Projecting 8 College Football Players Who Will Soar Up NFL Draft Boards
Carson Wentz epitomized the term "late-rising prospect." The lead-up to the 2017 NFL draft will feature similar ascents—albeit not as meteoric.
Some college football players are stepping into larger roles this season or were overshadowed in the past, while a few others are established names who aren't yet consensus first-round talents. If the 2016 campaign goes as expected, though, that will change.
The list only includes draft-eligible prospects, although there is no guarantee the underclassmen highlighted will choose to forgo their final seasons of eligibility. But the following eight players could become darlings of the 2017 draft cycle.
Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
Throw on an Alabama tape. Odds are the player who most consistently stands out is Reuben Foster.
He's the definition of a thumper, but the 6'1", 240-pounder also has tremendous sideline-to-sideline speed. Foster notched 73 tackles, including eight for loss, last season, adding nine pass breakups and three quarterback hurries.
Don't overthink this one, NFL teams. Foster is a first-round pick.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
Cooper Kupp could've turned pro after the 2015-16 season. Instead, the receiver elected to return for his senior year at Eastern Washington.
Statistically, you won't find a better receiver. Kupp has 311 catches, 4,764 yards and 56 touchdowns heading into 2016. He's never had fewer than 93 receptions, 1,431 yards or 16 scores in any season.
But that's only against FCS competition, right?
Sure, but the 6'2", 205-pound target obliterated Oregon last season, snatching 15 passes for 246 yards and three trips to the end zone. He shredded Washington for an 8/145/3 line in 2014, too.
Kupp probably won't be taken ahead of JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC) or Mike Williams (Clemson), but a Day 1 or Day 2 draft slot for the small-school standout wouldn't be surprising.
Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
Caleb Brantley doesn't lack confidence.
"I think I'm the best D-lineman in the country," he said, per Zach Abolverdi of SEC Country. "I'm coming out to try and prove it."
The Florida standout has set massive expectations for himself. Although Brantley managed a seemingly pedestrian 29 stops (6.5 for loss, three sacks) in 2015, scoresheet production isn't what matters for defensive tackles.
A "character red flag" may follow Brantley, who was cited after not paying a bill at a bowling alley in July 2015. But former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston didn't pay for crab legs, and he ended up being the No. 1 overall pick. In other words, the concern level probably isn't high.
Especially not for a player of Brantley's caliber.
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
But the Wolverines have Taco Charlton, too.
He spent 2015 as a top reserve but still recorded 30 tackles. The 6'6", 285-pounder accumulated 8.5 stops for loss and 5.5 sacks, chipping in three quarterback hurries.
Scheme fit won't be a problem for Charlton, who has experience as a 3-4 edge-rusher and will contribute as a 4-3 defensive end this season. Another productive year will make him a Day 2 pick.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
If early mock drafts tell the proper story, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Miami's Brad Kaaya will be selected early in 2017. The biggest question for quarterbacks, then, is who NFL teams consider the third-best prospect.
Chad Kelly (Ole Miss) and Luke Falk (Washington State) have received some buzz. Gunner Kiel (Cincinnati) is an under-the-radar option to watch. But Mason Rudolph might even be better than Kaaya.
The potential frustration with Rudolph is Oklahoma State's offensive philosophy, which focuses on quick-hitting, high-percentage throws. He'll need to learn a more complex scheme in the pros.
Nevertheless, Rudolph is poised in the pocket and will pass the velocity threshold. He needs to continue improving accuracy, but that's practically a mandated criticism for college quarterbacks.
If Wentz was worthy of the No. 2 overall selection, there's little doubt Rudolph can be a first-round pick.
Saeed Blacknall, WR, Penn State
Penn State's personnel wonderfully suits new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's up-tempo spread offense.
Saeed Blacknall is a big reason why.
A 4-star recruit in 2014, Blacknall has managed just 18 catches for 343 yards and two touchdowns through two seasons. But the 6'3", 212-pound wideout should be the big-play threat in Moorhead's offense.
Blacknall has ideal size for a prospect and tantalizing upside. Now it's a matter of his consistent production. Blacknall could become the breakout receiver of 2016.
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA
Eddie Vanderdoes missed a majority of the 2015 campaign due to a torn ACL in his left knee. The injury was a massive disappointment, considering Vanderdoes' contributions during his lone appearance.
The defensive tackle racked up eight stops in less than four quarters of action. That's ridiculous.
When healthy in 2013 and 2014, the 6'3", 305-pounder earned honorable mentions for the All-Pac 12 team. Vanderdoes tallied 37 and 50 stops, respectively, totaling 10 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
As long as he's fully recovered, Vanderdoes will be an absolute terror to block next season.
Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Washington has quietly built a secondary that is loaded with NFL-caliber players. Budda Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones highlight a talented unit.
Jones—a 6'0", 180-pound cornerback—registered 46 tackles, 10 pass breakups, four interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a pair of defensive touchdowns last year.
Jones not only tracks the ball well, but he also doesn't fight the pigskin. In other words, the phrase "only a cornerback because he can't catch" doesn't apply to Jones.
Jalen Tabor (Florida), Adoree' Jackson (USC) and Desmond King (Iowa) will be the popular cornerbacks, but Jones shouldn't be far behind—especially if the Huskies defense performs as anticipated.
Do you have a favorite lesser-known player? Add your thoughts in the comments section.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.