When it comes to transitioning from college to professional sports, the NFL is by far the toughest to master because most of the game is based solely on an athlete’s size and strength. That is why you will never see any elite high school football prospect skip college and go straight to the NFL.
Depending on their position, there are just too many things that an athlete needs to work on in order to be properly scouted for the NFL. For example, a QB is not going to be able to skip college because there is no telling what kind of decision-maker he is without playing against other elite athletes from around the country, not just the ones in their local district.
That is why it is so important to help coach and prepare these athletes for the NFL from the first day on campus. Some are fast learners and can make the transition from high school to college rather easily while others need a year or so before really beginning to shine.
With that said, we thought it would be a perfect time to take a look at the future of the NFL and take a look at the next 20 NCAA Football stars that are going to make the biggest impact on the teams that draft them in the NFL over the next three years.
20 Jamal Hines, DE, Toledo (Washington Redskins, 2021)
As a Freshman, Jamal Hines played in 11 games this past season while putting up 45 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. He is the only Freshman in the country to put up those numbers and only 21 other players made that list, most of them Juniors or Seniors.
That is part of what makes Jamal Hines such a special talent. He needs to beef up over the next couple of seasons to prepare for his NFL debut in 2021 but that is something that comes over time. He has a couple of summers to hit the weight room and pick up some pounds to thicken up and gain strength.
19 A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa (Buffalo Bills, 2020)
When A.J. Epenesa committed to the University of Iowa, he was a standout pass-rusher in high school, considered one of the best in the nation at defensive end. He was big too. He stood 6'5" and weighed about 238 pounds, in high school. The past two years, he has gained almost 40 pounds in muscle to turn himself into a NFL-caliber DE.
This season, the Buffalo Bills have emerged as a solid team thanks to having the league's number one pass defense. But the one place they could really use help is by adding an elite pass rusher. That is a big part of the success of any NFL team's postseason run.
18 Drew Lock, QB, Missouri (New York Giants, 2019)
Every time the New York Giants pass up on a talented quarterback prospect in the NFL Draft, they are telling their fanbase that they think Eli Manning is going to be able to lead this team for the next few years. That is a scary thing to say to a fanbase in a New York market.
Since 2016, Eli Manning has ranked ninth in passing yards, 15th in touchdowns, and third in interceptions. He is not getting the job done and the Giants are running out of time to fix the leak he is causing. They have Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley, two of the league's most electric offensive weapons and the future of the team. They deserve a star QB like Drew Lock.
17 Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St. (Carolina Panthers, 2021)
Only the elite high school prospects wind up being able to chose any college he wants to play for and Micah Parsons was one of them. He was built to become a future NFL star thanks to his overall size and athleticism.
He is much faster than most offensive lines think so and that gives him the unfair advantage getting to the QB. But that also has a lot to do with his style of play. He is not worried about his stamina for the last few minutes of the game. He plays hard every snap and does not know when to slow down. He considers his style of play similar to Adam Sandler's character from the movie The Water Boy.
16 Devin White, MLB, LSU (Cincinnati Bengals, 2019)
Over the past two seasons, Devin White has been the nation's top middle linebacker, by far. In his past 25 games, he has 248 tackles (second in nation), 25.5 tackles for a loss (fourth in nation), and 7.5 sacks (second in nation). He also has one interception and eight passes defended, which is ranked first in college football.
He has been so great this past season that he won the Dick Butkus Award to become the first player in LSU history to win the trophy. But he is not just a college statistic freak. He has NFL size and speed and could become a stud if he lands with the right team.
One of the best landing spots for the 2019 NFL Draft is going to be the Cincinnati Bengals, who could have used him this past year.
15 J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford (Detroit Lions, 2019)
If you have never heard about J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, you are not alone. He is not the most widely popular receiver heading into the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft but he is one of the most talented. His abilities have been overlooked for the past four years while playing on the West Coast.
He is not a flashy route-runner or a speed demon but he is consistent and has showcased NFL-caliber skills at Stanford. For example, once he became the Cardinals starting wideout, he averaged 5 catches, 80 yards, and a touchdown per game over the past three years.
If you need a pro comparison, the best one to compare him to is Mike Evans. The Detroit Lions need a wide receiver and would be stealing him in the 2019 draft.
14 Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama (Baltimore Ravens, 2021)
With 41 receptions, 803 yards, and seven touchdowns, only one other true freshman wide receiver put up better numbers than Jaylen Waddle has so far this season (Rondale Moore, Purdue). That helps validate the hype behind the next big wide receiving star from the University of Alabama.
He came to Alabama as one of the nation's biggest star athletes, who has clocked a 4.37 40-yard dash time in high school. He was so amazing this past year, he was named the SEC Freshman of the Year.
Imagine what he is going to do with two more full seasons under his belt?
13 Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia (Tampa Bay Bucs, 2019)
If you take a look at the previous Jim Thorpe Award winners, which is the trophy given to the nation's most outstanding defensive back each season, than you would notice a trend. Most of the the players that win this award go on to have successful NFL careers.
Eric Berry, Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, Malcolm Jenkins, Antoine Cason, Darqueze Dennard, Adoree Jackson, and Minkah Fitzpatrick are some of the most recent winners.
But because Deandre Baker does not have elite speed and size, he will fall back a few spots unless someone goes with team need over best available. We think the Tampa Bay Bucs will take him after LSU's Greedy Williams comes off the board a few spots ahead of their pick.
12 Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado (Washington Redskins, 2020)
In 2017, Laviska Shenault Jr. was a true Freshman at the University of Colorado and played in seven games but only managed seven receptions for 168 yards. A year later, Laviska turned into the team's most valuable player with 86 receptions, 1,011 yards, and 11 total touchdowns (five rushing) in just nine games after injuring his toe late in the season.
But when healthy, he is one of the best in the country. He has great hands, excellent route-running abilities, and is tough to bring down. Early on in the season, he had a catch rate of 88.1%, after six games.
He is going to end up playing in the NFL for many years to come and the Redskins might be in the right spot to land him in 2020.
11 Najee Harris, RB, Alabama (Tampa Bay Bucs, 2020)
Much like when Derrick Henry was Alabama's running back, a kid this size should not be able to move like he does. Najee Harris is 6'2" and 230 pounds and has the natural ability to explode through the holes after making his cuts. He can find the spots quickly and effectively. He is not a basic running back that is only good because of the offensive lineman blocking for him, although it surely helps.
After drafting Ronald Jones II last season, the Tampa Bay Bucs never really got to see what he was made of because he spent most of the time on the sidelines, battling various injuries. After next season, and another bad year for the Bucs, they are going to be compelled to take this incredible athlete, who will be competing with two of the most electric running backs in the NFL, who are also in his division, in Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey.
10 N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona St. (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2019)
If N'Keal Harry had elite speed, he would be the consensus top prospect in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft. He is already a monster with a 6'4" frame and the ability to catch anything thrown in his direction thanks to his strong hands, which are probably his best asset. He is also one heck of a route runner that finds ways to make big plays in tough spots.
If you needed a NFL player comparison, it would be Larry Fitzgerald, but he is a bit more polished at this point of his career, which makes him a very scary prospect heading into a draft where there a ton of teams looking for offensive help but none more than the Jacksonville Jaguars.
9 Grant Delpit, S, LSU (New York Jets, 2020)
When Grant Delpit debuted in 2017, no one was expecting him to become one of the nation's best safeties. But because he is part of the LSU Tigers defensive secondary, he was already considered a dangerous defender. Little did anyone know, he was going to emerge right out the gate as one of the best in the country.
He followed his Freshman season with another impressive performance this past year while adding the ability to sack the QB. Not only did he grab five interceptions, he added five sacks and became a dangerous blitzer that reminds LSU fans of a monster from many years ago named LaRon Landry.
The New York Jets already have another former LSU defensive back in Jamal Adams so just imagine what could happen if they add another in 2020.
8 Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama (Detroit Lions, 2020)
One thing that Nick Saban has been able to do during his tenure with the University of Alabama is produce offensive weapons, specifically wide receivers. Under his leadership, he has sent guys like Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, and Calvin Ridley to the NFL where they have all prospered.
A year from now, when Jerry Jeudy will be finishing his Junior season at Alabama, we could be talking about how he finished his collegiate career with more receiving yards than Julio, more touchdowns than Ridley, and a better yards per reception average than Cooper.
The Detroit Lions might be in desperate need for a wide receiver by 2020 and he very well could be the best available.
7 Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia (Miami Dolphins, 2020)
When Jake Fromm was named the University of Georgia's starting QB at the start of 2017, he was already one of the most hyped high school prospects in the country. He has yet to give up the job and even led the Bulldogs to a National Championship appearance last season.
Although his numbers are pretty pedestrian when compared to some of the best collegiate passers, it is his decision making abilities that are his greatest value. He has a big league cannon and has become one of the nation's most accurate passers along the way. He does not make many mistakes and has thrown 51 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions.
He will become one of the top picks in the 2020 draft and should go to the Miami Dolphins, who are in serious need of a QB change.
6 Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama (Oakland Raiders, 2019)
Since 2011, the Alabama-LSU rivalry game has been one of the most watched games each year with an average of 10.4 million viewers. It helps that LSU and Alabama have also been two of the most consistent programs in the country at producing NFL stars. But it is also one of the most important games for a potential NFL prospect to shine because so many scouts are going to be watching.
Quinnen Williams has shown up for both of his matchups against LSU and has 3.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 15 total tackles. But what makes him even more impressive is that he has emerged as an elite interior defensive lineman, a position that is the most coveted by defensive coaches.
If the Oakland Raiders can't get Nick Bosa, then they have to go after Quinnen Williams.
5 Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC (Philadelphia Eagles, 2021)
If there is one player in the country that very few people are talking about, but they should be, then it has to be this kid from USC who has gone from elite high school prospect to a collegiate stud.
There are so many reasons to love Amon-Ra St. Brown, who is just a true Freshman wide receiver at USC. For one, he has become a sponge all year long, just learning the collegiate game and improving his overall game in the process. He has quietly become one of the scariest future NFL stars that is going to breakout in 2019.
Although 2021 is still a few years away, by looking at the Philadelphia Eagles now, and assuming they wind up struggling in 2020, they could definitely grab a kid that reminds us an awful lot of another former Trojan that goes by the name of JuJu.
4 Andraez "Greedy" Williams, CB, LSU (San Francisco 49ers, 2019)
There is no longer a debate, LSU is DBU. Since 2011, LSU has sent 13 defensive backs to the NFL, five of which were first round draft picks. That group includes Patrick Peterson, TreDavious White, Tyrann Mathieu, Jalen Mills, Morris Claiborne, Jamal Adams, Eric Reid, and Rashard Robinson. The next LSU player to join that list is Greedy Williams.
Greedy Williams is a tough cover corner that can prevent separation which keeps wide receivers from being able to get open and find the football. But his instincts have been even more impressive as he showcased how easy he could find the ball while covering his man.
The 49ers are going to end up taking him because he is the best player available when they are going to be on the clock and players like him are becoming very rare these days.
3 Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (New Orleans Saints, 2021)
On October 6, 2018, Trevor Lawrence celebrated his 19th birthday. So that means, at just 18 years of age, he already started three games for the Clemson Tigers and was already becoming the team's superstar. But that came a few months after many people considered him the greatest high school QB ever.
So far, he has done more than anyone expected and has led the Clemson Tigers to becoming one of the nation's best teams and within a game of the national title. But he is still very young and if he were to go to the NFL any sooner than in 2021, he just might not be ready.
Since we know Drew Brees is not going to play forever, we fully expect the year after he retires to be a bad one for New Orleans. They could end up with a fairly high draft pick and would be able to take Trevor Lawrence by then.
2 Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama (Denver Broncos, 2020)
Just because a quarterback puts up impressive numbers in college, does not guarantee success in the NFL. For example, Danny Wuerffel and Jason White both won the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's best quarterback, two times, and almost did not even get drafted. Some other winners were Michael Bishop, Chris Weinke, Brad Banks, Troy Smith, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, and Johnny Manziel all won that award.
But there is something special about Tua Tagovailoa that makes his numbers a sign of future success. He is very accurate and rarely makes a poor decision. He gets the ball out quickly from the gun and behind the center, something often overlooked, and has incredible instincts. He also has the leadership traits that would make him an elite NFL passer one day.
1 Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio St. (Arizona Cardinals, 2019)
There has not been an unanimous top overall prospect heading into a NFL Draft since 2014 when Jadeveon Clowney was coming into the league as a well-built machine. But Nick Bosa just might be an even easier top overall selection because of how perfectly built he is to play defensive end.
The NFL has already seen what a Bosa can do. Nick's older brother Joey has already become an elite edge rusher but is a bigger version of Nick. That means that Nick will be more explosive and faster off the snap. He is quicker and more athletic and should become the Arizona Cardinals best defensive player for many years to come.