A player's draft stock is very fluid. Prospects who are viewed as likely candidates to go early in the 2015 NFL draft could easily fade with a poor collegiate campaign. The opposite is true for breakout stars, who can see their status improve greatly in one year by finally catching the eye of talent evaluators.
That said, the players already generating some buzz for next year's draft certainly have the inside track when it comes to going early if they can maintain their trajectory. The spotlight will definitely follow them around throughout the season, though, increasing the pressure to perform at an elite level.
Draft rankings for the 2015 draft will continue to get altered over the next 12 months before a much clearer picture emerges. Let's take a closer look at a trio of players with a great chance to end up near the top of those final evaluations.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Petty posted monster numbers in his first season as Baylor's starter, as he threw for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also added over 200 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Those are terrific stats, regardless of the type of offense he plays in.
He could have thrown his hat into the 2014 draft, but the crowded top of the quarterback class would have made it a risk. Instead, he returns to the Bears with a chance to establish himself as the clear No. 1 player available. He wants to win a national title as well, as noted in comments passed along by Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News:
I didn't wait as long as I did to start and play one year and be done. I want to go for it all. I really think we can with this team. I think a national championship is not crazy. I don't think it's a dream. I think it's a reality we can get in [the College Football Playoff].
Petty has good size (6'3", 230 lbs) and has shown the ability to stand tall in the pocket to deliver strikes against pressure. Add in the fact that he illustrated good decision-making skills, and the tools are in place for him to become a star. His stock should soar if he shows further development as a senior this year.
Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford
Montgomery was a depth receiver throughout his first two seasons at Stanford. However, he was asked to take on a much bigger role as a junior last season, and he excelled. In a run-first offense, he led the Cardinal with 61 catches for over 950 yards and 10 touchdowns, which accounted for nearly half of the team's receiving-touchdown total.
Which of these players is the best NFL prospect?
The Texas native is a big (6'2", 215 lbs), strong receiver who uses those traits to take advantage of smaller cornerbacks. What makes him such an intriguing prospect is the fact he also has good speed to go along with his size. Stanford even uses him as a kick returner, and he took two back for touchdowns as a junior.
Teams in the NFL usually don't use their top receivers as full-time returners. That said, he could enter the league as a No. 3 option in the passing game while also playing a role on special teams before moving into larger offensive role once he gains experience.
Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Beasley is another prospect who could have entered the 2014 draft and gone in Round 1, perhaps even within the top 15. But with Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack emerging as the top-two options among a strong class of edge rushers, he decided to return to college with hopes of proving that he's the best rusher in next year's class.
He should be nothing short of a dominant force as a senior. He's racked up 21 sacks over the past two years at Clemson, and he took steps to become a more well-rounded player last season. 247Sports' Clemson feed noted that he was virtually unstoppable during the team's spring game:
Maybe they can make a rule today where Vic Beasley can’t rush. Only way the Orange team is going to advance the ball downfield.— Clemson247 (@Clemson247) April 12, 2014
In an era where rushing the quarterback is vital to success, defensive ends and outside linebackers are in high demand. Beasley is capable of playing either position, and barring a major drop in production next season, he should be among the first names read in next year's draft.
All stats and height/weight information courtesy of ESPN.com.