1. The quarterback class isn’t what we hoped it would be, but….
Sam Darnold has serious decision-making and mechanical issues which affect his accuracy. Josh Rosen doesn’t have an elite arm, also makes poor decisions at times and can be a slow processor from the pocket. Mason Rudolph has accuracy issues to all levels and has managed the pocket poorly in tough matchups this season. Josh Allen is a disaster in all of the aforementioned areas (except not having an elite arm, he’s got that), and he’s been unwatchable against quality competition his whole career. Luke Falk plays scared, has a below-average arm and can’t do anything under pressure.
Darnold needs to go back to school, while Rosen still has a chance to be a first round guy on my board once I get to sit down and study him. Rudolph is going to need a perfect NFL situation, and Allen is a day three developmental prospect at best. Falk might be undraftable.
Enter Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson, both of whom have been outstanding amidst a disappointing college football season for quarterback prospects. Jackson might be the most improved player in the country, and his velocity, athleticism and ability to vary pace and touch on the ball are really impressive. He generally makes smart decisions and is accurate between the hashes, but outside the numbers Jackson seems to struggle more, especially finding the proper range on his deep ball. I still have legitimate questions about Jackson’s game, but he’s vastly improved this season.
Mayfield is the real deal, despite concerns about his height. He’s a quick processor with great mechanics and excellent accuracy to all levels, despite playing both in and out of structure regularly. Mayfield has the arm to test all levels of the field and always keeps his eyes up when on the move. He manages the pocket exceptionally well, and has gutsy, playmaker traits teams’ will want in a quarterback and leader. He’s my QB1 right now, and the only quarterback I currently feel very confident in becoming a good starter in the NFL.
2. Harold Landry and Arden Key aren’t the top two edge rushers
This summer most boards seem to suggest that Landry and Key were the two premier names to watch in the 2018 edge defender class, and while both players have had their moments this season, there are concerns about their ability to translate to the NFL.
For Landry, elite athleticism on Vic Beasley’s level will have to be his calling card, and I’m just not sure he’s that special of an athlete. He doesn’t challenge tackles with power or physicality, and he rarely employs a counter move, so Landry will need elite burst and flexibility win around the edge in the NFL, as well as excellent hand usage.
Key is in a similar boat, with better hands than Landry at the top of the arc, but a high pad level and less bend. Key is also a spotty tackler, and struggles to turn sharp corners through contact at the top of the arc. I love his motor and toughness, but when you compare him to similarly sized edge rushers like Barkevious Mingo, Dion Jordan and Leonard Floyd – all players who have struggled to win 1v1 in the NFL – you start to see where his projection gets tough.
3. Bradley Chubb and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo might be the top two edge rushers
Remember what I said about pass rushers up above? When scouting them, ask yourself the question, can they win outside, inside or through an opponent? If not all three or even two, can they do one at a really high level? For Chubb, I think it’s all three. He isn’t crazy bendy, but he’s flexible enough to corner, and he has the first step, burst and power to work through contact on a direct path to the passer. Chubb is also adept at setting up counters, and his vision as a pass rusher is superb, as he’s able to quickly identify and explode through inside tracks to the pocket. He’s the real deal.
Okoronkwo is a better pure athlete than Chubb I think, but it’s his positional refinement that is so impressive. Despite being just 6-0, 240 pounds, Okoronkwo is rarely pushed around at the point of engagement, and instead knows how to win with leverage and long arm moves on his power rushes. His quick feet help him find an inside track quickly on tackles who set wide on him, and he absolutely has the bend and flexibility to win the edge as well. I think his stock will shoot up boards by the time draft season is officially upon us.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is definitely going to be the EDGE I like that DAL won't even consider this year. Great balance & bend through contact pic.twitter.com/C70NjMjAwR
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 21, 2017
4. Saquon Barkley might be the best prospect without being the most valuable or the best pure running back in the class
I don’t think any prospect in this year’s draft will be able to add the array of talents to an offense that Barkley can, with otherworldly receiving skills, route development and post catch ability for a running back. Barkley is a monster in space, and has the game-breaking speed to take any touch to the house.
I think he’s an adept inside runner, but at 5-11, 230 pounds, I wish he ran with power behind his pads a bit more. Too often Barkley tries to bounce runs always thinking he can gain the edge, instead of playing within structure and taking what is blocked for him. Stylistically there is some Reggie Bush in his game (if you take this as a 1:1 comp, that’s on you), but he’s bigger and more physically willing than the former USC star. If Barkley can become more disciplined as a runner, I think he has a chance to be a special all-around player, but right now Ezekiel Elliott was and Derrius Guice is a better pure runner when it comes to vision and patience between the tackles.
5. Calvin Ridley’s game will translate quickly and easily to the NFL level
I have no idea who the early leader in the clubhouse is for WR1, but if I have to take one today, I’m going with Ridley. I don’t see many (any?) true no. 1 wide receiver types in this class, but in certain offenses, Ridley’s explosiveness, route-running and advanced technique could see him thrive. He has the speed to get deep and the athleticism and attention to detail to separate at all levels of the field, while also flashing impressive ball skills down the field.
My two big questions that I haven’t studied enough to answer yet: how does Ridley operate against press coverage and can he make big-boy plays in contested catch situations? Before you ask, no I don’t care about his age at all.
6. Stanford linebacker Bobby Okereke needs more love
Okereke is a player I haven’t seen mentioned by many draft analysts, but he’s having a nice year for Stanford and its the NFL prototype at the position at 6-2, 233 pounds with tremendous closing burst. Okereke isn’t a polished prospect, but he’s a good blitzer with the movement skills to be developed and refined into a starter at the next level. He needs to break down and tackle better in space, as right now his aggression gets the best of him at times. Okereke has made a number of eye-popping plays in coverage this season, and although he was a bit of a late bloomer at Stanford, it seems things have finally clicked for him on the field.
— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) November 4, 2017
7. Clemson linebacker Dorian O’Daniel should be on your radar
O’Daniel is 6-1, 220 pounds, so there will be questions about how his frame translates to the next level. But he’s the athletic prototype for a dime linebacker type that is becoming more of a base defender in the modern NFL. O’Daniel has made splash plays all season long, with 9.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions and two defensive touchdowns in nine games this season. He’s rangy, physical and doesn’t miss many tackles either, showing a variety of skills that should project very well to the next level.
Dorian O'Daniel pic.twitter.com/aaBJ7khBlw
— Seldom Used Reserve (@seldomusedrsrv) October 23, 2017
8. Nick Chubb might be back, and Sony Michel still might be better
Chubb has looked better and better as the season had progressed, cutting off of his surgically repaired knee and showing glimpses of the type of agility he’ll need to thrive in the NFL. But Chubb is still more of a linear runner than anything else, and I’m not sure he has the same elusiveness or sharp change-of-direction that Michel offers. Both runners are physical, but Michel runs behind his pads better than Chubb, showing more power despite being ten pounds lighter. Michel is the superior receiver and more space-oriented player, and I think he’ll have more usefulness on all three downs than his Georgia teammate. I like both players, but at the end of the day, I see Michel translating into a more dynamic player in the NFL.
9. Interior defensive line group still in need of pass rushers to emerge
Two years ago the interior defensive line class was loaded with talent, from pure run stuffers to pass rushers to players with incredible upside. Can this class get on that level? I love Michigan’s Maurice Hurst as a top-tier prospect, but outside of him, I’m having a hard time finding interior defensive linemen who can bring the heat as pass rushers. Christian Wilkins is probably a safe bet, but because Clemson still plays him on the edge a bunch, he becomes tougher to evaluate for the NFL as they’ll never use him in that role.
Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne have had strong seasons, but I’m not sure either is the type of athlete to win consistently 1v1 as a pass rusher, at least not on a first round level. I feel a little more confident in Derrick Nnadi than those two, as he consistently shows off a power rush that reminds me of Javon Hargrave. Hercules Mata’afa may have a versatile usage in the NFL, but at 6-2, 250 pounds, he’s not gonna be spending most of his time on the interior like he does at Washington State. Harrison Phillips from Stanford and Taven Bryan from Florida are two draft-eligible prospects that intrigue me but I haven’t seen enough of yet to judge. I think the class is a good one along the interior defensive line, but the pass-rushing talent will be what every NFL team is searching for, even if they have to reach for a less refined prospect to get it.
10. Carlton Davis is the corner that has caught my eye the most this season
It’s tough to evaluate corners and safeties off of live viewings, and although I’ve watched a ton of college football this season, I have yet to sit down and study tape of most of these guys. That process begins this weekend. But Davis has consistently impressed me in watching most of four Auburn games this season, showing the length, physicality and stickiness to stay in phase with receivers all over the field.
Davis is good working top-down on the ball, but I have to see him in more situations where he plays with his back to the ball. In the games I watched he seemed more than willing to defend the run as well, playing like every bit of his 6-2, 203-pound frame. Davis is just a junior, but given the way his season has gone and the fact that no corner has really stepped up to claim the top spot, I would guess he’ll declare once the season ends.