2018 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: LSU's Arden Key flashes freakish talent
LSU's star defender returned from injury this weekend and highlights our 2018 Draft Top 20
Oh, hey, Arden Key, didn't see all 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds of you standing there. Glad to have you back.
It felt weird placing the LSU defender in the top 20 before he played a game in the 2017 season, but he was finally on the field for the Tigers on Saturday. Key sat atop , simply because I thought he had the most impressive skill set and athleticism combination of any player in the country.
He labored through a shoulder injury to start his junior campaign but rejoined his team on the field against Mississippi State. LSU got steamrolled by the Bulldogs, but from a draft perspective for Key, that's irrelevant.
When he was on the field, Key showcased the benefits that come from his massively long arms, as he effortlessly kept blockers well outside his frame. He even flashed a dip and bend around the edge that looked to be in midseason form.
After Week 3 in college football, here's the updated top 20 prospect rankings.
1. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Rudolph has been the best quarterback in college football thus far. He's made one major mistake -- a late throw over the middle into the end zone against Pittsburgh that resulted in an interception. That's it. He's been essentially flawless outside of that and has made everything look way too easy. He's read the entire field. He's drifted away from pressure in the pocket. He's thrown accurately to every type of route and even showed off some mobility as a scrambler when he's needed to leave the tackle box due to oncoming defenders.
2. Arden Key, DE, LSU
Unfortunately for LSU, Key's presence alone couldn't stop the wrecking ball that was Mississippi State. He had a half-sack and half of a tackle for loss against the Bulldogs and didn't play his normal workload, which was to be expected based on conditioning. He was part of a healthy defensive-line rotation, and although he didn't have a multitude of hugely disruptive plays, Key did demonstrate the rare physical traits he has while flying off the edge and shedding blockers in run support.
3. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Despite Rudolph's enormous first half on Saturday, Washington didn't make a reception until the second quarter, then dominated one scoring drive with three grabs for 61 yards. Washington finished with five grabs for 124 yards. He demonstrates springy athleticism and strong hands on a weekly basis. And it's not like his receiving-yard figures are inflated based on the offense he's in. Washington has accounted for 32.3 percent of Rudolph's passing yards thus far on the season; any "market share" above 30 percent is excellent. He's a stud.
4. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Darnold was his typical self in the thrilling win over Texas. He was effective under pressure, tossed a pair of picks -- though only one was his fault -- and diagnosed coverages quickly to find open receivers. The star quarterback has a tendency to throw off his back foot at the end of one of his improv sessions behind the line, but really, there's about five times more to like about his game than to dislike at this juncture.
5. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
Fitzpatrick reappears in the top 20 after back-to-back shutdown performances following the Crimson Tide's huge win over Florida State to begin the year that featured 6-foot-5 Auden Tate catching a fade touchdown over the Alabama corner. No, Fitzpatrick hasn't been tested, yet he's done all he can to significantly limit the opposition's passing game. At a solid 6-foot and 200 pounds with fluid movement skills and long arms, Fitzpatrick looks the part of a modern-day No. 1 cornerback in the NFL.
6. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Barkley had 28 receptions for 402 yards with four receiving scores as a pass-catcher a season ago, and he already has 11 grabs, 241 yards and two receiving touchdowns through three games this year, thereby rounding out his complete game. I kind of buried the lede here -- he's averaging 8.1 yards per carry so far in 2017. Barkley had four grabs for 142 yards and a touchdown in the Nittany Lions' win over Georgia State on Saturday. He's been the best back in the country this season after a tremendous sophomore campaign in 2016.
7. Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Speaking of "best" players at each position, Nelson is the nation's premier offensive lineman. Not just guard; offensive lineman of any kind. He's aware, powerful, fluid, plays with proper leverage, and has a nasty mean streak. He's been superb in the Irish's first three outings of the season.
8. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB, Oklahoma
So he's not 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, bound for a three-down role at defensive end in the NFL. So what? The pro game is already all about the quick passing game, so having edge-rushers who can pressure the quarterback in about two seconds is more paramount than their edge-setting ability vs. the run. And really, think about the sizes of the best outside rushers in football today. Von Miller, Brandon Graham, Khalil Mack are all in the 6-2 to 6-3 range and go between 240 and 255. Okoronkwo is probably closer to 240 than 255, but he's an explosive, bendy edge-rusher with loads of experience. He has 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss in three games this season. No outside rusher has been more impressive than him thus far in 2017.
9. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Guice has repeatedly displayed feature back characteristics and those obviously trump LSU's widespread issues that were exposed against Mississippi State in terms of his stock as an NFL player. Guice may not run 4.45, but he's as sudden of a runner as they come and always delivers a powerful jolt to fall forward for extra yardage. Don't underestimate his elusiveness either. He's fantastic in tight spaces, sneaking past blocks to find a tiny lane through the second level.
10. Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
Landry had a prime opportunity to cement himself as the nation's top defensive end against Notre Dame ... and he flopped. Mike McGlinchey handled him in Notre Dame's win over Boston College, and Landry was also kept at bay by the repeated use of the read-option, which froze the talented edge-rusher while he was unblocked. Facing McGlinchey, and Nelson next to him at left guard, doesn't get any more difficult for an edge-rusher in college today.
11. Derwin James, S, Florida State
James takes the field after two long weeks away from the game due to the implications of Hurricane Irma. James is the most well-rounded, athletically gifted safety in college football. I see Eric Berry when I watch him play.
12. Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Oklahoma
Part of the reason why Baker Mayfield has gotten out to such a tremendous start is because his blindside is being amazingly protected by Brown. The 6-foot-7 (give or take a few inches) gargantuan left tackle is the classic Oklahoma mold. He's not as nimble as former Sooner and reigning All-Pro Trent Williams was in college, but he might be just as powerful.
13. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Ferrell was dynamic as usual against Louisville but didn't have a sack or tackle for loss. Then again, those two things aren't a piece of cake against Lamar Jackson. Ferrell is constantly going 100 mph and has an ideal outside rusher build -- long and muscular -- yet could use some refined pass-rushing moves to round out his game.
14. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Welcome back, Mike. McGlinchey was outstanding against Landry and repositioned himself as one of top two offensive tackles in the country. He can look a bit awkward in pass protection in some instances, but in those instances, he usually gets the job done. For being such a tall offensive tackle, he performs well in the run game, as he typically gets to and finds linebackers at the second level.
15. Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
Burnett has the looks of a gadget-y slot receiver. On USC's website, he's listed at 6-foot and 170 pounds. That height is probably a stretch. Regardless of his appearance, Burnett has offered the Trojans much more than a gimmicky option. He's gone above and beyond what's been asked of him in three games and has displayed his polished game in each contest. He's fast, sudden, and has made an assortment of diving catches to start the year. Burnett has 24 receptions, 386 yards and four scores in the first three outings of the season. There's some Stefon Diggs to his game.
16. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
Burnett's teammate has looked like the rare first-round running back at the outset of his true junior season. The electric open-field runs have been frequent, and the bruising, between-the-tackle carries have been a big part of his game too. Despite his explosive talents, Jones hasn't simply bounced every run to the outside. NFL scouts and coaches will like that.
17. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Ridley now has two scores in three games and looks like one of smoothest route runners in college football. He's averaging nearly 15 yards per catch and leads the Crimson Tide with 15 receptions. Evaluating him isn't a cinch because of the ground-heavy offense Alabama uses.
18. Cameron Smith, LB, USC
Smith had nine tackles yet only one was solo against Texas. While he's seemingly always in the correct spot, I noticed his lack of speed and quickness in this game. Not good for a linebacker heading into today's NFL. He diagnoses plays and reads keys at a mastery level, which will help him compensate for his lack of twitchiness, but it's hard to project him as a franchise linebacker without dynamic athletic traits.
19. Dorian O'Daniel, OLB, Clemson
O'Daniel, on the other hand, is in the mold of a modern-day linebacker at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. He's not limited athletically whatsoever and has found the football often through three games. He has 24 tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and one pick thus far in 2017.
20. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton was blanked against TCU. Well, officially, he had one catch for zero yards. But I'm not putting it much on him. The Horned Frogs double- and oftentimes triple-covered him. Also the Mustangs quarterback had an abysmal time throwing accurately to his top target. Because of the insane attention Sutton drew, teammates Trey Quinn and James Porche combined for 10 grabs, 219 yards and two touchdowns. Sutton still has plenty of big games ahead of him.
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