Richner: Offensive Prospects (09/01/15)

Last Updated: 10/13/2015 9:05 AM ET
2016 NFL Draft - Offensive Prospects

College football season is just around the corner, and scouts are already out on the road rating prospects and getting their first look at draft-eligible players.

This year's class of quarterback prospect has a handful of players who are considered to be elite players but their production suggest otherwise There were two quarterbacks taken in the first round in the 2015 NFL Draft. I count at least eight NFL teams that will either need an immediate upgrade at the quarterback position or begin to develop a long term starter.

The wide receiver position just might be the deepest and most talented position group on the offensive side of the ball. Barring any injuries I wouldn't be surprised if at least three players were selected in next year's first round. From each of the Power-5 conferences to some of the mid-major ones there are a wideouts in each of them that possess game changing abilities and skill sets.

A lot will change between the start of college and next year's NFL draft; some prospects will continue to shine while others will falter. Inevitably a small handful of players come out of nowhere–a player who was lost on a lot of scouts' radars will, without notice, burst onto the national scene and rise all the way to a top-ten draft pick.

The prospects are not ranked; they are listed by their schools in alphabetical order. At the end of each month throughout the season I will be posting a top-35 ranking of the top NFL prospects currently in college.

Quarterback Stats

Player School Wins As Starter Comp% Pass Yards Pass TDs INTs
Jared Goff Cal 6 61.08% 7,461 53 17
Gunner Kiel Cincinnati 9 59.74% 3,254 31 13
Nate Sudfeld Indiana 7 60.60% 4,306 34 13
Patrick Towles Kentucky 5 56.35% 2,951 15 10
Paxton Lynch Memphis 13 60.63% 5,087 31 19
Connor Cook Michigan State 23 58.27% 6,063 47 15
Dak Prescott Mississippi St. 14 60.40% 5,583 41 18
Maty Mauk Missouri 14 52.83% 3,719 36 15
Jacoby Brissett N.C. State 10 59.01% 3,061 26 9
Marquise Williams North Carolina 10 61.33% 4,898 37 15
Carson Wentz North Dakota State 15 64.43% 3,320 26 10
Cardale Jones Ohio State 3 60.64% 863 7 2
Christian Hackenberg Penn State 15 57.19% 5,932 32 25
Kevin Hogan Stanford 24 65.21% 6,523 48 21
Trevone Boykins TCU 19 59.69% 7,153 55 27
Cody Kessler USC 19 67.77% 6,802 59 12

This year's quarterback group is filled with experienced college prospects who have shown a consistent ability to lead their respected teams to victory. Seven of the top sixteen QB prospects have 24 career starts or more. Cardale Jones (Ohio State) had only three career starts, one of which was leading the Buckeyes to a national title.

With Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston going first and second overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, look for a few of these young prospects to take the next step in their hopes of becoming the next first overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Cody Kessler (USC) is the top rated quarterback prospect on my board. He shows remarkable accuracy, and has the highest overall completion percentage, at 67.77 percent, and third down completion percentage last season at 70 percent. Kessler tends to take too many unnecessary sacks and this is an area that needs improvement for him. He has 62 career sacks, second most only to Christian Hackenberg on this list.

The Pac-12 conference is well suited for another strong run of quarterback prospects this year. In addition to Cody Kessler, they also have Jared Goff (California) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford). Hogan is a known commodity amongst scouts and is a player who isn't necessarily exceptional talent wise, but he is a consistent winner and has experience playing in a pro-style offense. Hogan's numbers took a drop last season; his completion percentage on third down was 53.3 percent, a 20 percent drop from his first and second down completion average.

Some young signal callers to keep an eye on throughout the season: Jacoby Brissett (N.C. State), Patrick Towles (Kentucky) and Gunner Kiel (Cincinnati). A prototypical size, Brissett completed 60 percent of his passes, threw for over 2,600 yards, had 23 touchdowns and only threw five interceptions in his first year as a starter for the Wolfpack. Brissett took a number of unnecessary risks last season; for his career he has the second highest negative play rate of any of the quarterbacks on this list. He will need to work on getting the ball out quicker and learning to throw the ball away. Brissett has the highest sack rate at 8.3 percent of any quarterback on this list. He is still a diamond in the rough, but he has shown flashes of being a highly touted NFL Draft prospect.

With an unheralded supporting cast around him, Towles had to carry the Wildcats offense last season, throwing 2,781 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. He is listed at 6'5” and 240 pounds. Towles isn't a stiff pocket quarterback and he can get outside the box and pick up yards with his legs. With only one season under his belt as a starter, look for Towles to take the next step in his development and become a more accurate passer in the short to intermediate routes. Scouts already know he has one of the strongest arms in college football, now they want to see if he has the accuracy to go along with it.

Lastly, Gunner Kiel is the highly touted high school prospect who committed to Indiana, LSU, Notre Dame, and finally transferred to Cincinnati. He won nine games last season, his first season as starter for the Bearcats. Amongst players on this list, he had the second highest yards-per-catch last season at 13.97, second only to Cardale Jones (15.14). Kiel has the lowest sack rate at only 3.4 percent, Marcus Mariota finished his college career with a sack rate of 5.7 percent. If Kiel can continue to develop as a pocket passer, don't be surprised to hear scouts compare Kiel to a young Aaron Rodgers. He is an exciting NFL Draft prospect and one that should be watched early and often.

Two prospects that seem to receive a lot of praise and national attention are Jared Goff and Christian Hackenberg. While both these players have the size and arm strength to make almost every throw in an NFL playbook, both need to improve as a passer to be considered as a future first round talent. Goff needs to learn how to protect the football, he has 19 career fumbles, highest amongst quarterback prospects on this list. Kevin Hogan has the second most with 9 career fumbles.

Running Back Stats

Player School Games Yards TD Fumbles
Derrick Henry Alabama 23 1,372 14 1
D.J. Foster Arizona State 37 2,075 17 4
Alex Collins Arkansas 25 2,126 16 11
Jonathan William Arkansas 35 2,321 16 10
Shock Linwood Baylor 25 2,133 24 6
Josh Ferguson Illinois 37 1,878 15 10
Kenneth Dixon Louisiana Tech 36 3,410 53 10
Devon Johnson Marshall 18 1,780 20 3
Ezekiel Elliott Ohio State 22 2,140 20 2
James Conner Pittsburgh 25 2,564 34 6
Brandon Wilds South Carolina 27 1,277 10 5
Aaron Green TCU 31 1,259 11 1
Tra Carson Texas A&M 31 1,164 13 2
Kareem Hunt Toledo 21 2,497 22 1
Paul Perkins UCLA 26 2,148 15 4
Devontae Booker Utah 13 1,512 10 6
Corey Clement Wisconsin 22 1,496 16 1

For the first time since 2012, we saw two running backs selected in the first round during the 2015 NFL Draft. This year's crop of running back prospects might not have the one two punch of a Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley but it is a stacked position filled with depth and quality NFL Draft prospects. This year's crop of tailbacks would rather run over a would-be tackler than run around them. A stable of power backs that will surely excite a few NFL General Managers who have always preferred a power back to a scat back.

Leading this year's class is Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State), a stout six-feet tall and 225 pounds who is built to bulldoze over his opponents. He shows great balance and the ability to pick up critical extra yards after contact (3.6 yards last season). Elliott currently has a career running back rating of 92.5, Todd Gurley finished his college career with a rating of 92.3. If Elliott can produce at a similar level as last year, don't be surprised if he is a first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Derrick Henry (Alabama) is just another exceptional tailback that in all likelihood will be a first or second day selection in the NFL Draft. With a couple of new starters along the offensive line and a new starting quarterback, don't be surprised if Henry's overall numbers take a slight dip this season. Throughout his career he has averaged 6.6 YPC on 207 career carries. He has one career fumble. Henry currently has a RB Rating of 156.8.

Another school that consistently turns out NFL caliber tailbacks is Wisconsin and they look to have another shining star waiting in the wings with Corey Clement. Though he split carries with Melvin Gordon last season and had limited reps, he still posted a career average of seven YPC. 40 percent of Clement's carries result in either a first down or a touchdown, second highest amongst this group of tailbacks. With a RB Rating of 103, look for Clement to be yet another tailback from Wisconsin who hears his name during the draft.

A couple of under the radar running backs that are sure to catch scout's eyes are James Conner (Pittsburgh) and Devon Johnson (Marshall). Conner, at 6'2” and 240 pounds, is built like a wrecking ball. He has a similar running style to former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs. With six career fumbles, he will need to prove to scouts that he has improved his ball security issues. Johnson, a former tight end turned tailback at 6'1” and 244 pounds, is a three down back capable of catching the ball out of the backfield and shutting down an opponent's pass rush.

The preseason publicity has been high for Alex Collins (Arkansas) and Devonte Booker (Utah). Collins will be the primary tailback with the loss of Jonathan William (Arkansas). Both Booker and Collins will need to concentrate on taking care of the football and eliminating turnovers. Collins has eleven career fumbles, a fumble rate of 2.8 percent of his touches, highest amongst the running backs on this list. Booker, a former JUCO transfer, had trouble holding onto the ball when fighting for extra yards last season. He has a total of six career fumbles, a rate of 2.1 percent of his carries.

Wide Receiver Stats

Player School Games Rec. Yards Rec. TD
D.J. Foster Arizona State 40 1,874 11
D'haquille Williams Auburn 10 730 5
Corey Coleman Baylor 21 1,646 13
Mekale McKay Cincinnati 33 1,527 17
Mike Williams Clemson 22 1,346 9
Nelson Spruce Colorado 35 2,294 19
Rashard Higgins Colorado State 26 2,587 23
Demarcus Robinson Florida 15 853 7
Travin Dural LSU 19 903 9
Tajae Sharpe Massachusetts 35 2,167 11
Laquon Treadwell Mississippi 22 1,240 10
Damore'ea Stringfellow Mississippi 7 259 1
William Fuller Notre Dame 18 1,254 16
Corey Robinson Notre Dame 18 696 6
Michael Thomas Ohio State 18 821 9
Sterling Shepard Oklahoma 31 2,194 15
Byron Marshall Oregon 24 1,172 6
Tyler Boyd Pittsburgh 26 2,435 15
Leonte Carroo Rutgers 22 1,564 19
Pharoh Cooper South Carolina 13 1,136 9
Josh Doctson TCU 34 1,851 20
Marquez North Tennessee 19 816 5
Jordan Payton UCLA 34 1,596 9

In recent years wide receivers have had incredible successes in their rookie seasons in the NFL and teams are becoming more comfortable with selecting wide receivers in the first round and thrusting them into a starting role. This year's crop of rookie wide receivers set the bar pretty high in terms of their college productions. Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, and Phillip Dorsett were all selected in the first round. That was the most wide receivers selected in the first round since 2009.

This year's crop of wide receiver prospects doesn't have the head and shoulders leader like an Amari Cooper, but they do have talent that stretches from both inside and outside the Power 5 conferences. Leading the list is Rashard Higgins (Colorado State), one of the most dynamic receivers in college football. At 6'2” and 188 pounds, he won't outmuscle a defensive back for the football but he can beat you with his speed and route running ability. Last season Higgins finished with 24 receptions of 25 or more yards, for his career he has a big play rate of 19 percent. He loses his starting quarterback Garrett Grayson to the NFL, but look for Higgins to have another monster season.

Though he is suspended for the season opener due to a DUI, Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh) was the first receiver in ACC history to achieve 1,000 yards receiving season as a freshman and sophomore. In 26 career games, Boyd has 163 receptions, 2435 receiving yards, and fifteen TD's. He physically overpowers his opponents, few corners have the courage to press him in coverage. For Boyd, it is a matter of his actions off the field that will matter most to scouts.

A couple of other names to watch out for this season are Leonte Carroo (Rutgers), Nelson Spruce (Colorado), Travin Dural (LSU) and Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma). These four players have shown a history of being productive, consistent players who are capable of making explosive plays for their teams. Dural leads this wide receiver list with 27 percent of his receptions resulting in 25 or more yards.

Two names that will standout when watching Ole Miss play this year are wideouts Laquon Treadwell and Damore'ea Stringfellow. Treadwell is coming back from a season-ending injury but, according to most reports, he appears fully healed and ready for action. Stringfellow, a transfer from the University of Washington, is a physically imposing wide receiver who should be a matchup nightmare in the redzone. Opponents will have a difficult time double covering both these players, they will have to pick their poison and hope for the best.

Tight End Stats

Player School Games Rec. Yards Rec. TD
O.J. Howard Alabama 17 529 2
Hunter Henry Arkansas 22 922 6
Bryce Williams East Carolina 20 457 9
Joel Ruiz Georgia State 10 478 3
Jake Duzey Iowa 20 678 5
Josiah Price Michigan State 20 584 10
Evan Engram Mississippi 18 930 5
David Grinnage North Carolina State 21 489 6
Dan Vitale Northwestern 32 1072 7
Nick Vannett Ohio State 21 423 6
Kyle Carter Penn State 27 828 4
Jerell Adams South Carolina 20 556 4
Austin Hooper Stanford 12 499 2
Bucky Hodges Virginia Tech 13 526 7
Cam Serigne Wake Forest 12 531 5

After a down year in terms of top tier tight end prospects, this year's crop of tight end prospects have a couple of possible first round players. Leading the group are O.J. Howard (Alabama) and Hunter Henry (Arkansas). Both players show qualities of being a well-rounded tight end capable of being an effective pass catcher and a quality blocker. Howard is the most explosive tight end in this group with 23 percent of his receptions going for 25 or more yards and his career yards per catch average is the highest as well at 17.1. Evan Engram is another deep down field threat capable of stretching the field, he has ten receptions of 25 or more yards, giving him a big play rate of 18 percent, second highest on this list.

There are a couple of other names to watch for as they could become their quarterback's favorite target early and often this season. Austin Hooper (Stanford), Jerell Adams (South Carolina), and Josiah Price (Michigan State). Stanford has built a reputation of producing quality NFL prospects and Hooper is next on that list. This will be his second season as a starter, he is already the most dominate tight end in the Pac-12 conference.

Offensive Tackle Stats

Player School Height Weight Rushing YPG Sacks Allowed
Avery Young Auburn 6-6 305 206.64 16
Spencer Drango Baylor 6-6 310 215.54 24
Jerald Hawkins LSU 6-6 309 224.54 25
Jack Conklin Michigan State 6-6 317 235.15 11
Ronnie Stanley Notre Dame 6-5 315 159.46 28
Taylor Decker Ohio State 6-8 315 264.47 28
Laremy Tunsil Ole Miss 6-5 305 155.46 31
Tyler Johnstone Oregon 6-6 295 234.53 31
Kyle Murphy Stanford 6-7 298 158.77 23
Germain Ifedi Texas A&M 6-5 325 149.92 26
Le'Raven Clark Texas Tech 6-6 307 153 13
Tyler Marz Wisconsin 6-7 318 320.14 13

Another stellar crop of offensive tackle prospects have emerged in college football, this might be the deepest position group in terms of overall talent in college football. From this list alone, five of these players are listed as possible first round selections. Leading the group is Taylor Decker (Ohio State); he has been a cornerstone left tackle for the Buckeyes for the past couple of seasons. At 6'7” and 315 pounds, Decker has the size to shut down power rushers to go along with the athleticism to shutdown speed rushers.

Another Big-10 conference talent is Jack Conklin (Michigan State), one of the most dominate run blocking tackles in this draft class. Scouts will probably try to peg him as a future right tackle in the NFL. Either way he is capable of shutting down his opponent.

Finally, Laremy Tunsil (Mississippi) has made a number of headlines this offseason after he was involved in an altercation with his stepfather. All charges have been dropped and the case has been dismissed, but scouts will be looking into his background as much as they will be watching his on field play this season. He has the quickness to slide into a zone or man blocking scheme. Ole Miss has a number of possible first round selections currently on their roster, Tunsil just might be the one who goes first off that list.

Offensive Guard Stats

Player School Height Weight Rushing YPG Sacks Allowed
Denver Kirkland Arakansas 6-5 340 218 14
Christian Westerman Arizona State 6-4 301 168.77 40
Alex Kozan Auburn 6-4 300 255.46 15
Jordan Rigsbee Cal 6-4 300 149.17 27
Parker Ehinger Cincinnati 6-7 315 156.54 18
Greg Pyke Georgia 6-6 313 257.85 17
Dan Feeney Indiana 6-4 305 263.58 26
Cody Whitehair Kansas State 6-4 305 134.23 30
Vadal Alexander LSU 6-6 326 224.54 25
Steve Elmer Notre Dame 6-5 315 159.46 28
Pat Elfein Ohio State 6-3 300 264.47 28
Issac Seumalo Oregon State 6-5 310 118.08 36
Joshua Garnett Stanford 6-5 325 158.77 23
Landon Turner UNC 6-4 325 151.38 28
Caleb Peterson UNC 6-5 300 151.38 28

The size of the average offensive guard has increased the last couple of years and this year's top offensive guard prospect showcases the size and speed that can be found along the interior offensive line. My top rated guard prospect is Vadal Alexander (LSU), a true road grading prospect capable of shutting down opponent's interior pass rush. Alexander's quickness to get to the second level and open up rushing lanes is what separates him from the rest of the prospects on this list.

Cody Whitehair (Kansas State) and Greg Pyke (Georgia) round out my list of top three guard prospects to watch for during the upcoming college football season. Whitehair plays with a tough, physical style that sets the tone for the rest of the Wildcat offense.

Center Stats

Player School Height Weight Rushing YPG Sacks Allowed
Ryan Kelly Alabama 6-5 297 206.64 16
Kyler Fuller Baylor 6-5 305 215.54 24
Jon Toth Kentucky 6-5 310 153.17 36
Ethan Pocic LSU 6-7 301 224.54 25
Jack Allen Michigan State 6-2 295 235.15 23
Nick Martin Notre Dame 6-4 301 159.46 28
Joey Hunt TCU 6-2 290 206.85 32
Mike Matthews Texas A&M 6-2 290 149.92 26
Jake Brendel UCLA 6-4 290 209.54 40
Max Tuerk USC 6-6 285 160.92 32
Dan Voltz Wisconsin 6-3 311 320.14 13

Having a quality center is almost like having two elite quarterbacks on the field at the same time; he has to understand not only his assignment, but everyone else's positions on the field. Experience and intelligence are bigger factors in playing the position at a high level than physical capabilities in certain situations. The senior leader on this year's list is Max Tuerk (USC), with 33 career starts at all five offensive line positions. Tuerk understands the roles of his teammates and has taken complete command of the offensive line.
Nick Martin (Notre Dame) and Joey Hunt (TCU) round out the top three center prospect rankings. Martin is the younger brother of Dallas Cowboys and former first round selection Zack Martin. Nick Martin has shown the ability to handle bigger and more physical interior defensive tackles with ease. Look for him to take command of a young Notre Dame offensive unit. Hunt is a bit smaller than most scouts prefer for a future center. Standing at 6'3” and 295 pounds, he is a big reason why the Horned Frogs have had so much success on offense as of late. Last season, Hunt single handedly manhandled former Oklahoma Sooner and second round selection, Jordan Phillips.