The 2012 college football Home Depot Awards were recently announced, and many of the country's top players received some fancy hardware to put on the mantelpiece. We are still a day away from the Heisman Trophy winner being revealed, but last night was when the top wide receiver, defensive player, quarterback and others were announced.
The cool thing about this year’s class of award winners is that many of them are upperclassmen and will be taking their talents to the NFL. There are still a handful of players that will return to college, but quite a few will begin to test the waters in the big boy league.
We have seen how these star players perform in college, but becoming a star at the next level is a completely different story.
Will any of last night’s winners be able to hack it?
Let's find out.
Which Award He Racked Up: Jim Thorpe Award
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: Johnthan Banks will be taken in the first round of next year’s draft.
At 6'1", 185 pounds, Banks has the size to play at the next level, and his 15 career interceptions show that he has a knack for the big play and terrific ball skills.
The issue with the Mississippi State corner is that he doesn't have terrific recovery speed, which makes him a strong candidate to play the safety position in the NFL.
Regardless, he is a guy that can provide a spark in the secondary with his big-play ability. He will be taken early in April of next year.
Which Award He Racked Up: Davey O'Brien Award
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: It is hard to really judge how a freshman quarterback is going to pan out in the NFL. We have only seen a sample size of what Manziel is capable of. When SEC defenses have a whole offseason to game-plan for the Heisman candidate, we will truly see how good this kid is.
He is a terrific athlete and he obviously moves well with his feet and can make plays. As a passer, he does have a nice touch on the football and makes great decisions by throwing the ball away when nothing is there.
However, I'm not quite sure how his sandlot style of football is going to translate to the next level.
The jury is still out on the Texas A&M quarterback, as he has a lot of time to prove he is a legitimate NFL prospect.
Which Award He Racked Up: Fred Biletnikoff Award
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: If you could give me one player to select in the NFL draft next season, I am taking Marqise Lee. He has the lowest bust potential, and I honestly think he is going to be a stud at the next level. The problem is that he is only a sophomore and is forced to return to USC for another season.
Still, his combination of size, athleticism, ball skills and leaping ability is enough to make any scout drool up and down the field. Lee's play clearly stands out when watching his USC team, and no one player at the collegiate level is capable of shutting him down.
I can't wait to watch his career take off. There are gigantic things in store for this young Trojan receiver, and he is a lock to become a top-10 pick.
Which Award He Racked Up: Outland Trophy
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: Quality offensive linemen do not grow on trees, and Luke Joeckel is as top-notch as it gets. After all, you don't see many scrubs walking away with the Outland Trophy.
Joeckel is a massive lineman at 6'6", 310 pounds and is surprisingly light on his feet. He has great lateral agility and is excellent in pass protection. He isn't quite as consistent in run-blocking as you would like, but he still has tremendous upside and is one of the better pass-protectors the college level has seen in a while.
With the undying need of great offensive linemen, Joeckel will be a top-10 pick this year—if he decides to leave Texas A&M a year early.
Which Award He Racked Up: John Mackey Award
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: Tyler Eifert is really a wide receiver trapped inside a tight end's body. At 6'5", 252 pounds, he has very good body control and can outjump most players in the secondary to get the football.
He is comfortable lining up anywhere on the football field and has no problem going across the middle to make the tough catches. Eifert isn't the best tight end when it comes to helping in the blocking department, but he would provide some NFL team with a quality receiving option.
And the last I heard, the tight end position was being used a lot more in the NFL these days.
The Notre Dame senior will probably be the first tight end off the board next year.
Which Award He Racked Up: Doak Walker Award
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: Montee Ball has been one of the more productive running backs in college football the last couple of seasons. This is good enough to put him on the radar for NFL teams, but well over 600 carries in two seasons is enough to scare some teams away.
Running backs already have a short shelf life as it is, and being a workhorse in college doesn't help matters.
As for the good, Ball is a downhill runner, but he does have enough quickness to kick it to the outside. Despite his bulky size at 5'11", 215 pounds, he can change direction quickly and make defenders miss in the open field.
Still, with the wear and tear, Ball won't be drafted as high as he would like.
A fourth- or fifth-round selection would make the Wisconsin running back one of the biggest steals of the NFL draft.
Which Awards He Racked Up: Bronko Nagurski Award, Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award, Walter Camp Award, Dick Butkus Award, Chuck Bednarik Award and Maxwell Award.
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: Manti Te'o would have been a first-round pick if he left early last season. With his best season at Notre Dame this year, the senior linebacker will more than likely be a top-10 pick come April.
First off, Te'o is a leader on and off the football field. Although he will be the young guy in a NFL locker room, he will be able to help mature a defense and instantly become one of the guys coaches love.
As for on the field, he is a linebacker that can play sideline-to-sideline. He has no problem dropping back into coverage, and his knack for the big play is something to admire.
Linebackers as complete as Te'o are hard to find at such a young age, and he is one of the few players in this draft that has almost zero bust potential.
Which Award He Racked Up: Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: Unfortunately for Collin Klein, he reminds me a lot of Tim Tebow. He is a bulky quarterback at 6'5", 226 pounds, is more effective as a runner than as a passer and is a leader on and off the field.
As a quarterback, I don't see Klein being a starter at the next level. His throwing motion is all out of whack, and he hasn't shown he can place the ball into tight windows (playing in the Big 12 really plays a part in that issue).
Overall, Klein is somebody coaches will try to convince to play another position or maybe be included in a Wildcat package. Either way, due to his leadership and ability to run the ball effectively, he is somebody who at least will be given a chance to succeed.
Which Award He Racked Up: Campbell Trophy
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: Barrett Jones will likely be taken in the first round because of his football intelligence and versatility. We are talking about somebody who has played three different positions throughout his career and has really stocked up on the awards the last two seasons.
He can play any position on the line at a high level, and his athleticism is simply off the charts. He uses his hands well, has great feet and is strong at the point of attack. In pass protection, Jones is really as consistent as it gets, which has allowed him to be the anchor of this Alabama offensive line.
There are better offensive linemen in this draft that will go before Jones, but slipping out of the first round is highly unlikely.
Which Award He Racked Up: Ted Hendricks Award
How He Stacks Up at the Next Level: Much like Marqise Lee, Jadeveon Clowney is somebody who could contribute in the NFL right now, but he still has a year left before he can leave college.
Clowney is the definition of a true pass-rusher, and he simply explodes off the football. His combination of size and speed makes him nearly impossible for opposing offensive linemen to block him in college.
His lateral quickness and pure speed is unlike any other defensive end we have seen, and he will only get stronger with another year under his belt.
Clowney is one of those can't-miss prospects, and some NFL team will consider itself very lucky in the 2014 draft.