Halfway through the 2017 college football season, the stars are shining bright. Most of the players that we expected to be All-America candidates are living up to that billing. Even those that are having somewhat disappointing years are displaying enough potential that NFL scouts will not completely sour on them.
Two players listed below have exploded onto the scene during September and early October: Stanford running back Bryce Love has taken over as the Cardinal's main cog on offense, and Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell has proven himself an elite playmaker. Most of the others among my top 25 midseason prospects are well-known by general managers throughout the league.
Keep in mind: Pro potential was taken into account in creating this list.
Barkley's freakish lower-body strength gives him the build NFL teams love. His ability to leap into the air, take a shot to the thigh, and keep on going makes him special. Add in his receiving and pass-protection ability, and Barkley's an all-around talent worthy of the top spot on this list.
Oliver was my No. 1 player in college football heading into the year, and he hasn't disappointed. The sophomore is a pain for opposing offensive lines, presenting extreme quickness along with his relentless nature. His hustle to chase running backs across the field is impressive.
I'm not concerned with Darnold's interception total at this point of the year. Turnovers did not prevent Jameis Winston from becoming a rising star in the NFL, and they won't stop Darnold from taking the reins of a pro offense whenever he decides to leave USC. He has the tools to succeed, and I expect we'll see him do so if his offensive line gets healthy and his young receivers step up late in the year, which is exactly what we witnessed in the second half of the Trojans' nail-biter against Utah on Saturday night.
Rosen ranks second in the FBS with 392.3 passing yards per game despite having an inexperienced receiver group. He showed major guts by leading his team to an amazing comeback win against Texas A&M in the season opener, something that will not be forgotten by NFL general managers. Yes, he takes chances, some of which don't work out. But most good quarterbacks trust in their receivers in that manner. Rosen's physical tools and ability to control the pocket give him a chance to be an above-average starter at the next level.
Chubb's been a man possessed for the Wolfpack. He ranks second in the nation with 14 tackles for loss and is tied for third with 6.5 sacks in just seven games. Chubb's strength is impressive, but his short-area quickness and never-say-die pass-rush mentality are what scouts really love. He could have been a top-15 selection in last year's draft, and there's been no reason to drop his grade so far this season.
This 300-pounder plays inside and outside, puzzling whichever lineman 'facing with plus power and agility. Stand him up, put him on the nose -- it doesn't matter because he'll affect the play. NFL general managers will appreciate his ability to make an impact on all three downs.
Speaking of versatility, Fitzpatrick can line up anywhere in the secondary. His size and athleticism allow teams to project him as an outside corner, but his physicality and tackling ability could help defensive coordinators envision him playing nickel or safety. Fitzpatrick's instincts and ball skills are top-notch.
James in an enforcer, pure and simple. Everyone expected him to return to form after missing most of last season. James doesn't appear to have lost any closing speed, and he's certainly not afraid of contact. His length will help him play in the box on Sundays, likely in the hybrid linebacker/safety role that's currently in vogue.
Teams regularly standing up their pass rushers might prefer Landry to Bradley Chubb, as the B.C. star has the explosiveness and bend to consistently reach the quarterback. He's also capable of handling coverage responsibilities against tight ends and running backs. Landry probably won't match his 16.5 sack total from 2016 this season, but that doesn't matter. Teams know he's a reliable player who gives effort on every snap.
NFL offenses are using run-pass options with regularity nowadays -- imagine Jackson operating that sort of attack with his elite running ability. The reigning Heisman winner also has a cannon for an arm and is a feisty leader. Jackson's skill set might not be for everyone, but some NFL team will fall in love with him, hoping that it can improve the consistency of his footwork in the pocket.
Gary is a similar prospect to Christian Wilkins. He possesses the size of an interior lineman but incredible quickness for his size. Watching him work on the line makes it easy to see why he was the top recruit in the nation two years ago. His superior change-of-direction ability and improving functional strength make the sky the limit for this Wolverine.
Saquon Barkley is getting the love from the scouting community, but Love has nearly doubled Barkley's rushing yards and touchdowns production this season in only one more contest played and just 33 more carries. He had only one second-half carry in the team's rout of Oregon on Saturday night after covering 147 yards and two scores in the first half. Love shoots out of open lanes like a cannon and has accumulated at least one run of 50 yards or more in every game. Scouts might prefer the pure power and receiving/blocking skills of Barkley, but Love's home-run-hitting ability is special.
Lawrence was expected to be a top player when he arrived in Death Valley before last season, and he's living up to his billing. He can push his man into the backfield and move laterally down the line to stay in his gap or chase ball carriers. Offensive linemen can't move him from his spot in the run game, and he's able to disengage to make tackles. He should only get better.
Vea is such an athlete that coaches stood him up as a 340-pound (at least) pass rusher last season in the national semifinal against Alabama. The quickness he possesses for his size is astounding, and he's willing to hustle outside the box. Vea is also able to hold up double-teams at the line of scrimmage and disengage to make the stop. He could put on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Ridley is not physically imposing, but he's still worthy of high marks from NFL scouts because of his body control and route running. In a more pass-heavy system, Ridley would put up huge numbers. Don't feel too badly for him, though -- he'll be fed plenty on Sundays whenever he moves on to the next level, playing the Antonio Brown role as a combination safety valve and deep threat.
Hurst is usually first off the snap, unless he's looping around in a twist to free a path to the quarterback. His hands are quick and strong. He's able to shed and eat up ball carriers in his area. He won't "win" at the NFL Scouting Combine weigh-in, but his ability to win one-on-one battles is more important.
I won't be surprised if Nick eventually joins his brother, Joey, and enters the league one day as one of the most coveted prospects in his class. He's tough and athletic, and presents a bit more of a burst as a pass rusher than his talented teammate, Sam Hubbard (who also has a case to be included on this list). Bosa ranks among the top producers behind the line in the FBS even though he doesn't play every down.
This junior has everything you want in a safety: Pro size, good speed, the ability to diagnose plays, leadership ability and intelligence. Oh, and he also hits like a ton of bricks. Harrison is also an effective blitzer. He's able to bring down athletic quarterbacks from behind, as he did to Florida State's Deondre Francois in the season opener (a clean tackle that, unfortunately, ended Francois' season).
Halfway through the season, Sutton is not on pace to equal his 2016 receiving statistics (76 catches for 1,246 yards). He has scored seven times this year, however, in comparison to 10 times as a redshirt sophomore. Sutton is fluid and quick on screens and uses his 6-3, 225-pound frame to shield defenders on slants. He displays strider's speed to beat his man downfield.
There has been no tougher receiver in college football over the past three years than Pettis. He has great hands, and he can win jump balls with a defender in the air, as well. Pettis picked up his NCAA-record-tying eighth career punt return for a touchdown this season. He displays the toughness and elusiveness after the catch that entices NFL coaches.
Coming into the season, I think Jewell was considered an effort player with nice instincts. But anyone watching him this year knows that he's plenty athletic, as well as tough and instinctual. That makes him a likely pro starter with Pro Bowl potential. Jewell can cover in zones, be a force against the run and also chase ball carriers to the sideline. In other words, he can do it all.
When healthy, Andrews is a nightmare for linebackers and safeties trying to cover him over the middle. At 6-5, 254 pounds, he's too big and strong for a small defensive back to handle. His agility belies his size, however, so linebackers have a tough time staying with him on seam and jerk routes. Andrews can leap into the air to snag high throws, and is also an effective downfield blocker. He's thriving despite living with Type I diabetes, which he was diagnosed with when he was 9 years old.
Washington has piled stats on top of stats for the last three seasons and has shown an increase in production every year. Thanks to his elite ball tracking and hand-eye coordination down the field, Washington is one of college football's premier vertical threats. This season, he's posted 124 yards receiving or more in 5 of his 6 contests with a whopping 25.9 yards per catch. Oklahoma State doesn't ask him to run the entirety of the route tree, but the Cowboys understand his strengths. They put him in position to consistently succeed using his size, strength, speed and ball skills.