The 2014 NFL Draft was billed as the most talented in decades but if an extraordinary group of skill-position stars make the pro jump early, the class of 2015 could prove just as rich.
Four quarterbacks, including top-rated prospect Marcus Mariota and defending Heisman winner and national champion Jameis Winston, are the obvious head-liners. They aren't the only skill-position players sure to catch scouts' attention. The NFL's recent aversion to selecting running backs in the first round could get tested with a trio of backs among this year's elite talents. Fear not though, traditionalists, the line of scrimmage is once again well-stocked.
Much will change between now and the first pick of the 2015 draft. As it stands now, however, these are the top 32 NFL prospects in college football.
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, 6-4, 215, 4.52, rJr, Oregon - Questions of effort dogged Jadeveon Clowney throughout his road to the No. 1 overall pick a year ago and critics are just as likely to rely upon the spread offense Mariota stars in as a way to knock holes in his game. Like Clowney, Mariota is blessed with rare athletic tools for his position. He has a strong, accurate arm and staggering straight-line speed and, though he's rarely credited for it, good awareness and instincts for the position, as well.
2. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, 6-5, 300, 4.98, rSr, Texas A&M - Former Aggies Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews were the second and sixth overall picks over the past two years and Ogbuehi has more talent than either of them. He's stood out at right guard and right tackle the past two seasons but his long arms and nimble athleticism have always projected him best to left tackle, where he'll be starting for the first time as a senior. If he makes the transition as easily as expected, he'll prove the elite talent in yet another strong class of blockers.
3. Leonard Williams, DE, 6-4, 290, 4.88, Jr, Southern Cal - The Daytona Beach, FL native has been a standout in the Pac-12 from the start, earning the conference's Defensive Freshman of the Year honors two years with 64 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks at defensive tackle and again last year with similar numbers at defensive end (74-13.5-6). The game seems to come easy for Williams, whose unique blend of size, athleticism and power, could make him a legitimate candidate for No. 1 overall should the young quarterbacks falter.
4. Randy Gregory, DE, 6-5, 255, Jr, 4.76, Nebraska - The 'Huskers hit a home run in the JUCO ranks with Gregory, who exploded for 66 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks during his first season of FBS football. Gregory needs to play stronger against the run but possesses all of the traits scouts are looking for in a pass rusher, including an explosive get-off, flexibility, long arms and active hands and tenacity.
5. Jameis Winston, QB, 6-4, 235, 4.83, rSo, Florida State - Boasting the build, touch and on-field composure of an NFL pro already, Winston looks every bit the part of a top five selection. He doesn't come without questions, however, including well-documented off-field issues, as well as a slower-than-ideal release and questions from some scouts as to how much he's aided by the spectacular supporting cast around him.
6. Brandon Scherff, OT, 6-5, 315, 4.93, rSr, Iowa - Powerful, tenacious and technically-sound, Scherff may just prove the best in the long line of NFL linemen tutored by Kirk Ferentz.
7. Landon Collins, SS, 6-0, 215, 4.53, Jr, Alabama - Collins only emerged as a starter for the Tide last year but his agility, speed and explosiveness as a hitter already has the NFL buzzing.
8. Shilique Calhoun, DE, 6-4, 257, 4.72, rJr, Michigan State - Calhoun earned the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season (37 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks), his first as a starter. He isn't yet as strong as his frame suggests but has the burst, balance and bend scouts covet on the edge.
9. Vic Beasley, OLB, 6-2, 235, 4.58, rSr, Clemson - With pressure on the quarterback priority No. 1 on defense, teams are more willing than ever to trade size for speed off the edge. Like recent "undersized" but first round rushers Von Miller, Bruce Irvin, Barkevious Mingo and Dee Ford, Beasley boasts a lightning-quick first-step and the agility to stalk mobile quarterbacks.
10. Todd Gurley, RB, 6-1, 232, 4.52, Jr, Georgia - As a resident of the greater Seattle area I don't take comparing any back to Seahawks' star Marshawn Lynch lightly, but Gurley runs with a combination of balance, burst and unabashed power that screams Beast Mode.
11. P.J. Williams, CB, 6-0, 190, 4.48, Jr, Florida State - Williams will have to prove he's as just as effective in 2014 without the terrific safety tandem of Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks but he's fluid, fast and physical.
12. Sammie Coates, WR, 6-2, 201, 4.36, rJr, Auburn - Coates' production (48 receptions for 1,016 yards and nine touchdowns) pales in comparison to others throughout the country but he's a freakish athlete just scratching the surface of his potential.
13. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, 5-10, 185, 4.46, Sr, Oregon - Instinctive, athletic and tough in run support, Ekpre-Olomu has stood out in the pass-heavy Pac-12 throughout his career. He doesn't possess the frame scouts would prefer but the tape doesn't lie.
14. Brett Hundley, QB, 6-3, 227, 4.64, rJr, UCLA - Hundley isn't yet as refined in the pocket as Mariota or Winston but he's every bit their match in terms of raw tools and has steadily improved throughout his career.
15. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, 6-5, 225, 4.49, rJr, Oklahoma - The character concerns which prompted Green-Beckham's transfer from Missouri will certainly require investigating but there is no denying his blend of size, acceleration and ball-skills. The skill-set is so rare, in fact, that DGB is likely to earn first round consideration in 2015 even if the NCAA rules the junior ineligible to play this year.
16. Andrus Peat, OT, 6-6, 312, 5.28, Jr, Stanford - Peat possesses remarkable quickness and agility for a man of his size. With improved power and a nastier disposition on the field, he could leap to the top of the tackle rankings.
17. Shaq Thompson, OLB, 6-2, 231, 4.56, Jr, Washington - Since signing with the Huskies as a prep safety, Thompson has grown into a true three-down linebacker, maintaining his agility, speed and open-field tackling skills while improving his strength.
18. Devin Funchess, TE, 6-5, 230, 4.73, Jr, Michigan - Funchess doesn't offer the bulk and power of a traditional tight end but split out wide in a Jimmy Graham role, his speed, strong hands and incredible body control makes him a legitimate mismatch for linebackers and defensive backs.
19. Marcus Peters, CB, 6-0, 198, 4.52, Jr, Washington - Peters is a highly aggressive and physical press corner who enters his junior campaign with eight career interceptions and a knack for playing well against top competition.
20. Melvin Gordon, RB, 6-1, 207, 4.52, rJr, Wisconsin - No one is better at churning out running backs than the Badgers and Gordon offers as much juice as any of them, showing agility and breakaway speed to go with good size.
21. Lael Collins, OT, 6-5, 315, 5.12, Sr, LSU - Collins doesn't get the national attention of other tackles in this class but the big man is surprisingly agile in pass protection and is a mauler in the running game.
22. Mario Edwards, Jr. DE, 6-3, 294, 4.88, Jr, Florida State - A powerful and coordinated athlete with the build and skill-set to help inside or out along the defensive line, Edwards looks poised to enjoy a breakout campaign.
23. Mike Davis, RB, 5-9, 216, 4.52, Jr, South Carolina - Davis isn't as flashy as the two backs listed ahead of him but his naturally low center of gravity, terrific leg drive and quick burst make him a fire hydrant on wheels.
24. Cameron Erving, OT, 6-5, 320, 5.16, rSr, Florida State - Erving initially played defensive tackle for the Seminoles but successfully made the switch to left tackle in 2011. He is understandably a work in progress in pass protection but is aggressive, long and light on his feet.
25. Kevin Hogan, QB, 6-4, 228, 4.72, rJr, Stanford - While clearly not the same pinpoint passer as predecessor Andrew Luck, Hogan offers many of the traits scouts look for in a franchise quarterback, including a strong, accurate arm, stout frame and natural scrambling ability.
26. Dante Fowler Jr., DE, 6-3, 266, 4.84, Jr, Florida - A talented pass rusher with experience at outside linebacker and all over the defensive line, Fowler is an intriguing athlete with range and flexibility. He led the Gators with 10.5 tackles for loss in 2013 and with improved strength and recognition, could easily surpass those numbers this year.
27. Amari Cooper, WR, 6-1, 205, 4.56, Jr, Alabama - Cooper has great agility and first-step acceleration to generate big plays but needs a healthy junior season (and less drops) to solidify his first round status after a disappointing sophomore campaign.
28. Carl Davis, DT, 6-4, 315, 5.24, rSr, Iowa - A classic two-gap nose guard or five-tech defensive end, Davis is broad, powerful and almost impossible to move off of the line of scrimmage.
29. Spencer Drango, OT, 6-5, 315, 5.10, rJr, Baylor - Drango is lighter on his feet than his square-ish frame suggests and is balanced, powerful and savvy. His recovery from back surgery and the struggles of past Baylor offensive linemen in the pros could make him one of the more highly scrutinized offensive linemen this fall.
30. Noah Spence, DE, 6-3, 252, 4.68, Jr, Ohio State - Teams are always willing to gamble on athletic pass rushers and Spence offers the blend of size, agility and strength to build upon a breakout sophomore campaign in which he led the Buckeyes with eight sacks.
31. Josue Matias, OG, 6-6, 331, 5.32, Sr, Florida State - The second representative on my Board of the best offensive line in college football, Matias, set to start his third year at left guard, has height of a tackle and agility of a tackle but the power and nastiness scouts prefer on the interior.
32. Shawn Oakman, DE, 6-8, 275, 4.92, rJr, Baylor - Shockingly athletic given his imposing frame, Oakman registered an eye-popping 12.5 tackles for loss last year as a reserve - quite a feat considering that it was his "rookie" season. Oakman sat out his first two years of college football due to a redshirt (2011) and transfer from Penn State (2012).
Just missed the cut:
Ty Montgomery, WR, 6-2, 215, 4.42, Sr, Stanford
Gabe Wright, DT, 6-2, 285, 4.98, Sr, Auburn
Josh Shaw, CB, 6-1, 195, rSr, Southern Cal
T.J. Yeldon, RB, 6-2, 218, 4.46, Jr, Alabama
Michael Bennett, DT, 6-2, 288, 4.96, Sr, Ohio State
Trae Waynes, CB, 6-1, 183, 4.53, rJr, Michigan State
Denzel Perryman, LB, 5-11, 242, 4.72, Sr, Miami
Jalen Mills, S, 6-1, 189, 4.53, Jr, LSU
Reese Dismukes, OC, 6-2, 296, 5.27, Sr, Auburn
Jaelen Strong, WR, 6-4, 212, 4.55, rJr, Arizona State
*Only players potentially eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft were included in this list.