2018 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Sam Darnold climbs back into top 20
The USC QB is getting hot at the right time for the Trojans, and he looks like a first-round lock again
It took him a while, but Sam Darnold appears to be back.
And when I write "back," I mean back to being the gun-slinging yet efficient quarterback we saw for the vast majority of a spectacular redshirt freshman season in 2016.
About a month ago, I didn't think Darnold should or would declare for the 2018 draft. As a nod to College Gameday godfather Lee Corso, "not so fast, my friend." If the Trojans continue to play lights out offensively and Darnold continues to take what the defenses give him initially, I think he'll have plenty of momentum heading into draft season.
1. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Rudolph methodically dissected the Iowa State defense on Saturday. Even after trailing 14-0, the Oklahoma State quarterback stayed calm and found open receivers all afternoon. We know he can hit the deep ball, but that wasn't there in Ames, and he still had a marvelous performance. Rudolph went 25 of 31 for 376 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He maneuvered well in the pocket and was accurate to all levels of the field.
2. Derwin James, S, Florida State
James made his presence known throughout Florida State's upset bid against Clemson. And while the Seminoles ultimately fell short, the veteran safety catalyzed a quality defensive effort on the road against one of the best teams in the country. James finished the contest with nine tackles, one tackle for loss, and one pass breakup. He has played exceptionally over the past few weeks for a injury-riddle Florida State club.
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
Fitzpatrick was the best defensive player on the field for the Crimson Tide in a difficult game in Starkville. According to Pro Football Focus, the junior cornerback allowed two catches on three targets in his coverage area for 14 yards. He tackled well and even made an impact as a blitzer. Fitzpatrick and James are the premier defensive backs in this class due to their versatility and imposing athleticism.
Key was at it again facing a mediocre Arkansas offensive line. He demonstrated a dip/bend around the edge that shouldn't be possible for someone his size, and he looks as spry as ever on the outside of LSU's defensive front. While he ended the game with just three tackles, none of which came behind the line of scrimmage, Key looked like a top-flight edge-rusher for the third or fourth week in a row.
5. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Notre Dame got demolished in Miami and, really, the lone Fighting Irish offensive player to show up for the highly anticipated matchup was Nelson. Heck, he was pancaking Hurricane defenders late in the fourth quarter with the game clearly out of reach. GMs -- and offensive line coaches -- will love that. The rest of the Notre Dame line was completely overwhelmed by the speed of Miami's defensive front seven. He won the vast majority of his one-on-one battles against the run and in pass-protection. Stock up for the best guard in the country.
6. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Chubb was unblockable against Boston College. It was a dominant effort in all phases. He had four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble on one of those sacks. What's important too -- and it's something that's showed all season -- Chubb held up well against the run. At his size -- 6-foot-4, and 275 pounds -- some NFL teams will like him at the left defensive end spot to defend against the opposition's strong-side run plays. Chubb may not be a 15-sack-per-season guy as a pro, but you know you'll get quality pass-rushing and run-defending out of him almost every week.
7. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Barkley didn't have a monster game against Rutgers? Nope. The Scarlet Knights sold out to stop him, and were successful in that endeavor, it's just the rest of the Penn State offense did whatever it wanted in the runaway victory. Barkley's totaled just 98 yards on his last 28 carries, a far cry from what we saw from him in the first seven games of the season. The Nittany Lions' offensive line wasn't a tremendous group to begin with, and now it's dealing with eight-man boxes on the regular. Don't let the statistics fool you though, Barkley is still an elite running back prospect.
8. Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Oklahoma
Brown gave up a sack against TCU ... and that was it. Beyond that, he was his typically lumbering yet overwhelming self, controlling Horned Frog defenders in pass protection and especially when coming around on pulls in the run game. Brown is a special tackle prospect due to his size, movement ability, and refinement as a run-blocker, a polished part of his skill set not usually found in larger offensive linemen.
9. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton has taken over as my No. 1 wideout prospect in the 2018 class. I think he offers more than James Washington. He's big, routinely wins in contested-catch situations and is shiftier after the catch. He reminds me of DeVante Parker or Michael Thomas. Washington is more Torrey Smith. Catch my drift? Washington can and will stretch defenses, make tough catches outside his body frame, and rarely drop a pass. All of that applies to Sutton, but he's bigger and has more impressive open-field wiggle. He had seven catches for 123 yards with two touchdowns on Saturday.
10. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Smith has quietly drifted up my draft board because of his complete linebacker skill set and his "eraser" status as a run-defender. Though Auburn demolished Georgia to unseat the Bulldogs from the nation's top spot, Smith performed remarkably against Gus Malzahn's offense that's predicated on misdirection and quarterback options. He had 12 tackles on the evening and, as usual, was a step faster to the football than everyone else on Georgia's defense
11. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Washington was held to just one catch for 25 yards against Iowa State, the lowest yardage total of his senior season. Teams have gone out of their way to limited the burner's downfield explosiveness, and in a handful of games this year that gameplan has worked. I still like plenty about what Washington will bring to the NFL. I think he can be a superb deep threat from Day 1 and will eat on comeback routes due to the cushion he'll see often.
12. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB, Oklahoma
Strangely, this was the second-straight game Okoronkwo wasn't much of a factor on the edge. Some of that has to do with the uptempo attacks in the Big 12 really slowing down the pass-rush. Some of that has been due to not a ton of juice from Okoronkwo around the corner, which, earlier in the season was his hallmark. He's still the bendiest edge-rusher I've watched this college football season.
13. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Just another 150-yard effort from Love, and somehow, it didn't feature a 50-plus yard touchdown. The Stanford phenom's longest rush was only 35 yards, yet he had gains of 17 and 21 as well. Similar to Christian McCaffrey a season ago, Love will probably get labeled by some as an outside, speed runner, but on numerous occasions this year, he's displayed a keen ability to pick up meaningful yardage between the tackles. His tremendous athletic gifts are complemented by his vision.
14. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Jackson managed the pocket wonderfully on Saturday -- something that's becoming more and more common -- and consistently checked the entire field to find open receivers. He had two awesome touch-pass touchdowns. Oh, and he ran for 147 yards on just 15 carries. It marked his fourth consecutive game with more than 140 yards rushing. Ridiculous. A few questionable decisions down the middle were the only hiccups I noticed from Jackson. He's getting better every week.
15. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Hurst is on fire right now, and actually, he's lived in his opponent's backfields all season. He's made the most of his first opportunity to be a starter for the Wolverines. Maryland had no answer for him on what seemed like every other play. Pass play, run play. Didn't matter. He now has 12 tackles for loss and five sacks on the season. He wins with acceleration off the snap and crafty hand use.
16. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
No back in college football can piece together two- and three-cut runs through traffic like Guice. His cuts are so sudden and efficient, he gets upfield with each while leaving linebackers and cornerbacks tackling air. Then he ends his run with a huge pop on the safety. He averaged seven yards per carry on 21 rushes -- and scored three touchdowns -- against Arkansas. He makes running the football in the SEC look easy.
17. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
Okorafor remains my sole non-Power 5 conference prospect on this list. And by now, you know the reasons why. He has NFL left tackle size, is a brick wall in pass-protection because of his quick feet, long arms, and balance, and he gets after it in the run game. I think the Senior Bowl will be fantastic for him.
18. Ronald Jones, RB, USC
Jones is a uber-talented runner. He's just being overlooked because of the unfathomably loaded running back class of which he's a part. This USC back has a little bit of Bryce Love, some Saquon Barkley, and a sprinkle of Guice in his game. He can flip on the jets for big gainers, pound it between the tackles, and certainly make defenders miss at an amazing rate. Per Pro Football Focus, Jones forced a whopping 12 missed tackles in the win over Colorado.
19. Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa
Jackson was Iowa's offense in the loss to Wisconsin on Saturday, as he returned two interceptions for touchdowns. All this guy does is make plays on the football. He now has seven interceptions and a 16 pass breakups -- yeah, 16 -- in 10 games this season. This all isn't a fluke either. Jackson plays plenty of man coverage and has frequently demonstrated the athleticism and technique to stay in the hip pocket of the wideouts he covers.
20. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Darnold's back in the top 20. He deserves it after consecutive solid outings. As I mentioned, Darnold has thrown with more assertiveness over the past two games than he did earlier in the year, and it's led to a rather efficient version of the redshirt sophomore quarterback. Darnold had his finest game of the season against Colorado.
OT Mike McGlinchey, OLB Dorian O'Daniel, WR Deontay Burnett, DE Clelin Ferrell, RB Josh Adams, CB Denzel Ward, WR Anthony Miller, TE Mark Andrews, WR Michael Gallup, LB Kendall Joseph, DT Derrick Nnadi, RB Damien Harris
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