Teddy Bridgewater and the top 2014 NFL Draft American Athletic Conference prospects

Andy Lyons

It seems no one wants to be a part of the American Athletic Conference, formerly the Big East. First, there was the exodus of Miami and Virginia Tech. Then West Virginia. This year, there's no more Pitt or Syracuse. Next year, Louisville and Rutgers will be out.

Even talented running back Charles Sims decided to transfer out of the conference, leaving Houston.

After that, there's little to be excited about in the conference aside from Cincinnati and Louisville, at least in terms of NFL Draft prospects. Of the top-15 players eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft, eight are from Louisville or Rutgers. Leading the way, of course, is Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Bridgewater enters his junior season as arguably the best quarterback prospect in the nation. While he's not flawless, he's a better player than any quarterback from this year's draft.

Top-15 AAC prospects

(* denotes junior)

1. Teddy Bridgewater | 6'3, 218 pounds | Quarterback | Louisville *
Although he has yet to play a down of his junior season, Bridgewater's virtues are already known. His arm strength is good, he plays tough and can read a defense. Instead of going on too much about him, just read his preseason scouting report from Matthew Fairburn right here.

2. Brandon Coleman | 6'6, 220 pounds | Wide receiver | Rutgers *
There is a lot to like about Coleman, aside from the obvious plus-size he has for a wide receiver. But it's his speed and ability to beat the jam that gives him the look of a potential No. 1 target in the NFL. But Coleman is behind as a route runner, because he's often asked to just run vertical routes. But he can play inside or outside and has an undeniable skill set.

3. Yawin Smallwood | 6'3, 244 pounds | Middle linebacker | Connecticut
There isn't a particular area where Smallwood is a standout player, he's just solid across the board. He's a read-and-react linebacker who can get into the backfield in a hurry. Smallwood is capable of getting off blocks and he is a sound tackler.

4. Hakeem Smith | 6'1, 197 pounds | Strong safety | Louisville
Going into his fourth year as a stater, Smith is among the most experienced defensive backs in the nation. Smith is at his best when he can make a play on the ball. In deep zone coverage, Smith holds up well. He's not the most physical of safeties, but is a good athlete.

5. Austen Bujnoch | 6'5, 285 pounds | Left guard | Cincinnati
Surprisingly powerful despite being a listed at 285 pounds, Bujnoch enters his third year as a starter for Cincinnati. Bujnoch, who has good length for the position, should only benefit from the Bearcats' transition into a pro-style offense.

6. Preston Brown | 6'2, 257 pounds | Middle linebacker | Louisville
For the past two seasons, Brown has been a dependable linebacker for the Cardinals. He's not a dynamic player who will make plays behind the line of scrimmage, but he's solid in the middle of the field. He's athletic enough to drop in short coverage, and strong enough to handle ball carriers on his own.

7. Greg Blair | 6'2, 252 pounds | Middle linebacker | Cincinnati
In his first season as a starter, Blair registered 138 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. Blair was granted a sixth year of eligibility, which should only help his draft stock. He profiles as a solid backup linebacker who can make a few spot starts.

8. DeVante Parker | 6'3, 204 pounds | Wide receiver | Louisville *
Bridgewater's top receiver a season ago, Parker has a penchant for big plays. Despite being 6'3, Parker is at his best when he can make a play after the catch. He uses a stutter step at the line of scrimmage to beat man coverage. It's a good move, but Parker tends to rely on it too often. With a loaded receiving corps in Louisville, Parker will have to continue fighting for targets.

9. Kaleb Johnson | 6'4, 300 pounds | Left tackle | Rutgers *
With experience playing left and right tackle and a possible NFL future at guard, Johnson will have good value because of his versatility. He's strong at the point of attack and a solid technician.

10. Storm Johnson | 6'1, 217 pounds | Running back | Central Florida *
Johnson ran for just 507 yards in his first season at Central Florida, but it's impossible not to be intrigued by his combination of size and speed.

11. Kenneth Acker | 6'0, 195 pounds | Cornerback | SMU
Acker has developed into SMU's best cornerback, and this season he may get to prove himself as a receiver as well. He obviously has solid hands, and possesses good timing skills to break up passes. His size is intriguing as well.

12. Ryne Giddins | 6'3, 253 pounds | Defensive end | South Florida
A season ago, Giddins clearly wasn't the same player he was as a sophomore in 2011. A shoulder injury meant Giddins had issues getting off blocks. But he's poised for a bounce back senior year.

13. Jamil Merrell | 6'4, 255 pounds | Defensive end | Rutgers
In his first season as a full-time starter, Merrrell showed a fair amount of ability to get into the back field. He may have to shift out to linebacker in the NFL, but he's a solid combination of quickness and strength. His brother, Jamal, starts at outside linebacker for Rutgers and is worth noting as well.

14. Jimmy Bennett | 6'9, 306 pounds | Left tackle | Connecticut
Injuries initially marred Bennett's career at Connecticut, but he was healthy all of last season. Granted a sixth season of eligibility, Bennett's size alone will get him a shot in the NFL.

15. Antwan Lowery | 6'5, 305 pounds | Left guard | Rutgers
Lowery is Johnson's line mate at Rutgers and made the shift from the right to the left side last season. Lowery was a first-team all-conference player in 2012. He doesn't have the quickest feet, but he's strong in a phone booth.

Top transfers to note:

Aaron Lynch | 6'6, 244 pounds | Defensive end | South Florida **
- Notre Dame transfer

Realistically, Lynch showed enough as a freshman at Notre Dame to slot into the second spot among AAC players. Despite only being listed at 244 pounds, he's already advanced in the art of block shedding. His hand work is superb and he can close quickly. South Florida has two experienced ends in Giddins and Tevin Mims, but Lynch should start at USF straight away.

Jeff Luc | 6'1, 248 pounds | Outside linebacker | Cincinnati *
- Florida State transfer

A top recruit out of high school, Luc never got much of an opportunity at Florida State. At Cincinnati, he should get plenty of opportunity to stand out on the UC defense.

Robert Clark | 5'9, 182 pounds | Wide receiver | Louisville *
- Florida transfer

Along with DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers, Louisville adds receiving threats in Clark and tight end Gerald Christian this season. Clark can stand out because he's a speedy threat out of the slot and can be a factor on special teams.

Under the radar player to watch

Richie Leone | 6'3, 215 pounds | Punter | Houston
Choosing a punter as the under-the-radar player to watch is a little bit of a cop out. But that's the state of the AAC in regard to NFL Draft prospects. At Houston, Leone handles punting and kickoff duties. He was a Ray Guy Award finalist in 2012 after averaging 45.5 yards per punt and dropping nearly a third of his punts inside the 20 yard line. On 71 kickoffs, Leone forced 25 touchbacks. Leone's versatility will get him a shot in the NFL.

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