With the 2014 QB draft class thinning, UCF's Blake Bortles could be a top-10 prospect. (Reinhold Matay/AP)
Marcus Mariota's decision to stay at Oregon and the subsequent announcement that Zach Mettenberger had torn his ACL somewhat altered the outlook for the 2014 draft. What was once thought to be a loaded QB class thinned out considerably with those two pieces of news. (Mettenberger still ought to be drafted, but the likelihood of him being a first-rounder is almost nil now.)
What has not changed is the number of teams that currently have a need at quarterback. So, the door might be open for players such as Blake Bortles or Brett Hundley -- conventional wisdom a few weeks back had both putting off the NFL for another year, but there is greater opportunity now.
And if Bortles jumps, he might be able to state his case as a top-10 prospect. His stats from this past Saturday are not overwhelming: 24-of-35 for 242 yards and no touchdowns, plus two TDs on the ground. What those don't tell you is that Bortles was able to stay the course in absolutely miserable, icy conditions at SMU in front of a near-empty stadium.
There is enough positive tape on Bortles to chalk this past week up as a steady showing and move on. If the UCF quarterback returns to school, he'll enter the 2014 season as a virtual lock to be selected in Round 1 of the '15 draft.
He might be able to match that promise this coming May, should he decide to test the waters.
• Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: Only a redshirt sophomore, Robinson faces a decision about his future in the coming weeks. If the SEC title game was any indication, he's ready to make the NFL leap.
Robinson, who has improved just about each and every week this year, was a centerpiece of Auburn's remarkable run-game performance against Missouri. He more than held his own when matched with Kony Ealy, Mizzou's own draft prospect, and he dominated everyone else.
Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes told al.com that Robinson has the potential to be the No. 1 overall pick in 2015. He might be top-20 worthy already.
• Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State: A tough loss for Ohio State, which saw its BCS title hopes fade against Michigan State. But Hyde still gave scouts plenty to be excited about, churning out 118 yards on 18 carries against the Spartans' No. 1-ranked rush defense.
Though Hyde did not have any real home-run plays in the game, he continued to show why he has an NFL future -- his ability to follow his blockers into very small gaps and constantly make the first tackler miss.
• Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford: Once Jadeveon Clowney is off the board, Murphy will be quite intriguing to teams needing a reliable edge-rusher. Murphy led the way defensively for Stanford in Saturday's Pac-12 title game, racking up seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in a win over Arizona State.
• Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State: Another redshirt sophomore, Benjamin's age (23) could push him to declare for the 2014 draft. He has NFL size already at 6-foot-5 and 234 pounds. And he's able to use that to his advamtage, as he showed again in a 119-yard, two-touchdown performance against Duke. Benjamin will head into the BCS title game already having caught 14 touchdown passes.
• Charles Ross, RB, Rice: Here's a rather under-the-radar name to watch. Ross carried the ball 18 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns in Rice's Conference USA-clinching win. He finished the year with 1,252 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns. Ross is a Day 3-type of prospect -- teams hoping to round out a backfield might give him a look there.
• Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois: Lynch earned a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist, but that honor was not on the basis of how he played in the MAC championship. Lynch did run the ball 26 times for 126 yards and two touchdowns, but he also struggled through the air (21-of-40) with two costly interceptions.
That's not going to change Lynch's pro prospects really -- he's a running quarterback who is capable of finding a groove through the air from time to time. It's still up in the air whether Lynch can get to the NFL as a quarterback.
• Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: When Urban Meyer spoke earlier this season about believing that Miller should return for 2014, this was the type of showing he had in mind. Miller, as usual, made play after play with his feet versus Michigan State, en route to 142 yards and two rushing TDs. What he failed to do, however, was really threaten the Spartans through the air. He completed only 8-of-21 passes, misfiring on some very makeable throws throughout the evening. Miller clearly has an NFL future -- athletes of his caliber do not roll through the ranks all that often -- but he must improve as a passer.
• Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa:
Not sure "falling" is the appropriate tab for Scherff, but the Iowa offensive lineman -- thought by some to be a top-20 prospect -- will return to school for his senior season. He could be the first OT off the board in 2015, if he follows up what he did this year with another dominant effort.