2014 NFL Draft: College Football's Most Intriguing Pro Prospects
The 2013 NFL draft class featured a record number of early entrant underclassmen. However, it certainly isn't a group that could be described as star-studded.
While the 2013 class will likely produce plenty of quality starters, it's not a group that will produce many marquee players.
The 2014 draft class, on the other hand, is shaping up to be one of the deepest and most talented groups of prospects to emerge from the college ranks in the last decade. It's a class that should be loaded with star power.
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney is the premier prospect that everyone will be talking about this offseason. However, there are plenty of other players to get excited about as well.
Here's a look at college football's most intriguing prospects for the 2014 NFL draft.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
In recent years, we've seen some incredibly athletic defensive ends in college football. However, none of those physically gifted ends could compare to the sport's current star pass-rusher, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
The former highly touted consensus No. 1 prospect of the 2011 recruiting class has managed to live up to unbelievably high expectations.
Clowney possesses an awe-inspiring combination of size, speed, power and natural instincts, the likes of which we haven't seen at the college level in quite a long time. He used his tremendous physical tools to his benefit in 2012, as he put together an outstanding All-American campaign, racking up 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.
At this point, the explosive 6'6'', 272-pound edge-rusher has to be considered the clear-cut favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Clowney's arguably the best defensive player that we've seen in college football since the turn of the millennium.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Going into the 2012 season, QB Matt Barkley and WR Robert Woods were the two USC players that everyone was talking about and fawning over. It didn't take long to realize, though, that the real MVP of the Trojans offense was actually WR Marqise Lee.
Lee built on a strong freshman performance in 2011 and put together an absolutely sensational sophomore season.
He ended up leading the nation with 118 catches for 1,721 yards and he hauled in 14 touchdown receptions. The standout showing helped Lee win the prestigious Biletnikoff Award along with numerous other honors.
The 6'0'', 195-pound junior may not be the most physically imposing receiver in the country, but he possesses elite athleticism, sure hands and a knack for creating explosive plays in the passing game. Last year, he ranked second in the nation with 11 catches for over 40 yards.
The former 4-star recruit from Inglewood, California, has overcome a ton of adversity in his life. Now, through hard work and determination, he's managed to establish himself as the premier pass-catcher in college football and he's set himself up to be a potential top-5 pick in the 2014 draft.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
You can never judge a quarterback prospect strictly by his numbers, but Teddy Bridgewater's 2012 statistics were just too good to ignore.
In his second year as a starter, Bridgewater took the leap from being an intriguing young developmental project to being a full-fledged star passer.
He completed 68 percent of his passes—which tied for sixth nationally—averaged 8.8 yards per pass attempt—which ranked eighth in the country—threw for 27 touchdowns and finished the season with a 160 passer rating—which ranked eighth in the country.
Most importantly, though, he led the Cardinals to an 11-2 record, including a huge upset victory over Florida in the Sugar Bowl. That stunning victory has now helped him create a huge buzz going into the 2013 season.
Bridgewater looks like he could be college football's next "it" quarterback. The 6'3'', 218-pound junior signal-caller possesses the size, athleticism, accuracy, decision-making skills and natural playmaking ability to emerge as one of the sport's biggest stars this fall.
Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Manti Te'o may have been the highly publicized star of Notre Dame's defense in 2012, but the real backbone of the unit was actually nose tackle Louis Nix.
Nix played a critical role in helping the Irish rank 11th nationally in rushing defense last season.
The big, powerful 6'3'', 340-pound junior constantly clogged up running lanes, manhandled opposing blockers and made critical stops on a consistent basis. He finished the season with 50 total tackles, including 20 solo stops and 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups.
Cut from the same mold as Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji, Nix possesses all the traits—size, strength, quickness and toughness—to develop into a dominant run-stuffer at the NFL level.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Last season, Jake Matthews watched as his teammate and fellow offensive tackle Luke Joeckel rose to stardom and became the most talked-about offensive lineman in college football. After watching Joeckel take home the Outland Trophy in 2012, Matthews will be looking to follow in his footsteps and bring the trophy back to College Station this season.
Matthews could have joined Joeckel in the 2013 draft and likely been a top-15 pick, but instead he chose to return to the collegiate ranks for one more year and continue to hone his already highly advanced skills.
The son of hall-of-famer Bruce Matthews and cousin of perennial pro-bowl linebacker Clay Matthews obviously has the pedigree and bloodlines to be a great player in the NFL. After manning the right side for the first three years of his career as an Aggie, the 6'5'', 305-pound senior will now look to show scouts that he's got all the skills needed to handle protecting QB Johnny Manziel's blindside in 2013.
Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Braxton Miller may have been the Ohio State player who received all the accolades and publicity last season, but the real key player to the Buckeyes' perfect 12-0 run was actually LB Ryan Shazier.
Shazier proved to be one of the top defensive playmakers in the country during his first season as a full-time starter.
He totaled 114 tackles, including 69 solo stops and 17 tackles for loss, five sacks, 10 pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
The highly athletic and fluid 6'2'', 226-pound outside 'backer can run from sideline to sideline and he's got an absolutely incredible radar for the football.
Ohio State will be one of college football's must-watch powerhouse teams in 2013, and No. 10 will be the player who's worth paying the most attention to. The Buckeyes have produced plenty of terrific linebackers in recent years, but Shazier is a better NFL prospect than all of them.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Sammy Watkins was the biggest breakout star freshman of 2011. He quickly burst onto the national scene during his debut season, catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Watkins was unable to replicate his success and live up to the extraordinary amount of hype as a sophomore this past season.
Still, even though he didn't have the 2012 campaign that many were expecting, the tremendously talented receiver is still clearly one of the most dangerous playmakers in all of college football.
The 6'1'', 200-pound former 5-star recruit possesses good size, explosive speed and outstanding natural athleticism.
With QB Tajh Boyd returning for 2013, Watkins has the opportunity to have a big bounce-back performance this fall and solidify his status as a top-15 pick for the 2014 draft. If he plays up to his potential, he could even emerge as a legitimate contender to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Before he arrived at BYU, Kyle Van Noy was considered to be one of the most athletic prospects of the 2009 recruiting class. That's why he had Pac-12 schools such as Arizona, Arizona State, California, Stanford and UCLA all chasing him.
Instead, Van Noy chose to come to Provo. Since then, he's used his superior athleticism and physical gifts to become one of college football's top edge-rushers.
The former 4-star recruit followed up a breakout sophomore season with an even better campaign in 2012. He totaled 13 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hurries and six forced fumbles.
After putting together a stellar performance in the Poinsettia Bowl against San Diego State, it appeared as if Van Noy would join his teammate and close friend Ezekiel Ansah in the first round of the 2013 draft. But instead, he decided to return for his senior year and continue to assert his dominance against collegiate competition.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan gave Michigan fans a pleasant surprise when he announced that he would bypass the chance to be a first-round pick in the 2013 draft in order to return to Ann Arbor for his senior year.
The three year-starter's decision to come back was a bit shocking since he obviously doesn't have much left to prove at the collegiate level, especially after an All-American campaign in 2012.
At this point in his development, the imposing 6'8'', 308-pound senior may not be as polished as his highly touted predecessor at Michigan, Jake Long. However, he does have all the traits that scouts look for in a top-tier tackle prospect.
Lewan compares favorably to Jared Veldheer of the Raiders. Ultimately, he should develop into a reliable and valuable offensive line leader in the pros just like Veldheer.
CJ Mosley, ILB, Alabama
It seems as if Alabama always has to replace an abundance of important defenders every offseason.
This year is no different.
The defending national champs are certainly going to miss key starters such as DT Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson and CB Dee Milliner, who will all be playing on Sundays this fall.
Luckily, the Tide will have its defensive leader, LB CJ Mosley, back to lead the way in 2013.
Mosley stepped up and became the linchpin of the top-ranked unit in 2012. He led the team with 107 tackles, including 66 solo stops, eight tackles for loss and four sacks.
The 6'2'', 232-pound senior is an athletic and instinctive playmaker, who possesses outstanding recognition skills. Mosley has a versatile skill-set that will allow him to flourish in a variety of different roles in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme in the NFL.
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
In recent years, Florida's defense has featured plenty of standout defensive backs such as Joe Haden, Reggie Nelson, Ahmad Black and Major Wright.
The Gators secondary is now once again loaded with plenty of potential stars for the upcoming 2013 season. The face of the stacked group is CB Loucheiz Purifoy.
Blessed with a rare combination of size, athleticism and natural instincts, Purifoy has all the physical skills needed to become a true lock-down cover corner.
During his first season as a full-time starter in 2012, the 6'1'', 189-pound junior failed to record an interception. Nevertheless, he still found plenty of ways to make an impact, as he racked up 55 tackles, broke up five passes, forced three fumbles and blocked both a field goal and a punt.
Gator coaches love Purifoy's speed and playmaking ability so much that they gave him extensive playing time at wide receiver this spring. But make no mistake about it, his future in the NFL is on the defensive side of the ball.
Purifoy's got the potential to become one of the biggest breakout stars in college football this fall. He could follow in the footsteps of former heralded SEC corners such as Dee Milliner, Morris Claiborne and Patrick Peterson and be the next top-10 corner prospect that the league produces.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
"I feel like there's no back who can do what I do. I know I'm the fastest back in the country. I know I'm the best back in the country. Nobody's going to work harder. I'm going to win the Heisman. I'm going to win it in 2013. If I don't, I'm going to get very close. I'm shooting for that goal. I will gladly say it."
Some may view such a bold statement as just brash talk from a cocky college kid. But in actuality, Seastrunk's belief in his abilities and his proclamation that he's the best back in college football isn't far-fetched at all.
The former 5-star recruit from Texas has his home-state buzzing after an incredible showing during his sophomore season, and he could soon have the entire country buzzing in 2013.
After sitting out a year following a transfer from Oregon, Seastrunk started slowly in 2012. However, he exploded in the second half of the season, rushing for over 100 yards in five of his final six games and finishing the year with a 7.7 yards per carry average, which ranked seventh nationally.
The 5'10'', 210-pound junior is one of the fastest and most explosive players in all of college football. Is Seastrunk puts in the work this offseason like he says he's going to, he should be able to back up his lofty claims and prove that he is indeed the best back in all of college football.
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Louis Nix isn't the only Notre Dame defender who NFL scouts will be paying close attention to this fall. Like Nix, DE Stephon Tuitt also possesses all of the physical skills to develop into an elite defensive prospect.
The former heralded blue-chip recruit from Georgia helped Irish fans forget all about Aaron Lynch, as he emerged as one of the most productive pass-rushers in the country in 2012.
Tuitt totaled 11 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries, and he played a key role in Notre Dame's defensive resurgence.
The 6'6'', 303-pound junior possesses a remarkable combination of size, explosiveness and power. He's the type of physically imposing and intimidating defender that will send shivers down the spine of any lineman who lines up against him.
David Fales, QB, San Jose State
Before the start of the 2012 season, David Fales was just an unproven and under-the-radar JUCO transfer who had never even thrown a pass in an FBS game.
Now, after putting together a brilliant breakout campaign, he's established himself as one of the premier passers in college football.
In his first season leading the Spartans offense, Fales showed that he could make every single throw that NFL scouts want to see, while putting up some truly dazzling numbers.
He led the nation with a 72 percent completion percentage, ranked sixth nationally with 4,193 passing yards, tied for ninth with 33 touchdowns and ranked third in the country with a 170 passer rating. Most importantly, he helped guide the Spartans to their first double-digit win season in 25 years and just their second bowl victory since the turn of the millennium.
The 6'3'', 220-pound senior signal-caller displayed tremendous arm strength, pinpoint accuracy and impressive decision-making skills, as he tore apart opposing secondaries.
If Fales can replicate that type of success again during his final season, he's got the chance to work his way into the top 10 conversation by the time next April rolls around. It wouldn't even be surprising if he rises up and becomes the top overall quarterback prospect in the class.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Every major college football program in the country would have loved to land the services of Cyrus Kouandjio back when he was the the consensus top-rated offensive tackle prospect of the 2011 recruiting class. NFL teams will likely become equally enamored with the Cameroon native over the next year.
Kouandjio is basically the equivalent of Jadeveon Clowney at the offensive tackle position. The freakishly athletic 6'6'', 311-pound behemoth possesses a blend of size, agility and power that you just don't see very often from a college offensive lineman.
In his first year as a full-time starter in 2012, the former 5-star recruit asserted his dominance and proved that he could definitely handle himself in the treacherous trenches of the SEC.
Now that Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker have all moved on to the NFL, Alabama will rely on Kouandjio to be the team's new offensive line leader. It's a role he should thrive in. He's clearly got all the necessary physical traits to grow into a dominant All-American tackle.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Tajh Boyd entered his junior season knowing that he had a lot to prove after falling apart down the stretch of the 2011 season.
His immense struggles late in the year were one of the main reasons why Clemson finished just 2-4 in their last six games after an 8-0 start.
Though Boyd wasn't able to lead the Tigers back to another ACC championship in 2012, he did turn in a much better and more consistent performance in his second year as a starter.
The athletic 6'1'', 225-pound dual-threat signal-caller completed 67 percent of his passes for over 3,800 yards, threw 36 touchdowns and ran for 514 yards and 10 touchdowns as he led his team to an 11-2 record.
Boyd may not possess great size, but he makes up for it with his mobility, his accuracy and his ability to create explosive passing plays from both within the pocket and outside of it.
The former All-American recruit from Virginia has a very similar skill-set and physical build to Donovan McNabb. Like McNabb, Boyd may not make many flashy highlight-reel plays, but he should still develop into a successful starting signal-caller at the next level.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
In his first two seasons at UCLA, Anthony Barr made a rather a minimal impact as a fullback. He combined to total just 136 yards and two touchdowns on just 27 carries.
Luckily, the new Bruins staff realized that Barr would be better suited for the defensive side of the ball at outside linebacker.
One simple position switch helped change the team's fortunes immensely. Barr proved to be a natural for the position, and he excelled in his first season hunting down ball-carriers instead of blocking for them.
The 6'4'', 235-pound senior totaled 82 tackles, including 60 solo stops and 21 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and four forced fumbles. Obviously, though, the one play that everyone remembers was his ferocious and violent hit on Matt Barkley, which knocked Barkley out for the season.
It's hard to believe how stellar Barr was in his first season on defense, and it's scary to think that he could be even better in 2013 now that he has a year of experience under his belt.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt isn't a program that's known for producing highly coveted NFL prospects. In fact, the Commodores have only had two first-round draft picks (OT Chris Williams in 2008 and QB Jay Cutler in 2006) in the last two decades.
That total could be bumped up to three, though, if WR Jordan Matthews puts together the type of senior season he's capable of.
Matthews flashed plenty of potential in 2012, when he led the SEC with 94 catches for 1,323 yards and scored eight touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 205-pound senior presents a matchup nightmare for opposing cornerbacks due to his impressive size-speed combination. Physically, Matthews compares favorably to Cowboys receiver Miles Austin. Like Austin, he should develop into a very reliable receiving threat in the pros.
Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
Though he was overshadowed by fellow defenders such as CJ Mosley, Dee Milliner and Jesse Williams, LB Adrian Hubbard still played a crucial role in Alabama's defensive success in 2012.
Having to fill the void left by supremely gifted sack artist Courtney Upshaw was definitely not an easy task, but Hubbard proved to be a worthy replacement for Upshaw.
The 6'6'', 248-pound outside 'backer totaled 41 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Hubbard already has the size, strength and natural instincts that NFL teams look for in a top-flight 3-4 rush linebacker prospect. If he continues to develop and get better in his second season as a starter, he could ultimately end up being viewed as the same caliber of prospect as his teammate CJ Mosley.
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
After putting together a fantastic freshman performance in his debut season at Oregon in 2011,De'Anthony Thomas entered his sophomore year with plenty of hype and high expectations to live up to.
The elusive and explosive speedster didn't disappoint.
Though Thomas had to defer carries to his backfield mate Kenjon Barner, he still managed to make a huge impact in a variety of different ways. The Black Mamba averaged a whopping 7.6 yards per carry, caught 45 passes for 445 yards, averaged 17 yards per punt return and totaled 18 touchdowns.
The 5'9'', 173-pound junior possesses the special skills to be a dangerous game-changer. He can create a huge home-run play any time he gets the ball in his hands.
Thomas shares many of the same physical attributes as this year's No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin. Like Austin, he should be a high draft pick in 2014, regardless of concerns about his size.
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
LSU's defense was absolutely decimated by underclassmen choosing to declare for the 2013 NFL draft. The Tigers had seven defenders taken in this year's draft, six of which were underclassmen.
The defensive line was hit the hardest, losing key standouts such as defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery and tackle Bennie Logan.
Luckily, the team has a new potentially dominant defensive lineman to build around in Anthony "The Freak" Johnson.
Johnson arrived in Baton Rouge three years ago as one of the top rated prospects of the 2011 recruiting class. After showing steady signs of improvement and development throughout his first two seasons, he now looks like he's ready to put together a big showcase season in 2013.
The extremely agile and quick 6'3'', 304-pound junior possesses remarkable athleticism for an athlete his size. Once he figures out how to make the most of his rare physical skills, Johnson should become a true monster in the middle of the Tigers defense.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Going into his first season as head coach at UCLA, Jim Mora showed a lot of guts by naming unproven freshman Brett Hundley to be his starting quarterback, instead of more experienced senior signal-callers such as Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince.
It ultimately proved to be a brilliant decision, though, as Hundley turned out to be the program savior that the Bruins desperately needed.
In his first season of action, the former 4-star recruit from Arizona quickly developed into one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in college football.
Hundley completed 66 percent of his passes for over 3,700 yards and 29 touchdowns and added 355 yards and nine scores with his legs as he led the Bruins to nine wins, a Pac-12 South division title and a huge win over cross-town rival USC.
In recent years, we've seen athletic dual-threat quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel captivate the college football world and take home the sport's most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy.
Hundley could be the next player to follow in their footsteps.
In terms of pure potential, the 6'3'', 227-pound redshirt sophomore has the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the country.
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
If you're looking for a freakishly athletic pass-rushing prospect who could rise up and cause the same type of buzz as recent high draft picks such as Ezekiel Ansah, Bruce Irvin and Aldon Smith, then look no further than Missouri's Kony Ealy.
Ealy certainly isn't a polished product just yet, but he's got the type of prodigious physical ability that will surely make scouts salivate.
While he may have been overshadowed by teammate Sheldon Richardson in 2012, the explosive edge-rusher still proved that he could certainly handle himself against SEC competition. In his first year as a starter, Ealy totaled 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and seven pass breakups.
If the 6'5'', 275-pound junior can add a few more pass-rushing moves to his arsenal this offseason, he should develop into one of the most feared defensive ends in the country.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
No other college player is going to be picked apart, dissected and debated about in nearly the same manner as Johnny Manziel will be in 2013.
The defending Heisman-winner is truly one of the most unique college players that we've ever seen.
In his first year as a starter, Manziel made his mark on the sport, as he put together one of the best freshman seasons in college football history. The supremely gifted signal-caller was not only one of the most entertaining players in the country, he was also one of the most productive, totaling over 5,100 yards and 47 touchdowns.
The 6'1'', 200-pound redshirt sophomore will garner his fair share of doubters and critics just based on his size and his slight frame. But it's just so hard to overlook his electric playmaking ability, his natural instincts and his overall feel for the game, no matter how short he may be.
Manziel's NFL future is a bit blurry right now. Nevertheless, he's clearly got the talent, charisma and star power that you look for in a potential franchise quarterback.
With the increasing influx of spread offensive concepts that we're starting to see infiltrate the NFL, you have to believe that there will be a place for Johnny Football in the pros. The only question is, does he deserve to be labeled as an elite quarterback prospect?
It will certainly be one of the most fascinating arguments that everyone will be talking about this season.
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Growing up as the son of former Cowboys DE Jim Jeffcoat, there were always huge expectations surrounding Jackson Jeffcoat any time he stepped onto the football field. However, he always managed to thrive in the spotlight, and he ultimately ended up becoming one of the top-rated prospects of the 2010 recruiting class.
Once he arrived in Austin, it didn't take long for Jeffcoat to prove that he deserved every bit of hype he received coming out of high school.
After putting together a terrific sophomore season in 2011, in which he totaled eight sacks and 21 tackles for loss, it appeared as if Jeffcoat was on his way to becoming one of college football's biggest defensive stars. However, a mid-season pectoral injury in 2012 forced him to put his NFL dreams on hold.
The 6'5'', 245-pound senior has the versatile skill-set to be one of next year's top "tweener" pass-rushing prospects. He could be viewed as either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
After losing the dominant defensive end duo of Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, who combined for 24 sacks in 2012, Florida State's defensive line is going to have inexperienced edge-rushers on the outside this fall.
Luckily, the Seminoles have a budding star in the interior in DT Timmy Jernigan.
Jernigan may not have received the type of praise that Werner and Carradine did last season, but he still played an important role in helping Florida State's defense rank third in the nation in rush defense.
The 6'2'', 298-pound junior plays the game with passion, power, explosiveness and grit, and he has the skills to develop into an inside penetrating pass-rushing threat.
Florida State fans may be concerned about losing their two most productive defensive linemen, but they still should be very excited about the potential that Jernigan possesses.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Bradley Roby didn't receive anywhere near the same amount of publicity for his accomplishments in 2012 as former LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu did for his performance in 2011. However, you can easily make the argument that Roby's 2012 campaign was just as impressive as the Honey Badger's breakout season.
The 5'11'', 190-pound junior proved to be an impact playmaker in the secondary, as he totaled 62 tackles, including 40 solo stops, picked off two passes and broke up another 17 throws. Roby also managed to score three touchdowns in three different ways (punt block return, interception return and fumble return).
Roby still has to continue to improve his technique and get better in man-to-man coverage. However, he's clearly got the size, athleticism and ball skills to become a successful starting cornerback in the NFL.
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon who? That's what Josh Stewart had Oklahoma State fans asking in 2012.
Stewart proved to be a worthy replacement for his highly productive predecessor. After totaling just 19 catches and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2011, he finally got his chance to shine as the Cowboys' go-to receiver.
He certainly made the most of the opportunity. The speedy 5'10'', 178-pound junior hauled in 101 passes for 1,210 yards and scored eight touchdowns, even though he had to deal with a revolving door at the quarterback position.
Whoever ends up being the Cowboys' starting signal-caller in 2013 will be very lucky to have a dangerous and dynamic receiving threat like Stewart at their disposal.
Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have helped mold some truly outstanding defensive backs at Alabama, including recent first-round picks such as Dee Milliner, Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick.
Now, following the departure of Milliner, the Tide's new leader in the secondary will be safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix.
Clinton-Dix is exactly the type of defensive back that Saban and Smart love. He's big, long, athletic, rangy, physical and he possesses terrific ball skills.
The 6'1'', 209-pound junior, who had four interceptions and five pass breakups in 2012, appears destined to be the next star defensive back prospect to come out of Tuscaloosa.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
When he was at West Virginia, Rich Rodriguez helped mold RB Steve Slaton into a star. Now, at Arizona, his spread offensive system is allowing another running back, Ka'Deem Carey, to flourish.
This past season, Carey proved to be a perfect fit for Rodriguez's spread attack.
The explosive 5'10'', 197-pound junior became one of the biggest breakout stars of 2012. He led the nation with 1,929 rushing yards, caught 36 passes for 303 yards, scored 24 touchdowns and also ranked first in the nation with 68 plays of more than 10 yards.
If the talented playmaker can stay out of trouble this offseason and not get caught up in all the hype that will be swirling around him, Carey should once again be one of the most productive backs in the country in 2013.
David Yankey, OG, Stanford
It's rare to even see one offensive guard selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft, which is why it was so surprising to see both Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack selected in the top 10 in 2013.
We'll likely have to wait a while before we see two offensive guards picked in the top 10 again.
Still, the top offensive guard prospect in the 2014 class, Stanford's David Yankey, could definitely find himself in the top-10 conversation next April
Yankey has been a versatile jack-of-all-trades offensive line leader for the Cardinal, lining up both inside at guard and outside at tackle. But he'll likely man the left guard spot in 2013 next to young budding star tackle Andrus Peat.
The 6'5'', 311-pound junior has the size, strength, athleticism, sound technique and tenacity to develop into a pro-bowl caliber lineman in the NFL.
After earning All-American honors in 2012, Yankey will now be looking to compete for the coveted Outland Trophy in 2013. He'll once again be the face of one of the most talented offensive lines in the country.
James Wilder, RB, Florida State
When James Wilder was a highly touted blue-chip recruit at Tampa's Plant High School, he was widely considered to be the freakiest athletic specimen in the 2011 recruiting class. As he enters his third season at Florida State, it now appears that he's ready to truly put it all together and make the most of his rare physical abilities.
The big, powerful and explosive 6'2'', 226-pound beastly rusher averaged 5.7 yards per carry and scored 13 total touchdowns in 2012 as a member of a three-horse backfield.
Wilder played a critical role in Florida State's rushing resurgence, as the Seminoles went from ranking 104th in the nation in rushing in 2011 to ranking 24th this past season.
The son of former Bucs RB James Wilder could be the next Darren McFadden if he keeps his focus on the field. But when you factor in some his recent run-ins with the law, that's obviously a sizable "if."
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
If someone gave a sculptor a big slab of clay and told them to construct a statue of what a prototypical SEC linebacker looks like, the finished product would likely bear a strong resemblance to Tennessee's A.J. Johnson.
Johnson seems like he was born to be a star linebacker in college football's most powerful conference.
He proved that in 2012, when he led the league with 138 total tackles, which included 63 solo stops and 8.5 tackles for loss. He even proved that he could be an effective offensive weapon as well, scoring six touchdowns as a goal-line back.
The 6'2'', 240-pound junior can track down ball-carriers from sideline to sidelines and make plays all over the field.
Alabama's CJ Mosley may be the SEC linebacker that everyone gushes over during the offseason, but Johnson deserves just as much credit and recognition as any other linebacker in the country.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins' future with the Washington football program is still uncertain at this point, following a DUI arrest that led to him being suspended indefinitely from the team. Still, something tells me that by the time fall camp rolls around, coach Steve Sarkisian will find a way to forgive his star tight end and welcome him back to the program.
Seferian-Jenkins is just too valuable to the Huskies offense. He proved that in 2012, when he ranked eighth in the Pac-12 with 69 catches for 852 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
The 6'6'', 266-pound junior is part of the new wave of big, ultra-athletic tight ends who look like they could be just as effective on a basketball court as a football field.
The physically gifted pass-catcher may not have a clean off-the-field record. Nevertheless, at this point, Seferian-Jenkins has to be considered the clear favorite to be the first tight end picked in the 2014 NFL draft, especially since many of the top underclassmen at the position such as Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz and Gavin Escobar declared early for the 2013 draft.
Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
The impact that the infusion of safety Ed Reynolds had on the Stanford secondary in 2012 simply can't be understated.
After allowing 7.3 yards per pass in 2011, a number which tied for 74th nationally, the Cardinal cut that number down to 6.1 yards this past season thanks in large part to the presence of Reynolds.
The 6'2'', 205-pound junior showed no signs of rust after sitting out the entire 2011 season with a knee injury. Reynolds totaled 47 tackles, including 28 solo stops, broke up five throws and intercepted six passes, three of which he returned for touchdowns.
Reynolds, the son of former Patriots linebacker Ed Reynolds, possesses the size, instincts, athleticism, intelligence and ball skills to develop into a difference-making defensive back in the NFL.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
At just 6'1'', 267-pounds, Will Sutton obviously doesn't possesses the size that NFL scouts look for in an elite defensive tackle prospect. Still, Sutton didn't let that stop him from causing plenty of chaos and havoc for opposing offenses in 2012.
The intimidating interior enforcer was a one-man wrecking crew.
After totaling just 3.5 sacks in his first two seasons combined, Sutton stepped up in a big way, totaling 12 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss, 40 solo stops, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles during his breakout junior campaign.
It was a performance that helped earn him the Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award.
The late Tillman would certainly appreciate the type of passion, toughness and non-stop motor that his fellow Sun Devil plays the game with.
Quarterbacks: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville*
2. David Fales, San Jose State
3. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
4. Brett Hundley, UCLA*
5. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M*
6. Kevin Hogan, Stanford*
7. A.J. McCarron, Alabama
8. Aaron Murray, Georgia
9. Marcus Mariota, Oregon*
10. Stephen Morris, Miami
Quarterbacks: 10 Seniors to Watch
Bryn Renner, North Carolina
Casey Pachall, TCU
Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Derek Carr, Fresno State
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Keith Price, Washington
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
Tyler Russell, Mississippi State
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Quarterbacks: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Andrew Manley, New Mexico State
Blake Bell, Oklahoma
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Brett Smith, Wyoming
Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
Cody Fajardo, Nevada
Devin Gardner, Michigan
Jeff Driskel, Florida
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
Running Backs: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor*
2. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon*
3. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona*
4. James Wilder, Florida State*
5. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin*
6. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
7. Silas Redd, USC
8. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska*
9. Adam Muema, San Diego State*
10. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State
Running Backs: 10 Seniors to Watch
Ben Malena, Texas A&M
Branden Oliver, Buffalo
Charles Sims, Houston
Damien Williams, Oklahoma
Dri Archer, Kent State
James White, Wisconsin
Jeff Scott, Ole Miss
John Hubert, Kansas State
LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State
Venric Mark, Northwestern
Running Backs: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Bishop Sankey, Washington
Brendan Bigelow, California
Devonta Freeman, Florida State
Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State
Jeremy Hill, LSU
Joe Bergeron, Texas
Kenny Hilliard, LSU
Storm Woods, Oregon State
Tre Mason, Auburn
Wide Receivers: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Marqise Lee, USC*
2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson*
3. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
4. Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State*
5. Cody Hoffman, BYU
6. Brandon Coleman, Rutgers*
7. Davante Adams, Fresno State*
8. Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss*
9. Mike Evans, Texas A&M*
10. DeVante Parker, Louisville*
Wide Receivers: 10 Seniors to Watch
Devin Street, Pittsburgh
Eric Ward, Texas Tech
Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
Kofi Hughes, Indiana
Mike Davis, Texas
Noel Grigsby, San Jose State
Ryan Grant, Tulane
Tevin Reese, Baylor
Wide Receivers: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Austin Franklin, New Mexico State
Brandon Carter, TCU
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Jarvis Landry, LSU
Kasen Williams, Washington
Kenny Bell, Nebraska
Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Rashad Greene, Florida State
Tight Ends: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington*
2. Jake McGee, Virginia*
3. Colt Lyerla, Oregon*
4. Justin Jones, East Carolina
5. Eric Ebron, North Carolina*
6. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech*
7. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
8. Blake Jackson, Oklahoma State
9. Xavier Grimble, USC*
10. Arthur Lynch, Georgia
Tight Ends: 10 Seniors to Watch
Asa Watson, NC State
Chris Coyle, Arizona State
Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
Gator Hoskins, Marshall
Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
Kaneakua Friel, BYU
Nehemiah Hicks, Texas A&M
Ted Bolser, Indiana
Trey Burton, Florida
Zane Fakes, Ball State
Tight Ends: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State
Ben Koyack, Notre Dame
Clive Walford, Miami
Jake Murphy, Utah
Jay Rome, Georgia
Kyle Carter, Penn State
Nick O’Leary, Florida State
Randall Telfer, USC
Richard Rodgers, California
Rory Anderson, South Carolina
Offensive Tackles: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
2. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
3. Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama*
4. James Hurst, North Carolina
5. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
6. Antonio Richardson, Tennessee*
7. Chaz Green, Florida*
8. Morgan Moses, Virginia
9. Seantrel Henderson, Miami
10. Cameron Fleming, Stanford*
Offensive Tackles: 10 Seniors to Watch
Austin Wentworth, Fresno State
Billy Turner, North Dakota State
Brandon Thomas, Clemson
Bryce Quigley, San Diego State
Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State
Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
JaWuan James, Tennessee
Jeremiah Sirles, Nebraska
Kenarious Gates, Georgia
Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
Offensive Tackles: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Aundrey Walker, USC
Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Brandon Shell, South Carolina
Brett Boyko, UNLV
Cameron Erving, Florida State
Eric Lefeld, Cincinnati
Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
Malcolm Bunche, Miami
Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
Interior Linemen: The Top 10 Prospects
1. David Yankey, Stanford*
2. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
3. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
4. Spencer Long, Nebraska
5. Anthony Steen, Alabama
6. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
7. Josue Matias, Florida State*
8. La’El Collins, LSU*
9. Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA*
10. Chris Burnette, Georgia
Interior Linemen: 10 Seniors to Watch
Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
Antwan Lowery, Rutgers
Brandon Linder, Miami
Mason Walters, Texas
Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
Ryan Groy, Wisconsin
Travis Swanson, Arkansas
Tyler Larsen, Utah State
Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Zach Fulton, Tennessee
Interior Linemen: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Austin Blythe, Iowa
B.J. Finney, Kansas State
Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern
Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
Marcus Martin, USC
Reese Dismukes, Auburn
Russell Bodine, North Carolina
Spencer Drango, Baylor
Trai Turner, LSU
Tre Jackson, Florida State
Defensive Tackles: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Louis Nix, Notre Dame*
2. Anthony Johnson, LSU*
3. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State*
4. Will Sutton, Arizona State
5. Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
6. Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech
7. Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina*
8. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
9. Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
10. Viliami Moala, California*
Defensive Tackles: 10 Seniors to Watch
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Ashton Dorsey, Texas
Bruce Gaston, Purdue
Bryan Jones, Arkansas
Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech
Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech
Khyri Thornton, Southern Miss
Roosevelt Nix, Kent State
Shaq Rowell, West Virginia
Travis Raciti, San Jose State
Defensive Tackles: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Angelo Blackson, Auburn
Brandon Ivory, Alabama
Danny Shelton Washington
Desmond Jackson, Texas
Ego Ferguson, LSU
Elkino Watson, South Florida
George Uko, USC
Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma
Leon Orr, Florida
Tyeler Davison, Fresno State
Defensive Ends: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina*
2. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame*
3. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
4. Kony Ealy, Missouri*
5. Dominique Easley, Florida
6. Morgan Breslin, USC
7. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State*
8. Kareem Martin, North Carolina
9. James Gayle, Virginia Tech
10. Trey Flowers, Arkansas*
Defensive Ends: 10 Seniors to Watch
Ben Gardner, Stanford
Cassius Marsh, UCLA
Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
Darryl Cato-Bishop, NC State
Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech
Deandre Coleman, California
Ed Stinson, Alabama
Garrison Smith, Georgia
Taylor Hart, Oregon
Tyler Scott, Northwestern
Defensive Ends: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Aaron Lynch, South Florida
Brock Hekking, Nevada
Deion Barnes, Penn State
Henry Anderson, Stanford
Giorgio Newberry, Florida State
Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama
Marcus Rush, Michigan State
Samuel Ukwuachu, Boise State
Scott Crichton, Oregon State
Vic Beasley, Clemson
Linebackers: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State*
2. Kyle Van Noy, BYU
3. CJ Mosley, Alabama
4. Anthony Barr, UCLA
5. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama*
6. AJ Johnson, Tennessee*
7. Christian Jones, Florida State
8. Jonathan Brown, Illinois
9. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
10. Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Linebackers: 10 Seniors to Watch
Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky
Anthony Hitchens, Iowa
Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Denicos Allen, Michigan State
Lamin Barrow, LSU
Max Bullough, Michigan State
Prince Shembo, Notre Dame
Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
Shayne Skov, Stanford
Trent Murphy, Stanford
Linebackers: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Alvin Dupree, Kentucky
Bryce Hager, Baylor
Carl Bradford, Arizona State
Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
Eric Kendricks, UCLA
Hayes Pullard, USC
Jake Ryan, Michigan
Jordan Hicks, Texas
Trey Depriest, Alabama
Yawin Smallwood, UConn
Cornerbacks: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida*
2. Bradley Roby, Ohio State*
3. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon*
4. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
5. Jason Verrett, TCU
6. Bene Benwikere, San Jose State
7. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
8. Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame
9. Quandre Diggs, Texas*
10. E.J. Gaines, Missouri
Cornerbacks: 10 Seniors to Watch
Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
Antone Exum, Virginia Tech
Bookie Sneed, Sam Houston State
Carrington Byndom, Texas
Ciante Evans, Nebraska
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
L.J. Jones, Fresno State
Marcus Williams, North Dakota State
Ricardo Allen, Purdue
Cornerbacks: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Bashaud Breeland, Clemson
Blake Countess, Michigan
Damian Swann, Georgia
Deion Belue, Alabama
Levander Liggins, Louisiana Tech
Marcus Roberson, Florida
Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State
Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
Tim Scott, North Carolina
Wayne Lyons, Stanford
Safeties: The Top 10 Prospects
1. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama*
2. Ed Reynolds, Stanford*
3. Craig Loston, LSU
4. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
5. C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
6. Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
7. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
8. Tre Boston, North Carolina
9. Kyshoen Jarrett, Virginia Tech*
10. Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
Safeties: 10 Seniors to Watch
Avery Patterson, Oregon
Brian Blechen, Utah
Christian Bryant, Ohio State
Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State
Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Hakeem Smith, Louisville
Isaiah Johnson, Georgia Tech
Jaylen Watkins, Florida
Sean Parker, Washington
Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
Safeties: 10 Underclassmen to Watch
Corey Moore, Georgia
Derron Smith, Fresno State
Erick Dargan, Oregon
Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky
Karlos Williams, Florida State
Sam Carter, TCU
Tevin McDonald, Eastern Washington
Tra’Mayne Bondurant, Arizona
Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama
The Top 30 Non-Eligible Prospects
1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
2. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
3. Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
4. TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama
5. Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia
6. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
7. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
8. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
9. Jalen Mills, CB, LSU
10. Max Tuerk, OL, USC
11. Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
12. Shaq Thompson, FS, Washington
13. Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas
14. Leonard Williams, DT, USC
15. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
16. Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
17. KeiVarae Russell, CB, Notre Dame
18. Josh Harvey-Clemons, SS, Georgia
19. Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
20. DJ Humphries, OT, Florida
21. Quinshad Davis, WR, North Carolina
22. Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia
23. Isaac Seumalo, OC, Oregon State
24. Tracy Howard, CB, Miami
25. Devin Funchess, TE, Michigan
26. John Theus, OT, Georgia
27. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
28. Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
29. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
30. Karl Joseph, FS, West Virginia