Juniors Who Will Generate NFL Buzz During the 2013 College Football Season
College football juniors can sometimes be the best available NFL draft prospects. While seniors are thrown into the pool of talent each year due to graduation, juniors have a choice to either return to school or bolt for the next level if they are good enough.
And if that NFL draft stock begins to flash dollar signs, there's a good chance said player isn't returning to school. Every year, there are many juniors who generate so much buzz to the point of no return, and it's sure to happen again this season.
This year's list of players includes a remarkable cornerback from Ohio State, a flashy Clemson receiver and a non-BCS defensive end who could sneak into the first-round range.
Read on to find out who they are.
Note: Players who are listed as redshirt sophomores are included since they are technically three years removed from their high school graduation and are eligible to enter the NFL draft.
Dion Bailey, S, USC
Dion Bailey could have a similar stock rise as Tyrann Mathieu—only Bailey doesn't come with nearly as much baggage.
Their playmaking abilities are almost identical, though, as Bailey has six interceptions, three sacks and two forced fumbles in two seasons while playing outside linebacker and safety for USC.
Bailey is undersized at 6'0", 200 pounds to play linebacker in the NFL. However, his knack for making the big play and his experience playing in the box could make him a productive nickelback or hybrid player.
Bailey's ball skills and athleticism will translate into something big for an NFL defense.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
If the NFL draft was tomorrow, Washington's Bishop Sankey wouldn't be a top-five running back, for some strange reason. He'll either improve his stock tremendously this season or be an absolute steal in the later rounds for a lucky franchise.
Sankey is a natural runner who looks like he could one day become an NFL starter. He has great field vision, is patient and runs with remarkable balance. Sankey also has great hands, as he's hauled in 39 passes in two seasons.
The junior must do a better job in pass protection if he'd like to be one of the first backs taken. Even then, Sankey could have a Giovani Bernard-type rise with his draft stock.
Some will think he's the best runner in the draft, but he will probably slip down to the second round.
Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Antonio Richardson could play tackle in the NFL right now due to his immense size (6'6", 327 pounds). He should seriously consider changing his nickname, because he's not "Tiny" whatsoever.
Richardson has incredible strength to match that size, as he never gets overwhelmed by a pass-rusher, and he almost never allows inside penetration. He uses his hands well, displays great foot work and is also quite athletic for a guy of his size.
Richardson must improve his quickness off the ball in order to be considered a legit first-round prospect. With a little improvement, there's no doubt he'll be mentioned with other great offensive tackles such as, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio and
Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
It's obvious that Kevin Hogan is highly intelligent and has the confidence from his coaching staff, as he was thrown into the fire last season to replace former starter Josh Nunes.
Hogan also has an intriguing skill set, as he's a dual-threat quarterback at 6'4", 220 pounds. He's incredibly accurate and can fit the ball into tight windows. He also possesses above-average arm strength and shows impressive touch when needed.
Hogan also does a nice job of rolling out of the pocket and moving the chains with his legs. Last season, he had 15 runs of 10-plus yards.
The new Stanford quarterback must play a full season before NFL scouts are truly sold, but Hogan has the goods to be the next running quarterback that a team drafts early.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
USC's Marqise Lee is the best wide receiver in the nation and should be the first player at the position selected in the NFL draft next year. However, Sammy Watkins will put pressure on NFL front offices if he lives up to expectations and has a great season at Clemson.
Watkins can play in the slot or outside and is a threat to score anytime he has the ball. His top-end speed is elite, but he is also shifty and elusive in the open field, which makes him a nightmare for defenders. He also has impressive hands and doesn't mind going across the middle at 6'1", 205 pounds.
The Clemson playmaker has a Tavon Austin-feel to his game, and we are all aware of Austin being selected at No. 8 overall this past April. Watkins could surprise many scouts, though, by topping Lee and being the first receiver selected due to his versatility and big-play ability.
Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida
Aaron Lynch must prove he hasn't lost a step since sitting out last year after transferring from Notre Dame. If he is still the same player Irish fans fell in love with in 2011, the NFL draft community should watch out.
Lynch is a big player at 6'6", 244 pounds. He uses his long frame to bully offensive linemen and does a good job of getting his hands up and interrupting passing lanes. Lynch is also insanely athletic for his size and fires off the ball. He has an impressive bull-rush and does a nice job of driving through the ball-carrier.
South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt are the top defensive ends in the nation, but they will soon have company from a non-BCS player.
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State
Storm Woods is a poor man's T.J. Yeldon.
He has similar size at 6'0", 205 pounds, is a lot more physical than his size indicates and has great field vision. Woods also does a nice job of reading his blocks, finding the hole and exploding to daylight. He's shifty in the open field and has a second gear that he hits effortlessly.
Woods isn't going to make a lot of people miss, but he does have quick feet and can hit the homerun with his top-end speed.
Keep an eye on this Oregon State runner, because he's only going to get better in his second season.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Bradley Roby is already one of the bigger names eligible for the 2014 NFL draft, but there is a debate about who's the best cornerback in the country.
Is it Roby? Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu? Florida's Loucheiz Purifoy? How about Virginia Tech's Antone Exum?
Although the word "elite" gets thrown around too easily, Roby is an elite athlete. He has jaw-dropping close-in speed, can make plays in the backfield and is able to gamble in coverage due to his ability to recover in time. He always makes a play on the ball, and even though he's on the smaller side at 5'11", 192 pounds, Roby isn't afraid to make a play in run support.
If you aren't sold yet, Roby will establish himself as a top-10 pick with his play this season.
Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
Malcolm Mitchell hasn't had a chance to make a great impact at wide receiver. He was used on defense at times and was always playing second fiddle to former receiver Tavarres King.
But Mitchell has a chance to shoot up the draft rankings as a top-50 player and top-five wide receiver this season.
Mitchell can take the top off the defense and force the defensive coordinator to keep a single-high safety on the field. He has superb ball skills, athleticism and top-end speed. He gets off the line quickly, and his long strides allow him to create separation from the cornerback.
The two-way player will help stretch the defense in the NFL and could also be valuable on special teams. Mitchell could easily be a second-round pick with a terrific season as Georgia's No. 1 receiver.
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