With fall camps set to begin around the country this week, here's a look at my ranking of the 25 college football programs with the most NFL-caliber talent heading into the 2015 season. I list the top talents to watch for each team in this breakdown, along with a player entering his first year with the program who is worthy of attention.
Here are the teams I have ranked 11-15. I'll unveil five teams, counting down to No. 1, each day this week.
Players to watch: G Joshua Garnett, QB Kevin Hogan, WR Devon Cajuste, OT Kyle Murphy, ILB Blake Martinez and OLB Peter Kalambayi.
The outlook: David Shaw's troops are unquestionably the "bullies on the block" in the Pac-12 due to their consistent dominance in the trenches. The Cardinal have churned out a number of NFL offensive linemen in recent years, including David DeCastro, David Yankey and Andrus Peat. Garnett and Murphy are expected to keep the tradition going with their pro-ready games. Each player possesses the size, length and athleticism that scouts desire in blue-chip O-line prospects. Hogan has fallen off the radar after a subpar 2014, but a solid season in a pro-style offense could rejuvenate his prospects at the next level.
Newcomer in the spotlight: WR Trenton Irwin. The departure of Ty Montgomery leaves the Cardinal without an explosive playmaking threat on the perimeter. Irwin could fill the void with his sticky hands and crafty route-running skills. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound pass-catcher is a natural No. 1 WR. Shaw could put him in the lineup at a variety of spots to take advantage of his polished game.
Players to watch: DE Carl Lawson, CB Jonathan Jones, LB Cassanova McKinzy, QB Jeremy Johnson, DT Montravius Adams and WR D'haquille "Duke" Williams.
The outlook: Gus Malzhan has quickly turned the Tigers' program in the right direction by installing a creative scheme built on deception and misdirection. While the gadgets and trickery are certainly highlight-worthy, it's the standout play from several players that has scouts trekking to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Williams, in particular, has earned rave reviews from scouts seeking a prototypical No. 1 with size, leaping ability and ball skills. Although there are some questions about his speed, he will have a chance to silence the skeptics when he becomes the focal point of the Tigers' passing game this fall. Lawson is coming back from a knee injury, but evaluators are keeping tabs on his progress to see if he can regain his form as a destructive force off the edge.
Newcomer in the spotlight: DE Byron Cowart. The Tigers' pass rush could dramatically improve with Cowart emerging as a likely first-year starter. The 6-foot-3, 277-pounder was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2015 class, exhibiting exceptional first-step quickness and explosive power off the edge. Cowart should team with Lawson to upgrade a pass rush that generated just 21 sacks a season ago.
13. Virginia Tech
Players to watch: CB Kendall Fuller, DE/OLB Dadi Nicolas, DE/OLB Ken Ekanem, CB Brandon Facyson and TE Ryan Malleck.
The outlook: The Hokies have a long-standing reputation for developing NFL-caliber defenders, particularly in the secondary. The likes of DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Flowers and Kam Chancellor were some of Frank Beamer's finest playmakers before earning Pro Bowl honors as pros. Kendall Fuller, the brother of Chicago Bears CB Kyle Fuller (Kyle also played for Virginia Tech), is poised to be the next Hokie to make his mark at the next level after blossoming into one of the top cover corners in football. As a junior, Fuller has already shown scouts that he has the athleticism, instincts and awareness to lock down elite receivers on the perimeter without assistance from a safety. Given the challenge of finding "shutdown" corners at the next level, Fuller's flashes have scouts touting him as a premier talent. Nicolas will garner some attention as a hybrid playmaker off the edge. He has all of the tools to emerge as one of the marquee pass rushers in college football.
Newcomer in the spotlight: WR Jaylen Bradshaw. The redshirt freshman could play a major role for the Hokies as the designated playmaker in the passing game. Bradshaw impressed observers with his play on the scout team during his redshirt season, which was a signal that he could be ready to contribute to the offense as the No. 4 WR.
Players to watch: WR Mike Williams, FS Jayron Kearse, CB Mackensie Alexander, QB Deshaun Watson and S T.J. Green.
The outlook: Credit Dabo Sweeney for taking Clemson to the next level through his diligent recruiting efforts. The Tigers have put together a string of elite recruiting classes that have featured a number of four- and five-star talents with game-changing ability. This has led NFL scouts to regularly descend upon Death Valley to nab premier playmakers on the perimeter, including Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and C.J. Spiller. Williams could be the next Tiger to take his talents to the NFL as a blue-chip talent. Given his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame and his spectacular ball skills, it is no surprise evaluators are keeping a close eye on whether Williams is capable of blossoming into a No. 1 WR as a pro.
Newcomer in the spotlight: OT Mitch Hyatt. When Isaiah Battle decided to enter the NFL supplemental draft, the Tigers were forced to entrust the left tackle position to their prized recruit, who is charged with protecting Watson's blindside. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound freshman will need to work through some growing pains, but is already viewed as an upgrade over his predecessor.
Players to watch: DE/OLB Eric Striker, CB Zack Sanchez, DE Charles Tapper, WR Sterling Shepard and RB Samaje Perine.
The outlook: The Sooners are viewed as a destination location on scouts' maps based on their impressive track record for producing NFL talent in the Bob Stoops era. There have been at least three Sooners selected in each draft over the past 13 seasons, including six draftees in the 2015 draft. The streak could continue, as scouts are smitten with the talents of Striker, Tapper and Sanchez. Although Striker is the most productive of the trio, evaluators will need to determine if he can continue to make plays as an undersized pass rusher at the next level. Sanchez is the wild card of the group. He is a natural playmaker with exceptional instincts and ball skills, but questions about his speed and burst could impact his final evaluation.
Newcomer in the spotlight: RB Joe Mixon. The crown jewel of the Sooners' 2014 recruiting class was supposed to be Mixon. However, he was charged with punching a woman before last season, which led to a season-long suspension for the five-star running back. Mixon's absence opened the door for Perine to win Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors, and Mixon's return could give the Sooners the most dynamic backfield in college football.