The juniors and seniors on the Oklahoma Sooners roster are probably not preoccupied with the 2013 NFL draft at this point. However, several Sooners are on the verge of getting big opportunities at the next level. After all, a strong performance in a player's final season can work wonders for his NFL stock.
If these players play to their potential in 2012, they could end up being called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the first round next year.
The following five players have the potential to be first-round draft picks next year with great campaigns in the coming season.
It was somewhat of a surprise Landry Jones returned to Oklahoma for his senior season. But after struggling a bit in 2011, Jones is in position to shoot up draft boards with a solid senior campaign. Indeed, Todd McShay projects him to go to Kansas City with the 19th pick (via ESPN.com).
At 6’4” and 229 lbs, Jones has prototypical size. And he has shown NFL arm strength over his four seasons as a starter. When Jones has time to throw, he thrives.
It’s pressure that brings out his ugly side. When the pocket breaks down and he’s on the run, he doesn’t look anything like an NFL quarterback.
Fortunately for the Artesia, New Mexico, native, he enters his final year with a rock-solid offensive line and plenty of athletes at wide receiver. With playmaker Kenny Stills and freshman phenom Trey Metoyer at his disposal, Jones will show the nation once again that he has the fundamental skills to be a first-round draft pick.
Ben Habern flirted with going pro last year, filing paperwork with the NFL Draft Advisory Board to test the waters. Ultimately, he decided to return for his senior season.
Although he’s had an injury-riddled career at OU, Ben Habern has the size, intelligence and talent to thrive at center in the NFL.
Consider what he has accomplished. In 2009, Habern he started 10 games and received All-Big 12 Freshman honors by ESPN.com. In 2010, he started every game for the Sooners and logged 123 knockdowns. He also earned AP All-Big 12 honorable mention.
After missing five games with an arm injury last year, Habern has one more chance to show his talents. He will anchor an experienced O-line this season for the Sooners and will demonstrate his reliability and intelligence to NFL scouts.
As long as he stays healthy, Habern has a great chance to quiet doubts about his durability with a tremendous performance this season and go to an NFL franchise needing an immediate solution at center.
Over his three seasons in Norman, Demontre Hurst has developed into a first-rate cornerback for the Sooners. He has started all 27 games the past two years. In that time, he has proven to be a consistent and reliable playmaker.
Hurst has totaled 105 tackles and 22 passes broken up the past two seasons. He has also recovered two fumbles and forced two more. His 55-yard interception return for a touchdown against Texas last season was the highlight, but Hurst has been delivering for the Sooners his entire career.
Entering his senior year, he is in line to have a highly successful year and shoot up draft boards. He is currently projected to go in the third round (via cbssports.com), but if he plays to his potential, Hurst could catapult into the first round of the 2013 draft. His nose for the ball and playmaking ability are simply too impressive to ignore.
Intelligent, versatile, dominating and reliable, senior Gabe Ikard possesses all the traits NFL scouts look for in an offensive lineman. He is coming off a first-team All-Big 12 campaign in which he started six games at guard and seven games at center.
Ikard has started in 25 of 27 games the past two seasons and proven to be a savior for the Sooners up front. He showed his versatility by filling in for the injured Habern at center and earned the highest blocking grades of Sooner interior linemen.
Additionally, Ikard has accumulated an impressive 160 knockdowns in his three seasons (via soonersports.com).
A reflection of his character and intellect is a 4.0 GPA in zoology. This will go a long way for NFL scouts. It shows Ikard is dedicated and hard-working, in addition to being blessed with high intelligence. His skills render him well prepared for tackling the complexities of being an NFL lineman.
Clearly, Ikard is physically and mentally mature and ready to thrive at the next level. That is, after he turns in another successful season in 2012.
If he decides to forgo his senior season, linebacker/safety Tony Jefferson has a great shot at going in the first round of the NFL draft. He has shown tremendous athleticism and football instincts in his two seasons at OU. Whether he’s utilized as a linebacker or defensive back, he is bound to make plays.
Jefferson's list of accolades is impressive. He earned Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2010 as well as first-team Freshman All-American by The Sporting News.
Last season, in which he was named Honorable Mention All-Big 12, Jefferson had a team-high four interceptions as well as 74 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss.
A great sign for the 5’10”, 199-lb junior is he’s shown both exceptional ability and steady improvement. He has started 21 games in two seasons and is poised for a monster year in 2012. Whenever he decides to go pro, Jefferson will be drafted early and enthusiastically.