In a conference that rarely has NFL prospects go in round one and even fewer declare early for the draft each year, the C-USA has become an NFL Draft conference based around four teams: Southern Miss, SMU, Tulsa, and UCF, with some Houston sprinkled in last season.
This year’s junior class looks no different in terms of those teams dominating. However, with two big time transfer quarterbacks stepping in combined with big play running backs and difference making defensive backs, this junior class looks to follow suit in a conference that is known for high scoring offenses and big play-based defenses.MDD Lead Editor: Eric Galko
1. Deron Williams, CB, Southern Miss
A quick twitch, fluid cornerback, Williams thrives on the ability to consistently win with his ball skills. Williams is the leader on a defense that has the talent to push this team to a Top 25 bid. His ball skills could make a direct impact on how games are decided this season, has his ability to finish those jump balls with either an interception or a clear separation from the receiver. His ability to have few wasted steps and reaction to the ball should make new quarterbacks of the four other major teams this year very nervous when throwing his side.
2. Garrett Gilbert, QB, SMU
The former Texas quarterback who transferred after the losing the quarterback battle, Gilbert will have a chance to thrive in the June Jones offense. While the offense isn’t instantly translatable to the NFL game thanks to the style of the reads, Gilbert has more natural talent than past June Jones quarterback Colt Brennan. Plus, the offense should be able to adapt a bit to the talented Gilbert.
3. Cody Green, QB, Tulsa
Another former transfer, this time from Nebraska, finally getting the chance to thrive in a starting role, Green will look to inherit this team after another transfer lead this team in the past, GJ Kinne. Green just lost the Nebraska job to current starter Taylor Martinez, and has the talent, athleticism, and size to develop the way Kinne did during his time.
4. Charles Sims, RB, Houston
One of the few running back spots in college football that gets a chance to really get action in the pass game, Charles Sims may be the best this Houston offense has seen. As a receiver, he’s smooth with the ball in his hands in space, and transitions upfield quickly without hesitation. He also has experience in the slot receiver set. As a running back, he keeps himself tight and stays tight up and through the hole, keeping his base strong and has a little wiggle when going up and through the hole.
5. Marco Nelson, S, Tulsa
A solid wrap-up tackler that is awfully active and around the ball for a free safety who’s first step is generally back, Nelson is one of the consistent playmakers in a talented (at least among C-USA standards) defensive backfield. He closes down upfield well and corrals the runner well back to where he has help in run support. He’s built well, with a strong upper and lower half for a defensive back, and has a high ceiling as a safety based on his size, activity in run support, and close down ability in middle third pass coverage.
6. Will Simmons, OG, East Carolina
Powerful, well-built, and the best player on an offensive line that has some talent, Simmons mostly impressed me with his consistency and power against South Carolina in the team’s early season match-up against the NFL foe. He has a powerful, redirecting punch in his initial pass protection, and sets up very well with his hands and keeping his back arched and strong. He needs to stay more consistently lower in run blocking, and can lose leverage at times against quick off the snap bull rushers, but the natural pass blocking ability and size give him a chance to be a potential NFL guard.
7. Trey Watts, RB, Tulsa
One of two running backs from Tulsa on this list, Watts has some return responsibilities as well as being really the feature back in this offense. Very fluid change of direction ability and balance on the outside, he lacks the bulk and burst through contact to be a between the tackles running back in the NFL. Combine that with not being able to make NFL style reads/cuts in the zone option offense he comes from, and Watts is a playmaker without a solid NFL future as of now.
8. Marquies Aiken, DT, Marshall
Aiken plays inconsistent to really have a dominate impact at the next level now, but flashes some NFL ability. When he can stay low with his pad level, he can be effective in driving with his inside shoulder and winning leverage battles. When he is in the backfield, he wraps up well and tackles with power. He does lack re-start quickness and transitions to a second move, and could improve his ability to shed with his hands.
9. Jacorius Cotton, S, Southern Miss
Plays a deep centerfield position in their defense, Cotton doesn’t always come up field in run support with aggression and force. A bit undersized, he’s not a powerful hitter. But he attacks the middle of the field well in pass coverage, has a balanced deep zone, and has good recovery speed on vertical routes. He does look a bit stiff at times in his transitions, which is worrisome for his man coverage ability in the deep part of the field.
10. Ja’Terian Douglas, RB, Tulsa
A explosive, quick change of direction runner, he’s the second part of the two pronged running game for the Tulsa team that will look to give Cody Green a solid foundation to the offense. Like Watts, Douglas is a bit undersized to be an every down back and his role in the option read doesn’t give him a chance to showcase his vision as an NFL style runner, but he has the deep play speed and quickness in traffic to potentially have a developmental 3rd down back role in the NFL.