Josh Keatley, DLD Scout
It’s too early to put together any kind of mock draft, and even ranking the top prospects can prove to be a waste of time, but it never hurts to start looking at the next crop and try. This list merely provides a short summary of what the player can do and what games will affect their stock the most.
These are the ten guys that will receive the most draft hype heading into next season. This class looks to be much more promising in the QB department than in years past.
1. Marcus Mariota, Jr. (RS), 6’4”, 215 lbs., Oregon: He would have been a top ten selection in this year’s draft had he come out early. His dual threat ability and high ceiling make him an enticing prospect. Think of him as the rich man’s Johnny Manziel without the cockiness. He fell off the map a bit last season after injuring his MCL against UCLA and then losing to Stanford. It would not be a huge surprise if he won the Heisman Trophy and the National Championship this upcoming season.
Michigan St. @ Oregon: The Spartans have one of the most impressive defenses in the country with a defensive line led by end Shilique Calhoun and a stellar defensive backfield headlined by shut down corner Trae Waynes. Mariota will see new talent against Sparty and awareness will be key for success here.
Washington @ Oregon: The Ducks own the Huskies, but UW has a defense that will test Mariota. They have a future high selection defensive tackle in Danny Shelton and possibly the best pass rusher in the PAC- 12 in Hau’oll Kikaha. Both players will be in Mariota’s face early and often. Corner Marcus Peters has All- PAC- 12 written all over him and will no doubt force Mariota to be more accurate.
Stanford @ Oregon: The Cardinal defense has held the Mariota led Ducks to only 17 points per game in his career. If he can overcome his annual struggles against Stanford then he will no doubt be ranked as a top tier selection going into the NFL Draft.
2. Jameis Winston, So. (RS), 6’4”, 235 lbs., Florida St.: Winston has made claims that he is staying at FSU, but only time will tell. He already has a Heisman Trophy and National Championship, but many think he can accomplish both feats again this season. After losing his favorite red- zone target in Kelvin Benjamin, he will have to adjust, but duplicating his success from a year ago is not out of question for the young and brash superstar. The elite prospect not only possesses one of the strongest arms in college football, but he is also one of the best scramblers.
Clemson @ Florida St.: I fully expect DE Vic Beasley to be screaming off the edge all day. Winston doesn’t face pressure too often, but the elite Tiger defense should supply that this year and give scouts a better look at Winston’s all- around game.
Florida St. @ Miami: The Hurricane defense is not a super impressive unit, but this is a rivalry game and the U does have one of the best middle backers in the nation with Denzel Perryman leading the way. Winston will have to show his accuracy in this game to succeed, but it would not surprise me if the Seminoles relied on the run during this contest.
Florida @ Florida St.: The Gators will be a much improved team this year especially on defense where they have a few superstars. UF has one of the best pass rushers in the nation with Dante Fowler Jr. and they have a shutdown corner in Vernon Hargreaves III. Both these players will test Winston and every facet of his game.
3. Bryce Petty, Sr., 6’3”, 230 lbs., Baylor: Petty reminds me of Blake Bortles in that he has an all- world ceiling, but a lot of work to do. He owns a huge arm, has underestimated athleticism, and he has a sixth sense of where to go with the ball. He plays in a very pass happy offense that allows him to put up insane numbers, but he has made enough plays to be taken serious in the scouting world. I don’t expect him to be taken in the top three like Bortles, but Baylor’s offense will give him every opportunity to elevate his stock.
Baylor @ Texas: No defense will give Petty as much headaches as the Longhorn defense. Corner Quandre Diggs will bring his A game to this one, which means one side of the field is lock down. The Longhorns also have one of the more impressive pass rushers in the nation with Cedric Reed at DE.
Baylor @ Oklahoma: This Sooner defense is going to be looking for revenge after last season’s slaughter and they have the athletes to make it happen. Zach Sanchez is nasty at corner, while Charles Tapper at DE and Eric Striker at LB bring heat in the front seven.
Kansas St. @ Baylor: Ryan Mueller at DE does nothing but make plays for the Wildcats and free safety Dante Barnett will force Petty to be accurate downfield. K- State lost a lot of talent on defense, but don’t underestimate what they have left.
4. Brett Hundley, Jr., 6’3”. 227 lbs., UCLA: Hundley would have been a first round selection during this year’s draft, but he decided to stay and solidify his stock. He will be the most athletic gun slinger in next year’s class and there is little argument to that, but some have labeled him a choke. His biggest issue is his lack of taking over key games or having that clutch factor. He is as impressive a prospect there is, but the NFL looks for leaders they can call to in situations of duress.
UCLA vs. Texas: Both Hundley and Petty will face off against this impressive defense, but one of them has to shine against the Longhorns. The same points regarding Texas are reiterated here: Diggs has the swagger to intimidate a guy like Hundley, and Reed can hurt a guy like Hundley if he is given a clear lane.
UCLA vs. Oregon: The reason this game is key for Hundley and not Mariotta is because Hundley has to throw against Ifo Ekpre- Olomu, who is one of the most impressive cover corners in the nation. Hundley will have to show scouts just how accurate he is during this contest.
USC @ UCLA: This game has been dominated by the Bruins lately, but the Trojans have one of the more dominant D- lines this year led by DT Leonard Williams. The pocket will no doubt break down often in this game and Hundley will be forced to improvise.
5. Sean Mannion, Sr., 6’5”, 220 lbs., Oregon St.: He threw for an impressive 4, 662 yards last season, but that was with superstar Brandin Cooks at WR. Very few people are predicting Mannion to repeat his statistical performance from last season without the dynamic Cooks, and this may be true, but his play will be just as impressive. He has elite accuracy and not having Cooks there to be wide open might actually help his stock. Staying in school will prove wise for the Beaver field general as he has a chance to own this offense.
Oregon St. @ USC: Many expect this game to get pretty ugly for OSU, but it is the perfect stage for Mannion to orchestrate an upset. As we have covered before, the Trojan D- line is spectacular and might be too much for the Beaver O- line to handle, but being under pressure will put Mannion’s accuracy to the test.
California @ Oregon St.: The USC game will most likely be a losing effort for OSU, but the Cal game should provide for a statistical rebound. The Bears defense is not good and anything less than 50 points for Mannion will be a huge disappointment.
Oregon @ Oregon St.: The theme for Mannion is upsets. If he can pull off one against either the Trojans or the Ducks his stock will see a steady rise. UO has won the last six in this rivalry. Mannion should look to soak up the stage in this one.
Best of the Rest
6. Kevin Hogan, Jr., 6’4”, 228 lbs., Stanford: Hogan will only be ranked this high if he improves on last year’s performance by a huge margin. He did not play bad last season, but he is not taking over games like he should. He has won two PAC- 12 championships already and he could snag another this season. He has a lot of potential, but so far his play will lead to an A.J. McCarron-like “game manager” label. The Cardinal could look to put the ball in the air more this year so watch out for the underrated Hogan.
Key Games: USC @ Stanford, Stanford @ Washington, and Stanford @ Oregon
7. Connor Cook, Jr., 6’4”, 219 lbs., Michigan St.: Cook was nothing more than a game manager, until he took over against Ohio St. and then again against Stanford. If he can keep the momentum going from last year, we may be talking him up as a potential first round selection. Cook has transformed from just an average guy to a player that can put the team on his back during crunch time. The offensive weapons have improved in East Lansing and Cook will look to improve his resume.
Key Games: Michigan St. @ Oregon, Nebraska @ Michigan St., and Ohio St. @ Michigan St.
8. Taylor Kelly, Sr., 6’2”, 211 lbs., Arizona St.: This is the fifth PAC- 12 QB on this list and this is no surprise at all. People forget Kelly was second team All- PAC-12 last season. He seems to get lost in all of the Mariotta and Hundley hype, but Kelly has a lot of talent. He is also very athletic and was one of the most effective scramblers in the country last season. This will be his third season starting for the Sun Devils and he will look to add on to the 57 touchdowns he has already thrown.
Key Games: UCLA @ Arizona St., Arizona St. @ USC, and Notre Dame @ Arizona St.
9. Chuckie Keeton, Sr., 6’2”, 200 lbs., Utah St.: He missed the second half of the season last year, because of a knee injury. He is a serious dark horse contender for the Heisman this year. He has thrown 56 touchdown passes in his career and is an exciting player to watch. No player means more to his team than Keeton does to the Aggies and this is due to his ability to turn it on in big games. Don’t sleep on USU when Keeton is on the field, because he is the ultimate neutralizer.
Key Games: Utah St. @ Tennessee, Utah St. @ BYU, and Utah St. @ Boise St.
10. Braxton Miller, Sr., 6’2”, 215 lbs., Ohio St.: Miller is another Heisman favorite, but he cannot stay healthy. If Miller can play an entire year without missing time we may see a dramatic boost in his draft stock. There is no denying his talent as he has already won two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards and will most likely win another this season. He is dynamic when using his legs and may be the best scrambler in the nation. If he keeps improving his passing game we could see his name called early next May.
Key Games: Virginia Tech @ Ohio St., Ohio St. @ Michigan St., and Michigan @ Ohio St.
There is no doubt that this list will change drastically as the season progresses, but these are the ten prospects that will have the most hype around them and seem to be the most ready to take the leap in to the NFL.