My first macro-oriented piece surrounding the class as a whole for the 2018 NFL draft features my current prospect rankings at each position. Specifically, I have listed my preliminary top five players at each position eligible for the 2018 NFL draft class below:
1. Sam Darnold, USC (Redshirt Sophomore)
– Darnold separates himself from the rest of the pack with his well-rounded skill set to throw the ball at all three levels, and off of the charts intangibles. His decision making is similar to Jameis Winston in that there are times where he has those “WTF” moments, but this fearlessness is also a key reason as to why Darnold is so intriguing.
2. Josh Rosen, UCLA (Junior)
– As a pure passer, Rosen has the highest upside of any quarterback in this class. His combination of arm strength and accuracy is scary, but what happens when the play breaks down? He needs structure to succeed. In these ways, he reminds me of Carson Palmer. I know some NFL decision makers are turned off by his personality, but time will tell if it moves the needle for his overall draft stock.
3. Lamar Jackson, Louisville (Junior)
– Lamar Jackson is a defensive coordinator’s nightmare, and I think his game translates well to the NFL. The only real concerns I have with Lamar Jackson is long-term durability with his playing style and overall frame. I do believe he can have a Robert Griffin III-like rookie season, but can he maintain his health given his value as a runner?
4. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State (Senior)
– Rudolph is still relatively raw despite being my top senior quarterback, especially in terms of footwork and pocket comfortability, but his arm talent is obvious. He can make any throw, but I worry about consistency at the next level. More than anything, he needs to be drafted into the right system.
5. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (Redshirt Senior)
– Say what you want about players returning for a senior season, but it has immensely paid off for Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. He is dynamic when the play breaks down, but he has shown leaps of progress inside the pocket on multiple occasions this year. Size is going to be the holdup for most scouts, but this dude is a gamer.
The next three prospects: Austin Allen, Josh Allen, Riley Ferguson
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State (Junior)
– Barkley is truly a generational running back prospect with his unique blend of freakish speed, power and toughness. The best comparison I’ve heard is LaDanian Tomlinson, considering his ability to affect the game on all three downs with a skill set that is nearly impossible to gameplan against.
2. Derrius Guice, LSU (Junior)
– I’ve gone back and forth with Barkley and Guice, as they are 1A and 1B in my rankings. Their skill sets are very similar, especially with their ability to win with both power and agility. Guice’s jump cuts show just how scary his quickness is going to be at the next level. I’d give Guice the edge in pass protection, but Barkley gets the nod for overall athleticism.
3. Ronald Jones II, USC (Junior)
– Many see Ronald Jones II and think of a scat back who shies away from contact, but that is far from the case. As much as he wins with speed and agility outside, he is equally as effective inside because of his patience and lower body strength. His big play ability and frame draws comparisons to Jamaal Charles, but I think his vision and calculated running style is eerily similar to Arian Foster. He deserves to be in the first-round running back conversation.
4. Nick Chubb, Georgia (Senior)
– If Chubb can reach his pre-injury form, he should be in the same tier as Barkley and Guice. That devastating knee injury is going to give NFL decision makers hesitation, but he could also be the biggest steal of the draft if he falls far enough. His power is unparalleled in this class, and he is not given enough credit for his creativity as a runner.
5. Bryce Love, Stanford (Junior)
– If there is one thing I am sure of in this draft class, it is that Bryce Love is the fastest running back in this draft class. He is simply a blur in the open field, showing the ability to make defenders miss in a short area before turning on the boosters. He may not be a workhorse back at the next level given his frame, but the role of a “featured back” in the NFL for most teams is changing from 20 carries to 20 touches. Teams that pass on Love are going to regret it on Sundays.
The next three prospects: John Kelly, Kalen Ballage, Rashaad Penny
1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama (Junior)
– Ridley is an older prospect who will turn 24 at the end of his rookie season, but nonetheless, you cannot teach his silky-smooth, natural talent at the wide receiver position. The game seems effortless for Ridley, as he just glides past defenders to snag the football out of the air. Whether it is at the catch point or while running a route, he is a tough matchup for any cornerback in college football.
2. Courtland Sutton, SMU (Redshirt Junior)
– Sutton is a wide receiver who plays above the rim with his size at 6’4, but he is much more than just a red zone specialist. He has great feet and body control for someone that tall, exposing stiff-hipped cornerbacks at the release. Then when the ball is in the air, he boxes out the cornerback like a power forward does for a rebound, turning 50/50 balls into 90/10 balls. His tape is very similar to former TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson.
3. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M (Junior)
– If you liked Corey Coleman coming out of Baylor in the 2016 NFL draft, you are going to love Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk. Kirk is just as explosive with his big play ability as both a deep threat and underneath target. While Kirk struggles like Coleman did with some frustrating drops, he is a more refined route runner. In addition, he is arguably the most dangerous return specialist in college football.
4. Deon Cain, Clemson (Junior)
– If not for off-field issues surrounding marijuana and other team violations, I could make the case for Deon Cain as the top wide receiver prospect in the 2018 NFL draft. His potential as an elite deep threat has been showcased in big games, as he has the speed and deceptiveness to shake past any cornerback in man coverage. In addition, he has the best footwork of any receiver in college football, period.
5. Deontay Burnett, USC (Junior)
– The breakout wide receiver in college football is USC’s Deontay Burnett. Taking the torch from Juju Smith-Schuster, Burnett has emerged as one of the best wide receivers in the nation as a YAC monster. His slim frame won’t win over scouts, but he is a fearless player over the middle with extremely reliable hands and feet to make defenders miss both before and after the catch.
The next three prospects: James Washington, Dante Pettis, Simmie Cobbs Jr.
1. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma (Redshirt Junior)
– The most complete tight end in this class is undoubtedly Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews. You may be able to find a better vertical threat able to stretch a defense, but Andrews’ in-line blocking ability and reliable hands separates him from the pack. He is the traditional tight end that may not flash in the box score, but he will be in the league for a long time.
2. Mike Gesicki, Penn State (Senior)
– Gesicki is the type of tight end that the NFL is trending towards. He is the vertical threat and explosive move player that teams covet in the pass game, but is not as effective as an in-line blocker as Andrews. In fact, it is the part of his game that may cap his ultimate potential in the NFL. A very similar player to Hunter Henry in my opinion.
3. Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State (Senior)
– Goedert is a small-school prospect that may not receive the hype Andrews or Gesicki, but he has the highest upside of any tight end eligible for the 2018 NFL draft. In fact, Kyle Crabbs at NDT Scouting believes he can be the league’s next Travis Kelce. We just saw Adam Shaheen get drafted in the second round, and Goedert is a more dangerous vertical threat. Depending on how he performs at the Senior Bowl and Combine, Goedert could be the draft’s biggest riser at the tight end position.
4. Jaylen Samuels, NC State (Senior)
– With his versatility to virtually play running back, H-back, wide receiver or tight end, Jaylen Samuels is eerily similar to an undersized version of Charles Clay coming out of Tulsa. Some may make the argument that he is a tweener at the next level without a true position, but I believe he’ll thrive as an offensive chess piece in the right system, as well as on special teams like Trey Burton for Philadelphia.
5. Adam Breneman, Massachusetts (Redshirt Senior)
– Breneman started his career at Penn State in spectacular fashion his freshman year, but because of injuries as well as other factors like Mike Gesicki entering the fold, he decided to transfer to UMass. After accumulating over 800 yards for the Minutemen his junior year, and after his first two games this season, he had a total of 18 catches for 305 yards. His skill set as a reliable receiver, blocker and impressive athlete makes him the wild card in this tight end class.
The next three prospects: Marcus Baugh, Ethan Wolf, Dalton Schultz
1. Connor Williams, Texas (Junior)
– After tearing his meniscus against USC, Williams’ season is likely over, and that almost certainly means the next time we see him will be during the 2018 NFL draft process. He is the total package with nimble feet in pass protection, and heavy hands in the run game. There are some flaws technically in his pass sets, but he has shown all of the tools of an elite offensive tackle when healthy.
2. Mitch Hyatt, Clemson (Junior)
– Mitch Hyatt absolutely shut down Harold Landry earlier this season, showing just how formidable a pass protector he can be against top-flight competition. In fact, he may be the most refined pass blocker in this draft class at the offensive tackle position. He also has a mean streak that is evident on almost every run play. Hyatt is one of my early draft crushes in this class.
3. Orlando Brown Jr, Oklahoma (Junior)
– Orlando Brown Jr. is a behemoth of an offensive tackle at 6’8, 340. For how big he is, his mobility to get to the second level in the run game, as well as being able to move his feet to stay in phase with edge rushers is the most impressive aspect of his game. His overwhelming power is felt, but like Williams, he does have technical flaws when it comes to pass protection and handling inside counters. Nonetheless, Brown has enormous upside.
4. Chukwuma Okorafor, Western Michigan (Senior)
– If there is one game that summarizes Chukwuma Okorafor as a prospect, it has to be the one against USC this year. He struggled early with the speed of both Uchenna Nwosu and Porter Gustin off of the edge, but after the first couple drives, he settled in and started mauling them in the run game. Okorafor was paving the way for Western Michigan’s running game, but he also settled in and shut down any USC pass rush from the second quarter on. When he’s on, he can be elite. Consistency is the main question here.
5. Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame (Senior)
– Mike McGlinchey is a polarizing prospect in the draft community. On one hand, he has the size, experience and intangibles that NFL decision makers crave, but he is also wildly inconsistent as a pass protector. This stems from his lack of mobility to handle speed off of the edge on a snap-to-snap basis. Matching power with McGlinchey rarely works because his hands and lower body are so strong, but quickness and speed kills him. The Senior Bowl is going to be huge for McGlinchey.
The next three prospects: Martinas Rankin, Trey Adams, Tariq Cole
Interior Offensive Linemen
1. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame (Junior)
– They do not call Quenton Nelson the “Lie Detector” for nothing. He is as rock solid as they come, as he is undoubtedly the most technically-refined offensive lineman in the country. Combine this advanced technique with his power and athleticism? We may have another top-10 guard prospect on our hands if he decides to declare.
2. Billy Price, Ohio State (Senior)
– Price can play all three interior spots on the offensive line, which is the kind of versatility the NFL covets. Of all the offensive linemen on this list, I have not seen one more ferocious or aggressive playing the game of football than Ohio State’s Billy Price. He is also a better athlete than people give him credit for, especially with how he is able to get to the second level.
3. Frank Ragnow, Arkansas (Senior)
– Standing at almost 6’6, Ragnow is a bit tall for the center position, but he is an absolute mauler in the run game. He also has the foot quickness and wherewithal to consistently execute reach blocks. I am a big fan of Ragnow’s overall game, and the difference between him and Billy Price is minimal, if there is even a gap at all. Like Price, Ragnow could play guard and still hold up in pass protection just as well as he could while playing center.
4. Dalton Risner, Kansas State (Redshirt Junior)
– Speaking of versatility! Dalton Risner has shown the ability to play all FIVE spots on the offensive line. Playing right tackle this year for the Wildcats after earning first team all-Big 12 honors as a center is a bit odd, but it shows just how much the Kansas State coaching staff trusts him. Pass protection is his calling card, but it is his toughness as a run blocker that jumps off of the screen. Risner should be labeled as one of the safest prospects on the offensive line.
5. Sean Welsh, Iowa (Senior)
– Technique and toughness is a good combo to have as an offensive lineman. Sean Welsh is your prototypical Big 10 guard. He is nimble, yet he can also expose interior defenders with his technical prowess and mean streak. Welsh does not have many “wow” plays on tape, but there are rarely any plays where he is clearly beat by the defender.
The next three prospects: Tyrone Crowder, Mason Cole, Will Clapp
1. Clelin Ferrell, Clemson (Redshirt Sophomore)
– The question with Ferrell coming into this season was a lack of sample size and experience. So far this season however, he has been a dominant edge defender, both against the run and pass. His bend and explosiveness around the corner has been incredibly impressive, but his eye discipline and power in the run game is equally as eye-catching. Even as a redshirt sophomore, Ferrell is the complete package at defensive end who should only get better with more reps.
2. Arden Key, LSU (Junior)
– Key’s upside as a pass rusher is unparalleled in this class. His defensive back-like athleticism to bend off of the edge and close on the quarterback makes him a rare breed. The reason why he is not first on this list is because of a combination of injuries, consistency and run support deficiencies. All of these are a result of his lack of frame. He needs to bulk up before he gets considerable playing time at the next level, but if he can maintain his explosiveness at a bigger frame, oh boy.
3. Harold Landry, Boston College (Senior)
– Harold Landry is a traditional 4-3 defensive end who stay on the field all three downs and contribute at a high level. His athletic prowess may not be as evident as the first two players on this list, but he has a wider array of pass rush moves and inside counters when his speed gets shut down. That being said, his ability to convert speed to power is what has scouts mentioning him in the top end of the first round. Technically, he is the most refined edge defender in this class.
4. Bradley Chubb, NC State (Senior)
– While not the bendy, speed demon pass rusher that most look for in a WDE, Chubb is a prototypical strong-side defensive end who can just dominate games with his blend of power and explosiveness. His hand timing and strength sets him apart from other defensive ends in this class. Some believe he can be an Ezekiel Ansah-like player at the next level, and I don’t think that is far-fetched.
5. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma (Redshirt Senior)
– Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is going to be off of some NFL draft boards because of his lack of size and length, but like Carl Lawson, he is an incredible pass rusher. His technique and athleticism as a pass rusher deserves praise, and he is a better run defender than given credit for. The team that overlooks his size deficiencies will get a steal and potential double-digit sack player.
The next three prospects: Uchenna Nwosu, Dorance Armstrong Jr, Josh Sweat
Interior Defensive Linemen
1. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama (Junior)
– This interior DL class is loaded, and it only makes sense that the top prospect of the group is an absolute freak. Da’Ron Payne can win in almost any way possible as an interior defensive lineman. Whether it is with pure power, uncanny quickness, or heavy hands, Payne has shown the ability to dominate on all three downs. He can take on double teams and push the pocket. Payne is truly an elite defensive tackle prospect.
2. Christian Wilkins, Clemson (Junior)
– Christian Wilkins has the skill set of a defensive end with his ability to bend and consistently win with a blend of quickness and power on passing downs, but he also can take on double teams in the run game. He is a rare breed who has all of the tools to be a dominant difference maker at the next level.
3. Maurice Hurst, Michigan (Senior)
– Maurice Hurst is a natural one-gap penetrating three technique with his ability to expose interior offensive linemen as a quick pass rusher. His hand timing and reactionary quickness off of the snap are unparalleled in this class. He may not be as physically imposing as a player like Da’Ron Payne or Christian Wilkins, but his athleticism is too much to handle inside.
4. Dre’Mont Jones, Ohio State (Redshirt Sophomore)
– Dre’Mont Jones can is a scheme-versatile defensive linemen who can play in an odd or even front with his combination of length, athleticism and power. His quickness and hand usage as an interior defender gives guards trouble on almost every play. His undisciplined, overaggressive mentality does damage to his own team at times, but he is a monster when he makes the correct read.
5. Andrew Brown, Virginia (Senior)
– Andrew Brown is a Maurice Hurst-lite who has a very similar skill set, but is not as dynamic in any area. He can rush the passer at will, as he has a former defensive end background to bend and win with heavy hands. His quickness is a problem for offensive linemen, but he needs to show more consistency against top-flight competition in order to get more hype from the national media. He reminds me a lot of a specific Nebraska defensive tackle who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys.
The next three prospects: Derrick Nnadi, Trenton Thompson, Vita Vea
1. Malik Jefferson, Texas (Junior)
– Jefferson still has to show he can consistently stack and shed blocks, but nonetheless, he is still an unreal talent. With his freakish athleticism and sideline-to-sideline range, Jefferson is always around the ball making plays happen. Whether it is in coverage or run support, Jefferson’s athletic tools allow him to be in position on almost every play. His instincts are underdeveloped at this point, but as he continues to learn and develop, there is no telling how good this kid could be. He gets the slight edge over Cameron Smith because of his ceiling despite projecting as a WILL, as opposed to Smith projecting as a MIKE.
2. Cameron Smith, USC (Junior)
– The best pure linebacker in college football is Cameron Smith, period. His instincts and awareness are unparalleled at the linebacker position, as he sees plays happen before the ball is actually snapped. For Smith, the game just comes easy to him, and I think he will adjust to the next level seamlessly in terms of processing. Some question Smith’s “limited” range, but I’ve seen him make plays all over the field. Some team is going to get their next defensive captain with this guy.
3. Jerome Baker, Ohio State (Junior)
– While not the athlete Malik Jefferson is, Jerome Baker is a force to be reckoned with in zone coverage. He is smart and rangy, able to make up ground and close on ball carriers in a pinch. He also needs to get stronger in order to improve against contact, but the NFL is going to value him as a WILL and try to keep him as free as possible, highlighting his strengths.
4. Roquan Smith, Georgia (Junior)
– Roquan Smith has made quite the statement so far in 2017, dominating in nearly every game as a superb off-ball linebacker for the Bulldogs. Some are calling him the next Deion Jones with his lack of size, but excellent mobility for the position to close and cover. If he continues to make plays at his current rate this season, there is reason to believe he will fly up draft boards.
5. Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama (Senior)
– While overshadowed by first-round inside linebacker Reuben Foster in 2016, Shaun Dion Hamilton is the next Crimson Tide linebacker that NFL scouts are going to value highly. His instincts and power are more developed than some of the names on this list, but he is not quite the athlete of Jefferson or Baker.
The next three prospects: Josey Jewell, Azeem Victor, Tegray Scales
1. Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State (Junior)
– If you are banking on upside, length, and the value of a cornerback who can possibly match the Mike Evans and Dez Bryant receivers of the world in the red zone, McFadden is your guy. He is a jump ball eraser. His calling card is at the LOS in Press because of his superb length, but he also has the athleticism and COD skills to mirror in off man coverage. If he continues to develop his overall game, technique, and timing, don’t be surprised if he ends up becoming a player similar to Xavier Rhodes. His upside gives him a slight edge over Alexander, but there is little to no gap because the latter is a plug and play starter inside or out.
2. Jaire Alexander, Louisville (Junior)
– My best comparison for Jaire Alexander has always been someone like Chris Harris Jr. because of his ability to play inside or out, press man, off man, and zone, despite his lack of size. His ability to change direction and transition seamlessly both laterally and vertically is what makes him so hard to shake. He is always on the hip pocket, and his calculated ball skills give him the chance to make a play at the catch point. One of the cleanest skill sets I have seen at the position in some time. Long-term durability is the question here.
3. Quenton Meeks, Stanford (Junior)
– I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Quenton Meeks is one of the smartest and most instinctive cornerbacks I have ever scouted. You can just tell how much time he spends in the film room to get better at his craft. That is the kind of football player I want on my team. His timing at the LOS in Press is inconsistent, but his length and play strength cause major disruption. In Off, he is a calculated risk taker, and his ability to anticipate makes it seem like he knows the route better than the receiver. For a player his size at 6’2, he has uncanny quickness and COD skills to stay in phase on the hip pocket. The gap between the first two and Meeks is much smaller than one might think. In fact, I would grade them as 1A, 1B and 1C.
4. Adonis Alexander, Virginia Tech (Junior)
– The freak of this cornerback class is Virginia Tech’s Adonis Alexander. At 6’3, he simply overwhelms receivers at the LOS with his elite arm length and unreal play strength. There are several plays where he either throws somebody on the ground or into the sideline, just ask Zay Jones. He is wild and impatient, as he will grab if initially beat at the LOS. He is easily baited to lunge forward, but when he gets his hands on you, the play is over. Off man coverage is predictably a struggle for Alexander, but he is a smart Zone player, especially in Cover 2 where he is able to showcase his closing speed and reactionary quickness underneath. He is the wild card of this cornerback class, and the Combine is going to be huge for his draft stock.
5. Iman Marshall, USC (Junior)
– Iman Marshall is undoubtedly one of the most talented cornerbacks in this draft class. He has all of the tools. I just want to see him put it all together. He mauls receivers in Press, but gets away with a lot of grabbing and overaggressiveness. His back to the ball skill set is near the top, as he competes at the catch point each play with his superb length and leaping ability. His long speed is questionable, but he does recover quick in both Man and Zone to get back in position. Marshall is the boom or bust prospect of this class because of his lack of consistency, but if he can put it all together, watch out.
The next three prospects: Duke Dawson, Isaiah Oliver, Carlton Davis
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama (Junior)
– Some may slot in Fitzpatrick with the cornerback group, but I think he is much better playing forward, as opposed to with his back to the ball. From timing, tracking and overall eye discipline, he is better suited as a safety than cornerback. He has the instincts, ball skills and dynamic range that scouts look for in a deep middle player, but he also has the physicality, closing speed and run support discipline that they also look for in a box safety. Fitzpatrick is the total package.
2. Derwin James, Florida State (Junior)
– Think of Jabrill Peppers with more safety experience when you hear the name Derwin James. He is crazy athletic, but his instincts and anticipation skills are still developing. His competitive toughness and physicality leap off of the screen, and you can just tell that his spirit is contagious. James is going to be a hot commodity at the Combine for both good and bad reasons because of his athleticism and injury history.
3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama (Junior)
– Ronnie Harrison is the prototype strong safety. With his hard hitting style, downhill explosiveness and competitive toughness, Harrison is a plug and play box player at the next level. He is likely never going to be a single-high player, but he has shown value in man coverage. I could definitely see him matching up with the league’s move tight ends at the next level. There are some who see him as a similar player to Landon Collins coming out.
4. Armani Watts, Texas A&M (Senior)
– His teammate and fellow safety Justin Evans was drafted in the second round, but I believe Armani Watts was the better player on that Texas A&M team. He can ideally play both over the top and down in the box because of his well-rounded skill set. His closing speed is unreal, but he can get a bit overaggressive, especially with his angles. In today’s NFL, the safety position is growing to be interchangeable, and Watts fits that mold.
5. Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern (Senior)
– Godwin Igwebuike is one of my favorite players to watch on film because he brings it on every single snap. His calling card is in the deep middle as a centerfielder who can run sideline to sideline and play the ball in the air with his instincts, range and ball skills. On the other hand, he is also a reliable run defender who takes great angles and does not lunge too early on his wrap up. The Senior Bowl is going to be huge for his draft stock.
The next three prospects: Brandon Bryant, Marcus Allen, Kyzir White