Thor Nystrom


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Offensive Draft Position Ranks

Thursday, February 15, 2018

These are my personal rankings, and not reflective of the order I’d predict these players to go off the board this spring. I’ll be updating these rankings throughout the pre-draft process. The next update will run the week after the NFL Combine in early March. Defensive rankings will be published later this month.


1. Josh Rosen (UCLA)

2. Lamar Jackson (Louisville)

3. Sam Darnold (USC)

4. Josh Allen (Wyoming)

5. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)

6. Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)

7. Luke Falk (Washington State)

8. Mike White (Western Kentucky)

9. Kyle Lauletta (Richmond)

10. Riley Ferguson (Memphis)

Potential Riser: Chase Litton (Marshall)

No Thanks!: Tanner Lee (Nebraska)

For me, Rosen is a pretty easy call at QB1. He provides the best blend of upside and projection variance in this year's quarterback crop, a signal-caller with elite tools who has a low-probability of busting completely. NFL folks remain concerned about his personality—Rosen is thought of as Eli Manning with Jay Cutler’s brain—but I’m more willing to grant latitude to young men who have ideas of their own and see the world differently than others. The culture is rapidly changing, and tomorrow’s leaders in all fields will look differently than they did in the 1970s.

Beyond him, I’m highest on Jackson, whose upside is off the charts. Jackson is the most athletic quarterback to enter the league since Michael Vick. He also generates serious velocity with minimal effort. He has a much higher bust potential than Rosen, which is why I can’t put him atop the QB board. But with regards to that, I’d point out that, at worst, Jackson as a “bust” would remain one of the game’s fiercest sub-package players, along with being a potential plus at both receiver (remember: he’s long and insanely athletic) and returner. Getting Jackson into an Eagles-esque RPO-heavy system could yield diabolically explosive results... down the line. He’d be perfect for a creative offensive staff that had a one-year veteran stopgap at quarterback. If the Vikings whiff on Kirk Cousins, perhaps they could bring back Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater on short-term contracts and snag L-Jax at the back end of Round 1. New Vikings OC John DeFilippo, Philly’s former QB coach, is known to tailor his scheme to his talent.

I’m lower on Mayfield than most. My colleagues in the draft media often talk about Josh Allen’s poor supporting cast while failing to provide similar context for Mayfield’s collegiate production. Over the past few years, Mayfield enjoyed one of the nation’s best offensive lines, one of the nation’s best sets of skill talent, and one of the nation’s best offensive coaches. He also faced a procession of defensive-optional teams in the Big 12. He’s small, has only an average arm, and it’s fair to say that he doesn’t have Drew Brees’ accuracy or Russell Wilson’s scrambling ability to compensate. Love the attitude, love the fire, love all that stuff, but you wonder if this is the type of fiery package that could fold over into itself under extreme adversity early in his career, ala Johnny Manziel. Mayfield’s passion for football is often cited. So was Manziel’s. If you’ve ever been in love and had a horrible breakup, you know that the line between passionate love and simmering animosity is quite thin. Too many questions here for me to want Mayfield in Round 1.

A brief word on Allen: Feel free to grow tired of the “no-supporting cast” narrative, but don’t discount that Wyoming’s offense utterly cratered late in the season when Allen got hurt. The difference in productivity between having Allen under center and his backup was breathtaking. With Allen, Wyoming’s offense was mediocre. Without him, it was arguably the very worst in the FBS out of 130 teams. The Cowboys lost to San Jose State, one of the nation’s three-worst teams, in one of the two games Allen missed. You can nitpick subjective opinions of Wyoming’s skill talent, but you can’t argue that Allen wasn’t breathtakingly valuable to that team. Without him, Wyoming may well have gone 3-9 last year despite having a really good defense.

That argument, spun in Mayfield’s direction, is what worries me about the Sooners’ star: Replace Mayfield with QB2 Kyler Murray, and Oklahoma still likely would have won the Big 12. This has to matter. Has to.

As for those outside Tier 1, I like Rudolph’s combination of size and movement skills, but I hate how he locks onto receivers and always seems a beat behind, waiting a tick too long to make the throw. Rosen, Darnold and Mayfield often threw receivers open in college; Rudolph sometimes threw open receivers into coverage by failing to pull the trigger on time. Is that something that he can be coached out of, or was it a debilitating issue that was mostly masked by OSU’s wide-open offense? I’m willing to concede that it may be the former, but I lean towards the latter.

Falk is an interesting developmental guy with nice height and solid accuracy, but he never seemed to equal the sum of his parts in a system he should have dominated in. On Draft Day, his price tag will probably be a tad higher than I’d be comfortable with.

White is a guy I was always high on, and I tend to forgive him for last season’s struggles because Western Kentucky’s entire offense went into the tank after HC Jeff Brohm left. White was the one constant on that unit last year as the running game inexplicably disappeared.

As for a late Day 3 developmental guy, I’d be happy to take a flier on Ferguson. He’s a tatted-up firecracker with a live-wire arm. Can the erratic elements of his game be coached off into oblivion? Probably not. But I’d be happy to give it a shot on a Round 6 or 7 investment.

Running Back

1. Saquon Barkley (Penn State)

2. Ronald Jones (USC)

3. Sony Michel (Georgia)

4. Derrius Guice (LSU)

5. Kerryon Johnson (Auburn)

6. Royce Freeman (Oregon)

7. Nick Chubb (Georgia)

8. Mark Walton (Miami)

9. Rashaad Penny (San Diego State)

10. Akrum Wadley (Iowa)

Potential riser: Kalen Ballage (Arizona State)

No thanks!: Bo Scarbrough (Alabama)

Jones and Michel are both players who fit where the NFL is going as versatile, explosive playmakers who stress defenses as runners and receivers. Jones has long been compared to Jamaal Charles, and that’s spot on.

I saw a lot of Kareem Hunt in Michel this fall, and that has become his go-to comparison. Michel will be a better pro than he was college. He really came on at the end of his career, in large part because he added muscle without losing speed or quickness. He no longer can be taken down with arm tackles. Michel fumbles a bit more than you’d like. It’s an area of his game he’ll have to work on. Maybe he can start walking around everywhere with a football under his arm, like the guy in The Program.

Guice is a player I liked more in college than I did when watching tape in anticipation of the publication of these rankings. I just assumed I’d rank him as RB2 behind Barkley, which is where most others have him, but I found myself underwhelmed. He was better in 2016 than he was last season, and you have to wonder if he didn’t benefit a bit in 2016 from playing with Leonard Fournette (when Fournette was healthy), as defenses were often taxed when Guice entered off the bench. To be fair, Guice struggled through a nagging knee injury last season. He’s built like a fist and runs low. The power/quickness combination plays in conjunction with the slashing style. What I keep coming back to is this: 1.) Why didn’t he take a step forward in 2017? 2.) Can he be a star in the current NFL while lacking blazing speed and top-notch receiving skills? Seems like a player who’d have been drafted higher a decade ago.

I like Kerryon Johnson more than most. During the season, I referred to him as a “souped-up," rich man’s version of Wayne Gallman. Since then, his style has been compared to Le'Veon Bell's by NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah. Thinking of Johnson as existing somewhere on the line of continuum between Gallman and Bell is instructive. What jumped out when watching Johnson at Auburn was his Zen master-level patience. When he gets the ball, he doesn’t blindly charge ahead. He’s like you when you approach the registers at Target on Christmas Eve, calmly surveying what will be your quickest option before choosing a line. Johnson is very quick, and he trusts his eyes, a damn effective combination. He’s also got a little power to him, and Johnson is a plus in the passing game. And you have to love how Johnson made his star turn in 2017 when Kam Pettway disappeared and he became the undisputed RB1 bellcow.

Freeman is a big, bruising back who can do a lot of different things. He gets dinged for having a lot of wear on his tires and for accruing his (monstrous) stats in Oregon’s wide-open offense against thin boxes, but the skill set is extremely intriguing. His draft position is heavily dependent on his testing numbers at the Combine. If he tests better than expected, his stock will soar.

Many are higher on Chubb than I am. And I get it. On the one hand, he’s incredibly powerful, he’s productive, he’s always fighting upfield, he makes good decisions on the move and he’s extremely difficult to knock off his feet, with the balance of a spinning top. On the other hand, he has a major knee injury in his past and is a durability question, he doesn’t have great speed, he runs high and he’s a little stiff when asked to go outside of his comfort zone and make plays outside of the tackles. Similarly to Guice, Chubb is a player who would have been drafted higher 10 years ago. That said, he should be a strong two-down back early on. He’s as strong between the tackles as anyone in the class.

Penny routinely lit up stacked boxes at San Diego State (though it’s fair to point out that he was often facing stinky defenses in the Mountain West). He’s a gifted runner and also a strong return man. My grade on him is lower than many others because I don’t think Penny can play on third downs.  I don’t see him as a fit for teams that like to air it out. Penny wasn’t used much as a receiver at SDSU, and he’s a horrific pass blocker. Dude is as reticent to meet oncoming blitzing linebackers as you are to get off the couch to meet your mother-in-law when she arrives on Thanksgiving.

Walton has all kinds of ability but struggles to stay healthy. If his body is up for the NFL grind, it’s not out of the question that Walton could become an NFL star. If it isn’t, he’ll be escorted out of the league rather quickly. I’m sort of splitting the difference with his ranking in weighing upside against bust potential.

Wadley should be a strong second-banana back at the next level due to his athleticism and receiving chops. Plus, he’s pro ready after spending his collegiate career in Iowa’s NFL-like offense. Like Michel, he simply must stop putting the ball on the carpet at the rate he did in college.

Ballage is a guy scouts will like a lot more than coaches. He’s easy to dream on as a huge runner with home run speed and soft hands, but he showed terrible instincts at Arizona State and consistently underachieved. If Kerryon Johnson is our paragon of patience, Ballage is our hedonist of haste. He’s Mr. Magoo in David Johnson’s body.

Ballage is going to be on everyone’s “Combine winners” list. His SPARQ score is going to melt Josh Norris’ eyeballs like the guy who opened the Ark in Indiana Jones. I’m sure we’ll begin to read arguments that Arizona State misused and underutilized Ballage in the same way that Tennessee did with Alvin Kamara. Don’t buy it. Kamara couldn’t usurp Jalen Hurd because Butch Jones’ creativity was relegated to rah-rah clichés and misguided notions of program optics. In Ballage’s case, former ASU HC Todd Graham did everything in his power—including visiting with Patriots coaches in the offseason—to figure out new ways to utilize Ballage’s talent.

No matter the brainpower that went into figuring out how to put Ballage into the very best situations to star, Ballage undermined them with his unique brand of uncreative, station-to-station, fumble-happy football. Ballage didn’t fall behind Demario Richard because ASU coaches didn’t know what they had. ASU coaches were coaching for their lives, identified Ballage’s utility as a potential lifeboat, and gave him all the opportunities he could handle until it became clear that Richard—a far inferior physical talent—was the clearly superior RB option. Richard will be a UDFA. The situation speaks for itself.

Ballage will get brazenly overdrafted and go on to win the XFL’s MVP award when that league re-opens.


1. Jaylen Samuels (NC State)

2. Dimitri Flowers (Oklahoma)

3. Nick Bawden (San Diego State)

Samuels isn’t a fullback. But he also isn’t a tight end, which is the position he’s listed at for the NFL Combine and also the position the Wolfpack listed him at. He’s more running back than fullback, but the NFL likely won’t use him as a prototypical RB either. What Samuels is, is an offensive weapon. That term is stupidly cliché to the point of losing its meaning, which is unfortunate, because in this case it truly applies. Samuels can run, he can block, and he can catch—all at a high level. He moves around the formation and plays different positions, including slot receiver. Call him an H-back, call him a TE, call him whatever you want—he’s a guy who will cause headaches on all three downs at the next level. Nearly guaranteed of being underdrafted, and just as nearly guaranteed of getting plucked up by one of the NFL’s more intelligent front offices. The Patriots and Eagles both make a lot of sense.

Flowers is also multi-talented, though he’s strictly a fullback. A fullback who can handle the ball in short-yardage situations and be a plus receiver. Oklahoma HC Lincoln Riley is a brilliant tactician, and to his credit, Riley understood what he had in Flowers and freed him to do well more than your average FBS fullback.

Bawden is a strong lead blocker, but don’t pigeon hole him completely—he’s a former quarterback who can catch the ball.

Wide Receiver

1. Courtland Sutton (SMU)

2. Calvin Ridley (Alabama)

3. Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)

4. D.J. Moore (Maryland)  

5. James Washington (Oklahoma State)

6. Anthony Miller (Memphis)

7. Equanimeous St. Brown (Notre Dame)

8. Dante Pettis (Washington)

9. Auden Tate (FSU)

10. Michael Gallup (Colorado State)

Potential riser: Jaleel Scott (New Mexico State)

No thanks!: Antonio Callaway (Florida)

This receiver class stinks, though it does have a few second- and third-tier guys who could surprise at the next level.

I have Sutton, Ridley, Kirk and Moore grouped closely together. The top-four hierarchy above is a tad arbitrary; in reality, who I preferred best of the trio would be dependent on what type of offense I ran, and what sort of receiver type I was shopping for.

As you can tell, I don’t buy the narrative that Ridley is clearly the best receiver in this class. He has average height and a slender frame, and he’s not great in contested situations. Ridley comes with the reputation of being an outstanding route runner. You’ll read that in every single scouting report without fail. I wonder about that. The Alabama team I watched over the last three years mostly used Ridley on deep posts—usually in RPO or play-action scenarios—shallow crosses, and on a wide variety of screens. Apparently I’m just to assume that he can run all other routes like a maestro. Maybe he can. I’d like to see it first.

I have a few reservations about Sutton as well, but I currently give him the slight edge as we await testing results later this month. The short version of why?: I think there’s a slightly better chance that Sutton turns into Alshon Jeffery than Ridley turning into Amari Cooper. Sutton is huge and developing rapidly. He would have been a first-round pick last year, but returned to have his game nitpicked. If he tests well, he locks in my WR1 slot. If he doesn’t, I’ll drop him a slot or two or three. As stated, WRs 1-4 are very close for me at present.

Kirk is being underrated because of A&M’s atrocious quarterback play the past few seasons. The running joke on Twitter I make is that if Kirk had signed with Oklahoma, they’d be erecting his statue in Norman right now. Trevor Knight couldn’t throw the ball downfield, and Kellen Mond couldn’t throw the ball with accuracy as a true freshman. So cut Kirk a little slack when watching his 2016-2017 tape. Kirk, a former five-star recruit, is a dynamic playmaker who’ll be better in the NFL than he was in college. I’d have no issue using a late first-rounder on him. His special sauce is having the ball in his hands with space to work with. That simply wasn’t an option in College Station the past few years.

Moore burst onto the scene with his 7-133-1 line in the opening-week upset of Texas last season. Maryland went on to play a brutal slate of opponents (10 of 12 in the top-65 of S&P+), using mostly fourth-string true freshman QB Max Bortenschlager after its top three options all got hurt. Didn’t matter to Moore, who piled up an eye-opening 80-1033-8 line on the year while always facing the opposing team’s No. 1 corner (and he squared off against some studs, Holton Hill and Mike Hughes in the non-conference slate, Denzel Ward and Rashard Fant in-conference, etc.).

Moore is a short speed merchant, but he’s more than that. He’s quick, runs good routes, and is a crafty runner after the catch, sometimes erasing good angles being taken by defenders by taking a false or exaggerated step. He’s well-built, competitive and tough, and he has good hands and body control. Maryland’s offense as a whole was abominable last fall (No. 113 S&P+), and yet Moore consistently produced as a large percentage of the offense was deliberately funneled to him. Does any of that sound like Steve Smith? That’s Dane Brugler’s comp. I can’t go quite that far, but Moore is a player who rapidly improved every year he was on campus. If he continues trending upwards in the pros, Smith is his ceiling.

Washington and Miller will both be good NFL players. Each has speed to burn, and each can win in contested situations downfield. Both were hyper productive in college. Washington gets dinged for his height and his RB-like build, but he’s got extremely long arms and courage to spare.

Like Kirk, Equanimeous St. Brown is underrated due to a lack of context surrounding his situation. St. Brown has great size and he always seems to have a halo of separation surrounding him as he runs his routes. Unfortunately for him, Brandon Wimbush throws the ball like Shaq used to shoot free throws. St. Brown’s catch radius is big—but to have salvaged many of Wimbush’s errant throws, it would have needed to have been Texas-big. Watch what he does with a good quarterback.

Pettis should be no worse than a solid No. 3 NFL receiver, and he’ll be an outstanding return man from Day 1. He’s one of the best punt returners in NCAA history.

I went back and forth between Tate, Gallup, Simmie Cobbs (Indiana) and Deon Cain (Clemson) for the last two spots on this list. There will be some shuffling after the NFL Combine.

Tate (6’5/225) is nicknamed “Baby Megatron” for his size and ability to make plays downfield. For me, the production has never fit the talent. Tate should have been dominant in college, but he didn’t even accrue 1,000 yards receiving combined in his time as a Seminole. He was always great in the red zone (16 TDs the past two years), and that skill will carry over to the NFL. Based on the tape, I don’t expect him to test extremely well in Indy. I’ll reevaluate his case if I’m wrong. And if I am wrong, I’ll be even more confused about why he didn’t do more at FSU. Either way, he needs a lot of work—Tate is raw and unrefined.

Gallup might be a new name to NFL fans. A JUCO transfer, he exploded in two seasons at Colorado State, posting a combined 176-2685-21 line. His game blends deep speed with physicality. Nick Stevens, his limited collegiate quarterback, frequently left yards on the field by missing Gallup deep. Gallup is average to above-average in all metrics, but he isn’t likely to lead the receiver crop in Indy in any one specific test. His lack of an elite trait combined with the extra production deprived him due to his CSU QB situation could conspire to make Gallup available at a late-Day 2 or early-Day 3 discount. The Round 1 talk in January was loco.

I want to be higher on Cain, but I have a hard time trusting him like I trust Pettis or Gallup, and he doesn’t have Tate’s ceiling. Jaleel Scott is a personal favorite, a jumbo-sized, small-school stud who became something of a SportsCenter Top 10 provocateur for his ridiculous circus catches. Whether he’s an oversized curiosity or a legitimate NFL matchup nightmare, we’ll have a better idea post-Combine. I don’t expect him to test off the charts, but if he surprises, he’s going to surge up boards.

Tight End

1. Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State)

2. Hayden Hurst (South Carolina)

3. Mark Andrews (Oklahoma)

4. Mike Gesicki (Penn State)

5. Ian Thomas (Indiana)

6. Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin)

7. Dalton Schultz (Stanford)

8. Christopher Herndon (Miami)

9. Ryan Izzo (FSU)

10. Durham Smythe (Notre Dame)

Potential riser: Jordan Akins (UCF)

No thanks!: Adam Breneman (UMass)

Goedert is a traditional tight end that can both catch and block at a high level. Everything’s here: size, good feet, soft hands, ball skills, toughness as a runner and as blocker. He can be a matchup problem as a receiver while adding value to the running game.

Hurst is probably the better player right now, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he rallied up to the TE1 post by Draft Day. He’s older than his brethren—Hurst will be 25 as a rookie after spending time in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization—which nicks his grade a bit. Hurst was productive the past two seasons in a mediocre offense. He’s big, athletic and soft-handed, capable of getting down the seam and making the play. Hurst is also a solid blocker.

If you prioritize pass-catching and creating aerial mismatches, Andrews may be your TE1. He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. Andrews gave college defenses issues lined up all over the formation, and he was devastating in Oklahoma’s high-octane offense. I rate him lower than Goedert and Hurst for two reasons: 1.) For a receiving tight end, Andrews is a bit limited athletically; his speed is solid but not upper-tier, and he appears a tad stiff on the move. 2.) He’s not much of a blocker (well, I assume as much; in reality, Oklahoma rarely asked him to block out of a three-point stance).

Gesicki is a former volleyball player who combines a long 6-foot-6 frame with serious hops. Similarly to Andrews, you don’t want him if you ask your tight end to block a lot. Gesicki is poor in that area of the game. He’s a jump-ball guy who could develop into a Pro Bowler if he finds the right system.

Thomas is another catch-first tight end. The production wavered last year—the bulk of his 25-376-5 line came in four games—though some of that no doubt had to do with Indiana’s uneven quarterback play. What you have here is a rangy pass catcher who no doubt could add 15 pounds of bulk to his 6’5/248 frame. When the Hoosiers got him the ball, Thomas was dynamite, ranking No. 4 in the nation among TEs with 15.0 yards per catch and converting 5-of-25 receptions into touchdowns (20%). Love the big-play ability, love the pronounced catch radius, intrigued by the potential. While the ceiling is high, there’s more hit-and-miss in this profile than any other tight end in my top-10, which is why I tentatively place Thomas at TE5 while awaiting his Combine numbers.

As for the others, Fumagalli is a poor-man’s Goedert, strong across the board but not elite in any metric. Schultz has some fans in the scouting community; he’s long and has a well-rounded game. Stanford didn’t use him a ton as a receiver (22-212-3 last year). I’m intrigued by the skillset, but want to see how he does in Indy. I was hoping to see more from Herndon at the Senior Bowl.

Smythe may be getting overlooked (including by myself). He shared duties with Alize Mack at Notre Dame and wasn’t given a ton of looks as a receiver (and had Brandon Wimbush spraying the ball his way when he was the target). I’ll be monitoring Smythe’s process to try to ascertain if there’s more than meets the eye there.

Akins could turn into a solid H-back; he moves well, has some speed and is very fluid as a receiver. Unfortunately, like Hurst, he’s older than most prospects after playing a few seasons in the Texas Rangers’ organization. He’ll be 26 as a rookie, he can’t block, and, at 6-foot-3, he isn’t a traditional tight end. All that said, Akins has NFL-caliber receiving chops. If he tests well, he could improve a little on his current late-Day 3 projection.

Offensive Tackle

1. Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)

2. Orlando Brown (Oklahoma)

3. Connor Williams (Texas)

4. Tyrell Crosby (Oregon)

5. Chukwuma Okorafor (Western Michigan)

6. Brian O’Neill (Pitt)

7. Kolton Miller (UCLA)

8. Martinas Rankin (Mississippi State)

9. Jamarco Jones (Ohio State)

10. Desmond Harrison (West Georgia)

Potential riser: Geron Christian (Louisville)

No thanks!: Nick Gates (Nebraska)

McGlinchey is a former tight end with a towering 6-foot-8 frame. He’s polished and athletic, but will need to get stronger at the next level to become an All-Pro left tackle. Some think he’s ticketed for RT in the NFL. I think the jury is still out on that front. Like many seniors who returned to school after spurning the NFL, McGlinchey’s game got nitpicked over the past year. Don’t let that dissuade you: This is a Day 1 starter who will be around for a very long time. If he continues to struggle with power at the next level, however, the ceiling will be capped.

Brown (6’8/360) is a huge, mauling tackle, just like his late father Orlando "Zeus" Brown. He was dominant and frequently overwhelming in college. McGlinchey has no issues bending his knees despite his height; Brown does. His technique needs work. Brown isn’t the best athlete, but he’s huge, bad-intentioned on the field and powerful. The floor probably looks something like Phil Loadholt, and that ain’t bad.

If you watch his 2016 tape, Williams is a no-doubt first-rounder who should be OT1. If you watch his 2017 tape, Williams is a mid-rounder who may have to move inside at the next level. Which do you trust? I’m splitting the difference and ranking him third on this list. It’s difficult to reconcile the brawler who paved the way for a 2,000-yard D’Onta Foreman season with the slow-footed, average-strengthed guy we saw last year. To be fair, Williams struggled with a left knee injury during the season. But he looked off even before that injury occurred, including in losses to Maryland and USC. I toss up my hands with him. Since the price tag looks like it’ll be a mid-Round 1 investment, I’d pass.

Crosby is a sure thing in a tackle class that doesn’t have many. He’s thick and powerful, and if he gets his hands on you, you’re in trouble. Crosby (6’5) isn’t as long as some of his brethren, and he’s a little chunky, but his quick feet and surprising athleticism help him overcome those shortcomings. His next OL coach will have to iron out the technique. He looks like a long-time starter on the right side. His ceiling is lower than many others on this list, but the floor is high enough to comfortably make a Round 2 investment.

Okorafor, O’Neill and Harrison are all boom-or-bust prospects. Okorafor is as talented as any tackle in the class. The frame, power and athleticisms are all top-notch. He remains raw, though, and can be fooled by crafty defenders and get his feet crossed against quick-twitch edge rushers who change direction quickly. Needs a lot of time in the film room. As a Vikings fan, I went through the Willie Beavers Experience. I see a raw, knock-kneed, athletic Western Michigan tackle and break out into a cold sweat.

O’Neill, a former tight end and prep basketball stud, has tremendous athleticism for his size. At present, he’s lacking in strength and technique. For those reasons, he was a big disappointment at the Senior Bowl. Pro Bowl ceiling, career backup floor. He’ll get taken before I’d be comfortable investing.

Harrison is extremely long and athletic, but his past is checkered with off-field issues. Dominated on a small stage at WGU. Must add weight and keep his nose clean to have a chance. Pure roll of the dice if your OL coach has a conviction that he can get the light turned on long-term. I’d rather take a swing on him in Round 5 or 6 than on Okorafor or O’Neill in late Round 1 or early Round 2. Just me.

If affordable high-floor prospects are more your thing, Miller, Jones and Rankin may be for you. Each could start early on, but none of the three appears to have Pro Bowl upside on tape. All three have their fans in the media and in the scouting community, Miller in particular. Jones’ name has picked up steam in the past month.

Offensive Guard

1. Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)

2. Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)

3. Will Hernandez (UTEP)

4. Braden Smith (Auburn)

5. Austin Corbett (Nevada)

6. Skyler Phillips (Idaho State)

7. Sam Jones (Arizona State)

8. Wyatt Teller (Virginia Tech)

9. Taylor Hearn (Clemson)

10. KC McDermott (Miami)

Potential riser: Timon Parris (Stony Brook)

No thanks!: Cody O'Connell (Washington State)

If we’re being honest, Nelson is probably the best overall player in the class. Certainly the most complete, the most likely to go to more than five Pro Bowls. He’s a prospect without warts. Nelson is thick, mean and powerful. But he’s also incredibly smart on his feet, with extra eyes seemingly affixed in his ear holes. His film is a treat. He’ll pick up blitzers that he wasn’t assigned to and had no business getting to. A+ run blocker who’s a solid A- or better as a pass blocker. Should be one of the NFL’s best guards on Day 1.

Wynn was an outstanding left tackle for the Bulldogs. Because of his short stature, Wynn will be moving inside at the next level. Outstanding run blocker; Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were big benefactors of his work. Wynn was also surprisingly good in pass pro on the outside at UGA. He figures to be an above-average NFL pass protector at guard. Wynn projects as a Year 1 starter with perennial Pro Bowl upside. He’s being heavily underrated at present time. Expect that to change when the calendar flips to March.

Hernandez has been drawing comparisons to four-time Pro Bowler Richie Incognito for some time now, and it was no surprise at the Senior Bowl when Hernandez revealed that he patterns his game after Incognito’s. As such, you know what he is: A big, nasty mauler who sets a thundering tone in the running game. Hernandez was nearly perfect last season on a bad UTEP team—Pro Football Focus graded him as one of the nation’s best overall players.

Like the three players listed above him, Smith will be a Day 1 starter. He started every game at Auburn since midway into his freshman campaign. A ballyhooed recruit (top-150 overall) made good, Smith is a long (6’6) guard prospect who could probably handle all five OL positions in a pinch.

There’s a substantial drop-off after Smith in the guard class. My next favorites are Corbett and Phillips. With the Wolfpack, Corbett took over for 2014 second-rounder Joel Bitonio at LT. Like Bitonio, Corbett is headed inside at the next level. Corbett is solid across the board but lacks an elite trait.

Phillips is an enforcer with attitude who has solid feet. Utterly dominant in the FCS. May have some issues with athletic interior pass rushers in the NFL. Has a concussion in his past.

Jones is long (6’5) and extremely athletic. Nifty feet, highly effective on the move. He needs to add more bulk and strength. The frame may not allow for a ton of that. Perfect fit for a zone-blocking team. On a zone team’s board, Jones would be a few notches above where I list him.

The others are all question marks. Teller, a longtime starter, was awesome in 2016 and mediocre in 2017 as Virginia Tech’s offense took a step back. Was that a sign of things to come for Teller, or a one-year aberration? If it’s an aberration, he’ll appeal to teams who like power guards.

Hearn, O’Connell and McDermott are all tweeners who look like tackles but don’t have the feet for the outside or the block-sustaining chops to neatly project as future NFL starters at guard.


1. James Daniels (Iowa)

2. Billy Price (Ohio State)

3. Frank Ragnow (Arkansas)

4. Mason Cole (Michigan)

5. Will Clapp (LSU)

6. Sean Welsh (Iowa)

7. Coleman Shelton (Washington)

8. Scott Quessenberry (UCLA)

9. Brian Allen (Michigan State)

10. Bradley Bozeman (Alabama)

Potential riser: Mark Korte (Alberta)

No thanks!: Austin Golson (Auburn)

Most rank Price as the class’ top center, but Daniels is going to give him a serious run for his money. Personally, I (slightly) prefer Daniels. Kirk Ferentz keeps his linemen light to prioritize quickness and movement. Daniels has athleticism in spades, and his 6’4 frame gives him plenty of room to add weight (currently 295). Strength/bulk is really the only question here. Daniels is quick, light on his feet, smart, technically sound and strong in both the run and pass game. Adding 15 pounds of muscle while maintaining his special sauce shouldn’t prove overly difficult. If so, multiple Pro Bowls are in his future, health permitting.

Power is no issue for Price. He should be among the Combine’s top finishers in the bench press, and he’s likely to test well athletically to boot. Quick first step, thundering initial punch. Doesn’t have Daniels’ feet and never will. Also doesn’t appear as natural. Even so, elite power along with an explosive first step and defibrillator hands gives Price long-term Pro Bowl potential.

Ragnow has a great frame, and he plays with power and unmistakable resolve. Strong hands, difficult to push backwards. He’s a level below Daniels and Price only because Ragnow is an average athlete, limiting his ceiling. Athletic interior pass rushers may give him some issues in the NFL. Could start immediately. Won’t be intimidated.

Cole not only started every game at Michigan over his career, but he started every game in high school as well. Durable and tough. He’s long and has experience at all five OL positions. Struggled with power at times for the Wolverines.

Clapp, a longtime interior anchor for the Tigers, also has extensive experience at guard. Great size. Experience shows; he’s intelligent and aware on the field. A lack of athleticism hampers his projection quite a bit. Should begin career as a swing backup between C and both G positions. Wouldn’t be a surprise if he developed into a starter in Year 2 or 3.

Behind Clapp, we have a bunch of question marks. Walsh was a strong collegiate guard who’s too small to play anything but center in the NFL. Profiles as a plus-backup who can handle guard in a pinch.

Shelton and Quessenberry are both tall (6’4) and long-time starters in the Pac-12 who have experience at multiple positions. Each can struggle with power.

Coaches will bang the table for Allen, but scouts won’t vouch for him. Short, squatty and mean, Allen is purported to be a leader and a tone-setter. He’s a poor athlete and can only handle center because of his height and frame, two early strikes against him in his bid to make a roster in the summer.

Thor Nystrom is a former associate reporter whose writing has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to Rotoworld's college football writer on Twitter @thorku.
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