With college football quickly approaching and the NFL season beginning in less than two weeks, there would appear to be no better time than the present to start talking 2014 NFL draft prospects—right?
Okay, so maybe it's a little premature, but for NFL draft junkies like you and me, the thought of football never truly leaves our minds.
After all, football is one of the only things we can count on year after year and is especially significant to Mid-Westerners like myself who depend on it annually to get us through those harsh winter months.
Yes, football holds a special place in nearly every red-blooded American’s heart—regardless of what time zone you find yourself in—so with just over 250 days until the 2014 NFL draft, why wait any later?
Heck, B/R's very own Matt Miller got the ball rolling earlier this week with his first 2014 NFL draft Big Board and I'm following suit.
However, instead of choosing the top 500 draft-eligible players, I'm focusing on a much more abbreviated and smaller group of individuals, listing who I believe are some of the top prospects that will disappear from first-round discussion by season's end.
If the NFL draft were held tomorrow, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd would likely find himself as one of the first or second signal-callers taken.
Nonetheless, and luckily enough for one NFL franchise, this is not the case.
Instead, Boyd and the Tigers kick off their season this Saturday night against Aaron Murray and the Georgia Bulldogs, in what is perhaps the one of the biggest games of the entire season.
However, perhaps a storyline even bigger than the game itself won’t be seeing which team ultimately prevails; but rather, seeing for the first time how Boyd performs without players like DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington at his disposal.
With both of these players having moved on to the NFL, Boyd now not only shoulders a much larger brunt of the load, but also possesses far fewer options outside of the explosive Sammy Watkins.
Now, certainly this is not to say the combination of these two cannot get it done. But seeing how much Boyd already struggles with progressions, and the fact that he works typically out of a one-read offensive system, should make for an interesting combination.
After all, due to his limited height (6’1”), Boyd's windows and throwing lanes are already shrunken, and taking away two of his best playmakers from last season will only amplify this weakness.
This season, if Clemson and Boyd are to be successful, it is imperative that he not only does a better job using his eyes, but also avoids the habit of locking into his primary target.
If he can improve on that, the sky is the limit and Clemson should go on to have a very successful season.
However, fail to do so and Clemson could very well be this year's version of the Virginia Tech Hokies—with Boyd playing the lead role of the ever-so-disappointing Logan Thomas from a year ago.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey's 2012 campaign can be summed up simply as a season that was wildly successful, yet largely unnoticed by many outside of the Pac-12.
For instance, not everyone would know that in 2012, Carey led the entire FBS with 1,929 rushing yards.
Furthermore, his 303 yards receiving also made his 2,232 total yards from scrimmage the most in college football last season and 15th most of all time, according to sports-reference.com.
Numbers like these are hard to ignore, yet not everyone has been so quick to jump on this playmaker's bandwagon.
Part of this could be the fact that Carey plays in a Rich Rodriquez system that exploits defenses by executing a fast-tempo, no-huddle offense.
Because of this, Carey's stats are likely somewhat overinflated as he saw more than his fair share of gaping holes and lanes to run through in 2012.
Nonetheless, what makes scouts and people like me question his NFL potential isn't just about his seamlessly perfect fit in Rich Rod's offense; but rather, his lack of maturity and propensity to remain healthy due to an upright running style that is further compounded by his frail lower body.
In 2013, scouts not only want to see if Carey has added thickness to withstand the repeated punishment and blows. But also if he has grown and matured after a string of off-field instances has his character and reputation in question.
According to an article earlier this year by Yahoo Sports' Kyle Ringo, Carey told a police officer to "Get the (expletive) out of my face," after being questioned about his and his cousin's tickets to a Wildcats basketball game.
And, if that wasn't bad enough, he also went a step further by adding, "Do you know who I am? I'm an All-American," according to the aforementioned article.
This, coupled with a rash of other off-the-field incidents (including disorderly conduct with his pregnant ex-girlfriend and driving without proof of insurance) has more than one person questioning his lack of maturity and sense of entitlement.
In order to expel these notions moving forward, Carey must now put in the extra work to prove to teams and scouts that he has grown both on and off the field since 2012.
Nevertheless, until that time comes when he can show that he is more than a straight-line runner with added character concerns, Carey should remain a player whose question marks far outweigh his perceived talent and ability as a potential first-round prospect.
Some of the players included on this list aren't on here because they aren't good enough players; they simply lack one or two important qualities that set them apart as premier players at their positions.
Notre Dame's defensive end Stephon Tuitt is one of these players.
Blessed with a wingspan that could challenge the length of the Golden State Bridge and the movement skills of a man much smaller than 6'6" 303 pounds, Tuitt is one of college football's most jaw-dropping athletes.
Perhaps even more impressive than his size and athleticism however, is Tuitt's versatility to play either inside or outside.
This type of versatility to occupy multiple positions is highly coveted in the NFL. But while his measurables are great, there is one thing that limits how much of a game-changer Tuitt can truly become.
By now, we all know that for defensive lineman, burst and explosion are perhaps the two most important qualities to possess. It's why things like 10-yard splits are analyzed and scrutinized so carefully at the annual NFL Combine.
For defensive ends this one category is paramount; and unfortunately for Tuitt, it is also one of his weakest areas of play.
Far too often Tuitt is one of the slowest off the line of scrimmage and is further hampered by having rather poor first-step quickness.
Now, certainly this doesn't mean he's incapable of rushing the quarterback—his 12 sacks last season dispel that very quickly.
Nonetheless, in the NFL where offensive tackles can match his length, power and athleticism, I fear that Tuitt will have an even harder time creating space and needed separation to get after the quarterback.
As I said earlier, that does not mean I don't think he can become a very good player.
In all honesty, as a five-technique in a 3-4 defense Tuitt should play for a very long time due to his ability to anchor on contact and play in space.
With that being said, I simply cannot buy into the first-round hype.
After all, players who possess that type of upside should be consistent 10-plus sack guys and expecting that of Tuitt on a year-to-year basis is rather wishful thinking.
The word "potential" has become a rather tiresome adjective used all too often by scouts when trying to describe a player's unique level of ability and upside.
A lot of times, this is based strictly on measurables and not so much on production. Other times, however, it can be exactly the opposite, where a player simply needs an opportunity before he can fully capitalize on his immense potential.
LSU's defensive tackle Anthony Johnson finds himself trapped somewhere between these two paradigms.
On one hand, Johnson is perhaps one of the most talented overall athletes the LSU program has ever seen—earning the nickname "The Freak" because of his insane physical tools and natural gifts.
On the other hand, however, Johnson is still very much a raw and inexperienced player at the college football level.
With only three starts to his name, Johnson is just now settling into a starting role after his first two seasons in Baton Rouge saw him concede playing time to former defensive line standouts Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan.
Hardly an indictment against Johnson, it is, however, concerning that many have been quick to peg No. 90 as a future first-round pick before he has even made an impact for more than one season.
Sure, Johnson's three sacks and 10 tackles for a loss on a part-time basis last year were impressive, but those stats hardly tell us the whole story.
Generally speaking, if Johnson is to live up to his lofty expectations there are still many things he will need to improve upon.
Most notably of which consist of playing with a more consistent pad level and developing a vaster array of pass-rush moves and counters.
Accomplish and improve in those departments and Johnson should be more than deserving of first-round status.
However, until that time comes, he's no more than a developmental prospect with a very high ceiling.