2018 NFL Draft

NFL Draft Big Board: Draft-eligible sophomores turn heads in Week 1

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

A trio of redshirt sophomores turned in exciting 2016 debuts and showed undeniable NFL potential in the process.

Scouts have little more than one year of tape on Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey and Michigan's jack-of-all-trades Jabrill Peppers, but their talent -- and potential impact on the 2017 NFL draft -- is obvious.

Much will change between now and next spring's draft. Based on the film review completed this summer, here is my ranking of the top 32 draft-eligible prospects in college football, The Big Board.

Players are listed by name, position, school, year, height, weight and 40-yard dash time

1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M, Jr, 6-5, 262, 4.74 Garrett entered the season in the top spot and his performance in Week 1 against UCLA senior left tackle Conor McDermott only solidified his ranking. Garrett was "only" credited with three tackles, including 1.5 for loss and a sack but he was much more disruptive than these numbers indicate. The Bruins sent extra blockers to help McDermott (also a top 100 candidate,) and used quick passes and runs to the right to help minimize Garrett's impact. The former consensus five-star recruit has been a terror over two seasons in the SEC, answering his breakout freshman season (53 tackles, including 14 for loss and 11 sacks) with an even better one last year (59-19.5-12.5). Boasting a prototypical blend of explosiveness, flexibility and length off the corner, Garrett has the look of a future Pro Bowl regular.

The Bruins tried to run away from Myles Garrett as often as possible. (USATSI)
The Bruins tried to run away from Myles Garrett as often as possible. (USATSI)

2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU, Jr, 6-1, 230, 4.45
Fournette is the most exciting talent at the position since Adrian Peterson was dazzling at Oklahoma -- but with little help from the passing game, the Wisconsin Badgers swallowed him up. Fournette still produced 138 rushing yards and another 38 yards receiving. Like Peterson, Fournette gets a lot of attention because of his rare combination of size, speed and power. Often asked to make something out of nothing against Wisconsin, Fournette showed spectacular lateral agility and balance.

3. Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama, Sr, 6-3, 292, 4.85
With 12 sacks last season, Allen was the most disruptive of Alabama's dominant defensive line a season ago. In fact, one of the reasons why A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed surprisingly slipped into the second round in the 2016 draft is that talent evaluators realized the best prospect of the bunch -- Allen -- had returned to school. Allen was dominant in Alabama's 52-6 thumping of USC, registering two sacks (among his four tackles) and two pass breakups. Allen, who reminds me a little of Seahawks' Pro Bowler Michael Bennett, is position versatile with surprisingly light feet and dynamite sticks for hands.

4. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson, Jr, 6-2, 210, 4.64
Watson is the early favorite to be the first quarterback selected next spring, offering a dazzling dual-threat ability similar to what we saw a few years ago with Marcus Mariota. He is not the prototype in terms of size or velocity. But like the former Heisman Trophy winner, Watson generates a lot of excitement with his feet. Scouts are more intrigued with Watson's accuracy in and out of the pocket, as well as the mettle the sophomore showed last year in nearly delivering Clemson a national championship and in a season-opening win against a gutty Auburn squad.

5. Jabrill Peppers, SS/OLB, Michigan, rSoph, 6-0, 208, 4.48
Michigan is loaded with NFL prospects and Peppers, just a redshirt sophomore, is the best of the bunch. Scouts won't take much from his performance against an overmatched Hawaii squad in the season opener, but he was nonetheless brilliant, registering eight tackles (seven solos), including two for loss and a sack. Peppers is the latest in a new line of defensive "erasers" capable of lining up at safety, linebacker or cornerback similar in style to recent first round picks Deone Bucannon, Damarious Randall and Shaq Thompson.

6. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford, Jr, 6-0, 202, 4.48
With his easy agility, instant acceleration and soft hands, McCaffrey is a weapon of mass destruction as a runner, receiver and returner, warranting comparison to another former Pac-12 star, Reggie Bush. Like Bush, McCaffrey lacks the bulk to be a true bell-cow back at the next level but his versatility translates very well to today's wide-open NFL. Kansas State did a pretty nice job of defending McCaffrey and yet he still accounted for 210 all-purpose yards and two scores -- and that's not including the pretty 98-yard punt for a touchdown that was called back due to a penalty.

7. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama, Jr, 6-5, 327, 5.28
As his monstrous size implies, Robinson is a road-grader in the running game. He is also surprisingly quick in pass protection, as he showed in a terrific Week 1 performance against the Trojans. A former five-star recruit who has starred at left tackle since winning the job as a true freshman, Robinson is an easy NFL projection with top-10 talent. Teams will have to investigate his decision-making off the field, however, given his arrest in May on guns and drug charges. The charges were later dropped.

8. Jamar Adams, S, LSU, Jr, 6-0, 211, 4.48
It is easy to mistake Adams for former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu, given their similar instincts and highly aggressive style of play. Like Mathieu, Adams possesses the agility and speed to handle coverage duties on slot receivers, possesses soft hands for the interception and is a tenacious run defender. Adams' kamikaze style of play can lead to mistakes, including a whiff in the open field in LSU's season-opening loss to Wisconsin.

9. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Southern Cal, Jr, 6-2, 220, 4.52
The Crimson Tide made stopping Smith-Schuster its top priority, limiting the All-American candidate to just one catch for a measly nine yards in the 52-6 thumping. While scouts certainly would have liked to see Smith-Schuster be able to contribute more, he wasn't to blame for USC's struggles. Powerful, physical and possessing terrific body control to make tough grabs look easy, Smith-Schuster is a potential No. 1 target in the NFL, though I do have some reservations about his straight-line speed.

10. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State, Jr, 6-5, 282, 4.92
With teams moving away from the traditional three and four man base looks in favor of varied fronts, defensive linemen with the quickness to split gaps, as well as the length and strength to take on multiple blockers, provide a lot of value. McDowell, a true junior, is still growing into his frame but he moves very well and plays with good pad level for a player of his size.

11. Teez Tabor, CB, Florida, Jr, 6-0, 199, 4.52 Until this summer, Tabor's first name was Jalen, though his new name may provide a more accurate description of his game. Tabor teases with an exciting combination of size, fluidity and speed, standing out in coverage and as a gunner on special teams the past two years. Tabor was more consistent in coverage last year than former teammate Vernon Hargreaves III, the No. 11 overall pick this spring by Tampa Bay. Tabor was suspended (reportedly for a fight with a teammate) for Florida's season opener and will make his 2016 debut September 10 against Kentucky.

12. Tim Williams, DE/OLB, Alabama, Sr, 6-3, 237, 4.76
Like the two players directly ahead of him on this list, Williams offers more promise than production at this point in his career. In fact, Williams entered his senior campaign with just 27 career tackles and recorded just two tackles against USC. There is nothing pedestrian about Williams' burst and bend off the edge, however, which could earn him a surprisingly high draft pick next spring.

13. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State, Jr, 5-11, 206, 4.46
While not as big as Fournette nor as explosive as McCaffrey, Cook is a natural runner with excellent vision, agility and burst, as evidenced by an eye-popping 7.4 yards-per-carry average during last year's spectacular sophomore campaign. Cook's soft hands out of the backfield helped him shatter the single-season all-purpose record for the Seminoles last year, generating 1,691 yards -- nearly 450 more than the great Warrick Dunn registered 20 years earlier. His ability out of the backfield was on full display against Mississippi in the opener, where he registered more yards as a receiver (101 yards on seven catches) than as a runner (91 yards on 23 carries). This also included an inexplicable fumble, in which Cook simply dropped the ball out of bounds as he was about to walk in for his first touchdown of the season.

14. Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama, Sr, 6-1, 240, 4.72
Reggie Ragland was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season but Foster could earn a higher draft selection this spring. Foster is a more explosive athlete, showing ridiculous closing speed and an utter disregard for his own safety or that of his opponents. As he showed against USC, Foster might be the most intimidating hitter in all of college football and he possesses the fluidity and speed to cover.

15. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama, rSoph, 6-1, 198, 4.53
One of the corners nipping at King's heels this year is Humphrey, who wowed last year in his debut season after redshirting in 2014. The son of former Alabama (and NFL) standout Bobby Humphrey, Marlon looks like a chip off the old block with his easy change of direction and acceleration. He's well-built for a young player at a solid 6-1, 198 pounds and is an aggressive tackler, including in run support. Humphrey's pick-six in the second quarter against USC turned the Tide, transforming a close game into what would become a blowout.

Marlon Humphrey's pick turned the Tide against USC. (USATSI)
Marlon Humphrey's pick turned the Tide against USC. (USATSI)

16. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt, rJr, 6-3, 230, 4.74
Despite not starting until the fourth game of the season, Cunningham emerged as one of the most disruptive defenders in the entire country last year, earning First Team All-SEC honors with 103 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Instinctive and aggressive in meeting and discarding blockers, Cunningham is well-suited to remaining inside at the next level but I believe that he's athletic enough to play outside, as well.

17. Desmond King, CB, Iowa, Sr, 5-10, 200, 4.53
Jalen Ramsey, the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, and the Florida duo of Hargreaves III and Tabor, received more consistent national attention but King was the top cornerback in college football last season and was recognized as such with the Thorpe Award. King's eight interceptions last season generated most of his buzz and for good reason, as he showed terrific instincts, soft hands and a knack for making the big play at critical moments. Average speed, however, led to King returning to his court as a senior and this could limit his stock in 2017, as well.

18. DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame, rSoph, 6-4, 230, 4.84
Notre Dame lost a double-overtime thriller in the opener to Texas but don't blame Kizer, who somehow managed to score six touchdowns (five passing, one running) despite head coach Brian Kelly rotating in running specialist Malik Zaire at quarterback, as well. Kizer looks the part of an NFL quarterback with a powerful, well-proportioned frame, big-time arm and underrated scrambling ability of his own. Most impressive, however, was the redshirt sophomore's field vision and accuracy. It is not out of the question that Kizer could overtake Watson as the top quarterback prospect in the country if he continues to perform at the level he did against Texas. Some would argue, in fact, that he already has.

DeShone Kizer scores six -- yes, six -- touchdowns in a loss to Texas. (USATSI)
DeShone Kizer scores six -- yes, six -- touchdowns in a loss to Texas. (USATSI)

19. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama, Sr, 6-6, 242, 4.57
While not yet as polished a receiver as Michigan's Jake Butt, Howard finally had the opportunity to show off his dazzling combination of size and athleticism during the national title game and dominated, earning Offensive MVP honors with a school bowl game record 208 receiving yards (on five grabs), including two touchdowns against Clemson's terrific secondary. Due to drops and occasional lapses as a blocker, Howard can be a frustrating prospect but his mismatch potential is simply too significant to ignore.

20. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson, rJr, 6-3, 220, 4.50
Williams was one of several feel-good stories from Week 1, coming back from a scary neck injury which robbed him of virtually all of last season to haul in nine passes for 174 yards in Clemson's 19-13 win over Auburn. According to Clemson coaches, Williams is in the same class athletically as former teammates Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant. An imposing target with explosive speed and the body control to win contested passes, Williams is only a clean bill of health away from competing with Smith-Schuster to be the top receiver prospect in the country.

Best of the rest:

21. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri, rJr, 6-3, 255, 4.74

22. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami, Jr, 6-4, 210, 4.84

23. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon, Jr, 5-11, 230, 4.49

24. Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee, Sr, 5-11, 186, 4.50

25. Chad Kelly, QB, Mississippi, Sr, 6-2, 224, 4.76

26. Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech, rJr, 6-6, 245, 4.78

27. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee, Jr, 6-3, 257, 4.76

28. Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana, rSr, 6-4, 310, 5.09

29. Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn, rJr, 6-2, 253, 4.67

30. Raekwon McMillan, OLB, Ohio State, Jr, 6-2, 240, 4.78

31. Adoree' Jackson, CB/WR/RS, Jr, Southern Cal, 5-11, 185, 4.43

32. Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State, Jr, 6-6, 308, 5.37


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