2018 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Freak LSU pass rusher Arden Key is back
LSU's talented defensive end looks to be back to 100 percent, and he's a top-five prospect when healthy
Arden Key has morphed into the bigger, stronger version of what we saw from him in 2016 when he wreaked havoc on SEC quarterbacks. Against a stout Alabama front Saturday, Key was overwhelming. He had a half sack and four total tackles, and was in Jalen Hurts' face all evening.
Now listed at 6-feet-6 and 265 pounds, the long, springy defensive end is approaching Myles Garrett freakazoid territory.
He had two strong outings leading into the Alabama game, but, obviously, the contest against the Crimson Tide was the ultimate barometer, and Key was outstanding.
1. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Rudolph still doesn't look right to me health-wise, and yet he's still held it together over the past month. A few of his deep shots were a tad underthrown, and the zip he showcased on long passes across the field isn't what it was in September. Other than that, he had a solid outing in a ridiculous offense-happy Bedlam game on Saturday. Rudolph routinely scans the entire field to find an open target and when his feet are set, he almost always demonstrates impeccable touch deep. While Rudolph's experiencing a mini-lull right now, I haven't seen another elite prospect play well enough to take the top overall spot away from him.
2. Derwin James, S, Florida State
James was ubiquitous against Syracuse. He had three tackles, one interception, and defended four passes in easily his best coverage game of the 2017 season. The strong safety had a typical day stopping the run against an upstart Orange offense that puts a lot of strain on opposing defenses with its spacing and propensity to throw the quick pass. A strong end to the year could cement James in the top five of the 2018 draft.
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
Fitzpatrick wasn't challenged in a big way against LSU's lackluster passing attack -- which isn't surprising -- and he allowed only one catch in the game. Fitzpatrick and James are (somewhat) similarly sized, and the comparably athletic secondary members should be off the board early in April. This week's game in Starkville against Mississippi State should be interesting for Fitzpatrick and Co., as Nick Fitzgerald has shown flashes of being one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.
4. Arden Key, DE, LSU
His electric burst and bend are apparent -- maybe he's finally fully healthy and conditioned? -- and his length and power are impossible to miss. Per Pro Football Focus, Key has 18 quarterback pressures (three sacks, four hits, 11 hurries) on 80 pass-rushing snaps in his last three games, including seven (one hit, six hurries) against Alabama. Yes, Key jumped from out of the top 20 to No. 4 because he's that naturally talented.
5. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Barkley has been bottled up the past two games against quality defenses, but most of that is due to deficiencies on Penn State's offensive line. Despite the two "down" performances, I still think he's college football's best player. And it's not like he was dreadful against Michigan State. On 14 rushes, Barkley had 63 yards (4.5 yards per), and he turned three receptions into 33 yards in a rain-soaked game. He's a foundational ground-game piece in the NFL.
6. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Nelson had a Nelson-type game against Wake Forest. Although Josh Adams didn't piece together a tremendous yards-per-carry average, Notre Dame still ran for 380 yards on 46 carries (8.3 yards per), and Brandon Wimbush was only sacked on one occasion. And as you can probably expect, Nelson was a big part of all that. He's a boulder blocking for the run and grows roots in pass protection unlike any other guard in the country.
7. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Chubb was disruptive on run plays against Clemson and relatively productive as a pass-rusher. He didn't do anything to hurt his draft stock, he's just not as dynamic of an athlete as Key, which is why he'd technically be defensive end No. 2 at this point in the season. Still though, teams will love plenty about Chubb's game, and he's likely a top-15 pick in the 2018 draft. The road game against Boston College's run-heavy attack on Saturday will be an intriguing test for him and the rest of the Wolfpack defensive line.
8. Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Oklahoma
Brown was outstanding in Oklahoma's offensive masterpiece in Bedlam. He was his typical dominant self getting to the second level as a run-blocker and was a brick wall in pass-protection for Baker Mayfield. There were a few instances in which he was a split-second late on inside blitzes from defensive backs, but other than that, Brown looked like a franchise left tackle once again.
9. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Washington tracked the ball wonderfully against Oklahoma and got loose downfield on a few instances, as per usual. He may not have outstanding elusiveness in the open field, and that's fine. He's such a significant deep threat, the comebacks are open essentially whenever he wants. Washington is built and has strong hands too. Plus, his production has been off the charts for a while now.
10. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Another game, another stellar pass-blocking effort for McGlinchey. Duke Ejiofor and Co. gave him some problems blocking for the ground game, but that wasn't shocking. Ejiofor is one of the nation's most polished run-stopping defensive ends. Whichever team drafts McGlinchey will do so because of his overall pass-blocking skill set. He's a joy to watch on Notre Dame's pass plays.
11. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB, Oklahoma
Okoronkwo wasn't bad against Oklahoma State, but I've seen him play better. Weirdly though, he seemed to be playing contain on a handful of snaps, and beyond that, the Cowboys' uptempo offensive really slowed down the entire Oklahoma pass-rush. There's still plenty to like about Okoronkwo's bend, dip, speed around the edge, and general athletic gifts.
12. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Smith is a missile at his inside linebacker position for the Bulldogs. He had nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in the win over South Carolina and made an impact on an assortment of other plays. While his run-stopping prowess stands out, Smith's athleticism and technique allow him to flourish in coverage too. Smith has taken over as my No. 1 off-ball linebacker prospect.
13. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton has had better games than the one against a talented UCF club. He accounted for three drops, which is unusual for him. Per PFF, the 6-foot-4 wideout dropped three passes all season heading into his most recent outing. Sutton still looks like a double-digit touchdown guy in the NFL. I see a lot of DeVante Parker in his skill set.
14. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Love had another 50-yard run in his return from injury. That was pretty much it though. He had 17 yards on his 15 other carries. Then again, a good portion of that had to do with Stanford's normally stout run-blocking offensive line struggling to contain the penetrating ways of Washington State's undersized defensive front. Love is still a tremendous home run hitter.
15. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Jackson didn't play this weekend, yet moves up a few spots due to others around him faltering slightly. The Louisville quarterback has been essentially the entire offense for the Cardinals this season and though there have been times in which his pocket presence and accuracy have gone awry, he's been very impressive in those areas most of the time. He doesn't face another ranked opponent in the regular season.
16. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
There's some projection with Okorafor because of the competition he's faced his entire collegiate career, but he's experienced, light on his feet, balanced, and has the strong arms to contain outside rushers. His pass-blocking has improved from a season ago, a positive sign for his potential to continue to grow at the next level.
17. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Guice had the unenviable task of facing Alabama's concrete defensive front seven, and I thought he ran relatively well. Clearly, he was the main priority for the Crimson Tide's game plan, and they held him in relative check. Still, Guice has a rare blend of violent cutting ability, power, and keen vision. He's a feature back in the NFL, and he should be productive right away.
18. Dorian O'Daniel, OLB, Clemson
O'Daniel is a newcomer here, and he's had a tremendous yet overlooked season for the Tigers. He has the difficult job of aligning as a quasi-cornerback while also handling normal off-ball linebacker duties. There's just not an area in which he looks uncomfortable. Against Georgia Tech's triple option, the senior had seven tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and one pass breakup. He'll be a vital utilityman in the NFL.
19. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
You need interior pass-rush? Hurst is your guy. The redshirt senior is almost always the first to react to the snap, and his burst is the best among all defensive tackles in the country. Hercules Mata'afa's might be quicker, but he's 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds. Hurst is a first-round lock at this point.
20. Ronald Jones, RB, USC
Jones needs more Heisman love. Seriously. He had 194 yards on 27 carries in a thrilling win over Arizona and also amassed 39 yards on three receptions. According to PFF, he's forced 34 missed tackles on 159 carries so far in 2017 and averages 3.59 yards after contact per rush. The latter figure is pretty darn good for a 6-foot, 200-pound running back. If a team misses on Love, Jones will be that club's next target. He flies in the open field.
WR Deontay Burnett, RB Josh Adams, CB Denzel Ward, DE Harold Landry, WR Anthony Miller, TE Mark Andrews, WR Michael Gallup, DL Da'Ron Payne, LB Kendall Joseph, DT Derrick Nnadi, RB Damien Harris, CB Joshua Jackson
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