NFL Draft Big Board: The top 50 prospects to watch during bowl season
Here are the top 50 prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft, just in time for bowl season to heat up
With durability one of the few concerns scouts have on future first-round picks Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey , their stock is unlikely to be adversely affected by the decision to skip their final college games to prepare for pre-draft workouts.
Their absence only shines the light brighter on those with more on the line, a lengthy list which includes top-rated overall prospect Myles Garrett , gifted but relatively inexperienced quarterback Mitch Trubisky and Western Michigan Broncos wideout Corey Davis , who faces a steep jump in competition in the Cotton Bowl.
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 would love to end his junior season on a high note against Kansas State Wildcats in the Texas Bowl December 28 after battling through an ankle injury for much of the year. The 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 32 stops, including 15.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Garrett remains the top draft-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 this matchup 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 the top-rated senior prospect on the Big Board, 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
Part of the reason why scouts are 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 . Though it may not make LSU Tigers fans happy, healing properly and performing well in medical evaluations and workouts are more important to Fournette's draft stock at this point than whatever he might have accomplished by playing one more game for the Tigers.
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 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-foot-1 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 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. 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 (36th 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. Expect Cunningham to be very active against North Carolina State and its Senior Bowl-bound running back Matthew Dayes 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, honored as this year's Outland Trophy winner, starred at left tackle for the Tide since earning the job as a true freshman but his NFL future might be right tackle or even inside at guard.
15. 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, 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 his ability as a returner and as a potential slot receiver add to his value.
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, 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 virtually unstoppable against Ohio Bobcats in the conference championship game, hauling in eight passes for 144 yards and a score for the undefeated 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. Vita Vea , DT, Washington, rSoph, 6-4, 332, 5.19
The Huskies' skill position talent on both sides of the ball generate most of the buzz, but in terms of raw talent, Vea might be the top dog of them all. He possesses extraordinary athleticism for a man of his size, standing out 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.
26. 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.
27. 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 was held to a season-low one reception by Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley in the ACC Championship Game loss but could find more opportunities against Arkansas Razorbacks in the Belk Bowl against Arkansas on December 29.
28. 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. His matchup against a talented Utah Utes defensive line in the Russell Athletic Bowl on December 28 is among the more intriguing matchups of the bowl season.
29. 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.
30. 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 tied with Allen (No. 2 on the Big Board) with 8.5 sacks this year for the Crimson Tide, terrorizing opponents off the edge with his burst and bend. Williams is a bit of a one-trick pony, proving much more effective as a pass rusher than in run support but that will not keep him from earning a first-round pick this spring.
31. JuJu Smith-Schuster , WR, Southern Cal, Jr, 6-2, 220, 4.52
In a class full of speedsters, Smith-Schuster is one of the few receivers with the size and physical nature to help an NFL team immediately as both a pass-catcher and downfield blocker. His inconsistent production is disconcerting -- as his nine touchdowns during the regular season came in just four games -- but teams looking for a traditional split end will be intrigued.
32. Dorian Johnson , OG, Pittsburgh Panthers , Sr, 6-5, 300, 5.20
While perhaps lacking the flash of the so-called "skill position" prospects, few will enter the NFL more highly regarded than Johnson, a former blue chip recruit who started all four years for the Panthers and capped his career as an All-American (and Senior Bowl invite) in 2016. Quick, agile and technically sound, Johnson projects as a Day 1 starting guard in the NFL.
Finishing the Top 50:
, CB, Southern Cal, Jr, 5-11, 185, 4.42
34. DeMarcus Walker , DT, Florida State, Sr, 6-2, 273, 4.86
35. Deshaun Watson , QB, Clemson, Jr, 6-2, 215, 4.64
36. Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State, rJr, 6-0, 195, 4.50
37. Garett Bolles , OT, Utah, Jr, 6-5, 296, 4.97
38. Taco Charlton , DE, Michigan, Sr, 6-5, 272, 4.87
39. Dede Westbrook , WR, Oklahoma, Sr, 5-11, 175, 4.39
40. Marcus Williams , FS, Utah, Jr, 6-0, 195, 4.56
41. Quincy Wilson , CB/S, Florida, Jr, 6-1, 213, 4.54
42. Charles Harris , DE, Missouri Tigers , rJr, 6-3, 255, 4.74
43. Chris Wormley , DT, Michigan, 6-5, 302, rSr, 4.92
44. Ethan Pocic , C/OG, LSU, Sr, 6-6, 309, 5.18
45. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson, Sr, 6-0, 200, 4.48
46. Forrest Lamp , OT/OG, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers , rSr, 6-3, 302, 5.12
47. Chidobe Awuzie , CB, Colorado, Sr, 5-11, 205, 4.56
48. Jaleel Johnson , DT, Iowa, rSr, 6-3, 310, 5.15
49. Cameron Sutton , CB, Tennessee, Sr, 5-11, 186, 4.50
50. Pat Elflein , C/OG, Ohio State, rSr, 6-2, 300, 5.22
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