With the college football season set to kick off and the NFL regular season just around the corner, it's time to identify the top draft-eligible prospects that NFL scouts will have their eyes on as they prepare for the long journey toward the 2014 NFL draft.
Between now and Friday, we will examine my top 25 draft prospects, five per day.
Like every NFL draft, the infusion of underclassmen is always important to the overall strength of a class, and that notion is evident on my preseason big board, as 16 of the 25 prospects listed are either juniors or redshirt sophomores.
To help fans further acquaint themselves with the prospects listed on my board, I've added their prospect reflection. Many analysts like to compare draft prospects to players currently playing in the NFL as a way to project their future, but I prefer to compare draft prospects to prospects of the past.
For example, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is rated No. 25 overall on my board, and I've compared him to former Syracuse star (and Eagle) Donovan McNabb when McNabb left the Orange.
There are many factors that go into comparing players, including similarities in athleticism, body type and production.
How Hundley and other prospects ultimately pan out at the next level is anyone's guess, but I believe a prospect’s success is determined by the situation he’s placed in; meaning the coaching he receives, the system a team implements, how soon he is expected to perform, the talent that surrounds him, and much more.
After looking at prospects 25-21 on my preseason big board in Part I, 20-16 in Part II and 15-11 in Part III, here's a look at Part IV, prospects 10-6:
**Denotes redshirt sophomores
10. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
During his first two years at UCLA, Barr lined up on the offensive side of the ball as a running back and wide receiver. After having limited success and dealing with a nagging injury, Barr decided it was time to try something new and asked to play linebacker. That move turned out to be a great decision, as the 6-foot-4, 245-pound athletic enigma quickly developed into one of the most feared pass rushers in the nation; he recorded 83 tackles, 21.5 for a loss and 13.5 sacks in his first full season on defense.
At this point, Barr is a one-hit wonder who relies solely on his athletic ability. He's still learning the nuances of the position and is far from being a polished defender, but his natural gifts are hard to ignore, and he will be an intriguing prospect for a 3-4 team in need of an explosive edge rusher.
Prospect Reflection: Julian Peterson (Michigan State), 2000: 1st Round (16th overall) by San Francisco 49ers
9. *Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
One of the more intriguing breakout players from the 2012 season was the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Tuitt. Playing on a defense that featured the likes of Manti Te'o and Louis Nix, Tuitt emerged and generated 47 tackles, 13 for a loss, and 12 sacks.
Tuitt is a diverse defensive lineman, who flashes a solid burst and natural pass rush skills. While he can play inside, Tuitt translates best to being a five-technique in a 3-4 defense. He should benefit from playing next to Nix again this season and continue to elevate his draft stock.
Prospect Reflection: Tyson Jackson (LSU), 2009: 1st Round (3rd overall) by Kansas City Chiefs
8. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Possibly the best all-around defender in the nation, the 6-foot-2, 232-pound Mosley had a season to remember for the National Champion Crimson Tide as he registered a team-high 107 tackles, eight for a loss, four sacks and two interceptions.
Mosley is very close to being the complete package; he has outstanding range and instincts, breaks down well in space, uses his hands to his advantage and is a reliable tackler. He's also dependable in coverage and gets good depth on his drops. The two concerns teams may have about Mosley is his lack of bulk and durability questions at the next level. If he can dispel those concerns with his play this year, he has the talent to be a top 5 - 7 selection.
Prospect Reflection: Patrick Willis (Ole Miss), 2007: 1st Round (11th overall) by San Francisco 49ers
7. *Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
After showing promise during his freshman year in 2011, Bridgewater stormed onto the scene as a sophomore in 2012 and became one of college football's most coveted prospects, as he completed 68.5-percent of his passes for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Bridgewater has good size and speed and displays a strong, accurate arm. Although he played very well against Florida in the Sugar Bowl this past year, one of the concerns surrounding Bridgewater is the competition he faces in the Big East. Regardless, this is a big and likely final year at Louisville for Bridgewater, who took out a $10 million insurance policy in July. If he can eclipse the numbers he produced in 2012 and show improvement in his overall game, expect Bridgewater to be a top 3 - 5 pick in the draft.
Prospect Reflection: Geno Smith (West Virginia), 2013: 2nd Round (39th overall) by New York Jets
6. *Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Lee plays much bigger than his listed size and has incredible game changing ability. In 2012, Lee had an amazing sophomore season where he hauled in 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to winning the Biletnikoff Award.
It's likely that Lee's statistics will suffer a bit this season with the departure of Matt Barkley, but expect him to post solid numbers and ultimately declare for the draft. He should be a top 5 - 7 pick next May.
Prospect Reflection: Lee Evans (Wisconsin), 2004: 1st Round (13th overall) by Buffalo Bills