With the college football season just a few weeks away, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the top players who have something to prove before they should be counted among the elite prospects in the game.
Yes, even the most talented players need to shore up aspects of their games if they want to be considered top-notch NFL prospects, and sometimes once-productive performers must bounce back from injuries or general ineffectiveness to regain lofty status in the eyes of scouts and general managers.
The five players listed below are all worthy of notice as future pro players, and deserve to be in the conversation of potential top prospects. But they will need step up in 2017 to go from intriguing to elite in the minds of personnel evaluators.
Trey Adams, OT, Washington
At 6-foot-8 and 327 pounds, Adams is tough to get around. He earned a starting spot as a true freshman in 2015, and can be a force when locked onto his opponent. He's been a big part of the Huskies' success on offense the past two seasons.
However, he'll need to improve some aspects of his game before he can join the elite ranks at his position. Adams' size can be a detriment when trying to adjust to speedy edge defenders, especially if he doesn't keep his feet active and get his strong hands on defenders early in the play. Adams will stand straight up and overextend, giving his man a fast route to the ball.
Adams is a very good lineman with a bright future, but he must show more consistent footwork and recovery ability in pass protection to earn top draft grades from NFL scouts.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Freeman has been a main cog in the Ducks' offense during his time in Eugene, but Oregon backs have struggled to make an impact in the NFL since Jonathan Stewart was picked by Carolina in the first round almost a decade ago. Freeman is the most like Stewart among recent Ducks runners in terms of size, but Freeman has not been quite as physical. He was less explosive in 2016, fighting through injuries to finish with less than 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career.
Freeman returned for his senior season to put his best foot forward before heading to the NFL, but he'll be facing competition from Tony Brooks-James and others for carries. He'll need his decisiveness and straight-line speed to return to full strength this season to receive the grades he'll need to go early in the draft.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen's been considered a prototypical pro-style passing quarterback since his high school days. He starred for the Bruins as a freshman, which led to huge expectations for him heading into the 2016 season. Rosen could not finish the year, however, undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in early November. He failed to complete 60 percent of his passes in three of the six games he started as a sophomore. Against Texas A&M in the opener, Rosen threw three interceptions and only one touchdown. While his offensive line and receivers did not help him as much as they could have, the talented quarterback pressed at times, throwing passes into crowded areas. He also hung onto the ball too long to make a big play downfield instead of checking down or moving out of a collapsing pocket.
There's no question Rosen has the physical tools to be an NFL starter. While he's taking heat again for some controversial comments, his ability to stay healthy and make good decisions on the field will determine whether he can be considered an elite prospect. Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Luke Falk and others are stamping themselves as future pros, so Rosen must try to keep up with them. He'll need an outstanding junior campaign.
Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
One of the nation's top recruits in the 2015 class, Sweat looked to be the next great Seminoles pass rusher. Knee surgery slowed him down a bit early in the 2016 season, though. Later on, he played more regularly, eventually racking up 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
There are times where he looks the part of a future pro. However, to be one of the top defenders in college football, Sweat needs to do some of the game's fundamental things more consistently. For example -- utilizing his length to keep blockers at bay, then shedding them when the ball comes into his area. Sweat has added strength since arriving in Tallahassee, but continued work on his lower body will make him more difficult to move on the edge. If he hustled down plays from the backside more consistently, offensive coordinators would have to account for him on every play, not just those runs toward him. I look forward to seeing if he's healthy and more detail-oriented as a junior as he tries to go from a potential superstar to a consensus All-American.
Jordan Thomas, CB, Oklahoma
Thomas is a physical press cornerback who excels when he's on his game. He can win sideline battles and wrap up receivers on quick screens. However, scouts noticed some troubling aspects in his game in 2016 that he'll need to tighten up before they give the senior a top-20 grade.
Thomas was a first-team All-Big 12 pick in 2016 because he broke up 17 passes on the year, but his interception total went from five in 2015 to two in 2016. Converting more of those plays into turnovers will help his first-round cause. Also, Thomas' willingness to guess or take chances when his man is at the top of the route caused him to give up big plays, especially in the middle of the season. Maintaining discipline in coverage will earn him respect from NFL defensive coordinators looking for their next No. 1 corner. He's also had legal and disciplinary issues during his time at Oklahoma, which will draw scrutiny from NFL teams.