Top 15 juniors in college football

I'm unveiling my rankings of the top 15 senior, junior, redshirt sophomore and true sophomore prospects in college football. With so many players declaring for early draft entry over the last several years, scouts are paying much closer attention to juniors than they have in years past. While this is not a list previewing the 2017 draft, it does weigh size, speed, athleticism, potential and position priority.

1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

Garrett has added more muscle to his frame over the last two seasons. He has enough power in his legs to put up a good fight at the point of attack against much bigger offensive tackles. From a production standpoint, it's hard to beat his 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons and high-end pass rushers go very early in the draft. The scary thing is that Garrett has room for improvement as a pass rusher with hand work and stringing together moves and counters.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Watson's delivery, release and velocity are exactly what all NFL teams are looking for. As a dual-threat quarterback with the talent to beat teams with his arm or his legs, Watson's 47 total touchdowns should make him one of the most heralded underclassmen in college football. Watson's biggest concerns are his deep-ball accuracy and staring targets down for too long. Also worth noting, Watson had multiple injury issues to contend with early in his career, including a torn ACL.

3. Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

Tabor specializes as a man-cover cornerback who does a great job of reading routes and putting himself in position to consistently make plays on the ball. Just how talented was he on the ball? Out of his 50 targets, he had 19 passes defensed; thanks in large part to his outstanding length and overall athleticism. His tackling needs major work, but he'll eventually get paid to cover NFL receivers, and allowing only one touchdown catch over two seasons will get scouts' attention. Tabor has been suspended for the season opener against UMass, but that doesn't change my feeling about where he belongs on this list.

4. Malik McDowell, DT/DE, Michigan State

McDowell's size and playing style are very similar to former Oregon defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, who were both first-round NFL draft picks. McDowell can play base end in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4, even though he plays defensive tackle for Michigan State. He's long and slippery with an ability to flip his hips and become a disruptive pass rusher or penetrator.

5. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Scouts are buzzing about Cook, which is impressive when you consider just how loaded the junior running back class is. One of the areas where Cook excels is his ability to create yardage for himself through his effortless change of direction combined with acceleration. Cook is decisive with the ability to make defenders miss on all three levels. His ability to play all three downs and score touchdowns in the red zone have scouts pegging him as one of the most complete prospects at running back.

6. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Fournette is a force of nature with a chiseled physique. He runs with intimidating power, and understands when to challenge tackles with brute force and when to show some shake in the open field. Fournette needs to prove he can be used on third downs as a blocker or pass-catcher to solidify his stock.

7. Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

Perine can put a tackler's rotator cuffs in a blender with his bruising running style, but what makes him stand out to me is his tremendously fluid hips. He doesn't have the typical tightness through the hips that many power runners have, which gives him the physical ability to slide out of tight quarters with a wiggle here and there. Perine shares carries with the talented Joe Mixon, so his overall stats might not approach those of players like Fournette or Cook, but he might also have less wear and tear on his body this season.

8. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

A neck injury forced Williams out for the year in first week of the 2015 season, but he's healthy now and ready to make scouts remember just how dangerous he can be as Clemson's top receiver. Size, speed and brilliant ball skills have become the hallmark of some of the latest Clemson receivers who have made it into the NFL. Williams is in that exclusive club. As an electric ball-winner when the 50/50 ball comes his way, Williams is simply too talented to not become a major factor once again for the Tigers -- especially with Deshaun Watson as his trigger man.

9. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

McCaffrey is the most well-rounded running back in college football and he might be the best player in the college game. When viewing McCaffrey through draft lens, it is a little trickier because he plays a position that has been downgraded as a draft priority and he's smaller than some of the name-brand running backs in this bunch. McCaffrey could stand to improve his yardage after first contact and adding a few more pounds to his frame wouldn't hurt, but his talent and will as a runner are going to stand out to NFL teams in the future.

10. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Harris has an urgency about his play that has become par for the course with Missouri edge rushers. What separates him from the zombie-like pursuit motors of former Missouri defensive ends like Markus Golden and Shane Ray is that Harris combines an exceptional burst in his first step with wicked spin moves that gain ground on pass blockers. While his seven sacks from 2015 might not excite some, keep in mind he generated a combined 41 hurries and knockdowns to go with those sacks. Scouts are talking about him.

11. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

Robinson isn't as clean with his technique as 2016 first-round tackles like Laremy Tunsil or Ronnie Stanley, but he has better size and power potential than both. Robinson took a noticeable step forward as a run blocker using better footwork and showing an effortless ability to operate his combination blocks successfully. From a pass protection standpoint, his footwork continues to improve and should take another step forward in his junior campaign.

12. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

One thing I've learned about cornerback evaluations from NFL personnel men is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While some teams will look for clean "mirror-and-match" type footwork from their cover corners, others will focus on finding traits like height, length and strength in order to plug a cornerback in as a press and trail force. Jones is one of the most disruptive press corners you will find among cornerbacks in college football and his ball skills are definitely NFL-caliber.

13. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

Some might see this as a little low for Smith-Schuster, but I think he needs to continue to show an ability to create greater separation in his routes rather than just relying on his outstanding ball tracking and size. Smith gets bonus points for his extremely rugged running style after the catch, and his production was exactly what teams look for from a lead receiver on the next level. It stands to reason that we should see Smith-Schuster continue to elevate his game in Year 3.

14. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State

Maybe you are surprised by Falk's inclusion on this list, and I have to admit that I was surprised while watching his tape. Throwing for 4,561 yards and 38 touchdowns doesn't necessarily get me excited when we are talking about an "Air Raid" quarterback, but quarterbacks with his combination of size, compact release and pocket poise do. Falk will stand in and take the hit to deliver a strike, and he has mobility outside the pocket as well. Maybe I'll be proved wrong, but I don't see Falk as a system quarterback ... I see him as a future NFL starter.

15. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

McMillan has recorded 100 or more tackles in each of his two seasons. He has an impressive radar that stays honed in on his target as the play develops. No matter how noisy it gets in the box, McMillan seems to be able to find his way to the ball with his athleticism and quickness. Production is a very important part of linebacker evaluations, but another area of strength for McMillan is his ability to cover out of the backfield. Linebackers who can cover against the pass are much more coveted these days than just the stereotypical banger.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content

Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.