We finally know this year's finalists for the Heisman Trophy, and it's a group with plenty of pro promise.
Winners of the Heisman Trophy haven't always found success in the NFL. Troy Smith, Tim Tebow, and, of late, Robert Griffin III are among the winners in the past decade that have encountered pro difficulties after winning the award. However, it's expected that this year's group of finalists will go on to have excellent professional careers, whenever that time comes.
Here's a look at how each finalist projects to the next level (players listed in alphabetical order).
Alabama WR Amari Cooper
Cooper already goes about his business like a pro. He meticulously works at his craft and has all the traits you look for in a big-time NFL wide receiver. Alabama likes its chances any time Cooper has a one-on-one matchup with a defensive back, and it's easy to see why. Teams know he's the guy to stop and they still can't stop him.
The junior is well-built (6-foot-1, 210 pounds), has good speed and great ball skills. He's smart and shows a strong competitive streak -- he knows how to come down with "50-50" balls. He's an excellent route runner, too, and a true game-breaker.
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Gordon, a redshirt junior, received a second-round grade after last season and might have been the first back drafted in 2014 had he not elected to return to Wisconsin. However, he's shown improvement in some key areas, as far as his pro prospects are concerned, during his magical '14 campaign.
Gordon is a workout junkie and reshaped his body in the offseason to handle the contact that he knew would come along with being a true No. 1 rusher for the first time in his career with the Badgers. He improved his inside running and breaks more tackles than ever before. He also has grown as a pass protector -- he was taken off the field in passing situations in 2013 because of his struggles in that area -- and has shown his ability as a pass-catcher. Gordon made 17 grabs this season after entering 2014 with just three career receptions.
The Badgers' star rusher still needs to improve as a pass protector, but he has the vision, make-you-miss ability, power and durability that NFL teams are looking for in a back.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Mariota is the clear front-runner to win the Heisman and has all the gifts pro clubs look for in a quarterback prospect.
The redshirt junior has excellent size (6-4, 219). He added weight in the offseason, but didn't lose any speed -- he still can jet, and he accelerates so smoothly. His running ability is a big part of what makes him so special. Mariota has plenty of arm strength and can make all the throws, too.
It's true that the Oregon offense is designed so well that he doesn't have to make many contested throws, but he doesn't miss many of the "layups" that the system provides.
He'll have things to improve on and learn, including taking snaps from under center and dropping back, but all quarterbacks coming from a spread system have to make those adjustments as they enter the pros. Mariota is smart enough and has the work ethic to learn those things.
The knock I hear about him is that people wonder if he can actually run a team because he's quiet. Some wonder if he has the fire to call out his teammates when necessary.
I don't have any doubts about his ability in that area, though. Don't take his placid demeanor to mean he's not a competitor, because he's an intense one with a very bright future.