Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro Declares For the 2014 NFL Draft

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Texas Tech put together a stunning performance in the Holiday Bowl, easily beating two-touchdown favorite Arizona State by a score of 37-23. What came after the game, however, was a lot less shocking. The Red Raiders‘ star offensive weapon: TE Jace Amaro announced that he will be foregoing his senior year and entering the 2014 NFL Draft.

Amaro finished off a record-breaking campaign with one of his best performances of the year against the Sun Devils, totaling eight catches for 112 yards. He finished the season with a whopping 106 receptions for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns.

Though his numbers were a bit inflated by playing in Kliff Kingsbury’s pass-happy attack—an offense which ranked second nationally with 714 total passing attempts—the 6’5’’, 260-pound junior still proved to be a dangerous receiving weapon, and an absolute matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

He’s the latest in the “new wave” of tight ends, who are basically just overgrown wide receivers. Given the way dangerous receiving tight ends such as Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Vernon Davis have begun to influence a shift in offensive philosophies in the pros, the demand and premium placed on tight ends who can create explosive plays in the passing game is only going to increase in the years to come.

Creating big plays in the passing game is something Amaro has certainly shown he can do, as evidenced by his 17 catches of 20 yards or more in 2013.

Considering the senior tight end crop for the 2014 draft is so weak due to the early defections of big-name players like Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz and Gavin Escobar, the only competition Amaro will have to worry about in terms of battling for the title of the top tight end in the class is fellow underclassmen Eric Ebron from North Carolina and Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington.

Though Seferian-Jenkins entered the season as the top projected prospect at the position, Amaro and Ebron ultimately ended up putting together the more impressive performances in 2013. All three players will likely be the in the first-round conversation and all three have a chance to hear their names called on the first night of the draft. If Amaro can put together a solid performance during workouts, though, he will likely solidify his status as the premier prospect at the position and a player who is worthy of being a top-20 pick.

The Tampa Bay Bucs, the Buffalo Bills, the Tennessee Titans, the New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets are all tight end-needy teams picking in the top 20, who will likely do plenty of homework on the former Red Raider.

2014 NFL Draft: Official Underclassmen Declaration Tracker

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It seems like almost every year, the record for underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft keeps getting broken. A new record was set for the 2013 draft, when a whopping 73 underclassmen made the decision to leave school early and turn pro.

With so many talented eligible underclassmen prospects available for the 2014 NFL Draft, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if that record gets broken once again by the time the Jan. 15 declaration deadline arrives.

Here’s an updated list of the underclassmen who have officially declared for the 2014 NFL draft.

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Pre-Bowl Season Projections and Prospect Rankings

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Are the Houston Texans ready to ride a new Carr into the future?

That’s one of the most intriguing questions surrounding the 2014 NFL draft. Following the conclusion of the college football regular season, Carr has elevated himself into the conversation to be the No. 1 overall pick next May. At the same time, Houston has been sinking downwards into the abyss, crawling closer and closer to the top overall pick.

With college football bowl season on the horizon, there’s still a lot that can change in the next few months leading up to the 2014 draft. Bowl performances, senior bowl showings, combine workouts and pro days will all come into play in the near future.

There are two weeks to go in the NFL season, and a huge slate of bowl games.

There are still more questions than answers, but at least the shape of the 2014 draft class is somewhat starting to form.

Here’s a look at the current first-round projections for the 2014 draft, along with individual position rankings, as bowl season approaches.

*Note: Underclassmen and Early 2015 draft rankings are based on underclassmen declaration projections as of Dec. 17.

ESPN College Football Awards Show: Predicting Every Award Winner

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The 2013 college football season featured plenty of exceptional individual performances from some of the sport’s biggest stars.

With the regular season now officially in the books, it’s time to honor the true best of the best.

Though we’ll have to wait until Saturday night to find out who will take home the sport’s most prominent award—The Heisman Trophy—many of college football’s other top honors will be handed out at the Home Depot College Football Awards, which will be broadcast live on ESPN on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 pm ET.

So who are the favorites to win some of the sport’s most prestigious honors such as the Outland Trophy, the Biletnikoff Award and the Maxwell Award?

Here are the predicted winners for every award that will be handed out during the broadcast.

College Football’s Most Improved Players of 2013

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The 2013 college football regular season featured some truly tremendous bounce-back campaigns from teams who struggled in 2012 such as Auburn, Missouri, Michigan State and Duke.

It was also a season that featured plenty of great individual bounce-back performances from players who were able to put their forgettable showings in 2012 in the rear-view mirror and rise up and become high-impact players this year.

Here’s a look at the one player at every position who made the most drastic improvement in 2013.

Should Marqise Lee Return to USC For His Senior Year?

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“I can tell you this, he’s my first priority on the recruiting trail. Marqise is a six-star recruit for USC right now.”

That was USC receivers coach Tee Martin’s answer after he was recently asked about the future of his top pass-catching pupil: Marqise Lee.

Martin may be known as one of college football’s hottest up-and-coming recruiters, but even he knows that convincing the standout wide out to return for one more year will be a formidable task.

The big burning question surrounding the Trojans program right now is will Lee come back? It’s a question that he’ll reportedly answer after the team’s bowl game. At this point, though, the real debate is should he return?

Before the start of the 2013 season, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that this would be the record-setting receiver’s final farewell campaign before leaving the land of Troy for the riches of the NFL. Following a sensational sophomore season in 2012, in which he led the nation with 118 catches and took home the prestigious Biletnikoff Award, he was praised this offseason and lauded as the premier prospect at his position and widely projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2014 draft.

Unfortunately, injuries took their took toll on the star junior this year, and he was unable to put together the type of dominant performance that many were expecting following his spectacular breakthrough season last year.

After dealing with a shoulder injury during preseason camp, Lee was plagued by lingering knee problems throughout the 2013 season. He just never seemed to be close to 100 percent. In 10 games of action, he hauled in just 50 passes for 673 yards and found the end zone just twice.

On top of the injuries, Lee had to deal with a midseason head-coaching switch and highly inconsistent play from the quarterback position. Overall, while it may not have been a truly lost season, it certainly wasn’t the year that the highly touted receiver was hoping for.

That’s why the former heralded 4-star recruit, who rose up from a tumultuous upbringing to become one of college football’s most thrilling playmakers, is now left to make a life-impacting decision.

Declare or repair?

Calling Lee’s draft stock damaged may be a bit of an exaggerated overstatement, considering that NFL scouts know exactly what he’s capable of when healthy. USC’s 2012 game film didn’t all of a sudden magically disappear. Pro personnel evaluators still vividly remember those seven double-digit catch performances from last year, including an awe-inspiring 16-catch, 345-yard evisceration of Arizona’s secondary.

Unfortunately, while the 6’0’’, 195-pound junior was struggling through an injury-mired campaign this year, other top underclassmen receiver prospects such as Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, Penn State’s Allen Robinson, LSU’s Jarvis Landry, Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks all captured the attention of scouts with their outstanding performances.

Lee’s stock hasn’t been damaged, but it surely has taken a hit, mostly due to the fact that other big-name receiver prospects in the 2014 class have raised their level of play and shown that they have the skills to be just as effective at the next level.

Forgotten about? No.

Downgraded a bit? Yes.

Now, that once foregone conclusive decision that Lee would enter the 2014 draft and be a high first-round pick has all of a sudden become somewhat cloudy.

Luckily, Lee still has plenty of backers and supporters, even after his disappointing 2013 campaign.

UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. has compared Lee to NFL legend Marvin Harrison.

NFL.com’s Albert Breer quoted an NFL scout, who called Lee a “stud” and another, who said he “had the skills to dominate.”

NFL.com’s Charles Davis said he has the potential to be “scary good.”

Still, it’s Lee’s position coach Tee Martin—someone who the receiver has developed a close relationship with and someone who will obviously be trying to sway him to return for his senior year—who summed it up best. 

In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Martin said “My deal for him is, do you want to come back and try to see if you want to be a top-five pick? If just being a first-rounder is good for you, then go ahead.'”

Becoming a potential top-5 pick in the 2015 draft, or being a first-round choice in the upcoming 2014 draft is what’s on the table at this point.

Lee certainly knows the hazards that await a star player if he chooses to return to school for his senior year. He saw it first hand with former teammate: QB Matt Barkley, who passed up the chance to potentially be a first-round pick in the 2012 draft in order to return to USC for his final season. Barkley was lavished with praise and built up to be the preseason No. 1 overall prospect of his class. However, after a disappointing showing as a senior, he lost out on millions, dropping to the fourth round of the 2013 draft.

And that’s the risk. There’s the rub.

Lee knows he’s ready for the NFL right now. He knows he really has nothing left to prove on the collegiate level. He knows that even after a sub-par season, he’ll most likely still hear his name called on the first night of the 2014 draft if he chooses to declare.

Still, there’s temptation lurking in Los Angeles.

The temptation to reassert his dominance next season.

The temptation to repair his reputation as the premier player at his position.

The temptation to end his collegiate career on a high note.

He’s going to have two of the sport’s most convincing recruiters—Martin and newly crowned USC head coach Steve Sarkisian—pulling out all the stops to try to persuade him to come back and fulfill the destiny that was forecast for him before the 2013 season started.

Will he listen?

We’ll find out.

College Football 2013 All-Conference Teams

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My 2013 College Football All-American Team featured the players who I felt were truly the top performers in the country at their respective positions this season. However, there are plenty of other standout players in each individual conference who deserve their fair share of recognition as well.

Here’s a look at my 2013 All-Conference teams for all 11 leagues at the FBS level.

College Football 2013 All-American Team

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The 2013 college football season has given us a fair share of dazzling breakout performances. Unfortunately, though, it’s also featured a few disappointing campaigns from highly touted stars.

Players like Florida State QB Jameis Winston, Misouri DE Michael Sam and Boston College RB Andre Williams have all captured the attention of the college football world with fantastic breakthrough seasons. But there were also let-down showings from big-name stars such as South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, USC WR Marqise Lee and Georgia RB Todd Gurley—three players who were bit hard by the injury bug this year.

Still, even though the likes of Clowney, Lee and Gurley failed to live up to their preseason hype, there were still plenty of great individual performances that deserve appreciation.

So who really was college football’s true cream of the crop this year?

Here’s a look at the standout performers of 2013 who deserve All-American honors.