The first installment of my top 30 big board for the 2017 NFL draft is here, right in the nick of time for draft season. Feel free to yell at me on Twitter if you hate my rankings. Let the games begin!
1. Myles Garrett, EDGE, Texas A&M
Myles Garrett may be the first unanimous number one player in a draft class since Andrew Luck in 2012. His combination of size, athleticism, and ability as a pass rusher is quite rare, putting him squarely in the generational player discussion. He is an instant difference maker at the next level as an edge rusher in a 4-3 or 3-4.
2. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Inside linebackers are not usually considered top-five prospects in a draft class, but Alabama’s Reuben Foster is one of the few exceptions. His ability to key and diagnose, cover sideline to sideline with top-notch athletic ability, and finish ball carriers with uncanny power is special. The team that selects Foster will get a perennial Pro Bowl anchor for the middle of their defense.
3. Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
Although the concerns of his work ethic and character have been brought up by many draft insiders, Malik McDowell’s talent and upside as a hybrid defensive lineman is surreal. I could make the case that you can play him at nearly every position on the defensive line in an odd or even front. His blend of quickness, bend, and power for a man who is 6’6, 280 lbs. is just unfair for opposing offensive linemen. While his floor is lower than some of the top prospects, his upside is as good as any player in this draft class.
4. Tim Williams, EDGE, Alabama
Premier pass rushers with the traits that Tim Williams has do not last long in the green room on draft night. A lot of analysts say he is just a speed rusher with elite athletic ability, but nothing else. However, I’m here to say that although he is better suited as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he is a much more well-rounded prospect than what he is given credit for, especially in run support. In fact, he is one of the most refined pass rushers in this class with his incorporation of active hand usage and spin moves. The bottom line is that Williams is going to be a double-digit sack guy in the NFL, and a player with that kind of talent warrants a top five selection in my opinion.
5. Deshone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
In what is considered a weak quarterback class, which I think is a myth quite frankly, Notre Dame’s Deshone Kizer is the best of the bunch. One of the main reasons for that is because of his massive upside. On tape, he makes all of the throws with his strong arm and uncanny poise to stand in the pocket and deliver a strike down the field. His biggest issue is undoubtedly his inconsistency. He makes the easy throws look hard at times, but comes right back and completes a throw in the tightest of windows. He is a risk given his downside to get in a funk, but he has a skill set similar to Andrew Luck, and his upside to be a superstar is worth a top-five selection.
6. Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Jamal Adams recently implied that he may be considering a return to LSU in 2017 to focus on winning the Heisman, but if he decides to declare, he is a complete safety prospect. Adams is known for his highlight hits on ball carriers, but his range and ball skills in the back end are just as impressive. As far as playmakers in the secondary go, Adams has the best chance to make an instant impact for a team on Sunday.
7. Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
Other than the group of quarterbacks, the cornerback class is probably going to be the hardest to find a consensus on in ranking the top guys among draft analysts. To me, Quincy Wilson is the best cornerback in the 2017 NFL draft with his sticky man coverage skills and elite playmaking ability. At the LOS, he is as suffocating a press cornerback as anybody in the country with his length and controlled aggression. In addition, he is so natural playing with his back to the ball and looking over his shoulder to make a play. As a taller corner listed at 6’1, his transitions are not always as smooth in off man coverage, but his recovery speed allows him to get back on the receiver’s hip pocket. Wilson is a true shutdown cornerback, and a team is going to reap the benefits of taking the chance on such a young and talented prospect.
8. Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
The most underrated player at this point in the process is Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. As a redshirt-sophomore, Thomas is a young buck with loads of potential. His refined hand usage and ability to convert speed to power in a flash has been a nightmare for offensive linemen in the Pac-12 this season. Ideally, he is a left end in a 4-3, with the option to kick inside in nickel packages. I can also see a future for Thomas in an odd front as a five technique with his strength and ability to shed blocks with ease. Overall, Thomas could skyrocket up boards soon because of his potential to grow even more, especially as a pass rusher with surprising bend.
9. Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
Jonathan Allen was undoubtedly one of the best defensive players in college football this year, finishing with more first place Heisman votes than finalist Jabrill Peppers, and his future in the NFL is also bright. I project him to be a valuable starter in an odd or even front as a defensive end, who like Thomas, can kick inside in nickel packages. The one part of his evaluation where I differ from the rest is that I don’t see the top-three upside the senior is billed to have as a prospect. He uses his hands as good as any defensive lineman coming out of college in recent memory, and he is as safe a bet to be a day-one impact starter as any prospect in this class. His ceiling, however, is a bit lower than some of the other top prospects.
10. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
The recent success of running backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, and Melvin Gordon reinvigorated confidence in general managers to take a player at that position in the first round again. Many have Leonard Fournette at the top of the position group this year, but to me, Dalvin Cook has a skill set that projects better to the NFL. With his ability to play on all three downs, Cook can do it all. His shiftiness and big play ability catches the eyes of many, but it is his receiving ability that sets him apart from the running backs in this class. Multiple nagging injuries during his career at Florida State cloud Cook’s evaluation, but if he can overcome the durability concerns that scouts have, he can have an impact similar to what Jamaal Charles made for the Kansas City Chiefs.
11. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Corey Davis is my favorite receiver in this draft class, mostly because of his route running prowess for a player his size. His uses his size and physicality to make contested catches at the high point with strong hands, then breaks away with uncanny athleticism after the catch. Bleacher Report’s senior NFL draft analyst, Matt Miller, compared his skill set to Josh Gordon, without the off-field issues. Despite the suspect level of competition he played against compared to other top receivers in this class, he has the highest upside to be a dominant number one receiver at the next level.
12. Takk McKinley, EDGE, UCLA
The biggest sleeper in this class may be UCLA edge rusher Takk McKinley. With 10 sacks and three forced fumbles this season, McKinley put his name on the map as a pass rusher with elite athletic ability. In fact, his accolades this season combined with his quick first step and ability to convert speed to power while rushing the quarterback could make him a top-10 selection when it is all said and done. He is a bit undersized, but I think he could be a disruptive force in the NFL, ideally as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
13. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
The most well-rounded cornerback prospect in the draft is Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore. With his patience in Man, read/react skills in Zone, and physicality in run support, Lattimore checks all of the boxes at the cornerback position. Combine that with his top-notch athleticism, he is a special prospect. The redshirt-sophomore only has one year of production because of injuries early in his career for the Buckeyes, but he has the upside to be a valuable starter on the outside as a corner who is not scheme dependent.
14. Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
Caleb Brantley projects well to the NFL as one-gap penetrating three technique who can be disruptive with his active hands and quick first step off of the snap. Interior pass rushers are a valued commodity in the NFL, and I expect Brantley to test well at the Combine, especially the 10-yard split, and solidify his status as a top-15 pick in the draft.
15. Derek Barnett, EDGE, Tennessee
Barnett’s 2016 tape was far better than what he showed in 2015, looking leaner and quicker as a pass rusher off of the edge. As one of the more productive pass rushers in this draft class, Barnett has the resume of a sure-fire first round pick on paper. Another aspect of Barnett’s game I appreciated was his high energy, effort and competitive toughness. If Barnett could win the corner with a little more bend, look out NFL.
16. John Ross, WR, Washington
The second coming of Brandin Cooks has arrived, and his name is John Ross. The biggest playmaker in this draft possesses the deep speed to blow the roof off of a defense, short-area quickness to win the release and make defenders miss after the catch, and the hands to go up and catch a ball in traffic. There is no doubt in my mind that Ross is going to be one of the best players in this draft class early in his career, but will his thin frame be able to endure in the long run?
17. Budda Baker, S, Washington
Speaking of playmakers for the Washington Huskies, safety Budda Baker is one of my favorites in the class. His reactionary quickness, range, and ball skills are second to none, making him one of the most feared back-end players in the country to opposing quarterbacks. The only problem? Size. At 5’10, 192, Baker may fall below the size thresholds for NFL teams, and one has to wonder if he can withstand the duration of a 16-game season with his frame. Despite that, his fearless mentality in run support and in the air is fun to watch. I think he will make a team extremely happy that they took a chance on the undersized playmaker.
18. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Mike Williams has flashes of greatness every now and then, enforcing his dominance upon opponents with his strength and size, but he also has lapses of concentration as well. There are plays on tape where he is in a contested situation, and the ball goes through his hands. These kind of inconsistent plays in traffic concern me, but I know for a fact the talent is there. Once a team unlocks it, Williams is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
19. Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
Although in different classes, Teez Tabor is quite similar to his former teammate and first round pick Vernon Hargreaves III. Like Hargreaves, Tabor is an undersized cornerback with an alpha-dog mentality in terms of his aggressiveness and competitive toughness. To me, Tabor is at his best in zone coverage, where he is asked to read and diagnose, highlighting his terrific anticipation and ball skills. However, he is a bit inconsistent in man coverage. He is impatient and overaggressive in man coverage with his hands all over the place, but my biggest concern is him playing with his back to the ball. He can be a dynamic playmaker, but with his feast or famine play style, he could also find himself in a coach’s doghouse.
20. Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn
Lawson came back to Auburn in 2016 and had a productive season en route to being named a first-team All American. There is no question that Lawson is one of the most talented and athletic pass rushers in the class, but his evaluation will hinge on the medical re-checks in February at the NFL Combine. Although his hip could make him free-fall down draft boards in April, he is a complete three-down player who will make an impact in the NFL if healthy.
21. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
As an All-America choice in 2016, Zach Cunningham is one of the most productive off-ball linebackers in all of college football. He spearheaded the Vanderbilt defense with 119 tackles this season, and he checks off all of the boxes to be a productive weak-side linebacker at the next level. Cunningham does tend to overrun plays at times, but his range, power to take on blocks, and sound fundamentals at the point of attack could make him a slam-dunk pick in the first round.
22. Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Despite his lack of experience, Mitch Trubisky projects well to the NFL with good arm strength and precision at the quarterback position. On top of that, he throws with anticipation and excellent eye discipline. He does not have the upside of Kizer or Watson, but unlike those two quarterback prospects, he values ball security. As a well-rounded quarterback without an elite trait, I don’t think Trubisky is ever going to be a star, but I do believe he is a valuable starter who can win games at the next level.
23. Sidney Jones IV, CB, Washington
Sidney Jones might have the best feet of any cornerback in this class. His ability to stop and start in off man coverage without much stiffness while changing direction speaks to his hip fluidity and reactionary quickness. In addition, he has no problem turning his head, looking for the ball, and making a play at the catch point with his good ball skills. The knock on Jones is his LOS skills. He gets pushed around by bigger, stronger receivers in press coverage, and tends to panic and grab instead of playing with technique. I wonder if he can put on a couple of pounds without losing his quickness, but regardless, Jones is another playmaker at the cornerback position worth taking in the first round.
24. Marcus Maye, S, Florida
Marcus Maye is one of the most complete safety prospects in this draft class with his size, athletic ability, ball skills, range and man coverage. He doesn’t quite have the highlight hits that Keanu Neal had, but his physicality and aggressiveness is on display each and every game. Maye needs to interview well in the pre-draft process to solidify his status, as he was suspended for the season opener last year for an undisclosed team violation. He also suffered a broken arm earlier in the 2016 season, but he is expected to be back in time for February’s Combine. Overall, Maye’s game translates well to the next level, and I believe he is a day-one starter at either safety position in the NFL.
25. OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
OJ Howard is the best of the bunch in one of the best tight end classes in recent memory. His combination of athleticism, blocking, and hands makes him a valued commodity. He has a chance to rise even higher if he has another excellent postseason, as he did in the National Championship last year against Clemson.
26. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
The productive quarterback out of Clemson, Deshaun Watson, has a high ceiling with a skill set similar to Marcus Mariota, but his floor is the lowest of the three top quarterbacks. His decision making is extremely questionable with the closed-window throws he attempts, but that is the gunslinger mentality you have to live with. His athleticism makes him a dangerous threat outside of the pocket, and he is at his best when the play breaks down. I don’t think he is ready to play right away in the NFL, but with time, Watson has huge reward potential.
27. Jabrill Peppers, OLB/SS, Michigan
I’m lower on Peppers than most draft analysts, but it’s mostly because of the unknown. He has the talent and athleticism to be a dynamic defender as a hybrid strong safety/weak-side linebacker, but I have yet to see it on tape. Peppers constantly overruns plays and loses his lane responsibilities, but he does have awesome hits for the highlight tape. He could very well be an All Pro in the NFL, but if a team does not have a plan for Peppers when they draft him, he will falter. The biggest wild card in the draft features rare playmaking ability, but what do you do with him?
28. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Again, I’m lower than the consensus on another player, and that is LSU RB Leonard Fournette. He is a load of a runner with his power, and when he gets downhill, good luck stopping him. I have no questions about his athleticism whatsoever. The problems I have with Fournette are his vision and long-term durability. His high-cut running style reminds me of Darren McFadden and Latavius Murray, and he lacks the change of direction skills to fit in a zone blocking scheme. In the right power-running offense, Fournette could be dominant, but let’s pump the brakes a little bit.
29. Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
Ryan Ramczyk is the best tackle in a very weak offensive line class this year, and I think his refined technique could make him a reliable starter in the NFL. It was announced earlier today that Ramczyk will undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip after the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan, which he will play in. A tough, hard-nosed tackle with a mean streak in the run game and sound technique in pass protection will warrant first round consideration in any draft class.
30. Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
If you could bottle up all of his flashes throughout his career at Florida, Jarrad Davis is the prototypical NFL inside linebacker. Davis has proven that he can do everything you want in a linebacker prospect, whether that is to fill the hole and finish with power, or cover tight ends on a seam route in man coverage. The problem with Davis is inconsistency. He is overaggressive, and he tends to take flat range and pursuit angles. The talent is there, but can he put it together?
Best of the Rest (Just Missed It):
– Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
– Dawuane Smoot, EDGE, Illinois
– Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn
– Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
– Joe Mathis, EDGE, Washington
– Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
– Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
– Vita Vea, DT, Washington
– Marlon Humphrey, CB/S, Alabama
– Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
– Desmond King, CB, Iowa
– Tedric Thompson, S, Colorado
– Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss
– Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M
– Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
– Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
– Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State
– Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
– Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa
– Taco Charlton, EDGE, Michigan