College Football

Pro Player Comparisons for College Football's Top 25 Stars

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

Pro Player Comparisons for College Football's Top 25 Stars

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    Mark J. Terrill

    College football greatness doesn't always translate to NFL success. Just look at some of the players who won the Heisman Trophy in the past decade, as illustrious pro careers weren't in the cards for USC's Matt Leinart, Ohio State's Troy Smith or Florida's Tim Tebow.

    Yet each time a college athlete achieves star status, the first thing we want to do is compare him to an NFL player as a way of gauging how likely it is he'll make it in the big leagues.

    The current stars of college football face the same comparisons, as we have identified the pro player each most closely resembles in terms of size, skill and approach to the game.

    (Note: Players are listed in alphabetical order, not in terms of ranking)

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

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    Nati Harnik

    Position: Running back

    Pro comparison: Doug Martin

     

    Ameer Abdullah is on the short side at 5'9", but that didn't stop a similarly sized Doug Martin from succeeding in his rookie year in 2012 after starring at Boise State. A shoulder injury caused him to miss most of last season, but with medical clearance, he has a chance to get back to that old form.

    Abdullah has been knocked for his pass-blocking skills and fumbling issues, but the senior is still expected to be the leader of Nebraska's run game this fall.

Vic Beasley, Clemson

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    Richard Shiro

    Position: Defensive end

    Pro comparison: Bruce Irvin

     

    While Vic Beasley's numbers resemble that of a pass-rushing defensive end, he doesn't fit the prototypical mold of one at the NFL level because he only weighs 225 pounds on his 6'3" frame. Instead, he seems like the kind of guy who could switch between the edge and playing at linebacker, similar to what Irvin has done with the Seattle Seahawks.

    Like Irvin, Beasley is skilled at using his speed to draw an offensive lineman into a bad angle, then cutting inside to beat the block. He earned a second-round grade on his draft evaluation, but after coming back for his senior year, if he puts up another season like he did in 2013 (13 sacks, 23 tackles for loss), he should rise to the first round.

Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

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    Keith Srakocic

    Position: Wide receiver

    Pro comparison: Larry Fitzgerald

     

    It's fitting that Tyler Boyd compares favorably to Larry Fitzgerald, as in his freshman year at Pittsburgh, he bested many of the marks that Fitzgerald had set there in his first year.

    Boyd is 6'2" and 185 pounds, a little shorter and lighter than what Fitzgerald plays at now. But with another two years to develop in college, he's tracking toward a high slot in the 2016 draft. CBS Sports ranks him as the No. 3 wideout in the 2017 class, but if he continues putting up 85-catch, 1,174-yard seasons, he'll go high in the 2016 draft.

     

Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

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    Andrew Nelles

    Position: Defensive end

    Pro comparison: Michael Strahan

     

    Shilique Calhoun's breakout season in 2013 began with some fluke defensive scores, but it continued on with consistently good play from the edge. He finished his redshirt sophomore season with 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss and was one of the faces of Michigan State's stout defense.

    Calhoun has put on plenty of mass and bulk since arriving at MSU three years ago, going from 218 to 257 pounds. He projects as a solid left-side speed-rusher in the NFL, which, according to NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, is where coaches tend to put their biggest, strongest edge defender. He's been compared to longtime great Michael Strahan because Strahan owned the left end spot throughout his career.

     

Su'a Cravens, USC

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Position: Safety

    Pro comparison: Ed Reed

     

    Though he's only played one season in college, Su'a Cravens quickly showed what he could do in patrolling the back line for USC as a true freshman. He was compared to Ed Reed by Bleacher Report's Marc Kohn back when he was a high school recruit, and so far, that likeness is holding true.

    Though a little bigger than Reed at 6'1", Cravens covers the field and hits the way the two-time Super Bowl winner has during his 12-year pro career. He intercepted four passes last year, and he'll go into this fall as a mentor to the Trojans' latest crop of star defensive backs, including 5-star corner Adoree' Jackson.

Mike Davis, South Carolina

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Position: Running back

    Pro comparison: Priest Holmes

     

    Watch Mike Davis run through (or around) defenders and you'll see what Priest Holmes looked like during the prime of his NFL career. At least, that's what NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah saw in October 2013 during Davis' 1,183-yard sophomore season for South Carolina.

    Both Davis and Holmes fit into that short-but-strong mold of 5'9" and about 215 pounds, and Davis has found a way to use both his elusiveness and his power to get extra yards. Hopefully Davis doesn't also compare to Holmes in terms of health, though nagging injuries did limit him to only 203 carries last year.

     

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Position: Cornerback

    Pro comparison: Charles Tillman

     

    Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a cover corner by trade, but he gets himself involved in all aspects of the defense at Oregon. It's much like what Charles Tillman has done throughout his career.

    Tillman has forced 42 fumbles and intercepted 36 passes in the NFL, numbers that Ekpre-Olomu can only hope to match. Through three seasons with the Ducks, he's forced seven fumbles and had seven picks, though in his junior year his numbers dropped off from 2012 and lowered his stock.

Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Cornerback

    Pro comparison: Brandon Boykin

     

    Kendall Fuller made an instant impact as a true freshman in 2013, finishing with six interceptions to earn freshman All-American honors and give the Hokies hope for the future, even with older brother Kyle Fuller graduating from the secondary. Though highly regarded out of high school, Kendall wasn't expected to do this well this quick.

    That's a similar outlook that was given to Brandon Boykin after his first year in the NFL. A part-time starter for the Philadelphia Eagles, Boykin didn't start a game after late September yet finished with a team-high six interceptions.

Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Running back

    Pro comparison: Jamaal Charles

     

    Melvin Gordon has averaged more than 7.5 yards per carry during his career in Wisconsin, including a stellar 7.8 rate last season as a redshirt sophomore. Yet he has never carried more than 22 times in a game, which leads one to wonder how well he'd do with more carries.

    A similar query has been made at times during the career of Jamaal Charles, who has averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry in each of his six NFL seasons yet has never finished a year with a per-game rate of more than 18 touches.

    One place they differ, though, is in the passing game, as Charles has 222 career receptions and Gordon has caught the ball three times. If that becomes a part of Gordon's repertoire, he could become that much more dangerous.

Randy Gregory, Nebraska

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Defensive end

    Pro comparison: Chandler Jones

     

    Randy Gregory first signed with Purdue, but after not being academically eligible, he ended up at a junior college, where he put up big numbers and drew Nebraska's interest. That translated into a massive sophomore year, with 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2013.

    It was the kind of out-of-nowhere season that Chandler Jones put up last year for the New England Patriots, grabbing 10.5 sacks as well after a relatively quiet rookie season. Jones put up similar numbers in college and ended up a first round pick in 2012, a ceiling that Gregory should surpass with another big year.

Todd Gurley, Georgia

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Running back

    Pro comparison: Adrian Peterson

     

    At 6'1" and 230 pounds, Todd Gurley has a body that resembles that of Adrian Peterson. Watch a little film and you'll see that the sophomore ran like him last season as well.

    Gurley is a physical runner who will blast a defender as soon as he'll try to run past him, which is a staple of Peterson's running style. Both suffered injuries that set back their respective careers, but all signs point to Gurley being able to bounce back this fall like Peterson did so soon after tearing an ACL.

Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Cornerback

    Pro comparison: Joe Haden

     

    Vernon Hargreaves III was the top-rated defensive back prospect in the 2013 recruiting class, and he lived up to that hype as a true freshman, with a record-setting effort in Florida's secondary. He did so by staying active on the field, not just sticking to a receiver or a set area.

    That's much the same way Joe Haden played while a Gator in college, and he's continued to do so in his four seasons in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns. Add in that both players are 5'11" and about 190 pounds, and the similarities are easier to notice.

     

Taysom Hill, BYU

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Quarterback

    Pro comparison: Brad Smith

     

    Taysom Hill's passing showed improvement from the beginning of the 2013 season, but he's still got only a 55 percent completion percentage. Those numbers are somewhat masked by his great running ability, which last year really shined through, to the tune of more than 1,300 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

    Hill probably won't get a look as a full-time quarterback in the NFL, but there have been other such dual-threat quarterbacks who've been able to carve out a spot in the pros because of their ability to run. Brad Smith comes to mind. His accuracy was suspect in college, but because of his legs, he was able to hang on as a runner and receiver.

Brett Hundley, UCLA

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Quarterback

    Pro comparison: Colin Kaepernick

     

    Brett Hundley had the ability to leave for the NFL after his redshirt sophomore season in 2013, but he still looked a little raw and needed to work on some things before he could make it as a pro. Had he entered the draft, he might have been labeled a project, similar to what was said of Colin Kaepernick when he graduated from Nevada.

    Kaepernick was evaluated as "very raw in terms of making NFL reads and throws" by NFL.com prior to the 2011 draft, and now he's a superstar. Hundley can do the same thing with more work, as he's got the same skills as Kaepernick in terms of a strong arm and blazing speed.

Myles Jack, UCLA

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Linebacker

    Pro comparison: Spencer Larsen

     

    Myles Jack was a two-way star in high school, but UCLA felt he fit best as a linebacker in college. That is, until midway through his first season last November, when he was pressed into duty as a running back and was phenomenal. He'll be back at linebacker in 2014, but the Bruins have to be happy to know they've got that option if needed.

    Spencer Larsen didn't switch back and forth in college at Arizona, and when he was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2008, it was purely as a linebacker. Yet he's been best known in the pros as a fullback, making the switch when it was needed.

Jeremy Langford, Michigan State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Running back

    Pro comparison: Matt Forte

     

    Jeremy Langford became Michigan State's primary running back by default last year, but he ended up being the most consistent part of the Spartans offense, rushing for more than 1,400 yards with 18 touchdowns. At 292 carries, he had the eighth-most touches in the country in 2013.

    That was Langford's first year with a lot of use, despite three years in school, so he's got a lot of time ahead of him to possibly be a workhorse. By showing he can carry the ball a lot, he has a chance to be a dependable back like Matt Forte has been through all six of his NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears.

Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Wide receiver

    Pro comparison: Antonio Brown

     

    Tyler Lockett has gotten better each and every year, to the point that in 2013 he was almost uncoverable as a junior. He had 81 catches for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns, along with three different three-TD games for Kansas State.

    Though smaller than most wideouts at 5'11", he makes up for it with great speed and route-running, much like Antonio Brown has done since coming out of Central Michigan five years ago. And Brown also has gotten better each year, to the point where he's now one of the elite wideouts in the NFL.

Marcus Mariota, Oregon

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Quarterback

    Pro comparison: Russell Wilson

     

    You either have to picture Russell Wilson as being far taller or chop five inches off Marcus Mariota. But other than the height difference, their games are very similar.

    Mariota is a prototypical zone-read quarterback, and he's as good whether he's keeping the ball or throwing it downfield. When his knee slowed down the run game, Mariota kicked up the passing a notch and finished with 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

    This is how Wilson has looked in his two NFL seasons, mixing solid throwing and accuracy with just the right amount of running to keep defenses honest. He can't be discounted in either way, much like Mariota.

Braxton Miller, Ohio State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Quarterback

    Pro comparison: Troy Smith

     

    Braxton Miller has been compared to Troy Smith for much of his time at Ohio State. Unfortunately, that's not the most glowing of parallels, since Smith started only eight games in four seasons.

    Miller has been impressive in college, but there's still a concern of whether his skills can translate to the NFL game. That's how it was for Smith, who, after winning the Heisman in 2006, didn't get drafted until the fifth round in 2007.

    Miller can change those comparisons, though, as his return for his senior year gives him more time to change minds.

Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Offensive lineman

    Pro comparison: Tyron Smith

     

    After Luke Joeckel in 2012 and Jake Matthews last season, Cedric Ogbuehi seems destined to be a high draft
    pick based on how he's fared as an offensive line anchor for Texas A&M. But rather than compare him to old teammates, Ogbuehi's skills seem more similar to how Tyron Smith has looked in the NFL.

    Smith has started 47 games at tackle the past three seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, and though Tony Romo has averaged more than 30 sacks each of those years, Smith has done his best to protect him. Ogbuehi has protected Ryan Tannehill and Johnny Manziel, and he looks capable of keeping an NFL quarterback upright as well.

Bryce Petty, Baylor

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Quarterback

    Pro comparison: Ben Roethlisberger

     

    Though not as massive in stature as Ben Roethlisberger, Baylor's Bryce Petty showed during his breakout season in 2013 that he could have the same kind of impact on a game as the veteran Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback.

    As a junior, Petty showed accuracy and zip on passes to throw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and a mere three interceptions. But where he really managed to make strides and stand out was in his ability to elude rushers and run when needed, scoring 14 touchdowns on just 93 carries.

    Roethlisberger doesn't score as much, but his scrambles are just as effective.

Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Wide receiver

    Pro comparison: Stevie Johnson

     

    Laquon Treadwell just scratched the surface of his ability and potential as a true freshman in 2013, finishing with 72 receptions but just five touchdowns and a per-catch average of less than nine yards. While that's not impressive, it does show he's not simply going deep and trying to hit the home runs.

    The same can be said of Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson, who, despite his outspoken demeanor is among the hardest workers in the NFL. He's willing to go into and through traffic for catches, much like Treadwell.

    Treadwell will be much more involved offensively this season, and his average should be higher. But he'll continue to be willing and able to catch whatever pass is called.

     

Leonard Williams, USC

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Defensive lineman

    Pro comparison: J.J. Watt

     

    Leonard Williams has been an impact player as a starter at both defensive tackle and defensive end in his two years at USC, and that kind of versatility is going to make him a hot commodity when he likely leaves for the NFL draft following the 2013 season. And when scouts look deep into what he's done, they'll see that he's showed many of the same traits that made J.J. Watt a star.

    Watt is a master at sacking the quarterback but also at deflecting passes when he can't get close. Williams has 14 sacks in two years, and when he played tackle in 2012, he had four deflections.

Jameis Winston, Florida State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Quarterback

    Pro comparison: Andrew Luck

     

    While USA Today's Tom Pelissero quoted an anonymous NFL coach last December who compared Jameis Winston to Peyton Manning, the more telling part of the quote was about him being "NFL-ready." Based on his style of play, his body frame and what he's done in college, he's more comparable to Andrew Luck.

    Luck didn't jump up and become a superstar right away, he gradually moved into that realm with each year of college results. Winston had the best freshman year ever at quarterback, and he looks like a pro passer already, just like Luck did heading into the NFL draft in 2012.

T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Position: Running back

    Pro comparison: Darren McFadden

     

    While you probably won't see T.J. Yeldon operating out of a version of the Wildcat offense at Alabama, that doesn't mean he couldn't do it. But what makes him like former Arkansas star Darren McFadden is how his style of running compares to what McFadden has done in the NFL.

    Both runners are fast yet powerful and can break a tackle as easily as they can outrun a defender. Yeldon hasn't shown his true potential yet in college because there hasn't been a need. But in big games, he has stepped it up a notch, much like McFadden did at Arkansas.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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