"I want winners!"
The quote from former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary effectively sums up the attitude that NFL coaches and scouts take into the evaluation process.
Although countless hours are dedicated to breaking down the athletic attributes that a blue-chip prospect displays on the field, the overwhelming majority of scouts and coaches focus primarily on football character when evaluating a prospect. Teams want to bring hardworking, competitive players into the program to create a winning culture that leads to consistent success on the field.
This is one of the lessons that I learned from John Fox and Mike Holmgren during my time as an NFL scout with the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks. Both expressed a desire to bring in players from winning programs because they believed players that enjoyed team success at the collegiate level would be more willing to buy into the individual sacrifices needed to build a winning team in the pros. With those prospects also playing key roles on teams that played on the biggest and brightest stages, there was a belief that those players were better equipped to handle the pressure to perform at the NFL level.
That's why I've always paid close attention to the best players on college football's top teams -- they should possess the athletic skills and intangibles to thrive as pros. Following the release of CFB 24/7's preseason power rankings, I thought it was a good time to single out the most intriguing prospect on each of the teams ranked in the top 10. While this list will certainly change throughout the course of the season, I believe this is a good starting point for the 2015 evaluation process. Here are my thoughts:
1. Florida State
The skinny: Jimbo Fisher's troops are well positioned to make another run at the title with a host of blue-chip prospects dotting the roster.
Most intriguing prospect: QB Jameis Winston. Scouts love to see how blue-chip prospects perform under pressure. Thus, Winston's production and performance during the Seminoles' repeat run will reveal a lot about his readiness for the NFL.
The skinny: The pressure is on Mark Helfrich to get the Ducks to the next level after failing to capture the Pac-12 title a season ago.
Most intriguing prospect: QB Marcus Mariota. After bypassing a chance to be the No. 1 prospect in the 2014 draft, Mariota will have a chance to show scouts how much he has grown as a pocket passer this fall.
The skinny: After limping to the finish line in 2013, the Crimson Tide is poised to make a run at a playoff berth if it can find a quarterback who can lead the way.
Most intriguing prospect: S Landon Collins. NFL scouts will spend a lot of time in Tuscaloosa determining if Collins has the ball skills and coverage ability to be the next great hybrid safety to enter the league.
The skinny: The emergence of quarterback Trevor Knight gives the Sooners an opportunity to be major players in the playoff race this fall.
Most intriguing prospect: OLB Eric Striker. Striker is an intriguing speed rusher off the edge, but concerns about his size and strength must be answered before scouts can fully endorse his potential at the next level. How well he holds up against the run will be critical to his evaluation.
The skinny: The dynamic playmaking ability of quarterback Nick Marshall makes Auburn's misdirection-heavy offense nearly impossible to defend.
Most intriguing prospect: WR Sammie Coates. Big-bodied pass-catchers are all the rage in today's NFL. Coates' impressive size/speed combination has scouts already salivating about his potential impact at the next level.
6. Ohio State
The skinny: Urban Meyer's efforts on the recruiting trail could pay huge dividends this fall with a more athletic and explosive Buckeyes' squad set to take the field.
Most intriguing prospect: QB Braxton Miller. Despite posting impressive numbers as the Buckeyes' triggerman, NFL types are wondering if Miller would be better served to enter the league as a running back prospect. How well he progresses as a passer could determine whether he is forced to make a position switch as a pro.
The skinny: Jim Mora has not only changed the culture in Westwood, but he has quietly built a national contender with enough playmakers to compete with anyone in college football.
Most intriguing prospect: QB Brett Hundley. Hundley wisely elected to stick around Westwood to polish up skills as a pocket passer. If he shows better accuracy on deep balls and continues to make strides as a game manager, he could emerge as the top quarterback prospect in the 2015 draft.
8. Michigan State
The skinny: Don't fall for Mark Dantonio's underdog spiel because the Spartans are loaded on both sides of the ball and possess the requisite toughness to stand toe to toe with the heavyweights in college football.
Most intriguing prospect: DE Shilique Calhoun. It's hard to find power players on the edge with superb run-stopping skills and explosive pass-rush ability. Calhoun has flashed enticing potential, but scouts want to see consistent dominance from the big fella this year.
The skinny: All eyes are on Bryce Petty and Co. to see if the Bears' high-octane offense can mask a suspect defense that could ruin the team's national-title hopes.
Most intriguing prospect: WR Antwan Goodley. Baylor has quietly emerged as "WR U" after the likes of Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams made impressive NFL entrances. Goodley is an explosive athlete with the size, speed and big-play ability that scouts and coaches covet at the next level.
10. South Carolina
The skinny: Steve Spurrier has built the Gamecocks into a legitimate contender by putting together a stellar defense that smothers opponents in the SEC. How well the unit absorbs some major losses along the defensive line will determine whether the team remains among college's elite in 2014.
Most intriguing prospect: RB Mike Davis. Despite the perceived devaluation of the running back position on draft day, NFL coaches recognize the value of having a big back with "three-down" potential in the backfield. Davis is a sturdy runner with outstanding vision, balance and body control.