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#CFBTop25: Top future NFL stars of 2017 regular season


Now that bowl season is upon us, I'm taking a fresh look at the top 25 future NFL stars in the college game based on my evaluations through the end of the regular season. There has been some movement since the midseason list was published, as some of the top players rose to the occasion when their teams needed them most.

Keep in mind: Pro potential was taken into account in creating this list.



Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

2017 stats: 262 of 369 for 4,340 yards, 41 TDs, 5 INTs; 85 carries for 310 yards (3.6 avg), 5 TDs

Bowl game: Rose Bowl vs. Georgia (Jan. 1).

While his off-field issues might be red flags to some scouts, I believe most NFL teams will see Mayfield as a fiery starting quarterback with Philip Rivers' attitude and Russell Wilson's stature. The Heisman Trophy winner led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff with an FBS-best 71 percent completion rate, 4,340 total passing yards, and an outstanding 11.8 yards per pass attempt. He ranks second to Missouri's Drew Lock with 41 passing touchdowns, but has thrown just five interceptions. Mayfield's made plays inside the pocket, outside the pocket, and with his feet. Right now, you just can't stop him.



Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

2017 stats: 69 tackles, 14.5 for loss (including 5.5 sacks), 3 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles.

Bowl game: Hawaii Bowl vs. Fresno State (Dec. 24).

Despite drawing the focus of offensive line coaches every week, Oliver was still an easy All-America pick. His rare quickness and athleticism allows him to chase plays from sideline to sideline. Oliver's not the biggest tackle, but he still holds up double teams and finds the ball in traffic. He'll have a decision to make after the 2018 season on whether to leave the Cougars for the NFL.



Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

2017 stats: 282 of 451 for 3,717 yards, 26 TDs, 10 INTs; 50 carries for (minus)-97 yards (-1.9 avg), 2 TDs

Bowl game: Cactus Bowl vs. Kansas State (Dec. 26).

Rosen is the best pure passer in college football. Even though he has two or three passes that he would like to take back each game (like all quarterbacks), the junior also can make plays on passes that most quarterbacks would not attempt. He finished the regular season with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, a solid ratio considering the lack of experience in UCLA's receiver corps. Rosen's mobility and offensive line have been average, at best, this year, so it's not surprising he has had issues staying upright.



Sam Darnold, QB, USC

2017 stats: 277 of 435 for 3,787 yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs; 67 carries for 90 yards (1.3 avg), 5 TDs

Bowl game: Cotton Bowl vs. Ohio State (Dec. 29).

Darnold ended up with 12 interceptions in 13 games, along with 26 touchdown passes to lead his team to a Pac-12 title. He stood in the pocket in the league championship game against Stanford and threw as well as he has all year. Darnold's made nice throws on the run all season, and he has all of the tools scouts want to see.



Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

2017 stats: 241 of 399 for 3,489 yards, 25 TDs, 6 INTs; 208 carries for 1,443 yards (6.9 avg), 17 TDs

Bowl game: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Mississippi State (Dec. 30).

Don't let Jackson's running proficiency fool you -- he's a quarterback. He's just 11 yards away from reaching the 3,500-yard mark as a passer for the second straight year. He's completed 60 percent of his passes this year for 25 touchdowns and six interceptions despite throwing to a maddeningly inconsistent receiver corps. Jackson stands in the pocket when the protection is there, and he throws with a quick delivery and very good velocity. However, he might be graded behind the other quarterbacks on this list because of his inconsistent accuracy and questions about how his game will translate to the next level.



Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State

2017 stats: 32 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss (7.0 sacks), 2 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble

Bowl game: Cotton Bowl vs. USC (Dec. 29).

Bosa's role on the Buckeyes' defense has grown during his sophomore season. He's reminding scouts of what they saw from his older brother, Joey, in college before he became the third overall pick of the 2016 draft. Nick's 6-foot-4, 270-pound frame makes him strong at the point of attack, but his motor and athleticism create difficulties for offensive linemen trying to keep him away from their quarterback. Even when he doesn't get credit for a sack or tackle, you can see Bosa affecting plays. The sky's the limit for him.



Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State

2017 stats: 72 tackles, 23.0 tackles for loss (10.0 sacks), 2 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble

Bowl game: Sun Bowl vs. Arizona State (Dec. 29).

Chubb might have been a top-15 selection in the 2017 draft, and he only increased his value with his play as a senior. He ranks second in the FBS with 26 tackles for loss and is tied for seventh with 10 sacks. Even when Chubb isn't producing sacks or TFLs, he's affecting plays by his mere presence as a pass rusher and can stand his ground in the run game. His athleticism, hustle, and leadership ability make him a likely top-10 pick this April.



Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

2017 stats: 199 carries for 1,134 yards (5.7 avg), 16 TDs; 47 receptions for 594 yards (12.6 avg), 3 TDs

Bowl game: Fiesta Bowl vs. Washington (Dec. 30).

Barkley didn't finish the regular season as strongly as he started it. However, he's still second in the country in all-purpose yardage (2,154). His lower-body strength is phenomenal, and when given the chance to carry the ball 20-25 times a game, he's proven worthy of the workload. Barkley's receiving and blocking skills have caught the eyes of scouts, as well. He's an all-around talent who will be a bellcow in the Todd Gurley mold whenever he goes to the NFL.



Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

Bowl game: Citrus Bowl vs. LSU (Jan. 1).

Nelson's ability to control the line of scrimmage is what every offensive coordinator desires. He drives his man off the ball consistently in the run game, and possesses the mobility to hit second-level targets. Nelson's anchor in pass protection is as strong as anyone's, and his willingness to help out the center and left tackle has put more than one defender on the ground.



Connor Williams, OT, Texas

Bowl game: Texas Bowl vs. Missouri (Dec. 27) -- will not play.

Now that Williams is healthy again, he's been able to show off his combination of strength and quickness. His thick lower body belies his agility as a pass protector and his ability to lead run plays. Add in a nasty attitude, and it's clear that he's the best offensive tackle in the country.



Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

2017 stats: 52 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss (1.5 sacks), 1 INT, 7 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble.

Bowl game: Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson (Jan. 1).

NFL teams will be split on where to utilize Fitzpatrick's gifts. He has the movement skills and length to be effective as a man defender against any NFL receiver. His tackling skills and athleticism lend themselves to an outstanding career at free safety, as well. Either way, I suspect he'll be leading a defense for a decade in much the same way he's led the Tide.



Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

2017 stats: 62 tackles, 17 tackles for loss (8.5 sacks), 1 pass breakup, 2 forced fumbles

Bowl game: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (Jan. 1).

Even in a front four loaded with NFL talent, Ferrell's quickness and power have stood out over the past year. He made his name in the ACC Championship Game and Fiesta Bowl last season, credited with a sack in each contest. Ferrell took another step this year, leading the Tigers with 8.5 sacks by rushing the quarterback like his hair is on fire. He's shown agility as a stand-up defender, as well, giving him scheme versatility.



Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

2017 stats: 52 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss (5.0 sacks), 4 pass breakups

Bowl game: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (Jan. 1).

This 300-pounder plays inside and outside, puzzling whichever lineman he's facing with plus power and agility. Stand him up, put him on the nose -- it doesn't matter, he'll affect the play. Wilkins' production is relatively paltry compared to some of his teammates, but NFL general managers appreciate his ability to make an impact on three downs. I can't wait to see his NFL Scouting Combine workout.



Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College

2017 stats: 38 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss (5.0 sacks), 2 pass breakups

Bowl game: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Iowa (Dec. 27).

Landry's senior season was a bit disappointing due to an ankle injury. In eight games he accumulated 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, compared to 22 TFL and 16.5 sacks in 13 games his junior year. His athleticism gives him a chance to play the linebacker spot in the NFL, and he could gain weight to play with his hand down, if needed. His work at the Senior Bowl and combine should get him back into the conversation as a top-15 pick, much like Derek Barnett was for the Eagles last season.



Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan

2017 stats: 53 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss (4.5 sacks), 1 forced fumble

Bowl game: Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina (Jan. 1).

Gary is a similar prospect to Wilkins, possessing the size of an interior lineman but the quickness of a 250-pound end. His agility makes him more likely than Wilkins to play outside at the next level. Gary's going to break through to a whole new level as a junior next season, as he'll become even more consistent in shedding blocks to make plays.



Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

2017 stats: 113 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss (5.5 sacks), 2 pass breakups, 2 fumbles recovered, 1 forced fumble

Bowl game: Rose Bowl vs. Oklahoma (Jan. 1).

Smith is a major force coming downhill, whether he's playing the run or attacking quarterbacks. His quickness, tenacity, and tackling skills allow him to fill lanes in a hurry, drop his hips, and wrap up securely. His lack of bulk does allow bigger backs to knock him backward at impact, and free offensive linemen can push him downfield. However, his instincts and ability to lead a defense will make him a very good pro.



Vita Vea, DT, Washington

2017 stats: 37 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss (3.5 sacks), 4 pass breakups

Bowl game: Fiesta Bowl vs. Penn State (Dec. 30).

There's no way a man Vea's size should move like he does. Vea can chase to the sideline at 340 pounds, and I've seen him make plays on the punt coverage team. He's willing to eat two blockers inside, as well. His play can run hot and cold, but he has the potential to be a force at the next level.



Derwin James, S, Florida State

2017 stats: 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss (1.0 sacks), 2 INTs (1 TD), 11 pass breakups

Bowl game: Independence Bowl vs. Southern Mississippi (Dec. 27) -- will not play.

James was chided by some for missteps in coverage this year, but he is still a formidable enforcer in the Kam Chancellor mold. It's possible a team will consider him a hybrid linebacker that can use his length and fierce tackling to make plays in the box more regularly than in deep coverage. His length should help him cover zones or line up across from tight ends, taking away the safety valves of opposing passers.



Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

2017 stats: 32 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss (2.0 sacks), 1 forced fumble

Bowl game: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (Jan. 1).

Lawrence is pure power up front. He's tall and long, making him difficult for even a strong offensive lineman to move off his spot. Lawrence is agile enough to move with a double team or chase after escaping quarterbacks, though he's not quite quick enough to catch more athletic passers. He could be a Michael Brockers-type defender in the NFL.



Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

2017 stats: 37 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 2 INTs, 15 pass breakups

Bowl game: Cotton Bowl vs. USC (Dec. 29).

Before the season, those around the Ohio State program thought Ward was ready to be the next star corner coming from the Buckeye State. He's been great this year, playing with physicality against larger receivers despite giving up 3-4 inches in height and 15-20 pounds at times. Ward's quickness helps him stay in-phase down the field, and his willingness to play through the whistle means receivers must secure the ball immediately or it will be wrestled from their hands.



Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

2017 stats: 58 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss (5.5 sacks), 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble

Bowl game: Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina (Jan. 1).

Hurst is usually first off the snap, unless he's looping around in a twist to free a path to the quarterback. His hands are quick and strong. He's able to shed and eat up ball carriers in his area. He won't win at the NFL Scouting Combine tape measure, but his ability to win one-on-one battles is more important.



Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

2017 stats: 62 recptions for 1,017 yards (16.4 avg), 12 TDs

Bowl game: Frisco Bowl vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 20).

Despite every defensive coordinator on the Mustangs' schedule knowing that Sutton would get the ball regularly, Sutton still nearly matched his production from his junior year. He's fluid and quick on screens. He uses his 6-3, 225-pound frame to shield defenders on slants. His long strides, vertical leap, and strong hands give him the edge against smaller defensive backs downfield.



Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

Bowl game: Rose Bowl vs. Georgia (Jan. 1).

The son of the late Orlando "Zeus" Brown is one of those linemen that's difficult to get around because of his 6-8, 350-pound frame and long arms. Defensive ends, even the quicker ones, find it difficult to win on their first move against Brown, the human wall. He does block on the move when asked, but his NFL offensive line coach will try to get him to stay low and focused in pass protection instead of relying solely on his length. If Brown can negate a secondary move from better rushers, he'll be a long-time starter on the left side.



Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

2017 stats: 236 carries for 1,973 yards (8.3 avg), 17 TDs; 6 receptions for 33 yards (5.5 avg)

Bowl game: Alamo Bowl vs. TCU (Dec. 28),

Love is looking to cross the 2,000-yard mark against a tough TCU defense in the Alamo Bowl. He needs 28 yards to break the barrier, and he's had one run of at least 31 yards in every game this year. In fact, Love has had at least one 50-yard gain in 10 of 12 games this season. That big-play ability, originating from his speed and ability to slalom through traffic to find creases, makes him one of the most feared runners in recent college football history.



Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

2017 stats: 55 receptions for 896 yards (16.3 average), 3 TDs

Bowl game: Sugar Bowl vs. Clemson (Jan. 1).

In a more pass-heavy system, Ridley would put up huge numbers. While not a tall or thick pass-catcher, his ability to snatch the ball out of the air gives him a chance to be an excellent downfield target at the next level. Ridley's body control is also top-notch, and his moves after the catch can throw defenders for a loop. If he improves when it comes to consistently focusing on the ball before making a move, he'll be a dangerous option on Sundays. draft analyst Lance Zierlein contributed to this report.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.



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