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Friday, August 23, 2019

5 college players who have boosted their NFL Draft stock

Quincy Wilson

The 2016 college football season has been anything but predictable, with hyped teams falling flat and under-hyped teams making a legitimate push. The same can also be said for many individual players around the nation.

Their program success aside, here’s a look at five players who have increased their 2017 NFL Draft stock with strong performances through seven weeks of the season.

5. Jeremy Sprinkle (tight end, Arkansas)

After finishing last season on a high note and coming out firing this year, Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle has not only seen his draft stock rise, but it has skyrocketed.

With six touchdowns over the final seven games a season ago, coupled with four touchdowns to open this season, Sprinkle has thrust himself into the top tier group of tight ends ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft. And considering the current class of tight ends is viewed as more elite than the former class, that’s saying something.

Seven games into the 2016 season, NFL scouts already have their eyes on Sprinkle.

“I was sitting there today with several NFL scouts and they’re just chomping at the bit to get a chance to be around him,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said via SEC Country in early October.

“We’ve actually had a lot of success at that position and I think he’ll turn out to be one of the best.”

With the likes of O.J. Howard (Alabama), Jake Butt (Michigan), Jordan Leggett (Clemson) and Evan Engram (Mississippi) to compete against, Sprinkle will have to finish the season strong and, more specifically, put up better yardage numbers. But if nothing else, he’s already thrust himself into early-round consideration.

4. Isaiah “Zay” Jones (wide receiver, ECU)

East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones is slowly inching his way towards several NCAA records and likely earning himself a large NFL paycheck in the process.

Currently on pace for 168 receptions, which would top the all-time mark by a remarkable 13 receptions, Jones has quickly established himself as one of the most sure-handed senior receivers in the nation. Building off of that, Jones has also added a new wrinkle to his resume in 2016, improving his downfield game to go along with his underneath game.

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and other draft evaluators have taken notice of Jones’ numbers and improvement, with Miller already listing him among the 50 best players ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft. Miller also lists Jones as the third best wide receiver in the class and the “biggest riser” at the position this year.

Athletic talent aside, Jones will also impress NFL scouts with his smarts — he’s sporting a 3.56 GPA — and devotion to his community. He’s talented, he’s intelligent and he’s mature.

So long as Jones keeps putting up big numbers, his name is likely to be called early next April.

3. Mitch Trubisky (quarterback, North Carolina)

North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky is still on the outside looking in when it comes to the top tier players likely to be taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he’s rapidly inching his way towards that echelon.

Trubisky started the season hot, passing for 1,711 yards, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. He was remarkably and unexpectedly efficient, but had his first real hiccup in a loss to Virginia Tech.

In the face of those struggles, Trubisky rebounded in a big way against Miami, getting his season and North Carolina’s season back on track.

With seven games now under his belt, including a shocking upset of Florida State, Trubisky has completed 179 of his 254 pass attempts (70.5%) for 2,068 yards, 15 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. But perhaps the numbers that better detail Trubisky’s effectiveness are his 40% completions on passes of 20+ yards, 70% completions on third down and 70% completions on passes to the field side.

With superior arm strength and level-headed demeanor under pressure, Trubisky has certainly given scouts a lot to think about. The remaining question facing him, however, is how he’ll perform lining up under center in a non-hurry-up offense.

Although not yet considered a first- or second- round pick by most experts, should Trubisky continue to improve and ultimately declare, he’ll certainly receive consideration he wouldn’t have earlier this season. And it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if he moved himself up into the earlier rounds.

2. Quincy Wilson (cornerback, Florida)

Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson is loud, confident and emotional. He also happens to be a heck of a football player who’s only getting better with experience.

The problem for Wilson in the eyes of many has been that he’s not even the best cornerback on his team, let alone the country. That honor has often been bestowed upon his teammate, Jalen Tabor, but the perception could be swaying.

At least one NFL executive believes Wilson, not Tabor nor LSU’s Tre’Davious White, is the best cornerback in the nation.

“I think Wilson is the best corner in the country. Tabor gets all of the hype but Wilson is better in every area,” an NFL executive told NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah.

In six games this season, Wilson has recorded eight tackles (six solo), one sack, three interceptions, one touchdown and three passes defensed.

Already those numbers are career highs or nearing career highs, which coincides with the overall development that can be seen on film. And if Wilson can continue to improve upon them over the second half of the season, he could very well position himself among the top cornerbacks declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft.

1. Malik Hooker (safety, Ohio State)

Perhaps no other player in college football has elevated his draft stock more than Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, who has begun to draw comparisons to the likes of Vonn Bell and other high-end NFL cornerbacks. One anonymous scout even likened Hooker to Ed Reed.

“Dude is the best player on the field,” an NFL scout told MMQB in early October. “I like him better than both safeties last year [Karl Joseph and Keanu Neal] … First-rounder. Physical, quick, fast and explosive with a great nose for the ball.”

That’s quite the praise for a third-year sophomore who is a first-time starter for Ohio State, but that’s the sort of trajectory Hooker currently finds himself on. And considering he’s still viewed as “raw,” the sky would appear to be the limit for Hooker.

In his first six collegiate starts, Hooker has recorded 29 tackles (20 solo), 0.5 sacks, four interceptions, one touchdown (a second called back), six passes defensed and two breakups.

Those numbers would be impressive for anyone, but particularly for a first-time starter with limited experience under his belt. Needless to say, should Hooker enter the 2017 NFL Draft, he’ll be viewed as an ascending player with a very high ceiling.

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