10 Most NFL-Ready Players Who Aren't Eligible for 2015 Draft
The NFL stipulates that in order for a player to be eligible for the draft, he must be three years removed from his last year of high school. Even if they took a redshirt, players from the 2012 recruiting class can declare for the 2015 NFL draft if they so choose, but players from the 2013 and 2014 classes cannot.
This rule has run into some problems in the past. Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett and former USC receiver Mike Williams tried to circumvent it (unsuccessfully) in 2004, and more recently, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney incited debate after dominating college football as a true sophomore in 2012.
The point being this: Every year, there are players who are ready to declare for the NFL but aren't allowed to because of their age. It's the truth. Whether that rule is fair or not is an argument for a different day; their existence, however, is undeniable.
To my mind, though, no player can be deemed NFL-ready before he's stepped on a real college football field—no matter how gifted he is physically. For purposes of this list, that means no true or redshirt freshmen have been included. LSU running back Leonard Fournette has been likened to Adrian Peterson, but I refuse to say he's ready to play against professionals before he's played in the FBS ranks.
That means this list is comprised entirely of true sophomores. These are 10 second-year players who, based on their physical profiles and freshman-year production, could probably stand to make the leap after this season and do fine. Their junior year will likely help them, of course, but it will not be absolutely vital to their draft stock.
Sound off below and let me know whom I missed.
Note: Unless otherwise cited, all recruiting info. courtesy of the 247Sports Composite.
RB Alex Collins, Arkansas
Alex Collins would not be able to play in the NFL if he was currently on a roster. The League demands too much pass-blocking, and Collins has not been asked to refine those skills so early in his career. But so is the case for almost every back who leaves college football, which does not make Collins unique. As a pure runner out of the backfield, he could move the chains against anyone.
DB Su'a Cravens, USC
Su'a Cravens started from Day 1 and became an impact player on one of the best defenses in America. Safety is a hard, nuanced position to learn at the NFL level, which is the only thing keeping him off this proper list—he could use a couple more years of live reps. But physically and as a playmaker, he is ready.
DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
The younger brother of Kyle Fuller, who was just drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears, Kendall had an outstanding true freshman season. He is advanced beyond his years in coverage—the likely result of his bloodlines—but could stand to mature physically and improve in run support before joining Kyle in the NFL.
DE Carl Lawson, Auburn
Carl Lawson plied his trade behind Dee Ford for most of last season, playing in a rotational role for the national runner-up. This year, he is being counted on to replace Ford's production in the starting lineup. The tools are all there for him to do so, he just needs more reps.
LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
Jaylon Smith was as good as advertised during his freshman season—and that was pretty darn good. He can get from sideline to sideline like few linebackers in the sport and should pique the interest of every NFL team in 2016. He needs to add some weight, however, to become a more complete prospect.
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Laquon Treadwell was used as a possession receiver at Ole Miss last season, ceding the vertical routes to junior Donte Moncrief. This year, he should be able to realize his full potential and become one of the best receivers in college football. Until he does, though, he remains on the outside of this list looking in.
DL Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Joey Bosa exploded at the end of last season, racking up 9.5 tackles for loss in the Buckeyes' final six games—a number that would put him on pace for 19.0 if he keeps it up during the 2014 regular season.
During that time, Bosa earned praise from Bleacher Report's Michael Felder, who called him a "revelation" playing the longstick in Ohio State's defense. And that might have even been an understatement.
I wrote at length about Ohio State's defensive line yesterday, and there is no need to rehash how much I enjoy watching it play. Led by Bosa, this group—which also includes All-Big Ten performers in Noah Spence and Michael Bennett—has a chance to be the best in America.
WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
Tyler Boyd was the best freshman wide receiver in the country last season—bar none.
And he should only get better now that Devin Street has graduated, and the duties of a no-doubt No. 1 receiver have fallen onto his plate.
Blessed with good size (6'2"), NFL length and enough speed to stretch the field vertically, Boyd finished his first FBS season with 85 catches, 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns, topping the 110-yard mark five times and the 80-yard mark in all but four of his games.
Don't be surprised if he puts up Marqise Lee-type sophomore numbers. Likewise, don't be surprised if he wins the Biletnikoff Award.
WR Stacy Coley, Miami
Like Tyler Boyd at Pittsburgh, Stacy Coley at Miami has an NFL frame (6'1"), good deep speed and did not need a year to develop before becoming a productive receiver in the ACC.
Coley's numbers are deflated compared to Boyd's—33 catches, 591 yards, seven touchdowns—but when he flashed as a true freshman in 2013, it was memorable. One could waste a good amount of time on a rainy Sunday afternoon watching his YouTube clips.
Coley is a natural glider: It looks like he is jogging when he's actually going full speed. The only way to tell how fast he is moving is by watching the distance swell between him and the defender in his dust.
DB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
It was a good season for cornerbacks in 2013, and Vernon Hargreaves III, a true freshman, might have been the best of the bunch.
The No. 3 overall player in the recruiting class, VHIII wasted little time justifying that ranking with three interceptions in the Gators' first four games. He would not record another pick for the rest of the season—but not because he was doing anything wrong.
Teams just decided to stop throwing at him.
At 5'11" with long arms and advanced mirroring skills in man-to-man coverage, Hargreaves III will show up on almost every Preseason All-American team in 2014 and should be a favorite for the Jim Thorpe Award.
LB Myles Jack
Myles Jack is a complete linebacker who can rush the passer, plug the gap and drop back in coverage.
And you know he can chase down a running back who's trying to turn the corner—mostly because he is, himself, a running back at UCLA.
In 2014, Jack should see far fewer carries than he did in 2013, focusing more on his defensive duties as the Bruins seek to replace Anthony Barr. Jack is a different player with a more compact frame, but he has a chance to make just as big of an impact.
There are few better athletes in the sport.
DL Chris Jones, Mississippi State
Dan Mullen and Mississippi State have quietly assembled a pretty good defense down in Starkville, and massive defensive end/tackle Chris Jones should be a centerpiece this upcoming season.
Coming out of high school, recruiting services agreed that Jones deserved 5-stars but did not agree on just how good of a prospect he was. He was the No. 18 overall player on the 247Sports Composite but the No. 2 overall player on the site's subjective rankings.
Despite not technically starting in 2013, Jones finished tied for the team lead with 7.0 tackles for loss and got better as the season went on. He is a mountain of a man (6'5", 300 lbs) who wears his weight well and plays with an encouraging motor.
Watch out for Jones as a breakout star in 2014.
DL Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
It was misguided but predictable when people compared Robert Nkemdiche to Jadeveon Clowney last offseason.
Both were the No. 1 overall recruit in their respective high school class, and both played defensive end. Let's compare!
But the two are completely different players.
Nkemdiche doesn't need to dart around the end on a pass-rush to be effective; he is better defending the run, using his size (6'4", 277 lbs) and deceptive speed to shoot gaps and make tackles up the middle.
That versatility has allowed Nkemdiche to oscillate between end and tackle and give Ole Miss some flexibility up front.
"He'll be listed as a defensive tackle, but we obviously have packages where, if we get into some of our odd stuff, you'll see him line up in 5-technique some," head coach Hugh Freeze told Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee. "His future is a 3-technique."
And that's where you will see him in the NFL.
DB Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
The new NFL craves versatile defenders—players who allow a team to be "multiple." Jalen Ramsey is as versatile as secondary pieces get.
He started the 2013 season at cornerback—becoming the first Seminole to start there in Week 1 as a true freshman since Deion Sanders—but moved to safety when injuries forced the unit's hand.
But he was just as good in his new role and should continue to be just as good this upcoming year. His frame may never be that of a Richard Sherman, but Ramsey knows how to use his body, covers well in the slot and in the deep third and loves to help in run support.
Even at this age, an NFL team could find a use for him.
DL A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Does that look like a sophomore in college?
Seriously. Check out that mean mug, that facial hair, that frame. A'shawn Robinson is a 19-year-old in an NFL veteran's body, and he plays with the technical skills of a man five years his superior.
Despite his youth, Bleacher Report's Michael Felder ranked Robinson the No. 22 player in all of college football last season, lauding his athleticism and his ability to separate from blockers.
B/R draft guru Matt Miller might have him down as a projected second round pick, but after 2014, I suspect that will change.
OT Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
Laremy Tunsil began last season as a swing tackle, but it became clear early that Hugh Freeze could not keep him out of the starting lineup.
He became the full-time starter at left tackle against Auburn and didn't look back, allowing only one sack in his true freshman year.
Typically, offensive linemen take the most time to mature and learn the position during college—i.e., they are the least likely to be NFL-ready before being NFL-eligible. But in the video above, Ben Garrett of Ole Miss Spirit calls Tunsil "probably the most physically gifted player Ole Miss has ever had," and his technical skills are not far behind.
He should be an organization-changing player at the next level.