College Football's All-NFL-Ready Team for 2014

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistMay 15, 2014

College Football's All-NFL-Ready Team for 2014

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    Clemson's Vic Beasley (3) is ready to play in the NFL right now.
    Clemson's Vic Beasley (3) is ready to play in the NFL right now.USA TODAY Sports

    What makes a player "ready" for the NFL?

    This is something that scouts try to figure out when evaluating college talent, especially when looking at players outside of the senior class.

    To use a draft choice on a player who might need more time to develop, whether it be physically or in terms of maturity, is the ultimate gamble that could result in a pink slip for those involved in the selection process.

    But every year, there are a good number of college football stars whofor many reasonsjust look like they're ready to be pros. Factors include their size in relation to the average NFL player at their projected position, their ability to make big plays in clutch situations and their presence of mind on the field.

    In other words, they look like a professional football player right now, but they just happen to still be in a college uniform and play on Saturdays instead of Sundays.

    For those who meet this criteria, the hype starts long before draft day. As a result, these players are prominently featured at or near the top of the majority of 2015 mock drafts that have already popped up.

    We've assembled an entire team of such ready-to-go players ahead of the 2014 season, which presumably will be their last year to hone their crafts as amateurs before getting paid big bucks to perform in the pros.

    Think someor allof them aren't ready? Let us know in the comments section.

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Year: Redshirt sophomore

    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 235 pounds

    Even though Jameis Winston told The Associated Press (h/t NBC Sports) he wants to play two more years at Florida State, the fact remains he'll be eligible to go pro after the 2014 season, and it would be a surprise if he didn't take the first chance he had to start a pro career.

    Barring a significant backslide in his performance or a major injury, expect the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to leave school after only two seasons of play for a second straight year.

    But unlike Johnny Manziel, Winston won't slide into the late first round, even with mounting off-the-field issues that Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman reports has caused some NFL officials to devalue his draft stock.

    That's because Winston possesses far more of the attributes that NFL teams look for in a franchise quarterback, such as size, pocket presence and arm strength.

    While guys like Russell Wilson have succeeded in spite of this, it's still what's preferred, and Winston fits those wishes.

    With that in mind, it's very likely Winston will make use of some of his playing time against lesser opponents—or possibly even some actual second-half play—to work on specific parts of his game that can still get better.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 232 pounds

    After watching the further devaluation of the NFL running back result in zero being taken until late in the 2014 draft's second round, it's time for the 2015 class of rushers to start a resurgence.

    Todd Gurley is its poster child, if all of the hype around this guy is any indication.

    With a blend of size and speed that wasn't apparent in the most recent crops of rushers, Gurley is getting pegged not only as a first-round pick, but one that could go in the top half—at least according to mock draft information compiled by Bleacher Report's Brian Jones.

    Though he's only a junior, the majority of the best rushers tend to leave with eligibility left on the table. Assuming Gurley can make it through the 2014 season unhurt, that's a good bet to take.

    Injuries are an issue, though, as Gurley suffered an ankle sprain that knocked him out of three games last year. But even with that missed time, he still rushed for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was also a very reliable option in the passing game, leading Georgia with six TDs on 37 catches for 441 yards.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 207 pounds

    If Todd Gurley is considered the monster truck in the upcoming running back class, Melvin Gordon is the speedy coupe that you try not to put many miles on.

    In other words, he's still got a lot of tread on the tires, having not racked up many miles.

    Gordon has an 8.1 yards-per-carry average for his career, but last season was his "busiest" with 206 carries. That netted him more than 1,600 yards, and he showed a level of productivity that comes from being able to avoid contact as much as inviting it.

    He was draft-eligible a year ago and his decision to stay in school was surprising, but his lack of overuse in the past makes the choice understandable.

    One thing Gordon hasn't done much of in college, though, is catch the ball. He has three career receptions, though one of those was for a 57-yard touchdown in 2012.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 202 pounds

    It's worth arguing that Amari Cooper looked like he could play in the NFL as soon as he got into college, especially after he bested NFL veteran Julio Jones' first-year numbers by catching 59 passes for 1,000 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns.

    While his sophomore year was subpar by comparison, Cooper was big when it mattered most late in the season. He had a combined 299 yards in the Iron and Sugar Bowls, proving nearly impossible to defend.

    Eric Edholm of Shutdown Corner believes Cooper could be this year's Sammy Watkins, which means teams might be willing trade multiple draft picks to get him next May.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 205 pounds

    Despite playing for the Pac-12 championship, Arizona State was an under-the-radar team in 2013 that won 10 games.

    Even more unheralded, at least during the season, was the solid play from junior college transfer Jaelen Strong.

    Strong was far and away ASU's best receiving weapon, catching 75 passes for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns. And that was with a few games of limited play because of minor injuries.

    Those numbers got a little bit of attention within the league, but not much from a national standpoint.

    That is, until the 2015 mock drafts came out, many of which put Strong in as a first-round choice. That includes the one by Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead, which slotted Strong as the No. 20 overall pick and called him "one of the best-kept secrets" in the country.

Devin Funchess, TE, Michigan

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 230 pounds

    Much like Texas Tech's Jace Amaro a year ago, Devin Funchess isn't going to wow you with his blocking on run plays to the outside or his ability to hold off a blitzing cornerback on a passing play.

    No, Funchess is in there because of his big hands and big targetsomething Michigan made sure to use as often as possible last season.

    Funchess' 748 receiving yards were the most ever by a Wolverines tight end, and with Jeremy Gallon now a member of the New England Patriots, it means Funchess becomes even that much more important to the passing game.

    The Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder said Funchess could primarily play as a receiver this year, which will further enhance his draft stock.

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M

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    Beth Hall/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 300 pounds

    He's played guard and tackle in college, and this fall he'll likely shift from right tackle to left to replace 2014 first-round pick Jake Matthews on the blind side.

    The expectation is he'll do just as well over there as in his previous spots on Texas A&M's offensive line, and the fact that he's been able to move around without missing a beat is why he'll be the top lineman taken next year.

    In fact, at least one mock draft has Ogbuehi going first overall.

    Though he's based his projection on the assumption that the Oakland Raiders will be drafting in that spot, SI.com's Chris Burke has Ogbuehi being the first player off the board next May because he's probably better than Matthews or 2012 first-rounder Luke Joeckel.

    Whether that comes to fruition or not, one thing is certain: This guy has a knack for keeping defensive linemen off his quarterback, no matter where he's playing. How are teams going to pass that up?

Tre' Jackson, OG, Florida State

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 339 pounds

    There were 45 offensive linemen taken in the 2014 NFL draft, but none of them were as big as Tre' Jackson. Though weight isn't a key attribute in performance, Jackson's size is impressive considering how well he's fared in blocking on the interior of Florida State's line during 28 starts.

    Jackson's first time in the lineup was in the Seminoles' 2011 bowl game, and he's been locked into that spot at right guard ever since. In 2013 he helped FSU's offense set the FBS record for points in a season, while also setting ACC or school records in various other offensive categories, part of why NFLDraftScout.com has him rated as the No. 1 guard in the senior class.

Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon

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    Kevin Casey/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 297 pounds

    Named the top center in the Pac-12 for two straight years, Hroniss Grasu was a 2013 finalist for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's top center. If not for Bryan Stork, the guy who hiked it to Jameis Winston all season, Grasu might have grabbed that award.

    Even without that hardware, Grasu is at the top of the heap when it comes to college centers.

    He likely would have been drafted higher than Stork—who went to the New England Patriots in the fifth round of the 2014 draft—had he left school after his junior year, but even with three years of starts, he chose to stick around.

    Only two centers declared early after the 2013 season, so Grasu fits in more with the norm of players at his position getting as much seasoning as possible at the college level.

Laken Tomlinson, OG, Duke

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 320 pounds

    Though not one of the flashiest offenses in the country, Duke's was one that was effective when needed in 2013 and overall a consistent group that had a big part in the ongoing great run the program has been on.

    Laken Tomlinson has been involved in that entire stretch, starting all 38 games of his college career.

    With Tomlinson at guard, the Blue Devils quarterbacks were only sacked 17 times last season. He's an every-down blocker who keeps out defenders and opens up holes—two things that will earn him a nice payday in the NFL.

Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

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    Matthew Holst/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 320 pounds

    If asked to describe Iowa's offense this past season, it would be hard to say much in regard to superlatives. The Hawkeyes weren't flashy and had bouts of inconsistency, but there was one thing they didn't lack: good blocking up front.

    With Brandon Scherff at tackle, the offensive line only allowed 15 sacks in 13 games, and he was named the team's offensive MVP.

    Considered a high draft pick by CBSSports.com had he left early, Scherff will only solidify that projection with another solid year guarding the edge.

Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska

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    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'6"

    Weight: 245 pounds

    Because of a year spent in junior college—after not qualifying academically at his initial school, Purdue—Randy Gregory was a newcomer to the FBS ranks in 2013.

    It's fair to say he had the best season of any such first-year player on the defensive end, not only being named College Football News' Sophomore Player of the Year but also quickly becoming one of the most promising players in the 2016 draft class.

    However, Gregory is probably going to be out before that, as many mock drafts have him going very high in 2015.

    The Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Christopherson noted that at least four such drafts had him listed in the top 10, meaning Gregory is apt to get the Jadeveon Clowney treatment in terms of attention and scrutiny this season.

    The numbers and approach to the game warrant that comparison, as Gregory had 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last year. He didn't have any YouTube-worthy plays but still was as dominant as any other defensive end in the country in 2013.

Leonard Williams, DT, USC

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 290 pounds

    Leonard Williams began his college career as a defensive tackle, but then was shifted outside in 2013 to work the end spot. He was very good in both spots.

    Williams' versatility will make him effective in nearly any defensive line formation in the NFL, even with him being undersized for an interior lineman.

    His combination of strength and speed makes up for any lack of girth, something he showed off the edge in 2013. He had 13.5 tackles for loss in each of his last two seasons, showing there was very little difference in where he lined up.

Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'3"

    Weight: 285 pounds

    Ohio State had to replace its entire defensive line in 2013, but the promise Michael Bennett and others showed in previous seasons made that endeavor less ominous than you'd think. It was also why there wasn't much surprise when Bennett stepped in and played like he'd been a starter for years.

    Bennett had seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last season, and he was integral in the Buckeyes having the ninth-best run defense in the country. OSU frequently switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment up front during games last season, with Bennett playing equally as well at the nose or tackle.

Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 257 pounds

    In the long run, a defensive end needs to make his way into the backfield to disrupt the flow, whether that be with a sack or hurry of the quarterback or by getting a hand on the ball-carrier.

    Defensive touchdowns are just gravy.

    However, Shilique Calhoun was like a scoring machine early in the 2013 season, helping to draw national attention to a previously unknown end who only had six career tackles before that year.

    By the time Michigan State was in the Rose Bowl, Calhoun was being pegged as a high draft pick in 2015 or 2016 based on his 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles...as well as those three defensive touchdowns.

    The bottom line is that Calhoun finds a way to cause problems, and that can only lead to good things.

Vic Beasley, LB, Clemson

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'2"

    Weight: 235 pounds

    Quite small for a defensive end, even at the college level, Vic Beasley played far bigger than his dimensions by finishing in the top 10 nationally in tackles for loss (23), sacks (13) and forced fumbles (four) in 2013.

    He was the prototypical edge-rusher, but scouts are pegging him as a linebacker in the NFL.

    He's got good size for that spot at the pro level but will continue to work as an end at Clemson. It'll just mean he'll need to adjust a bit once he gets drafted, but facing the challenge of having to get past or around enormous offensive tackles hasn't proven to be a problem, so switching positions shouldn't be.

Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (Fla.)

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'0"

    Weight: 242 pounds

    The numbers and effort that Denzel Perryman put forth as a junior in 2013 were such that a jump to the NFL wouldn't have been a shock.

    But even after 108 tackles and consistent control of the middle of the field, he decided to stick around to keep improving on the third-round grade he'd received from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

    According to Bleacher Report's David Kenyon, Perryman is high on many mock drafts. Though a little small, his ability to move from side to side and read the run effectively will keep him high on draft boards for next May.

Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'5"

    Weight: 245 pounds

    The tackle machine that's patrolled the middle of Mississippi State's defense told NFL.com's Chase Goodbread back in January that he was "staying for one more year" despite having two seasons of eligibility remaining. Had he left after the 2013 season, he might have been picked in the first few rounds; but with his return, he's found himself slotted into the first round in several mock drafts, including the one by ESPN's Todd McShay.

    McKinney has led the Bulldogs in tackles in each of the last two seasons, amassing more than 100 in 2012 to earn freshman All-America honors. Last year, he added seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries, attacking the line of scrimmage with a fierceness that NFL scouts love.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height: 5'10"

    Weight: 195 pounds

    Ifo Ekpre-Olomu isn't likely to be labeled as a shutdown corner in the NFL, even though he's managed seven interceptions in college. Instead, he'll be known as a defensive back who isn't just interested in picking off passes, but instead wants to be a complete defender.

    This is what Ekpre-Olomu has shown throughout his career at Oregon, where he's managed seven forced fumbles to go with those interceptions.

    In 2013, he became more of an effective tackler up close to the line of scrimmage, notching five tackles for loss.

    Ekpre-Olomu will still likely be tasked with defending some of the better receivers in the NFL, but his ability to make plays in other areas will keep him from being considered one-dimensional.

Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height: 5'10"

    Weight: 200 pounds

    As a nickel defensive back in 2013, Quandre Diggs was as much a safety as he was a cornerback. Rather than focusing on a single defender, Diggs would hold down an area of the secondary on obvious passing situations, and he did it as well as anyone.

    Despite not registering any interceptions last year, Diggs was still a disruptor. He led Texas with 10 pass breakups, and without having to be locked into a particular receiver, he was able to use his speed to get 2.5 sacks.

Landon Collins, S, Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height: 6'0"

    Weight: 215 pounds

    Landon Collins wasn't a full-time starter for Alabama last year, yet he's better than most starting safeties in the country. Given the chance to be in a starting role this season, he'll show off his skills in an enhanced way from what he was able to do in 2013.

    Due to injuries and suspensions to teammates, he did start nine games last season and made the most of that time on the field. He only had two interceptions, but he returned one of them 89 yards for a touchdown against Tennessee, and he was second on the team with 70 tackles.

    Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh wrote that Collins could be the key to Alabama's defense, which broke down late last season. If he ends up being such a catalyst, the lofty draft projections he's getting will end up coming true.

Jordan Richards, S, Stanford

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height: 5'11"

    Weight: 208 pounds

    To get an idea of how much Jordan Richards could mean to an NFL team, take a look at the game tape from Stanford's great win over UCLA last season. That's when Richards, faced with having to figure out what UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley would do, intercepted two of his passes to pace the 24-10 victory.

    Throw in 66 tackles, and Richards involved himself as well as any safety in the country. Safeties are always a hot commodity, with four going in the first round of the 2014 draft, and he seems poised to be in line for a similar fate next year.

Michael Hunnicutt, K, Oklahoma

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'1"

    Weight: 178 pounds

    Since taking over the kicking duties a few games into the 2011 season, Michael Hunnicutt has been about as automatic as a college player can get. His 24 field goals were second-most in FBS, and his .889 accuracy was in the top 20 nationally.

    He has made 86.1 percent of his field goals over his career, with only two blocked out of 72 tries, and has a career long of 53 yards. On extra points, he's made 97.5 percent.

    The former high school receiver also showed off his pass-catching skills by scoring on a fake field goal reception in Oklahoma's Bedlam win over Oklahoma State last year. While he might not get that chance again, his competitiveness and athleticism help make him NFL-ready.

Spencer Roth, P, Baylor

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 225 pounds

    Pro teams look for two main factors when evaluating punters: leg strength and hang time. Spencer Roth has displayed both for Baylor, although his chances to show these skills in games have been limited by the Bears' prolific offense.

    He averaged a robust 46.1 yards per kick in 2013, though that came on just 45 attempts. He's shown steady improvement since his freshman year, when he punted in 11 of 13 games and averaged 40.5.

Ty Montgomery, KR/PR, Stanford

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Year: Senior

    Height: 6'2"

    Weight: 215 pounds

    Ty Montgomery is on this list because of his return skills, but he's far from just a special teams player. In 2013, he was Stanford's overwhelming leader in receptions (61), yards (958) and touchdown catches (10), and was always there for Kevin Hogan when he needed to make a key pass.

    But Montgomery's future in the NFL rests on his ability to return kickoffs, something he's done so well in college he won the Jet Award, which is given to the nation's top return man. Last year he averaged 30.3 yards on 36 kickoff returns, bringing two back for scores.

    All told, he had 2,208 all-purpose yards last season, including some as a running back. NFL teams love guys who can succeed in multiple areas, which is why Montgomery will be highly coveted.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.