December 21, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; UCF Knights quarterback Blake Bortles (5) points and calls a play against the Ball State Cardinals during the first quarter of the St. Petersburg Beef
Everybody knows the big names on the 2014 NFL draft board but what is so difficult to account for are the ones that come out of nowhere. So through two weeks who are some college sleepers to keep an eye on?
Alex Neutz – Wide Receiver – Buffalo
Buffalo isn’t exactly the premium school when it come to frequently landing pro football talent but once in awhile it produces players with intriguing prospects. Alex Neutz fits that profile. At 6’3″, 205 lbs he has the build teams look for in the NFL draft and through two games in the 2013 season he has shown he cannot just produce, but produce against quality competition. He put up nine catches for 98 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State, then provided the only positive part of a 70-13 loss to Baylor by torching the Bears for 197 yards and the only Buffalo touchdown. If this keeps up he could challenge Marqise Lee and Sammy Watkins for the top receiver to go in the first round.
Tra’Mayne Bondurant – Safety – Arizona
At first glance safety seems like a weaker position in the 2014 draft than it was this past April. Not that anybody told Tra’Maybe Bondurant. While he plays more of a safety/linebacker hybrid role in the Arizona defense, he has already proven his playmaking ability. Not only does he have 11 tackles and a sack through two games, he also leads the nation with three interceptions and two returned for touchdowns. He looks like a prototypical strong safety in the pros and will continue to enhance his draft stock with play like that.
Blake Bortles – Quarterback – UCF
Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater rule the day in a strong quarterback class that is expected for the NFL draft next year. However, the real strength of the class may lay in its depth rather than star power. Blake Bortles is a classic example. Somewhat overlooked because he plays at Central Florida, he should get increased attention as the school opens up its first year in the ACC conference. That and the fact he is 6’4″ and has had a near perfect start to his junior season. He ranks 7th in the nation in quarterback rating with 528 yards passing, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Most scouts are waiting to see what he can do against stronger opponents like South Carolina, but if he performs well he could rise up boards awfully fast.
George Uko – Defensive End – USC
There really isn’t much to like about USC so far in 2013, at least on offense. However, their defense seems like its made long strides from a year ago and a big reason is their stout front. The biggest contributor thus far is defensive end George Uko. He ranks second in college football with three sacks. The key to note about him besides the obvious talent is his size. Uko is listed at 275 lbs but is almost certainly five to ten pounds heavier. That is too big for a defensive end in the pros but is perfect for pass 3-technique defensive tackle, a rare and valued kind of player. That alone should increase his draft stock.
Todd Gurley – Running back – Georgia
Aaron Murray has earned the praise heaped upon him for quarterbacking Georgia’s offense so well but he hasn’t done all the heavy lifting alone. A major contributor has been running back Todd Gurley. Somewhat overlooked by many draft-drive sites, he quietly has risen to rank 7th in the nation so far with 288 yards rushing and four total touchdowns. Given his rare blend of size and speed it’s surprising he hasn’t gotten more NFL draft attention, especially since his great start came against Clemson and South Carolina. If Georgia continues to play well, that will change.