by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Who could be the next wave of NFL superstars? It’s not always easy to predict who is going to take their performance from the college game and thrive at the next level (or who is necessarily going to forego their senior season to instead play on Sunday’s), but we can tell who has the most potential. Remember this isn’t the order that we think they are going to be drafted, but the potential impact they bring to the table. Who currently sits atop our rankings for 2015? Let’s take a look:
1) Jared Goff – QB – California
This Week – 33-45, 390 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
Potential franchise quarterbacks are hard to find, but right now Goff is looking like he has the potential to develop into one. He’s thrown for at least 3 TD in four of his five games, with 15 TD vs. 4 INT, and has four 300+ yard games. Those numbers alone would garner a lot of attention, but he’s also completed over 70% of his passes four times (70.2% on the season) and he’s not simply dumping the ball off with a yards per attempt of 9.16. As of right now he’s looking like the obvious choice for #1 overall.
2) Ezekiel Elliot – RB – Ohio State
This Week – 23 carries, 274 yards, 3 TD
He’s now eclipsed 100 yards in all five of his games this season and also has a pair of 3 TD performances. On the season he has 100 carries for 729 and 8 TD, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Listed at 6’1” and 225 pounds, Elliot has the makings of a true three down back and a potential first round draft pick (a rarity for running backs). Thus far he’s certainly proving that last season’s breakout, where he had 1,878 yards and 18 TD, was no aberration.
3) Derrick Henry – RB – Alabama 3:30
This Week – 26 carries, 148 yards, 1 TD
It’s been an interesting season for Henry, who has had three games of 125+ yards but also two where he failed to reach 100 (including a 13 carry, 52 yard performance against Louisiana Monroe). He has routinely found the end zone, with at least 1 TD in each game (9 TD overall), and there wouldn’t be any concern about the big back taking on an NFL workload (6’3”, 242 lbs).
Of course the inconsistency is something to watch and he has shown very little in the receiving department (7 receptions in ’15, 13 in his college career). It’s a “concern” for his long-term outlook in the NFL, but at the very least he has the makings of an excellent “big back” in the Jerome Bettis/LeGarrette Blount mold.
4) Tyler Boyd – WR – Pittsburgh
This Week – 5 receptions, 48 yards, 1 TD
He’s coming off a bit of a disappointing day and has failed to make big plays consistently in three games:
- September 12 at Akron – 8.6 YPC
- September 19 at Iowa – 13.1 YPC
- October 3 at Virginia Tech – 9.6 YPC
Part of it can be blamed on QB play, with Nathan Peterman now under center. While the numbers aren’t too impressive, don’t let them deter you. He averaged 16.2 yards per catch a year ago and the potential is there to get back there quickly.
5) Devontae Booker – RB – Utah
This Week – Off
He’s proving to be an impressive dual threat (106 carries, 443 yards, 4 TD; 15 receptions, 149 yards), helping to lead Utah to a 4-0 start (including throwing for a TD). He’s been a workhorse, with at least 22 carries in each game (including 31 twice), but his average yard per carry is a relatively unimpressive 4.2 and he’s been above 4.5 just once on the season. It’s something that’s worth watching, though his power running the football is what’s important. Just look at this tweet from Ted Miller a few weeks ago:
“Utah RB Devontae Booker does his damage with power, racking up a Power 5-high 1,186 rushing yards AFTER contact since 2014.”
He’s the type of player who could develop into a three-down back in the NFL.
6) Alex Collins – RB – Arkansas
This Week – 27 carries, 154 yards, 2 TD
Collins posted his third consecutive game of 150+ yards as well as his fifth straight game with a TD. It certainly appears like his poor game against Toledo (54 yards on 20 carries) has sparked him and he’s proving to be one of the better running backs in college football. The question is going to be if he can develop into a three-down back, as he’s shown little in the receiving game (3 receptions for 18 yards this season, 6 receptions for 27 yards over the past two years) and at 5’11” and 215 lbs. could have some issues in his pass blocking.
7) Rashard Higgins – WR – Colorado State
This Week – 10 receptions, 114 yards, 1 TD
After posting 96 catches for 1,750 yards and 17 TD in ’14 Higgins is once again showing his potential to dominate a football game. This week was hit first with at least 10 receptions, but he has three straight of at least 100 yards and has scored a TD in each game. It’s impressive, considering both his QB (Saints’ backup Garrett Grayson) and coach from last season have moved on, and speaks to Higgins’ ability to make big plays as well as use his 6’2” frame as a safety valve/short yardage receiver.
8) Laquan Treadwell – WR – Ole Miss
This Week – 5 receptions, 42 yards, 0 TD
His name carries a lot of weight, but where has the performance been? Treadwell has topped 100 yards just once in five games, topped 5 receptions once and scored 1 TD. You can argue that it’s the offense he plays in, but 27 receptions for 374 yards? That’s right in line with last season’s line (48 receptions for 632 yards, averaging 13.2 yards per reception) when his season was cut short by a serious knee injury. We’d certainly like to see more from him, though questions are going to start to arise that the injury continues to hamper/limit him. If that’s the case his outlook could quickly crumble and it’s something we will have to continue to watch.
9) Connor Cook – QB – Michigan State
This Week – 13-19, 139 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
He at least showed off his legs this week, running the ball five times for 48 yards, and he completed a strong percentage of his passes. Of course there was no reason for the team to air the ball out with LJ Scott (18 carries for 146 yards and 2 TD) and Madre London (17 carries for 97 yards) dominating on the ground. Cook has at least thrown for 10 TD vs. 1 INT on the season and, when needed, has been able to put up some strong numbers. We’d obviously like to see more in the passing department, but the upside is there.
10) Christian Hackenberg – QB – Penn State
This Week – 10-19, 156 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Season Stats –
After a promising freshman season the disappointments have continued for Hackenberg. Sure he was solid, but he’s now thrown the ball 19 times in two of the past three games and has been at 156 yards or fewer in four of five games in ’15. If you take out his 3 TD performance against San Diego State he has just 2 TD vs. 2 INT this season.
Those aren’t the types of numbers elite NFL quarterbacks post, are they? He still has the upside and there’s a good chance he’s reunited with Bill O’Brien with the Houston Texans (who helped him to his freshman success) when he does decide to leave for the NFL. That’s what keeps him on the map here, but otherwise he likely would fall outside the Top 10.
Michael Thomas – WR – Ohio State
This Week – 4 receptions, 54 yards, 1 TD
He’s consistently shown an ability to find the end zone, with 1 TD in four of five games, but only once has he eclipsed 60 yards this season and he has yet to have more than 6 receptions. There’s certainly upside but, at least until now, he has failed to take advantage of his opportunities instead falling in the shadows of Ezekiel Elliot. Still, you can argue that he’s shown enough to make the list (potentially over Hackenberg).
Corey Clement – RB – Wisconsin
He’s currently sidelined due to sports hernia surgery, but the potential is there to vault his way onto this list once healthy.