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10 Sophomore Stars Who Are Ready for the NFL Now

Carl StineCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2013

10 Sophomore Stars Who Are Ready for the NFL Now

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    To most football fans, it seems apparent that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is ready for the NFL.

    He's a beast, seeming to disrupt plays on a regular basis, who racked up 21.5 tackles for loss in 2012.

    Clowney is already being talked about as a potential Heisman candidate before offseason practices have even started.

    But Clowney is not alone.

    In this list, there are 10 players who were sophomores in 2012, who appear to be ready to play at the next level right now.

10. Cyrus Kouandjio, OL, Alabama

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    Alabama's offensive line was easily one of the best in college football in 2012.

    A huge part of that was the emergence of Cyrus Kouandjio as a contributor to Tide offensive line.

    His emergence allowed All-American lineman Barrett Jones to move over to center and anchor the offensive line that allowed only 23 sacks on the season.

    Kouandjio has the physical tools, with a little polish, to play in the NFL, and he can shut down elite edge rushers when called upon.

    He did just that to LSU's Sam Montgomery when the teams met in 2012.

9. Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan

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    Ryan was one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten, and he spent his season racking up 84 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and five forced fumbles.

    Those are excellent numbers, particularly for a guy just two years removed from high school.

    He plays with an intensity few appear to match on the field and matches that intensity with incredible athletic ability.

    He was one of the premier players in the Big Ten and didn't get near enough press.

    With the physical tools he already has, and the intensity with which he plays, Ryan is going to be an impact player in the NFL, and he could start his career tomorrow, if allowed to do so.

8. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

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    Penn State's season was a pleasant surprise, as the Nittany Lions finished with eight wins and demonstrated that they have the potential to compete for the conference title in 2013.

    Part of the Nittany Lion's success can be attributed to Allen Robinson, the wide receiver who stepped in and was a force, leading the conference with 77 receptions, while amassing 1,018 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns.

    Robinson, as a former basketball player, repeatedly made spectacular leaping catches and demonstrated that he has the physical ability to take the next step.

    He's a monster at the position, standing 6'3" and weighing in at 200 pounds, making him a very difficult matchup for cornerbacks at this level and likely the next.

7. Louis Nix, DL, Notre Dame

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    Manti Te'o and his imaginary girlfriend received much more press that Louis Nix, as did fellow defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt.

    But it was Nix's huge impact on opponent's offenses that helped make the most recent edition of the Notre Dame defense great, at least until they met Alabama.

    Nix takes up tons of space at his tackle position, and he seems ideally suited to play at the nose guard position with his unique blend of size and speed.

    At 6'3", 330 pounds, Nix is an absolute force in the middle of the defense, and he could have a major impact at the next level immediately, if he were to head to the NFL immediately.

    There are few tackles in the college ranks with the same level of skill that Nix possesses, and it will be demonstrated once again in the 2013 season.

6. Antonio Richardson, OL, Tennessee

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    Tennessee did not have much good going for it as a program in 2012, and the team's inability to win led to the eventual firing of head coach Derek Dooley.

    Richardson was part of an excellent offensive line, standing at 6'9" and checking in at 332 pounds.

    He's obviously huge, but has surprising agility as well.

    When Tennessee faced South Carolina last October 27, Richardson was called upon to contain All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and did so effectively.

    He's excellent in pass protection, with all the tools necessary to make him effective on Sundays.

5. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford

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    Entering the 2012 season, the biggest question mark facing David Shaw's Stanford team, other than the departure of Andrew Luck, was in the secondary.

    The Cardinal had to fill major holes at safety, and it turned out to be less of a problem than many expected.

    Reynolds had an excellent season, earning all Pac-12 honors, and contributing in a big way to the excellent season the Cardinal enjoyed.

    He's been playing free safety, but has the ball skills to cover just about any receiver when called upon, but also has the ability to have  a huge impact on the rushing game.

    He finished 2012 with a team-leading six interceptions, which he returned for 301 yards and three touchdowns.

    Reynolds has demonstrated he has all the tools needed to excel at the next level, and it won't take another season for him to be ready.

4. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

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    At 260 pounds, this man is a few Happy Meals short of playing offensive line, and yet he possesses the athleticism to absolutely dominate matchups.

    He uses his size effectively to box out linebackers an the defensive secondary in coverage, and he makes an easy target in the mid-yardage game.

    He also has the athletic ability to come down with a jump ball or two, and he finished last season as a Mackey Award finalist.

    He has the body and skills to play at an elite level and will be the best tight end in the game next fall.

3. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee

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    In Johnson's freshman season, he led all SEC freshman with 80 tackles, earning multiple freshman All-American honors as a result.

    But in 2012, as a sophomore, Johnson really made his mark as one of the best defenders in the nation.

    He led all tacklers in the SEC with 138 when the Volunteers' season ended, and he was one of the few consistent players on a woeful Tennessee defense.

    The 6'3", 240-pound linebacker has great speed and instinct to fill the gaps in the rushing game and plays well from the middle linebacker position.

    He does an excellent job of shedding blockers and uses his athletic ability to wreak havoc on opponent's rushing attack, whether inside or outside.

    Johnson, barring injury, has the physical tools and football acumen to leave a major impact in the NFL, and he looks ready to go right now.

    He also has the ability to score, putting up six touchdowns rushing the ball out of the Wildcat formation in 2012.

2. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

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    Where to begin with Lee?

    He was obviously a cut above the competition in 2012, earning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors and putting up good enough numbers that he earned consideration as the best player in the nation, a difficult feat for a wide receiver.

    During the 2012 season, Lee finished with an average of 14.6 yards per catch on 118 receptions and 1,721 scored 14 touchdowns.

    He's easily the most NFL-ready offensive player, just a shade behind the top player on this list.

    Lee is a monster physically, and at times, appeared impossible to cover and difficult to slow down, even against the Pac-12's best defenders.

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DL, South Carolina

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    If Clowney could enter the NFL in the 2013 draft, he would be a top ten pick, possibly top five.

    He's already demonstrated that he is ready, both physically and mentally, to move to the next level.

    Clowney's level of physicality is second to none, and he routinely looked like a man playing among boys during the 2012 season.

    The Hendricks Award winner and All-American finished second in the nation with 21.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.

    He's quick, and at  6'6", 256 pounds, he has the length, sudden burst and speed to track down ball-carriers, be they quarterbacks or otherwise, in a manner that at times seems somewhat other-worldly.

    His biggest play of the season, a nasty tackle for loss and fumble recovery in the Gamecocks' bowl game, demonstrated his ridiculous athletic ability.

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