Most players playing college football are enjoying the last stop of their career and preparing for a future unrelated to sports. The lucky ones are honing their skills, not only for the benefit of their team, but to improve their 2012 NFL Draft stock as well.
Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson is assured an early-round selection, due to his strength and agility. Stanford Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck has been the near-consensus No. 1 pick for almost two years.
The big names at the big universities are not the only ones who will have an impact at the next level. Florida International wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been gaining publicity for his electrifying play.
The following slides will highlight 15 players sure to earn their living on Sundays.
When the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers met recently, there were possibly seven defensive backs on the field with NFL potential.
Dre Kirkpatrick is a part of that group. He has yet to record an interception this season, but that is more a reflection of opportunity as quarterbacks are wise not to throw to his side.
At 6'3'' and 192 pounds, he fits the modern trend of large cornerbacks to counter the big receiver in vogue, in the league right now.
The Michigan State Spartans have one of the stingiest defenses in the country. Jerel Worthy is the unquestioned anchor of that defense.
So much of what the other players on the defense are able to do is predicated on his presence. He not only makes his own plays in the backfield, but regularly occupies multiple defenders leaving linebackers with the required space to get involved.
He is 6'3'' and just over 300 pounds, so he isn't the biggest defensive tackle, but he always seems to be around the ball. Additionally, he is only a junior so he may add another year of seasoning before making himself eligible for the draft.
Yet, no one would blame him for leaving early.
T.Y. Hilton has had a seemingly quiet career, unless you follow college football closely.
The senior wide receiver is explosive and has sub-4.4 speed. Hilton not only has the ability to turn a quick slant into a 70-yard touchdown, but he returns kicks as well as anyone in the country.
His small size—5'10," 183 pounds—might scare off some. Teams would be foolish to pass over the game-breaker who has accounted for 34 career touchdowns and even thrown for one more.
Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson has been in the Heisman discussion since the beginning of the season, and rightfully so. The junior shows an extraordinary blend of speed and strength and projects better to the NFL than his predecessor, Mark Ingram.
He is explosive, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and 12.7 yards per catch. Richardson has compiled 20 combined touchdowns on 25 receptions and 204 carries.
His Heisman stock took a hit since he failed to get into the end zone against LSU. However, he still racked up 169 total yards and made one amazing play against a difficult defense.
Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd has NFL written all over him. He is 6'3," 224 pounds, and seemingly catches anything thrown within five yards of him.
The biggest concern regarding his future is his mental makeup. He was arrested for DUI in the offseason, but understands what he did wrong and is determined not to let mistakes undermine his potential.
If the above is true, he has the talent to be a key contributor in the league. He already held Notre Dame's record for career touchdown catches last season, before adding another seven this year.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers have been churning out first-round defensive picks for the past couple years and the trend will likely continue in 2012.
Much like Prince Amukamara before him, he will be the second cornerback off the board following a LSU product (to be discussed later). He has yet to record any interceptions this year, but had four the previous season.
He doesn't have the size of a Dre Kirkpatrick, but has great instincts. He is capable of making plays on the ball and you tend to notice when he is on the field.
Matt Barkley has been ascending up the draft board since the USC Trojans battle against the Stanford Cardinal. He matched Andrew Luck in everything but points and began to receive the national recognition he deserves.
USC as a team has flown under the radar because it isn't allowed to be ranked in certain polls and is ineligible for the postseason. The situation appeared be hurting Barkley's draft stock early in the season, but is not a factor anymore.
The upcoming game against the Oregon Ducks provides another excellent opportunity for him to impress on the big stage. The scariest thought for other Pac-12 members is that he has plenty of reasons to stay in school for his senior year, since the Trojans will be bowl-eligible and poised for a national title run.
Justin Blackmon is a monster of a wide receiver who plays bigger than his 6'1," 215-pound frame. His numbers are not completely artificially inflated because of the offense he plays in for the Oklahoma State Cowboys—he is just that good.
Last year, he caught 111 balls for 1,782 yards resulting in a staggering 16.2 average per catch. He has been compared to former—and current—Cowboy Dez Bryant, but appears to have a better head on his shoulders.
Some teams are squeamish about selecting a wide receiver high in the draft, but there is no way he slips out of the top 10 if he declares himself eligible.
Morris Claiborne is the Patrick Peterson to Alfonzo Dennard's Prince Amukamara. Claiborne was a game-changer in the LSU Tigers' win over the Alabama Crimson Tide, making a key interception late in the game.
Claiborne has contributed four interceptions so far this season, and had five last year. He has decent size at 6'1" and there are few concerns regarding his tackling.
He will continue the streak of LSU defensive backs selected in the top ten that Tyrann Mathieu is sure to extend in 2013.
Landry Jones is in a fight with Matt Barkley to be the second quarterback drafted this spring. At this point, he may be the next quarterback selected behind Andrew Luck, but it isn't clear that he should be.
Jones has amassed impressive numbers as you have come to expect from Oklahoma signal-callers. Yet, he continues to throw too many interceptions and has struggled in two of his last three games.
Jones will have a decent NFL career and cash in on his talent. It just hasn't been proven that he will be an elite quarterback at the next level.
It's been somewhat concerning how little national coverage Luke Kuechly, of the Boston College Eagles, has received. His team's lack of success has certainly been a factor, but once the season ends, prepare for plenty of talking heads to discuss the stud linebacker.
Kuechly has decent size at 6'3," 237 pounds, but lacks the athleticism that scouts prefer in the NFL. Hopefully, no teams will be dumb enough to pass him over because the man is a tackling aficionado.
Keuchly already has 168 tackles this season and will surely surpass the 183 he compiled last year. He makes a lot of sense for teams having trouble stopping the run.
USC Trojans standout offensive tackle Matt Kalil must be mentioned in any article talking about big-time talents ready for the NFL.
Kalil is widely regarded as the consensus top tackle on the board. Considering the premium placed on offensive tackles in the league, he will not have to worry about any checks bouncing for the next 20 years.
It is difficult to offer analysis of offensive lineman without being able to show you tape. However, the fact that Matt Barkley has only been sacked six times in 370 pass attempts should help to paint a picture.
If you have watched any Notre Dame games this season, you have surely noticed linebacker Manti Te'o. You probably had not heard of him before, but he stands out in the middle of the Fighting Irish defense.
He has better size than Luke Kuechly at 6'2," 255 pounds, meaning he will be able to handle NFL running backs. Yet, he doesn't have the consistency of Kuechly when it comes to tackling.
An intriguing talent who should be a first-rounder this year, but perhaps should come back for his senior year to become a top 10 pick in 2013.
Alshon Jeffery doesn't have the numbers this season he should as a dominant receiver in a Steve Spurrier offense. Don't let that color your opinion.
The South Carolina Gamecocks have endured quite a bit of adversity this year with the dismissal of starting quarterback Stephen Garcia. This has undoubtedly caused the drastic drop-off in production in Jeffery's numbers.
At 6'4," 229 pounds, Jeffery has ideal size to thrive in the NFL. He may not have elite speed, but he can go up and get the ball against any defensive back.
This list would not be complete without Andrew Luck. He is universally regarded as the next great quarterback and even has the Indianapolis Colts fanbase debating what they can receive for a Peyton Manning trade.
However, Phil Simms has voiced his concern about the hype surrounding the Stanford Cardinal quarterback. There inevitably will be others, but their concern is ill-founded.
Despite his possible Heisman-killing performance against the Oregon Ducks, he has all the tools that a NFL quarterback needs. He might not possess the canon of Brett Favre, but he has enough arm strength to excel due to his accuracy, poise and leadership.