The 2014 NFL draft is now officially behind us, and while many people will gratefully take some time off from evaluating and discussing college football prospects, for others the clock is now ticking toward the 2015 NFL draft.
For myself, full-scale evaluations won't begin until just before the 2014 college football season begins in August. But some preliminary work never hurts, and I've used it to compile my first big board for next year's draft class.
This initial list is pretty heavy with skill positions—four quarterbacks, four wide receivers and two running backs are in the top 25, and only three defensive players are in the top 10.
Remember, this is not a mock draft in any way; it is merely my own ranking of the best draft-eligible college prospects in 2015.
1. *Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Mariota was rising very quickly up draft boards over the winter before he announced his intention to remain at Oregon. He has unbelievable athletic ability and became a better thrower and pocket passer as the year progressed.
2. *Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
Peat was the best offensive lineman on Stanford's outstanding line as a sophomore in 2013. He is incredibly long at 6'7" and has more than enough athleticism to be a stalwart left tackle in the NFL. Still a little bit raw, Peat can improve his draft stock immensely with a bit more development.
3. *Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Still a relatively unknown commodity at this point, Gregory started his college career at Arizona Western, a community college in Yuma, Arizona. Gregory was a football and basketball star in high school and showed off some unbelievable athleticism in his first year at Nebraska in 2013. His size (6'2", 235 lbs) and quickness off the edge will grab scouts' attention.
4. *Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
I don't think we really know what we are in for in 2014 with regards to Winston. He's a phenomenal talent, but is he NFL-ready? He makes some great plays, but does Florida State's offense cover up his weaknesses? Also, is he mature enough to handle the pressure of being a professional? Be ready for all those questions, and more, over the next 12 months.
5. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
This may be a lot higher than other people have Scherff, but he's a legitimate top talent at left tackle. He might be the most polished player in this entire draft class, and he will get even better after choosing to go back for his senior year at the offensive line factory that is Iowa.
6. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
A long, athletic, playmaking corner with a nose for the football, Ekpre-Olomu would have been a first-rounder had he come out this year. There's no doubt that he will be one of the best defensive players in the nation as a senior in 2014.
7. Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
As a former defensive tackle who only converted recently to the offensive line, Erving was sensational in 2013 in only his second season as a left tackle. There's a whole lot to like about the trajectory of this prospect's career.
8. Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson
Beasley spent 2013 terrorizing quarterbacks, and he'll only get better and stronger in 2014. His size (6'2", 235 lbs) lends itself more to playing as a 3-4 OLB in the NFL, and I think he'll spend less time with his hand in the dirt this year.
9. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
Ogbuehi is the big upside pick for next year's draft. He's a great pass-blocker because he has quick feet and long arms, but there's a lot of seasoning still left to be done.
10. *Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
People were all over the board about Hundley as a prospect over the winter, but nearly everyone was in agreement that he made a smart decision by going back to school. He's got a tantalizing combination of arm strength and athleticism, and he will push Mariota and Winston for the top quarterback spot in next year's class.
11. *Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Collins was almost as good as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2013, and he could easily get drafted higher than his former teammate in next year's draft. He is a strong player in both run support and pass protection.
12. *Nelson Agholor, WR, Southern California
Agholor is similar in some ways to Marqise Lee, who slipped to the second round of the 2014 draft, but he doesn't have the consistency issues that Lee had. He's already got big-time experience and is a smart player who does a bit of everything.
13. *Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
It's really difficult for me to separate Cooper and Agholor, who are both juniors with exceptional talent. Cooper may have a bit more upside, as he's a more natural athlete and can create plays after the catch.
14. *Leonard Williams, DE/DT, Southern California
Williams is a big run-stopper who is going to fill a 4-3 defensive tackle or 4-3 defensive end role, depending on how he develops as a junior in 2014. He's got a good mix of strength and quickness on the inside.
15. *Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
The monstrous Oakman will not remain in the shadows for very long. At a chiseled 6'9", he's an absolute force off the edge. After a tumultuous first few years in college, Oakman has finally settled in at Baylor and has the potential to dominate.
16. Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami
Perryman is sort of next year's version of C.J. Mosley. He doesn't do any one thing exceptionally well, but he's very athletic and versatile on the inside and will be a solid NFL player for years.
17. *Dorial Green-Beckham, WR
What to do with Green-Beckham? He has all the physical ability in the world, but his recent off-field issues have put a big damper on his future after being dismissed from Missouri's team. We'll have to wait and see what happens here, but his stock has already taken a major hit.
18. *Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Calhoun is a freak of nature athletically. He's got good size (6'4", 257 pounds), but his quickness and bend around the edge is deadly. He needs to get a little stronger at the point of attack, but his upside is massive.
19. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Petty isn't quite in that elite class of quarterbacks, but he's got the arm of a gunslinger and the mentality of a game manager. This combination helps him excel in a spread offense like Baylor's, and Petty would do well to operate in a similar offense in the NFL.
20. *Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
If you're looking for the next Adrian Peterson in this draft, Gurley is your guy. He's 6'2" but has the quickness of a 5'9" sprinter. The only things holding him back are injury concerns.
21. *Hroniss Grasu, OC, Oregon
A bit of a random name to some, Grasu was one of my favorite offensive linemen for the 2014 draft before he announced that he was going to return to Oregon. He's got a warrior's mentality and battles like crazy on the interior line despite being more of an athlete than a bruiser.
22. La'el Collins, OT/G, LSU
Collins was a dominant run-blocker at guard in 2012, but he switched to left tackle in 2013 and was equally as good. Look for him to have another great season and be a first-round prospect next year.
23. *Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Waynes is a long, well-rounded cornerback who will remind a lot of people of his former teammate Darqueze Dennard on the field in 2014. Look for him to take a big step forward this year.
24. *T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
There have now been two straight drafts without a running back being selected in the first round, but Yeldon (along with Gurley) will look to change that in 2015. Yeldon is a very quick and feisty player who should dominate in 2014 for 'Bama.
25. *Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Diggs is hands-down the most explosive player in this draft. At 6'0", 195 pounds, he is bigger than guys like Tavon Austin and De'Anthony Thomas, and he's so quick and elusive that he'll draw a lot of interest as long as he produces for the Terrapins.
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