The American Athletic Conference enjoyed a seat at the 2014 NFL draft head table, thanks to UCF quarterback Blake Bortles and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. Those two now-NFL rookies were among the most discussed, most divisive QB draft class in recent memory, with Bortles surprisingly coming off the board at No. 3 overall and Bridgewater following 29 picks later.
Bridgewater was one of three Cardinals selected in Round 1, along with S Calvin Pryor and OLB Malcolm Smith. Louisville is no longer a member of this conference, having bolted for the ACC. And the AAC's draft hopes certainly are not what they were last year.
Still, there are some names to watch. Our first conference primer takes us through the AAC, with one potential NFL draft pick per team highlighted:
Cincinnati: Silverberry Mouhon, DE
That name! The 6-foot-4, 248-pound Mouhon may be destined for a 3-4 OLB role in the NFL, though the junior may opt to wait for the 2016 draft to roll around before heading pro. His decision may depend on how he follows up a breakthrough 2012 -- he finished with 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Keep an eye on the Lombardi Award candidate on Sept. 27, when Cincinnati visits the Horseshoe for a battle with Ohio State. Remember, it was a brilliant showing against the Buckeyes last season that launched Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack into the public consciousness.
Connecticut: Geremy Davis, WR
At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Davis is similar in build to Eagles' second-round draft pick Jordan Matthews. Davis is not on Matthews' level (yet?), but he offers an intriguing collection of skills that should earn him an NFL opportunity. As with Matthews, Davis has become a sure-handed receiver who can be trusted at all levels of the field. Finding the end zone a bit more in 2014 would be nice -- Davis scored just three TDs last season for a UConn team that finished 106th in points.
Why Matthews is expected to thrive as a rookie (and why Keenan Allen did so in 2013) starts with his precise route-running. Should Davis sharpen that aspect of his game, a Day 2 selection (or whenever Round 3 winds up occurring this year) is not out of the question.
East Carolina: Shane Carden, QB
WR Justin Hardy, off a 114-catch season, might be the real gem of this offense. Carden was the one delivering those passes, though, and will entice some team down the road as a developmental prospect in the same vein of someone like Chase Daniel. The spread offense East Carolina runs allows for some huge numbers -- Carden had more than 4,000 yards passing last season -- but also invites the familiar criticisms about QB-friendly offenses. Namely, that because of the quick reads and rapid-fire nature of that attack, Carden will have a hard time dissecting NFL defenses.
Arm strength is another question mark here, albeit a slightly overblown one. The total package is still that of at least an NFL backup.
Houston: Derrick Matthews, LB
Again bypassing a potential NFL wide receiver (here, it's the talented but unpolished Deontay Greenberry), this time for a fringe defensive prospect. Matthews mans the middle for the Houston defense, last year turning in 114 tackles, his third straight season hitting triple digits. Some of that simply has to do with the position he plays, but it really is not a fluke: Matthews tracks the ball well and closes aggressively. The big problem here? He stands 6-0 and 214, well undersized for NFL linebacking spots. Can he bulk up enough to warrant legitimate consideration?
Memphis: Bobby McCain, CB
Despite missing three games last season with a knee injury, McCain still managed to pick off six passes. The 5-11, 190-pound cornerback took two back to the house, and it is that with-the-ball ability that may pave McCain's way to an NFL shot. He averaged 25.8 yards per kickoff return during his sophomore season, including an absurd 43.7 average during a game against Duke.
SMU: Der'rikk Thompson, WR
This program has produced Emmanuel Sanders, Aldrick Robinson and Cole Beasley in recent years, meaning there is a bit of an SMU-to-NFL WR pipeline. Thompson (5-11, 190) may be the next pro. His fate depends on two key factors: 1. If he can establish any sort of consistency -- in nine games last season, Thompson had a 158-yarder and a 113-yarder ... yet averaged just 51 yards receiving; and 2. The combine. The latter is critical for any NFL hopeful, but Thompson will have to hang his hat on his speed, so chalking up something in the 4.4s next spring will be make or break.
South Florida: Austin Reiter, C
Now with 24 consecutive starts at center under his belt, Reiter (6-3, 286) will head into his final collegiate season as a Rimington Trophy candidate (not that those preseason awards watch lists mean much). South Florida head coach Willie Taggert stressed the need for his O-line to bulk up after a brutal 2013 in which the Bulls ranked 118th in rushing and 120th in scoring. Reiter packed on about a dozen pounds, putting him in the 285 range. It's a good start for a steady, reliable player who nonetheless looms as a longshot for next year's draft.
Temple: Kenneth Harper, RB
Pretty decent if unspectacular 2013 from Harper, who rushed for 613 yards and nine touchdowns on just 136 touches, while also catching 26 passes out of the backfield. In addition to battling for No. 1 RB duties, Harper has some experience at Temple from the fullback spot, thanks to his 225-pound frame. He's fairly athletic for that size. Once teams get into the very late rounds or start sizing up their UDFA priorities, Harper will feel more love.
Tulane: Lorenzo Doss, CB
Doss led Conference USA in interceptions last season with seven, adding two TDs and 185 yards on INT returns to boot. Arguably the best cornerback in this conference, Doss has added some size (at least on paper) to his frame -- Tulane currently lists him at 5-11 and 187 pounds, up about 12 pounds from where he was last season. We are talking about a Darqueze Dennard-like prospect here, as Doss relies more on his instincts than his physicality to get the job done. But we might be talking about a top-15 cornerback, if Doss opts to skip his final year at Tulane.
Tulsa: Demarco Nelson, S
The Golden Hurricane lost Nelson for all of 2013 on an academic-related suspension handed down just prior to the season. He's back now and should waste little time establishing himself among the conference's top defenders. Nelson (6-0, 195) had started 39 straight games in Tulsa's secondary prior to that setback. He's capable against the run and the pass, hence his preseason All-Conference nod prior to '13.
"He looks like a man among boys out there," said Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship of Nelson this spring, per the Tulsa World.
UCF: Torrian Wilson, G
After 29 starts at left tackle for the Knights, Wilson has been moved to left guard, in part so sophomore Michael Campbell can get on the field. Experience at multiple spots, one outside and one inside, will give Wilson (6-3, 305) a leg up on some of his competition next spring. Wilson is stronger than he is quick, which should make the switch a positive one. His limited footwork skills were on display in the Knights' lone loss of 2013, a 28-25 decision against Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina. Lining up at guard ought to limit speed mismatches for Wilson like the ones he endured that day.