2017 NFL Draft: Pre-Combine Top 50 Big Board
The 2017 NFL draft is near, and my latest big board of the top 50 prospects before February’s Scouting Combine features both risers and notable cuts. Feel free to yell at me on Twitter if you hate my rankings. Let the games begin!
1. Myles Garrett, EDGE, Texas A&M
– The consensus number one player in this draft possesses a rare blend of power, bend, and hand usage. He is the perfect mold for a right defensive end in a 4-3 defense.
2. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
– An elite inside linebacker prospect who can play all three downs at a high level. His ability to come downhill, sort and finish through traffic, and cover ground sideline to sideline puts him in the upper echelon of linebacker prospects.
3. Jamal Adams, S, LSU
– Adams is a missile coming downhill, but he is also able to control his aggression and make fundamental open-field tackles. At the same time, he is a stud in both man and zone coverage.
4. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
– Lattimore is one of the best pure athletes in this draft, and he also checks off all of the boxes as a cover corner. He can play off, zone, and press each at a high level. The only question I have is durability, which is something that could be clarified later this month.
5. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
– For as big as Corey Davis is at 6’3, it is rare to see such silky smooth movement skills in a wide receiver. He easily passes the three phases of before the catch, the catch point, and after the catch. Other than a lack of big time competition, it is hard to find a major flaw.
6. Takkarist McKinley, EDGE, UCLA
– Looking for a player with one of the highest ceilings in the draft? Look no further than UCLA edge defender Takkarist McKinley. He is a natural athlete who can win the corner and hold his own in the run game. Stay tuned on his shoulder though, as it could require surgery.
7. Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
– Hooker has game-breaking ball skills and range at the free safety position. The one-year starter at Ohio State needs to wrap up better in the open field, but he is the type of player that could change your defense as a centerfielder.
8. Carl Lawson, EDGE, Auburn
– Lawson’s draft stock is going to live and die by how he checks out medically at the Combine, but he can flat out rush the quarterback. He displays excellent hand usage and a wide array of counter moves off the edge. Lawson is undoubtedly one of the most refined pass rushers in this draft class.
9. DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
– This quarterback class contains a lot of different flavors, but my preference is Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer. He makes questionable decisions at times, but he can simply make throws that others cannot. With his pocket poise, arm talent, and athletic ability, he is the clubhouse leader of the 2017 quarterback class.
10. Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
– Get ready for this redshirt-sophomore to blow up the Combine later this month. The hybrid defensive lineman from Stanford, Solomon Thomas, can play all over the defensive line. He is not a finished product yet, but his ceiling is as high as any.
11. Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
– If you created a prototypical press man cornerback on Madden, the player would look quite similar to Florida’s Quincy Wilson. He is not as consistent as you would like in run support, but he has the play strength, ball skills, and footwork to be a future Pro Bowler at the position.
12. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
– Dalvin Cook is going to have to answer some off field and durability concerns later this month at the Combine, but he may have the best feet of any running back I’ve scouted. His vision, fluidity, and ability to play on all three downs makes him a running back worth taking in the top 15.
13. Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
– Some may like Jonathan Allen more than I do, but I am definitely a fan of the player. I think he is going to be a left end in a 4-3 defense who will kick inside in nickel packages. He may not have the ceiling of a player like Solomon Thomas or Malik McDowell, but he is ready for starting NFL snaps right away.
14. Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
– In terms of overall talent, I’m not sure there are five players in this draft better than Michigan State’s Malik McDowell. The problem is his inconsistent effort on the field. He disappears too often in games he should be dominating, but to be fair, he played out of position in 2016. If he bottles up his talent, he can be one of the most disruptive interior pass rushers in the league.
15. David Njoku, TE, Miami (FL)
– The freakiest of freak athletes, David Njoku, has some scouts saying he has the highest ceiling of any tight end prospect they have ever graded. For an example of just how athletic he is, Njoku has the second highest mark in the high jump in school history. On top of his athletic ability, he explodes out of his routes, finishes at the catch point, and blows by defenders with the ball in his hands. His in-line blocking is going to need refinement, but he is only 20, and there is so much more room to grow.
16. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
– Although his play strength is not where it needs to be, Zach Cunningham projects as a starting outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense at the next level with his uncanny movement and mental processing skills.
17. Tim Williams, EDGE, Alabama
– Tim Williams has a rough history of red flags off of the field, which will be addressed at the Combine, but he is one of the best pure pass rushers in this draft. Some say he is a specialist, but he is a much better run defender than some give him credit for.
18. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
– I want to see how fast Mike Williams runs the 40-yard dash later this month because I question if he can win with separation at the next level, but he seems to always make big plays when they matter most. He has incredible play strength, and his tape is quite similar to former Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.
19. OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
– The best prospect at the Senior Bowl showed off his complete skill set as a tight end prospect in Mobile. He is an intimidating physical specimen who can not only stretch the middle of a defense, but he is also one of the most refined in-line blockers I’ve ever scouted at the position.
20. Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut
– The biggest riser on my board is built like a Greek god. At 6’3, 217 lbs., Obi Melifonwu is a beast at the line of scrimmage. He is built like a true strong safety, but he also has the athleticism and range to be versatile schematically. Watch for him to start appearing in the first round of mock drafts.
21. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
– Watson makes some of the most boneheaded decisions on tape, but there is no denying that he shines brightest in the spotlight. The best two games of his career were against the immortal Alabama defense in the National Championship. I believe he has all of the tools, and once he puts them all together, he could become a franchise quarterback.
22. Charles Harris, EDGE, Missouri
– Charles Harris may have the most explosive first step and spin move of any edge rusher in this class. He is also quite refined as a run defender who projects as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense. I’m anxious to see what his test numbers are later this month.
23. John Ross, WR, Washington
– The best receiver before the catch in this draft class is Washington’s John Ross. He has no problem exposing defensive backs out of his release with his quick feet. He is small and lacks overall play strength, but I think his skill set is reminiscent of Brandin Cooks.
24. Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
– Brantley is a true one-gap penetrating three technique with excellent first-step quickness and hand usage. There are times where it looks like he is unchained and rushing without a plan, but he has a chance to be a disruptive interior pass rusher at the next level.
25. Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
– Reddick made a lot of money at the Senior Bowl with his performance throughout the week as an off-ball linebacker. He is an interesting case study because he played as an edge rusher at Temple, but the fact that he showed his versatility and athleticism in Mobile could put him in the first round come April.
26. Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia
– Rasul Douglas is a talented press man cornerback prospect who can both mirror and jam at the LOS. His ball skills may be his calling card though, as he recorded eight interceptions in 2016, proving to be one of the most feared ball hawks in the country. He undoubtedly needs to become a better open-field tackler, but I think he has the potential to be a player similar to peak Antonio Cromartie considering his size and traits.
27. Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa
– Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, another standout in Mobile, is one of the most NFL ready defensive linemen in this draft class. He can play both the one and three technique as a defensive tackle, showing the explosion, sound gap discipline, and play strength necessary to be a productive starter at the next level.
28. Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
– I’m not as high on Tabor as many because of his gambling play style and lack of eye discipline in man coverage, but he can be a force in zone coverage as a playmaker who can read everything in front of him. Some teams will have questions about his past off of the field, but I have questions about his game as a “hit or miss” cornerback.
29. Budda Baker, S, Washington
– The one thing holding Baker back from being a top-flight prospect is his size. Can he hold up at the next level? Only time will tell, but he is a dynamite playmaker with good range and man coverage ability.
30. Derek Barnett, EDGE, Tennessee
– Barnett is arguably the most productive defensive player coming out college in this draft class, but I didn’t see a particularly explosive athlete on tape. He projects as a starting left defensive end in a 4-3 defense at the next level. His numbers at the Combine will be telling.
31. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
– Fournette is an intimidating physical specimen at the running back position with his athleticism and power, but I think he is more limited than some think. I think he can be a really good player if put in the right scheme, but I’m not convinced he is a three-down running back at the next level.
32. Marcus Maye, S, Florida
– Maye is a complete safety who can play both deep and at the LOS. He needs to play faster in terms of processing, but his man coverage skills, range, and reliability in the run game makes him a solid safety prospect.
33. Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech
– Lubbock does not have a good track record of producing NFL quarterbacks, mostly because of the offense they run, but I think Patrick Mahomes is a special case. He undoubtedly has the strongest arm in this class, and I believe a team can mold him into a future starter, but it’s going to take time to fix his mechanics.
34. Sidney Jones IV, CB, Washington
– Sidney Jones may have the best feet of any cornerback in this class with his ability to shadow receivers in both off and press man coverage. On the flip side, he needs to fill out his frame and improve his functional strength, or he is going to get bullied at the LOS in the NFL. Jones is a cornerback I want to develop, and I think he is going to be a nice investment pick.
35. Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
– The first offensive lineman on my big board is Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk. He may not be the flashiest player, but he wins with excellent technique, both in pass protection and the run game.
36. Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss
– Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram is known as a vertical threat, but he is also a pretty good blocker as well. Don’t let his thin frame fool you. However, I would like to see him come down with more contested catches.
37. Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State
– Derek Rivers showed out in the Senior Bowl game, as he consistently disrupted the pocket with speed and explosion off of the edge. He is also a sound run defender as well, dispelling any notion that he is just a specialist. With a good performance at the Combine, he could rise into first round consideration.
38. Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
– I like Mitch Trubisky, but I think the hype surrounding his draft stock is a bit overblown. He can get in a funk with his accuracy, mostly because of issues with his footwork. I think he could be a starter at the next level, but he is a bigger project than some think.
39. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
– Joe Mixon won’t participate at the Combine later this month because of the NFL’s rule with domestic violence, but in terms of his play on the field, he is the most talented running back in this class. I don’t know when a team is going to take a chance on him, but it is important to remember that it only takes one.
40. Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
– If you watch his highlights, then you think Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis is a top 10 pick. He is wildly inconsistent in both coverage and as a run defender, but he has shown at times that he can do both at a high level. If a team can bottle up his talent, he is going to be a massive steal, but there is obvious risk involved.
41. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
– Tankersley is going to be 24 as a rookie, but with that being said, he is ready to play right away as a press man cornerback. He tends to get grabby and impatient with quicker receivers, but once he gets his hands on them, it is over.
42. Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
– Juju Smith-Schuster is a polarizing player among draft analysts. I think he is a cerebral player who can beat both man and zone coverage without being a natural athlete. His play strength and feet at the LOS are impressive, as shown in his ability to get a clean release. I’m interested to see what he runs in the 40.
43. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
– McCaffrey is a shifty running back who runs with good vision and solid footwork. He is suited for a zone blocking scheme at the next level, and if he can impress at the Combine, he will rise up draft boards.
44. Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky
– It was disappointing to see Forrest Lamp held out of action in Mobile because of an injury, but I think he can be a plug and play starter at guard in the NFL. That is easier said than done, but with his mean streak, technique, and athleticism, I think he is going to be a productive inside player at the next level.
45. Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
– Conley is a stud in both off and zone coverage because of his ability to play with his eyes and quick transitions, but I came away disappointed watching him at the LOS. In press, he lacks the physicality and play strength to effectively disrupt receivers. In run support, I did not see a player willing to be involved in that aspect of the game. Conley’s footwork and ball skills are quite impressive, but I worry about his lack of physicality at the LOS.
46. Dawuane Smoot, EDGE, Illinois
– Smoot is a lot like Jarrad Davis in that if you watch the right plays, he is a first round lock. However, he is wildly inconsistent as an edge rusher, disappearing too often in games he should have made an impact in, given his physical tools. He has a high ceiling, but a dangerously low floor.
47. Marlon Humphrey, CB/S, Alabama
– I believe Marlon Humphrey is a safety at the next level. Again, it’s easier said than done, but he has the range, zone coverage skills and physicality to make it happen. When he has his back to the ball in man coverage, he struggles to stay patient, mirror, and locate the ball over his shoulder. I think a team would benefit in playing him in a similar role to how the Cowboys use Byron Jones.
48. Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech
– Ford has some of the best body control of any receiver in this class. The way he uses and contorts his body to make contested catches is quite impressive. He’s not a burner, but he runs good routes and has a knack for getting open.
49. Taco Charlton, EDGE, Michigan
– Don’t kill me Michigan fans. I really don’t understand why Charlton is getting top-half of the first round kind of hype, but it has to be because he passes the eye test physically. I didn’t see a twitched up player off of the edge, and he was a bit underwhelming in the run game. His Combine performance, like all of these edge defenders, will be telling.
50. Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
– Awuzie is a fun study at the cornerback position because of his toughness and versatility. He played both inside and out at Colorado with success, and I love how physical he is in the run game. He takes great angles and finishes with a solid wrap up. I also think he is a better athlete than some give him credit for.