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Sources Tell Us: What we're hearing about top NFL prospects

Our analysts are constantly talking to their NFL and college sources about players in the college game. In this space each week, Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks and Charles Davis share some of what NFL folks are discussing in their circles.

Sources Tell Us: Sept. 4 | Sept. 10 | Sept. 17 | Sept. 24 | Oct. 1 | Oct. 8

The scoop: "I know some people really like (Oregon State QB) Sean Mannion, but I don't see it. He looks like an NFL backup." -- AFC personnel executive

The skinny: This is the strongest criticism we've heard of Mannion to date. In the summer, after seeing him in person at the Manning Passing Academy, Brooks called Mannion the "most pro-ready of the senior quarterbacks." That might be more of an indictment of the senior QB class than anything else. He returned for his senior season after receiving a third-round grade last year from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. Despite playing in Mike Riley's pro-style offense at Oregon State, his 260.8 yards per game this season ranks 34th among all FBS quarterbacks, and he has only thrown for five touchdowns.

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The scoop: "(Devin Funchess) is playing wide receiver this year, but he's the poster child for this era's tight end in the NFL." -- retired NFL front-office executive

The skinny: This is the second time the Michigan receiver has been mentioned in this space. Two weeks ago, an NFC personnel executive assigned Funchess a Jimmy Graham comp and said he preferred the wideout as a tight end at the next level. That seems to be a growing consensus among NFL scouts. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, he certainly has the body of an NFL tight end.

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The scoop: The suspension of Georgia RB **Todd Gurley** is privately viewed as a positive development in NFL circles. An NFC South scout this week said he has seen enough from the junior running back to tab him as the top prospect at his position and that the suspension should prevent unnecessary mileage on his legs.

The skinny: The thinking is, Gurley will be a fresher back heading into the NFL and team officials will feel better about his long-term durability with fewer hits on his body. It's a pretty sound conclusion, considering Gurley is the consensus top back in college, and running backs in general tend to have short careers because of the wear and tear.

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The scoop: "(UCLA WR) Jordan Payton's hands are so strong. You can tell he puts the time in working on his skills. Not your prototypical slot receiver build, but he can work both inside and outside the numbers, and welcomes being the go-to guy." -- NFC GM

The skinny: Payton is Brett Hundley's favorite target. This season, he has 37 receptions for 558 yards and five touchdowns, including an 80-yarder against Arizona State on Sept. 25. His hands are one of his best assets, but he's a pretty complete receiver, runs routes well, and has good speed.

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The scoop: "(Texas coach) Charlie Strong has a big challenge in front of him. I was shocked at the lack of talent on the roster during my visit." -- AFC scout

The skinny: Strong knew there was work to be done when he made the leap to Texas, especially on offense where deficiencies on the line and at wide receiver were clearly apparent. There are no true game breakers outside of WR Daje Johnson. RB **Joe Bergeron** had some talent but is no longer around after Strong kicked him off the team. RB Malcolm Brown should get drafted somewhere. Cornerbacks Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs give the Longhorns two pretty good corners who should get drafted, too.

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The scoop: "(Florida State CB Ronald) Darby is one of the best players I've studied this fall. He has really improved during his career." -- NFC scout

The skinny: He had a terrific start in FSU's opener against Oklahoma State, perhaps the Seminoles' toughest opponent so far this season, but Darby has been hampered by nagging hamstring injuries since. There's no doubt he's one of the nation's premier cover corners when healthy. He's also one of the fastest. Darby appears to be 100 percent at the moment, so look for big things from him in the second half.

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The scoop: "Tennessee LB A.J. Johnson is playing like a player with something to prove. ... He wants his name mentioned with the best in the country." -- AFC West scout

The skinny: Johnson's production has been excellent again this season, as he's among the FBS leaders in solo tackles (41). He has proven himself as a powerful, consistent tackler and reportedly received a mid-round draft grade last offseason before opting to return to the Vols. With a strong second half of the season, that decision to return will have been a good one.

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The scoop: "Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt is someone who keeps getting better every time I watch him on tape. ... He anticipates really well, tackles in the open field, and is a heck of a leader and ballhawk. I see him with a skill set similar to Eric Reid (former LSU safety now with the San Francisco 49ers), but (Prewitt) has been more consistent in his college career." -- AFC player personnel director

The skinny: That is high praise for Prewitt, as Reid went 18th overall in the 2013 draft and has started every game he's played since entering the league. Prewitt is one of the most physical players in college football and received a few votes for the CFB 24/7 Midseason All-America team.

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The scoop: (UCLA DT) Kenny Clark has to deal with a lot of double teams but keeps the linebackers clean to run, and makes a great number of plays himself. Reminds me a bit of (former 49ers NT) Michael Carter, but you have to keep that comparison in perspective." -- NFC GM

The skinny: The Bruins have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but their MVP to date has to be Clark, for the reasons the GM mentions above. The Carter comparison is interesting. Carter was drafted by the 49ers in the fifth round in 1984, the same year he won a silver medal in the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and enjoyed a very successful career in the Bay Area. But we'll keep it in perspective.

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