whelp it would only let me post one doc but I can copy and paste the other one....here it is.
2018 NFL Draft Primer
It is almost time again and I wanted to share with you the fruits of my obsession. The 2018 NFL draft is a puzzle to be solved but there are many solutions (32 in fact, one for each team). I do not have the answers, just opinion based around the 20+ years I have been studying the NFL Draft and of my study of game tape from the 2016 and 2017 college football season. In this primer I will cover the players I believe are the cleanest prospects in this draft as well as a brief overview of the classes at each position (QB, RB, FB, TE, WR1, Slot, LT, RT, OG, C, 0 Technique DT – 3/4 NT, 3 Technique DT – 3/4 DE, 4/3 DE, OLB, MLB, SS, FS, CB).
Principles of proper drafting
· The Triple D FP: Don’t Draft Dumb Football Players…ever…they wreak havoc with game plans and can’t be counted on to execute in the heat of the moment. I don’t care how amazing the athletic ability is, nothing for me trumps this rule. There are plenty of smart football guys to select.
· Prefer football Junkies. After they get paid are they still going to put in the extra work to be great, it requires a level of devotion that wears on people. Only players that are super passionate about football will put in the effort long term. Find guys with the requisite athletic ability that are film guys that study tells and tendencies on their free time and you will be a better football team.
· Always pick the best player…if the need is close. Always picking the best player regardless of need leads to unbalanced football teams. There must be a weighting system that weights the football player against the needs of the team. This can be done logically…assess the needs of the football team and build a scale quantifying that need and then multiply the player grade against the scale and voila you have a logical basis to evaluate players. Then use the adjusted player grade after the needs scale to pick the player.
· While position flexibility is good, dominance in one area trumps it.
First Tier Prospects
Usually I grade 7-15 prospects that I believe are premier prospects. This year I only have 7 this is not to say that this is a bad draft, just a lot of players that have issues that prevent them from being clean prospects. This draft is particularly deep at Tackle, Running Bank, Center and Cornerback so if you might want to wait on that first round center (looking at you Cincinnati) because there are three guys that will certainly be there in Rd. 2 or even Rd. 3 that grade out fairly close to the first round guy, better select the guy earlier that comes from a draft pool that is slimmer. This draft is also deep at Quarterback but there are no clean prospects like Andrew Luck was coming out of Stanford.
· Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: As a runner Barkley shows amazing speed and vision to combine with power and is the best pure running prospect I have graded since Adrian Peterson (tied with Zeke Elliot). What makes Barkley most special is that he is equally impressive as a receiver and a blocker. He also appears to be a very bright kid who is a football junkie, now what we do not know is will he remain passionate about the sport after he gets paid which is a potential issue for all prospects. Barring an unforeseen injury, Saquon Barkley is the best running back prospect I have graded in the last 20 years and is the best prospect in this draft.
· Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame: Nelson is a complete football junkie, obsessed with being better as a player. He studies martial arts to work on his footwork, flexibility and his hands. He is a complete weight room warrior. Nelson is also a leader who makes all of his line mates better, to the point that one of the issues I have with his partner Mike McGlinchey is the impact of playing next to Nelson. When I watch tape of Notre Dame, Nelson is almost always demolishing his man. Nelson finishes blocks better than any player I have ever seen and is an absolute stud. I believe Nelson will be an all-star for a decade and will have a Zach Martin type impact on any line he is added to.
· Derwin James, Strong Safety, Florida State: Derwin James confirmed at the Combine what the tape told us. Running a sub-4.5 40 at 6’2” and 215 lbs with a 40” vert and an 11’ broad jump displays that James has fantastic ability for a man his size. The tape shows great instincts and football intelligence. He does have suspect hands but as the saying goes…that is why he is playing defense. At this time James is more of an in-the-box safety but he is more than comfortable mirroring an athletic TE or dropping into deep coverage if the need arises. James’ freshman tape was a revelation. He lost his Sophomore year to a left knee injury and was slow to recover last year. James’ ending 2017 tape was much better than his beginning 2017 tape which lends itself to the idea that he was not 100% to start the season. I think the comparisons to Eric Berry are apt which is high praise.
· Roquan Smith, Middle Linebacker, Georgia: Leadership and instinct are what you look for in an elite middle linebacking prospect. Roquan is the undisputed leader of a very good SEC defense. He is the QB of the defense and is fast and instinctive. Was the best player on the field during the 2017-2018 Championship Game, all over the field making plays. Roquan is always around the ball, a faster bigger Mike Singletary. I think this kkid I he keeps that fire and continues to work on his craft will be an all-pro player for many years and a likely top ten pick.
· Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Ohio State: Faster than fast, capable of matching up with all but the tallest, beefiest WRs. Ward plays press coverage which is what you look for in a #1 CB and has experience playing both sides as well as in the slot if the need demands. Ward is a fighter and a great competitor, I love his style of play. I think he will be a top 10 pick and a great one for any team that drafts him.
· Will Hernandez, OG, Texas El Paso: A great player on a very bad football team. Will was a man among boys at UTEP. If not for Nelson playing much better competition, Hernandez might be my favorite O-Line prospect in this draft. At the Senior Bowl Hernandez was the most impressive offensive linemen. At the combine he ran the 7th highest 3 cone of any OLinemen, displaying the quickness of a man 30-40 lbs. lighter. Hernandez is a massive man with rare strength and an absolute road grader in the running game. He is less skilled in the pass game and his arm length will contain him to a guard position in the pros but Will Hernandez, baring injury, will be a pro bowl level Right Guard for 10 years and should be a no brainer first round selection….any team getting Will Hernandez in the late first or early second will be getting a steal.
· James Daniels, C, Iowa: This is the first time in 20 years where I do not grade any Tackle as a premier selection, that being said, the O-Line is well represented with two guards and a center. IMHO James Daniels grades out similarly to Travis Fredrick when he came out of Wisconsin. Smart, Quick, capable of blocking effectively at the second level. Daniels is lighter at 295 than you would like to see ideally but is still growing into his frame and can add some more strength under an NFL weight program. The issue with selecting Daniels in the first round (and he is deserving the slot) is that there are three other Centers (Billy Price from Ohio State, Frank Ragnow from Arkansas and Mason Cole from Michigan) that carry similar grades. Price, I believe, you will be able to get through the mid 2nd (only once in the last 15 years have two Centers been selected in the top 50, 2009 when Alex Mack out of Cal went 21st, Eric Wood out of Louisville went 28 and Max Unger out of Oregon went 48…incidentally, all three were Pro Bowl players), Ragnow is slated to go in the late second or early 3rd and Cole is projected to be a mid 4th round selection. You have to weigh the benefit of picking an elite prospect in the first against taking a lesser but still VERY good prospect at the same position later and taking another player in a shallower pool at another position in the first.
Quarterback: Starting with the most important position, this is a deep QB pool with 9 guys that have the ability to be potential starters in this league…all 9 also could be busts. Now in all fairness I have a mixed track record in projecting QBs in the NFL…I was incredibly high on Peyton Manning (I accurately predicted that Leaf would bust out of the league) and Andrew Luck but was equally high on Robert Griffin III and Jake Locker so your mileage may vary. If the position of QB were not so important and the need from the teams so great, I would not have any of these QBs carrying a first round grade. As it is I have 5.
I like Josh Allen from Wyoming the best, he reminds me a lot of Ben Roethlisberger coming out of Miami of Ohio. The knock on Josh is accuracy which will kill you in the pros, you are gambling that he will figure out how to reign in his prodigious arm talent at the NFL level and the history of that is not good. Allen has all the physical tools, fabulous arm, good mobility, elite size and if the “leaked reports” of QB Wonderlic scores are to be believed superior intelligence (the reports showed a Wonderlic score of 37 from Allen which is excellent and best of the class). I think with Allen it will come down to how much he wants it, is he willing to put the time in to improve those areas of his game that need improving (decision making speed and accuracy) and only time will tell…
Next is Sam Darnold from USC. Simply put, it is never a good sign when completion %, and TDs drop substantially from junior to senior and INTs increase, this is the case with Darnold. You could write it off as having a less skilled team around him but I think he actually had more skill around him in 2017 than in 2016. I know he will likely be the first pick in the draft but Darnold has bust written all over him. I am worried that he will pull a Jamarcus Russell when he gets the big contract and not put the effort in it takes to be great.
Issues with Josh Rosen from UCLA are, his team constantly underperforms why is that? Lamar Jackson from Louisville suffers from the system that he developed in not translating to NFL success. Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State I am higher on than most but I have concerns about arm strength and mobility.
Baker Mayfield has the best stats out of anyone in this class but his demeanor on the field and off of it is off-putting. Mayfield has the accuracy and arm strength to be an elite QB. He is a leader and his teams perform to expectation that is to say they win. All of that said he carries himself like Jay Cutler does on the sidelines and rumors of partying have led to Johnny Manziel comparisons. There is an excellent article on SI.com that can be found at https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/02/01/baker-mayfield-high-school-draft-field-johnny-manziel-comparisons which disputes the off-the-field stuff. And while the rumors off the field may not be justified, the on the field stuff, the stuff on the sidelines looks like a kid who has the potential to self-destruct like Manziel did. No question about his ability, about his arm strength, his accuracy in college is the stuff legends are made of, he is mobile but not so mobile that he takes his eyes of the field and misses a big play. Mayfield is a leader and a winner, that much is not in doubt. Mayfield as a pro could be Manziel or Brees, he is a risk that I would not spend the draft capital needed to acquire him but I also could be VERY wrong about this evaluation. If he were to fall out of the first round I would gobble him up in a second because you are not gambling the franchise on him at that point. That being said, I think Baker Mayfield will be a top ten pick and whichever team drafts him will be holding their fingers crossed for a couple of years.
Small School prospects I like a lot are Kyle Lauletta from Richmond, Riley Ferguson from Memphis, and Mike White from Western Kentucky. I also like Luke Faulk from Washington State a lot.
Overall deep class with a lot of talent and a lot of ?.
Running Back: I played around with splitting this class between traditional ground and pound runners and multi threat hybrid backs but in todays NFL you really need to proficient in all areas (no Adrian Petersons any more).
Barkley I have described above as an ELITE talent and IMHO the best prospect in this draft. After having Running Back written off as dead for several years, in the last two drafts they have come back strong with two EXCELLENT classes.
The two guys from Georgia, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Michel looked like the better back against NFL Level defensive competition in the Championship Game. Chubb was the better performer against Oklahoma in the semis….Chubb had the better career at Georgia, thanks in no small part to an incredible freshman campaign. Both players have the talent to be excellent pros.
The guy I think that is not getting enough pub out of this class is Rashaad Penny from San Diego State. Rushing for 2238 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior while also catching 19 balls for 135 and two more TDs on top of averaging 35 yards per punt return and 30 yards per kickoff return with three return TDs? By my math that is 2238+135+70+521=2964 all purpose yards last year to go with 28 TDs when everyone knows you are the only game breaker on your team….I mean come on! I do not care what level of competition and what defenses you are going against, if you can average 7 yards every time you touch the ball at a D1 program for a four year career, you are special. At 5’11” 220 lbs Penny is not a small back. There is nothing about Penny that would throw up red flags that say he could not perform at the NFL level. Speed is sub-4.5, bench is adequate, quickness is off-the-charts. I think someone is going to get a hell of a steal in the late 2nd or early 3rd with this kid (ala Kareem Hunt).
Ronald Jones II is a classic hybrid back with the speed and quickness to tear up defenses, reminds me a lot of Alvin Kamara. Derrius Guice is another in a long line of excellent LSU RBs and was an excellent performer even while sharing a backfield with Leonard Fournette in 2016. Mark Walton from Miami, FLA suffered a season ending ankle injury last year and probably should have stayed in school but has all the talent in the world to be a great pro in the mold of Giovanni Bernard. Kerryon Johnson from Auburn and Kalen Ballage from Arizona State are both excellent big back options in the mid rounds. I also like Nyheim Hines out of NC State, another Alvin Kamara type player. Excellent top end, excellent depth…It would not surprise me to see 5-6 running backs out of this class starting for teams in 3-4 years with another 5-6 playing significant time in support roles.
Excellent Running Back class….A Grade.
Fullback: Ah Fullback…why do I even waste time talking about a position that many teams to not even carry on roster? Good question…because I am a slave to tradition and have a soft spot for these guys. Blue collar, hard workers that get no publicity I have always liked fullbacks particularly when they have depth to their game.
There is one guy I will highlight out of this class that could be special. Jalen Samuels out of NC State 6’ 230 lbs, 18 reps at 225 shows strength, sub 4.6 speed with the quickness of a much smaller back. Flexed out as a RB/TE/ and WR as a collegian. In his 4 year career ran for more than 1,000 yards and 27 TDs, had 185 receptions for over 1,500 yards with 19 receiving TDs. Good not great blocker and does not have a defined position in the NFL but could be a swiss knife in the right offense. I project him to be a better version of Ryan Hewitt who can do the dirty work but also be a weapon when called on to be. Think he will go in the 4th and could be a bargain.
2-3 traditional FBs will be drafted in the mid to late rounds but I don’t see anyone else in this class worth spending a whole lot of time on.
Tight End: One of the best TE classes ever IMHO. Good top end talent with playmakers 10 deep. I think the NFL is starting to figure out how important and game changing an excellent TE can be. I have long thought the TE position and the Safety position are undervalued by NFL organizations as both positions provide great value in the running game and passing game.
My favorite TE in this draft is Hayden Hurst from South Carolina. Hayden is an all-around TE. He is a good blocker transitioning to a great blocker (much improved from 2016 to 2017 tape). He has good breakaway speed and great hands for the position. He is tough and is willing to absorb a big hit and still come down with the ball. The only issue is that Hayden was a pro baseball prospect and is 25 years old (coming back to school after trying for several years playing minor league baseball) so he is older than NFL teams like and is still raw as a football player. I think Hurst is a Jason Witten type player and will be a perennial all pro. Given that he is an older player, I do not believe Hurst will be the first TE taken and may slip to the first half of the third round because of that but will be a game changer where ever he is drafted.
The next guy on my TE board is Dallas Goedart from South Dakota State. I was really looking forward to seeing Dallas work out at the combine, alas injuries did not allow that to happen. I do believe Dallas may be the first TE taken either in the late first or early second. He is an excellent pass catcher that can make the circus catches. Great hands and body control long with a long catch radius makes Dallas a terrific pass catching prospect particularly in the red zone along the lines of Tyler Eifert (hopefully more durable). Dallas Goedart is not very experienced as a blocker so there is a question mark there. Over his Jackrabbit career Dallas caught 198 balls for 2988 yards and 21 TDs by far the best numbers from a TE prospect in this draft but he was also going against 1-AA competition. I view Dallas Goedart as a mid 2nd round pick with upside.
Likewise, Mike Gesicki from Penn State is an all catch no block TE. Gesicki put up amazing #’s at the NFL Combine, better than I have ever seen from someone at that position not named Vernon Davis. In fact Gesicki is a lot like Vernon Davis in his play style. Gesicki’s athleticism shows on tape where he is a mismatch for whomever he is going against, LBers cannot hang with him because of his speed and quickness and he can outjump or outmuscle CBs. I am not as high on Gesicki because he makes almost no effort to block and be a complete TE again similar to Vernon Davis coming out of college. I view Mike Gesicki as a late 2nd or early 3rd round prospect who will be taken much sooner due to his combine numbers.
Another top prospect at TE is Mark Andrews from Oklahoma. Andrews was a TD machine in college catching 22 TDs over his 3 year career. Mark suffers from Type 1 Diabetes which has to be monitored during game time, this medical concern may push him down a few draft boards. Very productive pass catching TE in a major D1 program. He is a good blocker as well rather than someone just looking to get in the way, active as a drive blocker when called on and shows good power. Andrews is a wild card, could go anywhere from the late 1st through the late 3rd depending on medical evaluations and interpretation of his tape. The fact that he is an all-around player may push him over Gesicki and Goedart in the minds of some NFL front offices.
Ian Thomas from Indiana is a raw but intriguing prospect who has the makings of a very good flex TE in the NFL. Chris Herndon from Miami, FLA and Troy Fumagalli from Wisconsin are both good pass catching prospects and adequate blockers, good all-around prospects as well in the mid rounds (rounds 4 or 5). Tyler Conklin from Central Michigan is a good small school prospect that will attract a lot of attention in the mid rounds as well provided he checks out medically.
All in all this TE class is strong throughout, from blue chip talent at the front of the draft to intriguing sleeper prospects at the back end. This is a good year to need an impact TE.
Wide Receiver: This is a bad year to be looking for a game breaker, clear Number 1, Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson type player, that player simply does not exist in this draft. The draft is deep in mid-tier prospects but there is very little greatness in this group.
My favorite WR in this class is Anthony Miller from Memphis. Kid reminds me A LOT of Antonio Brown coming out of Central Michigan. Like Brown, Miller is an ultra-productive do anything kind of player for the Tigers. Like Brown, Miller does not have the catch radius, long body with high end speed that you are typically looking for at the NFL level, but his quickness and football speed is much better than he tests. Like Brown, Miller comes from a non-power 5 conference. And, like Brown, Miller will be overlooked in the first two-three rounds and will be a steal for whichever team drafts him.
Calvin Ridley is another potential All-Pro Wide Receiver. Nothing athletically stands out about Ridley. He is not super long and does not show the outstanding catch radius you look for in a #1 WR. He is fast at 4.41 in the 40 but not among the top 5 in his class. His vert and broad jumps were in the bottom half of the class. His 3-cone and shuttles were not worth writing home about either. What makes Calving Ridley special is his concentration when the ball comes to him, his hands, and most importantly, his route running. Ridley sells his fakes, hides his cuts, is extremely slippery to guard. He clearly studies his craft and that is what makes him a top prospect in this draft. Rod Smith, Jimmy Smith, and even the GOAT Jerry Rice were similar in this regard, taking adequate but not special athletic ability and turning it into a hall of fame career with hard work, supreme concentration when all is going to hell around you, and attention to detail. Not saying that Calvin Ridley is the next Jerry Rice but the potential is there if he keeps working to perfect his craft that he could be a special type of player and that is what we are all looking for in a high draft pick.
DJ Moore is another highly touted prospect, out of Maryland, that there is a serious buzz about. Moore is a difficult prospect to judge because of poor QB play at the college level. As you watch tape of Moore you can see that balls are not coming to him on target or on time most of the time, as a result it looks like he is running non-precise routes and doesn’t have great hands. Moore tested out well at the combine and at his pro-day but he remains a ? and a gamble for anyone taking him in the first two rounds.
There are several other guys in this draft that might turn into good pros. Christian Kirk from Texas A&M and Dante Pettis from Washington have the makings of good slot WRs and potentially punt returners in the NFL. Courtland Sutton from SMU and small school sleeper Jake Wieneke from South Dakota State are really strong red zone targets.
One player getting a lot of pub that I do not like is Equinineous St. Brown from Notre Dame. St. Brown scores very high on the height/weight/speed chart. All the physical attributes are there for St. Brown to be an excellent prospect but you watch him on tape, he does not give his all to sell out routes where he knows he will not get the ball. He rounds out his cuts. He pretends to block but is totally ineffectual. St. Brown has all the hall marks of a player who will be drafted high based on numbers but fail in the pros because of a lack of effort.
Offensive Tackles: This is a poor Offensive Tackle class, in fact it is possible that no offensive tackle will be chosen in the first 20 picks of the draft for the first time since 1974. There are several good prospects but no great ones IMHO.
The most interesting Tackle Prospect in this draft is Orlando Brown, JR. from Oklahoma. Brown is the son of long-time NFL Tackle Zeus Brown so he knows all about the rigors of playing OLine in the NFL. On tape, Brown is a sure fire first rounder and the best Tackle prospect in this draft. Two time Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the year (one of only three players ever to have been awarded the honor multiple times), Brown is was a team captain and team leader for the Sooners in 2017. He is a massive man, almost 6’8” tall with a better than 85” wingspan and played at times at more than 400 lbs in his college career (“slimmed down” to 345 for his senior year and looked faster). Nothing on the field would give teams pause about selecting him in the first, the problem with Brown is off-the field…no not character or academic problems but testing…Orlando Brown put up the worst NFL Combine workout EVER. No player has tested as poorly at the combine and succeeded in the NFL throwing doubt about Brown’s ability to keep up with the speed and quickness of the pro game and it wasn’t just the speed, jumping or quickness drills it was the strength testing as well (though the Bench is very hard for a man with 35” long arms) where Brown put up only 14 reps at 225 (less than most CB and WR prospects). Because of this workout (though he had a better one at his pro day), Brown has dropped from a sure-fire first rounder to possible dropping out of the 3rd round. I personally believe the outstanding performer on the field more than the slow, lethargic, weak looking player doing workouts. I do not think that Brown can be a left tackle in the NFL but as a right tackle and particularly in the run game (though he was also an outstanding pass protector in college) I think he is a starter and perhaps even a pro bowl player in the NFL but he is a risk and not worth even a late second round selection at this point because of it. If I were an NFL GM in the top half of the third, I would be holding my breath through the first and second rounds hoping that Brown were to fall to me in the third where the risk of failure is not as great and then I would snap him up like a hungry bass in the spring time.
Mike McGlinchey is the other highly touted tackle prospect and while he is not the mountain that Brown is, he is still a huge man at 6’8” and 320 lbs. McGlinchey is a technician who can play right or left tackle. He is a team leader and smart player (first cousin of Falcons QB Matt Ryan). I worry about his tape, whenever I turn on the tape of Notre Dame, I see McGlinchey doing his job and his linemate Quenton Nelson destroying his man. How much of McGlinchey’s success is based on the fact that he plays next to the best Guard prospect I have ever graded. He almost never has to worry about the inside rusher because Nelson takes him out, he will not have that luxury in the pros. I grade McGlinchey as a good not great prospect in all areas, no glaring weaknesses but he doesn’t wow you like Brown does either….Late first or early second round grade mostly because he is the best of a bad class at a position of great need for NFL teams.
Connor Williams from Texas is another prospect talked about in the first round but a tackle prospect with short arms and a fairly substantial injury history, in the first round, no thanks…Williams’ best position in the pros would be left guard. Brian O’Neill from Pitt is a ridiculously athletic left tackle prospect but does not have the strength to matchup to NFL Dlinemen, needs more sand in his butt but has the frame to add it. Tyrell Crosby is another really good Right Tackle Prospect that will struggle with the quickness of the game at LT.
Two Small School Prospects I really like in this class are Chukwuma Okorafor from Western Michigan and Alex Cappa from Humboldt State. Okorafor is a road grader and an excellent player well worth a mid-round pick and could be a long time start at Right Tackle in the Pros. All I know about Humboldt is the squid…. however, watching Cappa on tape he seems to be an instinctive blocker with good power and lateral quickness. Good potential for a left tackle prospect and one of the few left tackle prospects in this draft.
One more quick thought, Kolton Miller’s (from UCLA) tape sucks. I do not care how well he works out or how impressive his numbers are (and they are impressive), any GM that takes Miller in the first of even second round will be sorely disappointed.
Offensive Guard and Center: As disappointing as the Tackle class is, the Guard and Center classes are equally impressive. I could write a dissertation about Quenton Nelson, he is great and I have absolutely nothing to knock about his game, attitude, leadership, work ethic etc…barring injury I project a multi-time Pro Bowl and potentially Hall of Fame career. Likewise, I love Will Hernandez’ game and potential to make a massive improvement to a struggling running game. I really should break up the Guard and Center classes but there is a substantial overlap with many Centers being able to play Guard and vice-versa (also at 9 pages without touching the defense, this is getting a little long).
Outside of Quenton Nelson and Will Hernandez (who I have already discussed), I like Isaiah Wynn’s (from Georgia) position flexibility (could be a starter at either Guard position, Right Tackle, or Center and has college starter experience at four of the five positions). The issue with Wynn is that he is a Jack of all trades, master of none type player. He is not the pure guard prospect that Hernandez is for example and I will trade flexibility for dominance in a particular area much of the time. Which is why I grade Hernandez as a much better player. I have seen projections listed Wynn as a first round player and the second best Guard prospect after Nelson but I think that is wrong and there is a pretty steep drop off after Hernandez. Not to say that Wynn will not be a quality NFL Player because I think that he will, just not the superstar the two guys at the head of the class are. I like Wynn as a late 2nd round prospect.
At Guard I also like Austin Corbett from Nevada who is a tough as nails blocker with position flexibility. I also think that Connor Williams from Texas (though listed as a Tackle prospect) will be an excellent Guard provided he can stay healthy. Braden Smith from Auburn is a good mid to late round prospect though I question his ability to hold up to Linval Joseph on the inside from a strength standpoint. Overall the Guard class is a bit top heavy, with two outstanding prospects and a few good to very good prospects but not a whole lot of depth. This is why I advocate, if you need interior line help, take the Guard early and the Center later.
At Center there are four prospect that are high caliber starting prospects in my opinion. I have already discussed James Daniels from Iowa as the best of this class. However, unlike Guard with a perceptible drop off after Hernandez and a steep drop off after Corbitt as the #6 prospect, there is talent at Center throughout the prospect list.
The first three players I view as 1a, 1b, and 1c of this prospect list….that is to say Daniels from Iowa is 1a, Frank Ragnow from Arkansas is 1b, and Billy Price from Ohio State is 1c. There is not a huge dropoff in talent, Daniels gets the nod first by being the best athlete but Ragnow had the more celebrated collegiate career (best ranked college center prospect by ProFootball Focus or PFF the last two seasons). Billy Price’s Center experience was limited by playing with Pat Elflein for most of his college career but was a starter for four seasons for the Buckeyes and played at a very high level whether at RG, LG, or C.
Frank Ragnow was not only the best Center PFF graded in 2016 and 2017, he was first or second in almost ever category two years in a row! The highlights from 2017 are a 99.6% pass blocking efficiency (second overall) and 94.6% run blocking efficiency (first overall and the best grade given by PFF the last 5 seasons). Most impressive was that Ragnow did all of this while going up against a murderer’s row of defensive linemen in the SEC.
Billy Price from Ohio State is my 1c Center prospect because he played at an OLine factory where every year it seems high quality NFL Linemen are produced. He started at LG as a freshman and a sophomore, RG as a Junior, and Center as a Senior where he was a First-Team All-Big Ten performer over James Daniels, Mason Cole, and Brian Allen…all good NFL Prospects for the 2018 Draft. Price is a tough, no-nonsense player who has proven to be able to succeed where ever you put in on the line. Nasty, finishes his blocks and is unafraid of a challenge or a big spotlight. Oh, and he never missed a game due to injury in his college career.
You cannot go wrong with any of those three prospect if you need an early impact starter at Center, but say you miss out on those three players and are in the mid-rounds still looking for a Center, well….Mason Cole from Michigan is an excellent Big Ten start that can play LT in a pinch. Brian Allen from Michigan State was second team All-Big Ten over James Daniels in 2017. Will Clapp from LSU is a very good prospect at Guard or Center.
Last year there were only 6 Centers drafted, this year there might be as many as 10 but the fact that most teams only carry one or two Centers on their roster means that there are very few open positions available for a rookie to break in. As such you can likely get an outstanding Center prospect for your football team through the 5th round. This is why you should not be in a rush to grab that Center is there are other players around that are highly graded particularly this year. In the last 15 drafts only once (2009) have more than two Centers been drafted in the top 50 picks (that year three were selected in the top 50 but none in the top 20 and all three prospects were pro bowl players).
Defensive Tackle: There are a dozen or so other Interior D-Line prospects in this draft that have impact potential in the NFL.
Starting with the 0-1 technique tackles or nose tackles in a 3-4 defense. The best prospect is Vita Vea from Washington. Vea is a huge man at almost 6’5” and 340 lbs. This is a Vince Wilfork kind of player. Big Time run stopper can erase interior Offensive linemen. Very fast initial burst, can be on a Center or a Guard before they are ready for him which gives him leverage. Vea is not however a consistent performer, he takes plays off and must be part of a tackle rotation because he wears down in games. I think that Vita Vea is a strong first round prospect and paired in the right scheme with the right coach can be a very high performer at his position.
Another good nose tackle tackle prospect is B.J. Hill from North Carolina State. Not quite as massive as Vea but still a very large, powerful man at 6’4” 325 lbs. Very productive with 183 tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss in his college career. Durable, four year starter who is a great space-eater, opening up lanes for Bradley Chubb. Hill has a great motor, doesn’t take plays off and can collapse the pocket well. Not a whole lot of wiggle in his game, just a straight up-the-field guy with a bull rush and does not seem to have the quick burst that makes Vea so effective, Hill is still a very good DT prospect and will be a valuable rotational player for almost any team that drafts him, in any scheme.
The NT I would like to highlight is Nathan Shepherd from Fort Hays State. Shepherd, though he played at a small school, is one of the few tackle prospects that has some positional flexibility in this draft, could succeed at both the 5 Technique and the 3 Technique. He has minimal football experience so will likely need some time before he could hit his potential but with some patience might turn into a real day three gem for some team.
P.J. Hall from Sam Houston State is an under-the-radar sleeper. Ok, 86.5 TFLs and 42 sacks for his college career can be written off as production in a 1-AA school….you expect a guy with NFL talent to be able to dominate this small school competition, but what really makes this interesting is when you pair the production with 4.7 40 at 6’1” 310 lbs with a 38” vert. and 36 reps at 225. Given the production + the athletic testing scores and you start getting the picture of a player who would be a sure first rounder if he played at a power 5 team. I have Hall right now as a 4th round prospect but it would not surprise me in the least that he goes in the 3rd or even high 2nd, his stock is definitely on the rise, and has the potential to be an incredible mid round find for some team.
There are also a number of guys that could be a 3-4 DE as well as a 3 Technique in this draft that might be very good pros. Starting with Da’Ron Payne from Alabama. Da’Ron is not much of a sack artist but he is constantly pressuring the passer. I watched a number of Alabama games last year and it seemed to me Da’Ron was the most active of the front seven though the statistics do not bear that out. Inside play is all about leverage and it seems to me that Da’Ron can get leverage versus almost anyone. I don’t think he has the initial snap quickness that Hurst or Bryan have but he is close and is a disrupter particularly in a 4/3 Defense.
In the mold of Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald, Maurice Hurst from Michigan is an explosive 3 or 4-Technique that absolutely destroys interior offensive lines when he is into the game. There are two issues…1) When Hurst is dialed in he is almost unblockable but it appears that there are some plays were he puts forth more effort than others, the effort will have to be more consistently high to achieve the heights his talent implies. 2) there was an irregular heart beat detected at the combine which will give teams pause. I expect Hurst to fall down into the lower half of the first round because of issues will his heart but provided it continues to check out (he got a clean bill of health at a follow up medical check after the combine) I think Hurst becomes a perennial all-star with the right coach surrounded by the right team mates. Provided he checks out medically I believe Hurst is a second half of the first round guy.
Taven Bryan from Florida is a player that pretty much lined up as a 3-Technique in college. Very quick, good at chasing down plays but he has an issue with gap containment, he is so eager to get to the QB that he can run himself out of position, a trait which will be taken advantage of in the pros. In that same mold Harrison Phillips from Stanford is an ultra-productive 3 Technique with 26.5 TFLs and 14 sacks the last two seasons. Both Bryan and Phillips I think will make exceptional pros.
Edge: For the Edge Defenders, this is a mediocre class. You will see Bradley Chubb listed as an elite prospect. I think Chubb is a very good prospect, adept at all the elements you would like to see in an edge. Chubb has both power and quickness. He can play the run and the pass. The only reason I do not list him as an elite prospect is that watching his tape, he just does not explode off the film. We have had the luxury of watching Chubb versus McGlinchey and Nelson in both 2016 and 2017 and while he had an excellent game in 2016 with 3 sacks, in 2017 he was neutralized and was a non-factor. Chubb is a very good player, a technician and a smart player. I think Chubb will be a top five pick and will be a very good not great pro player.
Marcus Davenport from the University of Texas San Antonio is a guy that checks off all the boxes athletically, but he was never a double-digit sacker in college at a non-Division 1 school. Very raw player with tons of upside that is still learning how to play football. At almost 6’6” he has the height and length you look for and has start to use that length to bat down passes at the LoS. Taking Davenport as a first round pick is a gamble on greatness, his tape shows flashes but is not consistent enough to warrant a selection this high.
Harold Landry from Boston College is almost the exact opposite as Davenport. At 6’2” he is shorter than you would like with shorter arms and while he is a very good athlete he doesn’t wow you with athleticism. What Landry is, is a very hard worker with great instincts. A three year start at a major D-1 program, had a down senior season mostly due to an ankle injury that cost him 4 games at the end of the season. As a junior Harold Landry had 22 TFL and 16.5 sacks, pretty impressive. Landry is a tweener kind of player, not long enough to play 4-3 DE ideally, not fast enough to play 3-4 ideally. Landry will make or break based on effort, instincts, and intelligence, I personally would bet on him particularly in the mid second round.
Arden Key from LSU is another guy projected high in this draft and while he flashes ability, his work ethic, shown as a junior, was deplorable. Sam Hubbard is a try hard player from OSU, I don’t see anything special about his game that would warrant a high draft pick, if he wasn’t from OSU he would like be a mid to late round guy. Lorenzo Carter from Georgia is a project player who could be a better pro than he was a college player, had flashes of greatness the last two seasons still has not put it all together….a gamble.
The most interesting Edge player if you can call him that is Hercules Mata’Afa from Washington State. This kid REALLY does not have a position in the NFL as a 6’2” 250 lbs Defensive Tackle in college. Athletically, he does not stand out as a pro prospect on the edge, not particularly fast or strong but on tape he looks like a difference maker. Always around the ball, Mata’Afa never gives up on a play and is always hustling. I love the way this kid plays and prepares and If I were a GM in the 4th or 5th round I would take him and convert him to a situational player or an ILB, give him time to digest NFL football play him on special teams for a couple of years and watch him bloom into a special player. There is greatness here IMHO.
Outside Linebacker: Most of the talent in this linebacking class is at Inside Backer, there are only three talents I would like to highlight at Outside backer out of this class. Tremaine Edmunds from Va Tech is a very young player who has special athletic ability. Edmunds as the speed to drop into coverage and the size to cover TEs at almost 6’5” 250 lbs. Edmunds is also a very effective pass rusher and has very good instincts. Edmunds is still only 19 years old, he is still figuring this stuff out. He has boom or bust potential because of his age, Edmunds measurables are off the chart.
Leighton Vander Esch from Boise State is a prototypical OLB. Leighton is going to make his living with his instincts though he has excellent athleticism. Vander Esch had 141 tackles as a fourth-year junior which is outstanding. Leighton is a space player, he is an adequate edge rusher but makes his bread and butter roaming the flat in the passing game and shutting down the running game. I think this guy could play ¾ ILB or 4-3 OLB and be equally effective, he checks all the boxes and should be a mid to late first rounder, perhaps earlier since OLB is in demand and the talent pool here is very shallow.
I also would be remiss if I did not mention Shaquem Griffin here. Never count this guy out of anything. He has outstanding athleticism and production. He will be knocked by the fact that he only has one arm but Shaquem has been proving people wrong his entire life. Shaquem is never going to quit and I will always bet on guys like that. I think you draft this kid in the 3rd or 4th round have him cut his teeth on special team where he will immediately be your best player and let him learn the game. I think Griffin can be either a SS or a Linebacker, equally talented dealing with the run, pass or pass rushing. He took over his bowl game against a very good Auburn game if you ever had any questions about his ability to play versus top level competition. I think Shaquem will go in the mid 3rd or early 4th and will be a star in the NFL and I hope that when he does he goes to his ex-college HC George O’Leary and shoves that Super Bowl ring in his face because if George O’Leary had his way this kid would have never seen the field.
Inside Linebacker: Unlike Outside backer, there is quite a bit of talent here. I have already covered Roquan Smith from Georgia who has the leadership, athleticism, and instincts to be generational player. Rashaan Evans is the next guy here and an interesting player. He and Smith are always compared to each other, similar size, build but Smith jumps out on film, Evans does not. Maybe that is because he played in such a loaded system, with talent all over the field and maybe this is unfair but I just see Evans as Alabama linebacker X, they are all well coached and fill the role this factory needs them to fill. Evans was a very highly touted recruit out of HS but he had to wait his turn as other guys came through the program. Only a one year full time starter and maybe that is why I do not see the splash I see with Roquan Smith, I just go meh when I watch his tape and that is not a good thing when you are talking about a first round pick, which Evans will certainly be.
Josey Jewell from Iowa is another player at ILB that I think will be a fantastic player in the pros. Jewell was the best player on defense in the Big Ten last year. Big Ten Defensive player of the year last year, when Big Ten offensive players were polled about the hardest guy they had to compete with, they almost unanimously said Josey Jewell. There are guys with more talent in this class but nobody who is a better FOOTBALL PLAYER. I think Jewell is getting graded as a mid-round pick but wherever he is taken bet on this guy to be a superstar.
A small school sleeper I like is Nick DeLuca from North Dakota State. DeLuca has had some injury problems and he played in the Division 1-AA but I think this kid could be a late round find for some team. Prototypical middle linebacker.
As an Indiana University Alum I might be biased, but I have watched Tegray Scales play since he was a freshman, I think Tegray is a very under-rated linebacker with great instincts and has start potential in the NFL. Like DeLuca, Scales has NFL starter potential even though the measurables are not there. I just love the way this kid plays and I hope he gets a shot to prove himself.
Safety: We have already covered Derwin James, I think he could be a Troy Polamalu, Ronnie Lott kind of player down the road. Minkah Fitzpatrick from Alabama is the next highest graded Safety on my board. Different types of players, where James is Polamalu (only bigger) Fitzpatrick is Ed Reed. I do not grade Fitzpatrick as an elite talent because I am concerned about the defense he plays in being so talented that guys coming out of this defense look better than they really are. That being said Fitzpatrick played college football at the highest level and excelled. What Minkah Fitzpatrick is really superb at is when he gets his hands on the ball he immediately becomes an offensive player, 9 INTs in college returned 4 of them for scores. Fitzpatrick has all the tools to be an great safety in the pros and will likely be a top ten selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Another guy I really like is Justin Reid from Stanford. A better version of his older brother Eric Reid. Good in all phases of the game, can cover like a corner, solid run support. Justin’s athletic numbers at the combine were superb. There is nothing about his game that makes you think that he will not be successful at the NFL level. Reid will get knocked into the second round by the fact that there are two other higher profile safeties in this draft but I am not sure he won’t be an as good or better NFL player.
Ronnie Harrison is the Robin to Minkah Fitzpatrick’s Batman at Alabama. Big kid (almost 6’3”) with adequate athleticism, Harrison gets over shadowed by being in the same backfield as Fitzpatrick. Might be able to follow former Alabama standout Mark Barron as a hybrid linebacker in the NFL.
Two siblings of better known players are also intriguing in this draft. Kyzir White is the younger brother of former Bears first round pick Kevin White, can he avoid the injury issues that have tanked his brother’s career? Kyzir certainly has the talent to be a good NFL player…mid round prospect will come off the board in the late 3rd to early 4th. Terrell Edmunds is the OLDER brother of Va Tech Wunderkind Tremaine Edmunds. Terrell does not have his brothers size to speed combination but is a good college player who projects to a mid-round player and a good backup in the pros.
All-in-all a good safety class with exceptional players at the top end and good depth throughout.
Cornerback: Really deep and strong Cornerback class this year with 5 potential first round picks. I have already covered Denzel Ward from Ohio State but he wasn’t the first team All-Big Ten Corner (at least with the Coaches), that honor fell to Josh Jackson from Iowa. Jackson is bigger at 6’ 200 lbs but not as fast or physical as Denzel Ward. Excellent ball skills for a Cornerback and has a great punch disrupting receivers at the LoS. Jackson will be and excellent pro and is deserving of his first round grade IMHO.
Jaire Alexander from Louisville is another burner sub-4.4 guy. Does not have Ward’s toughness or Jackson’s ball skills but is good enough at all phases of the game to be considered in the mid first to early second range. Another excellent prospect.
Isiah Oliver from Colorado and Mike Hughes from Central Florida are two other excellent prospects that probably deserve to be second rounders but might push into the first because of the need for corners at the NFL level. Hughes has had some issues off-the-field (particularly as a younger player) that team will want to get checked out. Oliver is a tall rangy corner that has good-not-great athleticism and needs to get stronger to compete physically in the NFL.
Devontae Harris from Illinois State is a very interesting smaller school prospect from the Missouri Valley Conference that has the talent and the physical tools to be a sleeper in the NFL. Two-time first team Missouri Valley all conference performer, Harris is a fast, quick slot corner with outstanding strength (22 reps at 225 at the combine). He could be a steal in rounds 4 or 5.
Specialists: I do not grade Kickers, Punters or Long Snapper. You just have to draw a line somewhere.