Declaring for the NFL Draft is never an easy decision. While many prospects forgo their senior seasons for a shot at the NFL en route to great success, plenty of others find themselves on the wrong end of the decision.
As the January deadline came and went, a handful of players surprised the draft community by returning to school for their senior seasons. Players who would have been first-round picks and further strengthened a draft class perceived as weak will be back on college football fields this fall, delaying their draft respective experiences for a year.
The result is a 2014 draft class with a decent base of senior talent. While the underclassmen will once again determine the strength of the draft, these seniors have the most momentum entering the 2013 college football season.
The 2013 NFL Draft was all about the offensive tackle. For the first time in over 40 years, offensive tackles were selected No. 1 and No. 2 overall, and three offensive tackles were off the board in the first four picks.
Those results may have Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan questioning his decision to return to school for his senior season. Lewan likely would have graded out higher than Lane Johnson, who went No. 4 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles. And with D.J. Fluker coming off the board at No. 11, Lewan seemingly would have been a lock for the top 10.
Instead, he returns to Michigan hoping for another run at a Big Ten championship. Entering the season, Lewan has all of the makings of a top 10 pick, but he's far from a lock to be the first offensive tackle off the board. Texas A&M's Jake Matthews also came back for another season, so the competition should be interesting.
As far as Lewan is concerned, the raw ability is all there. He's powerful, has a ton of length and quick feet. He needs to learn how to play with more consistent leverage and block in space more effectively. If he can clean those things up a bit, he will be a lock to go within the first 10 picks.
Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M - Preseason scouting report
When it's all said and done, Jake Matthews may end up being the better of the two dominant Texas A&M tackles. Matthews and Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, were bookends for the Aggies last season. Matthews came back for his senior year to prove he can play left tackle. After playing on the right side most of his career, Matthews will slide over to protect Johnny Manziel's blindside in 2013.
As mentioned above, Matthews and Lewan will likely slug it out to be the first offensive tackle off the board. While Lewan is more physically imposing, Matthews is a technician with the strength and mean streak to be a dominant all-around lineman.
How will he transition to left tackle? That's the question Matthews will have to answer in 2013. He will get a chance to prove himself against SEC defensive linemen, and if he passes the test, he could come off the board in the top five.
Few players in college football finished the season on as high a note as Tajh Boyd did in Clemson's Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU. WIthout a surefire top quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft, it seemed like the perfect time for Boyd to cash in while his draft stock was hot.
But Boyd will be back in Death Valley for his senior season minus DeAndre Hopkins, one of his favorite targets, who was drafted in the first round by the Houston Texans. Boyd has shown flashes of being the next big time quarterback prospect. He has a strong arm, hangs tough in the pocket and can make plays with his feet. But consistency has always been an issue with Boyd, and he will have to prove he can be a more steady quarterback in 2013.
Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater enters the season as the top draft eligible quarterback, but Boyd might not be far behind. If he can build off his strong performance in the bowl game, Boyd has a shot at the first round.
David Fales, Quarterback, San Jose State - Preseason scouting report
David Fales burst onto the scene for San Jose State last season in his first year with the program. His gaudy statistics weren't enough for him to jump ship and go pro, but he carries a significant amount of momentum with him into the 2013 season.
The weak 2013 quarterback class wasn't enough to convince Fales to go pro, so he will have to navigate a much stronger 2014 group. The problem with Fales will be proving his NFL talent against a perceived lack of competition. The toughest game on San Jose State's schedule is Stanford. Fales will have to be ready to play well against the Cardinal and dominate the rest of his opponents to silence the doubters.
C.J. Mosley, Linebacker, Alabama - Preseason scouting report
The inside linebacker class of 2013 was a mixed bag, with nobody emerging as worthy of selection among the top 15 picks. Alec Ogletree was the only one drafted in round one, the 30th overall pick by the St. Louis Rams. Had Alabama's C.J. Mosley declared for the draft, he would have likely been drafted before any other linebacker.
With Alabama graduating another crop of talented defensive players, Mosley will be the experienced leader of the group. He enters the season as the country's best linebacker and will get plenty of opportunity to play on a big stage nearly every week for the Crimson Tide. Count on him being one of the most talked about defensive players in the country.
Anthony Barr, Outside Linebacker, UCLA - Preseason scouting report
From an athletic standpoint, Anthony Barr is the most impressive defensive player in the Pac-12. He is an explosive pass rusher with the length to make plays off the edge. What will separate Barr, though, is his ability to play in space and blanket tight ends in coverage. In some ways, he plays like Dion Jordan, who was drafted No. 3 overall in the 2013 draft.
Barr will be playing on a talented UCLA team this fall and should get a fair amount of attention due to his flashy playing style. If the Bruins have the success some are predicting, Barr will likely have a big hand in it.