NFL scouts armed with eyes trained to detect subtle strengths and weaknesses, stopwatches, weight-room data, strength, agility and explosiveness tests, body measurements, background checks and tons of game film rate college prospects for their bosses to take into drafts.
The rest of us simply have our addiction to trying to figure out which college players will make the best professionals, even if we never watch the pros.
My guess at the best 11 NFL prospects on the Kansas University football roster, listed in reverse order with draft class in parentheses:
11. Bradley McDougald (2013): Still hasn’t put it all together and needs to prove he has a defensive player’s mentality, but has the size and athleticism that give him potential at safety.
10. Brandon Bourbon (2015): Hasn’t stayed healthy long enough to show what he can do, but has looked explosive when running the football and is only a freshman.
9. Jeff Spikes (2012): Left tackle really could have used the extra year of eligibility, but since just one of his two red-shirt seasons was caused by an injury, Spikes won’t get a sixth season. An Achilles injury kept him from practicing in 2010, so he’ll leave Kansas having played just three seasons and having practiced just four. At 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, he has the size, but needs to show he’s a relentless competitor. Also needs to cut down on penalties.
8. Tim Biere (2012): Sure-handed, agile tight end has improved blocking skills and is a proven special-teams player. Lacks the speed of most NFL tight ends and isn’t as strong as the best-blocking tight ends, but he has a shot.
7. Jeremiah Hatch (2012): Agile for a man his size, Hatch has a shot to make it as a center.
6. Keeston Terry (2015): Safety doesn’t look like the same player as at the beginning of freshman season before he suffered a knee injury in the third game, but players often need to be two years removed from knee surgery to regain full strength. With three remaining seasons of eligibility after this year, Terry will get bigger.
5. Tony Pierson (2015): An athlete with the undersized Pierson’s blurry speed and ability to cut sharply and slither through small holes can work his way into the NFL as a situation running back, a return man, maybe even a cornerback.
4. Toben Opurum (2013): Sometimes still looks like a running back trying to transform into a defensive player, but his size, speed and strength make him a pro prospect either as an outside linebacker or a fullback.
3. Greg Brown (2013): It’s difficult for a cornerback to stand out on a defense that never makes the quarterback hurry into ill-advised throws and has extra time to let receivers spring open. Brown isn’t a finished product and needs to improve as a tackler, but he is an impressive cover man.
2. Tanner Hawkinson (2013): Has excellent feet, and if he continues to enhance his strength and refine his blocking technique, has a shot to earn a nice living playing football.
1. Duane Zlatnik (2013): If he were playing in an era when everybody was tagged with a nickname, he’d be known as IHOP for all the pancake blocks he delivers. Freakishly strong, he plays with a nastiness that wears out defenders.