NCAA Football News

10 College Stars Most Likely to Shine in NFL Next Year

As the calendar turns to November, we’re turning into the final quarter of the 2014 college football season. Players and teams are jockeying for position in the chase for the initial College Football Playoff, conference titles and even bowl eligibility.

All the while, NFL coaches, scouts and front-office types are watching. Up close and from afar, they’re taking notes and making evaluations for next spring’s NFL draft. The real fun will start following the season, when the postseason all-star game/NFL combine circuit begins, but it’s fair to take a look at the potential draft class and wonder how they’ll do at the next level.

Obviously, plenty can (and will) change between now and the moment the team with the first pick in the NFL draft is placed on the clock, but it’s fun to see how players will fit in as professionals next fall.
Here’s a look at the 10 college stars most likely to shine in the NFL next fall (with help from Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller's "Top 50" Big Board). 

This isn’t a referendum on players’ long-term careers, but rather those who are most likely to have immediate success. Players like Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston aren't here simply because it can be very difficult for a rookie quarterback to thrive early on (especially if they are high draft picks and placed in tough situations with rebuilding teams).

Begin Slideshow

Rashad Roundtree to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

One of the biggest names in the 2015 recruiting class made his official decision today as safety Rashad Roundtree committed to Georgia, according to Alex Gleitman of 247 Sports:

Woody Wommack of Rivals provided video of the decision:

Roundtree wore some interesting clothes to announce his choice, according to Wommack:

Roundtree is listed as a 4-star prospect and ranks as the No. 6 safety recruit in the entire country, per 247Sports' composite ratings. He's also considered the 94th-best prospect overall nationally. The 6'1", 195-pound star from Evans, Georgia, and Lakeside High School had no shortage of intriguing offers to take under consideration.

Many of the top programs in college football pursued him and Roundtree appeared to enjoy the process. He even teased his followers on Twitter by suggesting that his mind was made up well before he announced his decision:

At the very least, colleges knew if they were still in the running on Aug. 2 as Roundtree released his list of six possibilities via a tweet:

Roundtree made a life-altering decision today, but all signs suggest that a lot of thought and consideration went into it. When asked about the selection process by Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com in March, Roundtree made it clear that he would take a calculated approach:

I don't want to make a hasty decision. I am going to wait to take my officials before I narrow them all down. Doing that will be really hard. You just really need to look at the details on visits, really. They are all going to treat you nice, they are all going to have good facilities and stuff. So I take a look at the coaching staffs, the players and how well everyone reacts to me.

Now that the media circus surrounding Roundtree's decision will come to an end, he can focus on finishing his high school football career and improving as much as possible leading up to his freshman season in the collegiate ranks.

Roundtree is immensely talented, but there is plenty of work left to do before he can realistically play regularly and contribute at a high level in major college football. With that said, expectations will be through the roof considering his advanced billing.

There is no doubt that Roundtree has all the abilities that talent evaluators look for in a safety. He is fast and physical while also possessing excellent ball skills, which could make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

Roundtree has enough raw talent that he could conceivably see some game action in 2015, but allowing him to sit and learn may be the best course of action. He shouldn't be thrown into the fire until he is ready, but it will be impossible to tell how prepared he is until he actually joins the team.

He has been a leader and a dominant force at Lakeside, so his capability of making the switch to college quickly and seamlessly shouldn't be totally dismissed.

Roundtree should find himself in a very favorable situation. As long as he maintains the same attitude and effort level moving forward, he has all the makings of a collegiate superstar in the very near future.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star Rashad Roundtree Commits to Georgia, Immediate Impact Player for Bulldogs

RashadRoundtree—a 4-star safety, per 247Sports—has officially committed to the Georgia Bulldogs.

Head coach Mark Richt snagged a huge commit by keeping this Georgia native in state, and Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down how this stud will fit in Athens.

How well do you think he will do at Georgia?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch Miami Commit Lay Out for Incredible One-Handed TD Catch

2015 wide receiver Terrell Chatman made a diving one-handed touchdown catch this past weekend. This Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native put his body on the line and came up with one of the best grabs of the year.

Do you think this is the best catch of the year?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Football: 2015 Recruits 'Noles Need to Land

Florida State's recruiting class was already looking good. But the verbal commitments of 4-star tailback Jacques Patrick on Oct. 27 and 5-star cornerback Tarvarus McFadden on Oct. 31 puts the Seminoles and coach Jimbo Fisher in position to land the nation's No. 1 class in February.

"It was the kind of week that pushes an excellent recruiting class into elite territory," Bleacher Report recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue said. "Jimbo Fisher has this team recruiting at a much higher level than any team in Florida right now, capitalizing on a remarkable on-field stretch."

The Seminoles have 247Sports' No. 2 class behind Alabama thanks to the commitments by Patrick and McFadden.

Patrick, who is from Orlando, Florida, has three straight 2,000-yard seasons and is currently pushing toward a fourth. He is 6'1" and 230 pounds. A bruising downfield rusher who also has speed (4.5 in the 40).

"Patrick is a North-South battering ram," Donohue said.

McFadden is 6'3" and 200 pounds. A physical corner with the size to match up well with any receiver.

"He was impressive at The Opening this summer," Donohue said. "His size and skill set follows suit with how things are trending at cornerback in college and the NFL, though high school prospects like him are difficult to find." 

Here's a look at FSU's 20 verbal commitments for 2014 so far, according to 247Sports.com:

 

Quarterbacks: Deondre Francois, De'Andre Johnson, Kai Locksley

Running backs: Jacques Patrick, Johnny Frasier

Wide receivers: George Campbell, Auden Tate, Nyqwan Murray

Tight end: Jalen Wilkerson

Offensive linemen: Abdul Bello, Cole Minshew, David Robbins

Defensive linemen: D.J. Jones, Darvin Taylor

Linebackers: Sh'mar Kilby-Lane, Brian Bell

Defensive backs: McFadden, Derwin James, Calvin Brewton, A.J. Westbrook

Now, let's take a look at five recruits FSU would love to land in the next few months:

Begin Slideshow

Ranking the Biggest Trap Games Left on the Schedule for CFB Playoff Contenders

With 14 power-five teams at one loss or less, it looks almost certain that the first-ever College Football Playoff will be embroiled in ugly controversy.

Though many folks are already predicting which teams will get left out in the cold, keep in mind that the committee may not be tasked with anything more than a simple exercise of filling in the blanks. It could be as easy as penciling in the names of the only four teams that didn't lose after Week 10.

With six games remaining that pit one legit playoff team against another, the plot thickens. Six losses are a certainty, dropping the number of potential candidates to eight. Add in the four major conference championship games and the field shrinks even further.

Here’s a look at 13 potential playoff teams and 13 opponents—ranked by the level of threat—that could add that telltale first or second loss.

Some of these games are more obvious than others, but all present a potential statistical mismatch that could make a contender or pretender in 60 minutes.

Begin Slideshow

ESPN College GameDay 2014: Week 11 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

There is only one contest on the 2014 Big Ten schedule outside of the conference title game that matters in the national picture—Saturday’s showdown between No. 14 Ohio State and No. 8 Michigan State.

ESPN’s College GameDay responded accordingly and will take its traveling pregame show on the road to Spartan territory in Week 11:

 

ESPN College GameDay: Week 11 Info

Date: Saturday, Nov. 8

Time (ET): 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Location: 
Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan

Watch: ESPN 

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview and Prediction

The stakes could not be higher for this clash under the Saturday night lights.

For one, this is an elimination game in the race for the College Football Playoff. Whether it is Ohio State or Michigan State that comes out on top, the loser will have two losses and plummet down the rankings. The winner will have the inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game from the East Division and a marquee victory to show off to the selection committee.

What’s more, there is an element of revenge, at least from Ohio State’s perspective.

The Spartans ended Urban Meyer’s 24-game winning streak to start his tenure at Ohio State in last year’s conference title game and prevented the Buckeyes from reaching the national title contest. It is still Meyer’s only Big Ten loss, but it sent the program into something of a mini-slump considering it lost the Orange Bowl to Clemson, lost Braxton Miller for the 2014 season to injury and then lost in the second game this season to Virginia Tech.

That’s a lot more losing than Ohio State and Meyer are accustomed to, and a big win would certainly remedy those feelings.

As for Michigan State, it hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes at home since the last century (1999) and needs another win of merit on the resume after it lost to Oregon earlier this season.

You can throw any of those three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Big Ten stereotypes out the window as well, since both the Spartans (45.5 points a game) and Buckeyes (45.6 points a game) are in the top five in the nation in scoring offense.

Something will have to give when J.T. Barrett and the Ohio State offense that has scored 50 or more points in five of the last six games take the field against a Michigan State defense that has held five of its opponents to 17 or fewer points this year. 

College GameDay pointed out why the Spartans will have their hands full against the Ohio State signal-caller:

Barrett has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in every game since the loss to Virginia Tech and has kept the Buckeyes afloat without Miller. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio commented on Barrett and the Ohio State offense, via Kyle Austin of MLive.com:

They had a big injury when Braxton Miller, a big emotional deal for them. I thought they did an outstanding job in terms of not letting the team go south, they brought in the other guy has gotten much much better with experience and he has grown and he's a great football player, he's very high in a lot of things statistically, 20 touchdowns, five interceptions.

Michigan State can’t focus all of its attention on Barrett and the passing game, though, since the Buckeyes have rushed for at least 200 yards in the last six games.

Ultimately, every yard and every point is critical in showdowns like this. For as effective as Ohio State’s offense has been statistically, its touchdown rate inside the red zone is only 69 percent. If the Buckeyes cannot convert their opportunities inside the 20-yard line, it could be a long day on Saturday against a solid defense.

The best defense may be a good offense for the Spartans, as Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford lead a balanced attack that has gained at least 420 yards in every single game this season. Incredibly, Michigan State has gained only 44 more passing yards than rushing yards this year, which is a testament to the offense’s balance.

The good news for Buckeyes fans is that this will be a much better Ohio State defense than Michigan State faced in last year’s Big Ten championship. It is 17th in the country in points allowed per game at 19.9 and is better suited to slow the Spartans offense down than it was last year when Cook threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns.

Statistically, this game will feature two strong defenses and two high-octane offenses that have lit up the scoreboard all season. It figures to be a nail-biter that comes down to the final minutes.

Regardless of what the overall numbers say, though, it’s just too hard to ignore the fact that the Buckeyes offense has looked completely different in its two games against opponents of note this year (Virginia Tech and Penn State). Most of the impressive numbers have come in the easy contests against the Kent States, Cincinnatis and Rutgers of the world.

Barrett threw three interceptions against the Hokies, while no running back topped 32 yards on the ground. Barrett threw for a whopping 74 yards against the Nittany Lions, and the offense didn’t score in the second half until overtime.

Michigan State's defense is better than both of those opponents.

The raucous crowd will be a problem for the redshirt-freshman Barrett, much like it was for stretches at Penn State, and the Spartans defense will make enough plays to get the victory. 

Michigan State will still be in the College Football Playoff race after the game, while the young and talented Buckeyes will start looking ahead to a 2015 season that could be special.

Prediction: Michigan State 27, Ohio State 21

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks Week 11: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

The College Football Playoff brings a whole new level of intensity to this point of the season. As we begin to head down the final stretch, more teams than ever are jockeying for position in an effort to claim a spot in the Top Four.

After 10 turbulent weeks of action on the amateur gridiron, only two undefeated teams remain in the selection committee's Top 25. They are followed closely by a bevy of one-loss teams champing at the bit for a chance to rise to the top of the pecking order.

With some enticing Week 11 matchups full of playoff implications on the way, we should expect these rankings to shift once again. Will the nation's top teams be heavily tested and pave the way for alterations at the top of the hierarchy?

Here's a look at the College Football Playoff selection committee's Top 25 with corresponding matchup odds and expected outcomes.

Week 11 College Football Playoff committee rankings can be viewed at CollegeFootballPlayoff.com.

All game odds courtesy of Odds Shark and current as of November 6.

 

Marquee Games

Kansas State (+6) at TCU

This matchup's outcome will rely heavily on how well TCU junior quarterback Trevone Boykin can play in a contest that will put him under plenty of pressure from both the game's implications and the Kansas State defense.

Boykin really emerged as a passer for the first time this season. We already knew he was a threat to run after watching him perform in 2013, but he's led the Horned Frogs to become the sixth-ranked passing team in the nation. ESPN College Football tweeted the difference in the signal-caller's play from 2013 to 2014:

However, the quarterback isn't coming off a strong performance.

The West Virginia Mountaineers have been playing solid defense lately, and that showed in Week 10 against an uncharacteristically inaccurate Boykin. The quarterback got off to a sluggish start, and he watched his team fall behind early. While TCU did come back for a win, Boykin completed just 12 of his 30 passing attempts for 166 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 23.6.

Now, he faces the challenge of righting the ship against a Kansas State team ranked 12th in the nation in points allowed, giving up an average of just 18.6 per game. If Boykin can't get it going early again in Week 11, TCU will be in serious trouble.

Kansas State's offense has the ability to sustain long drives and keep opposing offenses off the field. Quarterback Jake Waters flourishes in an offense revolving around high-percentage passes and the option to gain yards with his legs. He may not allow Boykin and Co. on the field long enough to do significant damage.

Prediction: Kansas State 30, TCU 27

 

Ohio State at Michigan State (-3.5)

Ohio State's offense is red-hot right now, but so is Michigan State's defense. This clash of Big Ten foes could answer the question of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object.

After a close call against Penn State, the Buckeyes got things going in Week 10 against Illinois. Quarterback J.T. Barrett found more consistency due to a run-oriented offense and passing plays that were better suited to his skill set. This allowed him to finish the game completing 15 of his 24 passing attempts for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

Here's a look at what Barrett has produced this season compared to last-year's starter, Braxton Miller, via ESPN College Football:

A short passing game was a perfect complement to a running game featuring a bevy of highly skilled ball-carriers, including Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel. The running game continued to put the team in great position on third down, and as a result, the Buckeyes converted seven of their 12 attempts in that department.

Things won't be quite as easy Saturday against the Spartans. This defense has been playing some lights-out football lately, allowing 22 points or fewer in five of its last six games. Sparty crushed in-state rival Michigan in Week 10, allowing a mere 186 yards of total offense and forcing three turnovers.

Ohio State will have difficulty scoring on a defense allowing just 20.3 points per game, and the Buckeyes' emerging running game will have trouble finding room to maneuver against Michigan State's sixth-ranked run defense, allowing an average of 95.4 yards per game.

It's hard to bet against the immovable object in this one.

Prediction: Michigan State 34, Ohio State 23

 

Notre Dame (+2.5) at Arizona State

The Fighting Irish may be considered underdogs in Week 11 after allowing Navy to hang around in Week 10. However, that's nothing new for Notre Dame, as all four of its last games have finished within 10-point scoring margins.

Despite the team not being able to blow opponents out of the water, its only loss on the season was due to a last-second touchdown by Florida State. Everett Golson has stepped up tremendously in recent weeks, and he displayed the ability to get points on the board with his arm and his legs, accumulating six total touchdowns in Notre Dame's win over Navy.

Rotoworld's Josh Norris tweeted one example of Golson's passing prowess:

On the flip side, Arizona State has struggled to get points on the board in recent weeks, scoring 27 or fewer points in four of its last five games. The Sun Devils were taken into overtime in Week 10 by the Utes due to an inefficient offense. Arizona State racked up 444 yards of total offense but only converted two of its 14 third-down attempts.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly finished the game against Utah completing 18 of his 32 passing attempts for 205 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 31.5 passer rating. That won't get it done against the Fighting Irish, so expect the Sun Devils to put running back Demario Richard to work.

Richard has a chance to have a big day against Notre Dame with middle linebacker Joe Schmidt on the shelf. However, Arizona State will need production across its offense to keep up with a surging Golson and a Notre Dame defense that is allowing an average of just 21.6 points per game.

Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Arizona State 24

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Predictions 2014: Projections for College Football Playoff, Other Top Bowls

The expansion to the four-team College Football Playoff was never going to erase the controversy from the BCS era.  Indeed, with four regular-season games left for most teams, a plethora of schools still hold legitimate cases for reaching the final four.

However, the thinning-out process has already begun.  Two-loss teams like Ole Miss and Georgia are now likely out of contention, barring total chaos, and more teams will join those ranks this Saturday.  The Big 10 and the Big 12, the two power conferences most likely to get shut out, will each host a virtual elimination game between top contenders.

Let's take a look at the current snapshot of the playoff field and selection committee bowl games, highlighting the Week 11 games that could particularly impact the race for the biggest bowls.

 

Oregon vs. Utah

After a resounding win over kryptonite Stanford, the Oregon Ducks have finally broken into the playoff picture, earning the fourth and final seed in the committee's post-Week 10 rankings.  However, with the Ducks on an emotional high, this Saturday's game at Salt Lake City could be a prime letdown scenario:

Indeed, perhaps due to their struggles since joining the Pac-12, the Utah Utes have been largely overlooked by the public—even with their 17th-ranked designation.  The Utes lead the nation with 39 sacks, as their defense ranks 13th in the country, according to Football Outsiders' Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) metric. 

Thus, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will face arguably his stiffest test of the season.  Though Mariota had issues escaping pressure earlier this season, the return of left tackle Jake Fisher has stabilized the line, as the Ducks have conceded just four sacks in their last four games.

A victory would also secure Oregon's spot in the Pac-12 conference championship game, where they would appear likely to host Arizona State.  This is the Ducks' toughest game until that potential conference championship, so a win could also effectively seal an opportunity to play for a playoff berth in the final week.

 

TCU vs. Kansas State

As two of the three one-loss teams remaining in the Big 12, TCU and Kansas State are playing an effective elimination game for the conference.  While it is no lock that the Big 12 even receives a playoff bid, the winner will hold the inside track to the conference championship, along with Baylor.

The game's premier matchup will lie on the perimeter, as Kansas State's Tyler Lockett faces off against TCU corner Kevin White.  Last week, White shut down his namesake, West Virginia's Kevin White, holding him to just three receptions for 28 yards.  Lockett is in a similar class in terms of explosiveness and the ability to vertically stretch the perimeter, and White realizes he will once again have his hands full:

Despite their higher ranking, the Horned Frogs could be underdogs in this game.  Not only is the game in Manhattan, but the battered Frogs are coming off a difficult and physical comeback victory in Morgantown.  Though the geographic travel is easier this week, hitting the road once again could stress a weary TCU squad.

Ultimately, the game will come down to the biggest strength on strength.  TCU's defense leads the nation in takeaways, which has led to an astounding 101 points off turnovers.  Kansas State has the seventh-fewest turnovers in the nation, so if the Wildcats offense can take care of the ball, they should make life difficult for Trevone Boykin and Co.

 

Ohio State vs. Michigan State 

The rematch of last year's Big 10 Championship Game holds less luster than last January's meeting.  However, while the Big 10 looks like the weakest Power Five conference in terms of overall depth, both the Spartans and the Buckeyes look like squads capable of crashing the playoff dance.

Ohio State has been teetering since the Spartans ended their 24-game winning streak in their last meeting, but the Buckeyes still harbor hope with just a single loss to Virginia Tech back on Sep. 6.  Freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has held his own, throwing 23 touchdowns to just seven picks, while also maintaining a robust 9.0 yards per attempt average.  Indeed, some on Michigan State's defense have suggested that Barrett has represented an upgrade from preseason Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller:

Despite Barrett's strong play, Ohio State's road to the playoff will be difficult, even with a win.  The Buckeyes are ranked ahead of just two Power Five schools in the CFP Top 25, Duke and Utah, and the Virginia Tech loss is looking worse as the Hokies flounder at 4-5.  The Spartans' lone loss came in Eugene, though they too will suffer from a lack of marquee wins due to the weakened Big 10.

In truth, the winner will likely need the SEC to cannibalize itself for a realistic playoff shot, unless a heavy favorite like Florida State or Oregon falters.  But college football has always proven unpredictable, and the winner will put itself in position to exploit the unexpected if and when it arises.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Back and Better Than Ever, DeVante Parker Looking Like a Top 2015 Draft Prospect

Just two games into his injury-shortened senior season, Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker has already raised his stock as a projected first-round pick for the 2015 NFL draft.

After breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during an August practice, Parker underwent surgery that forced him to miss Louisville’s first seven games this year.

He hasn’t shown any lingering effects of the injury or the missed time since returning to action. Instead, Parker is playing better football than he ever has before.

A player who frequently flashed big-play ability in each of his first three seasons at Louisville, but did not consistently produce at a top-tier level, Parker has displayed the skill set of a No. 1 NFL wideout in his play already as a senior.

In just two games played, Parker already has 17 receptions for 346 yards. He had the best game of his career to date last Thursday against Florida State, in which he caught nine passes for 214 yards while going up against one of college football’s elite teams.

Assuming Parker stays healthy, he will have the opportunity to play in four more regular-season games and a bowl game this year.

Should he continue to play at the high level at which he has performed thus far, there’s no reason he can’t challenge Alabama junior Amari Cooper and West Virginia senior Kevin White to be the first pass-catcher drafted come April.

 

Spectacular Ball Skills

One does not have to work too hard to find numerous examples of Parker hauling in spectacular grabs.

A natural hands-catcher who plucks the ball out of the air, high-points the ball well and has tremendous body control, Parker has a skill for reeling in receptions that are tough for anyone, even an NFL wideout, to make.

One of Parker’s most memorable catches came in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, when he was just a sophomore, as he beat Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy to the end zone and hauled in an acrobatic 15-yard touchdown reception.

Skeptics might note that the catch above would not have counted as an NFL reception because he only got one foot in bounds, but it’s nonetheless an impressive display of his ability to contort his body and make a fully-extended grab.

Parker excels at spotting the ball in midair and having the ability to adjust his body to make a catch, even when it is contested by coverage. A great example of that came on the following 26-yard touchdown from Louisville’s Russell Athletic Bowl win last season against Miami.

Parker hasn’t had to make any catches with that degree of difficulty yet in 2014, but he’s looked as good as ever catching the ball, even when he has to work against coverage. One of the aesthetic catches he has already made this year was a 31-yard reception against Florida State cornerback and fellow potential first-round pick P.J. Williams.

Throughout his Louisville career, Parker has shown that he can make highlight-reel receptions and reward his quarterbacks for giving him chances to make plays.

Parker had some issues with drops early in his collegiate career, but he’s improved on those lapses. Considering the plays he can make with his hands, there’s no reason drops should be a significant issue for him going forward, as he has become a more experienced pass-catcher.

 

Physical Gifts

Parker might not measure up as the biggest or fastest wide receiver in predraft workouts, but he has more than enough size and speed to succeed as an NFL outside wideout.

Listed at 6’3” and 211 pounds by Louisville’s official athletics website, Parker is also reported to have an 80-inch wingspan, according to Mike Huguenin of NFL.com.

His height and length are a big factor in his ability to win contested-catch situations and catch passes out away from his body.

Parker has also been reported to run a 4.39-second 40-yard dash, according to Huguenin, but it would be somewhat surprising if he ran that fast at the NFL Scouting Combine.

While Parker is a fluid runner, he doesn’t stand out to be a burner.

He doesn’t exhibit a second gear downfield to enable himself to separate from a defensive back on a deep route when he fails to beat his opponent off the line of scrimmage. On overthrown deep balls, this can allow a defensive back to become the receiver on the play—and potentially make an interception—when he can keep a step in front of Parker.

That said, Parker does have enough alacrity to extend a play for a long gain when he has room to run. He made that immediately clear against Florida State last Thursday when he gained 71 yards on a catch-and-run on the opening play from scrimmage.

Parker won’t become famous for his lateral quickness or regularly making defenders miss in open space, but he has proven—especially in his pair of outings so far this year—to be a tough player to bring down once he gets going.

It appears that Parker has become stronger in his senior year, and he has been able to finish forward through tackles when running downfield. He’s also showing more ability than ever before to break free from contact and run away from missed tackles.

One particularly impressive example came against North Carolina State in his first game back this year. Parker caught a short pass, power spun through a tackle to free himself from one defender and maneuver outside away from another, then showed the balance of a ballerina as he tiptoed along the sideline to finish with a 22-yard conversion on a play that began in a 1st-and-20 situation.

 

Becoming a Star in the Intermediate Area

Despite being best known for his big plays, Parker’s bread and butter will be his ability to make plays in the intermediate passing game, an area where the receiver has shown vast improvement.

As demonstrated in the tweet below, Parker has effective, sudden footwork coming out of his stance that enables him to gain immediate separation from defensive backs on quick slants.

From slants and hitch routes to comebacks and curls, Parker’s improvement as a route-runner has been evident. Able to break rapidly with little to no wasted motion, Parker is, as Rotoworld’s Josh Norris described it, “so good at creating that sliver of separation” to get open.

It seems as though Parker, along with new Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, are increasingly understanding what the Cardinals star playmaker’s strengths are and how those can best be utilized.

One lingering area where scouts and coaches should seek and expect improvement is in Parker’s run blocking, a capacity in which he has regularly struggled despite his size. The aforementioned strength he has shown in breaking tackles should also be able to be translated to winning against defenders as a blocker.

Overall, however, Parker’s really starting to show refinement in his game and the polish to advance to the next level and continue the sudden trend of wide receivers becoming rookie sensations.

 

Comparing Parker with the Draft’s Other Top Wide Receivers

Much like the 2014 draft, which had five wide receivers selected in the first 28 picks and 12 off the board in the top 63, it looks as though the 2015 draft will also be loaded with early-round talents.

Individually, Parker has the talent of a top-20 selection. Whether he makes a run at going in the top 15, or perhaps falls into the late first round or out of it altogether, depends largely upon how he ends up comparing with the other notable wideouts in the draft class.

Amari Cooper remains the favorite to be the 2015 draft’s first pass-catcher selected, assuming he declares. Cooper is much more laterally agile than Parker, but Parker could be preferred in some circles because of height advantage over Cooper, who is listed at 6’1”.

Kevin White, at 6’3” and 210 pounds, has virtually identical listed measurables to those of Parker and is a similar prospect in many ways. White utilizes his size more effectively as a pass-catcher and blocker, but Parker is likely to test slightly better in regards to his athleticism, while he also has a more complete body of work than White, relatively unknown prior to this year.

Truly, there’s no clear-cut pick between those top three—all of them are performing at a high level and have well-rounded skill sets that make them capable of being immediate contributors in NFL offenses.

Further complicating matters are a number of other potential first-round picks who, if they enter the draft as juniors, can make a legitimate case for being one of the draft’s best pass-catchers.

Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong is another 6’3” wideout who has been highly productive and wins at the catch point with his size and ball skills.

Michigan's Devin Funchess, a converted tight end who stands at 6’5” but is also a very nimble athlete, might have the most mismatch-creating potential of any passing target eligible for the 2015 draft.

Auburn’s Sammie Coates has struggled to catch the ball consistently and run routes in his junior year, but he has explosive physical traits and as much deep playmaking ability as any wideout in college football.

There’s also USC’s Nelson Agholor, who lacks the size of the other top prospects but is a sharp route-runner who can dynamically create yardage in the open field both on offense and as a punt/kickoff-returner.

The battle to be the top receiver or simply among the top wideouts will rage not only throughout the remainder of the college football season but also into the NFL Scouting Combine and pro-day season.

How that battle will shake out remains to be seen. What should be clear is that Parker belongs near the top of the group, if not at it, should he remain healthy and continue to produce at a high level.

 

All GIFs were made at gfycat.com using videos from Draft Breakdown and YouTube.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages