Pete Prisco's 2018 NFL Draft Better-Than Team: 20 guys I like more than the scouts do
Indiana tight end Ian Thomas headlines a list of guys who have draft steal written all over them
Let's be real: I have had several bad misses when it comes to predicting the success of college quarterbacks on the next level, which many of you point out endlessly on Twitter.
Yes, I missed on Christian Ponder and several others. I can admit my awful mistakes – unlike some.
But when it comes to my Better-Than team each year – guys I like better than the scouts heading into the draft – I feel as if it balances out my quarterback blunders.
Players who have appeared on the team include Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson, Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
There have been misses too, but that's to be expected when you are evaluating players outside the top-15.
His story is amazing as well. His parents died a year apart in 2004 and 2005 and he went to live with an uncle, but his older bother later adopted him and seven siblings. He found his way to junior college in New York, played two years, and then went to Indiana. He caught three passes in 2016, and then had 25 receptions last season.
But the tape shows a bad offense around him, including quarterbacks that were wild and far from accurate. Thomas is one of those players with so much ability that still hasn't been tapped.
He has good size at 6-3 1/2, 259 pounds and he runs well for a player his size. Pop on the Ohio State tape and you will see him make a toe-tap catch in the end zone that looks like one a smaller receiver might make. He's that athletic. He had another catch against Penn State where he took a short pass and ran away from the secondary for a big play.
Thomas is a willing blocker, but that part of his game will be something that will improve on the next level. Based on potential, he has a chance to be the best tight end in this class.
That's why he is this year's captain of the Better-Than team, joining players from the past who have gone on to big-time success. Here are the other 19 players on this year's team:
Ronald Jones, RB, USC
You have to love backs who average over six yards per carry in a collegiate career like Jones. He has the big-play ability that teams love. He can glide through holes and he can run away from defenders. He will be an explosive NFL runner.
Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
The son of former major-league baseball player Gary Pettis developed into a big-play threat for the Huskies. He averaged 15.5 yards per catch in 2016, but that number was down last year to 12.1. He's a smooth route runner who is also an explosive punt returner.
Genard Avery, LB, Memphis
He has the body type of James Harrison, which is straight power. But he can also run and chase. He played both weak-side linebacker and outside rush linebacker for the Tigers. He plays hard all the time, even when the games got out of hand. That matters.
Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
When you pop on his tape, he jumps out. He was very productive at Memphis, but what really caught my eye was his toughness and the way he goes after the football. He isn't a big receiver, but he's fast enough and he knows how to get open. He will be a star in the NFL.
Austin Corbett, G, Nevada
He was a starter at left tackle for three seasons for the Wolfpack, but he is projected to move inside to guard. He needs to get more powerful, but he knows the tricks of the trade to be an effective pass blocker and good enough in the run game.
Mason Cole, C, Michigan
He started at both tackle and center at Michigan, but the NFL views him as a center. At 6-4, 300 pounds, he has the size to be a nice center with good movement. He isn't powerful, so he has to get stronger. But he has good athletic ability.
Trey Quinn, WR, SMU
He isn't as heralded as teammate Courtland Sutton, but he will be a reliable slot receiver in the NFL. He knows how to get open. He isn't going to scare down the field, but there is great NFL value for an instinctive slot receiver who knows how to get open.
He played nose for the Cardinal, but he isn't powerful enough to play there in the NFL. He is an ideal 4-3 defensive tackle who will be able to push the pocket. Should be a rotation player early in his career, and then a good starter and maybe more shortly after that.
Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky
He has the size and the arm scouts love. Plus he was a productive passer at Western Kentucky the past two seasons after transferring from South Florida. He threw 65 touchdown passes the past two seasons. He would need to sit and learn for a while, but has a chance to be a solid starter in time.
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
He isn't an explosive runner, but he knows how to get yards. Ran for 1,391 yards last year at Auburn and showed his big-play ability as he averaged 4.9 per rush. He also had 18 rushing touchdowns. He is going to be a productive runner in the NFL, worth a second-round pick.
Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State
He is a speedy back who ran 4.38 at the combine. He's been a receiver at State, which makes him a dual threat back who is perfect for today's game. He's small at just under 5-9 and 190 pounds, but he would be a great complementary back for a team in need of a change-of-pace weapon.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
He isn't a burner, but he might be the best route runner in this class. He was timed at 4.53, so he isn't slow, but his calling card is his ability to win with his route running.
Brian O'Neil, T, Pitt
This former basketball star came to Pitt as a tight end, but moved to tackle in 2015. He started at both right and left tackle in his career with the Panthers. Played under 300 pounds, so he has to get stronger. But we've seen former tight ends become big-time tackles in the NFL, including Philadelphia's Jason Peters. I think O'Neil will be a good, solid starter for his career.
In 2015, he looked like he could be a top-10 pick. But then he had personal issues and left the LSU team. He also had some disciplinary problems with the Tiger. He is a long, lean athlete who can rush the passer. His 40 time at his pro day was disappointing, but he has been schooled in the pass-rush techniques by former NFL defensive end Chuck Smith. If he stays clear of issues, he will be an immediate impact pass rusher.
Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
He didn't work out great after the season, but put that aside. This is a kid who makes plays. Some scouts compare him to former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas. That's high praise. He will be a special-teams force early in his career and then take over as a starter at linebacker.
Josh Sweat, OLB-DE, Florida State
He looks the part of a true edge rusher who might be even better on the next level with a little more seasoning. At 6-4, 255 pounds, he has the frame and speed coaches love. He didn't always play to his athletic ability, but it's there and a good team will get the production out of him.
Carlton Davis, DB, Auburn
He's a 6-1, 200-pound corner who was a three-year starter for the Tigers. He's got a good feel for the position, and can play the press-man coverage that some teams love. A three-year starter in the SEC speaks volumes about his ability to play the position.
Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
For teams looking for a nice run-and-chase linebacker, this is the guy. Think Telvin Smith of the Jaguars. He has great athleticism and a feel for the game, Might need to get stronger.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State
He is a big receiver at 6-4, 225 pounds, but he doesn't run that well for the position. That's why I think he could bulk up some and become a good move tight end, capable of creating problems in the middle of the field.
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