NFL Draft Big Board: Redshirt sophomores could be key to 2017 NFL Draft

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is January 16 and pro scouts, like everyone else, are waiting anxiously to see just who will be available.

This year's class is especially captivating in large part because several of the most intriguing prospects are just redshirt sophomores, including potential early first-round picks like Ohio State Buckeyes 's free safety Malik Hooker , Alabama Crimson Tide cornerback Marlon Humphrey , Michigan Wolverines 's do-everything defensive back Jabrill Peppers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer .

The following is not a mock draft. There is no attention paid to team needs and the list may change as underclassmen elect to bypass the NFL and instead return for another year at the college level. For now, however, here is my updated personal ranking of the Top 50 NFL prospects in the country.

Players are listed by name, position, school, year, height, weight and 40-yard dash time

1. Myles Garrett , DE, Texas A&M, Jr, 6-5, 262, 4.74

Garrett remains atop my draft board despite a less-than-impressive final game, registering just one tackle (and a blocked extra point) against Kansas State Wildcats in a Texas Bowl loss for the Aggies. An ankle injury robbed Garrett of his trademark explosiveness and flexibility and he was unable to match the production of his freshman (53 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks) and sophomore (59-19.5-12.5) campaigns, registering 33 stops, including 15.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks on the year. Garrett remains the top NFL-eligible prospect in the country -- he has a prototypical blend of explosiveness, flexibility and length off the corner and the look of a future Pro Bowl regular. Garrett has not yet made his NFL intentions known but most expect him to declare for the draft.

2. Jonathan Allen , DL, Alabama, Sr, 6-3, 292, 4.85

Whereas Garrett has been slowed by injury this season, Allen has maintained his season-long perch as my top-rated senior prospect regardless of position. He recorded six tackles, including two tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery sack in Alabama's Peach Bowl win over Washington Huskies . Capable of creating havoc while lining up inside or out, Allen reminds me a little of Seattle Seahawks ' Pro Bowler Michael Bennett , winning with an explosive upfield burst and powerful, coordinated hands.

3. Leonard Fournette , RB, LSU, Jr, 6-1, 230, 4.45

Part of the reason why scouts were unfazed with Fournette's decision to skip the Fiesta Bowl is that he struggled with an ankle injury this year, finishing the regular season second on his own team in rushing yards (843 yards, eight touchdowns) to sophomore sensation Derrius Guice (1,249-14). While Fournette's struggles this season are not ideal, when healthy he has shown the most exciting blend of size, speed and power among running backs since Adrian Peterson .

4. Reuben Foster , ILB, Alabama, Sr, 6-1, 240, 4.72

Inside linebackers rarely warrant top-five consideration but Foster is an exceptional talent. Foster might be the most intimidating hitter in all of college football and he possesses the fluidity and speed to cover. He is a more explosive athlete than Alabama's recent stars at linebacker, showing ridiculous closing speed and an utter disregard for his own safety or that of his opponents. Foster was shaken up early against Washington but returned to the field, leading the Tide with nine tackles in the 24-7 win.

5. Jamal Adams , S, LSU, Jr, 6-0, 211, 4.48

It is easy to mistake Adams for former LSU Tigers star Tyrann Mathieu , given their similar instincts and highly aggressive playing style. Like Mathieu, Adams possesses the agility and speed to handle coverage duties on slot receivers, possesses soft hands for the interception and is a tenacious run defender. Adams' kamikaze style of play can lead to occasional mistakes but he is always around the ball.

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Jamal Adams is Honey Badger 2.0: bigger, faster, stronger. USATSI

6. Teez Tabor , CB, Florida Gators , Jr, 6-0, 199, 4.52

Tabor's first name was Jalen, until this summer when he chose a new name that may provide a more accurate description of his game. Tabor teases with an exciting combination of size, fluidity and speed, standing out in coverage and as a gunner on special teams the past two years. Tabor and the Gators dominated Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl, limiting future NFL quarterback C.J. Beathard to a woeful 7-of-23 passing for 55 yards.

7. Dalvin Cook , RB, Florida State Seminoles , Jr, 5-11, 206, 4.46

While Fournette's blend of size, speed and power are certainly intriguing, one could argue that Cook offers the greater recipe for success in the NFL. He offers terrific instincts as a runner, showing vision, patience and burst attack on the ground. Just as importantly in today's pass-happy era, Cook possesses soft hands out of the backfield, as well as the toughness and selflessness to block, when necessary. Cook ended his career in style, running for 145 yards and a touchdown and adding another 62 yards as a receiver to help Florida State beat Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

8. Mike Williams , WR, Clemson Tigers , rJr, 6-3, 220, 4.50

Though last year's neck injury and an occasional drop of an "easy" pass remain concerns, Williams is in the same class athletically as former teammates Sammy Watkins , DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant . His matchup against Alabama's physical cornerbacks is among the most eagerly anticipated showdowns of the year.

9. Derek Barnett , DE, Tennessee Volunteers , Jr, 6-3, 257, 4.76

A more polished defender than even the top-rated Garrett, Barnett has silenced critics (including me) who questioned prior to the season whether he possessed the length and burst to warrant a first-round selection. While perhaps lacking in pure explosiveness, Barnett varies his attack, incorporating quickness, power and refined technique to wreak havoc against the run and pass, alike. Those close to the program rave about his work ethic and Barnett's production speaks for itself. Barnett passed the late Hall of Famer Reggie White as Tennessee's all-time sack king with his 33rd quarterback takedown in a Music City Bowl win over Nebraska Cornhuskers . Barnett's 33 sacks lead the country over the past three seasons.

10. Zach Cunningham , LB, Vanderbilt Commodores , rJr, 6-3, 230, 4.74

Listed 18th overall on my initial Big Board back in August, Cunningham only reinforced my opinion throughout the regular season that he warrants top-20 consideration. Instinctive, aggressive and athletic, Cunningham offers an exciting and versatile skill set sure to intrigue any creative defensive coordinator in the NFL. Cunningham led the SEC with 119 tackles over the regular season -- 16 more than he posted a year ago, when he earned First Team All-SEC honors despite not starting until the fourth game.

11. Jabrill Peppers, SS/OLB, Michigan, rSoph, 6-0, 208, 4.48

Unfortunately, Peppers made headlines for all of the wrong reasons in the Orange Bowl, with a hamstring injury sidelining him for the game. Despite his absence in this critical matchup, defensive coordinators looking for versatile playmakers will be highly intrigued by Peppers, the latest in a new line of defensive "erasers" capable of lining up at safety, linebacker or cornerback similar in style to recent first-round picks Deone Bucannon , Damarious Randall and Shaq Thompson. Peppers' agility and instincts routinely show up with big plays near the line of scrimmage but he was beaten in coverage by Curtis Samuel in the showdown with Ohio State.

Will Jabrill Peppers enter the draft or return to Michigan? USATSI

12. Corey Davis , WR, Western Michigan Broncos , Sr, 6-3, 213, 4.48

With his sculpted frame, smooth routes and soft hands, it is hard not to become enamored with Davis, who is arguably the most polished receiver in this class. Had his production come against SEC or Big Ten competition rather than the MAC, Davis could be considered a shoo-in for a top-10 selection. Don't blame Davis for the Broncos' loss to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. He was unstoppable at times, including leaping through a defender for a contested touchdown.

13. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama, rSoph, 6-1, 198, 4.53

Teams prioritizing size and physicality will find a lot to like with Humphrey, the son of former Alabama star and NFL first-round pick Bobby Humphrey (Denver, 1989). A former track star, Humphrey is built well for a young player at a solid 6-1, 198 pounds and is an aggressive tackler, including in run support.

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Marlon Humphrey's father was a first-round NFL Draft pick of the Broncos. USATSI

14. Mitch Trubisky , QB, Jr, North Carolina Tar Heels , 6-3, 220, 4.74

Though he failed to guide UNC to a win over Stanford Cardinal in the Sun Bowl, Trubisky showed off the NFL-caliber combination of size, arm strength and athleticism likely to earn him a top pick whenever he should elect to make himself eligible to the NFL. Trubisky's traits are undeniable but he is largely a projection at this point, with the only 13 starts of his college career coming this season.

15. Malik Hooker, FS, rSoph, Ohio State, 6-2, 205, 4.47

Nicknamed "Malik the Freak" because his combination of size and athleticism stands out, even among the talented Buckeyes, Hooker exploded onto the scene in 2016, finishing tied for second in the country with seven interceptions, while wowing with his instincts and sideline-to-sideline speed. Hooker only has one season as a starter and is prone to over-aggression as an open-field tackler but scouts are giddy about his upside.

16. Cam Robinson , OT, Alabama, Jr, 6-5, 327, 5.28

As his monstrous size implies, Robinson can be a road-grader in the running game and his quickness and length can make him very effective in pass protection. He reminds me in many ways of recent early first-round picks Ereck Flowers ( New York Giants , No. 9 overall, 2015) and D.J. Fluker ( San Diego Chargers , No. 11 overall, 2013), each of whom are highly regarded by scouts, though often criticized by the media and fans. Robinson, honored as this year's Outland Trophy winner, has starred at left tackle for the Tide since earning the job as a true freshman, but his NFL future may be on the right side or even inside at guard.

17. Christian McCaffrey , RB, Stanford, Jr, 6-0, 202, 4.48

Despite Stanford's struggles, McCaffrey was every bit as dynamic as in past seasons -- quietly again leading the Pac-12 in rushing (145.7) and all-purpose yards (211.5). With his easy agility, instant acceleration and soft hands, he's similar to another former Pac-12 star, Reggie Bush . Like Bush, McCaffrey lacks the bulk to be a true bell-cow back at the next level but his ability as a returner and as a potential slot receiver add to his value.

18. John Ross , WR, Washington, rJr, 5-11, 190, 4.35

Ross was limited to just five catches for 28 yards by Alabama in the Peach Bowl but this was more a reflection of Washington's inability to get him the ball in space. Perhaps no player has improved his NFL Draft stock more this year than Ross, who has overcome two separate serious knee injuries earlier in his career to rank among national leaders with 17 touchdown receptions, including one in the Pac-12 championship win over a Colorado Buffaloes secondary filled with NFL prospects. Ross is a DeSean Jackson clone with blinding straight-line speed, agility and versatility as both a receiver and returner.

John Ross couldn't find any room against Bama's defense. USATSI

19. Malik McDowell , DT, Michigan State Spartans , Jr, 6-5, 282, 4.92

Scouts are intrigued by McDowell's blend of size, strength and athleticism, which has allowed him to play virtually every position along the defensive line over the past three seasons for the Spartans. Unfortunately, for all of his talent, McDowell has also shown a troubling tendency to get nicked up, missing snaps in several games this season. McDowell has already announced his intention to forgo his senior season and enter the draft.

20. Sidney Jones IV, CB, Washington, Jr, 6-0, 181, 4.49

A big part of the Huskies ascent into the playoffs in 2016 was due to its extraordinary secondary, which will see three members (senior Kevin King , junior Budda Baker and Jones) drafted this spring. Jones is the most polished of the bunch. A silky-smooth athlete with excellent awareness and composure with the ball in the air, Jones has a shot to be the first cornerback, though some worry about his somewhat slim frame. While Alabama showed its muscle against the Huskies, it is worth noting that the Crimson Tide did not attempt a single pass in Jones' direction in the Peach Bowl.

21. Ryan Ramczyk , OT, Wisconsin Badgers , rJr, 6-5, 316, 5.29

The Badgers are well known for producing quality offensive linemen but Ramczyk (pronounced Ram-check) comes with a unique back story as a transfer from D-III UW-Stony Brook. Possessing uncanny agility and balance for a player of his size, Ramczyk has taken the scouting world by storm and could generate a top-20 pick if he were to declare early for the draft.

22. O.J. Howard , TE, Alabama, Sr, 6-6, 242, 4.57

Howard lacks the production one might expect of an early NFL draft pick, catching just 41 passes for 489 yards and two touchdowns with the National Championship Game yet to play (110-1,620-6 for his career). He is the best tight end in the country even if he plays an inconsistent role in the Alabama offense. His freakish combination of size, speed and strength make Howard a mismatch nightmare in the passing game and he's made major strides this season as a blocker.

23. Carl Lawson , OLB/DE, Auburn Tigers , rJr, 6-2, 253, 4.67

Though Lawson has not officially confirmed that he is forgoing his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft, he was announced among the seniors in the year's regular season finale at Jordan-Hare Stadium, a strong indication of his intention. Finally healthy after missing 19 of 26 games over the 2014-15 seasons with a torn ACL and hip injury, Lawson recorded a career-high nine sacks for the Tigers over the regular season after flashing opposite Kansas City Chiefs first-round pick Dee Ford as a freshman. Lawson wins with a fearsome combination of initial burst, core strength and a relentless motor.

24. Takkarist McKinley , OLB/DE, UCLA Bruins , Sr, 6-2, 258, 4.58

The NFL loves freaky athletes and they don't come much more explosive than McKinley, a former track star who has steadily developed into one of the nation's most fearsome edge rushers. Like Lawson, McKinley possesses the upfield burst and bend to attack off the corner (as his 10 sacks in 11 games this season imply), but he is not "just" a pass rusher, showing the awareness and closing speed to drop into coverage or spy mobile quarterbacks, as well. The 4-8 Bruins did not qualify for postseason play but McKinley did, ranking as one of the most intriguing early commits to the Senior Bowl.

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Takkarist McKinley is a freak on the field. USATSI

25. Vita Vea , DT, Washington, rSoph, 6-4, 332, 5.19

The Huskies' skill position talent on both sides of the ball generates most of the buzz, but in terms of raw talent, Vea might be the top Dawg of them all. He possesses extraordinary athleticism for a man of his size, standing out not only as a run-stuffer and occasional pass rush threat but even on special teams. Vea remains raw, but comparisons to a young Haloti Ngata are not hyperbole, as he showed in a flashy performance (four tackles, including a sack) against Alabama in the Peach Bowl.

26. DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame, rSoph, 6-4, 230, 4.84

Kizer is the most gifted draft-eligible quarterback prospect in the country with a prototypical blend of build, arm strength and functional athleticism. He possesses the kind of undeniable talent that could lead to an early selection should he opt to head to the NFL, but he is far from a sure-fire franchise quarterback, making head-scratching decisions or simply inaccurate passes in virtually every game this season. Kizer threw for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions this season for the 4-8 Fighting Irish. Teams will not overlook that Brian Kelly has produced just one NFL quarterback (2010 sixth-round pick Tony Pike , Carolina Panthers ) in 26 seasons as a head coach.

DeShone Kizer is far from a finished product. USATSI

27. Desmond King , CB, Iowa, Sr, 5-10, 200, 4.53

King nearly made the jump to the NFL a year ago after he recorded eight interceptions and was recognized with the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. His statistics dropped significantly in 2016 as opponents wisely avoided him for much of the year, though he did provide one of the few highlights for Iowa in an Outback Bowl loss to Florida with his third interception of the season. Scouts admire King's instincts, physicality and ball skills but question his straight-line speed.

28. Tim Williams , OLB, Alabama, Sr, 6-3, 252, 4.76

Pass rushers rank second only to passers, themselves, in today's NFL and Williams might just be the country's most dynamic threat off the edge. He is just half a sack behind Allen (No. 2 on the Big Board) with nine sacks this year for the Crimson Tide, terrorizing opponents off the edge with his snap anticipation, first-step quickness and flexibility to turn the corner.

29. Bucky Hodges , TE, Virginia Tech Hokies , rJr, 6-6, 245, 4.78

Hodges is more of a receiver hybrid in the Jimmy Graham mold than a traditional tight end but it is easy to imagine what a matchup problem he would be at the next level given his exciting blend of size, speed and body control. Hodges posted remarkably consistent numbers throughout his career, averaging 51 receptions for 423 yards and seven touchdowns over his three-year career -- numbers that should blossom with more consistent quarterback play in the NFL.

30. Dan Feeney , OG, Indiana Hoosiers , rSr, 6-4, 310, 5.09

Statistics can be bent in many ways to prove a point but what NFL team wouldn't value an offensive lineman who has given up a grand total of two sacks in 45 career starts, as Feeney has? Feeney possesses uncommon initial quickness and agility, especially given his square-ish frame so conducive to playing guard.

31. Tre'Davious White CB, LSU, Sr, 5-11, 192, 4.50

White has stood out in coverage throughout his career, showing the agility and speed NFL teams crave at cornerback and as a returner. He likely would have earned top-50 consideration a year ago had he made the NFL jump but boosted his stock by showing more physicality and consistency as a tackler as a senior.

32. Solomon Thomas , DL, Stanford, Jr., 6-3, 272, 4.75

Ideally a three-technique defensive tackle in a traditional 4-3 alignment, Thomas is a disruptive, albeit undersized playmaker in the mold of the Los Angeles Rams ' Aaron Donald and Cincinnati Bengals ' Geno Atkins , winning with initial quickness, powerful hands and a motor that simply does not know idle. Thomas was virtually unstoppable in Stanford's Sun Bowl win over North Carolina.

The rest of the top 50:

33. Deshaun Watson , QB, Clemson, Jr, 6-2, 215, 4.64
34. Dorian Johnson , OG, Pittsburgh Panthers , Sr, 6-5, 300, 5.20
35. DeMarcus Walker , DT, Florida State, Sr, 6-2, 273, 4.86
36. JuJu Smith-Schuster , WR, Southern Cal, Jr, 6-2, 220, 4.52
37. Gareon Conley , CB, Ohio State, rJr, 6-0, 195, 4.50
38. Garett Bolles , OT, Utah Utes , Jr, 6-5, 296, 4.97
39. Taco Charlton , DE, Michigan, Sr, 6-5, 272, 4.87
40. Dede Westbrook , WR, Oklahoma Sooners , Sr, 5-11, 175, 4.39
41. Marcus Williams , FS, Utah, Jr, 6-0, 195, 4.56
42. Quincy Wilson , CB/S, Florida, Jr, 6-1, 213, 4.54
43. Charles Harris , DE, Missouri Tigers , rJr, 6-3, 255, 4.74
44. Chris Wormley , DT, Michigan, 6-5, 302, rSr, 4.92
45. Ethan Pocic , C/OG, LSU, Sr, 6-6, 309, 5.18
46. Cordrea Tankersley , CB, Clemson, Sr, 6-0, 200, 4.48
47. Forrest Lamp , OT/OG, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers , rSr, 6-3, 302, 5.12
48. Chidobe Awuzie , CB, Colorado, Sr, 5-11, 205, 4.56
49. Dion Dawkins , OT, Temple Owls , Sr, 6-5, 320, 5.27
50. Cameron Sutton , CB, Tennessee, Sr, 5-11, 186, 4.50


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