College Players Who Could Start in the NFL Right Now
The 2014 NFL draft is just over 11 months away, but there are a number of prospects who should already be considered safe bets to be among the most highly rated in next year's class.
The following prospects aren't all hype and potential, however. This lists consists of only the most NFL-ready prospects who would already be starting in the NFL had they entered the 2013 draft.
Obviously a lot can change in a year, but as of right now these are among the safest prospects for the upcoming draft class.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater probably isn't the next Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but if EJ Manuel can compete for a starting job, it's safe to assume someone would have found room for Bridgewater had he been eligible for the 2013 NFL draft.
Bridgewater's athleticism makes him a perfect fit for the new offenses sweeping the league, and offensive coordinators in places such as New York and Arizona would likely love to have landed a player such as Bridgewater in this year's draft.
While he likely wouldn't take the league by storm, Bridgewater would be a capable starter immediately.
Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
It often takes time for rookie receivers to make an impact in the league, but prospects with Brandon Coleman's size (6'6") and speed cause mismatches immediately.
Coleman compares favorably to Brandon Marshall and would make an immediate impact as a red-zone threat.
Wide receiver-needy teams selecting in the late first round of the 2013 draft, such as the Ravens and 49ers, may have considered Coleman had he been available this year.
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt's ceiling may not be as high as some of the other prospects on this list, but he is a prototypical 3-4 defensive end and could start for a number of NFL teams right now.
With teams such as the Saints and Eagles making transitions on defense this past season, plenty of teams were in the market for immediate starters in the 3-4 defense this season, and Tuitt would have been a nice addition to the draft class.
There's relatively little for Tuitt to prove in 2013, and he should remain among the top prospects leading up to the 2014 draft.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Bradley Roby is one of the few prospects on this list who actually was eligible to enter the 2013 NFL draft. The junior would have been a likely first-round selection but elected to return to Columbus for another season.
Roby fits the mold of the shutdown corner perfectly, with just the right blend of size, speed and athleticism.
Teams such as the Lions, Buccaneers and Panthers certainly would have considered Roby and immediately plugged him into a starting role.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
These days, NFL teams want offensive playmakers in any shape or size, as evidenced by the Rams' selection of the diminutive Tavon Austin in the first round.
Sammy Watkins looks the part more so than Austin, but he brings the same playmaking ability to the table, which will make him an instant-impact receiver in the NFL.
With more teams spreading the field, there would be more than enough room for Watkins to get his fair share of touches if he were entering the NFL this year.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews may not have been as highly regarded as his former teammate Luke Joeckel had he entered the 2013 NFL draft, but a number of teams could have found a spot for him at either left or right tackle in their starting lineups this year.
Matthews, who started on the right side at Texas A&M in 2012, is expected to shift to the left side to take over for Joeckel this season, which could elevate his stock.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Considering where the top tackles went in the 2013 draft, Lewan has to be kicking himself for not bolting early for the NFL.
Lewan may have been in the discussion with Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel to go No. 1 overall and certainly would have come off the board in the top 10.
A tackle-needy team such as the Cardinals would have benefited from Lewan's presence in this year's draft, and he would have been plugged into an immediate starting role had he entered early.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney might be the Andrew Luck of defensive prospects.
A lot can change in one year, but it's difficult to envision Clowney's draft stock falling, barring a significant injury.
Had Clowney been eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, he would have been a top-five selection and a strong possibility for the Chiefs with the No. 1 pick.
Clowney's blend of size and athleticism compares favorably to Julius Peppers, and he should make a similar impact in the NFL from the day he sets foot on the field.