As many guys are getting themselves prepared for the upcoming NFL draft, there is another group that is preparing for its shot as well heading into the college football season. Some players are pretty much guaranteed to go in the first round, while others have a little bit of work left to be done before you can label them a "can’t-miss" prospect.
Then there are the other players that will be treating this season like a do-or-die audition. These are the ones that may be on the fence with NFL draft scouts and have limited opportunities remaining as far as making an impression. They could be high on draft boards, but need to do a little bit more to solidify themselves as a top pick. Or this may be the last shot at even gaining any attention whatsoever, and they need to have a productive season just to even be considered.
As if the pressure to carry your team to success wasn't enough, some players are playing for their football lives this upcoming season.
Here are some of the top players that will be treating the 2013 college football season as a make or break year with their NFL draft stock in mind.
Nope. We did not forget about Zach Mettenberger.
As an NFL scout, you can remember those horrible performances you saw last season, but you have to be open-minded enough to give players another chance to prove you wrong.
Mettenberger was not the quarterback LSU and the majority of the college football world thought it was getting. Completing less than 60 percent of your passes and throwing seven interceptions isn't going to put you on the radar of many NFL teams.
However, the size is there at 6'5" and 222 pounds, and he has the arm strength to make all of the throws, although he didn't show it much last year. Mettenberger also has good poise in the pocket and isn't afraid to wait that one extra second to deliver the ball, even if it means he is going to take a hit right on the chin. You just wish he would do a better job of not locking onto receivers and be a little more patient.
Mettenberger could become one of the best quarterbacks in this class, or he could continue to fall off of draft boards all together. His senior season will tell a lot about which direction he is going to go.
You may remember Seantrel Henderson, as he was one of the most raved about recruits of the 2010 class and considered by many to be that next elite offensive lineman. After three seasons with Miami, he has kind of fallen off the map a bit due to inconsistent play and injuries.
Even with the inconsistency and injury history, offensive linemen really get no bigger than Henderson at 6'8" and 350 pounds. He is an absolute giant who is terrific in the run-blocking department and has long arms to keep the defender at bay. A physical and aggressive player, Henderson has all of the tools to become an elite offensive lineman.
According to Michael Casagrande of the Sun Sentential, via the Huntington Post, Henderson is a changed man heading into the upcoming season.
"I'm excited about him," coach Al Golden said. "He has a different look about him right now. He had a good off-season program. He's staying off lists. He's doing a good job."
Hopefully the hard work pays off and he begins to slide up those draft boards.
Will Sutton is someone everybody should be keeping a close eye on this season. A defensive lineman for Arizona State, Sutton led the Pac-12 with 23.5 tackles for loss and finished second in the conference with 12 sacks. There is no question he can get the job done at a high level, but there are a few concerns, which may be why he decided to return for his senior season.
There are times where it seems Sutton is taking plays off. He will end up making a brilliant defensive play, but you don't see that high motor throughout the entire game. When he brings that explosiveness and toughness to the field, there aren't many that can keep him check. You just wish you saw that with a little bit more consistency. Unlike his smaller frame at 6'2" and 271 pounds, that is something he can fix to improve his draft stock.
Sutton could easily have left for the next level this season and been selected within the first two rounds. Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN is already on record saying he likes the kid. But I think with a more consistent motor and dominating the Pac-12 for a second straight season, Sutton could legitimately lockup a first-round selection.
If you are a Florida Gators fan, you probably cringe when you hear the name Andre Debose. No, it isn't the same effect when somebody mentions Urban Meyer, but it is starting to get to that point. This is somebody who Scout.com had considered a 5-star recruit at the wide receiver position. After three seasons, he has been a non-factor, hauling in just 29 receptions and making most of his living on special teams.
But even with almost everybody giving up on him, he still has a combination of speed and quickness that keeps you intrigued. You just think that this is going to be the season he turns things around, only to be disappointed. Well, this is the year he must make an impact if he is even considering an NFL career.
Debose is just a raw athlete with excellent change of direction skills, the ability to make people miss and he has a second gear to break away from the defense. For whatever reason, he just hasn't been able to put it together in the time he has spent in a Gators uniform.
Not on many draft boards at the moment, it will take only one productive season for an NFL general manager to fall in love.
If you play for the Alabama Crimson Tide, NFL scouts are watching. It doesn't matter if you are a first-year starter, a veteran or a backup, you play for Nick Saban, so there is potential. We saw cornerback Dee Milliner make a name for himself last season. Now it is up to Deion Belue to step up to the plate.
A junior college transfer, Belue gave Tide fans a mixed bag of goodies last season. He intercepted two passes, ran a fumble back 57 yards for a score and broke up nine passes. On the flip side, due to Milliner locking down his side of the field, Belue was picked on often and there were times he looked foolish in coverage.
A year of experience and going into the 2013 season as the No. 1 corner should help his play as well as his confidence. Belue has great footwork, acceleration and remarkable body control to adjust and make a play on the football. He is somebody who can develop into a shutdown corner and make his way up draft boards the same way Milliner did last season.
It is going to be interesting to see if another Alabama corner can sneak into first-round discussions.
Roderick McDowell has spent most of his career at Clemson playing the backup role to Andre Ellington. What folks didn't realize is that the best back may be the one that wasn't played as much. McDowell will have a chance to prove that his senior season once he is given the keys to this offense as the No. 1 rusher.
What is amazing about McDowell is the fact he was born with clubfoot and there was a serious chance he would never walk again, let alone play football. You could never tell by watching this kid run. He has quick feet, great vision of the field, makes defenders miss with ease and he plays much bigger than his 5'9", 190-pound frame would indicate.
This is a big-play runner who should thrive in a high-flying offense that puts up video game numbers. Much like Mike Gillislee from Florida made his announcement to the college football world his senior season, McDowell should do much of the same.
Keep an eye on this Clemson running back.
Remember Aaron Lynch?
He was a freshman at Notre Dame back in 2011 and led the Irish with 5.5 sacks. He then decided that South Bend wasn't the place for him and ended up transferring to South Florida so he could be closer to home. His waiver to play last season was denied by the NCAA, which means he spent all of last year working out but not playing a single-down of actual football.
Even with a full year without suiting up to take the field, Lynch is the real deal at the defensive end position. His combination of speed off the ball and raw strength makes him a nightmare matchup for any offensive lineman. He can simply blow by you, or use a bull rush that he has nearly down to perfection.
The skills are there for this kid to be special, but the questions continue to pop up with him basically taking a full season off.
If Lynch is productive and kept himself in shape, there will be another South Florida Bull that pans out on the defensive line. After all, Jason Pierre-Paul has done quite well for himself.
If there is anybody in the country that is in for a make or break season, it would be quarterback Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech. Heading into the 2011 season, this is somebody who was being compared to Cam Newton and expected to become this next-level, dual-threat quarterback. He was going to be a first-round pick and the future of some lucky NFL franchise.
After throwing 16 interceptions and completing barely 50 percent of his passes, the comparisons stopped and many began jumping off the bandwagon.
You can't give up hope just yet. Thomas still has size you don't usually see at the position at 6'6" and 260 pounds. He is mobile enough to hurt you with his legs, but due to his size and toughness, he kind of reminds you of a Ben Roethlisberger. When given time and actually planting his feet, he can be accurate with the football, and the strong arm is certainly there to make all of the throws.
The raw ability is there for Thomas to still go in the first round and have a shot at a starting job. It is all going to come down to how he performs his senior season.
Shayne Skov is somebody who could find himself selected in the second round, or he can continue on this path of treading water and slip towards the middle rounds.
There are many things to like about Skov, as he plays the game like his hair is on fire and flies to the football, hitting everything in sight. He has great instincts, a high football IQ and he is the perfect fit for a 3-4 defense with him being tough in run support and having the ability to attack the line of scrimmage.
However, Skov did pick up a DUI charge last year, which always seems to raise a few red flags when talking to coaches. He also missed the majority of the 2011 season due to a knee injury that required surgery. Even though he was effective last season and led the Cardinal in tackles, he didn't have that same explosiveness you usually see from him.
If Skov can return to the player he was before the injury and keep his nose clean, he should have little problem hearing his name called rather early in 2014.
Mike Davis said he was going to enter the 2013 NFL draft and then decided at the last minute that he was in fact going to return to Texas. With plenty of talented receivers to choose from, it was in his best interest to spend another season in school and improve his craft.
The Texas receiver has been consistent throughout his career, catching at least 45 passes in each of the first three seasons. He is easily one of the better route runners in all of college football, and his ability to make plays after the catch is impressive.
Davis has the ability to develop into a big-play receiver at the next level, but he drops way too many passes. Ball security has been a concern with him throughout his career, and it needs to improve as he heads into his senior year. He could also take some time and bulk up his frame a bit, as he still struggles to get off the line and beat a corner that is playing press coverage.
This is somebody who will have a future in the NFL due to his crisp route running, but he could end up as one of the first five receivers taken if he can do a better job of holding on to the football.