2013 NFL Draft: 10 Prospects Who Have Much to Prove Heading into 2012 Season
With the college football season just a couple months away, many NFL hopefuls are down to their final season to prove they belong at the next level.
Although these players have flashed brilliance and oozed potential, they still have work to do in the upcoming season.
Whether it's proving they can elevate against elite competition (Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones), stay healthy (Arkansas running back Knile Davis) or produce on the field (Southern Methodist defensive end Margus Hunt), many potential first-rounders need to get off to a hot start in 2012.
Let's take a look at 10 prospects who have much to prove heading into the 2012 season.
Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Despite being Oklahoma’s all-time leading passer, quarterback Landry Jones is far from a perfect pro prospect.
The fifth-year senior has torn up and re-written the school’s record book, but he's far from a top-10 lock at this point.
Jones would have been a likely first-round pick last year, but No. 12 will be back at the helm this season with a chance to iron out some of the issues that have become apparent during his career.
Although he possesses the prototypical build for an NFL quarterback at 6’4”, 229 pounds, Jones doesn’t have good mobility and failed to show up in big games in 2011.
As a redshirt junior, the Artesia High star posted good overall numbers—completing 63.2 percent of his passes for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns.
However, Jones’ poor performances against Baylor and Oklahoma State ultimately cost the Sooners a pair of critical wins.
A decorated star like Jones boasts a lengthy resume, but the Heisman hopeful still has to prove himself worthy over high-upside quarterback prospects like Logan Thomas, Tyler Wilson and Tyler Bray.
Margus Hunt, DE, Southern Methodist
When an athlete is mentioned in the same breath as Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson, he must be a freak.
At 6’8”, 280 pounds with a 36” vertical jump, Southern Methodist defensive end Margus Hunt fits the bill.
The headliner of Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List also boasts a 4.7 40-yard dash, an 82” wingspan and two gold medals from the 2006 World Junior Championships.
A former international track star, Hunt is still fairly new to the game of football.
In fact, despite his incredible skill set, Hunt’s best contribution on the football field has come on special teams where he’s blocked 14 kicks.
With just three sacks in 2011, and eight for his career, the man who could only be created in Madden needs to harness his rare physical skills in 2012 in order to rise up draft boards.
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
After leading his team with 84 tackles as a sophomore, Shayne Skov looked primed to enter the first-round discussion as a junior.
However, after a tumultuous 2011 season, the leader of the Stanford Cardinal defense has to get off to a hot start in 2012.
The gritty inside linebacker tore a ligament in his left knee in the team’s third game of the season, leaving the defense's emotional leader on the sidelines for most of 2011.
His disappointing season took another turn when he was arrested for DUI in February.
Stanford reinstated the senior linebacker, but he will be suspended for the season opener, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Skov enters his final season with a chip on his shoulder and will need a rebound year to re-establish himself as one of the nation’s better inside linebackers.
Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Blessed with size, speed and leaping ability, Alabama’s Dee Milliner certainly has the physical tools of a first-round cornerback.
But after an up-and-down start to his career, 2012 is a huge year for the former 5-star recruit.
The 6’1”, 199-pounder came to Alabama as the nation’s top cornerback recruit, but struggled as a freshman.
Although he can be beaten by physical receivers, Milliner developed into a reliable cover guy playing in the shadow of 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick.
With two years of quality playing time, Milliner needs to fill the void left by Kirkpatrick and emerge as the No. 1 corner for the Crimson Tide.
Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Pound-for-pound, Arkansas running back Knile Davis might be the best athlete in the country.
Another member of Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List, Davis reportedly ran a 4.33 40-yard dash, maxed out with a 415-pound bench press and 570-pound squat.
Not bad numbers for a 6’1”, 226-pound running back.
Despite those astounding test numbers, Davis’ inability to stay healthy earns him a spot on this list.
Dating back to his prep career, Davis has struggled to stay on the field, suffering multiple ankle injuries that have kept him on the sidelines.
However, when healthy, the speedy back has been one of the SEC’s dynamic playmakers.
Just two years ago, Davis led the SEC with 1,322 rushing yards, but missed 2011 with yet another ankle injury.
With a whole offseason to get healthy, Davis needs to prove he’s just been unlucky rather than injury-prone if he hopes to be taken in the first round.
E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
Much like his predecessor Christian Ponder, Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel is a gifted athlete who has all the tools necessary to play at the next level.
However, much like the current Minnesota Vikings starter, Manuel has struggled with injuries throughout his college career.
Despite an imposing 6’5”, 238-pound frame, the former 5-star recruit has been banged up throughout his tenure often because of his tendency to scramble outside the pocket.
When healthy, Manuel flashes big-time potential, completing 65.3 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns and only eight picks in 2011.
With FSU bringing in another stellar recruiting class, the Seminoles need Manuel in the lineup to be a contender.
Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Before shredding his knee in October, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was well on his way to becoming the best back in the SEC.
The 6’1”, 228-pound bruiser took the conference by storm as a freshman, rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns.
The former 5-star recruit was in prime position to eclipse that mark before tearing his ACL against Mississippi State.
Entering his junior year, Lattimore is still considered one of the better draft-eligible backs in the nation.
But with limited speed even before his injury, Steve Spurrier’s go-to back will have to prove he’s healthy in order to stay atop draft boards.
Kenny Tate, OLB/S, Maryland
Two years ago, Maryland's Kenny Tate was one of the premier defenders in college football.
Today, he's a mystery man.
The one-time stud safety garnered numerous All-American awards after a terrific 2010 season before being shifted to linebacker in 2011.
With an imposing 6'4", 220-pound frame, Tate certainly looks the part of a future NFL defender, but a knee injury ended his season prematurely.
A true playmaker on the field, Tate has drawn comparisons to Taylor Mays for his imposing frame and hitting ability.
However, the Terrapins' best defender has to prove his knee is healthy if he hopes to be a high draft pick.
William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
Much like Margus Hunt, Michigan State defensive end William Gholston appears to be crafted straight out of a video game.
The lengthy 6'5", 275-pounder came to Michigan State as a high-profile 5-star recruit before breaking out for 70 tackles and five sacks in 2011.
Although he's already one of the better run-defending defensive ends in the nation, the supremely talented Gholston needs to show he has the pass-rush skills necessary to be an every-down defensive end at the next level.
His size, strength and length suggest he would be a good fit as a 3-4 defensive end, but he has a ways to go to prove he's worthy of a first-round selection.
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Considered one of the nation's premier high school defensive ends, Texas pass-rusher Jackson Jeffcoat has been a solid, but unspectacular collegiate player.
Although he has an ideal frame—6'5", 250 pounds—and a lightning-quick first step, the former 5-star recruit didn't make much of an impact until 2011 when he posted eight sacks in 13 starts.
Playing opposite projected first-rounder Alex Okafor, Jeffcoat has battled some injuries throughout his career.
If he can harness his natural ability, Jeffcoat could go in Round 1.
At this point, he's regarded for his potential more than his production, making 2012 a make-or-break year for No. 44.