With the college football season now upon us, it seems like the perfect time to give a sneak peek at who I see being the top 10 NFL Draft-eligible prospects entering the 2015-16 season.
This list came to fruition from many hours of tape study and does not factor in any possible character concerns. With that said, some honorable mentions are Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin, Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, Alabama defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson, Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, and USC safety Su'a Cravens.
1. Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Smith has tremendous size, speed, and athleticism while at the same time being highly intelligent on the field. Smith finished last season with 112 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, and 3.5 sacks. On tape Smith can do it all, stop the run, play on the inside or the outside, while also having the ability to drop back and make plays in coverage. Smith is a special talent and will be a thrill to watch this college football season.
2. Joey Bosa, DL, Ohio State
Had Bosa been draft eligible in 2015, he may have been the first defensive player off the board. He may not be a once in a generation like talent that some have caked him up to be, but he has all the tools; prototypical size, good speed, and great athleticism. He slots in as a defensive end or tackle but probably best suited as a 3-4 defensive end. Bosa recorded 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss as a true sophomore while showing, at times, purely dominating ability. He plays the game with such determination and tenaciousness that he made for a clear choice here.
3. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Hargreaves is without a doubt the top cornerback in college football with the talent and ability to be a top five pick in next year's draft. Although Hargreaves' size isn't anything spectacular, it's serviceable and what he lacks in that area he makes up for with outstanding instincts superior ball skills, and pure lockdown ability. Hargreaves exceeds all expectations in press coverage and has no trouble playing off either. Hargreaves led the SEC last season with 13 pass breakups and also recorded three interceptions, all while demonstrating his aggressive, confident playing style. I have full confidence that he'll truly be the next great corner to arise from the ranks of college football.
4. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Tunsil is a former five-star recruit from Lake City, Florida. Much like Notre Dame tackle prospect Ronnie Stanley he has the prototypical height and bulk to be a cornerstone tackle at the next level (6-5, 305). In addition Tunsil has great length and unquestionable athleticism for the position. Tunsil's biggest strength is his ability in pass protection, utilizing his clean footwork, length, and excellent anchoring ability to fend off pass rushers. Despite his size, Tunsil can really bend well and is very technically sound when it comes to hand usage. Tunsil has been a starter for Ole Miss since the first game of his true freshman season and has only given up two sacks in two seasons, in a conference many people refer to as the best in the country.
5. Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State
Ramsey has been a do it all player during his time with Seminoles, playing numerous secondary positions while in Tallahassee. Last season Ramsey recorded two interceptions, 12 pass breakups, 97 tackles, and 9.5 tackles for a loss. In 2013, Ramsey became the first true freshman to start at cornerback for the Seminoles since “Primetime” Deion Sanders.
6. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Like Tunsil, Stanley is another big, long (6’5”, 315 lbs) offensive tackle from Notre Dame. Had he decided to declare for the 2015 NFL draft, without question he would’ve been my number one offensive lineman prospect. He plays with incredible balance, agility, power, and has great feet. Much like Tunsil, he can bend really well for someone his size and is technically sound in basically every aspect of the game. Stanley started his Notre Dame career by starting 13 games at right tackle in 2013 and then 13 games at left tackle in 2014 and he did so with only allowing one sack. In addition, Stanley also recorded 16 knockdown blocks last season.
7. Jacoby Brissett, QB, North Carolina State
Brissett comes in having the prototypical size for the quarterback position (6’4”, 231 lbs) while in addition also has an great arm which allows him to make all of the throws. His true strength lies within the pocket, but he has shown time and time again that he’s a threat outside of the pocket. In only one season as the Wolfpack’s starting quarterback, he threw for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns while limiting his interceptions down to 5. It wasn’t always easy going for Brissett in 2014 due to a poor Wolfpack offensive front, which in many games left him fending for his life more often than not. There's no doubt in my mind that if he has a big year in 2015 he will be highly coveted by NFL teams come May.
8. Andrew Billings, DL, Baylor
Billings has outstanding quickness which allows him to penetrate and make plays, in addition he also moves really well laterally and is incredibly light on his feet for someone his size (6’2”, 310 lbs). Billings has tremendous strength, but he also does a really good job keeping his pad level low. Billings has some serious upside and should be very entertaining this college football season.
9. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Myles Jack is an absolute jack of all trades for the Bruins. He's been a big time playmaker on both sides of the ball for the Bruins at running back and linebacker. Jack's an explosive athlete that comes in at 6'1", 232 lbs. He plays with unmatched passion for the game as well as aggression. He's extremely physical and excels at stopping the run. Jack has 25 starts at linebacker over his first two seasons and one at running back. He has 163 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 10 rushing touchdowns in two seasons at UCLA. At this point in time, Jack is one of my absolute favorite players to watch in college football
10. Dadi Nicolas, EDGE, Virginia Tech
Nicolas is a very athletic pass rushing prospect, with great explosion and bending ability. Despite his biggest knock being his size (6’4”, 236 lbs), Nicolas has tremendous upside once he fills out his frame and adds on bulk and strength. Nicolas has supreme quickness off the ball while in addition showing incredible speed. Over the past two seasons for Virginia Tech Nicolas was able to rack up 12.5 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss. While still somewhat raw as a pass rusher, Nicolas is a fun player to watch and once he figures things out, watch out.
— Written by Rob Donaldson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An NFL Draft analyst and writer for drafbreakdown.com, Donaldson also recently founded his own site, OnTheClockFB.com, and also pays careful attention to his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes and Pittsburgh Steelers. Follow him on Twitter @RobDonaldsonOTC.