There’s a lot more NFL talent in the newly formed American Athletic Conference than people think.  From a potential top three pick to sleepers in the final frame, the conference should be well represented in the 2014 draft.  Here’s the word from the scouting community as well as a few observations on a number of players in the AAC.

Cincinnati

– From what I’ve been told scouts stamped linebacker Greg Blair with a late round grade and its based primarily on estimated measurables.  Personally I think Blair is one of those players you must grade on the film and put aside his alleged size and speed.  The senior is a playmaker who stacks well against the run and shows skill dropping into coverage.

–  I really like what I see from quarterback Brendon Kay and think he’s underrated at present time.  He doesn’t have a great arm but its strong enough to play at the next level.  What stands out is the poise, patience and decision making Kay displayed last season after taking over the starting job mid-year. His consistent progress on the field is also a plus.  I rank him as a late rounder now but a good senior campaign could help Kay move into the middle rounds.

Connecticut

­- Linebacker Yawin Smallwood is a tremendous combination of instincts and wherewithal on the field.  He lacks the speed of his predecessors, (Sio Moore & Trevardo Williams) yet the junior is a steady defender who rarely makes mental errors.  Right now he projects as a third round prospect, something which would improve with good pre-draft workouts.

Houston

– Houston arrives to their new conference minus two playmakers, receiver DeWayne Pearce (supplemental draft) and running back Charles Sims (transfer to West Virginia).  No senior on the roster presently grades as draftable but one junior who intrigues scouts is defensive tackle Joey Mbu.  The athletic lineman possesses terrific size and above average athleticism.  He’s still rough around the edges but comes with a large degree of upside.

Louisville

– I am usually on the conservative side when grading quarterbacks considering a bust in the early part of round one can set a franchise back for years.  That being the case I cannot say enough about Teddy Bridgewater.  On film he combines some of the best attributes of Robert Griffin III (the ability to make plays outside the pocket with his arm and legs) along with those of Andrew Luck (poise and patience inside the pocket as well as accuracy).  He lacks classic size and at times looks almost small in the pocket but there is a lot to like about Bridgewater’s next level potential.  My feeling is he’s more than a read-option quarterback and is someone who can effectively lead a team from the pocket on a consistent basis.

–  Tackle Jamon Brown is another underclassman from Louisville to get excited about.  The big lineman is athletic, mobile and stands out as a run blocker and pass protector.  Brown needs to get stronger and improve on the little things but can develop into a second day draft pick if he continues to progress.

Rutgers

– Several months ago I tweeted Brandon Coleman is expected to enter the 2014 draft if he plays well in 2013.  That’s the word from sources close to the Rutgers program.  Coleman is a large target with big play potential.  He causes mismatches everywhere on the field and comes with great upside.  Consistency is an issue as Coleman drops easy passes on occasion, which can be the difference between a round one pick or a second frame selection.

– Keep an eye on Jeremy Deering.  After not meeting potential at receiver the senior was moved to safety in the spring and the early accounts are good.  He has the size and athleticism but needs to put it together.

– When scouting the Rutgers offensive line most of the talk centers around senior guard Antwan Lowery but my money says the player to watch is junior Kaleb Johnson.  The left tackle is a nimble athlete who easily moves about the field or adjusts his body to shut down the blitz.  In the end I think Johnson is kicked inside to guard at the next level.

–  Twins Jamal Merrell and Jamil Merrell offer contrasting styles on the field.  Jamal is a smooth, athletic weak side linebacker prospect who covers a lot of area on the field but plays soft.  Jamil is an undersized college defensive end who plays like his hair is on fire and will likely slide to outside linebacker at the next level.  I don’t have much spread between the two on my list and Jamal is graded slightly higher.  Friends in the scouting community have told me they rank Jamil just ahead of his brother.

SMU

– Quarterback Garrett Gilbert was much maligned during his days underneath center for Texas.  He’s had a bit of a renaissance after transferring to SMU and his tape last season looked promising.  Gilbert lacks a rifle arm but showed poise, smarts and accuracy throughout the year.  Recent June Jones quarterbacks have had little success in the NFL but Gilbert can compete at the next level if he continues to build off his 2012 campaign.

Temple

– If there’s a sleeper program out there with a number of sleeper NFL prospects on the roster it’s Temple.  Defensive tackle Levi Brown is a legitimate late round choice and a hard working interior lineman who will clog the gaps or make plays on the ball.  Abdul Smith and Zamel Johnson are both developing corners with potential in dime packages and on special teams.  Athletic Cody Booth moves from tight end to left tackle this season and is a prospect with a good amount of upside.  The latter three could move into the late rounds.

– Still no sightings of Shahid Paulhill, the talented defensive tackle/two-gap end who was dismissed from the Temple program earlier this year.