NFL Draft Big Board: Alabama's defense features three top-six overall prospects
Matchups in a big Pac-12 showdown are key, but Alabama defenders litter the top of our Big Board
Week 11 of the college football season offers plenty of intriguing inner-conference battles but none loom larger to the College Football Playoff -- or the minds of NFL scouts -- than the Pac-12 showdown between Washington Huskies and Southern Cal.
The game may very well be won in the trenches, but from a scouting perspective, the most interesting one-on-one battles lie outside, where Washington's speedy wideout John Ross will square off against Southern California Trojans 's equally athletic Adoree' Jackson when the Huskies have the ball, and fellow playmaking pass-catcher JuJu Smith-Schuster may draw UW's Sidney Jones . All four players are listed below on The Big Board, my personal ranking of the top 32 NFL prospects in college football.
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
A nagging ankle injury has robbed Garrett of his trademark explosiveness this season but he remains the top overall prospect on my board. The former consensus five-star recruit has been a terror since stepping onto the field for the Aggies, answering his breakout freshman season (53 tackles, including 14 for loss and 11 sacks) with an even better one last year (59-19.5-12.5). Boasting a prototypical blend of explosiveness, flexibility and length off the corner, Garrett has the look of a future Pro Bowl regular.
2. Jonathan Allen , DL, Alabama Crimson Tide , Sr, 6-3, 292, 4.85
With his 19th sack over the past 24 games, Allen was once again a standout in the showdown against LSU, recording three tackles in the Tide's 10-0 win. Allen's production is remarkable and a pace more typical among speedy edge rushers. Quite the contrary, Allen is position versatile, making many of his flashiest plays inside while at defensive tackle. He 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
Do not make the mistake of blaming Fournette for LSU Tigers being shut out against Alabama. While his statistics (44 rushing yards on 17 carries) were not very impressive, Fournette was arguably the best player on the field, nearly breaking a few big plays despite Alabama clearly focused on stopping him. Fournette is an exceptional talent who I believe is the most exciting prospect at the position since Adrian Peterson . Like Peterson, Fournette gets a lot of attention because of his rare combination of size, speed and power but his vision and agility are the stuff of legend.
4. Jabrill Peppers , SS/OLB, Michigan Wolverines , rSoph, 6-0, 208, 4.48
Michigan is loaded with NFL prospects and Peppers is the best of the bunch. Peppers is 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 perfectly demonstrated his versatility against rival Michigan State Spartans in Week 9, officially playing eight positions (linebacker, cornerback, safety, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner) and recording seven tackles (including two for loss and a sack) and scoring on a scramble as a Wildcat quarterback and a botched PAT return.
5. Reuben Foster , ILB, Alabama, Sr, 6-1, 240, 4.72
Inside linebackers rarely warrant top-10 consideration but Foster is a rare 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.
6. Marlon Humphrey , CB, Alabama, rSoph, 6-1, 198, 4.53
The son of former Alabama (and NFL) standout Bobby Humphrey, Marlon looks like a chip off the old block with his easy change of direction and acceleration. He's built well for a young player at a solid 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds and is an aggressive tackler, including in run support. Humphrey and true sophomore Minkah Fitzpatrick gives Alabama the best duo of cornerbacks in the nation.
7. Malik McDowell , DT, Michigan State, 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 is a clear-cut top-10 talent, but his stock is slipping as scouts question whether he possesses the physical and mental toughness to excel at the next level.
8. Teez Tabor , CB, Florida Gators , Jr, 6-0, 199, 4.52
Until this summer, Tabor's first name was Jalen, though his new name 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 is one the nation's top smack-talkers but usually backs it up. He was suspended (reportedly for a fight with a teammate) for Florida's season opener but has recorded four interceptions since, tied for most in the SEC.
9. Jamar 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.
10. Christian McCaffrey , RB, Stanford Cardinal , Jr, 6-0, 202, 4.48
Despite Stanford's struggles, McCaffrey has proven every bit as dynamic as in past seasons -- quietly again leading the conference in rushing (122.5) and all-purpose yards (190.1) per game. With his easy agility, instant acceleration and soft hands, McCaffrey is a weapon of mass destruction as a runner, receiver and returner, warranting comparison 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 versatility translates very well to today's wide-open NFL.
11. DeShone Kizer , QB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish , 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. The young signal-caller has struggled at times and was even benched for much of the second half against Stanford. He possesses the kind of undeniable talent that could lead to an early selection should he opt to head to the NFL but is far from a surefire franchise quarterback. Teams will not overlook that Brian Kelly has produced just one NFL quarterback (2010 sixth-round pick Tony Pike , Carolina) in 26 seasons as a head coach.
12. Dalvin Cook , RB, Florida State Seminoles , Jr, 5-11, 206, 4.46
Cook struggled out of the gate this season but has been dynamic since, including in FSU's near upset over Clemson Tigers , when he ran for 169 and four touchdowns. While not as big as Fournette nor as explosive as McCaffrey, Cook is a natural runner with excellent vision, agility and burst who projects nicely in today's pass-happy NFL.
13. Zach Cunningham , LB, Vanderbilt Commodores , rJr, 6-3, 230, 4.74
Cunningham played a starring role in Vandy's Week 7 upset in Athens, recording a career-high 19 tackles against Georgia Bulldogs , including a solo stop on fourth down inside the final minute to seal the victory. He was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week for this performance and is far from just a one-game wonder, currently leading the SEC in tackles (94). Instinctive, aggressive and athletic, Cunningham offers an exciting skill set and may be only scratching the surface of his potential. Despite not starting until the fourth game of last season, Cunningham posted 103 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles, earning first-team All-SEC honors.
14. Mike Williams , WR, Clemson, rJr, 6-3, 220, 4.50
An imposing target with explosive speed and the body control to win contested passes, Williams certainly looks the part of a future No. 1 receiver in the NFL and, according to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, he's one of four juniors (along with quarterback Deshaun Watson , running back Wayne Gallman and receiver Artavis Scott ) heading early to the pros. 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 .
15. O.J. Howard , TE, Alabama, Sr, 6-6, 242, 4.57
Howard is the best tight end in the country even if he plays an inconsistent role in the Alabama offense (including catching just one pass for negative-3 yards against LSU). Just as he did when featured during last season's national title game against Clemson, Howard was virtually unstoppable against Texas A&M, registering a career-high eight receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. 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.
15. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson, Jr, 6-2, 210, 4.64
Watson has guided the Tigers to a 9-0 start but has made troubling decisions with the ball and struggled with shaky accuracy from inside the pocket, belying his 64.4 completion percentage and 24 touchdowns (against 10 interceptions). That's not what scouts want to see from a quarterback in his third (and apparently, final) season as a starter. Watson's slight frame and Clemson's relatively simple offense are other legitimate concerns. Watson's stock is slipping but he remains firmly in the first-round conversation at this point as he possesses exciting potential as a dual-threat quarterback and has proven his poise in big games.
17. Carl Lawson , DE, Auburn Tigers , rJr, 6-2, 253, 4.67
With all due respect to the top-ranked Garrett, Lawson has been the best pass rusher in the SEC over the past month, already eclipsing his previous single-season high and tying for the conference lead with nine sacks. Finally healthy after missing 19 of 26 games over the 2014-15 seasons with a torn ACL and hip injury, Lawson is winning with a fearsome combination of initial burst, core strength and a relentless motor.
18. John Ross, WR, Washington, rJr, 5-11, 190, 4.35
With all due respect to sophomore quarterback Jake Browning , Ross is the fireplug sparking Washington's high-octane offense (and special teams). A DeSean Jackson clone with blinding straight-line speed, agility and versatility as both a receiver and returner, he is only a clean medical grade away from becoming the first receiver from Washington to earn a first-round pick since Reggie Williams in 2004.
19. Cam Robinson , OT, Alabama, Jr, 6-5, 327, 5.28
Offensive tackle is a relative weakness this year, with the battle-tested Robinson one of the few prospects with the combination of size, physicality and athleticism to warrant first-round consideration. 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 has certainly been tested, squaring off against Tennessee Volunteers 's Derek Barnett , Garrett and LSU's super sophomore Arden Key in recent weeks, with Lawson still to go. Unfortunately, Robinson comes with legitimate off-field concerns as well, with an arrest in May on gun and drug charges. The charges were later dropped.
20. Mitch Trubisky , QB, Jr, North Carolina Tar Heels , 6-3, 220, 4.74
A sparkplug for the 7-2 Tar Heels, Trubisky has skyrocketed up draft boards this season, completing 70.3 percent of his passes for 2,707 yards and 19 touchdowns against just two interceptions. Trubisky's production -- as well as his NFL-caliber combination of size, arm strength and athleticism -- is certainly intriguing. Trubisky is largely a projection at this point, however. Though he played in 19 games the past two seasons as an often-used backup, the only nine starts of his college career have come this season.
21. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee, Jr, 6-3, 257, 4.76
A more polished defender than even the top-rated Garrett, Barnett has silenced critics (including me) who questioned whether he possessed the length and explosiveness 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.
22. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington, Jr, 6-0, 181, 4.49
Jones is the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after recording a career-high two interceptions (along with two other pass breakups and three tackles) in the Huskies' Week 10 win over Cal and draft-worthy senior quarterback Davis Webb . A silky-smooth athlete with excellent awareness and composure with the ball in the air, Jones has a shot to be the first cornerback selected this spring, though some worry about his somewhat slim frame.
23. Bucky Hodges , TE, Virginia Tech Hokies , rJr, 6-6, 245, 4.78
Unlike Alabama's bigger, stronger Howard, Hodges is more of a hybrid receiver, projecting best as a mismatch in the passing game, similar to Seattle's Jimmy Graham . A high school quarterback who didn't make the full transition to pass-catcher until his sophomore season at Virginia Tech, Hodges is understandably raw but the kind of freakish athlete to worthy of a first-round gamble.
24. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Southern Cal, Jr, 6-2, 220, 4.52
With his eight touchdowns this season coming in just three games ( Utah State Aggies , Arizona State Sun Devils , Arizona Wildcats ), scouts want to see more consistency from Smith-Schuster, who is able to bully cornerbacks with his size, strength and body control but may lack top-end speed. He'll get his toughest test of the season against Washington's duo of Jones and 6-foot-3, 192-pound senior Kevin King , another potential early-round pick for the Huskies.
25. Desmond King , CB, Iowa Hawkeyes , Sr, 5-10, 200, 4.53
King nearly made the jump to the NFL after a junior season in which he recorded eight interceptions and was recognized with the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. His statistics have dropped this season (only one interception) as opponents have wisely avoided him. Scouts admire King's instincts, physicality and ball-skills but question his straight-line speed.
Best of the Rest:
, DT, Washington, rSoph, 6-4, 322, 5.19
27. Adoree' Jackson, CB/WR/RS, Jr, Southern Cal, 5-11, 185, 4.43
28. Dan Feeney , OG, Indiana Hoosiers , rSr, 6-4, 310, 5.09
29. Lowell Lotulelei , DT, Utah Utes , Jr, 6-2, 310, 5.28
30. Malik Hooker , FS, Ohio State Buckeyes , rSoph, 6-2, 205, 4.52
31. Royce Freeman , RB, Oregon Ducks , Jr, 5-11, 230, 4.49
32. Dorian Johnson , OG, Pittsburgh Panthers , Sr, 6-5, 300, 5.20
Our Latest Stories
Here's what you need to know from the pro days of Florida, Florida State, Texas and Eastern...
The Lions could be in the market for an impact safety and Peppers is a top-tier athlete with...
Lamp’s performance continues the momentum he's created for himself throughout his senior s...
The versatile Stanford star would wear a lot of hats in Green Bay
Michigan, California and BYU held pro days on Friday, with Davis Webb fighting a 'torrential...
Plus, prospects at Utah, Missouri and San Diego State look to make their mark on a busy Th...