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2015 NFL Draft first 64 watch list: Say hello to the next crop of prospects

Looking ahead to next year's draft shows another impressive group, paced by players from the SEC.

Eric Francis

College football loves watch lists. Every award has a preseason watch list, some of which are just ridiculous. There are 64 players on the Rimington Award watch list this year. If 64 centers can be on a watch list, surely we can quickly look ahead at 64 players eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft.

In a preliminary glance, the next crop of NFL prospects looks like a good one.

Breaking down these first 64 players, the most are from the SEC, which has 21 players. The next thee conferences were tight, though, with the ACC (13), Pac-12 (12) and Big Ten (11). The list was rounded out with five from the Big 12 and two from the Mountain West.

The fun of the NFL Draft is watching which players develop throughout the season. Just because there isn't a MAC or Sun Belt player in here now doesn't necessarily mean there won't be by the team the season is over. Conference USA could land a player like Rice junior defensive lineman Christian Covington on this list, for instance.

The first 64 is comprised by 36 players on defense and 28 on offense. There are some names missing – players like Duke guard Laken Tomlinson, Michigan defensive end Frank Clark or Oklahoma offensive tackle Daryl Williams. Simply, the work for the 2015 NFL Draft is just beginning. That's why these players aren't ranked yet. Besides, 64 was a nice round number.

This first 64 is a jumping on point for the next class of NFL prospects. An introduction, if you will.

Nelson Agholor | 6'0, 185 pounds | Wide receiver | Southern California
Agholor is the best weapon on the Trojans’ offense. A year ago he started as the team’s wide receiver and returned punts and kicks. At times he looked better than teammate Marqise Lee, a second-round pick.

Vic Beasley | 6’2, 235 pounds | Defensive end / Outside linebacker, Clemson
An explosive pass rusher, Beasley may project to outside linebacker in the NFL. In 560 snaps a season ago, Beasley had 44 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Prepare for the Von Miller comparisons.

Michael Bennett | 6’2, 288 pounds | Defensive tackle | Ohio State
There were times last season where Bennett looked ready for the NFL. He stayed at Ohio State, following a season of 42 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He's a solid combination of power and gap-shooting quickness.

Shilique Calhoun | 6’4, 257 pounds | Defensive end | Michigan State
Had Calhoun entered this year’s draft, he may have been a first-round pick. He’s coming off a strong junior season in which he had 37 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He had three touchdowns defensively.

La'el Collins | 6’5, 315 pounds | Offensive tackle | LSU
The senior is going into his third year as a starter for LSU, after playing guard in 2012 and tackle in 2013. He may be viewed more as an interior blocker in the NFL.

Landon Collins | 6’0, 215 pounds | Safety | Alabama
Collins is the latest in a quickly growing line of Alabama safety prospects. He was second on the Tide in tackles with 70 last season to go along with two interceptions and six pass breakups.

Amari Cooper | 6’1, 202 pounds | Wide receiver | Alabama
Cooper has been a star since he arrived at Alabama, but was slowed last season with injuries. He closed the season strong, though, and had 45 catches for 736 yards and four touchdowns.

Ronald Darby | 5’11, 188 pounds | Cornerback | Florida State
Like some other players on this list, the speedy Darby is here based on his potential. He intercepted two passes last season and had four pass breakups.

NFL Draft grades

Carl Davis | 6’5, 315 pounds | Defensive tackle | Iowa
The physically imposing Davis landed on the all-Big Ten second team last season following a year of 42 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. The skill is there with Davis, but he has to become more consistent as a disruptor in the middle.

Mike Davis | 5’9, 216 pounds | Running back | South Carolina
In a loaded running back group, Davis can be overlooked. But the junior runs with good vision and balance. In 2013, he had 1,183 yards on 203 carries to go along with 11 touchdowns.

Trey DePriest | 6’2, 245 pounds | Middle linebacker | Alabama
A strong tackler, DePriest is a classic two-down thumper of a middle linebacker. He’ll have to stay on the field more this season to boost his draft stock.

Stefon Diggs | 6’0, 195 pounds | Wide receiver | Maryland
Diggs was off to a solid start to his sophomore season in 2013 before getting injured and missing Maryland’s final seven games. He can be a big-time playmaker, though. With Diggs, think Marqise Lee because of his agility after the catch.

Mario Edwards | 6’3, 294 pounds | Defensive end | Florida State
Edwards is a rising junior on the come up. He’s coming off a season of 28 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Look for Edwards to be relied upon more this season to lead FSU’s pass rush. If his three tackles for loss in the national title game are any indication, he will.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu | 5’10, 195 pounds | Cornerback | Oregon
Arguably the nation’s best cornerback, Ekpre-Olomu is coming off season of 84 tackles, three interceptions and five tackles for loss. He can play man or zone and is quick to support versus the run.

Cameron Erving | 6’6, 302 pounds | Offensive tackle | Florida State
It was something of a surprise that Erving didn’t enter this year’s draft. The left tackle, at worst, would have been a second round pick. He’s developed his technique and it’s close to matching his athleticism.

Kyler Fackrell | 6’5, 245 pounds | Outside linebacker | Utah State
It’s not often that top prospects come from Utah State, but Fackrell is legit. He’s a lanky and athletic pass rusher who can drop in coverage. Fackrell, only a junior, is just touching his potential.

Devonte Fields | 6’4, 240 pounds | Defensive end | TCU
After winning the 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Fields played in just three games lats year due to injury. Fields is a speed rusher when he’s on the field. He can dip around the corner and close in a hurry.

Trey Flowers | 6’4, 267 pounds | Defensive end | Arkansas
There hasn’t been a lot to get excited about with Arkansas football since Bret Bielema took over, but Flowers is an exception. The senior has 26 career starts to go along with 32 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. He could be an ideal left end.

Dante Fowler | 6’3, 265 pounds | Outside linebacker | Florida
Big things are expected this season from Fowler, Florida’s Buck hybrid linebacker. He’s the Gators’ main pass rusher after coming off a season with 50 tackles with 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Devin Funchess | 6’5, 230 pounds | Tight end / Wide receiver | Michigan
Funchess is converting from tight end to wide receiver for Michigan this season. The change will be negligible considering how often he lined up wide. If Funchess can correct some issues with drops, he could become a first round prospect.

Markus Golden | 6’3, 260 pounds | Defensive end | Missouri
Golden is a former junior college transfer who some teams may view as a linebacker. He’s a great athlete who can blitz from the left side either with his hand in the dirt or standing up.

Melvin Gordon | 6’1, 207 pounds | Running back | Wisconsin
Although Gordon may have only started four games last season, don’t let that fool you. Running for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior, some thought Gordon would have been the first running back drafted this year.

Doran Grant | 5’11, 193 pounds | Cornerback | Ohio State
Grant is obviously a physically gifted defensive back and the expectation is that he’ll make more plays as a senior. As a junior, he had 58 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass breakups.

Rashad Greene | 6’0, 178 pounds | Wide receiver | Florida State
It was Greene, not Kelvin Benjamin, who was Florida State’s best receiver a season ago. As a junior, Greene had 76 receptions for 1,128 yard and nine touchdowns. He makes up for average size by being a smooth route runner with good hands.

Dorial Green-Beckham | 6’6, 225 pounds | Wide receiver | TBD
Green-Beckham is clearly an incredible physical talent. His future in college football is a question mark, though, after being dismissed by Missouri. It’s a shame too because Green-Beckham really came on as 2013 progressed. He can overmatch just about any defensive back.

Randy Gregory | 6’6, 245 pounds | Defensive end | Nebraska
In his first season at Nebraska, Gregory was a sensation. He notched 66 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Pass rushers of Gregory’s size and ability don’t last long on draft weekend.

Todd Gurley | 6’1, 232 pounds | Running back | Georgia
When Gurley was healthy last season, Georgia’s offense was on a different level. He’s a powerful back with speed to break big runs. That combination is why Gurley could snap the two-year streak of no running backs being picked in the first round.

Anthony Harris | 6’1, 190 pounds | Safety | Virginia
Last season Harris proved that he’s certainly a ballhawk, intercepting eight passes. He can help boost his draft stock by showing more aggression coming up and playing the run this season.

Brett Hundley | 6’3, 227 pounds | Quarterback | UCLA
The 2013 season was an up and down one for Hundley. His decision making was questionable in the first half of the season, but got better as the year progressed. When he’s on, Hundley can get into rhythm as a passer and has good enough athleticism to run the ball.

Tre’ Jackson | 6’4, 339 pounds | Guard | Florida State
Jackson is another Florida State offensive lineman who would have been a high draft choice had he gone pro after last season. Instead, the mauling interior blocker goes into his senior campaign likely as the top-rated guard in the draft.

Duke Johnson | 5’9, 206 pounds | Running back | Miami
Injury forced Johnson to miss the final five games of last season. That’s unfortunate because when healthy Johnson is a shifty, speedy running back. Last season he had 920 yards on 145 carries.

Tyler Johnstone | 6’6, 283 pounds | Offensive tackle | Oregon
What Johnstone may lack in pure power, he more than makes up for with athleticism. Johnstone may have the quickest feet of any blocker in college football. That allows him to mirror rushers and control them around the edge.

Arie Kouandjio | 6’5, 315 pounds | Guard | Alabama
Little known fact: Arie Kouandjio is the older of the Kouandjio brothers (Cyrus, of course, was a second-round pick of the Buffalo Bills). Another little known fact: He has better movement skills for a powerful guard than you’d expect.

Marcus Mariota | 6’4, 215 pounds | Quarterback | Oregon
As the season approaches, Mariota is in the running with Florida State’s Jameis Winston as being the top quarterback prospect in college football. Mariota is a dual-threat passer who improved his down field throwing last season and should get better.

Benardrick McKinney | 6’5, 245 pounds | Middle linebacker | Mississippi State
When McKinney announced he was skipping the 2014 draft, the then-sophomore said he was playing one more season for the Bulldogs. Physically, at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, McKinney is ready for the NFL. This season he’ll have to show better awareness and closing speed.

Jalen Mills | 6’1, 189 pounds | Safety / Cornerback | LSU
Mills struggled at times last season as he moved from cornerback to safety. He came on as the season progressed, finishing third on LSU with 67 tackles. He’s slated to be the team’s starting free safety this season.

Ty Montgomery | 6’2, 215 pounds | Wide receiver | Stanford
Montgomery is a speed merchant. He can get deep in a hurry vertically or be used as a weapon on quick screens. Add in his ability on kick returns, and it’s easy to see why Montgomery belongs on this list.

Shawn Oakman | 6’9 275 pounds | Defensive end | Baylor
Is Oakman the mega-athletic defensive end who fires impressively off the line of scrimmage or the one who was too often on the Baylor bench last season? The amazing potential is evident. A player with Oakman's size shouldn't be able to move as quickly as he does.

Cedric Ogbuehi | 6’5, 300 pounds | Offensive tackle | Texas A&M
Say hello to Texas A&M’s next top 10 pick on the offensive line. Ogbuehi is shifting over to left tackle, following the same career path as Jake Matthews, the No. 6 overall pick this year. Ogbuehi may not be the technician Matthews is, but he’s more athletic.

Norkeithus Otis | 6’1, 240 pounds | Outside linebacker | North Carolina
Otis plays the Bandit position for the Tar Heels. It takes advantage of his fast first step and overall athleticism. A season ago, he had 42 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

DeVante Parker | 6’3, 209 pounds Wide receiver | Louisville
Parker closed his junior season strong with 18 catches and 246 yards in his final two games, so it was something of a surprise when he returned to Louisville. He’s aggressive at the catch point and will go up and pull down challenging throws.

Andrus Peat | 6’7, 312 pounds | Offensive tackle | Stanford
You’d be hard-pressed to find a true junior offensive lineman with the type of size and technique combination Peat possesses. He can handle speed at the edge and overpower bull rushers.

Bryce Petty | 6’3, 230 pounds | Quarterback | Baylor
Product of the system or true NFL talent? That’s what people will be asking about Petty all year. His arm strength can’t be questioned, however.

Denzel Perryman | 6’0, 242 pounds | Middle linebacker | Miami
Perryman has been a star playing weak side linebacker for Miami. This year, though, he’s bulked up for a move to the inside. How he fares in that move could determine his draft stock.

Jermauria Rasco | 6’3, 262 pounds | Defensive end | LSU
In his first season as a starter in 2013, Rasco showed promised with 56 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He has a good first step and can close on a play.

Shane Ray | 6’3, 245 pounds | Defensive end | Missouri
A top high school recruit, Ray should be the next in the ever-increasing list of great Missouri defensive linemen. He  has reportedly run the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds and thinks he can go faster. Ridiculous for an edge rusher.

Cedric Reed | 6’6, 258 pounds | Defensive end | Texas
Texas didn’t have a single player drafted this year. Reed should change that in 2015. He has a penchant for making things happen (forced five fumbles in 2013) and can move all around the line.

Corey Robinson | 6’8, 345 pounds | Offensive tackle | South Carolina
Robinson is something of a project heading into his senior season. He clearly has the physical tools, it’s just a matter of putting them all together consistently.

Brandon Scherff | 6’5, 320 pounds | Offensive tackle | Iowa
Last season Scherff was selected as Iowa’s top player and it’s easy to see why. He’s a brute at the line of scrimmage and can drive defenders backward. His foot quickness may push him to right tackle in the NFL. His strength will keep him there.

Josh Shaw | 6'1, 195 pounds | Cornerback | Southern California
The versatile Shaw has played both cornerback and safety for the Trojans. As a junior, he had 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions.

Derron Smith | 5’11, 200 pounds | Safety | Fresno State
No player currently playing college football has more career interceptions than Smith, who has 14. Smith excels at dropping back and covering the deep middle of the field, keying off the quarterback and breaking on the ball.

Za’Darius Smith | 6’6, 264 pounds | Defensive end | Kentucky
Smith got off to a fast start last season before fading down the stretch. Still, he finished the season with 59 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and six sacks and made a solid impression.

Noah Spence | 6’3, 252 pounds | Defensive end / Outside linebacker | Ohio State *
One of the Big Ten’s top pass rushers, Spence can beat a lot of offensive tackles to the edge thanks to his quickness and speed. He had 14.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season to go along with 52 tackles.

Eric Striker | 6’0, 220 pounds | Outside linebacker | Oklahoma
It didn’t take a three-sack performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl for people to take notice of Striker. He’s lightning fast off the line of scrimmage and closes on the ball in a hurry. If he can become a more complete player, watch out.

Jaelen Strong | 6’4, 205 pounds | Wide receiver | Arizona State
Strong was wise to return to Arizona State following a promising redshirt sophomore season in which he had 75 receptions for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns. He could develop into one of the first wide receivers taken in the draft, should he choose to go pro after this season.

Trae Waynes | 6’1, 183 pounds | Cornerback | Michigan State *
Waynes is the latest physical press coverage Michigan State defensive back. He has the size teams prefer and is a solid playmaker.

Shaq Thompson | 6’2, 231 pounds | Outside linebacker | Washington
Linebackers with the athleticism Thompson possesses are in high demand in today’s NFL. Thompson, a former safety, is an ace in coverage from the linebacker position he currently plays and will deliver big hits.

Ramik Wilson | 6’2, 232 pounds | Middle linebacker | Georgia
A consistent and dependable run stopper, Wilson led the SEC in total tackles last season with 133. He’s not just a playmaker between the tackles, though. Wilson has solid athleticism and can move around.

Kasen Williams | 6’3, 221 pounds | Wide receiver | Washington
Before he broke his leg and injured his foot in October, Williams looked to be on the fast track to the NFL. Now we wait and see how the physically dominant Williams looks as a senior for the Huskies.

Leonard Williams | 6'5, 290 pounds | Defensive tackle | Southern California *
An All-American as a sophomore, the disruptive Williams finished last season with 74 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. He’s been pro-ready since the day he stepped onto the USC campus.

P.J. Williams | 6’0, 196 pounds | Cornerback | Florida State
Williams is further along in his development than Darby, and is coming off a better season. As a sophomore last year he had 35 tackles, three interceptions and seven pass breakups.

Jameis Winston | 6’4, 235 pounds | Quarterback | Florida State
This season will test Winston, on and off the field. The Heisman Trophy winner is a wonderfully talented quarterback prospect. He has the arm strength and athleticism combination to be a possible No. 1 overall pick. The character questions – warranted or not – will come, as will issues about his delivery.

Gabe Wright | 6’3, 284 pounds | Defensive tackle | Auburn
At times, Wright will flash the ability that made him a top recruit out of high school. He can be incredibly quick off the line of scrimmage and can push guards backward into the pocket. He just hasn’t been consistent for an entire year.

T.J. Yeldon | 6’2, 218 pounds | Running back | Alabama
Yeldon looks like the prototype running back. He’s got power, speed and shiftiness. The rub? He has fumble issues and was banged up last season.

Curious who the 65th player would have been? Of course you are. It would have been Oregon center Hroniss Grasu. Share your own 65th in the comments.