Settling In, or Saying Goodbye?

Senior Day festivities open a window into who could be leaving school early. For those players, chances to impress NFL scouts in actual game action are running out
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This is not a mock draft. This doesn’t take into account NFL teams or positions of need. This is a list of college football players—made by someone who covers college football—who, based on their skills and success at the college level, project well to the next level. This list exists so you don’t fall in love in March with some guy who was mediocre for three or four years and then ran fast in his underwear one time.

With the regular season wrapping up, several teams are hosting Senior Day festivities for their final home games. These pre-game ceremonies can occasionally be informative in terms of figuring out whether a junior is staying in school or turning pro.

For example, Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III is participating in Senior Day before Saturday’s BYU game. This isn’t much of a surprise. Nix would have been a high draft pick had he left Notre Dame after last season. He’s a fourth-year student at Notre Dame. But Nix could play another year in college if he wanted. Obviously, he isn’t going to.

One of the challenges of making this list is predicting which players will turn pro. I’ve left UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley off all year because I think he’ll return to Westwood for his redshirt junior season. I could be completely wrong about that, just as I could be wrong about some of the juniors and redshirt sophomores that I’ve included on this list who may ultimately decide to return to school.

So maybe we’ll get some more clarity as the regular season concludes. Or maybe we won’t. Read on to find out who isn’t getting honored on Saturday even though he’s most likely gone ...

2014 NFL Draft Big Board


Teddy Bridgewater QB; Junior; Louisville; 6-3, 196 (Last Week: 1) Louisville coach Charlie Strong said Bridgewater would not go through the Cardinals’ Senior Day festivities prior to Saturday’s game against Memphis because Bridgewater has another year of eligibility. Don’t read too much into that. He’s probably headed to the NFL.


Jadeveon Clowney DE; Junior; University of South Carolina; 6-6, 274 (Last week: 2) Clowney had five tackles—including two for loss—this past Saturday against Florida. When the Gamecocks face Coastal Carolina on Saturday, Clowney should ask Chanticleers coach Joe Moglia, the former Ameritrade CEO, for some tips on investing his NFL signing bonus.


Anthony Barr LB; Senior; UCLA; 6-4, 245 (Last Week: 3) Barr had seven tackles and a sack this past Friday against Washington. The Bruins will need plenty of production from him this week against Arizona State and touchdown-creation machine Marion Grice.


Jake Matthews OT; Senior; Texas A&M; 6-5, 305 (Last Week: 5) Matthews won’t be facing the LSU defensive line of recent years on Saturday in Baton Rouge, but he will get challenged.


Mike Evans WR; Redshirt Sophomore; Texas A&M; 6-5, 225 (Last Week: 5) Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief went for 107 yards on five catches against LSU’s defense. Evans is bigger, faster and just as physical. He could have a big day.


Cyrus Kouandjio OT; Junior; Alabama; 6-6, 310 (Last Week: 6) Alabama didn’t play its best game at Mississippi State, but Kouandjio had another solid night.


Marcus Mariota QB; Redshirt Sophomore; Oregon; 6-4, 211 (Last Week: 7) Yes, Mariota is limited by a knee injury. But he hasn’t allowed his knee to affect his arm. He still hasn’t thrown an interception all season, and he threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-21 win against Utah this past Saturday.


Taylor Lewan OT; Senior; Michigan; 6-8, 308 (Last Week: 8) Lewan helped the Wolverines to a 3.2 yard rushing average on Saturday at Northwestern. That doesn’t sound good? At least it wasn’t negative like the previous two games.


C.J. Mosley LB; Senior; Alabama; 6-2, 232 (Last Week: 9) Alabama’s Heisman candidate made eight tackles, forced a fumble and covered a receiver in the end zone to deny Mississippi State a touchdown at a critical juncture.


Johnny Manziel QB; Redshirt Sophomore; Texas A&M; 6-1, 200 (Last Week: 10) After a week off that included a Drake concert in San Antonio, Manziel will make his first—and probably only—visit to LSU’s Tiger Stadium on Saturday.


Aaron Murray QB; Senior; Georgia; 6-1, 208 (Last Week: 15) The Bulldogs may have lost on a miracle throw—or because safety Josh Harvey-Clemons tried to catch the miracle throw instead of knocking it down—but they nearly won because of a furious comeback led by Murray. The senior threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another two touchdowns.


De'Anthony Thomas RB; Junior; Oregon; 5-9, 176 (Last Week: 12) Thomas bolstered a pedestrian rushing and receiving day against Utah with an 86-yard kickoff return.


Stephon Tuitt DE; Junior; Notre Dame; 6-6, 303 (Last Week: 13) The Fighting Irish will need a good game from Tuitt on Saturday to contain BYU quarterback Taysom Hill.


Sammy Watkins WR; Junior; Clemson; 6-1, 205 (Last Week: 16) Watkins caught five passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia Tech this past Thursday.


AJ McCarron QB; Senior; Alabama; 6-4, 214 (Last Week: 11) McCarron’s visit to Starkville wasn’t his finest hour. He threw for 187 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and the Crimson Tide won ugly.


James Hurst OT; Senior; North Carolina; 6-7, 305 (Last Week: 14) Hurst has helped the Tar Heels to four consecutive wins. After a 1-5 start, North Carolina probably will still make a bowl game.


Louis Nix III DT; Junior; Notre Dame; 6-3, 340 (Last Week: 17) Saturday is a big day for Nix. His mother had to work through his Senior Night at Raines High in Jacksonville, Fla. When Nix opted to return to South Bend this season, he did it with an eye on the day his mother would be able to greet him on the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Saturday is that day.


Tajh Boyd QB; Senior; Clemson; 6-1, 225 (Last Week: 19) Boyd completed 20 of 26 passes for 340 yards with four touchdowns and an interception last week against Georgia Tech.


Zach Mettenberger QB; Senior; LSU; 6-5, 235 (Last Week: 18) Texas A&M’s defense is allowing 6.7 yards a play in SEC play. Expect Mettenberger to put up big numbers Saturday.


Michael Sam DE; Senior; Missouri; 6-2, 255 (Last Week: 20) Sam and the Tigers were off this past weekend. They’ll try to lock down the SEC East title by winning their final two games.


Ryan Shazier LB; Junior; Ohio State; 6-2, 222 (Last Week: 21) Shazier piled up 16 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss this past Saturday against Illinois.


David Yankey OG; Senior; Stanford; 6-5, 311 (Last Week: 22) Yankey and the Cardinal offensive line paved the way for six yards a carry at USC, but a blocked field goal and a costly late interception doomed Stanford.


Will Sutton DT; Senior; Arizona State; 6-1, 305 (Last Week: 23) Sutton had one tackle for loss in Arizona State’s win against Oregon State. He’ll be relied upon to pressure Brett Hundley on Saturday at UCLA.


Cyril Richardson OG; Baylor; 6-5, 335 (Last Week: 24) Richardson helped the Bears average six yards a carry and score five rushing touchdowns.


Kyle Van Noy LB; Senior; BYU; 6-3, 245 (Last Week: 25) Van Noy had two tackles for loss and two hurries against Idaho State. This week, he’ll get a test from Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin.


Braxton Miller QB; Junior; Ohio State; 6-2, 215 (Last Week: 26) Miller hasn’t been challenged much lately. In Ohio State’s last game—a blowout of Purdue on Nov. 2—he completed 19 of 23 passes for 233 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.


Jason Verrett CB; Senior; TCU; 5-10, 176 (Last Week: 27) Verrett’s number got the Horned Frogs in trouble in last Saturday’s fourth quarter. He and TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin both wear No. 2, and both were sent out to play on the punt return team. Playing two guys wearing the same number is a no-no. Fourth-and-6 became 4th-and-1, and Kansas State converted to continue a seemingly endless drive that ended in a field goal. The Horned Frogs wound up losing by two.


Ha Ha Clinton-Dix S; Junior; Alabama; 6-1, 208 (Last Week: 28) Clinton-Dix made four tackles and intercepted a pass in Alabama’s win at Mississippi State.


Trent Murphy LB; Redshirt Senior; Stanford; 6-6, 261 (Last Week: 30) Murphy had four tackles for loss—including two sacks—but none of his teammates got to USC quarterback Cody Kessler in Stanford’s loss.


Timmy Jernigan DT; Junior; Florida State; 6-2, 298 (Last Week: 29) Jernigan had six tackles—including a tackle for loss—in Florida State’s win against Syracuse.


Vic Beasley DE; Redshirt Junior; Clemson; 6-2, 235 (Last Week: 31) Beasley had two tackles for loss against Georgia Tech. Neither was a sack, but those are hard to come by against an option team.


Marqise Lee WR; Junior; USC; 6-0, 195 (Last Week: 35) One of the indelible images of USC’s win against Stanford was Lee smiling while limping off the field after making a fourth-down catch on the Trojans’ game-winning field goal drive. Lee had been kicked in the shin, and he couldn’t put any weight on his left leg, but he had helped his team pull off a huge upset. He finished the night with six catches for 83 yards.


Loucheiz Purifoy CB; Junior; Florida; 6-1, 189 (Last Week: 32) Purifoy and the remaining healthy players on Florida’s defense allowed the Gators to compete Saturday at South Carolina, but with the offense completely shut down in the second half, the defense couldn’t hold forever and South Carolina rallied for the win.


Derek Carr QB; Senior; Fresno State; 6-3, 218 (Last Week: 33) After a week off, Carr returns to action Saturday against New Mexico.


Bradley Roby CB; Redshirt Junior; Ohio State; 5-11, 192 (Last Week: 37) In the Buckeyes’ win at Illinois, Roby intercepted a Nathan Scheelhaase pass and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown.


Eric Ebron TE; Junior; North Carolina; 6-4, 245 (Last Week: 34) Ebron caught three passes for 73 yards—including a 58-yarder—in the Tar Heels’ win against Pittsburgh.


Jared Abbrederis WR; Redshirt Senior; Wisconsin; 6-2, 190 (Last Week: 36) Abbrederis didn’t catch a pass in the Badgers’ win against Indiana, but he did carry three times for 86 yards and two touchdowns.


Zack Martin OT; Senior; Notre Dame; 6-4, 304 (Last Week: 38) Martin can raise his stock with a good game Saturday against a BYU defense led by Van Noy.


Ifo Ekpre-Olomu CB; Junior; Oregon; 5-10, 190 (Last Week: 39) Ekpre-Olomu and the Ducks’ defense allowed Utah to complete only 13 of 30 passes for 181 yards on Saturday.


Adrian Hubbard LB; Redshirt Junior; Alabama; 6-6, 252 (Last Week: 40) Hubbard’s only tackle against Mississippi State was a sack.


Antonio Richardson OT; Junior; Tennessee; 6-6, 327 (Last Week: 41) If the Volunteers want to play in a bowl game, Richardson and his linemates will have to control the line of scrimmage Saturday against Vanderbilt. Tennessee needs to win its final two to be bowl eligible, and for recruiting purposes, the Vols need to avoid a second consecutive humiliation at the hands of the Commodores.


Khalil Mack LB; Senior; Buffalo; 6-3, 245 (Last Week: 42) Mack made 15 tackles—including two for loss—in the Bulls’ loss to Toledo last week.


Aaron Donald DT; Senior; Pittsburgh; 6-0, 285 (Last Week: 45) Donald had three tackles for loss—including a sack—and five hurries in the Panthers’ loss to North Carolina.


Allen Robinson WR; Junior; Penn State; 6-3, 210 (Last Week: 43) Robinson had eight catches for 98 yards in Penn State’s win against Purdue.


Melvin Gordon RB; Redshirt Sophomore; Wisconsin; 6-1, 207 (Last Week: 44) Gordon carried 13 times for 146 yards and a touchdown in Wisconsin’s win against Purdue.


Cam Erving OT; Redshirt Junior; Florida State; 6-6, 320 (Last Week: 46) Erving continued to help Jameis Winston and company make offense look easy in Florida State’s win against Syracuse.


Carlos Hyde RB; Senior; Ohio State; 6-0, 235 (Last Week: Not Ranked) Hyde ran for a whopping 246 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries against Illinois.


Jordan Matthews WR; Senior; Vanderbilt; 6-3, 205 (Last Week: 47) Matthews caught 12 passes for 141 yards in Vanderbilt’s win against Kentucky on Saturday.


Ka'Deem Carey RB; Junior; Arizona; 5-10, 207 (Last Week: 48) Carey carried 26 times for 132 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Washington State. He also caught six passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.


Odell Beckham Jr. WR; Junior; LSU; 6-0, 193 (Last Week: 49) If you read what I wrote about Mettenberger, then you know Beckham must also be excited about Saturday.