An incredibly early look at the top 100 prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft: 21-40
It's never too early to start looking ahead at next year's NFL Draft
While the 2017 NFL Draft is still fresh on our minds, it's never too early to start looking forward at next year's crop of standout prospects. Here are the guys you need to know to get you ready for the 2017 NCAA season and ultimately, the 2018 NFL Draft.
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21. Christian Kirk | WR | Texas A&M | Junior
Kirk lacks ideal No. 1 wideout size at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, but he has moments reminiscent of the similarly sized Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown. Kirk has blazing speed and explosive cutting ability, which makes him nearly impossible to tackle on the first try in the open field. As a freshman in 2015, he had 80 catches for 1,009 yards with seven receiving touchdowns. Last year, he reeled in 83 passes for 928 yards with nine scores.
22. Martinas Rankin | OL | Mississippi State | Senior
Rankin was a top junior college recruit and didn't have the best start to the 2016 season. However, he dominated down the stretch. At 6-foot-5 and 307 pounds with impressive footwork and power, Rankin is en route to having a fine final year at Mississippi State. He even took reps at center during the Bulldogs spring game (due to injuries) and performed well.
23. Lamar Jackson | QB | Louisville | Junior
Jackson will be one of, if not the most polarizing prospects in the 2018 class -- if he chooses to declare. The reigning Heisman winner has in-his-prime Michael Vick-type running ability. And although he's come a long way as a passer in his two years as Louisville's starter, he'll need to display more consistency with his accuracy to go early in the draft.
24. Malik Jefferson | LB | Texas | Junior
His stats don't jump off the page, but Jefferson has the skill set to become an impact linebacker at the NFL level. At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, he can be likened to Texans 2017 second-round pick Zach Cunningham from a size perspective. Like Cunningham, Jefferson is a high-energy linebacker who makes plays all over the field, not just between the tackles.
25. Jaire Alexander | CB | Louisville | Junior
At 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, Alexander could add some weight to his frame as he gets ready to make the jump to the next level. In 2016, he reeled in five interceptions and defended nine other passes in his target area. Louisville will be in the spotlight often, so Alexander will have ample opportunity to make big plays with everyone watching.
26. Vita Vea | DT | Washington | Junior
Washington lost plenty of talent from its Pac-12 winning squad from a season ago, but Vea the headliner of the holdovers in Seattle. At 6-foot-5 and 332 pounds, Vea is a gargantuan interior defender and moves like he's in the 300-pound range with impressive upfield burst and ability to finish. He had 6.5 tackles for loss with five sacks in 2016.
27. Calvin Ridley | WR | Alabama | Junior
With freshman Jalen Hurts under center a season ago, the Alabama offense was aerially challenged at times. Ridley saw his statistics drop from 89 catches and 1,045 yards in 2015 to 72 grabs and 769 yards as a sophomore. The 6-foot-1, 188-pound Ridley has some Amari Cooper to his game, as he's a fluid receiver who makes things look easy at times. With improved quarterback play, Ridley could have a season that makes him worth a Round 1 selection.
28. Jerome Baker | LB | Ohio State | Junior
Another bouncy athlete playing linebacker for the Buckeyes, Baker is 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds with speed that's evident the moment you start watching Ohio State. In 2016, he made a whopping 83 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions. With another strong season, he'll be Malik Jefferson's prime challenger to be the first inside linebacker off the board.
29. Mitch Hyatt | OT | Clemson | Junior
Hyatt was a stonewall left tackle for Clemson in their national-title winning season a year ago. It was a fine overall campaign for the 6-foot-5, 295-pounder that culminated with a fantastic showing against a scary Alabama defensive front loaded with future NFL talent.
30. Micah Kiser | LB | Virginia | Senior
Kiser will enter the 2017 college football season as the inside linebacker with the best resume. In 2015, the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder had 117 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Last year, he tallied 133 takedowns with 10 tackles for loss and six sacks. He's a do-everything linebacker with imposing size and a nasty demeanor on the field. Kiser isn't a true speedster but has nice quickness and has shown he's as comfortable dropping into coverage as he is flying downhill.
31. Orlando Brown | OT | Oklahoma | Junior
When you think of an Oklahoma offensive tackle, you think "large and overwhelmingly powerful." Brown is exactly that, and he's the latest in a long lineage of top-flight offensive tackle prospects to come out of Norman. He's 6-foot-8 and 340 pounds and won't lose many battles in the trenches.
32. Royce Freeman | RB | Oregon | Senior
With Oregon's down 2016 and myriad running backs piecing together fine seasons, Freeman was overlooked last year. After totaling 3,100 total rushing yards in his first two seasons for the Ducks, his workload was scaled back, and he played in 11 games, rushing for 945 yards on 168 carries with nine touchdowns. Freeman has a style reminiscent of former Oregon star Jonathan Stewart. He has a big but compact frame and consistently shows off impressive change-of-direction skills and vision.
33. Josh Sweat | DE/OLB | Florida State | Junior
At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Sweat already has the body of a rangy NFL edge-rusher. In 2016, he had 11.5 tackles for loss to go along with seven sacks. He and bookend pass-rusher Brian Burns will wreak havoc in the ACC in 2017.
34. Quenton Nelson | OG | Notre Dame | Senior
Nelson is a massive guard at 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds, but he has refined pass-blocking skills. It's actually in the run game that there's plenty of room for improvement. NFL teams will love his pass-blocking specialty.
35. Baker Mayfield | QB | Oklahoma | Senior
The next controversial, improvisational, highly productive quarterback from the Big 12 conference, the 6-foot-1 Mayfield has glimpses of Johnny Manziel on the field, running for his life behind the line of scrimmage before eventually finding a target down the field to pull off a seemingly impossible play. There is some off-field baggage too. In three years quarterbacking the Sooners offense, Mayfield has 88 touchdowns to only 24 interceptions and has completed nearly 68 percent of his passes.
36. Marcus Allen | S | Penn State | Senior
Allen was the Nittany Lions' most impactful secondary member in 2016. He had 110 tackles and six tackles for loss. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he has NFL safety size. He was a terror against Minnesota, when he tallied a remarkable 22 tackles with one tackle for loss.
37. Cameron Smith | LB | USC | Junior
It's been a while since we've seen a top-level inside linebacker prospect come out of the USC program, but Smith will be a high pick whenever he enters the draft. The 6-foot-2 Smith carries his 245 pounds well and plays like he weighs 10-15 pounds lighter than that. After a spectacular freshman year that saw him intercept three passes to go along with 78 tackles, Smith had 83 tackles and seven tackles for loss in 2016.
38. Ronald Jones | RB | USC | Junior
No running back kicks it from first gear to second gear faster than Jones, and his top gear is scintillating. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Jones has a skinnier build, but he's flourished between the tackles in his first two years at USC. Last year he had 1,082 yards at 6.1 yards per carry with 12 rushing touchdowns.
39. Tyrone Crowder | OG | Clemson | Senior
At times, Crowder looks like Raiders guard Gabe Jackson on the interior, mauling enormous defensive linemen into the turf. In pass protection, he has concerning moments. If Crowder can show he's made strides blocking on pass plays, he could see a big boost in his draft stock.
40. Antonio Callaway | WR | Florida | Junior
Callaway went from big-play wideout to reliable possession target over his first two seasons on the field for the Gators. If he has a year with some game-changing plays but still shows his reliability on third downs, he'll be a favorite of many NFL wide receiver coaches.
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