NFL draft Big Board 2.0: Who stands out in class with no clear frontrunner?
All of the names in the top 10 and most in the top 25 here should be familiar if you glanced at Big Board 1.0 back before the college football season began. Beyond that, there have been some changes.
The 2015 NFL draft is shaping up to be a compelling one, in large part because -- and apologies to the Raiders, Jaguars or whichever other team may wind up with the No. 1 pick -- there is not a clear-cut top dog this season. This class more resembles its 2013 counterpart (Eric Fisher went No. 1 that year) than 2012 (Andrew Luck) or '14 (Jadeveon Clowney).
The drop-off from mid-Round 1 to Rounds 2 and 3 also might not be that noticeable, meaning that teams will head into the draft hoping to find multiple early contributors.
(A brief aside before we dive into the top 40: WR Dorial Green-Beckham is not included. The ex-Missouri Tiger is sitting out this season after transferring to Oklahoma. Should he turn pro, he's definitely going to be in the Round 1 mix. At present, though, there is too much uncertainty surrounding his situation.)
Plenty of storylines are left to unfold during the pre-draft process. As of mid-October, here's how the Big Board shapes up:
If there was one specific area scouts wanted to see Mariota improve in this season, it was how he responded when the pocket collapsed. Well, aside from being sacked a combined 12 times by Washington State and Arizona -- the direct result of Oregon's line dealing with injuries -- Mariota arguably has done his best work this season with heat in his face. That certainly was true in Oregon's win over Michigan State.
The 6-foot-4, 219-pounder has improved in keeping his eyes downfield and in taking short, safe passes rather than forcing throws. Oh, and he has yet to fire an INT this season.
"His footwork is really, really good within our system," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said, per The Oregonian.
Helfrich mentioned ball security as an area in which Mariota needs work -- he fumbled twice in the loss to Arizona. It's been a minor problem for a dominant player.
A minor knee injury slowed the start to Gregory's 2014. He still leads the Cornhuskers in sacks (4.5), tackles for loss (6) and hurries (9). Two years removed from junior college, Gregory (6-6, 240) offers incredible upside as an edge rusher.
ESPN draft guru Todd McShay wrote last week that Williams' "best projection is as a 5-technique defensive end, but he has the quickness and point-of-attack skills to perform inside as a 3-technique." All true, but I'd actually lean vice versa -- Williams as a DT with the ability to slide outside.
The discussion is not indicative of any uncertainty surrounding Williams' game, but rather confirmation of his wide-ranging game.
A lot in play here, from if Gurley's recent suspension will hurt his stock (unlikely) to whether or not a team would put enough of a premium on the RB position to take Gurley in the top 10 (highly unlikely). Beneath it all is Gurley's unquestioned talent. He's an every-down back with immediate 1,000-yard potential.
No. 1 on the preseason Big Board, Ogbuehi slides a few spots -- and some out there would argue he should be down many more -- after an uneven transition from right tackle to left this season. He still moves so well, and possesses such ideal length (6-5, 305), that he won't fall far.
Can teams get past Beasley's size (6-3, 235) and see him as a reliable three-down edge player? Or will they see him as someone limited to a role on passing downs? Expect the answer to trend toward the former. Beasley already has 10.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks this season.
As usual, there is a ton of talent on the field whenever Alabama plays. Collins stands out repeatedly. A difficult outing versus Ole Miss (he was rumored to have an ankle issue) has been about the only hiccup thus far.
Get ready for all the talking points here to be hammered into the ground between now and May. Any interested teams will approach with caution given Winston's off-field issues. But on the field he has excelled time and again.
What set up as a monster senior season was derailed by a Sept. 6 knee injury. Scherff missed almost no time despite needing surgery, though he has not always looked 100 percent, like in a shaky game versus Maryland. A healthy Scherff has All-Pro potential at right tackle or guard.
Cooper has 62 catches for 908 yards and seven touchdowns this season ... and has looked almost effortless getting to those numbers. The 6-1, 198-pound Crimson Tide star can work his way open at any spot on the field and never shies away from contact.
The gap between Cooper and the rest of the potential '15 WR class is not cavernous, but he's the clear frontrunner.
His draft position probably will be capped by his size (5-10, 185), which is a shame -- especially since San Diego rookie Jason Verrett has proven again that smaller corners can step in and perform. Ekpre-Olomu wins with instincts more than physical tools.
Man, has this guy been sensational over the first couple months of the season. Floyd (6-4, 230) is just a sophomore, but he is three years removed from high school thanks to a stop at Hargrave Military Academy (Va.). As his 6.0 sacks and 34 tackles (six for loss) hint, Floyd never stops pursuing the ball.
The Wolverines' myriad issues plus an ankle injury have kept Funchess' stats in check (36 catches, 461 yards, four TDs). Against Penn State two weeks ago, he offered a reminder of what he's capable of -- at 6-5, 230 no less -- by chasing down a deep ball and slicing in front of a safety for a touchdown catch.
Want a polished product? Head elsewhere. Looking for someone with through-the-roof potential? This might be your guy. Oakman (6-9, 280) has produced 5.0 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss this year, but he is raw.
Find a spot -- anywhere -- for the 6-2, 225-pound safety-turned-linebacker and let him do his thing. Thompson accelerates to the ball and covers well. He can play running back, too.
Back-to-back Huskies. Peters (6-0, 190) probably has leapfrogged Ekpre-Olomu on some boards due to his consistent play and superior size. There's very little not to like here.
Designating a position for Fowler (6-3, 260) is rather pointless. He has moved around the Gators defense and will appeal most to an NFL defensive coordinator imaginative enough to get him snaps at several spots.
"He’s pretty damn good," an NFL scout told SI's The Inside Read. "He’s real sudden and not real long, but he makes a ton of plays for them."
Ray (6-3, 245) has blown up early in 2014 -- he currently leads the SEC with 8.0 sacks. In case you haven't spotted the trend: It may be a real good year to need help off the edge.
If Ogbuehi is not the tackle with the highest ceiling, might it be Peat? The 6-7, 315-pounder moves well enough and comes from Stanford's pro-style system. His 2014 has been a little worrisome, as Peat has not controlled defenders the way many thought he could.
Feel free to ignore Shelton's 7.5 sacks this season, if you want. That's an impressive total, no doubt, but it's also not really a true testament to how Shelton (6-1, 327) will fit at the next level -- which is as a space-eater up front, either occupying the center from the nose or plugging an A-gap.
Another prospect of whom more was expected in 2014. He might have turned a corner in the Spartans' win over Nebraska a couple of weeks ago. Unlike a few others above him, Calhoun might be limited to a 4-3 DE spot, but he should have no shortage of suitors.
Finally back on the field last Saturday following a preseason foot injury, Parker immediately caught nine passes for 132 yards. Just wait until the combine. Parker (6-3, 208) is going to light it up in Indianapolis.
Like Scherff, another example of why this OT class may be tough on NFL front offices. There is obvious talent available. Is there any left tackle talent available, though?
Collins (6-5, 321) has ironed out some wrinkles in his technique this season and has room to grow. He may be an RT or guard prospect nonetheless.
Don't be fooled by the West Virginia system. White's play this season and coinciding rise up draft boards has been no fluke. A 6-3, 210-pound dynamo, White can catch and run -- he's done so several times this season for big gains -- or can rip the ball away from contending defenders.
The first of two Big Ten backs in a four-spot window here, Abdullah is a personal preference over Melvin Gordon. Why? Mainly because he's already shown he can be a three-down back, whereas Gordon has been eased into that role by Wisconsin. Abdullah (5-9, 195) has 16 touchdowns and nearly 1,200 total yards this season. His quick-cut running style is reminiscent of LeSean McCoy.
Get the feeling that Greene (6-1, 175) is going to be like Keenan Allen in 2013 or the Marqise Lee/Allen Robinson combo last draft -- a Round 2 or 3 pick who earns heavy playing time out of the gate. Greene had 76 catches last season and is on pace to top that number in '14. He won't blow anyone away at the combine or in workouts, but his advanced game speaks for itself.
Standing 6-0 and 245, Perryman is a bowling ball of a linebacker. And he has 51 tackles through seven games to show for his work. A team can draft him, drop him into the lineup and wait on 80-plus tackles.
Speed, strength ... and more than 1,000 yards on the season. Gordon (6-1, 207) might be best suited for what, say, the Colts keep trying to get out of Trent Richardson -- a two-down workhorse with a knack for finding the end zone, who then steps aside for a scatback-type on passing downs. The Wisconsin back deserves Round 1 consideration.
One of two Seminoles cornerbacks who should be coveted come draft time (Ronald Darby being the other), Williams (6-0, 196) coughs up some plays but he does plenty to make up for them.
McKinney (6-5, 245) should not be limited by scheme; he might be limited some by his range. Get him moving downhill and he can be a star, in a Brandon Spikes sort of way.
Purely on his ability to pluck the football out of the air, Strong has a Round 1 chance. Case in point: his Hail Mary winner against USC. Sitting on 49 catches for 689 yards this season, Strong (6-4, 205) might only be scratching the surface of what he can do.
An increasingly effective player filling the shoes of Timmy Jernigan this season, Goldman (6-4, 320) at the very least has a future as a rotational defensive tackle. As the Seminoles' opponents have learned in 2014, Goldman can take over games from the interior.
No real hesitation anymore in naming Golson the No. 3 QB prospect in this class -- not after how well he played at Florida State. Golson's size (6-0, 200) won't check all the boxes and he still locks on to his primary target too often. The strides he has made this season, however, are remarkable.
It says here that Waynes (6-1, 182) is not quite the prospect that former teammate Darqueze Dennard was last year. He's a first-round candidate in his own right, though, thanks to his aggressiveness when the ball is in the air.
Liking Flowers (6-6, 324) more and more as the season progresses. When the Miami tackle gets a first step on opposing defenders, he has the power to bury them.
Montgomery often gets labeled as a player with "straight-line speed." Sure, but in the way that the Roadrunner had straight-line speed when evading Wile E. Coyote. A little more consistency making grabs would help his status out quite a bit.
It has been a much slower progression for Hundley than really anyone had hoped. The dual-threat abilities for the 6-3, 227-pound QB are undeniable. So, too, are the issues Hundley shows in sensing approaching trouble.
If he heads to the NFL after this season, a QB-needy team will call his name within the first couple rounds. How long before he's ready for a starting gig?
Yeldon now has rushed for 2,909 yards on 486 carries over his three 'Bama seasons, an average just shy of 6.0 yards per attempt. The Crimson Tide coaching staff has not overworked him -- something NFL scouts will appreciate at the RB position. Between the tackles, he's about as good as it gets in the college ranks.
Count Bennett as a slight step down from Aaron Donald, but that's probably still the comparison here. Bennett (6-3, 285) has not been nearly as disruptive this season (3.0 tackles for loss and one sack) as Donald was at Pittsburgh. That said, he can push the pocket from a DT spot. And he might be a better pro than college player.
Cook (6-4, 218) has increased his completion percentage and yards per attempt this season, and his yards/TD totals should follow suit in the very near future. The height Cook possesses, coupled with a strong arm, will appeal to NFL teams.
There are a few too many gaffes still, mainly from Cook relying on his arm too much as opposed to rolling through his progressions. Better decision-making, in and out of the pocket, is key moving forward.