Next year's draft has a chance to be special. Not only are the top 10 prospects that Doug Farrar talked about already a lot more interesting than this year's crop, there are a ton of intriguing prospects waiting behind them.
Many of the players listed below are underclassmen who will finally be able to declare for the draft. If all of the eligible stars leave for next year's draft, it will be a class that rivals any in the past few years, as far as potential stars coming into the league.
Here are 10 players to track over the next college football season, because while they're not top 10 prospects yet, they might be one good year from cracking that list (or at very least making a huge move up draft boards):
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon: Thomas should thank Tavon Austin next time he sees him. Now that Austin, an undersized weapon, went eighth overall, that might pave the way for Thomas. Thomas is just 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds but he is fast and a thrill to watch as a hybrid playmaker. He averaged 77.5 yards per carry against Wisconsin in a Rose Bowl win as a freshman two seasons ago. Thomas’ sheer speed and versatile ability will make him an interesting prospect for teams that have seen what a player like Percy Harvin (and, potentially, Austin) can bring to an offense.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: Seastrunk is similar to Thomas, down to the fact that he originally committed to Oregon, but is bigger (5-10, 210) and more of a traditional running back. But he also has amazing speed, like Thomas. Last year, he had 29 carries in Baylor’s first seven games. Once the Bears started using him, he averaged 138.5 rushing yards per game over the last six contests, and that doesn’t count a game in which he had 91 receiving yards. If he can show over this season he can handle a full workload, he’ll be prominent on draft boards by next offseason.
Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida: Purifoy has all the tools to be a top cornerback. He is blazing fast and at 6-1, he has the size to be a very high pick in the NFL. He is athletic enough that Florida is planning on playing him both ways this year. He was at receiver over the first seven spring practices this year. With a big season at cornerback, he could leave a year early for the draft and have teams lining up to take him.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State: While Alabama’s C.J. Mosley looks like the next great NFL linebacker, Shazier might be his slightly cheaper version. He had 115 tackles, five sacks and defended 11 passes as a sophomore last year. He is the prototype three-down defender for the passing NFL. It's possible he stays in school for the 2014 season to put on weight, considering he is listed at just 222 pounds, but he can be an impact player as soon as he arrives.
David Fales, QB, San Jose State: Fales transferred from junior college to San Jose State and was great last year. Last year he completed an eye-opening 72.5 percent of his passes for 4,193 yards. Playing in bad conditions in the Military Bowl last year, Fales completed 33-of-43 passes for 395 yards. He has good size at 6-3, 220 pounds and will just have to overcome questions about the level of competition he played.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: We went in depth on Watkins on Dr. Saturday this week. Basically, either he plays like he did as a dominant freshman and goes a tick below the great Marqise Lee in next year’s draft, or he repeats his baffling and average sophomore season and maybe just stays in school another year. It’s hard to know what to make of him at the moment. But the potential is tremendous.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington: The talent is unmistakable. He has good size and great athletic gifts. But off the field, Seferian-Jenkins is dealing with a misdemeanor DUI and a suspension from the team. He’ll be back on the team, one would think, and if he proves he can stay out of trouble, he is a good bet to leave school early and be the first tight end off the board next year.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: Kouandjio moved into the starting lineup last year as a sophomore. And he’s a beast. If he comes out after his junior season, he could be the top tackle taken, which many years makes him a top 5-10 pick. He’s as good as there is in college football, and another year at Alabama won’t hurt his development.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: Sutton will be an interesting player in next year’s draft. He is less than 300 pounds but is exceptionally productive. He had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season, and had 63 total tackles despite playing most of his snaps inside. At some point, NFL teams will have to watch the film closely and see how that production can translate to the next level.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: No, we didn’t forget him. Manziel won’t get any taller, so it won’t be a surprise if the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy goes to the NFL after one more great season (he redshirted as a freshman, so he’ll be three years removed from high school). Last year, the team with the most hopeless quarterback situation in the NFL drafted a punter before Russell Wilson, because Wilson was short. Teams will learn from that mistake. They won’t let a player with Manziel’s ability to run and throw (anyone who says he can’t throw didn’t see him complete 68 percent of his passes for 3,706 yards in the SEC as a freshman) slide to the third round just because he is listed at 6-1 and might measure a bit shorter. But, get ready for the undersized and extremely talented Manziel’s draft pros and cons to be a constant and tedious pre-draft argument that will make you long for the days of debating Geno Smith and Manti Te’o.
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