Transitioning from college to pro football is no picnic. The schemes are more complex, and the players are bigger, stronger and more mature.
Some collegiate stars can make an instant (and sustained) impact. They typically come from major programs with pro-style talent and schemes. Or they might have grown up in a football family where the intricacies of the game are now second-nature. Some prospects might not have NFL genes or play at a SEC school, but have the athletic traits, work ethic, and mental aptitude to transfer their games to the next level.
Below are seven college stars on offense that I believe can be safely picked early in the draft with the expectation of having a long, distinguished career. On Wednesday, I'll reveal my list of the draft's safest defensive prospects.
NOTE: Click on each player's name for a full scouting report and click through the tabs above to see the safest prospects on offense and defense.
Howard can run. He can catch. He can block. There's nothing else an NFL team would want from an elite tight end prospect. In fact, his agility and speed at the NFL Scouting Combine were comparable to the top receivers in the class, even though he measured at 6-6, 251 pounds. That means offensive coordinators can use him in-line, in the slot, outside, and pretty much anywhere else. It won't be surprising if Howard is selected in the top 10.
NFL teams can be sure that they're getting a very good football player if they select McCaffrey. He did miss some time in 2016 with an injury, and not all teams are sure of the role in which he'll be most effective. His genes (as the son of former NFL receiver "Easy Ed" McCaffrey), quickness (outstanding 6.57-second three-cone drill at the combine), and toughness (30-plus rushes in three of his last four games of 2016) put him near the top of teams' lists despite the question marks.
The son of long-time NFL linebacker Robert Jones knows the work it takes to succeed in the NFL. He's a polished route runner and reliable pass-catcher with enough speed to take advantage of schematic matchups -- sort of like a 6-foot-2, 200-pound version of last year's second-round steal, Sterling Shepard.
I would have put Davis at the top of this list, but it's tough to do that when he hasn't been able to work out while rehabbing from ankle surgery. Still, his overall skill set makes him a true No. 1 NFL receiver. Scouts reviewing his film can see his speed, physicality, and fly-trap hands.
Feeney's a mauler, but has nimble enough feet and good length to stay with quick interior pass rushers at the next level as well. He played center at the Reese's Senior Bowl after earning All-American honors at right guard and right tackle for the Hoosiers during the 2016 season. Feeney can play four positions and gives everything he has in every game, making him worthy of first-round consideration.
Will Peterman be an above-average NFL starter? It's tough to say. But he's a unique quarterback in this draft class due to his combination of sufficient arm strength, solid character grades, and experience in a pro-style system. No one should be surprised by his talent, as Peterman was a four-star recruit when he signed at Tennessee, where he began his career before transferring to Pitt. Don't be shocked if a team trades up in the second round to select him.
I know this won't be a popular selection for this list, but I think Robinson is a likely 10-year starter at right tackle or guard, depending on the system. He's a brick wall who is willing to put in the work in improving as a pass protector. If he's selected in the middle part of the first round, it will be a solid value.