John Bazemore/Associated Press
Few remember what Tyrann Mathieu accomplished during his sophomore campaign before being dismissed from LSU. The 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist set an LSU record with six forced fumbles and led the nation with five fumble recoveries. In addition to the turnovers, Mathieu led LSU with 76 total tackles. Before a forgettable BCS National Championship against Alabama, Mathieu was named MVP of the SEC Championship game against Georgia where he returned a 62-yard punt for a touchdown. He also recovered a fumble. Simply put, Mathieu is a game-changer and he has the stats to back it up.
Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports
Standing a whopping 6-feet-8 inches, Margus Hunt set the NCAA record with 10 career blocked field goals. Hailing from the Eastern European country of Estonia, the man nicknamed "The Eastern Block" doesn't just specialize in blocking kicks. In 2006, Hunt became the first junior to win gold medals in both the shot put and discus at the World Junior Championships in Beijing. Hunt reaffirmed his freakish athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine by bench pressing 38 reps, which tied for the most of any prospect.
Phil Sears/Associated Press
Hailing from the city of Manchester, Great Britain's Menelik Watson wasn't introduced to football until he arrived in America to accept a basketball scholarship at Marist College. When Watson realized he wouldn't have a future in professional basketball, he reached out to his former basketball coach who referred him to the only college that would give him a shot -- Saddleback College. There, Watson met fellow NFL prospect Kyle Long, who urged him to play tackle. With quick feet and strong hands, Watson was a natural. Watson was recruited to play at Florida State, where he was noticed for his size (6-foot-5, 310 pounds) and mobility. He is expected to be a late first or early second-round pick this week.
Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press
Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah
After joining the LDS faith in Ghana, Ziggy Ansah graduated high school and earned an academic scholarship to BYU. Upon his arrival, Ansah tried out for the basketball team in 2008 and 2009, but failed to make it both years. After joining the track team in 2009, Ansah asked coach Bronco Mendenhall if he could try out for football. The coaches agreed to let him participate in spring practice, where he made a mark with his determination and potential. Because of his athleticism and attitude, Ansah progressed into a projected first-round pick. Experts compare him to Justin Tuck, and expect him to be drafted in the top 15.
Nati Harnik/Associated Press
In 2011, Denard Robinson became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards. During his tenure at Michigan he also set the school record with 91 touchdowns. His unique playing style enabled him to rush for 4,495 yards over his career, the most by any quarterback in FBS history. Robinson, however, will have to try another position as a wide receiver as he makes his transition into the NFL. But wherever he lines up Robinson surely will make an impact.
Eric Gay/Associated Press
Every year an NFL prospect gets noticed by running the fastest 40-yard dash at the combine. This year, Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin made a splash by running a 4.27. There's no doubt Goodwin is a world class athlete, having won the long jump at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials and NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Goodwin also competed in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, placing 10th in the long jump. He hopes to follow the path of Bob Hayes, an Olympic sprinter who went on to NFL glory with the Dallas Cowboys.
In 2009, Matt Barkley became the first true freshman quarterback to start for an AP Top 5 team since 1975, when Rick Leach started for No. 3 Michigan. During his time at USC, Barkley set PAC-12 records for career passing yards (12,327), touchdown passes (116) and completions (1,001). Barkley also was the first sophomore to earn captain honors, serving as USC's captain for the final three years of his career there. If he is selected in the first round, Barkley will be USC's fifth quarterback to be drafted in that round since 1967.
Joe Raymond/Associated Press
Manti Te'o was the most decorated college football player in 2012, bringing home seven major awards. No other player won more than five. Te'o hauled in seven interceptions, leading all linebackers in FBS. Unfortunately, Te'o's remarkable senior season on the field was tainted by a catfish scandal off the field, and his NFL Scouting Combine wasn't what many expected after recording the 40-yard dash in 4.82 seconds, the seventh worst among linebackers. Te'o, however, bounced back with a 4.75 40-yard time at his pro day in March, and experts expect him to be selected before the end of the first round.
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sport
A rough childhood filled with abuse and solitude helped shed light on Sharrif Floyd’s escape from hardship. Once he found football his freshman year at George Washington High in Philadelphia, Floyd was excited to unleash his pent up anger in practice. His passion ultimately led to an invite to the U.S. Army National Combine in San Antonio, where he emerged as a top-rated defensive tackle. Floyd had to bake and sell brownies to fund the trip, but ultimately it paid off as he is now well on his way to the NFL.
Players with Hollywood Ties
Football players come from various upbringings, some more glorious than others. Mychal Rivera and Wes Horton have familial ties with Hollywood stars. Rivera, a tight end at Tennessee, came from a family of musicians and actors. His sister, Naya, is now a star on the FOX hit show, Glee. Similarly, USC defensive end Wes Horton was raised by one of the original American Gladiators. Horton's father, Myke, played "Gemini" on American Gladiators after a college football career at UCLA. Regardless of where they came from, Rivera and Horton both have their sights on the NFL, not Hollywood.
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports
Last November, D.J. Hayden was fighting for his life after an on-field collision that led to an injury more commonly associated with automobile collisions. Hayden suffered a life-threatening heart injury that tore the vena cava blood vessel off the back of his heart after colliding with a teammate in practice. After being rushed to the hospital, Hayden had open-heart surgery and survived the unthinkable. Months later, Hayden ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at Houston’s Pro Day, and he may be the first cornerback selected in 2013 NFL Draft.
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
Desmond Trufant is hoping to follow in footsteps as his two older brothers, Marcus and Isaiah. Marcus was drafted in the first round by the Seattle Seahawks in 2003 and was voted All-Pro in 2007. Isaiah had a longer road to reach the NFL, playing in the AFL and UFL before joining the New York Jets the last two seasons. Desmond is known for his size and athleticism. His 4.38 40-yard dash time ranked third among defensive backs at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
Chuck Burton/Associated Press
There are many benefits to attending Duke, including the likelihood that your men's basketball team will consistently make deep NCAA Tournament runs. Conner Vernon, a Blue Devils wide receiver, experienced an unexpected benefit at Duke. When Peyton Manning journeyed to Durham to train with his old college coach, David Cutcliffe, Vernon was recruited to be one of Manning's targets as the veteran QB recovered from neck surgery. Time working with the four-time NFL MVP paid off for Vernon, who caught 85 passes, for 1,074 yards and eight TDs during his senior season at Duke. Vernon has drawn comparisons to Greg Camarillo. Vernon is a cousin of former NFL kicker Al Del Greco.
Gerry Broome/Associated Press
The child of immigrants from Haiti, North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard lost his mother to thyroid cancer when he was 7 years old. According to USA Today, Bernard later moved with his father to a rough neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, where money was so tight at times Bernard relied on meals off The Dollar Menu at McDonalds. Three days into his first training camp at North Carolina in 2010, Bernard tore his ACL and missed the entire season. Despite the considerable adversity, Bernard has thrived on the football field. Last season, Bernard ranked second in the nation in punt return average, fourth in the nation in all-purpose yards and fifth in scoring. Drawing comparison to the Carolina Panthers' DeAngelo Williams, Bernard is poised to be selected in the second or third rounds.
Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Many thought Wisconsin RB Montee Ball should have entered the draft following an impressive 2011 season when he led FBS in rushing yards with 1,923 and tying Barry Sanders' single-season record with 39 total touchdowns. When draft analysts downgraded him due to a lack of speed, Ball chose to return to Wisconsin for his senior year. That year started in the worst way possible for Ball. He was assaulted last August while walking alone on the Wisconsin campus, suffering a concussion and bruised jaw. Although his numbers dipped in most areas in 2012, Ball still managed to rush for 1,830 yards and 22 TDs. He is expected to be drafted in the second or third rounds.
More Photo Essays:
- NFL members in the military
- 15 for '15: Impact freshmen in college football
- Top 10 all-time NFL players from service academies
- 15 for '15: Best historical uniforms
- Top 10 NFL comps for college football seniors
- 15 for '15: College football's best offensive players
- 11 most iconic college football jersey numbers
- 15 for '15: Impact transfers
- 15 for ’15: Best defensive players in college football