The pigskin watch never stops, and pro football now turns the focus to the college ranks in advance of May's NFL draft. Draft stocks will soon be rising and falling as much as the Dow Jones over emerging market concerns. These five players shined enough in college to earn them first-round status, but for multiple reasons they have "bust" written all over them.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is so exciting to watch that he's fully earned the nickname "Johnny Football," and he started the new trend of freshman quarterbacks winning the Heisman. Yet, when I watch Manziel play, I cannot help but be overwhelmed by the feeling that his brash runs and quirky decision-making will not fly in the NFL.
Take his two-game stretch in November where he threw five interceptions to six touchdowns, the second game being a 34-10 smothering at the hands of LSU. That sunk his Heisman hopes, and it should ding his draft stock as well.
Football is a team sport, so it's hard to pass out the blame for the Aggies' four losses last season, but at least they took care of Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, giving Manziel two bowl victories in two years.
Manziel is only 6'0", but Russell Wilson is the Super Bowl champ, so let's throw that out. Still, he only weighs 200 pounds, and he won't want to be scrambling around like a mad hatter when he's got malicious professionals eager to deliver a taste of the NFL.
Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick are huge guys, but Johnny Football will look like a puny freshman starting high school next to them. Picking Manziel could continue Cleveland's QB woes, so the Browns may want to opt for Blake Bortles from UCF and let the buzzier Johnny Football slide.
Projected pick: Cleveland Browns, No. 4 (the suffering continues)
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Staying in College Station, Jake Matthews is the son of Hall of Fame guard Bruce Matthews, so you know the kid has a football pedigree, but that could over-inflate his draft stock. Will Jake play at the skill level of his cousin, Clay Matthews, the Green Bay Packers linebacker, or will he be more like benched Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews?
As an illustration of the debate over Matthews and the offensive tackle position, CBS (using NFLDraftScout.com) ranks him first overall. That is, over every other player. ESPN's Scouts Inc. grades him as third overall but behind Auburn OT Greg Robinson. He might not slide down to the Tennessee Titans picking 11th, and he could end up an Atlanta Falcon at No. 6.
He'll be a very high pick regardless, but some general managers just about want to put him in the Hall of Fame before he's even played a snap in the NFL.
As Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com noted: "A look at the different scouting reports out there on Matthews shows two consistent concerns. The first is that he lets his 'pads rise after initial contact' and that he tends to over extend himself." Maybe spend that top-10 pick elsewhere.
Projected pick: Tennessee Titans, No. 11 (his dad's franchise)
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee piled up over 2,800 yards and 25 touchdowns between 2011 and 2012, and he took home the 2012 Biletnikoff Award. He's a sizzling playmaker with great speed and acceleration. But he's also a high-risk, high-reward selection.
Lee has had problems staying healthy, and in 2013 he came in shy of 800 yards and scored just four touchdowns in 11 games. He's not a big wideout at 6'0" and 195 pounds, and big NFL safeties and linebackers will be touching him up over the middle. They are much bigger than Pac-12 players.
There are some who think Lee is a can't-miss player and the best WR in the draft, but others remember the litany of USC receivers to fail in the NFL including Dwayne Jarrett, Keary Colbert, Steve Smith (not the Carolina Panther), Damian Williams and Mike Williams.
Projected pick: New York Jets, No. 18 (because they still need receivers)
Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
He was a game-changing presence at times in the heart of the Irish defensive line with his size—6'3", 340 pounds—and he has the athleticism to challenge almost any blocker. However, his play was not consistent, and he showed signs of fading into the background when frustrated.
Selecting Nix would be a gamble depending on what position he's taken. ESPN and CBS each have him in the top 20, but the latter has him as the best defensive tackle unlike ESPN, which favors Timmy Jernigan from Florida State. This might be a good time to add that Nix underwent season-ending meniscus surgery in November.
Young guys with knee issues tend to be a bad investment.
Possible pick: Green Bay Packers, No. 21 (to teach him the B.J. Raji shuffle)
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
Loucheiz Purifoy probably should have come out last year before his value dipped. The Gators got eaten up by numerous offenses during the year, and that has sent Purifoy's stock spiraling. ESPN ranks him at 23rd, the third-best cornerback in the draft. CBS has him at 69th, the eighth-best cornerback. He's got the athleticism to change games, but he lacks the every-down consistency.
Purifoy has decent size at 6'0" and 190 pounds, and he can lay down a hit like nobody's business. Florida lost to Vanderbilt at home on Nov. 9, something that had not happened since 1945. Then the Gators fell 26-20 to Georgia Southern for their first loss to an FCS team ever.
Neither loss was Purifoy's fault, but it's hard to be too high on a player from a defense that dropped the last seven games. He showed flashes of potency but recorded just 24 tackles, and Florida struggled against the run.
Still, he would make a sensible project for some team if it's willing to absorb the risk. Jason Verrett from TCU and Lamarcus Joyner of Florida State are likely to be available, too.
Projected pick: San Diego Chargers, No. 25 (because the Chargers are so thin at corner)