NCAA Football News

Elijah Holyfield Reveals Top 5: Odds on Where 4-Star RB Lands

Running back Elijah Holyfield, the son of boxing royalty and a premier 2016 college football prospect, is entering the final phase of his recruitment.

The 4-star playmaker is now focused on five programs moving forward, according to a video released by Scout.com. Holyfield identified Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee as the teams on top.

This SEC battle will be decided in just six weeks:

Holyfield, whose father is five-time world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, trimmed down a list that previously featured 10 programs. Notre Dame, Oregon, USC, Louisville and Miami missed the cut this time.

He's keeping the process relatively local, as the allure of SEC competition is simply too captivating for the Atlanta-area rusher to ignore. Regional powerhouses have remained ardent throughout his recruitment.

“It's really tempting, because they don’t want to let you get out,” Holyfield told Lindsey Thiry of the Los Angeles Times. “A lot of schools are by me and they come by almost every time they can."

The 5'10", 204-pound prospect is rated fifth nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings. He nears his senior season at Woodward Academy considered one of America's top uncommitted offensive talents.

Holyfield rushed for a career-best 1,735 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2014, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He added 27 receptions for 289 yards and three scores.

Now that Holyfield is headed toward a decision, let's take a look at his remaining contenders. We applied odds to each team, based on the likelihood he lands with that university.

 

Alabama: 4-to-1

The Crimson Tide probably would've been our favorite among this group just a week ago, but things changed dramatically a few days ago. North Carolina running back B. J. Emmons, rated third nationally at the position, pledged to Alabama on July 20. 

His presence, along with top-rated 2015 rusher Damien Harris, seemingly lessens the likelihood Holyfield lands in Tuscaloosa. Bleacher Report heard rumblings at The Opening that Holyfield was leaning toward the Crimson Tide, but head coach Nick Saban was still searching for a 2016 rusher at that stage.

Still, we've seen Alabama repeatedly overcome its crowded depth chart while targeting blue-chip recruits. The Tide signed six top-five running back prospects during the past five cycles and already hold a commitment from No. 1 overall 2017 rusher Najee Harris.

"The tradition they have at running backs and winning national championships is great," Holyfield told Chris Kirschner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 

Auburn: 2-to-1

Head coach Gus Malzahn and his staff have been relentless in this recruitment, and it's paid off, as Holyfield often reciprocates interest with visits to campus.

"It’s a home away from home," he told Kirschner. "I have been there multiple times and their players are really cool. It also helps that it’s really close to home. I really enjoy going there. Every time I am there, it’s like family.”

The family word is consistently a strong indicator of where high school players feel comfortable. More often than not, that's the ultimate element when it's time to pick a program.

Auburn is viewed as the favorite to sign Holyfield, holding 65 percent of 22 expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball. We tend to agree with that sentiment.

 

Georgia: 3-to-1

The in-state Bulldogs previously held a pledge from Emmons, but he backed off his verbal commitment last month and is now a member of Alabama's class. Georgia didn't prioritize the position in the 2015 cycle after landing 5-star 2014 duo Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.

Now the team must acquire a rusher capable of taking over when that tandem departs, which may very well happen after the 2016 season if both players stay healthy and productive enough to warrant early NFL consideration.

Bulldogs running back alum Thomas Brown joined the staff this offseason after coaching Wisconsin Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon last season. If Holyfield picks Georgia, he deserves a large dose of credit for the pickup.

“Georgia has the in-state factor going for them. I really enjoy playing with some of the players that I have gotten to know pretty well. Brown has also been a really big influence on me," he told Kirschner.

 

South Carolina: 12-to-1

Constant speculation surrounding the tenure of Hall of Fame head coach Steve Spurrier and his eventual retirement haven't helped Gamecocks recruiting efforts this cycle. Multiple South Carolina targets have told Bleacher Report they're nervous about committing to a program that could undergo a massive transition during their time on campus.

As a result, the team currently holds a recruiting class rated 54th overall and 13th among SEC squads in composite rankings. Holyfield is exactly the kind of player Spurrier and his staff are in dire need of to turn the momentum as the season approaches.

Based on his list of past campus visits among finalists and how things appear to be trending, South Carolina likely misses the cut for his top-five list if not for personal ties to the team.

“I had two teammates that play for South Carolina (Terry Googer and Benji Russell) and I got to hear a lot from their side and hang out with them while I was there and it’s really cool there," Holyfield told Kirschner.

 

Tennessee: 6-to-1

The Volunteers are viewed as a program rising up the SEC ladder and could soon contend for the East's spot in conference championship action. Consecutive star-studded recruiting classes have the arrow pointing up for head coach Butch Jones.

Holyfield could be another piece of the puzzle for Tennessee's future ascension. The team's 2016 class includes Elite 11 quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, and securing a prized running back prospect is now the top priority for the Volunteers in this cycle.

Tennessee will be counting on the strength of its staff relationships when Holyfield's announcement arrives. 

“(Running backs coach Robert) Gillespie has been one of my favorite recruiters throughout this process and he’s a really great guy. I really enjoy it up there," he told Kirschner.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Braxton Miller's Move to WR Clears 'Path for a Repeat Championship'

Ohio State's Braxton Miller will move from quarterback to wide receiver for the 2015 season, according to SI.com's Pete Thamel.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder explains what this will do for the defending national champions in the upcoming season.

Do you think Ohio State will repeat? Watch the video and let us know!

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Bryce Mathews to Ole Miss: Rebels Land 4-Star OL Prospect

Ole Miss picked up another key piece for its 2016 recruiting class Friday in the form of Bryce Mathews. The highly touted offensive lineman should make an impact for the Rebels early in his collegiate career.  

Mathews confirmed his college choice on social media. He explained what led him to Mississippi in an interview with Barton Simmons of 247Sports: "I decided I'm going with Ole Miss. The first time I went there I was really drawn by what the coaches were saying. I felt a great connection with the coaches. I loved the town. It's a great town with the square. I felt like a lot of signs were pointing me there."

The 6'5 ½'' tackle is a 4-star prospect who rates inside the top 250 for the 2016 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also checks in as the No. 3 player coming out of the state of Tennessee next year.

Along with his ideal frame, Mathews has displayed impressive athleticism and fluid movement, two crucial elements for the all-important left tackle position. He's also quite polished for a player with another year of high school ball to play.

One thing he'll need to work on over the next year is adding more power. He's currently listed at 280 pounds, which is a bit light, but there's plenty of room for more weight on his frame. The key is not sacrificing his quickness in the process.

All told, the upside is intriguing, but there's plenty of work left to do before he reaches his potential. Like many talented tackles, he'll probably start on the right side once he proves he's ready to join the starting lineup before shifting to the left side as an upperclassman.

If he continues to develop as expected, he'll be a major piece of the Rebels' success within a few years.

 

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Predicting the 2015 ACC Defensive Player of the Year

The start of the 2015 college football season is just a few weeks away, so let's take a look at some end-of-year predictions.

Check out Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down who should win the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award.

Who will be the ACC Defensive Player of the Year after the 2015 season? Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette or Derrick Henry Lead SEC in Rushing?

Following an ugly performance in the 2014 postseason, the Southeastern Conference faces some serious questions about its overall position in college football.

After a 1-6 record in bowl games, is the SEC West still the best division in the game? Can the league produce a national champion? SEC coaches were forced to address such issues at the recent SEC Media Days. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde said the SEC's swagger has developed a distinct wobble.

One issue that requires no qualifiers, however, is the league’s running back depth. Six of the SEC’s top nine rushers from 2014 return—by comparison, only four of the top nine passers from a year ago return. With Georgia’s Nick Chubb, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Alabama’s Derrick Henry, the league has three legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates, and all are threats to lead the league in rushing. Only one can, however. Who will emerge victorious in the SEC rushing race this fall? Let’s break it down.

We’ll start off by examining the SEC’s leading returning rusher, Georgia sophomore Nick Chubb.  Chubb began last season as a relatively anonymous backup to star Todd Gurley. However, Gurley’s four-game NCAA suspension for accepting payment for his autograph, followed by a season-ending ACL tear, pushed Chubb to the forefront, and he took full advantage.

Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards, second-best in the SEC behind Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne, and he finished with 14 touchdowns. Most remarkable? He did so while starting just seven games. In Georgia’s first three games, Chubb recorded a total of 12 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown.

But with Gurley sidelined, the 5’10”, 220-pound bowling ball of a back reeled off eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games, the first Georgia player to do so since Bulldog legend and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. He left UGA fans with a performance to savor in a Belk Bowl rout of Louisville, carrying 33 times for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Chubb averaged a remarkable 7.1 yards per carry and left Bulldog loyalists asking the question, what could this guy do with a full season as the starter?

The results this fall might astound you. New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer inherits a loaded backfield with Chubb, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall leading the way. Georgia coach Mark Richt told ESPN's Danny Kanell (via Jason Butt of the Macon Telegraph) that Chubb wouldn't be the only back he rides in the new offense.

Nick has proven he has stamina. And it happened last season when we had injuries and a suspension [to Gurley] where he had to carry the load and was able to do it. But we have Sony Michel, Keith Marshall, Brendan Douglas, A.J. Turman, who’s back from injury. So we’ve got other guys who can help him. And it’s just like when Nick came in, he came in with Sony knowing, ‘Hey, I want to share the load. I don’t want this thing 35 times a game.’ Because it’s just not healthy for those guys.

The quarterback situation is uncertain. Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta will carry their battle for the starting role over from spring practice, and they’ve been joined by Virginia graduate transfer Greyson Lambert. Any of the three could win the job, but none is a guaranteed gunslinger.

Schottenheimer is not known as an air-it-out guy, and Georgia returns four of five starters from a strong offensive line. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him lean on the ground game, particularly as the new starting quarterback finds his way.

Chubb should get more than the 219 carries he received in 2014, but Michel, Marshall and others will get their share too. Still, another 1,500-yard season isn’t out of the question this fall.

At Alabama, Derrick Henry has to be excited. With T.J. Yeldon off to the NFL, the junior will finally be the Crimson Tide’s clear No. 1 back, emerging from the back half of Nick Saban’s preferred two-headed backfield beast.

While the division of carries has fluctuated from year to year, Saban’s offense—no matter who’s calling it—leans toward a two-back system. In each of the last five seasons, Alabama has had its lead tailback declare early for the NFL draft, with the younger understudy moving into a lead role.

Mark Ingram begat Trent Richardson, who began Eddie Lacy, who begat Yeldon, who, in turn, leaves the keys to the backfield to Henry.

Over the last four years, the carry breakdown has yo-yoed. In 2011, Richardson carried 283 times for 1,679 yards, with Lacy going 95 for 674. A year later, Lacy and Yeldon were almost equal, with Lacy toting 204 times for 1,322 yards and Yeldon 175 for 1,108. In 2013, Yeldon dominated, carrying 207 times for 1,235 yards with Kenyan Drake going 92 for 694. And last fall, it was a near-even split: Henry carried 172 times for 990 yards and Yeldon 194 for 979.

While Lane Kiffin used a pass-heavy scheme last fall, he must replace starting quarterback Blake Sims and Alabama’s top three receivers from a year ago, including Biletnikoff Award winner and No. 4 overall NFL draft pick Amari Cooper. Jake Coker leads a five-man field into preseason practice, but he has by no means locked down the starting QB role.

That means Kiffin could lean more heavily on the ground game, especially if it takes multiple games to determine a starting quarterback, as was the case in 2014. Even so, Drake—who has recovered from a broken leg that ended his 2014 season—is a dynamic rushing and receiving threat who’ll earn his share of carries. Henry will easily crack 1,000 yards this fall, but don’t expect him to approach Richardson’s recent high-water mark.

In his last game of 2014, Leonard Fournette justified the hype that surrounded him for his entire freshman season. The LSU tailback was rated as 2014’s top overall recruit by 247Sports, and coach Les Miles and his new teammates did nothing to squelch the hubbub before the season began.

Fournette, who stands 6’1”, 230 pounds, got off to a slow start but finished strong. He recorded 146 yards and a touchdown in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M and went off in the Music City Bowl, rushing for 143 yards and two touchdowns—including an 89-yard sprint—on just 11 carries, adding a 100-yard kickoff return score to boot.

His combination of speed, power and agility keeps opposing defensive coordinators up at night and makes professional scouts drool. His finish to 2014 will only raise the stakes for 2015.

LSU will return three offensive-line starters from a year ago and has an uncertain quarterback situation between junior Anthony Jennings and sophomore Brandon Harris, neither of whom seized the role in 2014.

Although Jennings is currently suspended following a June arrest for unauthorized entrance of a dwelling, Miles told reporters including NOLA.com's Jim Kleinpeter that he expects Jennings to return and continue the position battle. SI.com's Andy Staples says Fournette can lead the Tigers to the promised land, but needs help.

Fournette should be even better with an offseason in LSU’s strength-and-conditioning program, and with Terrence Magee—who had 112 carries to his 187 a year ago—gone, his workload should increase. Expect a strong sophomore season approaching 1,500 yards as the Tigers lean on their star more heavily.

So who’ll lead the SEC in rushing this fall? Let’s assume Alabama’s dual-back approach counts out Henry. It’s between Chubb and Fournette. With the Tigers’ quarterback uncertainty and thinner overall backfield, expect Fournette to pace the SEC. However, it’ll be close, and both he and Chubb should be legit Heisman Trophy candidates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Will Nick Saban Get His Wish on NFL Draft Grades?

Alabama head coach Nick Saban stepped to the podium in the main ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, earlier this month with talking points in hand.

He had mentioned the NFL draft calendar and frustration with players getting their draft grades back around Christmas earlier in the day and now was on the dais on the biggest stage of the offseason.

Around halfway through his 30-minute allotment, it happened.

Saban, a man who's never at a loss for words when he feels strongly on an issue, delivered the quote that turned out to be one of the defining moments of SEC media days.

"I just felt like, in our experience last year, our team chemistry from the SEC Championship Game to the playoff game was affected by something," Saban said.

Would players really be focusing more on protecting their bodies and their future earnings at the expense of a national semifinal or major bowl?

"We had six guys in this situation this past year and 11 the year before," Saban said. "So we're trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he's a first-round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick finds out he's not a first-round draft pick, and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game."

Excuse? Maybe. Whining? A little bit? Constructive complaining? Absolutely.

It can be viewed, and likely is, as all three.

That was the point.

On the final day of SEC media days, while walking between media rooms, LSU head coach Les Miles joined Saban in voicing his displeasure with the NFL draft calendar.

"What you would like to do is have time with each player, be able to describe his situation," Miles said, according to Ken Rogers of the Dothan Eagle. "And if you have 10 guys—oh my gosh, in the middle of bowl practice—it’s impossible. So back (the deadline) up. Why make (the decision) in a hurry?"

Had Saban not been labeled as a whiner and viewed as making excuses, would we really be talking about this? I've been asked about it on nearly every radio guest hit I've done since he took the podium nearly a week-and-a-half ago.

Because his program has lost two straight major bowls and come up short in big situations over the last two seasons, he gets viewed as a whiner, and the ridiculous timing of the NFL draft calendar stays in the news cycle.

The former draws headlines, but the latter is what's important to Saban.

"We've moved the draft back. We have not moved the date that a player has to declare back," Saban said at media days. "We used to play Bowl games on January 1. Now the championship game is on January 11 or 12, and the 15 is still the day that people have to declare for the draft. So I think a week, 10 days would be beneficial."

Whether you think he's a whiner or not, he made a really good point. Will will Saban get his wish?

"Eventually, he will," said Bleacher Report national lead writer Mike Freeman. "The NFL is sensitive to the appearance of how the league treats the players. So if it looks like the league is being cruel, it will change the system so it doesn't look like 'The Company' from Alien. The league will change nothing just because coaches complain. The NFL couldn't care less about Saban's complaints. My guess is this is on the NFL's radar mainly because they don't want to appear cruel to the players."

Perception equals reality as far as the NFL is concerned, and Saban's "whining" is raising awareness of the real issue, which could cause enough pressure to usher in change in the NFL's draft calendar.

Whiner? Sure, call Saban a whiner if you want.

A more appropriate term might be "evil genius."

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

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Can Anyone Challenge Ohio State for No. 1 Recruiting Ranking?

The Ohio State Buckeyes recently landed 5-star strong-side defensive end Nick Bosa, according to 247Sports.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down whether anyone will be able to take the 2016 class' No. 1 recruiting ranking from the Buckeyes.

Do you think they can keep the top spot? Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Former No. 1 RB Johnathan Gray's Advice to High School Football Recruits

DALLAS — Johnathan Gray graduated from Aledo High School as the nation's No. 1 running back and the No. 6 overall player in the 2012 class, per 247 Sports. He arrived at the University of Texas in May 2012 as an All-American running back in high school who rushed for nearly 11,000 yards and holds the all-time national record for career touchdowns with 205.

Now a senior for the Longhorns, Gray is a preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award, which honors the nation's top running back. During Tuesday's Big 12 Media Day session, Gray delivered a first-person message to present and future recruits hoping to one day fulfill their dreams as a college football player.

 

You have to stay hungry, stay happy and stay humble. Never give up on your goals, and always stay true to yourself.

Back in high school, I broke a lot of records and won state championships. That was all great. I came to college and had expectations of winning a national championship, setting records and winning awards.

That's taken a back seat a little bit.

Coming out of high school, you come to the University of Texas, and you're expecting a 10-win season. For us to not have that, it's kind of frustrating.

Now for my senior year, I have to get better and have to work toward those goals to get a national championship and win that trophy.

Recruits need to remember it's a grind. Coming in as a young guy, you don't know what to do or where to go, and you'll have some fall outs with coaches. From my experience, you just have to take it and roll with it.

Every year is a new year. Everybody is on the same playing field. You've got to keep pushing, keep going and you can't get down.

You can't get down on yourself or your teammates. You always have to keep pushing forward. Stay prayed up, stay true to yourself and stay humble.

Life happens. Injuries are going to happen. Guys are going to come and go. You've got to stay focused.

For guys like Tristian Houston, Kirk Johnson and Chris Warren, those who are freshmen now, that's what I'm doing with them; I'm helping them understand the game and understand life.

When learning the game of football, understand that each and every day is not promised. You've got to be prepared to go to work.

Some of the guys I relied on when I was younger always said "work hard and be better than the next person." Always be aware of your surroundings, and always keep God first.

I stuck with that. My dad always told me the same thing.

Keep God first, and make sure you set yourself up for success. Whether you pick the University of Texas or anywhere else, just make sure you have a plan when you're done with college, and make sure you have a backup plan.

Never shy away from what you believe in. You always have to stay true to yourself and always keep pushing. Eventually, it'll happen for you.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report.

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CFB Recruiting 200: Top 6 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Dual-Threat Quarterbacks.

Other Positions

 

Collegiate defenses are challenged by dual-threat quarterbacks throughout the season, forced to game-plan against playmakers who can obliterate opponents through the air or on the ground.

The prospects in the latest wave of this category present skill sets that could keep defenders on their heels for years to come. Several are already committed to high-profile college programs, setting the stage for immense expectations.

We broke down every dual-threat quarterback rated among America's top 200 players in 247Sports' composite rankings, taking a look at key attributes and their respective recruitments. Athletes are listed in order of composite rankings and graded based on criteria including accuracy, arm strength, mobility, leadership, football IQ and pocket presence.

 

All prospects graded by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

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Tennessee Football: Volunteers' Top All-American Candidates

If the hype is real and this truly is going to be an exciting Tennessee football season, the Vols are going to need some heroes to emerge.

That's not talking about players who post nice numbers and produce quality seasons, either. We're talking about bona fide All-American campaigns; the kind of seasons that get your name remembered in history books or your number enshrined in rafters.

For a team this young to shine, some guys have to rise above the rest of the pack.

Every great team has stars, and coach Butch Jones' 2015 Vols have their share of potential studs, even if most of them aren't yet proven.

Perhaps the best thing about UT's potential this season is it has veteran, experienced and talented players in vital positions. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has started long stretches in each of the past two seasons, and the Vols have a formidable pass-rushing duo that can wreak havoc on quarterbacks.

Their secondary could be extremely stout, and there are former star prospects in place at other positions who could break out and have monster seasons.

If a team has one or two All-Americans, it can be special. So, obviously, all of these guys won't make the list. But who are the Vols most likely to get national recognition at the end of the season?

Let's take a look at UT's top candidates to be mentioned among the nation's best players.

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Jeremy Johnson Could Be the Breakout Star of 2016 NFL Draft's Quarterback Class

Entering his junior season, Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson has made just two starts and attempted only 78 passes so far in his collegiate career. Even so, it’s possible that Johnson could come out of his junior season as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 2016 NFL draft.

Johnson’s lack of playing time thus far makes Cardale Jones’ film look extensive. But like Jones, the fill-in quarterback who became an instant phenom in leading Ohio State to three wins and a national championship at the end of last season, Johnson has a combination of size, arm strength and pocket-passing potential that makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire nation.

Whether Johnson ultimately emerges as a top prospect will be determined by his performance for the Tigers this fall, but he has already demonstrated tools and playmaking ability in limited action to give NFL scouts and draft analysts reason enough to be excited about his upside.

 

Physical Gifts, Passing Promise Already Apparent

As he takes over the Auburn offense this fall, Johnson will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Cam Newton, who parlayed a Heisman Trophy-winning junior year for the Tigers in 2010—his only season as a starter at the Football Bowl Subdivision—into being selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL draft.

Physically, Johnson could pass for a replica of Newton. Listed at 6’5”, 240 pounds, Johnson has size that stands out every time he steps on the field.

Also like Newton, Johnson offers a cannon arm that would already be one of the strongest in the NFL. Even with his limited opportunities to play, Johnson has already displayed on numerous occasions that he can drive the ball deep down the field, and do so with accuracy and velocity.

In the following clip, from Johnson’s freshman year against Florida Atlantic in 2013, he delivered a picturesque deep ball 48 yards through the air to connect with wide receiver Sammie Coates for a 67-yard touchdown.

Last season against Arkansas, he put a ball right on the money for Coates approximately 55 yards downfield. While it might look in the clip below as though Johnson overthrew Coates, the pass likely would have been caught for a touchdown had the Arkansas defensive back covering Coates not committed defensive pass interference, which was called.

One more demonstration of Johnson’s arm comes from Auburn’s game last season against LSU. While the play as a whole has limited value for evaluators, as Johnson was lined up as a wide receiver in a trick-play formation, it is an excellent example of his arm strength as he completed a pass to Coates 47 yards downfield while throwing from just inside the right-side numbers to just inside the left-side numbers.

Johnson’s arm strength is not only apparent on deep balls but also in the zip he is able to put on throws to the intermediate level, like he did to hit Duke Williams in stride 20 yards downfield on the following throw against Arkansas last season that turned into a 62-yard gain.

Projecting forward to the NFL, Johnson’s ability to deliver the ball out of his hand quickly and with consistent velocity will be key for him to succeed, as those traits will enable him to complete passes with necessary timing and precision between tight windows.

As Gus Malzahn said of Johnson at SEC media days earlier this month (h/t Brandon Marcello of AL.com), “He can flat out throw it.”

Where Johnson fails to compare with Newton is as a runner.

Despite his size, Johnson has yet to show a regular ability to break tackles as a runner, while he also lacks the speed and agility that Newton possesses. He does exhibit comfort in throwing the ball on the run, which can lead to scrambling for positive yardage in some situations, but he has not had much success to this point in his career on designed runs.

Johnson reportedly told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg this April that he has run a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, but his film is not indicative of him bringing that degree of athleticism to the field.

Regardless of what his 40 time might ultimately be, Johnson acknowledged at SEC media days that his skill set is not the same as what Newton brought to the Auburn offense.

"Cam is Cam and I'm me," Johnson said, according to Marcello. "I don't too much compare myself to Cam. We're different people. We've got different talents.”

The good news for Johnson, especially looking forward to the NFL, is that he does not need to be a dual-threat runner—and should not be penalized in the draft for his limitations in that regard—if he can be a great passer.

How effectively Johnson can lead an offense will be uncertain until he gets more meaningful game action under his belt, but he has already shown glimpses of advanced pocket-passing prowess that could make NFL scouts fall in love with him this upcoming season.

Altogether, Johnson has completed more than 73 percent of his passing attempts in his career, while averaging 11 yards per attempt.

Numbers without context, of course, are not very useful in the evaluation of an NFL draft prospect.

It is fair to suggest that Johnson’s statistical performance has been inflated by the fact that the vast majority of his playing time has come against inferior opponents (Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic in 2013) and/or in late-game mop-up duty. Over the course of a full season in which he will be playing many tough defenses within the Southeastern Conference, Johnson’s impressive averages will almost certainly decrease.

That being said, it’s also not as if Johnson has puffed up his numbers by dinking and dunking the ball around in a tempo offense. The following chart, which tracks all the throws Johnson has made in Auburn games thus far, shows that nearly half of his completions to date (26 of 57) have been on passing attempts of 10 yards or more from the line of scrimmage.

With the exception of throws of 20 yards or longer to the right side of the field—an area in which he has yet to complete a pass in his Auburn career—Johnson has been successful on at least half of his passing attempts to every other area of the field.

As the chart also indicates, Johnson has frequently had success when throwing off play action, completing more than 70 percent of passing attempts on plays in which he has faked a handoff.

For an inexperienced quarterback, Johnson demonstrates an impressive ability to utilize fakes of all sorts to his advantage and to progress off them to find open receivers.

The following play from last year’s Arkansas game was one such example. By pump-faking as if to throw a screen pass to Coates, Johnson fooled three Razorbacks defenders into cheating up toward the line of scrimmage. This enabled Williams to get open behind those defenders, and Johnson took advantage by progressing his eyes to the middle of the field and connecting with Williams on an 18-yard strike.

Another example came last season against Louisiana Tech. By faking two handoffs, first to the running back alongside him and then to a wide receiver running a jet sweep motion, Johnson enticed Louisiana Tech’s left cornerback to move up as if to play the run, enabling Williams to get open on a 14-yard crossing route to the left side, which Johnson found for an easy completion.

Appearing to be a generally smart decision-maker, Johnson showed improvement between 2013, when he was intercepted twice on forced throws into coverage over the deep middle, and 2014, when he did not commit any turnovers.

Seemingly comfortable going through his progressions and making multiple reads within a play, Johnson does not simply rely on his physical tools to make things happen. Ultimately, his ability to win mentally is what could enable him to maximize his physical gifts and become a star quarterback prospect.

 

What Johnson Needs to Prove in 2015

Altogether, Johnson needs to prove this upcoming season that he can string together the positive traits he has displayed in limited action and put them to work consistently as he becomes entrusted with leading the Auburn offense week in and week out.

To this point in his career, Johnson has yet to be thrust into a situation in which he has had to carry his team to a victory late in a game. Those situations, whenever they might present themselves, will provide a true test of Johnson’s ability to maintain his composure and make big plays in the clutch.

Another area in which Johnson remains largely untested is in dealing with pressure. The ability to make sound decisions and throw with accuracy against the rush often plays a make-or-break role in the success or failure of young quarterbacks, and to this point in his collegiate career, Johnson has yet to be in a game situation in which he has to deal with repeated heat in his face.

Given the composure and ability to make quick reads that Johnson has shown in limited action, it would seem likely that he will be able to continue to thrive under pressure. An example came in the aforementioned game against Louisiana Tech, in which he was able to complete a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah despite having a rusher diving at his feet.

Even on that play, however, you can see that Johnson’s mechanics started to break down as he ran out of room to maneuver. To prove to NFL teams in 2015 that he is worthy of being a top draft choice in 2016, he will need to show that he can stand tall in the pocket against the rush and continue to deliver on-target passes down the field.

As a whole, Johnson’s ball placement could be better. He has a tendency to throw passes a bit too high, forcing his receivers to leap up to catch them, while he will also miss behind his intended targets at times.

Another regard in which NFL scouts could have concerns with Johnson could be with his footwork. Having worked all but exclusively out of the shotgun formation at Auburn, his ability to be a dropback passer could be questioned. Those questions might not be answered in 2015, however, unless Auburn makes unexpected changes to its offense this year.

Once Johnson starts taking every snap in every game, it will become more readily apparent what he needs to work on going forward, as opposing defenses will start to expose his flaws. Going into the season, however, the most important step for Johnson is to prove that the passing promise he has shown can carry over into regular action as a starting quarterback.

 

Can Johnson Become the 2016 Draft’s Top Quarterback?

While Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were already widely projected to be the top quarterbacks in the 2015 NFL draft at this time last year, there is no consensus this summer as to who the top quarterbacks will be in the 2016 draft. The door is open for a physically gifted quarterback like Johnson to break out from obscurity and shoot all the way up to the top of the board.

That’s not to say Johnson won’t have steep competition.

California junior Jared Goff, who already has two years of starting experience under his belt, ranks as the most NFL-ready quarterback prospect in college football this year. Ohio State’s Cardale Jones, as aforementioned, is just as physically gifted, if not more so, than Johnson.

Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, USC’s Cody Kessler and Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel are also among the quarterbacks who could garner first-round consideration next spring.

Johnson, truly, is the biggest wild card in the mix. He projects to have the highest upside of the entire group and could prove to be the best passer in the nation, but it is also possible that he could crash and burn, making all of the preseason hype look silly. At this point, it really is unknown how good Johnson actually is.

Nonetheless, Johnson should be on the radar of every team—or at least every team that might need a quarterback next offseason—until that becomes clear.

There’s no guarantee that Johnson will declare for the NFL draft after this season; in fact, it would probably be in his best interest to stay at Auburn for his senior year, given his lack to experience to this point.

If Johnson lives up to the lofty expectations, however, the allure of an early-round selection in the NFL draft could be tough to pass up.

In his preliminary big board for the 2016 draft, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked Johnson as the “Biggest Sleeper” in the quarterback class.

Sleeping on Johnson, however, could be a big mistake if you’re looking to make a bet on who the next great quarterback to emerge from college football will be, as Draft Breakdown’s Shane Alexander noted earlier this week.

 

All GIFs were made at Gfycat 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

Braxton Miller's Move to WR Is Perfect for NFL Future

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Braxton Miller announced his intentions of moving from quarterback to wide receiver to SI.com's Pete Thamel on Thursday night, it sent shock waves through a college football world that was already having a hard time figuring out how anyone would defend Ohio State's offense in 2015.

Miller said of the shift: "This is the smarter thing for right now, God blessed me with a lot of talent and different opportunities. I’m going to have fun with that and still score a lot of touchdowns and help the team out and be dominant at that."

But for the Buckeyes' newest wideout, this position switch was less about the fits the OSU offense is going to cause opponents in the coming year and more about an NFL future that may not have existed without it.

"The position change is a great idea for Braxton's NFL future. He wasn't going to be drafted as a quarterback—the accuracy just isn't there," said Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Analyst Matt Miller. "But as an offensive weapon—receiver, returner, sometimes runner—he has upside."

While Miller proved to be one of the most dynamic players in all of college football in his three seasons as the Buckeyes' starting signal-caller from 2011 to 2013, scouts never viewed him as an NFL-caliber passer. And that was before his draft prospects took their most significant hit last August, when a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder ended his 2014 campaign before it even started.

With a three-man quarterback battle between himself, potential first-round pick Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett brewing, Miller's NFL hopes were only dimming as the 2015 season drew closer. But with his move to wide receiver, there is now a sudden sense of renewed optimism when it comes to Miller's potential as a pro prospect.

 

With so much still undetermined, Matt Miller said that it's too early to speculate on what type of draft grade the two-time Big Ten MVP could earn in the coming months. But the comparisons he drew were favorable. Expected to play the H-back position—which combines the abilities of a wide receiver and running back while lining up in the slot—in Urban Meyer's spread offense, Miller could best be used as a player without a truly defined role.

Because of that, Matt Miller likened him to Green Bay Packers wideout Randall Cobb, former Pittsburgh Steelers legend Hines Ward and another do-it-all player who starred under Meyer in his college career.

"Percy Harvin [is a] good reference given the offensive comparisons," the NFL draft analyst said. "Brad Smith might be more realistic, athletically."

Admittedly, there's a wide range among the production of Harvin (first-round pick in 2009), Cobb (second-round selection in 2011) and Smith (fourth-round pick in 2006 who predominantly played quarterback throughout his college career at Missouri).

But all three players have made their marks on both offense and special teams, and more importantly, sustained lengthy NFL careers.

The 6'2", 215-pound Miller is now in a position where he could do the same, as he's already put enough on film—including 3,054 career rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns—to make scouts believe that he could make an instant impact at his new position. That's especially true when it comes to making plays in open space, which he excelled at throughout the first three years of his college career.

"From what I've seen of his movement and explosive ability, it's all there athletically," Matt Miller said. "He's a powerful runner for his size and has the get-up-and-go to pull away from defensive backs. Ideally, he'll be used a lot in space on shorter routes where his ability to make defenders miss can come into play."

Of course, there's only so much that you can project for a player at one position when he's spent the entirety of his college career playing another.

Can Miller catch, run routes, separate consistently and put it all together with less than seven weeks remaining until the start of his senior season Sept. 7?

These are the questions that will need to be answered before Miller's potential as an NFL player is ultimately determined. But as of Thursday night, he finds himself with perhaps more upside as a pro prospect than he ever previously has.

"There's risk, but I think it's a very calculated one, and it's the right move because his upside at QB was so limited," Matt Miller said. "And even if he struggles in one year of wide receiver at Ohio State, the potential is still there for him to be drafted on."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Braxton Miller to Play WR For Ohio State: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Head coach Urban Meyer can erase one option in the Ohio State Buckeyes' quarterback race. According to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, Braxton Miller will move to wide receiver for his senior season in Columbus, Ohio.

According to Thamel, Miller's decision was a matter of being pragmatic:      

But Miller said with more than two months until he'll be completely healthy at quarterback, he's approaching this season as primarily a wide receiver.

"For the most part, it's going to be H-Back and punt return," Miller said in a phone interview on Thursday night. "It's a long process to get back totally to throwing and throwing every day. This is the smarter thing for right now, God blessed me with a lot of talent and different opportunities. I'm going to have fun with that and still score a lot of touchdowns and help the team out and be dominant at that."

It's hard to believe how much Miller's college career has changed in the space of a year. Entering the 2014 season, he was a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. He had thrown for 2,094 passing yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for another 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns the season before.

Then he suffered a shoulder injury in practice last August that wiped out his entire 2014 campaign. In his absence, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones helped lead Ohio State to a national title.

With both Barrett and Jones returning, Miller was essentially crowded out at quarterback. His best shot at seeing the field on a regular basis seemed to be moving to wideout.

Both ESPN.com's Joe Schad and CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco believe the position switch will benefit Miller in the long run as well:

Meanwhile, OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith is happy to have another weapon at his disposal:

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer wonders if this development will just create headaches at a different position:

With Barrett, Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas all coming back for 2015, the Buckeyes were set to have one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Shifting Miller to H-back strengthens the group.

Ohio State still has a long way to go to repeat as national champion, but sorting out Miller's position before the season helps eliminate what could've been a potential snag in achieving that goal.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Buckeyes' Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

Unless you've been completely ignoring the sports world since the start of 2015, you've probably heard about the Ohio State Buckeyes' upcoming quarterback battle.

The Buckeyes are gearing up for another run at the College Football Playoff, and even though the three-horse quarterback race gets all the headlines, head coach Urban Meyer will have to sort through a few pivotal position battles during fall camp.

Here's an overview of the key spots that are still open on Ohio State's roster and the candidates vying to fill those roles.

 

Quarterback

After months of speculation and hype, the most polarizing position battle in all of college football is set to start when the Buckeyes open fall camp in early August.

Cardale Jones, fresh off a three-game tear through the 2014 postseason, has a leg up after taking the lion's share of first-team reps during spring camp. Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, meanwhile, spent the offseason recovering from the injuries that ended their seasons last year.

But with Miller and Barrett close to 100 percent, each signal-caller will get a long look from the coaching staff this fall. And as Meyer clarified during spring practice, he will evaluate each quarterback and determine Ohio State's starter midway through camp, so the final two weeks can be spent on scheme and game-planning.  

But in reality, there isn't a wrong answer here. Each quarterback has proven their abilities to lead the team at a championship level.

 

H-Back

The Buckeyes have just as much of a logjam at H-back as they do at quarterback.

Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall shared time at the position last fall, with Marshall surging down the stretch after Wilson broke his foot against Michigan State and missed most of the remainder of the season. Both are back for the Buckeyes this fall, which gives the offense plenty of fire power at the position.

But it doesn't just stop there.

In an effort to get his most dangerous playmakers on the field, Meyer moved Curtis Samuel—Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup at running back last season—to the slot with Wilson and Marshall. It was a move that gave Ohio State's already deep stable of receivers another weapon, and one that Meyer insisted on.

"The days of Curtis Samuel playing 10 plays are over," Meyer said, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "It's our job to get him on the field for 40 or 50 plays."

Beyond those three is another great option in Parris Campbell. The redshirt freshman has elite speed and excellent hands, and he showed that off during the spring game when he caught five passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. He certainly caught Meyer's attention, especially on his four-yard touchdown catch that featured a nice move into the end zone.

"He took the ball, put his left foot in the ground and drove in, made a great cut and scored,” Meyer said, according to Tim Moody of The Lantern. “And I saw his celebration in the end zone. That’s one I remember from the spring game. That’s going to help him get into the rotation.”

 

Cornerback

The departure of Doran Grant left Ohio State with a significant hole to fill in a secondary that improved drastically in 2014.

After getting consistently gashed by opposing passing attacks in 2013, the Buckeyes simplified their pass coverage last season via an overhaul by new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Grant and Eli Apple formed a formidable pair at cornerback, but the Buckeyes went back to the drawing board to find Apple a new running mate.

Coming out of spring practice, Gareon Conley held the edge to win the job.

The redshirt sophomore gained that edge over Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore, a pair of redshirt freshmen who have a high ceiling. Because of that, Conley will have to finalize his status as a starter by beating out Webb and Lattimore in fall camp. 

Can he handle the pressure?

That's something he struggled with last year. In a marquee game against Michigan State last year, Conley was thrust into early action because Apple was battling a lingering injury. Connor Cook and the Spartans went after him, completing passes of 44 and 15 yards to the man he was covering, the latter of which went for a touchdown.

The Buckeyes are hoping those struggles are behind him

"We talk about that in very honest terms in our room. So when he trots out there Saturday the 18th, he’s gotta know it’s a big boy world," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "You’re out there on an island and you’ve gotta make those plays."

Because if Conley can't make those plays, the coaching staff won't hesitate to give Webb or Lattimore a shot. 

 

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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LSU Hopes to Maintain Status as Having Most Players in NFL

One of the most impressive accomplishments for head coach Les Miles since he arrived at LSU in 2005, other than winning a national championship and two Southeastern Conference titles, is continuing the pipeline of players to the National Football League.

Although LSU only had four players selected in this year’s NFL draft after having nine in each of the previous two, it’s had 64 players picked during the Miles era (since 2006).

Consequently, during the NFL’s opening weekend last season, the 38 former LSU players on active rosters topped all schools, one ahead of Southern California and two more than Alabama.

On Friday it’ll start to try to hold on to that lead when the first NFL training camps open. Rookies on the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints are due to report, with the rookies and veterans of the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers following suit on Saturday. Every camp will be in full swing by Aug. 2.

The Hall of Fame Game, which opens the preseason, will be played Aug. 9 (8 p.m. ET, NBC). With Super Bowl rematches a season-long theme as part of the buildup to Super Bowl 50, the Steelers will play the Vikings (Super Bowl IX).

As of Thursday afternoon, both teams had one former LSU player on their roster, punter Brad Wing for the Steelers and defensive lineman Danielle Hunter with the Vikings. Actually, the only teams that didn’t have any former LSU players were the Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints—sort of.

Defensive back Delvin Breaux was an LSU commitment who sustained a serious neck injury during a high school game in 2006. The school honored his scholarship, and he enrolled and served as a player/coach but was never cleared to play.

Breaux eventually stopped going to practices and left school, only to play in the Arena Football League and then in the CFL before signing with the Saints. However, he’s officially listed as not having played college football.

On Sept. 1, after each NFL team has played at least three preseason games, rosters must be reduced to a maximum of 75 players on the active list. 

Just four days later, the final cuts to 53 players must be made.

The regular season is set to open Sept. 10. 

Here’s a look at who’s where:

Kwon Alexander, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, LB

Joe Barksdale, San Diego Chargers, OT

Lamin Barrow, Denver Broncos, LB

Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants, WR

Alfred Blue,Houston Texans, RB

Dwayne Bowe, Cleveland Browns, WR

(Delvin Breaux, New Orleans Saints, DB)

Michael Brockers, St. Louis Rams, DT

Ron Brooks, Buffalo Bills, CB

Morris Claiborne, Dallas Cowboys, CB

Jalen Collins, Atlanta Falcons, CB

La'el Collins, Dallas Cowboys, OL

Glenn Dorsey, San Francisco 49ers, DL

Lavar Edwards, Dallas Cowboys, DE

Ego Ferguson, Chicago Bears, DT

Matt Flynn, New England Patriots, QB

Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals, RB

Kenny Hilliard, Houston Texans, RB

Trindon Holliday, Oakland Raiders, WR

Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings, DE

Tyson Jackson, Atlanta Falcons, DE

Ricky Jean Francois, Washington Redskins, DE

Anthony Johnson, Miami Dolphins, DT

Donnie Jones, Philadelphia Eagles, P

Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots, WR

Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins, WR

Bennie Logan, Philadelphia Eagles, DT

Craig Loston, Jacksonville Jaguars, S

Roland Martin, Seattle Seahawks, S

Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals, S

Danny McCray, Dallas Cowboys, S

Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee Titans, QB

Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland Browns, LB

Kevin Minter, Arizona Cardinals, LB

Sam Montgomery, Cincinnati Bengals, DE

Connor Neighbors, Tennessee Titans, FB

Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals, CB

Rueben Randle, New York Giants, WR

Jermauria Rasco, Green Bay Packers, LS

Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers, S

Stevan Ridley, New York Jets, RB

Perry Riley Jr., Washington Redskins, LB

Russell Shepard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, WR

Kelvin Sheppard, Miami Dolphins, LB

Tharold Simon, Seattle Seahawks, CB

Trai Turner, Carolina Panthers, G

Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs, RB

Andrew Whitworth, Cincinnati Bengals, OT

Kyle Williams, Buffalo Bills, DT

Brad Wing, Pittsburgh Steelers, P

Al Woods, Tennessee Titans, DL

James Wright, Cincinnati Bengals, WR

 

Team-by-team list with jersey numbers

Atlanta Falcons: Tyson Jackson, 94, DE; Jalen Collins, 32, CB

Arizona Cardinals: Tyrann Mathieu, 32, S; Kevin Minter, 51, LB; Patrick Peterson, 21, CB

Baltimore Ravens: None

Buffalo Bills: Ron Brooks, 33, CB; Kyle Williams, 95 DT

Carolina Panthers: Trai Turner, 70, G

Chicago Bears: Ego Ferguson, 95, DT

Cincinnati Bengals: Jeremy Hill, 32, RB; Sam Montgomery, 67, DE; Andrew Whitworth, 77, OT; James Wright, 86, WR

Cleveland Browns: Dwayne Bowe, 80, WR; Barkevious Mingo, 51, LB

Dallas Cowboys: Morris Claiborne, 25, CB; La'el Collins, 71, OL; Lavar Edwards, 95, DE; Danny McCray, 40, S

Denver Broncos: Lamin Barrow, 57, LB

Detroit Lions: None

Green Bay Packers: Jermauria Rasco, 59, LS

Houston Texans: Alfred Blue, 28, RB; Kenny Hilliard, 38, RB

Indianapolis Colts: None

Jacksonville Jaguars: Craig Loston, 20, S

Kansas City Chiefs: Spencer Ware, 30, RB

Miami Dolphins: Anthony Johnson, 76, DT; Jarvis Landry, 14, WR; Kelvin Sheppard, 62, LB

Minnesota Vikings: Danielle Hunter, 99, DE

New England Patriots: Matt Flynn, 8, QB; Brandon LaFell, 19, WR

New Orleans Saints: (Delvin Breaux, 40, DB).

New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr., 13, WR; Rueben Randle, 82, WR

New York Jets: Stevan Ridley, 22, RB

Oakland Raiders: Trindon Holliday, 16, WR

Philadelphia Eagles: Bennie Logan, 96, DT; Donnie Jones, 8, P

Pittsburgh Steelers: Brad Wing, 9, P

St. Louis Rams: Michael Brockers, 90, DT

San Diego Chargers: Joe Barksdale, 72, OT

San Francisco 49ers: Glenn Dorsey, NA, DL; Eric Reid, 35, S

Seattle Seahawks: Roland Martin, 42, S; Tharold Simon, 27, CB

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kwon Alexander, 58, LB; Russell Shepard, 89, WR

Tennessee Titans: Zach Mettenberger, 7, QB; Connor Neighbors, 46, FB; Al Woods, 96, DL

Washington Redskins: Ricky Jean Francois, 99, DE; Perry Riley Jr., 56, LB

 

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

As Training Camps Open, Alabama's Numbers in the NFL Continue to Rise

While the Evan Mathis watch goes on, as the All-Pro guard is still looking for his next NFL home following his recent departure from the Philadelphia Eagles, the rest of the Alabama contingency in the league is getting ready to go back to work.

On Friday, the first training camps will open as the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints rookies are due to report. The rookies and veterans of the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers have to show up Saturday, and every camp will be in full swing by Aug. 2.

The Hall of Fame Game, which opens the preseason, will be played Aug. 9 (8 p.m. ET, NBC). With Super Bowl rematches a season-long theme as part of the buildup to Super Bowl 50, the Steelers will play the Vikings (Super Bowl IX).

However, the Steelers are one of just five NFL teams that don’t have at least one former Crimson Tide player on their roster. The others are the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs.

Overall, there wasn't too much movement of former Alabama players during the offseason. The exceptions include running back Trent Richardson with the Oakland Raiders, defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick on the Houston Texans and offensive lineman James Carpenter is now a New York Jet.

Additionally, cornerback Javier Arenas is a free agent, linebacker Jarret Johnson and offensive lineman Mike Johnson both retired and fullback Le’Ron McClain is attempting a comeback.

On Sept. 1, after each team has played at least three preseason games, rosters must be reduced to a maximum of 75 players on the active list. Just four days later the final cuts down to 53 players must be made.

The regular season is set to open Sept. 10.

In 2014, Alabama had 36 players on active rosters during the NFL’s opening weekend, which was third-most among all schools behind LSU (38) and Southern California (37). What really makes that number stand out is the Crimson Tide wasn’t among the top 25 schools when Nick Saban arrived at the Capstone in 2007.

Overall, there were 42 former Crimson Tide players on active rosters or injured reserve, tied with the Trojans for the most. That figure also didn’t include the five players who spent the whole season on various practice squads.

Every offensive starter from Alabama's 2012 season opener is currently on a roster, and if you counted Dee Milliner instead of DeQuan Menzie, every defensive starter from 2011 is as well.

However, two players who are notably absent are last year’s signal-callers for the offense and defense, quarterback Blake Sims and linebacker Trey DePriest.

Regardless, here’s a look at who’s where:

Mark Barron, St. Louis Rams, S

Leon Brown, Baltimore Ravens, G

James Carpenter, New York Jets, G

(Duron Carter, Indianapolis Colts, WR)

Josh Chapman, Indianapolis Colts, NT

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers, S

Landon Collins, New York Giants, S

Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders, WR

Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills, DT

Brandon Deaderick, Houston Texans, DT

Quinton Dial, San Francisco 49ers, DT

Xzavier Dickson, New England Patriots, LB

D.J. Fluker, San Diego Chargers, OL

Jalston Fowler, Tennessee Titans, FB

Wallace Gilberry, Cincinnati Bengals, DE

Roman Harper, Carolina Panthers, S

Jerrell Harris, Detroit Lions, LB

Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots, LB

Adrian Hubbard, Green Bay Packers, LB

Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints, RB

Kareem Jackson, Houston Texans, CB

Nico Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals, LB

Rashad Johnson, Arizona Cardinals, S

Barrett Jones, St. Louis Rams, OL

Christion Jones, Miami Dolphins, WR

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons, WR

Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati Bengals, CB

Arie Kouandjio, Washington Redskins, G

Cyrus Kouandjio, Buffalo Bills, OL

Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers, RB

Robert Lester, Carolina Panthers, S

Cody Mandell, Green Bay Packers, P

AJ McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals, QB

Rolando McClain, Dallas Cowboys, LB

Dee Milliner, New York Jets, CB

C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens, LB

Kevin Norwood, Seattle Seahawks, WR

Jeoffrey Pagan, Houston Texans, DL

Nick Perry, Baltimore Ravens, S

Trent Richardson, Oakland Raiders, RB

DeMeco Ryans, Philadelphia Eagles, LB

Austin Shepherd, Minnesota Vikings, OL

Brad Smelley, St. Louis Rams, TE

Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals, T

Damion Square, San Diego Chargers, DL

Anthony Steen, Arizona Cardinals, G

Ed Stinson, Arizona Cardinals, DE

Vinnie Sunseri, New Orleans Saints, S

Carson Tinker, Jacksonville Jaguars, LS

Courtney Upshaw, Baltimore Ravens, LB

Brian Vogler, Chicago Bears, TE

Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans, G

DeAndrew White, San Francisco, WR

Michael Williams, Detroit Lions, T

Jesse Williams, Seattle Seahawks, DT (out indefinitely)

T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars, RB

 

Team-by-team list with jersey numbers

Arizona Cardinals: Rashad Johnson, 26, S; Anthony Steen, 71, G; Ed Stinson, 72, DE

Atlanta Falcons: Julio Jones, 11, WR

Baltimore Ravens: Leon Brown, 69, G; C.J Mosley, 57, LB; Nick Perry, 36, S; Courtney Upshaw, 91, LB

Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus, 99, DT; Cyrus Kouandjio, 71, T

Carolina Panthers: Roman Harper, 41, S; Robert Lester, 38, S

Chicago Bears: Brian Vogler, 47, TE

Cincinnati Bengals: Wallace Gilberry, 95, DL; Nico Johnson, 52, LB; Dre Kirkpatrick, 27, CB; A.J. McCarron, 5, QB; Andre Smith, 71, T

Cleveland Browns: None

Dallas Cowboys: Rolando McClain, 55, LB

Denver Broncos: None

Detroit Lions: Jerrell Harris, 41, LB; Michael Williams, 73, OT

Green Bay Packers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 21, S; Adrian Hubbard, 49, LB; Eddie Lacy, 27, RB; Cody Mandell, 9, P

Houston Texans: Brandon Deaderick, 61, DT; Kareem Jackson, 25, CB; Jeoffrey Pagan, 97, DL

Indianapolis Colts: (Duron Carter, 9, WR); Josh Chapman, 96, DT

Jacksonville Jaguars: Carson Tinker, 46, LS; T.J. Yeldon, 24, RB

Kansas City Chiefs: None

Miami Dolphins: Christion Jones, 1, WR

Minnesota Vikings: Austin Shepherd, 74, OL

New England Patriots: Xzavier Dickson, NA, LB; Dont’a Hightower, 54, LB

New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram, 22, RB; Vinnie Sunseri, 43, S

New York Giants: Landon Collins, 27, S

New York Jets: James Carpenter, 77, T; Dee Milliner, 27, CB

Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, 89, WR; Trent Richardson, 34, RB

Philadelphia Eagles: G; DeMeco Ryans, 59, LB

Pittsburgh Steelers: None

St. Louis Rams: Mark Barron, 26, S; Barrett Jones, 67, OL; Brad Smelley, 87, TE

San Diego Chargers: D.J. Fluker, 76, T; Damion Square, 71, DT

San Francisco 49ers: Quinton Dial, 92, DL; DeAndrew White, 18, WR

Seattle Seahawks: Kevin Norwood, 81, WR; Jesse Williams, 90, DT

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: None

Tennessee Titans: Jalston Fowler, 45, FB; Chance Warmack, 70, G

Washington Redskins: Arie Kouandjio, 74, G

 

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: How Brian Kelly Can Stay off the Hot Seat This Season

Brian Kelly has won at least eight games in each season he's coached at Notre Dame since arriving in 2010. But outside of the 2012 run to the BCS National Championship Game, Kelly's Irish teams have mostly been mediocre. If the 2015 Fighting Irish underachieve instead of playing into the College Football Playoff conversation, Kelly's job will start to be called into question. 

Last season, Notre Dame began the year 6-0. The Irish seemed to have shaken off the disappointments of 2013, and quarterback Everett Golson was being mentioned as a Heisman candidate. 

Then the wheels fell off. A controversial call on a pick play led to a loss at Florida State and was the start of a 1-5 slide to end the regular season, including blowout losses against Arizona State and USC. Notre Dame was able to salvage some momentum at season's end with a victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl. 

Notre Dame is a football program with maximum standards and expects to be in the title conversation every year. The 2012 season made many believe Kelly was the man to take Notre Dame back to that standard, but he hasn't done anything to back up the success from that campaign. 

2012 was a great run. But one title run in five seasons doesn't earn Kelly immunity for largely underperforming since then. For the Fighting Irish, competing for a national championship should be an expectation, not an exception. 

A third consecutive season with four or more losses won't have Kelly sent packing from South Bend. But it will be the start of offseason grumblings. 

Golson was suspended in 2013. Last season, the Irish were riddled with injuries. This time there is no reason for the Irish to stay stuck in mediocrity. 

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel agreed that Kelly can't afford another average season. "This year's team is experienced, athletic and devoid of excuses," Mandel wrote. "An 8-5 record this time would unquestionably garner some hot-seat chatter."

Notre Dame has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball after returning 19 starters. There is also certainty at the quarterback position. After Golson's transfer, talented junior Malik Zaire will have the task of leading the Irish offense.

That offense will be loaded with weapons as the Irish return 1,000-yard receiver William Fuller as well as leading rusher Tarean Folston. 

The defense will have to improve. Notre Dame gave up 5,254 yards last season, which was by far the most of any season under Kelly. But some of the defense's struggles were due to the extreme number of injuries. 

Bringing back talented players like Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones from injury should have the defense playing at a much higher level in 2015. 

Notre Dame's returning talent and experience were enough to land it at No. 7 on Sports Illustrated's Ben Glicksman's preseason power rankings. 

With a capable veteran roster, Brian Kelly needs to have Notre Dame competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2015. 

As usual, the Irish will play a tough schedule this year. But that gives them plenty of opportunities to rack up a few big wins. 

Two of the toughest matchups for the Irish heading into the season come on the road against Clemson and at home against rival USC. Notre Dame needs a victory in at least one of those games.

Losses in both would knock the Irish out of playoff contention and have them sitting at 5-2 with a tough game at Stanford left on the schedule.

Two losses in the regular season are all that Brian Kelly can afford to avoid the hot seat. Going 9-3 or 8-4 won't work for a third straight season, not with this talented of a team.

Notre Dame has all the right pieces to win double-digit games, compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff and be playing in a bowl game on New Year's Day. Otherwise, Brian Kelly's job security will be one of the key talking points of the next offseason.  

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The 25 Strongest College Football Positional Units Heading into 2015 Season

Most of the great teams in college football have one or two positions that they can point to year in and year out as a strength.

LSU is known for being "Defensive Back U." Ohio State is experiencing a "Linebacker U" renaissance under Urban Meyer. Georgia conjures up images of stellar 5-star running backs, while USC consistently has golden-armed pocket passers ready to light up the West Coast.

Other programs are looking to build those traditions with improved recruiting classes and development, such as Baylor on the defensive side of the ball and TCU with its new-look offense.

Here are the 25 strongest positional units in college football for the 2015 season. These units were chosen by the amount of depth, production, talent and overall experience—the complete foundation for success instead of just a one-off group with a star or two.

The units are listed in alphabetical order in the following slides. Sound off on what you think is the strongest unit in college football in the comments below.

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Mississippi Football: 5 Toughest QBs Rebels Will Face in 2015

The Mississippi Rebels face the most challenging array of quarterbacks this upcoming season of any team in the SEC West. 

Coming off a breakthrough season for head coach Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss returns seven starters from a vaunted defense that finished first nationally in fewest points allowed with 13.8 per game. 

This should allow the Rebels to be up for the task against some of the conference’s best signal-callers in Arkansas’ Brandon Allen, Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. 

A road game at Memphis also means a matchup with Paxton Lynch, arguably the best quarterback nobody is talking about right now. 

Let us take a look at the five best quarterbacks Mississippi will face based on what each player has already proved on the field, his individual skills and his supporting cast.

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Arizona Football: Wildcats' 2016 Recruiting Heating Up at Right Time

Arizona's strong three-year run under Rich Rodriguez has been fueled by moderate success on the recruiting trail, leaning more toward discovering hidden gems and developing strong mid-range prospects than landing high-profile targets.

The Wildcats have also concentrated most of their efforts on filling up a class early and then keeping it intact rather than chasing after big names right up until signing day.

The 2016 recruiting performance had been lagging in that respect until the calendar turned to July, when suddenly Arizona went from one of the least active teams in terms of commitments to maybe the hottest.

Nine of its 15 commitments have come this month, including seven since a recruiting event the school held on July 18.

The 2016 "OKG Day" saw Arizona host dozens of potential targets, the school's first big push this year after a relatively quiet spring and early summer. Five players committed during the event, including 4-star junior college defensive end Josh Allen, and others pledged on Monday and Tuesday.

The commitment binge shot the Wildcats far up 247Sports' composite rankings, going from 57th to 33rd in the nation as of Thursday.

Allen and JUCO safety London Iakopo are probably the most noteworthy prospects to come on board, both because of their rankings and likelihood to make an immediate impact in 2016.

The Long Beach City College teammates are considered the 10th- and 58th-best JUCO recruits in their class, respectively, with the 6'4", 260-pound Allen ranked as the nation's second-best JUCO strong-side defensive end and the best non-high school prospect in California.

Each plays a position where Arizona will need to fill a significant hole next year. Allen could be tasked with replacing both senior end Reggie Gilbert and junior linebacker Scooby Wright, who is very likely to turn pro after the 2015 season, while Iakopo could be the successor to senior Will Parks.

"I know I have a good chance to play as soon as I come in," Allen, who also had offers from Arizona State, Boise State and Louisville, told Zack Rosenblatt of the Arizona Daily Star.

Most of the rest of Arizona's recent pickups fit the mold of the kind of offensive players that Rodriguez has preferred throughout his career, first at West Virginia and Michigan, and now with the Wildcats.

Referred to by the coaching staff as "Our Kinda Guys," which is what OKG stands for, those would be speedy, versatile prospects who could be used in a variety of ways in order to keep Arizona's uptempo attack moving as quickly as possible.

Similar players are among the top targets that Arizona remains in the hunt for, such as 4-star Phoenix-area athlete Chase Lucas. The 5'11", 166-pound running back/receiver/cornerback from Chandler High School is ranked 186th overall and has the Wildcats among his final seven choices along with ASU, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Texas and UCLA.

The rankings themselves don't matter much to the Wildcats, especially considering Wright—who led the FBS in tackles, tackles for loss and forced fumbles in 2014 en route to winning three national awards—was a 2-star prospect whom 247Sports rated as the No. 2,078 player in the 2013 class.

One place you won't see Arizona's name mentioned this recruiting season is among the contenders for uncommitted 5-star players.

The Wildcats have never signed a 5-star prospect, and the last two they had commitments from (safety Jalen Tabor for 2014 and quarterback Shea Patterson for 2016) ended up flipping shortly thereafter to Florida and Ole Miss, respectively.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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