Sorry for taking so long, friends. Rather than throw out rankings that would drastically change, I wanted to wait until after the NFL Combine (and then some) in order to gather more information, i.e. athletic profiles. I guess this is closer to NFL teams’ schedules, as they put a final board together which might vary quite differently than early talent grades from area scouts. Coaches and decision makers get involved, that’s why the final grade is the (only) one that matters.
Speaking of grades, I don’t do them. I’m not evaluating for a specific scheme. Instead, I’m ranking based on ideal fit and how a player would excel in that situation. Not a specific franchise fit, but more of an ideal role.
As for quarterbacks, I rank them differently. Ideally they would be on a totally separate board, but that is not possible. Instead I place them at the top of the board if I’m sold on their ability. If I’m sold on them becoming quality starters. Then, rather than mingle with every other position, I place the next tier following prospects I consider to be first round caliber players. I could envision these quarterbacks being quality starters, but potential fatal flaws exist in their game as well. And so on, and so on.
This class really lacks excitement. In previous years I’d tell myself “I have to put Grady Jarrett high on my rankings,” due to excitement over his evaluation. The same could be said for Eric Kendricks, Michael Thomas, Javon Hargrave and many others. I’m not sure I have that connection with specific prospects this year. And as you can see, only 20 currently fit a “first round” label.
1. QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
Where He Wins: Play after play a coach knows what he is getting from a footwork, mechanics and technique standpoint. Ideal pocket passer in terms of working inside of structure with timing to locate the correct read and deliver the ball. Willing to attack every level of the defense and deliver footballs just before being hit. Rosen can rifle passes into tight windows or put touch on throws when necessary. Will make subtle movements inside of structure to find space in the pocket. He sees the field better than any other quarterback in this class.
Forecast: I don’t know Rosen’s medicals (shoulder and head). I have never met Josh Rosen. But in life generally, I appreciate people who speak their mind and display self-awareness. There will be a team at the top of the draft who clicks with Rosen. Many successful young quarterbacks in the NFL possess above average mobility. I don’t think Rosen offers that.
2. iOL Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Where He Wins: I’ve never seen an offensive lineman make some of the plays Nelson has. Example: Nelson, with active eyes, picking up a late blitzing Georgia defender on the opposite side of the line and absolutely decapitating him at full speed. He creates space in the running game and halts momentum as a pass protector.
Forecast: Interior disruption is king, so preventing it is important. There is also something to be said for an easy evaluation, and Nelson is that.
3. RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Where He Wins: Possibly the perfect satellite or space running back. He shines in the open field, combining unreal athleticism with ridiculous size. He creates yards on his own by evading tacklers both behind the line of scrimmage, at the second level or beyond. In fact, he created many hidden yards by converting supposed losses into gains by evading free defenders. A comfortable receiver on pick plays, swings, short routes and vertical shots.
NFL Comparison: David Johnson, Cardinals
Forecast: Barkley is a totally different runner than Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette. He does not maximize every yard blocked for him between the tackles. Right now that is not his game, but could it be? He has the size for it. But Barkley offers a different skillset in terms of shining in the passing game.
4. LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
Where He Wins: Sideline to sideline linebacker who is outstanding at getting ahead of blocks and picking lanes to attack and disrupt. Wants to meet ball carriers at or behind the line of scrimmage. He reacts immediately and even is predictive in his movements.
Forecast: An immediate difference maker off the ball. Plug and play starter. Just imagine if he goes to a team with solid defensive tackles that allow him to run free at the second level.
5. S Derwin James, FSU
Where He Wins: I would feel comfortable playing James at every level of the field. Split safety in deeper portions of coverage. Box safety or slot corner matching up against all different types of pass catchers. And James absolutely succeeds near the line of scrimmage and even as a blitzer. He plays with aggression and is an outstanding athlete.
Comparison: Eric Berry, Chiefs
Forecast: Per Albert Breer, teams are split on James. I think he has more range to his game than Jamal Adams, the No. 6 pick in last year’s class. More quarterbacks will be drafted in the top five this year, so a team will be getting a very good player near the No. 10 spot.
6. EDGE Bradley Chubb, NC State
Where He Wins: Knows his identity and strengths as a pass rusher. Chubb attacks his opposition snap after snap to the outside or straight to the edge. He can win with a long arm or rip on the edge or press and push tackles back on a bull rush. Chubb is also great at understanding when he has enough depth and disengages in order to make a play in the backfield, crossing the face of tackles. That type of pass rush arsenal keeps tackles guessing.
Forecast: Play after play, Chubb gets after it with effort. He isn’t a speed rusher, but that’s fine. He has enough tools and uses that variety to win a number of one on one matchups each game. Can play on the edge of any system.
7. DL Maurice Hurst, Michigan
Where He Wins: Burst off the snap to shoot gaps or attack edges of interior offensive linemen. Hurst is so quick that he takes advantage of any error on the inside. Late on a reach block? Hurst is in the backfield. Hesitate to fill for a pulling lineman? Hurst will make a play. Likely fits as a 3-technique in a one-gap defense, but has plenty of snaps at 1-technique in a NASCAR package. Plays low, which helps carry the momentum he created. Plays with timing and vision to separate and make plays on the ball.
Forecast: Interior disruption is king, and Hurst offers it most consistently in this class. Hurst was held out of the Combine with a heart concern, but we will soon know if he has been cleared.
8. EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College
Where He Wins: Pure speed and explosion off the edge. Even if he didn’t have moves or counters, tackles would fear Landry because of his ability to run the arc. That alone will create production. His flexibility to turn the corner and take a tight angle towards the quarterback might be the best in this class. The outside threat allows him to set up the inside move. Understands he needs to locate the quarterback when getting depth.
Forecast: Deal with injuries in 2017, but his 2015 and 2016 stuff is high-end tape. A natural pass rusher and that is what matters most. Don’t be too concerned about his run fits on the outside.
9. OL Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
Where He Wins: Played left tackle in 2017 after previously playing left guard. Really is an ideal offensive lineman: Athletic, strong, footwork and an ability to recover and still win.
Forecast: I think Wynn can play tackle in the NFL, but it remains to be seen if the NFL vies him in the same light. Has only played on the left side during his career. Played with a torn labrum since November.
10. RB Derrius Guice, LSU
Where He Wins: No nonsense runner. Wants to maximize the blocking in front of him and will win on contact, either a few yards on final contact or break into free space. Not afraid of contact and faced a number of heavy boxes. Displayed big play ability during his first two years. Shows patience behind the line to wait for an opening on the front side or back side. Makes his cuts off a single step while maintaining momentum.
Comparison: On the Thomas Rawls - Marshawn Lynch spectrum
Forecast: Dealt with a deep thigh bruise this season but looked back to form down the stretch. Was not a major part of the passing game, but that is typical of LSU running backs.
11. CB Joshua Jackson, Iowa
Where He Wins: Plays inside and outside. Slow plays his footwork to mirror in routes then drives on the ball off breaks. Anticipates certain routes and understands he has sideline help. Very good in isolation in the red zone. It is his ball in the air, and Jackson’s receiver background likely plays a role in that.
Forecast: Likely an outside corner who will attack the football in the air. Ball skills are an important part of his game, and it is not just the interception numbers.
12. CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
Where He Wins: Mirroring receivers in phase, locating the football and making a play on the ball is his game. Very fluid player and looks comfortable outside or in the slot. Footwork in his backpedal to mirror and not turn his hips is very impressive. Very willing to leave his feet and make a play for the football and will fight for inside position before doing so. His timing to play the football really is special. Attacks knees and ankles to wrap up on his tackles.
Comparison: Jason Verrett, Chargers
Forecast: Lacks ideal height and length, but that doesn’t stop Ward from being an ideal talent. Can line up on the outside in “base” and move inside to the slot in nickel or dime if necessary.
13. T Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
Where He Wins: Very consistent left tackle. Left alone on an island often and handled his assignment. Shines in the running game in terms of positional advantage to accomplish his assignment. Evan asked to get to the second level and pull, and moves well on each. Maximizes his length as a pass protector and has the functional strength to stick with counter moves or recover and anchor in tough spots. Has experience on the left and right side.
Forecast: McGlinchey is not a perfect prospect. Even good tackles lose snaps each game, the impact is determined by the playcall. He’s at his worst against edge rushers with tremendous upfield speed. McGlinchey is clearly the top tackle prospect (in terms of players considered tackles by NFL standards).
14. EDGE Marcus Davenport, UTSA
Where He Wins: Has an outstanding long arm to press and maintain a space advantage. Productive player when looping inside or taking the inside lane after attacking outside. Not a bend rusher, he’s a straight-line or lateral rusher. Size allows him to naturally defend the run and combines it with mentality to disengage and make plays near the line of scrimmage. His best is outstanding.
Forecast: I’ve compared Davenport to Aldon Smith on the field, and Smith used his combination of movement and size to take advantage of the space created by Justin Smith. Davenport can win on his own, but he’d be a monster playing next to a similar talent.
15. LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Where He Wins: Mostly plays off the ball as a true linebacker and will occasionally rush from the edge. Linebackers this big should not move this easily. Once he locates a target he flies to the ball and his closing quicks are crazy. And that goes for running lanes to make plays in the backfield. Active in curl to flat zones and does his best to anticipate and close on passes.
Forecast: For 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, Edmunds doesn’t always play to that size. And he has a tendency to overrun plays, allowing ball carriers to evade him. With that said, few prospects at his position offer his size, speed and comfort in space. That fits the NFL.
16. SCB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Where He Wins: Clearly most comfortable in the slot. Sticks and trails receivers over the middle of the field then drives and reach on the catch point to disrupt. Will come up and hold the edge on runs and wants to make plays at the line of scrimmage. A very aggressive player, as he tries to fight off blocks. Also gives effort on special teams.
Comparison: Terence Newman, Vikings
Forecast: The question is how valuable is a slot player? Yes, that position is considered a starter, but look at contract numbers and the value is not the same as outside corners. He played just 13 snaps as an outside corner in 2017 and does not have a similar size/athletic profile as Jalen Ramsey, so the cases are quite different.
17. iOL James Daniels, Iowa
Where He Wins: Pass protection is great. Athleticism is clear when asked to get out of his stance and block on the move, either getting to the second level or pulling as a lead blocker in space. Positional blocker in the running game.
Comparison: Ryan Kalil, Panthers
Forecast: Not a drive blocker in the running game, but that won’t be his job. Should be a longtime starting center and offers movement rarely seen at the position.
18. RB Sony Michel, Georgia
Where He Wins: Intriguing combination of quickness, speed and power. There are plays where he evades the first defender and runs over the second, then converts a big play. Smooth one step cuts to not lose momentum, then he has the speed to ruin defenders angles. He can run small, skinny and big. Swing passes become nightmares for defenses when he is in the open field.
Forecast: If there is one back who challenges Saquon Barkley after a few years in the league, it is Michel. He has a fumbling problem and hopefully he can overcome that. Has split time during his career.
19. DL Taven Bryan, Florida
Where He Wins: Athleticism from the inside is apparent from the snap. Offensive linemen have such a difficult time re-anchoring against his momentum. 3-technique who might line up as a 1-technique in certain situations. Closing speed to chase down plays in space and when shooting gaps. Often the first player off the ball.
Comparison: Dominique Easley, Rams
Forecast: Bryan is naturally disruptive. I don’t think I’ve ever written that sentence. Often he has no idea what he’s doing and lacks a pass rushing plan. I’m banking on NFL coaches to do their job and earn their money.
20. EDGE Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
Where He Wins: A true force player. Rotates between playing off the ball, on the edge and even takes snaps in the slot. So sound at accomplishing his assignment on the edge and in space, forcing ball carriers inside then shedding to make the tackle. Does the same in coverage. Athleticism equals a pass rushing ceiling, even though he is a bit lost in that area. Chews up ground on blitzes.
Comparison: Haason Reddick, Cardinals
Forecast: One of the few edge players who might be better in space than as a pass rusher. He’s comfortable and aggressive where other edge players have difficulties. Question is if his athleticism will translate into disruption.
21. QB Sam Darnold, USC
22. QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
23. QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
24. WR DJ Moore, Maryland
25. WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
26. WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
27. DL Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
28. EDGE Sam Hubbard, Ohio St
29. LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
30. TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
31. iOL Will Hernandez, UTEP
32. WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
33. OL Connor Williams, Texas
34. T Kolton Miller, UCLA
35. LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
36. DL Vita Vea, Washington
37. WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame
38. CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville
39. TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
40. iOL Billy Price, Ohio State
41. T Tyrell Crosby, Oregon
42. T Brian O’Neill, Pitt
43. LB Genard Avery, Memphis
44. DL Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State
45. WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
46. S Jessie Bate, Wake Forest
47. CB Mike Hughes, UCF
48. CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
49. QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
50. QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State