CFB Stars Who Will Need to Change Positions to Succeed in the NFL

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2017

CFB Stars Who Will Need to Change Positions to Succeed in the NFL

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    Does Jalen Hurts fit as a quarterback at the next level? Good question.
    Does Jalen Hurts fit as a quarterback at the next level? Good question.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Many athletes who play college football do so with one big idea in mind: making the NFL and making money playing the game they love.

    It's a driving force in how they push themselves to improve and develop while in college, but at times, that journey requires a detour before its final destination.

    There's no denying that college football and the NFL are different games. The college game has become more offense- and spread-oriented, while the NFL still leans largely on more balanced, traditional schemes. That makes it hard for some players to fit in the league, at least in the positions they play in college.

    Here's a look at a number of high-profile players who will likely need to change positions to thrive in the NFL, with an eye toward their skill sets and how they will fit in the professional ranks.

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts

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    Jalen Hurts is set as Alabama's quarterback, but where does he fit in the NFL?
    Jalen Hurts is set as Alabama's quarterback, but where does he fit in the NFL?John Bazemore/Associated Press

    What he is now

    Jalen Hurts surprised some observers last fall by claiming Alabama's starting quarterback job as a true freshman, but he showed he was more than ready for the role. He threw for 2,780 yards with 23 touchdowns against nine interceptions and was also the Crimson Tide's second-leading rusher, going for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns.

    He led the Tide to the national title game, and his 30-yard touchdown run with 2:07 left looked like the game's biggest play until Clemson's Deshaun Watson led a last-second touchdown drive to seal a stunning win.

    However, Hurts slumped as a passer down the stretch, completing only 20 of 45 passes in two College Football Playoff games. He had one 300-yard passing game, throwing for 347 yards and four touchdowns in a 51-3 rout of Mississippi State.


    What he must become

    Hurts stands 6'2", 218 pounds, and while he'll likely put on some weight during the course of his college career, he is a bit light by NFL standards. He also must improve his accuracy against top defenses, although it will be interesting to see how he develops under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

    While he has a firm grip on Alabama's starting quarterback role, he is not a top NFL quarterback prospect. Hurts' quickest path to a professional career is as a wide receiver. He could make a smooth transition from throwing passes to catching them and have a long NFL career.

Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

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    Lamar Jackson is a dynamic talent, but is quarterback his best fit in the NFL?
    Lamar Jackson is a dynamic talent, but is quarterback his best fit in the NFL?John Raoux/Associated Press/Associated Press

    What he is now

    Lamar Jackson is one of the most electric talents in college football.

    He broke out in a huge way as a sophomore as Louisville's starting quarterback, throwing for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions and rushing for 1,571 yards and 21 scores on the ground. He won the Heisman Trophy while bedeviling ACC defenses, making things happen with quick legs and a solid throwing arm.

    He projects as one of the game's best players again, even after slumping at season's end in losses to Houston, Kentucky and LSU.


    What he must become

    Although Jackson is a spectacular talent, it's unclear exactly where he fits in the NFL. He is an explosive, big-play runner, but his passing is still developing.

    Bleacher Report NFL draft analyst Matt Miller does not have him as a top-50 prospect for the 2018 draft, and told Steve Jones of the Louisville Courier-Journal that his value might be limited in a pocket-passing friendly league.

    "I think it can be frustrating for fans because they see a guy like Lamar have so much success as an open-field runner and you kind of wonder why the NFL just doesn’t let him do what he’s great at," Miller said. "But you can't expose a quarterback to those kind of hits, and the NFL is designed to be a quick-strike passing league, and you want a guy who plays to those strengths.”

    Jackson is 6'3", 206 pounds and an athletic prospect. He would have to learn routes, but his skill set and speed makes him an intriguing prospect as a wide receiver. Whether NFL teams feel that way is another story entirely.

LSU DE Arden Key

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    LSU DE Arden Key is a game-changing defender.
    LSU DE Arden Key is a game-changing defender.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    What he is now

    If he is fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, LSU junior Arden Key should be one of the nation's best defensive players. He is an excellent pass-rusher who frustrates opposing offensive lines with an excellent blend of speed, power and big-play ability. A year ago, he had 56 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.


    What he must become

    At 6'6", 238 pounds, Key is somewhat slight as a defensive end. He is an edge-rusher who thrives on making impact plays in opposing backfields. It would be easy for him to switch to an outside linebacker spot, which is likely his NFL destination. He has the potential to be a special player at the next level.

    Even so, he will likely have to put on a little weight to become more durable and productive for an pro defense.

N.C. State DE Bradley Chubb

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    Bradley Chubb is a dynamic end for N.C. State's defense.
    Bradley Chubb is a dynamic end for N.C. State's defense.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    What he is now

    North Carolina State had another almost-but-not-quite season last fall, pushing Clemson and Florida State hard before losing both games and finishing with a 7-6 mark. Head coach Dave Doeren and the Wolfpack hope for much more this fall, and they'll need another big season from senior defensive end Bradley Chubb to do so.

    Chubb was a dominant force in the trenches last fall, making 21.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. He will be one of the nation's top defensive linemen in 2017.


    What he must become

    The NFL loves versatile players, and Chubb is a talented edge-rusher. But to get the most value out of his 6'4", 275-pound frame, he could fit in best as an outside linebacker who occasionally lines up with his hand down on passing downs.

    It makes great sense to transition Chubb to the outside, where he can terrorize quarterbacks and running backs in the flat with equal intensity.

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett

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    J.T. Barrett will play a huge role for Ohio State's offense this fall.
    J.T. Barrett will play a huge role for Ohio State's offense this fall.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    What he is now

    If Ohio State makes another run to the College Football Playoff, J.T. Barrett will be at the center of it all.

    A young Buckeye team rode his leadership to a playoff berth a year ago, and he'll provide a needed veteran presence again this fall. Barrett can hurt defenses with his arm and legs, and he threw for 2,555 yards with 24 touchdowns against seven interceptions in 2016 while also rushing for 845 yards and nine touchdowns.

    Barrett should be the Big Ten's best quarterback and, with a talented roster around him, he could be a Heisman Trophy candidate again in 2017.


    What he must become

    Barrett is a good college quarterback, but he hasn’t developed much since bursting on to the scene as a freshman in 2014. In fact, his numbers have regressed from that campaign, when he threw for 2,834 yards with 34 touchdowns against 10 interceptions in 12 games vs. 13 last fall.

    His prospects as an NFL quarterback are marginal; it was no surprise when he returned for his senior season. To carve out an NFL career, Barrett will likely have to follow the path blazed by Braxton Miller, entering his third season with the Houston Texans.

    Barrett has the athleticism to fit in as an NFL wide receiver. It likely won't happen this fall, but he should work on his pass-catching skills, as he already has the body to succeed there at the next level.

Pitt WR Quadree Henderson

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    Quadree Henderson is one of the nation's most versatile talents.
    Quadree Henderson is one of the nation's most versatile talents.Fred Vuich/Associated Press

    What he is now

    Pitt is trying to make its way to the top of the always-competitive ACC Coastal, and getting a big year from Quadree Henderson is important.

    Henderson is listed as a wide receiver, but he contributes in a number of ways for the Panthers. He was a consensus first-team All-American as a kick returner last fall. He returned four kicks (three kickoffs and a punt) for touchdowns and averaged 30.5 yards per kick return (leading the nation in kick-return yardage) and 15.8 per punt return.

    Henderson is an exciting player who scored touchdowns as a runner, receiver and on kick and punt returns, and he will be a key piece of head coach Pat Narduzzi's plans in 2017.


    What he must become

    Henderson is a receiver, but he was actually Pitt's second-leading rusher last fall, carrying 60 times for 631 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 10.5 yards per carry.

    He was actually less productive as a receiver, making 26 catches for 286 yards and a touchdown. He has impressive skills, but they might be best employed as a change-of-pace back, which would fit his 5'8", 190-pound frame.

South Florida QB Quinton Flowers

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    Charlie Strong inherited an explosive talent in Quinton Flowers.
    Charlie Strong inherited an explosive talent in Quinton Flowers.Butch Dill/Associated Press

    What he is now

    Quinton Flowers is one of the best college football players you haven't heard of. A year ago, he led South Florida to an 11-2 record and put up big numbers, throwing for 2,812 yards with 24 touchdowns against seven interceptions and completing 62.5 percent of his passes. He was also the Bulls' leading rusher, piling up 1,530 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground.

    Flowers is an athletic, explosive player who will be the centerpiece of new coach Charlie Strong's fast-paced offense and is a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate. The Bulls should be one of the best Group of Five teams, and the versatile quarterback will play a big role.


    What he must become

    Flowers is listed at 6'0", 210 pounds, which is small by NFL standards. He has excellent athleticism and speed, but he might be a better runner than a passer. He has the frame to fit in well as an NFL running back, much like former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

    He will put up eye-popping stats as a quarterback this fall, but imagine him as a running back/receiver hybrid running jet sweeps and throwing the occasional pass. It's a solid way for him to bloom as a professional.