10 of the Top Players for 2018 nfl draft
AND THE TOP 100 COLLEGE DRAFT PROSPECTS
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
At 6-4 and 215 pounds, he presents plenty to like with a strong arm and impressive athleticism. His overall command and leadership, however, might put him in rare company for quarterbacks. Despite not taking over as the starter until the Trojans were in a 1-2 hole in 2016, he helped turned the season by winning nine straight games, including a remarkable Rose Bowl. Darnold has an elongated delivery that will be picked apart whenever he enters the draft (he will only be a redshirt sophomore this season), and he’ll have to continue to develop despite losing his top receivers. But after NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah reported that Darnold already was generating significant buzz from executives at this year’s NFL scouting combine, there’s little question that he will have the league’s attention.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
In returning from shoulder surgery after playing just six games last year, he’s part of a fascinating dynamic in Los Angeles. A highly hyped high school career led to a promising freshman campaign for the Bruins in which he looked advanced beyond his years, turning heads with his savvy and arm as well as a confident and outspoken approach. But this season will be a proving ground of sorts for him after UCLA stumbled to 4-8 last year while Darnold and USC set themselves up to cast a long shadow in the rivalry once again. No pressure for a player already nicknamed “Chosen Rosen.”
Arden Key, DE, LSU
His status remains somewhat uncertain after LSU announced in February that the pass rusher was taking time away from football for “personal reasons.” But Key recently tweeted that he would not be sitting out his junior season. A second team all-SEC pick last season, he’s already one of college football’s most feared players off the edge after setting a school record with 12 sacks in 2016. At 6-6 and a self-reported 255 pounds (up from his listed 238 last season), per his Twitter, Key is the kind of rangy and explosive athlete NFL teams covet at his position.
Derwin James, S, Florida State
Versatility helped safeties Jamal Adams and Jabrill Peppers be drafted in the first round Thursday, but James offers a unique brand of do-it-all playmaking ability. In addition to his work as a safety, cornerback and linebacker, he occasionally lined up as a pass rusher — and created havoc when doing so. Listed at 6-3 and 211 pounds, he’s a punishing hitter who’s at his best when closing on a ball carrier at or near the line of scrimmage. He’s also an asset in coverage, though teams likely will want to see more production in this area given his one career interception. James is also coming off a lateral meniscus tear that kept him out for almost all of last season, so his recovery and medical checks will be key.
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Warranted or not, the Carson Wentz comparisons are coming. Allen has the size (6-5, 216), arm strength, mobility and late-bloomer background that will draw parallels to the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. And the two were even discovered by the same coach, as Craig Bohl was at North Dakota State before taking over at Wyoming. After his first year as a starter, Allen still has plenty to work on — his 56% completion rate last season was lower than any quarterback drafted this year. But he could very well end up as the school’s first Round 1 pick since Lawrence Gaines and Aaron Kyle in 1976.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Next year’s class of running backs could continue the recent strong run at the position. LSU’s Derrius Guice, Alabama’s Bo Scarborough and Georgia’s Nick Chubb all stand as promising prospects at the next level. But Barkley currently looks like the standout of the group. His ability to elude defenders is singular at the collegiate level, as he explodes out of cuts and frequently generates big plays almost entirely on his own.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Ridley is only listed at 6-1 and 188 pounds, but his aggressive style resembles that of a much larger receiver. A potent threat both on deep throws and when working underneath, he is a fluid player who still has an edge. His somewhat limited production last season (72 catches, 769 receiving yards, seven touchdowns) was likely a product of Alabama’s system, but teams will surely be keeping tabs on his role and whether he fills out his frame.
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
He opted to return to the Irish for another season rather than make the jump in a shallow 2017 offensive tackle draft class. In 2018, he could still be a coveted player. At 6-7 and 310 pounds, he has an ideal frame for a left tackle, though another year of experience on the blind side could help him fine tune his pass protection after his previous work as a right tackle
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
It’s only taken two years for Jefferson to show why he was a highly touted recruit. A versatile threat, he can be an asset when rushing the passer, but he also is stellar against the run and comfortable in coverage. Next season could yield even more attention as he should be one of the key pieces for the new regime in Austin.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
As this is not strictly a rankings exercise, it’s impossible to leave the reigning Heisman Trophy winner off this list. A slight frame — 6-3 and a shade more than 200 pounds at last check — and lingering questions about his development as a passer will be pervasive topics amid discussions about his potential. But as college football’s pre-eminent playmaker (30 TD passes, 21 rushing TDs), he has dynamic ability that’s difficult to dismiss. Whatever his fate, Jackson undoubtedly will be one of the most closely monitored players of 2017.