25 College Football Juniors Who Should Think Twice Before Declaring for NFL
This is about that time of the college football season when the rumors of who is leaving early for the NFL start to heat up.
As juniors, players will face the ultimate decision: finish up a degree or leave early for NFL glory.
For some, that decision is made rather easy due to phenomenal collegiate careers. But for others, that decision is clouded by either underwhelming 2013 campaigns, injuries or lack of experience.
All in all, there will be a lot of second-guessing going around this holiday season.
Join B/R as we take a look at college football juniors who should take some time to weigh their options before making the jump to the NFL.
All stats and rankings are courtesy of Cfbstats.com.
LB A.J. Johnson (Tennessee)
2013 Season Stats: 106 tackles (8.5 for loss), 3 passes broken up
Compared to last season, Vols linebacker A.J. Johnson has had a relatively quiet 2013 campaign. Still, the junior finished third in the SEC in terms of tackles.
However, defensive coordinator John Jancek feels that Johnson could benefit from another year in Knoxville, via NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread.
Jancek is not too far off with his critique. Johnson struggled against quicker running backs and still could work on his lateral speed.
Given the high optimism for what head coach Butch Jones can do with Tennessee in his second year, it might be a good idea for Johnson to stick around.
An NFL career is his regardless of when he comes out.
RB Karlos Williams (Florida State)
2013 Season Stats: 86 CAR, 705 YDS, 11 TD
While quarterback Jameis Winston steals all the hype for the Seminoles, the team’s rushing attack deserves some of the credit too.
One of those contributors is running back Karlos Williams.
Given the committee-like approach that Florida State has taken in the backfield, the junior’s numbers won’t amaze you. But he’s done a lot with the carries he’s given, averaging an impressive 8.2 yards per carry.
However, if Williams sticks around in 2014, he could be the go-to-back for the Seminoles.
That’s because the team’s leading rusher and third-leading rusher Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. might be leaving early for the NFL, via 247Sports.com’s Chris Nee.
With more carries, one can only imagine how much success Williams would have on the ground.
QB Sean Mannion (Oregon State)
2013 Season Stats: 66.0 CMP%, 4,403 YDS, 36 TD, 14 INT, 146.8 RAT
Through seven games, quarterback Sean Mannion had the Beavers at 6-1 and inside the Top 25.
Many saw the junior as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, as he had thrown 29 touchdowns to just three interceptions at that point. However, as Oregon State crumbled—the team lost its final five games—so did Mannion.
After a bright start, the Pleasanton, Cal., native only threw seven touchdowns to 11 interceptions during the Beavers’ final five games.
Did opposing teams finally figure Mannion out? Was his hot first half just a fluke?
All of this has thrown doubt around his ability.
With the possibility that Fred Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks could return, it would be in Mannion’s best interest to do the same.
His stock can only go up after his late-season collapse.
RB Jordon James (UCLA)
2013 Season Stats: 96 CAR, 525 YDS, 5 TD
Nobody had a more disappointing season than Bruins running back Jordon James.
After much preseason hype, the junior got off to a blistering start. He rushed for 424 yards and four touchdowns during the team’s first three games.
Behind James’ play, UCLA came out averaging 53.0 points per game.
However, the Corona, Calif., native suffered an ankle injury against Utah in Week 5 and was never the same. He missed the majority of seven of the Bruins final eight games, only rushing for 62 yards on 22 carries (2.8 YPC).
UCLA suffered without him, losing three games without James in the lineup.
With quarterback Brett Hundley likely leaning to entering the NFL, James is made the primary offensive threat for the Bruins next season.
If he can succeed, James’ stock would skyrocket for the 2015 draft.
WR Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss)
2013 Season Stats: 53 REC, 825 YDS, 5 TD
Wide receiver Donte Moncrief was a key asset for the Rebels passing attack in 2013.
The junior showcased potential to be a big-play receiver, having some of his biggest performances against the team’s toughest opponents. Moncrief had four 100-yard performances this season—three came against Top 25 opponents.
But at the same time, the Raleigh, Miss., native showed some inconsistency, failing to top 50 yards of receiving five times.
Not to mention, Moncrief never lived up to his 2012 stat line that saw him catch 66 passes for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns.
With Ole Miss losing second-leading receiver Ja-Mes Logan to graduation, more balls will be thrown Moncrief’s way.
That’s an opportunity he should not pass up.
RB De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon)
2013 Season Stats: 93 CAR, 581 YDS, 8 TD; 20 REC, 222 YDS, 1 TD
Prior to the 2013 season, running back De’Anthony Thomas was supposed to be a key factor in the Ducks offense.
Through the team’s first three games, he was. The junior racked up 338 yards and six touchdowns on just 42 carries during that span.
Unfortunately, Thomas left Oregon’s Week 5 win over California with an ankle injury.
The injury sidelined the Los Angeles, Calif., native for the next three games. And when he returned, he never really seemed to regain his footing.
Thomas finished with just 243 yards and two touchdowns over the Ducks’ final five games.
Those aren’t the kind of numbers that make NFL teams drool. In fact, SI.com’s Chris Burke listed Thomas as an “NFL Draft faller” in one of his November columns.
With quarterback Marcus Mariota and several Oregon playmakers coming back next season, the team’s offense is expected to be just as explosive.
It might be a good idea for Thomas to return and end his collegiate career on a high note.
QB Devin Gardner (Michigan)
2013 Season Stats: 60.3 CMP%, 2,960 YDS, 21 TD, 11 INT, 146.1 RAT; 165 CAR, 483 YDS, 11 TD
The expectations were high for both the Wolverines and quarterback Devin Gardner in 2013.
Unfortunately, both ended up being disappointments. Michigan dropped five of its last seven while Gardner’s season could be summed up in one word: inconsistent.
Although the junior had his high moments—accounting for a school-record 584 total yards of offense and five touchdowns—Gardner also had his lows. He failed to complete at least 56 percent of his passes six times this season.
Most importantly, Gardner has failed to show he possesses the ability to lead a team.
With another year under his belt, the Detroit, Mich., native should return to Ann Arbor and try and put together a better showing in 2014.
WR Antwan Goodley (Baylor)
2013 Season Stats: 67 CAR, 1,319 YDS, 13 TD
After two years of being buried in the depth chart, wide receiver Antwan Goodley had somewhat of a breakout year in 2013 for the Bears.
The junior was easily quarterback Bryce Petty’s favorite target. He topped the century mark in eight games while finding the end zone in all but two.
However, with much of the Baylor offense set to return, it might be beneficial for Goodley to return to Waco next season.
With doubts that his production is just a product of the Bears’ offensive system, Goodley certainly will have a lot to prove.
He could also do better not to be shut down against NFL-ready cornerbacks next season. TCU’s Jason Verrett held Goodley to just 12 yards on one catch in the team’s Week 14 matchup.
The young wideout still has a lot to learn.
RB Storm Johnson (UCF)
2013 Season Stats: 193 CAR, 1,015 YDS, 11 TD
Running back Storm Johnson has been impressive for the Knights this season.
So much so, that the junior is expected to declare himself eligible for next year’s draft, via Yardbarker.com.
But that might not be the best decision for Johnson. Especially in what is building up to be a loaded running back class.
Although Johnson showcased the potential to be a top running back, he never really had a breakout game. The Loganville, Ga., native only topped the century mark four times this season and his season high for yards is just 127.
Not to mention, Johnson seemed to struggle at times against some subpar defenses.
Most likely a Day 2 selection in the draft, it would be in his best interest to return and boost his stock into a first-round selection.
QB Taylor Kelly (Arizona State)
2013 Season Stats: 62.9 CMP%, 3,510 YDS, 28 TD, 11 INT, 143.1 RAT; 148 CAR, 473 YDS, 8 TD
The Sun Devils were one of the biggest surprises in 2013. The team was just a win away from being crowned Pac-12 champions.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly was a large part of that success.
Whether it was through the air or on the ground, the junior found ways to make opposing defenses pay. Behind his play, Arizona State had no trouble averaging a little more than 40 points per game over the second half of the season.
However, after throwing 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions through eight games, Kelly began to cool off. As a result, the Eagle, Idaho, native tossed just five touchdowns and three interceptions over the Sun Devils’ final five games.
Whatever the case, Kelly only stands to improve his draft stock with a consistent 2014 campaign.
RB Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska)
2013 Season Stats: 254 CAR, 1,568 YDS, 8 TD; 26 REC, 232 YDS, 2 TD
The Cornhuskers haven’t had too much to smile about this season. However, the play of running back Ameer Abdullah is the exception.
Throughout the year, the junior has made opposing defenses look foolish. He has rushed for over 100 yards in all but two games while also being a threat in the passing attack.
But what Abdullah lacks, and what most NFL-quality running backs possess, is the knack for finding the end zone.
After scoring five touchdowns during Nebraska’s first five games, Abdullah only scored three over the final seven.
With a matchup against one of the top running backs in the country, Todd Gurley, during the team’s bowl matchup with Georgia, Abdullah can prove he deserves to be considered among the best.
But still, another year is the most beneficial move for the young rusher.
TE Jace Amaro (Texas Tech)
2013 Season Stats: 98 REC, 1,240 YDS, 7 TD
Tight end Jace Amaro has had a fantastic season for the Red Raiders.
The junior has emerged as the top playmaker for the team’s quarterbacks this year. He’s displayed the ability to both make the tough catch and find the end zone.
However, Amaro lacks the bulk and experience that could make NFL teams take a shot at reaching for him.
With another year in Lubbock, and a more consistent option at quarterback, Amaro should only improve his gaudy statistics in 2014.
It would be pretty impossible for scouts to ignore a second-consecutive 1,000-yard performance from the San Antonio, Texas, native.
DE Ryan Mueller (Kansas State)
2013 Season Stats: 61 tackles (18.5 for loss), 11.5 sacks, 4 fumbles forced
Initially a walk on, defensive end Ryan Mueller has had a huge impact on the Wildcats defense.
The junior has constantly put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He specifically came up big in key wins over Texas Tech (3.0 sacks) and in a close loss to Baylor (2.0).
Thanks to Mueller’s contributions, Kansas State was able to hold the Bears to a season low (at the time) in points.
But although his 2013 season was impressive, it would benefit Mueller to return to Manhattan and build on his success.
One season gets a player on the map. But it’ll take another year of consistent play to have Mueller seen as a top NFL prospect.
RB Lache Seastrunk (Baylor)
2013 Season Stats: 141 CAR, 1,060 YDS, 11 TD
As the Bears piled up yards and put up points in bunches, nobody benefited more than running back Lache Seastrunk.
The junior began the season racking up 589 yards and six touchdowns on just 53 carries during the team’s first four games. Furthermore, he topped the century mark in seven of Baylor’s first eight contests.
But then Seastrunk suffered an injury, missed two games and failed to top 100 yards over the final month of the season.
It all left his 2013 campaign with a sour taste.
With quarterback Bryce Petty set to return next year, it could be best for Seastrunk to do the same. His stock couldn’t hurt from another year in the backfield of one of the nation’s most dominating offenses.
QB Braxton Miller (Ohio State)
2013 Season Stats: 63.2 CMP%, 1,860 YDS, 22 TD, 5 INT, 157.9 RAT; 153 CAR, 1,033 YDS, 10 TD
Although he began the season as a Heisman Trophy contender, Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller never really lived up to the hype early on.
It certainly didn’t help that he missed the majority of three of the team’s first four games. Furthermore, the junior never really switched into gear until Ohio State’s final six contests.
Over that span, Miller tallied all 10 of his rushing touchdowns while topping 140 yards of rushing in each of the last four games.
However, the Huber Heights, Ohio, native struggled at times with passing the ball. Although his touchdown-to-interception ratio remained in tact, Miller failed to complete at least 45 percent of his passes in three of the final four contests.
We all know Miller’s mobility makes him a pain to defend, but it would be in his best interest to return to Columbus for another year and work on his passing.
WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (LSU)
2013 Season Stats: 57 REC, 1,117 YDS, 8 TD
The Tigers had the good fortune to have one of the nation’s top receivers in Odell Beckham Jr.
After catching 43 passes for 713 yards and two touchdowns in 2012, the junior has made immense strides this season. Opposite teammate Jarvis Landry, the duo gives LSU one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches in the passing attack.
However, with the possibility of Landry leaving for the draft, Beckham Jr. should seize the opportunity to be the lone go-to-guy for the Tigers.
Not to mention, he had a pretty quiet end of the season, failing to score a touchdown against LSU’s last five FCS opponents while being held under 75 yards of receiving in each game.
Another year will certainly boost Beckham Jr.’s stock.
RB Jeremy Langford (Michigan State)
2013 Season Stats: 269 CAR, 1,338 YDS, 17 TD; 23 REC, 140 YDS, 1 TD
Without running back Jeremy Langford, it’s unlikely that the Spartans would be Big Ten champions right now.
In an offense that averaged just 29.8 points per game, the junior offered a significant boost to the unit, helping Michigan State wrap up 2013 with nine consecutive wins. All eight of his 100-yard performances this season came during that span.
But given his slow start and small sample of work, Langford’s talent will still be questioned by many NFL scouts.
If he returned for another season, Langford would be listed as a running back to watch in 2014. Moreso, the Wayne, Mich., native would easily be considered a Heisman Trophy contender.
If he can put up back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, who could doubt Langford’s ability?
QB Blake Bortles (UCF)
2013 Season Stats: 68.1 CMP%, 3,280 YDS, 22 TD, 7 INT, 163.3 RAT; 79 CAR, 179 YDS, 5 TD
The Knights wouldn’t be having the season they’re having if it wasn’t for the play of quarterback Blake Bortles.
Whether it’s his athleticism or his accurate passing, the junior has helped pick up the team when it needed him most. Specifically, Bortles came up big in a late comeback victory over Temple, 39-36, on Nov. 16—he threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns in that game.
However, Bortles still has trouble making multiple reads and telegraphing his throws.
If he came out now, he would most likely be seen as a developmental prospect.
Bortles would be better off making the most of another full year of playing time and getting himself ready for the NFL before the draft.
WR Allen Robinson (Penn State)
2013 Season Stats: 97 REC, 1,432 YDS, 6 TD
After a sensational 2012 campaign, Nittany Lions wide receiver Allen Robinson had yet another impressive season in 2013.
The junior became the go-to-guy for freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He topped the century mark eight times this year.
However, Robinson had a shortage of touchdowns.
His total of six is five less than what he brought in last season. Furthermore, after finding the end zone five times during Penn State’s first five games, Robinson only scored once over the final seven.
While a lot of that has to do with inconsistency on Hackenberg’s part, it’s worth mentioning that the freshman threw 12 touchdowns over those last seven games.
All in all, with Hackenberg being another year wiser, it could only benefit Robinson, and his stat line, to return.
RB Bishop Sankey (Washington)
2013 Season Stats: 306 CAR, 1,775 YDS, 18 TD; 25 REC, 298 YDS, 1 TD
There was a time when many considered the Huskies’ Bishop Sankey as the best running back in the nation.
The junior was certainly deserving of the honor, displaying fierce running and a knack for finding the end zone—he’s scored a touchdown in all 12 of Washington’s games this season. Furthermore, against ranked opponents, Sankey took his game to another level.
In back-to-back contests versus Stanford and Oregon, the Spokane, Wash., native combined for 292 yards and four touchdowns on 55 carries.
However, he also showed signs of struggle against tough run defenses. More specifically, Sankey was held to 22 yards on 13 carries against Arizona State and 91 yards on 27 carries against UCLA—both losses.
The biggest question mark surrounding Sankey is his poor vision and lack of a second gear.
In a class that is deep at running back, it might be in his best interest to wait another year.
WR Willie Snead (Ball State)
2013 Season Stats: 97 REC, 1,429 YDS, 14 TD
Ball State’s passing attack has benefited from having wide receiver Willie Snead.
The junior has been a consistent threat and finished No. 4 in the nation in receiving yards. Furthermore, he wrapped up the season by finishing with 90 yards of receiving or more in each of the Cardinals' final nine games.
But is Snead really this good or is he just a beneficiary of Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning?
While he has the stat line, Snead is only 5'11". Not the typical height you’d want from an NFL-ready receiver.
With Wenning graduating, returning could seem like a bad option. However, if he can succeed under a new quarterback, it will showcase that Snead’s success is more from his natural ability and not from the style of offense the Cardinals run.
DL Vic Beasley (Clemson)
2013 Season Stats: 36 tackles (19.0 for loss), 12.0 sacks, 4 fumbles forced, 1 fumble return (TD)
Defensive lineman Vic Beasley really made a name for himself in 2013.
The junior was a large reason for the Tigers’ early-season surge—the team raced out to a 6-0 record and No. 3 in the polls. He had 12.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks and two fumbles forced during that span.
Since then, Beasley began to struggle.
With Clemson fading to obscurity in the second half of the season, Beasley did much of the same. He only recorded 7.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks over the team’s final six games.
Beasley certainly has the potential to be great, but he’s going to have to showcase some consistency.
Returning for another season is the best option.
QB Bryce Petty (Baylor)
2013 Season Stats: 61.8 CMP%, 3,844 YDS, 30 TD, 2 INT, 179.2 RAT; 83 CAR, 192 YDS, 11 TD
For most of the season, Bears quarterback Bryce Petty was a leading Heisman Trophy contender.
He was an instrumental piece to a Baylor offense that had lit up the scoreboard at will on the way to a 9-0 start. Not to mention, the junior led all of college football with a passer rating of over 200.0.
However, that’s when things began to crumble as the Bears would eventually get clobbered by Oklahoma State, 49-17, in Stillwater.
To make matters worse, the usually reliable Petty struggled with accuracy. In fact, he failed to complete at least 60 percent of his throws in each of Baylor’s final five games.
If you recall, this is the same guy who completed more than 66 percent of his passes in five of the team’s first six games.
Petty has wisely decided to return to Waco next season according to KWTX’s Ricardo LeCompte.
If he’s smart, he’ll keep it that way.
WR Brandin Cooks (Oregon State)
2013 Season Stats: 120 REC, 1,670 YDS, 15 TD; 28 CAR, 188 YDS, 2 TD
There’s no doubt Beavers wide receiver Brandin Cooks is one of the best receivers in the nation. He has the Fred Biletnikoff Award to back that claim up.
However, it wouldn't be wise for the junior to make the jump to the NFL.
According to The Portland Tribune’s Kerry Eggers, many NFL scouts see Cooks going somewhere around the third round. If he can put another stellar season under his belt in 2014, he could easily get himself up to first-round potential.
With a potential of 19 starters returning for Oregon State next year, the team looks to be even better than 2013. It wouldn't be too far-fetched to believe that the team could compete in the Pac-12.
Such attention would only make Cooks look better overall as a pro prospect.
RB Tre Mason (Auburn)
2013 Season Stats: 283 CAR, 1,621 YDS, 22 TD; 11 REC, 121 YDS
Nobody has had a hotter second half than Tigers running back Tre Mason.
After a slow start, the junior has absolutely dominated over the last five games. He’s accounted for more than half of his yards (868) and 13 touchdowns during that span.
But while those numbers are impressive, some NFL general managers wonder if Mason’s success is just a product of Auburn’s system, via NFL.com’s Albert Breer.
The Palm Beach, Fla., native did struggle early on. He topped the century mark just once in his five games.
Especially given what should be a really deep running back class in the draft, it could benefit Mason to go back to school and showcase his talent over a full season.
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