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Five NFL prospects to watch this college season

By: Cory Hughes

Arden Key, Defensive End – LSU

Midway through the last college football season, there was no question that Myles Garrett was going to be the first pick in the NFL Draft, no matter which team had it. This year, Arden Key is already at the head of the line to be the first defensive selection in the 2018 draft.

Although Garrett had more sacks in his first two seasons at Texas A&M, Key has had more sacks in two seasons against SEC teams than Garrett did in three seasons. Key has the size, versatility, athleticism, and everything that’s asked of a starting defensive end in the NFL, and then some. Now, we’ll have to keep an eye on his consistency to get pressure on the quarterbacks without taking plays off.

Courtland Sutton, Wide Receiver – SMU

There will be a number of wide receivers to keep an eye on this season: Deon Cain, Dante Pettis, Antonio Callaway, Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley but Sutton will be this year’s Corey Davis. At 6-foot-4, 220-pounds, Sutton has the prototypical size to be a great possession receiver and endzone threat, but also the speed to take the top off defenses.

Last year, Sutton had 76 receptions, 10 touchdowns, and over 1,200 yards. This will be a very important year to see how he can improve and to see how he’ll handle defenses keying on him.

Sam Darnold, Quarterback – USC

Every quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft class had question marks. But there are very few questions about Sam Darnold this year, especially not after his performance against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. However, there still are some questions.

Quarterback is such a difficult position to predict, and so many guys who have been can’t-miss prospects have failed because of it. This year will be important for Darnold to show he was not just a guy with one great season, but a guy who is legitimately getting better and utilizing all of the great skills and tools he has as a player.

Kalen Ballage, Running Back – Arizona State

Yes, Kalen Ballage is listed as the most must-watch running back in 2017. No, we did not forget about Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones III, and Sequan Barkley. Those guys have already proven themselves and are known talents. Ballage is the dark horse.

At 6-foot-3, 230-pounds with a high motor, Ballage can be Brandon Jacobs or LeGarrette Blount 2.0. Just look at his play against UCLA when he carried multiple Bruins defenders into the endzone with him.

There were glimpses of potential on Ballage’s behalf, but scouts are looking for him to produce as he did against Texas Tech where he got into the endzone eight times. A few flashes aren’t going to cut it. This is the year where he’ll have to prove his consistency.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Defensive Back – Alabama

The Alabama Crimson Tide are known for a lot of things; their linebackers, both offensive and defensive linemen, their pass rushers, but their cornerbacks get a bad rap when it comes to cutting it in the NFL. The knock against them has been that they had the luxury of playing behind the best front-seven players in college football and were never tested like they will be in the NFL. But you might not be hearing all that jive when it comes to Fitzpatrick this upcoming season.

Coming out of high school, Fitzpatrick was a five-star recruit and the number two player at his position only behind Florida State’s Derwin James. Fitzpatrick was named First Team All-SEC, something his former teammate Marlon Humphry failed to do even being the No. 16 pick in this past NFL Draft. He was a safety coming out of high school but played nickel and move to starting corner as a sophomore after Eddie Jackson broke his femur. Fitzpatrick did just fine when Nick Saban put him at safety and he finished the 2016 seasons with 55 tackles and five interceptions. Three of them came in one game against Arkansas, with one going 100 yards for a touchdown.

According to Pro Football Focus, Fitzpatrick has the lowest passer rating against when quarterbacks target him, compared to the other power conference cornerbacks, at 37.8. This isn’t just a defensive back that benefits from playing in front of the nation’s best pass rush, this is a player who knows how to play defensive back better than just about everyone in the country.

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Cory Hughes

Growing up in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts, Cory grew up with a love of football. But believe it or not, it did not start because of Tom Brady or Bill Belichick. It started with guys like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs. He's probably the only person in the New England area that doesn't have a Tom Brady jersey in his closet. As an adolescent Cory played every sport that was available to him. He was the starting Defensive End on his Pop Warner A Team and had with sacks. Cory was also the starting center for his middle school basketball team that won a league championship with an undefeated season. However, after not growing more than two inches in high school, he decided to drop basketball and pick up wrestling. His sophomore year while wrestling, MMA started to grow and the big fight everybody was talking about was Quentin 'Rampage' Jackson vs. Chuck Liddell. Watching Jackson's slams, he was hooked to MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Not long after he started training in that as well. In just over two years he got his blue belt in martial arts. So it's a great mix of sports that he loves and that eventually sparked his interest in sports journalism.

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