The agility testing at the upcoming scouting combine and pro days will garner immense media attention, but nothing between now and the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft will impact the stock of dozens of top prospects more than the three days of Senior Bowl practices that wrapped up Thursday in Mobile, Ala.
Among the prospects who helped themselves the most were a trio of Pac-12 defensive linemen in Washington's Danny Shelton, UCLA's Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Utah's Nate Orchard. Not to be outdone, the "skill position" talent on offense and defense also fared well, with Auburn wideout Sammie Coates and Miami (Ohio) cornerback Quentin Rollins flashing first-round athleticism.
With the Feb. 18-22 combine right around the corner followed by the pro day slate, much will change between now and April 30. My current top 50 eligible prospects:
1. Leonard Williams, DT, 6-4, 290, Jr., Southern California: Strong, athletic and passionate, the Trojans star is earning comparisons to everyone from Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt to Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for his ability to dominate the line of scrimmage while alternating between defensive tackle and defensive end. He's too quick for guards and too strong for tackles, wreaking havoc along the line of scrimmage against the run and pass.
2. Randy Gregory, DE, 6-5, 242, Jr., Nebraska: Gregory is the country's elite edge defender. From a two- or three-point stance, he's a natural pass rusher with an explosive get-off, flexibility, long arms and active hands and the tenacious style of play (including against the run) that will endear him to coaches. Gregory is lanky and needs to bulk up if he is to remain at defensive end in the NFL. He also struggled with injuries in 2014. An old knee injury was aggravated in the season opener and required a knee scope that cost him the next game. Further, Gregory was sidelined in Nebraska's regular-season finale (reportedly with head and ankle injuries) but returned to record four tackles in the loss to Southern Cal in the Holiday Bowl.
3. Jameis Winston, QB, 6-4, 235, rSo., Florida State: If not for Winston's off-field issues he would rank not only as my top quarterback, but my top-ranked overall prospect. His combination of size, functional mobility, anticipation and arm talent translate very well to the next level. In terms of accuracy from the pocket -- still most important when projecting quarterbacks to the NFL -- Winston clearly outplayed Mariota in the Rose Bowl.
4. Marcus Mariota, QB, 6-4, 215, rJr., Oregon: Mariota's mesmerizing physical traits have long captivated scouts and there is no question that he earned the Heisman Trophy and was the key to Oregon's berth in the national title game. He is not, however, the "can't miss" prospect that some imply. He is potentially a special weapon because of his speed in an era of dual-threat quarterbacks and has intriguing potential as a passer. He is a good, not great, pocket passer at this time and could struggle with the tighter windows he'll see in the NFL.
5. Shane Ray, DE, 6-3, 245, Jr., Missouri: Ray had to bide his time backing up Michael Sam and Kony Ealy but he has been dominant as a junior, leading the SEC with 14½ sacks and 21½ tackles for loss -- despite missing most of the SEC Championship Game after a hit on Alabama quarterback Blake Sims was deemed to be targeting by officials. Voted the conference's Defensive Lineman of the Week three times, Ray is proving that his phenomenal athleticism -- he has been credited with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and a vertical jump of 40-plus inches -- translates well to the gridiron. Ray might wind up a top-five pick, as the perception in the scouting community is that he is just scratching the surface of his potential.
6. Brandon Scherff, OT, 6-5, 315, rSr., Iowa: Scherff may just prove the best in the long line of blockers tutored by Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, which is quite an accomplishment considering that 13 Iowa offensive linemen have been drafted since he took over in 1999. Scherff won big points with scouts for his toughness, battling back from a torn meniscus and corrective surgery on Sept. 8 to start against rival Iowa State five days later. Scherff doesn't have special traits like long arms or the flashy athleticism scouts look for and likely won't be drafted as high as I grade him. He's powerful, tough and tenacious, however, and I see him as one of the "safer" prospects in the country.
7. Amari Cooper, WR, 6-1, 205, Jr., Alabama: Cooper's production this season looks like something out of a video game. Alabama's first Biletnikoff Award winner, Cooper shattered Alabama records with 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns, including two scores against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl loss. It isn't just the production in Lane Kiffin's pro-style scheme that has scouts excited. Cooper has great agility and first-step acceleration to generate big plays. His lack of elite size and occasional dropped passes keep him out of the elite category.
8. Vic Beasley, OLB, 6-2, 235, rSr., Clemson: With pressure on the quarterback priority No. 1 on defense, teams are more willing than ever to trade size for speed at the position. Like recent "undersized" 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.
9. Dante Fowler Jr., DE, 6-3, 266, Jr., Florida: A talented pass rusher with experience at outside linebacker and all over the defensive line, Fowler is an intriguing athlete with range, strength and flexibility. He isn't as explosive off the snap or productive as some of the other pass rushers on this list but Fowler's awareness and physicality make him better suited to handling the run. Fowler, who before the Birmingham Bowl announced his intentions of leaving early for the draft, ended his career in fine form, recording three sacks against East Carolina.
10. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, 6-5, 225, 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 with the NCAA ruling the junior ineligible to play in 2014.
11. Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, 6-4, 267, rSr., Kentucky: The Wildcats may not have the history of churning out high-end defenders of some other SEC teams, but that won't stop Dupree from earning a first-round selection. Dupree's length, agility and closing speed stand out on tape, as does his comfort playing out of the two- or three-point stance. Better yet, his traits translate into production against quality competition. Dupree leaves Kentucky with 24 sacks over his career, more than any other player in the SEC.
12. Landon Collins, SS, 6-0, 215, Jr., Alabama: Instinctive, athletic and an explosive hitter, Collins looks the part of a top-10 pick. His downhill playing style might be best suited to strong safety as he was fooled deep on occasion this season due to his aggression. Further, scouts are certainly aware of the fact that few of the highly drafted defensive backs out of Alabama have performed as brilliantly in the NFL as they did for Nick Saban.
13. Danny Shelton, DT, 6-2, 323, Sr., Washington: Broad-shouldered, powerful and surprisingly passionate in pursuit, Shelton is a classic two-gap run defender with the gaudy statistics to catch the attention of scouts. He has flashed first-round talent throughout his career but played at a different level as a senior, boosting his stock considerably. Shelton was nearly unstoppable during Senior Bowl practices, cementing his top-20 status.
14. La'el Collins, OT, 6-5, 315, 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. He isn't an elite athlete and therefore will likely wind up inside at guard or right tackle in the NFL rather than at his customary left tackle position. He has the square build and physical nature to handle the move and saw snaps at left guard in Mobile.
15. Kevin White, WR, 6-3, 209, Sr., West Virginia: No player improved his draft stock more in 2014 than White. It wasn't just his production (110 catches, 1,447 yards, 10 touchdowns) that impressed scouts. White's size, strength and ability to come down with contested grabs are what every team in the NFL is looking for at the receiver position.
16. Trae Waynes, CB, 6-1, 183, rJr., Michigan State: While former teammate Darqueze Dennard won the Thorpe Award last year as the nation's top defensive back, some scouts questioned if Waynes wasn't the better NFL prospect. Waynes has the length, fluidity and ball skills required of cornerbacks in today's pass-happy NFL and is more stout against the run than his frame implies.
17. Shaq Thompson, OLB, 6-2, 231, Jr., Washington: Boasting terrific athleticism, instincts and awareness, Thompson has proven a standout wherever he has played for the Huskies, earning him the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player. While perhaps not as stout as preferred, Thompson's fluidity, reliable open-field tackling and big play moxie could earn him a hybrid linebacker/safety role.
18. DeVante Parker, WR, 6-3, 209, Sr., Louisville: A broken left foot sidelined Parker for the first seven games of the 2014 season but he returned with a vengeance, averaging seven receptions for 140 yards and a score in his six games, including a Belk Bowl loss to Georgia. Parker can win with his height and ability to high-point passes. He also has impressive fluidity and acceleration for a receiver of his size.
19. Eddie Goldman, DT, 6-3, 314, Jr., Florida State: Teams are willing to gamble on difference-makers along the defensive line almost as much as they are quarterbacks, and no defensive tackle has captured the imagination of scouts more than Goldman this season. Goldman is broad, powerful and surprisingly athletic, having stood at defensive end in 2013 before making the switch back inside this season. Goldman was carted off the field with an ankle injury during the ACC Championship Game and didn't play up to his normal standards in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon.
20. T.J. Clemmings, OT, 6-5, 305, rSr., Pittsburgh: Clemmings has made steady progress at right tackle since making the jump from defensive end two years ago, demonstrating an exciting combination of length, agility and tenacity. He remains quite raw, however -- something the polished defensive ends at the Senior Bowl took full advantage of. Clemmings' upside will earn him a first-round selection, but the team that takes him will need to be patient as he learns the finer points of the position.
21. Devin Funchess, WR, 6-5, 230, Jr., Michigan: Funchess began his college career at tight end but he starred outside at receiver in 2014 and projects best in this role in the NFL. His combination of size, acceleration and body control make him a matchup nightmare, though he still drops more passes than he should. If Funchess runs in the 4.5s during workouts, it is hard to imagine him slipping out of the first round.
22. Melvin Gordon, RB, 6-1, 207, rJr., Wisconsin: The Heisman finalist gashed Auburn for an Outback Bowl-record 251 yards and three scores, once again proving that his speed stands out even against the SEC. Gordon boasts elite acceleration and great lateral agility to make defenders miss. With Georgia's Todd Gurley suffering an ACL tear -- and tumbling out of my Big Board rankings -- Gordon has ascended to the top spot among running backs.
23. Marcus Peters, CB, 6-0, 198, Jr., Washington: On the field, Peters is the top cornerback in the class. His aggression, length and ball skills (11 career interceptions) are clearly first-round caliber. However, I have some reservations about his straight-line speed and the greater concern is his character. Peters was dismissed from the team by new Washington head coach Chris Peterson on Nov. 6 and he was suspended by the previous staff for the first quarter of the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Pre-draft interviews will be critical for Peters.
24. Andrus Peat, OT, 6-6, 312, Jr., Stanford: Peat signed with Stanford as a five-star recruit and has the combination of size and athleticism scouts drool over. However, he has experienced notable lapses this season, from getting blown up by Notre Dame and struggling mightily against Utah's Nate Orchard. Peat's upside warrants early consideration but unless he develops more nastiness in his play, there is doubt that he will fulfill his potential.
25. Ereck Flowers, OT, 6-5, 322, Jr., Miami (Fla.): Flowers played left tackle at Miami but may need to move to the right side in the NFL. Flowers is light on his feet and balanced in pass protection. He is aggressive and active as a run blocker, including looking for defenders in pursuit. He dropped off the list after undergoing knee surgery in late October but certainly looked no worse for wear upon his return. If Flowers checks out medically, he's a likely first-round pick.
26. Jordan Phillips, DT, 6-6, 334, rJr., Oklahoma: With only 16 career starts, Phillips would be a gamble in the first round but given his freakish combination of size and quickness, don't be surprised if it occurs. For that to happen, however, teams will need to confirm Phillips' health as he missed most of the 2013 season after undergoing back surgery.
27. P.J. Williams, CB, 6-0, 190, Jr., Florida State: Williams has gone up against some of the more talented receivers in college football and succeeded, demonstrating the fluidity, balance and acceleration scouts expect out of a first-round cornerback. I would like to see him wrap up more securely but as he proved yet again with solid hits in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, Williams doesn't lack confidence or physicality as a tackler.
28. Cameron Erving, OL, 6-5, 308, rSr., Florida State: Don't blame Erving for Florida State's Rose Bowl loss. In making a seamless transition from left tackle to center, Erving won the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the conference's top blocker after winning the same award last year at the blind side. He also captured the imagination of scouts, who see Erving's length, agility and selflessness as traits worthy of a first-round selection.
29. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, 6-3, 270, rSr., UCLA: Quarterback Brett Hundley (listed below) earned much of the attention for the Bruins' win over Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl, but Odighizuwa also performed brilliantly, recording six tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two passes broken up. He followed that up with a strong performance during Senior Bowl week. Odighizuwa has an NFL-ready frame, a quick first step and good power. He'll earn a first-round selection if doctors clear his surgically repaired hip, as issue that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season.
30. Danielle Hunter, DE, 6-6, 240, Jr., LSU: Hunter sports a lanky build, but he is surprisingly strong at the point of attack and uses his length and lateral agility very well to harass quarterbacks -- rushing after them or batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. Hunter knocked down three passes, for example, against Alabama. Like many of the pass rushers on this list, Hunter is a work in progress but his exciting skill set and the value of his position in today's NFL could push him into the first round.
31. Malcom Brown, DT, 6-4, 320, Jr., Texas: Much quicker than his well-proportioned frame would indicate, Brown proved a relative bright spot in 2014 for the Longhorns, earning consensus All-American honors with 72 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6½ sacks and two forced fumbles. Though Brown is leaving Austin as just a junior, the NFL may be impressed with his maturity, as he's married with two children.
32. Maxx Williams, TE, 6-4, 250, rSo., Minnesota: Though just a redshirt sophomore, it is easy to see Williams' talent. He boasts a solid frame with good acceleration and overall athleticism, soft hands and the grit to hold up as an inline blocker. He has a long ways to go before warranting the hype, but comparisons to Dallas Cowboys star Jason Witten aren't far off.
Just missed the cutJaelen Strong, WR, 6-4, 212, rJr., Arizona State
Eli Harold, OLB, 6-4, 235, Jr., Virginia
A.J. Cann, OG, 6-3, 318, Sr., South Carolina
Lorenzo Mauldin, DE/OLB, 6-4, 243, Sr., Louisville
Eric Kendricks, OLB, 6-0, 230, rSr, UCLA
Paul Dawson, OLB, 6-2, 230, Sr., TCU
Nate Orchard, DE, 6-4, 255, Sr., Utah
Sammie Coates, WR, 6-2, 213, Jr., Auburn
Ameer Abdullah, RB, 5-9, 195, Sr., Nebraska
Mario Edwards Jr., DE, 6-3, 294, Jr., Florida State
Quinten Rollins, CB, 5-11, 193, rSr., Miami (Ohio)
Donovan Smith, OT, 6-6, 341, Jr., Penn State
Arik Armstead, DT, 6-7, 296, Jr., Oregon
Cody Prewitt, FS, 6-2, 212, Sr., Mississippi
Brett Hundley, QB, 6-3, 227, rJr., UCLA
Michael Bennett, DT, 6-2, 288, Sr., Ohio State
Chris Hackett, FS, 6-2, 195, rJr., TCU
Ty Sambrailo, OT, 6-5, 315, rSr., Colorado State
Rob Rang (@RobRang) is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. He analyzes prospects year-round, and has been a fixture at scouting events such as the Senior Bowl and scouting combine since 2001.