NFL Draft Big Board: Bumper crops at several key positions, but not quarterback
College football's final weekend features a Heisman moment and Army-Navy before bowl season
It will be only a matter of weeks before underclassmen must make their pro intentions known, and the talent available in the 2017 NFL Draft is becoming clear.
Assuming many highly-rated juniors and redshirt sophomores jump as expected, the spring draft should feature bumper crops at running back, tight end, edge rusher and defensive back, especially cornerback. Unfortunately, the talent is not as impressive at other key positions, including quarterback and offensive tackle.
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 32 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
Limited this season by a nagging ankle injury, Garrett 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 32 stops, including 15.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Stats don't tell the complete story. 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 a Texas Bowl matchup with Kansas State Wildcats on Dec. 28 to be his final game.
2. Jonathan Allen , DL, Alabama Crimson Tide , 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, recording four tackles, including 1.5 sacks in Alabama's thumping of Florida Gators in the SEC Championship. 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. Allen now has 56 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks on the year with the Peach Bowl against Washington Huskies (Dec. 31) and a possible berth in the national championship (Jan. 9) still to go.
3. Leonard Fournette , RB, LSU, Jr, 6-1, 230, 4.45
Fournette struggled with an ankle injury this season, 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 (and raise legitimate concerns about his durability), he possesses the most exciting blend of size, speed and power among running backs since Adrian Peterson . He already publicly announced his intention to enter the 2017 draft and may recover from the injury in time to face Louisville Cardinals in the Citrus Bowl, Dec. 31.
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.
5. Jabrill Peppers , SS/OLB, Michigan Wolverines , rSoph, 6-0, 208, 4.48
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, one of five Heisman finalists, will square off against Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl (Dec. 30).
6. Teez Tabor , CB, Florida, 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 will face Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl January 2.
7. 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-foot01 and 198 pounds and is an aggressive tackler, including in run support. The showdown between Humphrey and sophomore Minkah Fitzpatrick against Washington's speedy receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis (and their NCAA-best 31 combined touchdown receptions) in the Peach Bowl is one of the more compelling matchups of the bowl season.
8. 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.
9. Dalvin Cook , RB, Florida State, 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. Two of the more dynamic players in college football will square off when Cook faces Peppers and the Wolverines in the Orange Bowl (Dec. 30).
10. Mike Williams , WR, Clemson Tigers , rJr, 6-3, 220, 4.50
Williams was brilliant in his final game at Death Valley, torching rival South Carolina Gamecocks for a career-high three touchdowns. 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 . Williams against Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley (31st on the Big Board) in the New Year's Eve Fiesta Bowl is a must-see matchup for scouts.
11. 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. Commodores fans will get one final chance to marvel at Cunningham when Vanderbilt faces North Carolina Tar Heels State on Dec. 26 in the Independence Bowl.
12. 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 (including an SEC-leading 12 sacks over the regular season) speak for themselves. Barnett could end his career on a high note with a friendly crowd expected in Nashville (Dec. 30) for a Music City Bowl matchup with Nebraska Cornhuskers .
13. Mitch Trubisky , QB, Jr, North Carolina, 6-3, 220, 4.74
Though he failed to guide UNC to a win over state rival North Carolina State in the regular season finale, 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 12 starts of his college career coming this season. His 13th -- and perhaps final -- college start will come in the Sun Bowl (Dec. 30) against a Stanford Cardinal defense that allowed only 16 touchdown passes (and intercepted opponents 12 times) over 12 regular-season games.
14. 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 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.
15. Christian McCaffrey , RB, Stanford, 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 Pac-12 in rushing (145.7) and all-purpose yards (211.5) over the regular season. With his easy agility, instant acceleration and soft hands, reminds of 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 I believe that he possesses the athleticism and receiving skills to potentially handle slot receiver duties, as well. McCaffrey has already announced his intention to leave early for the NFL, making the December 30 Sun Bowl against Trubisky and the Tar Heels his final opportunity to dazzle.
16. John Ross, WR, Washington, rJr, 5-11, 190, 4.35
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. His agility and speed could make for an exciting challenge for Alabama's secondary -- if sophomore quarterback Jake Browning has enough time to get him the ball.
17. 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. Certainly no one can question his production as Davis became the all-time leading receiver in FBS history earlier this year with 5,212 career receiving yards (and 51 touchdowns). He was virtually unstoppable against Ohio Bobcats in the conference championship game, hauling in eight passes for 144 yards and a score for the undefeated Denver Broncos . Davis and WMU faces a much tougher foe in Wisconsin Badgers in the Cotton Bowl (Jan. 2). In eight career games against Big Ten opponents, Davis has scored "just" three times.
18. 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.
19. Sidney Jones IV, CB, Washington, Jr, 6-0, 181, 4.49
A big part of the Huskies' ascent into the playoffs this season is due to its extraordinary secondary, which could 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 selected this spring, though some worry about his somewhat slim frame. If the Huskies are to have a shot at upsetting Alabama in the Peach Bowl, Jones and the Washington deep patrol will have to silence freshman sensation Jalen Hurts and the Tide's passing game.
20. Ryan Ramczyk , OT, Wisconsin, 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 backstory 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. Wisconsin faces Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl (Jan. 2).
21. O.J. Howard , TE, Alabama, Sr, 6-6, 242, 4.57
Howard lacks the production one might expect of an early draft pick, catching just 37 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns with the Sugar Bowl yet to play (106-1,576-6 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.
22. 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 join 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 this 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 but he'll be challenged by Oklahoma Sooners 's up-tempo offense (and future first-round pick LT Orlando Brown , Jr.) in the Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2).
23. 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.
24. 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. 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, 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) in 26 seasons as a head coach.
25. 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 this season (only two interceptions) as opponents have wisely avoided him. Scouts admire King's instincts, physicality and ball-skills but question his straight-line speed, which will be tested in the Outback Bowl (Jan. 2) against Florida.
Best of the Rest:
Virginia Tech Hokies
, rJr, 6-6, 245, 4.78
27. Dan Feeney , OG, Indiana Hoosiers , rSr, 6-4, 310, 5.09
28. Tre'Davious White CB, LSU, Sr, 5-11, 192, 4.50
29. Dorian Johnson , OG, Pittsburgh Panthers , Sr, 6-5, 300, 5.20
30. JuJu Smith-Schuster , WR, Southern Cal, Jr, 6-2, 220, 4.52
31. Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State, rJr, 6-0, 195, 4.50
32. DeMarcus Walker , DT, Florida State, Sr, 6-2, 273, 4.86
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