2017 NFL Draft

NFL Draft Big Board: Top-rated passers face stiff tests in Week 3

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
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Sorting out the pecking order of quarterback prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft remains a work in progress.

Mississippi's Chad Kelly, the most gifted senior at the position, struggled in the second half of the Rebels' collapse against Florida State in the opener. Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Miami's Brad Kaaya, the top-rated juniors, have thrown a combined five interceptions (against eight touchdowns) over their team's first two games. Scouts are intrigued by Notre Dame redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer but note the lack of NFL success by recent Irish (and Brian Kelly-coached) quarterbacks.

With top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama coming to Oxford, Kelly has a terrific opportunity to boost his stock. So too does Kizer, who will face fellow Big Board honoree Malik McDowell (No. 10 overall) and Michigan State in one of several must-see Week 3 matchups.

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
Though credited with "just" five tackles (including 1.5 for loss and a sack) through the first two games this season, Garrett has proven much more disruptive than these statistics suggest and remains my top-rated overall prospect entering conference play. The former consensus five-star recruit has been a terror since stepping onto the field for the Aggies, 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). Garrett has a prototypical blend of explosiveness, flexibility and length off the corner and the look of a future Pro Bowl regular.

2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU, Jr, 6-1, 230, 4.45
Fournette is the most exciting talent at the position since Adrian Peterson but because of an ankle injury and with little help from the passing game, the Wisconsin Badgers largely swallowed him up in a season-opening loss. 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. After sitting out against Jacksonville State, Fournette is expected to return against Mississippi State.

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. 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.

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. 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. Scouts likely won't take much from early season tune-ups against Hawaii and Central Florida, except the unique versatility that he's demonstrated, accomplishing the rather unique feat of leading the team in both tackles (16) and punt return yardage (74).

6. 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 a 2-0 start this season. He has been far from perfect, however, completing just 52.9% of his passes with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Deshaun Watson needs to improve his accuracy. (USATSI)
Deshaun Watson needs to improve his accuracy. (USATSI)

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 one 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 in the season-opener, 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 contribute more, he wasn't to blame for USC's struggles against Alabama and returned with a vengeance in Week Two against Utah State, hauling in a pair of touchdowns among seven grabs. 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. Scouts are eager to see how he performs against Notre Dame's talented offensive line in Week Three.

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 but returned in dramatic fashion in Week Two against Kentucky, showing terrific recognition to read a wide receiver screen and stepping in front of the intended target to steal his first interception of the season.

12. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama, rSoph, 6-1, 198, 4.53
One of the best looking prospects I've seen this season 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 Tide 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.

13. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State, Jr, 5-11, 206, 4.46
Two of the more exciting runners in college football face off in Week Three with Cook and the Seminoles traveling to face Louisville and its super sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson. Florida State would be wise to lean on Cook as a runner and receiver. Cook has eight receptions on the season already and shattered Warrick Dunn's single-season all-purpose yardage record last year with 1,935 yards, averaging 7.4 yards per run. While not as big as Fournette nor as explosive as McCaffrey, Cook is a natural runner with excellent vision, agility and burst who projects nicely in today's pass-happy NFL.

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. Foster might be the most intimidating hitter in all of college football and he possesses the fluidity and speed to cover.

15. 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. Cunningham already has 22 tackles, including 4.5 for loss this season, second in the SEC in both categories. 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.

16. Desmond King, CB, Iowa, Sr, 5-10, 200, 4.53
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 to earn the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. Average speed, however, led to King returning to his court as a senior and this could limit his stock in 2017, as well. King's much anticipated one-on-one showdown in Week Two with Iowa State's star wideout Allen Lazard did not materialize with the Cyclone's 6-5, 225 pounder only catching one of his seven receptions (for 111 yards) against King as the Hawkeyes floated through the Cyclones 42-3.

17. DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame, rSoph, 6-4, 230, 4.84
Kizer looks the part of an NFL quarterback with a powerful, well-proportioned frame, big-time arm and enough mobility to extend the play, as well as provide an occasional running threat. Most impressive, however, is Kizer's field vision and accuracy, which belie his relative inexperience (13 career starts). Kizer's potential is exciting. Fair or not, when projecting his ability to make the NFL jump, however, it won't be lost on scouts that Kelly has produced just one NFL quarterback (2010 sixth round pick Tony Pike, Carolina) in 26 seasons as head coach.

DeShone Kizer has wowed so far this season. (USATSI)
DeShone Kizer has wowed so far this season. (USATSI)

18. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson, rJr, 6-3, 220, 4.50
Williams was one of several feel-good stories from Week One, 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.

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. Howard is off to a slow start again with just five grabs for 68 yards over the first two games. 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. Tim Williams, DE/OLB, Alabama, Sr, 6-3, 237, 4.76
Pass rushers rank second to only quarterbacks in value in today's pass-happy NFL and Williams offers an extraordinary blend of burst and bend off the edge. He has been relegated to playing a pass rush specialist role for the Tide, registering just two assisted tackles thus far this season and only 29 for his career. Williams needs a splashy game against Kelly and Ole Miss to keep his place among my top 20 next week.

Best of the rest:
21. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon, Jr, 5-11, 230, 4.49
22. Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee, Sr, 5-11, 186, 4.50
23. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami, Jr, 6-4, 210, 4.84
24. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri, rJr, 6-3, 255, 4.74
25. Chad Kelly, QB, Mississippi, Sr, 6-2, 224, 4.76
26. Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech, rJr, 6-6, 245, 4.78
27. Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn, rJr, 6-2, 253, 4.67
28. Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana, rSr, 6-4, 310, 5.09
29. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee, Jr, 6-3, 257, 4.76
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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