If you were the general manager of an NFL team and could have one college player to build your team around, who would it be?
If I had to build my NFL franchise around one college football player, I'd choose Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater as my guy. He is the most polished quarterback in college football, with a game tailored for the NFL. Bridgewater is a patient pocket passer with the arm strength to make every throw in the book with zip and velocity. He also is a superb decision-maker with terrific game-management skills. As a result, he knows how to play winning football, which is essential to leading a championship-caliber team in the NFL. Although the buzz surrounding Bridgewater cooled after Louisville's loss to Central Florida, there is no doubt in my mind he is the marquee quarterback in college football. And that's why I want him on my team.
I would build my team around Jameis Winston. He has everything you want in a franchise quarterback. He has ideal size, arm strength, touch and mobility. He can extend plays, and he's also a very good decision-maker. He's the most complete quarterback in college football right now. Of course, NFL teams will have to wait at least a year before Winston will be draft-eligible.
The sexual-battery allegation against Jameis Winston is serious, and the result of the investigation could change my pick, but subscribing to the innocent-until-proven-guilty theory, my pick is the Florida State quarterback. In the nine-game sample he has presented as a freshman, Winston has shown just about everything: size and steadiness, speed and elusiveness, poise and confidence, arm strength and touch, intelligence and leadership. No moment has been too big for him, no praise has been accepted without finding a way to bring it back to the team. And when he plays, Winston flat-out competes, as he showed when he ran 30 yards downfield to throw a block and help spring a teammate for a TD on Saturday against Syracuse. Of course, we have yet to see how he would handle a truly tight game, one in which he has struggled mightily or one with major title implications, but the evidence in front of me strongly suggests he would get it done. There's a sturdiness to Winston that's special, and his game is suited to the new wave of dual-threat QBs playing in the NFL.
Marcus Mariota is a smaller version of Cam Newton, with more accuracy as a passer than Newton at the same age (although Newton is much improved now). When you see what Mariota did against Washington and Washington State, two pretty good defensive teams; vs. Tennessee, a fast defensive team; and UCLA, a great defensive team, you have to be impressed. Many people might say, "Well, yeah, but what about his game against Stanford?" I think he did pretty well in the second half after making adjustments. He's a player I'd pick to build my NFL franchise around.
- Chase Goodbread College Football 24/7
Matthews would be smartest investment
Give me Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews to build a franchise around. The NFL game has become so quarterback-centric, a solid pass protector on the blind-side edge is paramount to a successful offense. So why not draft a quarterback? There is a deep class of quality quarterbacks expected to be available in 2014, but none is considered a franchise cornerstone of the future. Dominant left tackles like Matthews aren't so plentiful. And without time to throw, a team can't get the most out of a quarterback, anyway. Offensive tackles tend to have longer careers than most other positions, another reason why a prime investment makes some sense.
- Dan Greenspan College Football 24/7
Barr a surefire impact player
When it comes to cornerstone players, you are inevitably talking about quarterbacks, left tackles or pass rushers. Since there isn't a guaranteed superstar among the signal-callers or blindside blockers -- Teddy Bridgewater and Cyrus Kouandjio are the best bets at those two positions among juniors and seniors -- I'd go with UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr. Barr can thrive no matter what defense an NFL team would use, working as either a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end. As I saw in person Friday against Washington, Barr can deliver multiple impact plays in a short period of time.
- Mike Huguenin College Football 24/7
Bridgewater's leadership puts him over top
You need a high-level quarterback to have a high-level team, and for that reason, I would go with Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater. He has all the needed physical tools to be a success, and also possesses the right intangibles. He has been a team leader since his high school days at powerhouse Miami Northwestern, and players gravitated to him at various high school all-star events; he has the "it" factor needed to be a star. He maintains an even keel at all times and isn't going to be fazed by bad times. Obviously, Florida State's Jameis Winston is an extremely talented player, but he's also just a redshirt freshman; I need to see a bigger body of work first.