|Caleb Kelly (in the neon shirt) isn't just one of the top recruits in the country at 27 NCAA Division I offers, but he was labeled Cali Gold Mine's top overall pick if he were eligible for the NFL Draft (photo by Lorenzo J. Reyna).|
What if the top first round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft consisted of the top prep prospects in California?
I’m not saying that the 32 players I sorted through are guaranteed a future NFL contract. However, these guys actually have a skill set that most pro teams would covet; such as athleticism, mean streak, height, field vision, etc.
I not only compiled a list of some of the most athletic freakish athletes in the Golden State, I also included some under-the-radar prospects who could sneak in as a first round surprise. They get recognition based on what I’ve seen from them.
So if April’s draft was full of Golden State prep stars, here’s what Cali Gold Mine’s list would be from one to 32:
1) Caleb Kelly, outside linebacker, Clovis West: With his athleticism, imposing size and game changing ability, Kelly is already on a lot of college’s recruiting boards. He’s had 27 NCAA Division I programs – including Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama and Florida State – clamoring for his services by offering him a scholarship. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Kelly would be a Clay Matthews-type for an NFL 3-4 defense or be an athletic weakside ‘backer in the mold of Khalil Mack.
2) Oluwole Betiku, defensive end, Serra (Gardena): Betiku would give a pass rush a jolt of electricity with his explosion off the ball and his relentless pursuit against quarterbacks. His Hudl account states that he runs a 40-yard dash time of 4.6. Only Vic Beasley of Clemson ran a faster 40 time during February’s NFL Combine according to SB Nation. In this era of pass-happy offenses, pass rushing specialists would likely be a top option for teams holding the first or fifth overall selection. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Betiku would be the first rush end taken off the board.
3) Jonah Williams, offensive tackle, Folsom: The future Alabama lineman has the quick feet of a left tackle and the mean streak of a lion protecting its cub. Williams already has the size desired by NFL teams at 6-foot-5, 295-pounds and will likely grow. His feet and hands can make him a trench cornerstone for a future NFL team. One other thing, he runs a 4.9 40-yard dash.
4) K.J. Costello, quarterback, Santa Margarita Catholic: The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Costello has been labeled the most college ready quarterback for the California Class of 2016. Futhermore, Costello is the nation's No. 2 pro-style quarterback according to Rivals.com. He’s heading to a place (Stanford) that turned John Elway and Andrew Luck into NFL first round picks. Costello’s arm strength, field vision and zip are huge pluses.
5) Javon McKinley, wide receiver, Centennial (Corona): Regardless if he’s lining up in the red zone or from his own 20-yard line, McKinley will either be a goal line scoring option or a deep threat. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has tormented defensive backs and different coverages throughout his prep career.
6) Jack Jones, WR, Long Beach Poly: Could Jones become the next DeSean Jackson at Long Beach Poly? With his speed, second gear and capability to stretch the swing pass into a 50-yard gain, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Jones would be a hot commodity for a wide receiver needy team.
7) Boss Tagaloa, defensive tackle, De La Salle (Concord): He’s the biggest “Boss” in the Bay Area because of his brute strength, explosion after the snap and the way he swallows gaps against the running game. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Tagaloa looks like a young Star Lotulelei (Carolina Panthers). He can double as a nose tackle in a 3-4 or a three technique defender in the 4-3.
8) Leevel Tatum, DT, Edison (Fresno): If anyone paid close attention to the Central Section’s Division I champions last year, you probably saw No. 55 set the tone for the Tigers’ front line. The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Tatum doubles as pass rushing extraordinaire and running back destroyer.
9) Krys Barnes, OLB, Liberty (Bakersfield): Like Kelly, Barnes is an athletic, energetic, game changing outside ‘backer. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound UCLA commit can cover inside wide receivers and force turnovers against the pass or run.
10) Kentrell Love, cornerback, Centennial (Corona): With tall cornerbacks like Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson and Aqib Talib revolutionizing the position, the 6-foot-2 Love would be in high demand because of his size, press ability and hands. He’s also thrown his weight around to level running backs.
11) Mique Juarez, OLB, North Torrance: The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Juarez has ridiculous closing speed, which makes him look like he’s a slot receiver. He’s a ball hawk and rugged hitter on defense. He’s also lined up at quarterback, defensive end and cornerback. Yes, cornerback. The USC pledge is built like Shaq Thompson from a size and athleticism standpoint.
12) Lokeni Toailoa, inside linebacker, Carter (Rialto): Forget the fact that the UCLA commit may not have the size (6-foot-1, 215-pounds). Toailoa’s angle pursuits, strength and intensity makes him look like a young Ray Lewis.
13) Devin Asiasi, tight end, De La Salle (Concord): Asiasi might not have elite speed for a tight end right now, but the 6-foot-5, 255-pound mountain has size and toughness for the position. He shows excellent concentration against double coverage and can fix a team’s red zone woes in a heartbeat.
14) Bryson Young, OLB/DE, Buchanan (Clovis): He looks like a young Aldon Smith at 6-foot-5, 250-pounds and has an identical skill set. Young wreaks havoc against the pass. He’s one of the best all-around athletes in Fresno County.
15) Luke Wattenberg, OT, Serra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano): He’s a powerful down blocker and road clearer in the running game. In fact, I counted 20 plays that saw Wattenberg pancake his opponent when watching his Hudl film. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Washington commit is also dominant on pulling plays.
16) David Long, WR, Loyola (Los Angeles): Long could move to cornerback, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder might have a brighter future at wide receiver because of 4.4 40-yard dash time and shows a running back-like balance with staying on his feet and then fight for extra yards.
17) Lamar Jackson, cornerback/safety, Franklin (Elk Grove): Jackson is similar to Juarez because he lines up and does damage in a variety of ways. He darts past defenses as a read option quarterback, sprints to the end zone on fly sweep plays as a running back, locks up the top wide receiver at cornerback and disrupts passing plays at safety. It’s the secondary, though, where Jackson projects to play at the next level.
18) Darian Owens, WR, Clovis West: The receiver position is deep in the Class of 2016 and Owens – who committed to UCLA in April – adds to the depth. Owens is more of a physical scrapper who fights for the football and muscles cornerbacks like a young Anquan Boldin.
19) Romello Harris, running back, Tulare Union: While the running back position may no longer be a hot commodity in the first round, it’s hard to pass on the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Harris. After all, he bounces inside and outside while gaining lots of yards in the running game, plus adds a receiving element when he lines up in the slot.
20) Collin Johnson, WR, Valley Christian (San Jose): In an era of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin, big wideouts have grown in popularity. Johnson blends in with the aforementioned tall targets because of his 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame and the big play talent he possesses.
21) Michael Pittman II, WR/TE, Oaks Christian (Westlake Village): Pittman II can haul down some crazy catches and isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body to get into the end zone. Lately, the son of the former Super Bowl winning running back has been projected as a tight end or outside linebacker. He may not have his dad’s muscles or speed, but the younger Pittman has size and versatility.
22) C.J. Pollard, safety, Serra (Gardena): The future USC Trojan doubles as hard hitter and aerial snatcher in the Serra secondary. At 6-foot-1 and 185-pounds, Pollard already has impressive size for a safety. He also has bloodlines, as his father Marvin was a USC star cornerback from 1988 to 1991.
23) Frank Martin, OT, Mater Dei (Santa Ana): Martin will need to improve his pad level at the college level, but the USC commit brings size (6-foot-6, 300-pounds) versatility (can play tackle and guard) and nastiness.
24) Chacho Ulloa, safety, Centennial (Corona): Ulloa has the mindset of a wide receiver when he leads the Centennial defense: he wants the ball. The bellicose Ulloa will either strip the ball and force the fumble or grab the ball from the sky for the interception. The 6-foot, 190-pound safety currently holds 18 offers including Michigan State, Stanford, Utah, Norte Dame and Wisconsin.
25) Damian Alloway, WR/return man, Summit (Fontana): The 5-foot-11 Alloway can annihilate schemes as a slot receiver and return ace. He can be a Randall Cobb for an NFL offense.
26) Max Gilliam, QB, Thousand Oaks: While Costello is considered the most college ready signal-caller, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Gilliam is considered one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the state. The Cal commit could be a Colin Kaepernick or Marcus Mariota for a pro franchise.
27) Curtis Robinson, OLB, Mater Dei (Santa Ana): He’s built more like a strong safety right now at 6-foot-3, 208-pounds, but Robinson has a defensive lineman’s mean streak and his closing pursuits makes him look like a marquee weakside 'backer down the road. The Stanford commit is a reliable blitzer and turnover machine in Orange County.
28) Theo Howard, WR, Westlake: He has the shiftiness of Barry Sanders, the route running of Marvin Harrison and the hurdle ability of Oregon WR and track star Devon Allen. The 6-foot, 185-pound Howard would be a No. 1 option on Hail Mary plays because of his scorching speed.
29) Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, WR, Rohnert Park (Rancho Cotate): If pro teams are still looking for the size/speed aspect in a wideout, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Taylor-Yamanoha would be a valuable pick up. The Louisville commit is a jump ball artist like Larry Fitzgerald. He can also turn swing passes into touchdowns.
30) Jamal Hicks, safety, Narbonne (Harbor City): Hicks has only been offered scholarships by mid-major programs like Colorado State and Hawaii. But at 6-foot-3 and 190-pounds, plus his wide receiver like hands and powerful hitting, teams could be passing on a future Kam Chancellor.
31) Dru Mathis, OLB, Buena (Ventura): Mathis is considered another undersized OLB at 6-foot-3, 200-pounds. However, Mathis moves like he’s a 100-meter track sprinter and he collapses the pocket as a pass rusher. He holds 13 offers including Oregon State and Vanderbilt.
32) J.J. Taylor, RB, Centennial (Corona): So Taylor is undersized at 5-foot-6 and approximately 165-pounds. But remember that Maurice Jones-Drew was a diminutive running back who turned out really well. Taylor - who committed to Arizona on July 18 - adds surprising inside running power along with his leg-breaking elusiveness.