2018 NFL Draft prospects: Ranking the top 32 based exclusively on college performance
Here's why Josh Allen isn't one of the 32 best draft-eligible players
drives me nuts. The NFL Draft evaluation process allows a lot of very smart football people to talk themselves in and out of the professional potential of 20-somethings. Not being close enough to the war room, it's difficult to know if it's a case of too many cooks in the kitchen or just overthinking, but for the draft-eligible players who played high-level college football, I think the argument can (and in some cases should) be based on what happened in those games.
Avoiding the seduction of how a player looks in workouts or is measured in underwear and focusing solely on college performance, I've ranked the top 32 prospects in this year's NFL Draft. With those parameters put in place, Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen does not make the list.
Allen could be a very good NFL quarterback, but the fact that he "looks a quarterback" -- or at least what a good amount of evaluators think a quarterback should look like -- should not, in my opinion, overshadow a two-year run at Wyoming as a 50-55 percent passer. Allen looked like a future pro, but to me, a first-round pick should be able to provide value in the present.
Here's how I see the top of the 2018 NFL Draft class:
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Arguably one of the best all-purpose football talents of the decade in college football, Barkley is instant value added to whatever teams decides to pick him up near the top of the draft. His versatility is well-documented in a league that is continuing to explore unique ways to use skill position players I think he can dominate.
2. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State: Chubb hasn't always been the top-of-the-bill headliner that he's become over the last six months or so. Just a three-star prospect coming out of Powder Springs, Georgia, Chubb put in a lot of work on his body and his craft as a defensive lineman at NC State, developing into one of the best pass-rushers in all of college football.
3. Derwin James, DB, Florida State: You didn't need to know James' number when you watch Florida State film. When healthy, he flashes in a way that few can in a sport with 22 players on the field at once. James has an instinctive ability to know where to be and the athleticism and make a big play anywhere on the field. He continued the line of success that goes through Jalen Ramsey and on back to Lamarcus Joyner in Tallahassee, and if he can stay healthy he'll be a Pro Bowler soon.
4. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia: Smith has the closing speed of a jungle cat. No linebacker in college football could and read-and-react like Smith, and he was honored appropriately after the regular season with a Aaron Donald-type run of cleaning up all the major defensive awards. NFL teams might be knocking him down their board because of size, but I'm confident he will figure out a way to dominate like he did with the Bulldogs.
5. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State: One day we're going to look back at the Ohio State secondary room from the last couple seasons and be amazed at all the NFL talent that Urban Meyer had at once in Columbus. Put Ward on the early watch list to follow in the footsteps of Marshon Lattimore and contend for Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018. He's a stud, an absolute warrior on the edge and as pro-ready as they get at the position.
6. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame: It's a thin year for the biggest boys at the top of the draft, but Nelson is the one can't-miss offensive lineman. Nelson's college tape is going to be taught for decades, and I feel sorry for everyone he's embarrassed and will continue to as we rewatch his clips.
7. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: The noise around the NFL Draft and the hysteria that comes with being one of the top quarterbacks is nothing new for Rosen. Before Rosen even played a game as a freshman, Jim Mora infamously berated him in front of reporters during a media viewing session of a late-August practice -- a "you're not in high school anymore" type rant, which reportedly included a "the anointed one!" jab. The highest expectations imaginable have always been there, so I like Rosen of all the quarterbacks to be the most ready to make the jump and provide immediate value as a starting quarterback.
8. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama: One underrated aspect of Fitzpatrick's pro potential is his understanding of the game. The defensive backfield at Alabama has seen tremendous amounts of talent come through during the Nick Saban era, but Fitzpatrick might be the best of them all. Saban and the defensive coaches relied on Fitzpatrick at multiple positions and even when he was slowed by minor injuries needed him on the field to help the defense get lined up. Fitzpatrick "gets it" when it comes to defensive concepts, which paired with his athleticism and ball skills makes for a very enticing potential career in the NFL.
9. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Don't focus on the Mayfield's dashcam footage, the taunting of Kansas' players or even the incredible highlight reel put together across three consecutive Big 12 title runs. Think about what Mayfield built for himself during the 2014 regular season, sitting out as a transfer from Texas Tech to Oklahoma. Mayfield is a football lifer to who is going to make any quarterback room better with his competitive fire. I don't know if he's going to be a star or even a starter, but you're not to be a worse football team with him on the roster, that's a guarantee.
10. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: Ridley is the best route-runner in the class. He's got the kind of precision that allows players of any size or speed to find those elusive windows of separation at the next level. The Alabama offense hasn't always catered to him in a way that produced dominant statistics, but Ridley's work is exquisite.
11. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: Wide receiver is another position where NFL teams can be seduced by size and speed in the evaluation process. Just because a player looks like a freak doesn't guarantee freaky-good performance on Sundays. Washington is undersized, but he's fast as hell and will find ways to get open. Don't overthink it with Ridley or Washington, they will both be in the league for a long time.
12. Vita Vea, DT, Washington: In terms of interior defensive linemen, Vea was the best in college football last year. He's a mauler that can swallow up offensive lineman and allow linebackers to step up and make plays. When I look at Vea, I see a player who can not only command attention put push the pocket back from the interior like Timmy Jernigan did at Florida State.
13. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama: The embarrassment of riches at linebacker over the last few years at Alabama kept Evans as a rotation player until he had matured into a grown-ass man. Evans can be seen speeding downfield like a hammerhead shark and heaven help you if you're the ball-carrier. His physicality and tenacity sets the tone, but there's also a ton to like about his versatility playing inside or outside.
15. Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia: Wynn moved all around the offensive line at Georgia, played through injuries and finished his career as one of the most dominant run blockers in the SEC.
16. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa: We're not perfect when it comes to awarded greatness at individual positions in college football. It's really tough to actually watch every play from all 130 FBS teams every Saturday, so our All-America teams tend to be a little messy and lean on the numbers to help tell the story. Josh Jackson's 2017 campaign was highlighted by a two-game run with five interceptions (three in an upset of Ohio State, two in a loss to Wisconsin), but his ball skills were on display all season and his game backs up his argument as a future pro.
17., OT, Oklahoma: You can't coach the type of size that swallows up entire humans. Brown has always been big, but in 2017 he started to back up the measurements with some really strong play on the edge.
18. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU: Sutton was a lightly recruited safety and tight end prospect coming out of high school, but he's improved every year at SMU and finished his career as one of the top wide receivers in program history. He's probably not a No. 1 coming right out, but given his trajectory and improvement every year, the signs are good that he could be one day.
19. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan: There's a versatility that's coveted with modern interior defenders, and Hurst has that ability to both stop the run and rush the passer from the defensive tackle position. If you're focusing on size and moving Hurst down the draft board, he's going to end up in your favorite quarterback's face next fall.
20. Justin Reid, DB, Stanford: A student from the Duane Akina school of defensive backs with NFL talent already in the family, Reid's pedigree is impeccable. Stanford's entire secondary was a little bit overlooked last year, and Reid was the star of the group.
21. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP: When a player like the 6-foot-2, 348-pound Hernandez shows up at UTEP, he's going to be used almost immediately. After redshirting his freshman year, he was immediately thrown into the rotation; after 49 career starts, Hernandez leaves the Miners as one of the best players in program history.
22. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia: This is your Alvin Kamara pick for 2018. With the right fit, Michel could end up having a Rookie of the Year-caliber debut at the pro level. While he was usually the No. 2 to Nick Chubb, Georgia's 2017-18 postseason revealed Michel as arguably the most irreplaceable piece of that offense.
23. Sam Darnold, QB, USC: Barton Simmons, my co-host on the 247Sports College Football Podcast, has been big on Darnold's potential. It's important to remember that, of all the quarterbacks in this class, Darnold is the youngest and least experienced. A former linebacker at the start of his high school career, Darnold's ceiling may be the highest of all. He showed flashes at USC but not enough for me to feel confident putting him ahead of Rosen, Mayfield and/or Jackson.
24., LB, Georgia: Carter leads the way for me in this next crop of linebackers. While listed as an edge defender, Carter is dynamic making plays at the second level and did a good job stepping up and taking on blocks when the play was funneled his way.
25. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU: With a little bit more shake and shimmy than Fournette, Guice had high expectations coming into 2017 as the team's new starter in the backfield. While some of that wasn't realized because of injuries and other issues, a change of scenery could help Guice with this next stage of his career.
26. Connor Williams, OL, Texas: Williams is a beast. His film at Texas wasn't perfect, but some of my less-than-overwhelmed reactions during his college career are admittedly shaded by disappointment in Texas' offense as a whole. Very excited to see how he plays at the next level.
27. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: When the motor is on, Payne is a top-10 talent. Even B-plus effort from him is probably good enough to see the field on Sundays, but if he can replicate some of 2017 outside of Tuscaloosa, Payne could be a star.
28. Jaire Alexander, DB, Louisville: It might take a year or two before Alexander has totally transitioned, but he's got all the skills to be a shutdown corner in the NFL. He was a little banged up at times during 2017, but when healthy he was easily identified as the best player on Louisville's defense.
29. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Kirk's electric ability to flip the field or even score on special teams make him one of the most unique talents in the class. Texas A&M fans are hoping that Kirk can continue the Aggies' run of first round picks, but wherever he goes that team will be able to give him a shot at becoming an immediate contributor because of his game-breaking open-field play.
30. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech: Just an absolute freak of a player straight out of the Bud Foster school of tough-as-nails defense. This part of the rankings is defined by consistency, and while I don't know if Edmunds will be a superstar, I feel confident saying that can play in the NFL for as long as he wants. Everyone wants a Tremaine Edmunds on the roster.
31. Dante Pettis, WR, Washington: Getting Pettis adds instant value because you're also getting one of the best return specialists we've seen recently in college football. Pettis was a solid receiver at Washignton, but his skills in the open field are going to win him plenty of opportunities to contribute immediately in the NFL on special teams.
32. Auburn: While no one is mistaking Gus Malzahn for being a "pro-style" offensive coach, I think Smith's experience at Auburn will make him a quick learn as the NFL continues to adopt aspects of the college game. Smith was a stud run blocker for the Tigers and got to face off against future pros every Saturday during their 2017 SEC West title run., G,
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