Friday, 11 January 2013

Famous Five

An early look at five freshmen poised to make a huge impact in college, with bright futures as NFL draft prospects.

TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama

It's just a pleasure to watch TJ Yeldon run. He's benefited from being kept fresh while Eddie Lacy grinds opposing defenses to soft and pliable powder, but Yeldon is undeniably the more exciting of the backs. He has more room to add a bit more muscle going forward, but he's a violent runner who finishes well. His most profound asset, however, is his ability to make people miss spectacularly in implausibly tight spaces. Those little cuts in the hole, coupled with very good stop/start acceleration, make him an absolute nightmare to try and defend. Add in great skills as a receiver, and Yeldon is the complete package. What's scary is that he'll receive such great coaching at Alabama that we'll see him evolve even further, learning to adapt his natural running skills to an improving ability to read the game and run more patiently. If he stays healthy, he has the potential to develop into a Heisman calibre back and top 5 pick. He reminds me most of CJ Spiller, but is the only back currently in college to tempt me into comparison with Adrian Peterson.    

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Like his storied Quarterback, Mike Evans is a redshirt freshman who exploded onto the scene in 2012. At 6"5, he's a huge receiver, and he doesn't waste an inch of his physicality. He's not the fastest wideout in college football, but always has separation thanks to his ability to go up and fight for the football. He's also a weapon after the catch, since it's so hard for your typical defensive back to bring the big guy down. With Ryan Swope leaving, and Johnny Manziel developing as a passer, Evans can hope to improve on his already stellar numbers if the Aggies can cope with the departure of Kliff Kingsbury. Even more potential just as a player also looms; he's a tweener athlete who focused on basketball in High School, so he has a lot to learn about the wide receiver position. He'll be draft eligible next year, although I wouldn't expect him to be a prospect until 2014, and looks possible to go at the top of the second round, in the Alshon Jeffery range. If he plays consistently and improves his speed, he could become a future first round pick.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

It's difficult to watch Amari Cooper and not realise you're watching something special. My preferred comparison in the NFL right now would be Antonio Brown; a guy you don't know whether he's more exciting as a deep threat or as a runner in the open field. Cooper isn't as big as Alabama's last true no.1 receiver Julio Jones, but he's every inch as fast. He's so difficult to defend because if you don't play him conservatively, he'll run right by you and you'll just have to watch as the ball sails over your head. If you do, he'll still run right by you, except this time he'll be carrying the ball already. Alabama don't have to rely on their passing game very often, but it's clear that when they really want to pass, they're trying to get the ball into Cooper's hands. If Cooper can keep up the electricity he generates even in that run heavy offense for two more years, I can't see him getting out of the top ten.

Caleb Azubike, DE, Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt are a hot program right now; in all of college football, there's no other team that can be so emphatically described as on the rise. One of the stars of the first big recruiting classes to make beleagured commodores fans really believe, Azubike has made an immediate and surprising impact on the defensive line. Recognised as extremely raw, and more athlete than football player coming in, he was still put on the field. He responded with flashes of brilliance, using his 6-4, 245lb frame to bulldoze offensive linemen. Despite inexperience and sloppy technique, he still finished second in sacks on one of the SEC's stouter defenses. Azubike figures to improve going forward, has the coaching to do it, and can emerge as future first rounder if he reaches his potential.

Leonard Williams, DT, USC

A freshman all-american selection, Williams was one of the only bright spots on a defense that dissappointed majorly in 2013. Rangy and athletic, the young interior lineman starred as a pass rusher, picking up an extremely impressive eight sacks. He needs to develop his discipline against the run; his playmaking ability and his areas for improvement were both on show in the bowl defeat against Georgia Tech. However, there's nothing stopping him from doing this, and as he gains more experience he could develop into an unblockable force. Reminiscent of Bengals' star Geno Atkins, Wiliams is player for whom development should be incentivised by the possibility of being one of  the first defensive players off the board in 2015.    

All of these playes have a long way to grow- and a long way they can fall, too. But they're fun to watch, and worth keeping an eye on going forward.

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