10 College Football Players Who Can Best Help Their NFL Draft Status in 2014
The 2015 NFL draft is nearly a year away. Naturally, now's the time to start talking about who could help their draft stock next spring.
America's out of the World Cup. What else are we to do? These are indeed trying times.
As you'll see, the players on this list are mostly highly regarded, but for one reason or another, have something that could hold them back in next year's draft. Maybe it was an off-field issue or a poor/injury-filled season in 2013. Or, perhaps a player just hasn't lived up to his potential.
The idea is that a big 2014 could alleviate any concerns and help that player's draft stock.
So which players could use a big season the most to help their draft stock in 2015? The answers are in the following slides.
TCU Defensive End Devonte Fields
Devonte Fields looked like the next great TCU defender in 2012 when he was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year by the conference's coaches.
Fields, who recorded 18.5 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks that year, was named the AP Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and selected to numerous All-American teams.
2013 wasn't nearly as kind to Fields. The then-sophomore was slapped with a two-game suspension prior to the start of the year for an undisclosed violation of team policy. He was later shut down for the season after undergoing foot surgery in October.
But Fields has the talent to make a major comeback in 2014 and possibly go in the first round, where CBSSports.com's Rob Rang has him. He's just too physically gifted and speedy for a pro organization not to be high on him. Fields just has to show he can stay healthy and improve what he already started.
Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston
Let's get one thing out of the way: Jameis Winston is probably a top-10 pick today.
He was probably one yesterday, for that matter. He could potentially go No. 1 overall as well. It's a matter of whether Winston declares for the NFL.
But the way Winston can ensure he's a top-tier draft pick next spring—if he does declare—is by doing two things: 1) maintaining his dominance on the field and 2) staying away from trouble off of it.
"He's on his way to falling out of the first round," one scout told Freeman.
Though the incident itself was nothing short of hilarious, Winston does need to show he can lay low and out of the headlines. Between that and the accusation of rape against him in 2012—Winston was not charged in the alleged incident—the redshirt sophomore does have some baggage.
Keeping his nose clean for an entire season would alleviate some character concerns some NFL scouts have about him.
Ex-Missouri Wide Receiver Dorial Green-Beckham
Speaking of off-field issues, former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham has had a few.
Green-Beckham has had two marijuana-related incidents in the past before allegedly pushing a woman down four stairs at an apartment building in April. The latter incident was enough to warrant a suspension and then dismissal by head coach Gary Pinkel, even though no arrest was made in the case.
Green-Beckham may not play football in 2014, though many would say that's a good thing if he needs to get his personal house in order. However, Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman reported last month that Oklahoma may have "marginal interest" in bringing DGB to Norman.
If Green-Beckham doesn't play football this season, his top priority is staying in shape and getting his life together. If he shows up for workouts next spring ready to go and with a new attitude, he can still have a good chance of being drafted.
The NFL, after all, is all about second chances. Or third chances. Or fourth chances.
Point being, Green-Beckham has shown he's talented enough to succeed in the league. He just needs to prove it's okay for a club to take a risk on him.
Georgia Running Back Todd Gurley
Georgia running back Todd Gurley is almost universally considered the best running back for the 2015 draft. In an age where the position has been devalued, Gurley could still very well be a first-round selection, as B/R's Matt Miller does.
Gurley has it all: size, speed, vision and pass-catching ability.
What he hasn't always been able to do is stay healthy. That's tough to do as a running back, where teams are moving away from bell-cow players like Adrian Peterson to multiple, situational backs.
Ankle and thigh injuries forced Gurley out of three games last season and it's the biggest thing standing between him and becoming a Heisman finalist.
If Gurley has another injury-filled season, concerns about his durability may become more pressing. If he can get through a year in the SEC relatively unscathed, those concerns could disappear quickly and Gurley's stock could really take off.
USC Wide Receiver George Farmer
There was a time when George Farmer was a 5-star recruit and the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the state of California.
But Farmer has yet to fully pan out for the Trojans. For his career, Farmer has five catches for 49 yards and five carries for 15 yards. He sat out all of last season with a knee injury.
Now a redshirt junior, Farmer is out to prove he can make a difference for USC's offense—and that he can be a contributor at the next level. He'll have an opportunity with the departure of Marqise Lee.
"I feel fast, fluid," Farmer said about spring practice, via Rahshaun Haylock of Fox Sports West. "Everything was positive just to see my leg being stable and holding up, so that's a good thing."
Farmer may not declare for the NFL draft even if he has a big 2014. He may need to prove he can do it two years in a row. But if he's going to be drafted at all, whether next year or in 2016, he has to up his productivity, starting this year. And significantly, too.
Maryland Wide Receiver Stefon Diggs
Despite missing the final six games of Maryland's season a year ago with a leg injury, wide receiver Stefon Diggs still finished second on the team with 34 receptions for 587 yards. Perhaps that says more about Maryland's passing offense, but there's no denying Diggs is an important playmaker.
Coming off the injury, Diggs has to prove he can pick up where he left off during his first season and a half with the Terps. A former 5-star recruit, Diggs is a dynamic player in the passing game and return game. But his injury has allowed him to take time to improve his route running. From Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post:
So good, in fact, that Diggs somehow feels faster at 90 percent on a rehabbed leg than he did on two full-strength ones before the injury. He dropped some weight, around four pounds. This loss, he said, has made him more nimble, able to hone what Coach Randy Edsall called his biggest need for improvement: running routes.
If Diggs comes back from his injury better than ever, he could prove he's one of the best wide receivers in the country. And that he's worthy of first-round consideration.
Michigan Quarterback Devin Gardner
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner may not be drafted at all next spring. He certainly doesn't show up across the top of mock drafts, or in the conversation among the best quarterbacks available.
But Gardner does have the physical tools (6'4", 218 pounds) to get at least a look by someone in the league.
With a new offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, Michigan's offense has to improve dramatically from the 87th-ranked unit it was a year ago. For Gardner, it also means taking command of the offense for good and beating out sophomore Shane Morris.
Because if Gardner can't stay healthy or gets replaced, his draft stock is all but officially kaput.
However, a breakout season coupled with impressive workouts could make him an intriguing late-round selection.
Georgia Defensive Back Damian Swann
Few defenders in the SEC—if any—need a bigger bounce-back season in 2014 than Georgia's Damian Swann.
Swann had high preseason expectations coming off a solid sophomore campaign in which he was a solid complementary defender to Bacarri Rambo. But, as a so-called "anchor" for the Bulldogs' defense in 2013, Swann struggled.
Damian, I'd say, is struggling right now. He's missed some tackles in the open field, and he's gotten beat on some coverages that have been tough on him. There have been some things that he has struggled with, but he's also made plays for us, as well. I think if you asked him, he'd tell you that he wants to perform better and he's working towards that.
Now a senior, Swann will have an opportunity to atone for what was a disappointing junior season. And an improvement may help him get drafted, too.
Alabama Guard Arie Kouandjio
The older brother of former Tide player Cyrus Kouandjio, Arie Kouandjio could actually be one of the better guards in the upcoming NFL draft.
He's athletic and moves well for an interior lineman. Recently, Kouandjio was named a preseason second-team All-American by Phil Steele.
For as long as he's been in college, Kouandjio just doesn't have a ton of starts to his name, though he came off the bench in 10 games in 2012. More than anything, Kouandjio has what looks like a ton of upside; he just needs more reps to improve his game.
But if he breaks out in 2014, his draft stock could skyrocket.
Baylor Defensive End Shawn Oakman
There aren't many other ways to say it: Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman is a freak. That is truly meant in the most complimentary way possible so please don't tackle us.
Oakman, a Penn State transfer towering at 6'9" and 275 pounds, had 12.5 tackles for loss last season—but just two sacks and another pair of quarterback hurries. Those numbers are perplexing for a guy with his kind of speed off the snap.
Oakman's athleticism alone will make him a surefire NFL prospect. But he also has to be more disruptive off the edge against the pass. With so many new faces on defense, he may be asked to become a leader quickly. The potential is there, so 2014 can be a monster year for Oakman.
But he has to take those next steps.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.