College Football Players Who Would Start in the NFL Right Now
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier caused a bit of a media firestorm last week when he said that Alabama was good enough to possibly beat an NFL team.
Obviously, Spurrier was tired of being out of the spotlight for the past few weeks and he was simply trolling for a reaction, which overzealous football fans and sports writers gladly gave him. Any rational person knows that no matter how good a college football team may be (and the 2012 version of Alabama might be one of the best ever), there is no way that it could possibly beat an NFL team loaded with professional players.
Still, even though there may not be any actual college team that could compete at the NFL level, there are certainly a number of individual players all around the country who are ready to play with the big boys in the pros.
Here's a look at the college football players who are physically ready to start for an NFL team right now.
WR Marqise Lee, USC
Since Marqise Lee is just a true sophomore, he will not be eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, which is a shame, because he would likely be the favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick if able to declare.
Lee has been one of the most impressive offensive players in college football this season, and he has established himself as the premier wide receiver in the sport.
The playmaking pass catcher leads the nation with 88 receptions for 1,286 yards, and he has hauled in 12 touchdown passes.
The speedy 6'1'', 195-pound sophomore has to be considered the early favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. But there are definitely a few NFL teams who wish they could have a shot at him next April.
DE Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Before the season started, everyone was expecting LB Sean Porter to be the leader of the Texas A&M defense. However, it has actually been DE Damontre Moore who has had the biggest impact this season.
Moore has seamlessly made the switch from outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end, and he has stepped up and been one of the top defensive performers in not just the SEC, but the entire country.
The 6'4'', 250-pound junior currently leads the nation with 19 tackles for loss and he's tied for the lead with 11.5 sacks.
Judging from his outstanding All-American-caliber performance in 2012, Moore definitely looks like he's going to follow in former teammate Von Miller's footsteps and develop into an elite edge rusher in the NFL.
It may not even be all that surprising to see him end up as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 draft.
LB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Jarvis Jones has made the SEC his own personal playground after transferring from USC to Georgia following his freshman year. Jones made an immediate name for himself in the conference last season when he led the league with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss.
Remarkably, he has managed to play at an even higher level in 2012. He has racked up 52 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss, and he has also totaled 8.5 sacks, 13 quarterback hurries and forced five fumbles.
The 6'3'', 241-pound junior is an explosive edge rusher who is capable of making key momentum-shifting plays.
Jones is an elite defender who could start for almost any NFL team right now.
LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
Manti Te'o could have declared for the 2012 NFL draft and been a guaranteed first-round pick. But instead, Te'o showed his dedication and unselfishness by returning to Notre Dame to handle some unfinished business.
Judging from the way he has played this season, it seems like it's going to end up being a decision that really pays off in the end.
The 6'2'', 255-pound senior is having the best season of his outstanding college career in 2012. Te'o has racked up 87 tackles, including 42 solo stops, and he's well on his way to putting together his third straight 100-plus tackle campaign.
Not only does Te'o have the chance to end up in New York city as a Heisman finalist, he also has a great chance to be a top-10 pick in the 2013 draft.
DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
It's easy to spot a lot of similarities between Ohio State's star defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and Patriots' Pro Bowl tackle Vince Wilfork. Like Wilfork, Hankins is an immense lineman who can not only eat up space with his size, he can also shed blocks and make key stops behind the line of scrimmage as well.
The 6'3'', 322-pound junior is a big, powerful tackle who can hold his ground at the point of attack even when facing double-teams, and he can also overwhelm blockers with his strength as a bull-rusher.
Hankins is an elite defensive tackle prospect who has all the tools and traits that scouts are looking for in a potential top-10 draft pick.
OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Over the past six years, there have been 10 offensive tackles who have been selected in the top 10 picks of the NFL draft. It looks like Luke Joeckel will be the next player to join that illustrious group.
Joeckel has all the physical tools that NFL scouts are looking for in a franchise tackle prospect.
The 6'6'', 310-pound junior has started every game of his college career since arriving in College Station as a highly touted recruit back in 2010.
The athletic bookend has developed into the undisputed leader of the Aggies' offensive line, and he has shown that he has got the total physical package to be a Pro Bowl player in the NFL.
DT Star Lotulelei, Utah
Utah currently has the 15th ranked rushing defense in college football. The Utes are allowing just 3.2 yards per carry this season, and a lot of that success obviously has to do with the presence of Star Lotulelei on the inside of their defense.
Lotulelei is one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles that we've seen in college football in the last decade. The mammoth 6'4'', 320-pound senior is an immovable object who shares many of the same physical traits as another tackle of Tongan descent, Baltimore's Haloti Ngata.
Although he may not make a ton of flash plays, Lotulelei will quickly shore up the run defense for whichever NFL team ends up with him.
QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
Geno Smith has come back down to earth after starting off the season on an unprecedented hot streak in the first five games of the season. Smith's Heisman hopes have seemingly been dashed now that the Mountaineers have lost three straight games. However, the senior signal-caller can still salvage his draft stock and solidify his status as the best quarterback in the 2013 draft class with a strong finish to the season.
While he may not be on the same level that Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton were when they were coming out of college, Smith still has the necessary tools to develop into a successful starter at the NFL level.
The strong-armed senior has explosive arm talent, great pocket awareness, impressive accuracy, and most importantly, he's a humble and hard-working team leader that would be a great fit in any locker room.
Although his passing numbers may be a bit inflated due to the pass-heavy Air Raid offense he plays in at West Virginia, Smith still has all the traits that scouts are looking for in a potential franchise quarterback.
OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Taylor Lewan has drawn favorable comparisons to another talented tackle that used to play at Michigan, Jake Long of the Miami Dolphins. Given how solid Lewan has looked throughout his college career, it's easy to say that he deserves the "franchise tackle prospect" label just like his predecessor received when he was in Ann Arbor.
The 6'8'', 309-pound junior has the size, strength, agility and tenacity that you look for in a complete offensive lineman prospect.
If he decides to declare for the 2013 draft, Lewan will likely be in the discussion to be a top-10 pick and he could possibly even be a candidate to go No. 1 overall just like Long did back in 2008.
RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon
Kenjon Barner had to wait three years behind LaMichael James, but now that he has finally gotten the chance to be the featured back for Oregon's offense, he's making the most of the opportunity.
Barner has rushed for 1,295 yards on just 179 touches (7.2 yards per carry) this season and he has scored 20 total touchdowns in just nine games.
The 5'11'', 195-pound senior is an electric, exciting and explosive playmaker who has the speed and the vision to create huge plays any time he breaks free into the open field.
No NFL defense will want to have to figure how to match up with and contain Barner.
CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
Dee Milliner was forced to sit behind Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie early on in his career. However, now that he has finally gotten the opportunity to be a full-time starter, he's proving why there was so much hype surrounding him when he initially arrived at Alabama as one of the top-rated prospects of the 2010 recruiting class.
Milliner has undoubtedly been the MVP of Alabama's secondary in 2012, and he's a big reason why the Tide are ranked eighth in the country in pass defense. The 6'1'', 199-pound junior has displayed superior ball skills and playmaking ability this year, as he has picked off two passes and broken up another 13 throws.
N.C. State's David Amerson came into the season as the most talked-about cornerback in the country, but it has been Milliner whose looked like the best overall player at the position so far this year.
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney was arguably the most hyped up high school football recruit of all time during his senior year at South Carolina's South Pointe High School.
Clowney came to South Carolina, having to live up to nearly impossible expectations, and he was under intense scrutiny right away. However, the former No. 1 overall prospect of the 2011 recruiting class hasn't seemed to let the pressure phase him one bit.
After showing glimpses of his enormous potential as a freshman, Clowney has managed to rise to an elite level in 2012. The supremely gifted 6'6'', 256-pound sophomore has totaled 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss this season, and he has been constantly menacing quarterbacks.
If Clowney was eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, he wouldn't make it out of the top 5.
QB Matt Barkley, USC
Matt Barkley entered the 2012 season as the most talked-about player in college football. Barkley had to deal with the pressure of being labeled as the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and the frontrunner to be the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2013.
The star senior signal-caller has now lost both of those titles following USC's disappointing 6-3 start.
Although the Trojans have not come close to living up to early expectations, Barkley has still looked very sharp, completing 65 percent of his passes for over 2,700 yards and throwing 30 touchdowns.
While his lack of prototypical size and average arm strength are legitimate concerns, Barkley looks like he's the type of strong-willed leader that you can certainly build a winning team around in the NFL.
RB Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State
Le'Veon Bell has the type of jaw-dropping size-strength-athleticism combination that you just don't see very often from young college running backs.
The 6'2'', 244-pound powerhouse can either run around would-be-tacklers, run through them, or sometimes even leap right over them. Bell has been the bell-cow back that Michigan State's offense has needed this season, as he has rushed for 1,249 yards and 10 touchdowns.
It's too early to tell whether Bell will be the next Steven Jackson, but one thing is for sure, he has definitely got NFL scouts intrigued about his sky-high potential.
DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Bjoern Werner started off the 2012 season looking noticeably trim and fit at 6'4'', 255-pounds, and the increased conditioning work he did in the summer seems to have paid off in a big way.
Werner has taken his game to another level this season, as he has totaled 12.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, five quarterback hurries and five pass knockdowns.
What's so scary is that the German native hasn't even come close to reaching his full potential yet.
When Werner reaches his peak in the pros, he'll likely be a dominant and frightening J.J. Watt-Jared Allen hybrid.
OG Chance Warmack, Alabama
Alabama's Chance Warmack is the type of big, physical, powerful and nasty offensive lineman that you would expect to find battling it out in the treacherous trenches of the SEC. Warmack is without a doubt one of the most skilled and effective run blockers that we've seen in the college game in years.
During his time in Tuscaloosa, the 6'3'', 320-pound senior has helped open up huge holes for backs like Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and now Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
Warmack is a skilled and experienced three-year starter who should come into the NFL and start right away as a rookie. Ultimately, he has the chance to develop into a similar type of guard as another former SEC standout, Ben Grubbs of the New Orleans Saints.
WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Last year, Sammy Watkins put together one of the greatest freshman seasons in college football history. Watkins became an instant star for the Clemson offense, as he hauled in 82 passes for 1,219 yards, rushed for 231 yards, averaged 25 yards on kickoff returns and scored 13 touchdowns.
Watkins' production has been hampered by injuries and suspensions in 2012. In six games, he has caught 38 passes for 501 yards and scored just three touchdowns.
Still, if the speedy 6'1'', 205-pound sophomore comes back healthy and focused next season, he should end up becoming a top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
FS Eric Reid, LSU
Last year, Eric Reid didn't receive nearly the same level of recognition and publicity as his counterparts in the LSU secondary, cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. However, Reid played just as big of a role in the defense's success as they did.
Now that both Claiborne and Mathieu are gone, Reid has had the chance to prove what type of leader and linchpin he really is.
The 6'2'', 211-pound junior is a big, athletic and instinctive ball hawk who has a knack for making key plays at crucial times. In terms of his pro potential, Reid belongs in the same conversation as recent SEC standout safeties such as Mark Barron and Eric Berry.
RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Giovani Bernard was one of the hidden gems in college football last season. But after some monster performances this year, he has now become simply too hard to ignore.
Bernard is averaging a whopping 7.3 yards per carry this season. He currently ranks seventh in the country with 1,498 all-purpose yards and 10th in the nation with 15 total touchdowns, even though he has only played in seven games.
The 5'10'', 205-pound redshirt sophomore should eventually develop into a similar type of offensive weapon in the NFL as Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles.
If Bernard's knee checks out with NFL doctors, there's no reason he shouldn't be a first-round pick in the 2013 draft if he decides to declare.
He's the type of rare player who could alter the complexion of an NFL offense.
DE Dion Jordan, Oregon
Oregon's high-powered offensive attack has gotten most of the attention this season. But the real reason the Ducks are so dangerous this year is that they are loaded with playmakers on the defensive side of the ball as well.
The most impressive defender in Eugene is defensive end Dion Jordan.
Jordan is a big, athletic former tight end, who is still learning all the nuances of what it takes to be a great pass-rusher. However, it's clear from his play in 2012 that he's beginning to put it all together, as he's now starting to get the most out of his tremendous physical ability.
The 6'7'', 243-pound senior has totaled five sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles this season, and he has shown the type of flashes that you only see from truly elite edge rushers.
WR Terrance Williams, Baylor
The Big 12 has produced plenty of top wide receiver prospects in recent years such as Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright, Dez Bryant and Michael Crabtree. Now, the conference's latest standout pass-catching prospect is Baylor's Terrance Williams.
With Kendall Wright gone, Williams has embraced being the go-to receiving target for the Bears offense this season, as he has hauled in 71 passes for over 1,340 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The 6'2'', 205-pound senior possesses an impressive size-speed combination, and he has what it takes to become a dangerous No. 1 receiver for an NFL offense.
OL Barrett Jones, Alabama
Not only is Barrett Jones one of the most talented offensive lineman in college football, he's also one of the most versatile as well. Jones has lined up at guard, tackle and now center during his time at Alabama and he has excelled at all three positions.
The defending Outland Trophy winner may not be the most physically gifted lineman in the country. Nevertheless, it would be tough to find another lineman who's as consistent, dependable, intelligent and fundamentally sound as Jones is.
The 6'5'', 311-pound senior seems destined to become a stalwart starter for an NFL offensive line for the next decade.
DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Sheldon Richardson was rated as a five-star All-American recruit when he was coming out of Gateway High School in St. Louis back in 2009. However, Richardson failed to qualify academically, which meant he had to spend two years at College of the Sequoias in California.
After getting his grades up, Richardson finally had the chance to suit up for Missouri in 2011, and he put together a very solid sophomore campaign. Following that effort, many thought that the 6'4'', 295-pound junior was in store for a huge season this year, and he has managed to make it happen.
Richardson has been one of the most dominant defenders in the SEC in 2012, as he has led Missouri with 63 tackles, including nine tackles for loss, racked up four sacks and forced three fumbles.
The quick and agile big man has the potential to be a top-20 pick in the 2013 draft.
WR Robert Woods, USC
Since arriving at USC as one of the top-rated prospects of the 2010 recruiting class, Robert Woods has become one of the most productive and reliable receivers in all of college football. Following his sensational sophomore season, in which he caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns, Woods is now once again putting together another impressive performance in 2012.
The 6'1'', 190-pound junior has hauled in 59 passes for 656 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he has continued to show terrific speed, sure hands and a great feel for finding openings in coverage.
Woods may never become one of the top five wide receivers in the NFL. Still, he should ultimately develop into a solid and valuable featured receiver similar to what Reggie Wayne has been for the Indianapolis Colts.
DE Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Barkevious Mingo has not been nearly as productive this year as many thought he would be following his spectacular sophomore season in 2011, in which he totaled seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
Still, the numbers don't tell the whole story in Mingo's case. Even though he doesn't have the eye-catching stats that other top defensive ends such as Bjoern Werner and Damontre Moore have accumulated, Mingo still has the rare physical ability that will make NFL scouts drool.
The 6'5'', 240-pound junior is a long, lean and highly athletic edge rusher who has the speed to explode up-field and make offensive tackles look foolish.
Since he only started playing organized football in high school, Mingo is still noticeably raw and unrefined, and he still has to add more bulk to his frame. However, there are sure to be plenty of NFL teams that will be absolutely enamored with his future potential.
OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Luke Joeckel isn't the only Texas A&M offensive tackle who has the chance to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Joeckel's teammate Jake Matthews has also distinguished himself as one of the top offensive lineman in the country this season.
Matthews, the son of hall-of-fame offensive tackle Bruce Matthews, shares many of the same physical features that helped his father become one of the all-time greatest offensive lineman in NFL history.
The 6'5'', 305-pound junior is a strong, physical, agile and fundamentally sound right tackle who excels in every single phase of the game.
DT John Jenkins, Georgia
NFL teams that employ a 3-4 defense and are in need of some help at nose tackle will surely take an interest in Georgia's run-stopping behemoth, John Jenkins.
Jenkins is a monster middle man who measures in at 6'3'', 350-plus pounds.
With his combination of size, power and toughness, Jenkins is the type of tackle who can shut down the middle of the field and eat up double-teams on almost every snap.
WR Keenan Allen, Cal
Keenan Allen may not possess truly blazing deep speed, but he has got everything else that you look for in a potential star No. 1 receiver.
Allen is truly an incredible athlete for his size.The 6'3'', 205-pound junior has remarkable body control, explosiveness and leaping ability, which is why he's such a matchup problem for opposing cornerbacks.
Although he hasn't exactly gotten the most consistent play from his quarterback during his time spent in Berkeley, that hasn't stopped Allen from producing at a high level. Last year, he caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. This season, he has hauled in 61 passes for 737 yards and six touchdowns, even though he has been the main focus of every defense that Cal has faced in 2012.
It will be very interesting to see if Allen's recent knee injury will affect his decision to go pro or return to school.
TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Notre Dame has had a lot of great tight ends in recent years such as Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano. However, the Irish's current star tight end, Tyler Eifert, is better than all of them.
Eifert would have been the best overall tight end prospect in the 2012 draft class if he had decided to declare, and he has done nothing this season to show that he won't be the premier prospect at the position if he decides to come out for the 2013 draft.
The 6'6'', 251-pound junior may not be the greatest blocker. However, Eifert is a big, athletic tight end who can stretch the seam and cause serious matchup problems for defenses, especially down in the red zone.
DE Sam Montgomery, LSU
Following a breakout campaign last year, in which he totaled nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, Sam Montgomery could have decided to declare for the 2012 NFL draft. But instead, he chose to return to LSU and continue to work on his game.
Montgomery may be a bit undersized by NFL standards, but he more than makes up for it with his tenacious and relentless style of play and his non-stop motor.
The 6'5'', 260-pound junior has been an absolute nightmare for opposing offensive tackles during his time in Baton Rouge, and he has consistently shown that he can shed blocks and collapse the pocket.
Although his teammate Barkevious Mingo may have a higher ceiling, Montgomery seems like he's destined to have a long and productive career in the NFL.
CB David Amerson, N.C. State
David Amerson came into this season as the top-ranked cornerback prospect for the 2013 NFL draft. Many were touting him as a potential top-10 pick. However, Amerson has failed to live up to his billing and make the impact that many were expecting from him following his breakout 2011 campaign, in which he led the country with 13 interceptions.
The 6'3'', 194-pound junior certainly hasn't been bad—he has picked off four passes and broken up another five throws. But he has shown some lapses in coverage that are a bit concerning.
Still, given his combination of size, speed, ball skills and instincts, Amerson still has what it takes to be a standout starter at the NFL level.
LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
This offseason, Alabama had to replace many of its most important defenders from last year's national championship team, including Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron. The Tide needed a new veteran leader to step up and hold the defense together, and luckily, LB C.J. Mosley has done just that.
Mosley has been a force at his inside linebacker position. He has led the team with 69 tackles, racked up three sacks, picked off two passes and forced a fumble.
The athletic 6'2'', 232-pound junior has the size, speed and coverage ability to thrive as either an inside or an outside 'backer at the next level. No matter where he ends up lining up, however, it seems that Mosley is destined to become a dynamic defensive leader for an NFL team.
DE Michael Buchanan, Illinois
Last year, Michael Buchanan was overshadowed by his All-American teammate Whitney Mercilus, who ended up becoming a first-round pick in the 2012 draft. However, Buchanan had a terrific season as well in 2011, registering 64 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
This year, the 6'6'', 240-pound senior hasn't had the truly dominant campaign that many Illini fans were hoping for, but he has still shown flashes of his rare athletic gifts and natural pass-rushing skills.
Buchanan still has to get bigger and stronger to hold up against the run in the NFL. However, he has clearly got all the physical traits to develop into a star pass-rusher.
LB Chase Thomas, Stanford
If you're looking for a player who could make a big rise up draft boards during the offseason similar to the one that Shea McClellin made leading up to the 2012 draft, then watch out for Stanford's Chase Thomas.
Like McClellin, Thomas is the ultimate hustle player, and he's the type of disciplined and determined edge rusher who can cause plenty of trouble for opposing offensive linemen.
The 6'4'', 248-pound senior has racked up three sacks and 11 tackles for loss this season, and he has displayed the type of skills that scouts are looking for in a potential standout 3-4 rush linebacker.
SS Duke Williams, Nevada
Since he plays for a Mountain West team that's not Boise State, Duke Williams has not received nearly the type of recognition and publicity that he truly deserves.
Williams has stepped up and thrived in his role as the leader of the Nevada defense this season. He has totaled 73 tackles, including 43 solo stops, broken up eight passes and laid some huge hits on ball-carriers in 2012.
The 6'1'', 200-pound senior is a fast, physical and instinctive ball hawk who loves to hit. Williams should develop into an intimidating force in the back end of an NFL defense early on in his pro career.
WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Tavon Austin was the most productive player in college football last year, leading the nation with 2,574 all-purpose yards. This season, he has once again produced at a high level, as he has averaged 202 all-purpose yards per game, which is the fourth highest average in the country.
At just 5'9'', 171-pounds, Austin may not have the desired size that NFL teams are looking for in a wide receiver prospect. However, the explosive playmaker makes up for his lack of height with his field-stretching speed and his big-play ability.
Austin is a truly dangerous threat who can do major damage as a receiver, a rusher and a returner.
Ultimately, he should become a solid slot receiver for an NFL offense and have a career similar to New England's Wes Welker.
DT Kawann Short, Purdue
Purdue's defense may be one of the worst in the Big Ten. However, you certainly can't blame the unit's struggles on DT Kawann Short.
Short has followed up his eye-opening breakout 2011 season with another strong effort this year. The 6'3'', 315-pound senior has totaled nine tackles for loss and four sacks in 2012, and he has displayed the type of physical traits needed to create chaos in the interior.
Given his versatility to fit into a variety of different defensive fronts at the next level, Short should be quite a coveted commodity when the 2013 NFL draft rolls around.
CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Johnthan Banks is a tall, lean and athletic cornerback who has the size, speed and coverage ability to match up with basically any receiver that lines up in front of him.
During his three years as a starter at Mississippi State, Banks has shown that he fears no one, as he has proved his worth against some of the best competition that college football has to offer.
Even though quarterbacks have shied away from throwing to his side of the field this season, Banks has still once again displayed outstanding ball skills and instincts when he has been tested. He has picked off four passes, broken up another five throws and made 28 solo tackles in 2012.
Ultimately, the talented cover man should develop into a similar type of cornerback in the NFL as Jacksonville's Derek Cox.
DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Tuitt is only just a true sophomore, so he's not eligible for the 2013 NFL draft. However, if he was, Tuitt would likely be a top-20 pick.
The former blue-chip high school recruit from Monroe, Georgia has put together a sensational sophomore campaign in 2012, and he has helped Notre Dame fans forget all about departed defensive end Aaron Lynch.
Tuitt has proven to be a perfect fit for the Irish's 3-4 defense, as he has totaled 10 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries. The 6'6'', 303-pound sophomore possesses astonishing quickness and athleticism for his size, and he's one of the most naturally powerful players that you'll find in college football.
If he keeps progressing at this current pace, Tuitt will surely be included in the conversation to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
Since Oregon State went just 3-9 last year, CB Jordan Poyer didn't receive much national recognition for his solid performance in 2011. However, now that the Beavers have started the 2012 season 7-1, Poyer has been able to garner the type of attention he deserves.
The 6'0'', 190-pound senior has displayed top-notch ball skills and playmaking ability this year, as he has picked off five passes, returning one for a touchdown, and he has also broken up another four throws.
Poyer has the size, speed, coverage skills and overall awareness to be a solid and dependable starter for an NFL secondary.
QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Tyler Wilson could have left Arkansas after his junior season and declared for the 2012 draft and been a first-round pick. But instead, he chose to return to Fayetteville to chase a championship and a shot at the Heisman Trophy.
It has turned out to be a decision that Wilson now likely regrets, as the Razorbacks have struggled to a 4-5 record.
Although his team has been a massive disappointment, the senior signal-caller has actually played relatively well in 2012, as he has completed 60 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards and thrown 16 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions.
Wilson may never be an elite quarterback in the NFL, but he has shown the skills that it takes to be a successful starter, and he should end up as a similar type of player to Tony Romo of the Cowboys.
DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
It's a shame that Jackson Jeffcoat went down with a pectoral injury after six games, because Jeffcoat was putting together an All-American-caliber campaign in 2012. Jeffcoat had totaled 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, five quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles before the injury.
The 6'5'', 245-pound junior is the son of longtime NFL veteran Jim Jeffcoat and he shares many of the same type of athletic gifts as his father.
Jeffcoat has the versatile skill set to be a standout pass-rusher as either a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL.
DE Alex Okafor, Texas
Alex Okafor is another Texas defensive end who has a future playing on Sundays.
Okafor may not be the same caliber of elite athlete as fellow Longhorn Jackson Jeffcoat, but he's a determined and disruptive defensive end who won't slow down until he gets into the backfield.
This season, Okafor leads the team with eight sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, and he has displayed the type of power, tenacity and pass-rushing prowess that NFL scouts want to see from a top-notch defensive difference-maker.
RB Andre Ellington, Clemson
Andre Ellington had to wait behind C.J. Spiller and Jamie Harper during his first two years at Clemson. However, his patience has paid off, as he has absolutely flourished since taking over as the main man in the Clemson backfield last year.
Ellington has used his explosive speed and natural playmaking instincts to rush for over 1,900 yards and 18 touchdowns since the start of the 2011 season.
The 5'10'', 190-pound senior is one of the fastest and most dangerous players in all of college football, and he would be a valuable addition to any NFL backfield.
LB Kevin Minter, LSU
Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Eric Reid are the three most talked about LSU defenders. However, it has been LB Kevin Minter who has actually been the best and most consistent player on the Tigers defense this season.
Minter currently ranks fifth in the SEC with 82 tackles, including 39 solo stops and 9.5 tackles for loss. He has also notched three sacks, picked off a pass and forced a fumble.
The 6'2'', 245-pound junior is a tough, physical and instinctive inside 'backer who's the type of player who can solidify an NFL team's rush defense.
FS T.J. McDonald, USC
T.J. McDonald has been a starter for the USC defense since his sophomore year in 2010. This season, he has developed into a true defensive leader for the Trojans.
Although his coverage skills are still suspect, the 6'3'', 205-pound senior has the size, speed, tackling ability and recognition skills to develop into a dependable starter in an NFL secondary.
McDonald is arguably the best defensive back prospect that USC has had since Troy Polamalu left school after the 2002 season.
WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Tennessee is only 4-5 this season, but one of the few bright spots for the Vols has been their highly productive passing attack, which is averaging 317 yards through the air per game. The main featured player of that attack is WR Justin Hunter.
Hunter has bounced back from a knee injury that robbed him of most of his 2011 season and returned to form this year, as he has caught 56 passes for 838 yards and seven touchdowns.
The 6'4'', 200-pound junior possesses remarkable athleticism, body control and quickness for his size. If he can work on securing the football and playing more physical, Hunter has a great chance to become an immediate impact player in the NFL.
LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
Khaseem Greene made the move from safety to weak side linebacker before the start of the 2011 season, and he had no trouble adapting to his new role after making the switch. Greene proved to be a natural linebacker, as he led the Big East with 140 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
After earning the league's Defensive Player of the Year honors last year, Greene has once again been the best defender in the Big East in 2012, as he has totaled 74 tackles, 3.5 sacks, forced five fumbles and picked off two passes.
The 6'1'', 230-pound senior has the prototypical physical makeup to be a standout 4-3 weak side linebacker in the NFL.
Punter Brad Wing, LSU
It's very rare to see an underclassmen specialist leave school early for the NFL. But LSU's Brad Wing already looks like he's ready to punt in the pros, even though he's just a redshirt sophomore.
Wing has only played in 20 college games, but he has already established himself as one of the top punters in college football. The Australian native has averaged 44 yards per punt, and he has showed some mighty impressive leg strength and accuracy.
At this point in the season, Wing has to be considered the favorite to win the Ray Guy Award, and he has already proven that he has NFL-caliber punting talent.
RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
At 5'9'', 176-pounds, De'Anthony Thomas may lack the prototypical size that NFL teams look for in a running back. But he makes up for his small stature with his rare explosiveness, his home run hitting ability and his knack for finding the end zone on a regular basis.
In his 23 games at Oregon, Thomas has averaged a ridiculous 9.5 yards per carry, he has caught 75 passes for 882 yards and scored a total of 30 touchdowns.
Thomas possesses world-class speed and athleticism, and he's an even more gifted playmaker than former teammate LaMichael James, who was a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Ohio State has produced plenty of notable defensive back prospects in recent years such as Malcolm Jenkins, Donte Whitner, Chris Gamble and Nate Clements. Now, the latest star of the Buckeyes secondary is CB Bradley Roby.
Roby made a splash last year with an outstanding freshman campaign, and he has been even better in 2012.
The 5'11'', 190-pound sophomore currently leads the nation with 18 passes defended. He has also totaled 47 tackles, including 30 solo stops, picked off two passes, blocked a punt and scored three touchdowns in three different ways (fumble return, blocked punt return and an interception return).
Although he hasn't received the same type of fanfare that former LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu did in 2011, Roby is arguably having an even better season than the Honey Badger did last year.
SS Matt Elam, Florida
Matt Elam is a physical, hard-hitting and energetic safety who plays the game with reckless abandon.
Elam has made a bunch of key plays for the Gators' defense this season, as he has racked up 47 tackles, picked off three passes and broken up another four throws.
The 5'10'', 202-pound junior may still have to work on his pass-coverage skills, but he has clearly already got the instincts, toughness and athleticism to compete in the NFL.
WR Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech currently ranks second in the country in scoring offense and fourth in total offense, averaging 52 points and 570 yards per game. The most dangerous player featured in the Bulldogs' potent offensive attack is WR Quinton Patton.
Patton ranks fourth in the nation with 75 total catches, and he's one of just seven receivers who has already totaled over 1,000 receiving yards at this point in the season.
The 6'2'', 195-pound senior is one of the fastest players in all of college football, and he's the type of dangerous receiving weapon that would add an immediate boost to any NFL offense.
LB Alec Ogletree, Georgia
After sitting out the first four games of the season due to a suspension, Alec Ogletree has returned with a vengeance and been an absolute monster in the middle of Georgia's defense.
Ogletree is averaging 10 tackles per game this year, and he has also been reliable in pass coverage as well, breaking up five passes.
The 6'3'', 232-pound junior is a big, physical and fast inside 'backer who has the lateral quickness and range to track ball-carriers from sideline to sideline. Although his teammate Jarvis Jones has garnered much more publicity during their time in Athens, Ogletree has the chance to be just as good in the NFL as his fellow Bulldogs linebacker.
DT Jesse Williams, Alabama
Jesse Williams arrived in Tuscaloosa before the start of the 2011 season as one of the most highly touted junior college recruits in the country, and he has since emerged as one of the key cogs for Alabama's top-ranked defense.
Williams, a former rugby player who hails from Australia, is a huge, powerful, yet nimble nose tackle who can clog up running lanes and cause major disruptions in the middle of the field.
The 6'4'', 320-pound senior has the prototypical physical makeup that NFL teams are looking for in a 3-4 nose tackle, and he has a chance to develop into a stifling run-stopper in the pros.
FS Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
The Texas defense has been pretty disappointing this season, but one player who hasn't been disappointing is safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Vaccaro has racked up 65 tackles, including 38 solo stops, picked off two passes and forced a fumble in 2012.
The Longhorns' defensive leader still has to work on his open-field tackling, but he has clearly got the type of size, range and instincts to develop into a valuable member of an NFL secondary.
CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
Quandre Diggs is another Texas defensive back who will be playing on Sundays some day soon.
Although Diggs is just a true sophomore, and thus ineligible for the 2013 NFL draft, he looks like he's on track to possibly be the first cornerback selected in 2014.
The 5'10'', 200-pound sophomore hasn't been as consistent or as impressive as he was in his first season in 2011. However, he has still notched 37 tackles, picked off three passes and broken up another six throws.
Diggs plays bigger than he actually is, and he can truly blanket any receiver he squares off with.
OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Jonathan Cooper could have declared for the 2012 NFL draft and likely ended up as a day two pick. But instead, Cooper decided to return to North Carolina and continue to refine his game.
It has paid off, as he has been one of the top offensive guards in the country this season. The 6'3'', 295-pound senior is an experienced four-year starter who has developed into a well-rounded guard who can get the job done as both a pass-blocker as well as a run-blocker.
Ultimately, Cooper should develop into a consistent and reliable starter in the NFL similar to Tampa Bay's Davin Joseph.
LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State
QB Collin Klein may get all the attention and credit for Kansas State's success in 2012. However, Klein isn't the best NFL prospect on the Wildcats this season. That honor belongs to middle linebacker Arthur Brown.
Since transferring from Miami following his freshman year, Brown has thrived back in his home state and developed into the undisputed leader of the Kansas State defense.
The 6'1'', 231-pound senior has put together an All-American-caliber campaign this season. He has totaled 67 tackles, including 40 solo stops, and he has picked off two passes, returning one for a touchdown.
The former standout high school recruit has revived his college career in a big way and proven to scouts that he has what it takes to be a difference-maker at the next level.
FB Trey Millard, Oklahoma
Fullbacks have largely been phased out of today's pass-happy NFL, but there is still room in some offensive systems for big, athletic fullbacks who can be used as weapons in the passing game.
Trey Millard certainly fits that mold. Millard has been the most impressive fullback in college football this season, averaging 6.4 yards per carry on 20 touches and catching 18 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.
The 6'2'', 256-pound junior would be a perfect fit for a west coast offense like the one the San Francisco 49ers run.
DE William Gholston, Michigan State
William Gholston is an absolute handful for any opposing offensive lineman to have to match up with one-on-one. He has been one of the main reasons the Spartans defense has been one of the most dominant units in the country since the start of the 2011 season.
Gholston is a massive and intimidating 6'7'', 278-pound junior who possesses incredible athleticism, explosiveness and body control for his size.
The aggressive and physical edge rusher plays with the type of mean streak and no-holds-barred attitude that you want to see from a truly top-level defensive end.
WR Josh Boyce, TCU
Josh Boyce's superior playmaking ability was on full display this past weekend against West Virginia, when he hauled in six passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-tying score and the game-winning two-point conversion.
Boyce has now caught 50 passes for 687 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012, and he has solidified his status as one of the premier players in the Big 12 conference.
The 6'0'', 203-pound junior has NFL-caliber deep speed, and he's the type of explosive receiver who can instill fear in any cornerback that lines up against him.
OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
Central Michigan produced its first ever first-round NFL draft pick back in 2007 when Joe Staley was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 28th overall pick. Now, the Chippewas have another tackle, Eric Fisher, who is worthy of a first-round selection in 2013.
Since he plays in the MAC, Fisher hasn't received a ton of national publicity in 2012, but he has still been one of the most consistent and top performing offensive linemen in the country this season.
The 6'8'', 305-pound senior is a big, athletic and tough tackle who has the type of physical gifts to be a standout starting lineman at the next level just like his predecessor Staley.
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford
Shayne Skov has put together a tremendous season in 2012 and shown no ill-effects from the knee injury that kept him sidelined for much of last season. Skov has looked right at home in the middle of Stanford's defense, as he has totaled 45 tackles, including five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
The 6'3'', 242-pound senior has been one of the key reasons why the Cardinal currently rank first in the nation in rush defense, allowing just 55 yards on the ground per game.
Skov has a chance to develop into a Brian Cushing-type of impact inside linebacker at the NFL level.
DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
LB Kevin Reddick was the North Carolina defensive player that everyone was talking about before the season started. But DT Sylvester Williams has been the true MVP of the Tar Heels defense in 2012.
Williams has caused plenty of havoc for opposing offensive linemen this season, as he has racked up 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
The 6'3'', 305-pound senior is very agile and quick for his size, and he knows how to shed blocks, penetrate into the backfield and make key stops behind the line of scrimmage.
LB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
DE Ezekiel Ansah may be the BYU defensive prospect that NFL scouts fawn over during the postseason workout process due to his freakish athletic gifts. However, the best overall player on the Cougars defense is actually LB Kyle Van Noy.
Van Noy is a true game-changing defender who has made a ton of huge plays throughout his collegiate career.
Since the start of the 2011 season, the highly athletic 6'3'', 235-pound junior has totaled 99 tackles, including 27.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, four interceptions, eight pass breakups and forced six fumbles in 22 games.
DE Corey Lemonier, Auburn
Auburn's season has been an utter disaster this year, as the Tigers have struggled to a disappointing 2-7 record. One of the bright spots for the team, however, has been the play of DE Corey Lemonier.
Even though he has faced constant double-teams and much more attention from opposing offensive linemen following his breakout campaign in 2011, Lemonier has still managed to notch five sacks, five tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries.
The 6'4'', 246-pound junior is a strong end with explosive athleticism, and he looks like he would be a great fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at the NFL level.
LB Michael Mauti, Penn State
Michael Mauti has battled through injury troubles throughout his collegiate career. However, now that he's finally fully healthy this season, Mauti has proven that he's truly one of the most talented linebackers in college football.
The 6'2'', 232-pound senior is the latest product of "Linebacker U."
Just like recent former Nittany Lion standouts such as Dan Connor, Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman and Paul Posluszny, Mauti is a tough, physical and instinctive 'backer who is a true tackling machine.
DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
Sharrif Floyd arrived in Gainesville as one of the most heralded members of Florida's highly rated 2010 recruiting class. After an encouraging freshman campaign, Floyd really took his game to another level in 2011 and showed why he was considered one of the premier high school prospects in the country.
Following a sophomore season, in which he racked up 46 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss, Floyd has once again looked dominant in 2012, as he has notched 35 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss.
The athletic and powerful 6'3'', 303-pound junior can line up all over the Gators' defensive line, but no matter where he is, Floyd is always finding a way to make his presence felt.
RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Since I started seriously following college football back in the early 2000s, there have been just two true freshman running backs, Adrian Peterson and Marcus Lattimore, who I thought had the physical ability to handle playing in the NFL after just one year of college.
After seeing T.J. Yeldon's first nine games at Alabama, he's now the third.
Yeldon is a dynamic and versatile playmaker who brings so much to the table. The 6'2'', 216-pound freshman has the size, speed, strength, vision and overall instincts to handle playing against NFL defenses right now.
The former five-star recruit has already lived up to his high school hype, and he's on the path to becoming a true superstar in the SEC.
LB Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut
Since Connecticut is just 3-6 this season, Huskies LB Yawin Smallwood hasn't received much national attention. However, that doesn't mean that Smallwood hasn't been one of the top defensive performers in the country this season.
Smallwood currently leads the Big East with 91 total tackles, including 48 solo stops and 13 tackles for loss, and he has also racked up 3.5 sacks and forced two fumbles.
The 6'3'', 235-pound redshirt sophomore is a big, fast and ferocious inside linebacker who possesses terrific instincts and recognition skills, and he knows exactly where the ball is on almost every play.
OT Brian Winters, Kent State
Eric Fisher isn't the only offensive tackle in the MAC that NFL scouts are keeping a close eye on. Kent State's Brian Winters is another prospect who has really surged up NFL draft boards this season.
Winters is a tough, physical and nasty run-blocker who also possesses terrific quickness and footwork for a player that measures in at at 6'6'', 294-pounds.
The Golden Flashes have averaged 217 yards on the ground per game in 2012, and Winters has played a crucial role in the team's rushing success.
Look for the senior tackle to continue to open eyes once he gets the chance to prove himself during Senior Bowl week and at the NFL Combine.