 and 312 pounds, Kouandjio has the prototypical size and athleticism to be a long-term starter at left tackle on Sundays.
CJ Mosley – LB Alabama. Being a multi-year starter at linebacker for the Crimson Tide appears to bode well for an NFL future. Alabama has boasted three top 40 picks in the last few years – Rolanda McClain (8th overall, 2010), Donta Hightower (25th Overall, 2012), and Courtney Upshaw (35th overall, 2012) – and Mosley will in all likelihood be added to that list. Typically unusual for a top linebacker prospect, Moseley’s greatest strength may be his pass coverage, whether that be in man or zone coverage. Although a tad undersized, Mosley also has the versatility to play as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 or in the inside in a 3-4 defense.
Just missed the cut: Stephon Tuitt – DT Notre Dame, Taylor Lewan – OT Michigan, Tahj Boyd – QB Clemson, Bradley Roby- CB Ohio State, Marquise Lee – WR USC, Hasean Clinton- Dix- S Alabama