With the college football season just a few weeks away, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at players that I expect to exceed the high expectations that have already been set for them in 2017.
In most cases, today's college football stars began showing promise at the outset of their careers. Hype from those earlier performances carries them into preseason award watch lists and NFL draft rankings. They mature physically and mentally between their freshman and sophomore or sophomore and junior seasons, putting all of the tools together to help their team reach its goals.
The five players listed below will make that next step from potential stars that flash great ability to elite talents that draw national attention from media, fans and NFL scouts alike.
Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
Andrews presents all of the physical tools to become a true difference maker. Although he was banged up in 2016 and fought through some drops, Andrews still turned in a solid season (31 receptions, 489 yards, seven scores). QB Baker Mayfield has returned for his final college season and is looking for a new go-to receiver now that big-play star Dede Westbrook is in the NFL. Andrews' ability to line up outside or inside gives him a great chance to be Mayfield's top target -- and show his wares to NFL teams who might be interested in adding a 6-foot-5, 253-pound weapon to their offense.
Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia
If Carter's performance in the 2016 Liberty Bowl against TCU is any indication, he's ready to become the playmaker the Athens faithful expected when he arrived as a top-10 recruit. His ability to turn the corner, convert speed to power and use his length to force two fumbles against the Horned Frogs showed his potential as a force on the edge. Remember when former Bulldog Leonard Floyd was drafted by the Bears in the top 10 two years ago? Carter could be just as coveted with a strong senior season.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
It's easy for a guy like Ferrell to be somewhat lost on the national level on a front four with studs like Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins. However, Ferrell's play at the end of his redshirt freshman season put everyone on notice for 2017. Florida State left tackle Roderick Johnson had nightmares facing Ferrell midway through 2016, and later on Ferrell dominated the Fiesta Bowl as the game's most valuable defensive player (three tackles for loss, sack). He also displayed his combination of strength and quickness on the edge in the national title game before an injury put him on the sideline. I expect he'll be a star among stars in 2017 as the Tigers attempt to repeat as champions.
Iman Marshall, CB, USC
Marshall, a junior, has been the Trojans' best defensive back since he was a freshman, even with 2016 Jim Thorpe Award winner Adoree' Jackson on the squad. He's a physical defender on the outside with NFL size (6-2, 200) and very good ball skills (three interceptions, eight pass breakups last season). Scouts will see him as a shutdown corner who can match up against No. 1 receivers. For some reason, he was only an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection by league coaches last season, but they'll make up for that when he excels again this fall.
Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State
Weber was very productive as a redshirt freshman last season, running for 1,096 yards. While Saquon Barkley (Penn State) and Derrius Guice (LSU) deserve all the hype they've received as top-notch backs, I think Weber will step forward in 2017 to join them in the Heisman Trophy mix at the end of the year. His game includes many of the same characteristics Ezekiel Elliott displayed with the Buckeyes. Weber is a slippery and strong runner. He also has the ability to make catches and block at a high level. That all-around skill set, combined with great surrounding talent, means there is a big year in the offing for Weber.