12 Electrifying Players Who Will Have a Tough Time in the NFL

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2012

12 Electrifying Players Who Will Have a Tough Time in the NFL

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    We've seen it time and time again: greatness in college doesn't always translate to greatness in the NFL.

    It's nothing new, and you can bet that professional disappointment will continue to plague our favorite college stars year after year.

    Who's going to be the next Matt Leinart, Archie Griffin or Rick Mirer?

    Here's a list of current electrifying college football players who will have a tough time in the NFL.

Kenny Stills, Oklahoma

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    Don't be surprised if Kenny Stills emerges as a favorite target of Landry Jones this season.

    Stills missed out on a host of postseason awards last year, including first-team All-Conference recognition, but that doesn't mean he won't have something to contribute in 2012—and he could contribute a lot.

    But Stills probably lacks the prototypical NFL wideout size—a common theme we'll see on this list—and he's yet to really show anything that sets him apart from the rest of the college pack.

    Remember, we're not saying he, or anyone on this list, is a less-than-quality college player. We're simply saying college will prove to be their best football years.

William Gholston, Michigan State

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    William Gholston emerged as a defensive powerhouse for Michigan State in 2011.

    His impressive size (6'7", 280 pounds) coming at you from the defensive end position is enough to scare the crap out of any quarterback.

    But while his size, strength and skill are enough to attract some serious attention from NFL scouts, the plain truth is Gholston has some anger management issues that could very easily derail a professional career before it truly gets underway.

    In today's climate of zero tolerance in the NFL, any shenanigans like we saw from Gholston last season will quickly make him too hot to touch for many NFL squads.

Star Lotulelei, Utah

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    Last season, Star Lotulelei earned his namesake reputation on the Utah defensive line.

    At 6'3" and 325 pounds, Lotulelei was more than most offensive linemen could handle, and he frequently ate up double-teams while still managing nine tackles for loss in 2011.

    But even as Lotulelei impressed for Utah last year, the Pac-12 still isn't known as a hotbed of defensive prospects for the NFL. If he really wants to attract some early-round attention from the pros, he'll need to do a lot more than nine TFLs and 1.5 sacks.

    The NFL is bigger, stronger and faster, and without some improved speed and penetration, Lotulelei likely won't be making many headlines as a pro.

Stepfan Taylor, Stanford

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    As the Cardinal move ever closer to 2012, the biggest storyline is easily “Life without Luck.”

    Lost in all of the sexy headlines is the fact that Stanford still has a pretty solid core of talent returning for 2012, including RB Stepfan Taylor.

    With a new quarterback and mostly new offensive line for Stanford in 2012, the results are likely anyone's guess at this point. But you can bet that Taylor, with nearly 2,500 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns in the past two seasons, will be up to his old tricks.

    He might even play a more central role for the Cardinal as one of the most experienced offensive stars returning for 2012.

    But we've yet to see the really heavy workload an NFL prospect runner will need on his résumé.

Keith Price, Washington

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    After Jake Locker left Washington, many thought the “glory days” of Husky quarterbacking were coming to a close for the time being.

    Keith Price proved that notion completely wrong.

    Not only did Price guide the Huskies to a third-place Pac-12 North Division finish (behind BCS participants Oregon and Stanford), but Washington actually matched its best performance under Locker at 7-6.

    It's now up to Price to lead Washington to bigger and better things in 2012. And while he'll likely be outpaced by a host of top-flight quarterbacks around the nation, don't be shocked if you see his name on some post-season award short lists.

    Still, those top-flight quarterbacks we mentioned will take the bulk of the attention from NFL scots, and Price may be relegated to a backup role in the pros—or maybe even the prospect of playing north of the border for much of his career.

Knile Davis, Arkansas

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    Knile Davis is eager to return to action after a devastating ankle injury caused him to miss the entire 2011 season.

    Davis was primed to challenge South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore as the premiere SEC running back, but Lattimore's own injury delayed that battle until this fall.

    Davis is one of the more exciting running backs you'll watch this autumn, and regardless of your feelings about Arkansas, you can't help but be impressed and entertained by his raw skill and talent.

    But the fact remains that Davis is coming off a missed season due to a broken ankle—an ankle that has given him problems in the past.

    The broken ankle was the third time his right ankle has slowed Davis down, and that stat alone may be the biggest one NFL teams will look at moving forward.

    It's really too bad, too. After 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2010 (101.7 yards per game), Davis should be (and very well could still be) one of the best college running backs of the upcoming season.

    And even though medical technology has advanced to a point where a once career-ending injury can now be repaired with a surgery that allows a player to return to the field, we're still talking about a organization spending millions of dollars a year on a player with a nagging injury bug in his right ankle.

    If Davis can stay healthy, he should have a great conclusion to his career at Arkansas and may even go on to a great tenure in the NFL.

    But that's all if he can stay healthy—something he's not been able to do thus far.

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

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    A lot of people are expecting Oklahoma State to have a tough time following up their Big 12 and Fiesta Bowl titles with anything close to another BCS run in 2012.

    But people who expect the Cowboys to return an untalented team this season will be surprised by players like Justin Gilbert.

    There's nothing for Mike Gundy not to like about Gilbert. He's a threat to score every time he returns a kick, and his 27.0 yards per return average puts him squarely in the top 15 of FBS kick returners.

    He also contributes in a big way on defense, adding five interceptions to his credentials in 2011.

    But speed only gets you so far, and being named OSU's defensive MVP for the Fiesta Bowl doesn't guarantee anything.

    Oklahoma State, like so many Big 12 teams last season, had trouble defending the pass. And while five interceptions is great, it would be better if there were a ton of tackles to go along with them.

    Gilbert secured just 59 tackles in 2011 (not even cracking the top 50 in the Big 12 for 2011), 11 of which were assisted. He also had just one TFL.

    While his ball-hawking skills will attract a good deal of attention from NFL teams looking to solidify the defensive backfield, Gilbert's 6'0", 205-pound frame will only serve to underscore his lack of tacking stats to this point.

Tavon Austin, West Virginia

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    In the small football world of the Big East, West Virginia's Tavon Austin was a giant.

    With 101 receptions for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns last season for the Big East co-champion Mountaineers, Austin announced to the nation that he's ready to take on all-comers in his senior season.

    Lucky for him, he'll be going up against some of the most shell-shocked defenses in the nation in 2012 as WVU moves to the Big 12.

    We all have to admit that the Big 12 isn't exactly known for its passing defenses these days, and a little speedster like Austin could find the defensive backfields of the Big 12 to his liking.

    But when we say little speedster, we really mean little.

    Austin is only listed as 5'9", and that's probably pretty generous.

    This 176-pound Baltimore native will need to accomplish something really special this season and follow that up with a pretty amazing combine in the spring to find a team willing to spend a early draft pick on someone who could easily be the smallest man on the field every Sunday.

Sammy Watkins, Clemson

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    For a freshman, Clemson's Sammy Watkins made a huge impact for the ACC champion Tigers last season.

    With 83 receptions for 1,225 yards, and 12 touchdowns, Watkins has his sights set on bigger and better things for himself and his team in 2012.

    If he can improve ever so slightly on his 14.8 yards per reception average, he could be a budding national star capable of some impressive award mentions come November.

    But the strike against Watkins moving forward might be his lack of vertical size.

    At just 6'1", Watkins will find himself frequently looking up at the opposition on Sundays.

    While Watkins seems to possess the speed and hands of an NFL receiver, his lack of stature could see him relegated to a third or fourth receiver role.

    That's not where big-time NFL wideouts reside on rosters.

Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

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    Tyrann Mathieu was the focus of a lot of hype last season, and he had some highlight reel moments, without question.

    But from Week 1 through the BCS national championship game, Mathieu wasn't what many of us would call a consistent performer for the LSU Tigers.

    Statistically, Mathieu's 2011 season was fairly weak. He had 76 tackles (7.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. While solid, those numbers are nothing special.

    Mathieu really stood out returning punts for the Tigers. While he was capable of some impact plays in big games, he'll need more than an occasional big return to hold down a consistent spot on a 47-man, game-day NFL roster.

De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon

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    Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas had a productive freshman season in 2011, and you can expect him to do nothing but improve moving forward.

    Now that he'll be taking on a much bigger role in the Ducks offense, Thomas could be on the verge of emerging as one of the premiere backs in the Pac-12—and maybe even the entire nation.

    But there's one thing Thomas can't change, no matter how much he wants to: his size.

    It's not as if tiny running backs can't be successful in the NFL. After all, Barry Sanders is only 5'8", and his was one of the greatest careers in NFL history.

    Thomas stands just 5'9" but is a light 173 pounds (compared to Sanders at 200). He has to rely almost entirely on speed and elusiveness to get the job done. If Thomas plays on Sundays, he'll find running without being hit a much more difficult task—which could severely hamper any prospect of a Hall of Fame career.

Denard Robinson, Michigan

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    Finally, we come to one of the most exciting and dynamic players in all of college football: Michigan's Denard Robinson.

    Robinson's career in Ann Arbor is a collection of highlight reel-worthy plays, games and seasons.

    He holds numerous single-game and single-season records, as well as eight of the top 10 (including all top six) spots on Michigan's all-time single-game total offense leaderboard. He also holds the two top spots on the all-time single-season total offense list in Ann Arbor.

    Considering Michigan's 133 years of football history, that's pretty amazing.

    And just in case that's not enough, he's the current holder of the Big Ten's all-time record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game (258 against Notre Dame in 2010, where he had 502 yards of total offense).

    To say “Shoelace” is electrifying is an understatement.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to his pure quarterbacking skills, there are a few glaring holes.

    Robinson has frequently been criticized for his lack of passing ability, and his wayward throws over the years have likely kept him from being seriously considered for the Heisman Trophy.

    In 2011, Robinson threw for 20 touchdowns but also threw 15 interceptions. He also completed just 55 percent of his passes on the year—a step back from his 62.5 percent completion rate in 2010.

    While Robinson's speed makes him dangerous on every play, he just doesn't possess the complete package of skills for a stellar NFL career as a quarterback.