We’re still early in the season, but the luxury of NDT Scouting’s approach mirroring that of NFL franchises is I’ve already had the opportunity to set eyes on over 150 players eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft. There’s tons of information yet to be collected, whether that’s from a game or from athletic testing; but when one is able to see a player’s trajectory, as we are. I do feel comfortable with offering some initial thoughts on each positional group.
Just remember, these initial rankings are just that: initial. I would expect once the season is over and my methodology is fully implemented, there will be some discrepancies. But until then, allow this to establish my expectation of the class.
Clelin Ferrell, Clemson (Redshirt Sophomore)
Arden Key, Louisiana State (Junior)
Harold Landry, Boston College (Senior)
Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State (Senior)
Dorance Armstrong, Kansas (Junior)
Surprise! Consider me a massive fan of Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell. You’d know that if you kept up with my notes of him from this summer. But I digress, I think he’s a special blend of traits, but without the health/weight consistency questions you’re going to get from Key. Key’s upside is tremendous. But I do feel like I can get more out of Ferrell. Harold Landry is a true speed rusher. His work against the run will always have some limitations due to his frame but I wouldn’t change anything there; he’s a speed rusher who wins with speed. Just know he’s probably not going to be a generational talent as a result in all phases of the position. Bradley Chubb is a well rounded player who has all the football IQ I need to get excited about his ability; but he’s not as loose of a rusher as any of the other names on this list. Dorance Armstrong will continue to be a Draft darling for those who like speed and flexibility.
Interior Defensive Line
Christian Wilkins, Clemson (Junior)
Maurice Hurst, Michigan (Redshirt Senior)
Da’Ron Payne, Alabama (Junior)
Derrick Nnadi, Florida State (Senior)
Lowell Lotulelei, Utah (Senior)
Finally, a position group with more seniors than anything else. Wilkins is the cream of the crop in my opinion for violence, power, bend and versatility. After all, this is a player tasked with playing defensive end for the Tigers last year. Maurice Hurst has been trapped behind bodies on that Michigan front, but no longer. Now, he’ll have the chance to showcase that first step for the next 10 games. Think about your stereotypical Alabama DL, and odds are you’ve got a good picture of Da’Ron Payne: heavy handed and powerful. The same could be said for the two names behind him, Nnadi and Lotulelei.
Shaun Dion-Hamilton, Alabama (Senior)
Malik Jefferson, Texas (Junior)
Cameron Smith, Southern California (Junior)
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech (Junior)
Jerome Baker, Ohio State (Junior)
First and foremost, we need to pour one out for Wisconsin LB Jack Cichy, who would have been firmly entrenched at the top of these ranks if not for an injury that cost him his entire 2017 season. Instead, another LB with a knee issue finds himself at #1 in Shaun Dion-Hamilton. If he’s healthy, look out. This dude was impressive prior to 2017 and his play against Florida State was a real tone setting performance. Long celebrated recruit Malik Jefferson is an excellent athlete, but I do think he’s going to project most favorably in space, which could handcuff his value to some teams. Cameron Smith plays MIKE LB for the Trojans and is very consistent with his reads and quick to flow. Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds is one of the most impressive physical freaks in football; he’s massive at a listed 6’5, 250+ lbs. But yet I watched him run in space with some quick backs in the team’s season opener against WVU. Jerome Baker is Joe Marino’s guy; but it’s easy to see why he’s been given that mantle. Fast, explosive and terrific in space.
Jaire Alexander, Louisville (Junior)
Adonis Alexander, Virginia Tech (Junior)
Iman Marshall, Southern California (Junior)
Tavarus McFadden, Florida State (Junior)
Duke Dawson, Florida (Senior)
Alexanders lead the way for me in terms of eligible cornerbacks for 2018. Jaire is currently dealing with a lingering injury but his short area “click and close” ability is right up there with the best in recent memory. I also love what Alexander can do with the football; he’s proven to have a nose for generating turnovers and is active in the return game as well. Adonis, on the other hand, is dealing with some disciplinary issues at Tech. After this weekend, he’ll have missed the last 2 games for the Hokies; but when he’s on the field he’s impossible to miss. His length from the trail position (6’3) is a sight to see. Two more lengthy guys sit behind Adonis Alexander in Iman Marshall and Tavarus McFadden. Marshall has been getting hit with some penalties early on this year but I love the physicality with which he plays. McFadden hasn’t had an opportunity to showcase himself outside of the opening defeat to Alabama. Florida’s Duke Dawson may project best in the slot, but he’s got the movement ability to really shine there. He’s now logged an interception against both Michigan and Tennessee to start his season.
Derwin James, Florida State (Redshirt Sophomore)
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama (Junior)
Armani Watts, Texas A&M (Senior)
Kyzir White, West Virginia (Senior)
Ronnie Harrison, Alabama (Junior)
James has been regarded as the top Safety eligible, and for good reason. His blend of traits reminds me of Jabrill Peppers, although James is longer and much more polished in the secondary as a coverage defender. Minkah Fitzpatrick has the ball skills of a corner and the tackling traits of a Safety, which makes him a pretty potent mix and in most classes I think he’d be regarded as the top name. But not this one. Armani Watts is an exciting player with versatility in zone coverage and run support, he’s also shown some improved habits as a tackler early in the 2017 season. I think my favorite riser on the defensive side of the football is Kyzir White from WVU, who plays the SPUR role for the Mountaineers. I believe his projection is very favorable to a nickel LB at the next level. Ronnie Harrison is massive for a Safety, but I was impressed with the Junior when I watched the Crimson Tide wear out the Seminoles to start the season.