The Runningbacks of the 2018 NFL Draft Class

A little while back I scouted the quarterbacks class and I’m going to do something similar for the runningbacks. This is me highlighting a few of my favorites where I talk about what I think they do well and what I think they need to work on as well as where I would take them in the Draft as well as what current or former NFL players I think their game most resembles. These can run a bit long so without further ado, let’s get into my backs. These are going to be in alphabetical order, so don’t think of these like rankings. I’ll have a whole blog for that in the future.

Saquon Barkley-Penn State

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I say these aren’t rankings, yet I put Barkley first. That’s just a coincidence, settle down. But yeah, Barkley is the best runningback in this Draft class and I’ve seen many people suggest that the Browns should take him #1 overall. Barkley’s good, really good, but I wouldn’t go that far. He was destroying college football for the first half of the year, then started fading down the stretch a bit. But there are a lot of things to love about the junior out of Penn State.

Strengths: Size, Explosiveness, Versatility

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Saquon Barkley is thick in the legs, which he should be when you’re 5’11 and 230 pounds like he is. He doesn’t really have the reputation of a bruiser, but he’s built like one and he can cut on a dime about as efficiently as LeSean McCoy. He’s also fast as Hell. One report has clocked him running as fast as a 4.33 40-yard dash. A guy at that size should not be anywhere near that fast. So here’s a 230-pound back who runs a 4.3 40 and is as elusive as they come. Oh and did I mention he’s a pretty good receiver and return man as well? Because he can do those things, too. Last year Barkley rushed for 1271 yards and had 632 yards receiving as well and even took a kick to the house against Indiana. So with all that, what weaknesses are there?

Weaknesses: Route Running, Hop Step

I mentioned that Barkley was a good receiver. However when he has to run actual routes out of the backfield, not just drifting towards the flat, he tends to get a little lax in his route running. This kind of surprised me because when he’s running with the football, his cuts are so sharp. But when he’s running routes, he tends to kind of bend on his turns instead of planting his foot and turning. Also, when he’s about to be handed the football, he does this little hop. This can be both beneficial and detrimental. On the one hand, it looks like that hop gives him an extra burst of speed. On the other, it’s costing him a split second that allows defenders to close in on him at the start of the handoff. But that’s really all I could come up with for weaknesses, I was really digging to be honest, Barkley’s great.

Draft Thoughts: I think Barkley is worthy of going in the top 5 picks. I’m not so sure I’d take him number 1 just because I think that spot should be reserved for the more crucial positions such as quarterback, left tackle, and edge rusher and in many offenses it doesn’t matter who is at runningback. But when you’re this freaky an athlete with so few flaws, it’s hard not to at least consider it, especially considering this year’s class as so many question marks and Barkley feels like one of the safest picks in the draft. He would be EXTREMELY beneficial to a team like the Giants, who do have other weapons on offense like ODell Beckham Jr and Evan Engram that could have their play elevated by there actually being a threat in the backfield.

Pro Comparison: 

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Ezekiel Elliott. He and Barkley both have similar frames and were damn near perfect draft prospects at the runningback position. I think a lot of the reason that Barkley kind of faded down the stretch was that opposing teams were gearing more resources towards stopping him, which allowed quarterback Trace McSorley to shine through.

Derrius Guice-LSU

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Derrius Guice burst on the scene last year when Leonard Fournette spent much of the season injured and really came into his own. 2017 was expected to be a huge year for Guice but he really didn’t explode the way I hoped. However, he was still the most important piece of the LSU offense and still managed to put together some solid numbers despite a decline in overall performance (his yards per carry dropped over 2 whole yards between 2016 and 17). However I still think he can be an excellent back in this league.

Strengths: Running Style, Speed, Receiving Ability

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When I looked up Guice’s measurables, I was SHOCKED to learn that he plays at just 212 pounds. He plays like he’s so much bigger than that. His running style is so aggressive, too. It’s almost as if he enjoys getting hit and punishes any defender who is brave enough to try and tackle him. He’s also a lot faster than you might expect. He’s just as fast as Barkley, as he was clocked at 4.32 seconds in his 40 yard dash during LSU minicamp. He’s also a decent receiver, as he had 18 catches for 124 yards on the season. Not nearly as good as Barkley but there was better quarterback play at Penn State than there was at LSU.

Weaknesses: Blocking, Running Style

Yes I included Guice’s running style as both a positive and a negative. This is because the manner in which he invites contact at his size is a recipe for injury. The defenders are a Hell of a lot bigger at the next level and if Guice is throwing his body around at them, that could lead to some IR trips if he’s not careful. He also kind of brings his aggressive running style into play when he’s blocking. Instead of absorbing defenders, he tends to go for the knockout block on seemingly every play. When he lands it, he de-cleats the defender. However if the defender puts on a slight move, Guice is lying facedown in the dirt and the rusher is disrupting the pass. He needs to play more disciplined when he’s back in protection.

Draft Thoughts: I wouldn’t mind taking Guice in the first round as long as I was comfortable in my stable of backs behind him. He has all the makings of a feature back but his running style can kind of scare me at times. While I love his aggression, he’s a lot more valuable to me on the field than in the training room.

Pro Comparison: 

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Tevin Coleman. Coleman is a guy who is kind of stuck behind DeVonta Freeman in Atlanta but I feel if he is given the reigns to be the man, he could be a really electrifying back in this league, like Guice. Both have great athleticism and can shine as a receiver when given an opportunity. However both have pretty violent running styles that could result in potential injury. Coleman played on a broken foot at Indiana.

Kerryon Johnson-Auburn

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Kerryon Johnson was an intriguing prospect for much of the year but very few scouts really entertained the thought of him being a potential first rounder until he took over the Iron Bowl in Auburn’s victory over eventual national champion Alabama. Johnson was all over the place and was a part of seemingly every impactful play in that game. Scouts started taking notice and as a result, Johnson’s stock has skyrocketed.

Strengths: Vision, Agility, Patience

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Johnson can hit some holes that I didn’t even know were there. His peripherals are a marvel to behold. He’s also pretty slippery and it’s almost like he’s covered in grease when guys try and tackle him because of the way he kind of slips through people. He also clearly models his running style after Le’Veon Bell because he’s definitely waiting for his blocks to develop before attacking.

Weaknesses: Blocking, Hitting the Hole, General Explosiveness

I wouldn’t say Johnson is a bad blocker, just an inconsistent one. There are some plays where he makes really nice blocks that bought quarterback Jarrett Stidham at least another second or two to throw. There are others where he’s an absolute turnstile. There really wasn’t any in-between. Also, I mentioned his patience as a strength, but at times it appears to be a weakness because I think he’s so caught up in trying to be patient and waiting for his blocks to set up that he forgets he’s got to blast through them. He kind of hits the hole like a dainty butterfly and he lacks that one-step explosion that a lot of teams like to see out of their backs.

Draft Thoughts: Quite frankly, I think Johnson is getting a bit overhyped. He seems like an instinctive player, sure, but he’s the same size as Derrius Guice but seems so much slower despite the generally leaner frame. It’s more his intangibles that I think are the real positive rather than what he really brings to the table physically because watching some film on him, I wasn’t particularly blown away by anything he did. I’d probably wait until the 4th round before I started thinking about taking him.

Pro Comparison: 

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Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon is versatile kind of like Johnson and both have experience running out of some sort of wildcat formation. However neither really blows anybody away with their overall athleticism and in the grand scheme of things, I think they’re just decent backs.

Ronald Jones II-USC

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Ronald Jones II was a guy I hadn’t heard a whole lot about coming into this season, but I watched the Texas-USC game and was blown away by what this kid can bring to the table. I was watching that game looking to see what Sam Darnold can do, I left the game thinking about how great a back Ronald Jones is.

Strengths: Athleticism, Receiving, Blocking, Ability in Space

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Ronald Jones is at his best when he’s in space. He’s shifty and a great athlete and sometimes his cuts are so brutal he leaves defenders on skates. He’s also a good receiver, though I don’t think USC utilized him enough in this fashion. His blocking is an odd type of good. I thought he was decent as a blocker in the backfield, but in formations where USC had him line up out wide then throw a screen to a receiver, I thought he was fantastic. Again, Jones is at his best when he’s got space around him.

Weaknesses: Running Between the Tackles, Power

Jones was very unimpressive to me when he had to run up the middle. It seemed like he isn’t totally looking for the holes when asked to run straight. When he is running stretch plays outside the tackles to the edge, his vision seems to be great, but it’s when he’s forced to run into traffic where he tends to struggle. He’s also not going to knock anyone over with his 200-pound frame, but that’s not really his game anyway so it’s not TOO much of an issue, I just have a preference towards power backs.

Draft Thoughts: Ronald Jones could be downright dynamite when put in an offense that allows him to play to his strengths. I don’t think he fits in with everybody, which I think will hurt his draft stock. However if the right team picks him, look out because when this guy gets the ball in space, good luck. I think a team like the Lions would be perfect for him, as they’ve shown with Theo Riddick that they’re willing to play to each individual’s strengths, which is where I think he could shine. I think he could be worth a late first round pick as long as you have a specific plan set for how you want to use him because he’s not going to plug into just any system.

Pro Comparison: 

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Alvin Kamara. Both guys excel in their own systems and are at their best when in space as well as being talented receivers. Jones is a little bigger than Kamara but they both play similar games.

Bryce Love-Stanford

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Out of all the guys on this list, Bryce Love was the big breakout star. After backing up Christian McCaffrey for the last couple of years, Love was phenomenal upon being thrust into the starting role after McCaffrey was drafted 8th by the Panthers in the 2017 Draft, rushing for over 2000 yards and finishing 2nd in the Heisman voting. A lot of scouts are curious as to how well he will transition to the NFL and are wondering if his breakout season was a fluke.

Strengths: Speed, Shiftiness

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I don’t know if anybody in this draft class changes direction better than Love. Maybe Barkley. But when Love plants that foot in the dirt and cuts the other way, good luck catching him. And he’s fast, too. He’s been clocked at a 4.35 40 but there have been times where he was looked even faster. Once he gets to the second level, you’re done. He’s hard to tackle in open space and you’re going to need some serious athletes if you’re going to keep him in check. In fact, the one game where he was kept in check was the game where he was coming off an ankle injury. And even then he ran for 69 yards (it was the one time all year where he was held under 100).

Weaknesses: Size, Receiving

Out of all the backs I’m scouting in this blog, Love is easily the smallest. He’s 5’10 196 pounds, so he’s not built to handle the bulk of the carries in an NFL offense. And for a guy as quick as he is, I’m surprised to see that he’s not very involved in the passing game. He only had 6 catches for 33 yards on the season, which really works against you when you’re a smaller back. A lot of coaches like using their scat backs as receivers out of the backfield and Love hasn’t shown that he’s capable of doing that.

Draft Thoughts: I like Love a lot, but he has his limitations. He may be the most athletic runningback in this class, rivaling even Barkley, but his lack of size and receiving ability is a big knock against his draft status. I think if he were to add 10 pounds of muscle and work on his routes, he could be a DANGEROUS player in this league. But as things stand right now I think we’re looking at a third rounder.

Pro Comparison: 

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Dion Lewis. Lewis was drafted in the 6th round by the Eagles a few years back and was used mainly on kick returns before bouncing around the league and finally finding a home in New England, where they were able to use his skillset in a way that allowed him to thrive. This year he added on some muscle and he’s become a complete back, which is a similar path I think Love could find himself going down if he works at it.

Sony Michel-Georgia

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Sony Michel was part of arguably the deadliest runningback duo of all time with Nick Chubb (who I thought about including in this blog, but his injury history scares me so much I wouldn’t touch him until round 5). Michel was particularly dominant during the playoff, as he nearly led Georgia to a national championship single handedly. He scored the walkoff touchdown against Oklahoma and was the only consistently good member of Georgia’s offense in their championship loss to Alabama.

Strengths: Size-Speed Combination, Explosiveness, Shiftiness, Vision

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I was surprised to see that Sony Michel is 215 pounds because he runs like a gazelle. Granted, he only runs a 4.45, but he plays a lot faster than that. He hits the hole so hard that if you don’t square him up, he’s going to blow right by you. And when he’s in the open field you stand no chance. He does a great job of reading blocks as well. There’s a lot of untapped ability with this kid and I think sharing a backfield with Chubb kind of held back what he can really do when given the reigns.

Weaknesses: Power, Blocking, Receiving, Running Style

I put receiving down as a weakness mainly because he was barely utilized as a receiver throughout most of the season. He was used a lot more as a receiver in the Rose Bowl, as he got 4 out of his 9 catches on the season in that game, and I think he did pretty well so I think there’s some untapped potential there. But as it stands, we just don’t know enough about his abilities as a receiver to justify listing it as a strength. Also, he’s not a power runner in any sense of the word. He’s not going to barrel over anybody and he might struggle against NFL-caliber pass rushers. He also runs very upright, which might hinder his speed some and can cause injury if hit a certain way.

Draft Thoughts: I think Sony Michel could creep into the first round depending on how his combine goes. If he can run a sub 4.4 40, then I think he’s automatically in the discussion. He’s very good in space and I think there is so much untapped potential with this kid that I think we could have something really special here.

Pro Comparison: 

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David Johnson. Johnson is a guy that had a lot of raw and untapped potential at Northern Iowa that was unlocked when the Cardinals were able to utilize what he does best and got him involved in the passing game. I think Michel could have similar success if given similar attention.

That’s a wrap on my scouting report on some of my favorite runningbacks in this year’s draft class. Did I miss anyone? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

 

 

2018 NFL Mock Draft #1

As promised, the series finale of my NFL postseason series, here is my first NFL Mock Draft. Now a lot is expected to change between now and April. Some of these guys I select to be drafted may even return to school and not even be in the Draft. The top 20 picks are pretty much set in stone (I think there’s a tie breaker between the Raiders and 49ers for the 9th and 10th picks that has yet to be decided). Also, for picks 21-32, since those aren’t solidified yet, I’m going to order them based on their current playoff seeding, but keep in mind that those slots are more than likely going to change based on how the playoffs work out. I will also not being projecting trades, though I may mention if a trade is a possibility. I’m going to provide explanations for each pick, so here goes nothing.

1. Cleveland Browns-Josh Rosen-QB-UCLA

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This could be a bit controversial because Rosen has gone on the record stating that he does not want to play for the Browns and that he would rather fall down the draft board a little bit and play for the right team. We could see wind up seeing a similar situation to what happened in 1983 with John Elway and the Colts or 2004 with Eli Manning and the Chargers if Rosen gets taken by the Browns. Knowing this, perhaps the Browns could continue to build draft capital and trade this pick to a QB-needy team desperate for one of the top 2 arms. In fact, I think the Broncos at 5 could try and move up and send the Browns an absolute haul. With their newly acquired pick, the Browns could take a chance on someone like Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield with the 4th or 5th pick. But for now, as it is, I think Rosen is the top pick, though I wouldn’t be surprised come April if it’s another team making that pick.

2. New York Giants-Sam Darnold-QB-USC

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A lot of people have hopped on the “Sam Darnold is Overrated Bandwagon” after getting his ass kicked by Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. I am not one of them. While I have been critical of his delivery and propensity for turnovers, I think Darnold will be fine given more talent around him. I don’t think returning to school to develop would have been the best idea because there really isn’t much of a supporting cast at USC right now to help him grow like there would be in the NFL. Especially a team like the Giants, where he’d have a healthy ODell Beckham and a continuously developing Evan Engram to throw to. I think Darnold made the right decision by declaring for the Draft. Granted the Giants will also need to solve their offensive line problems, but this isn’t the class to do it. I think free agency would be a better bet.

3. Indianapolis Colts-Connor Williams-OT-Texas

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This might be a bit of a reach because Connor Williams is merely the best of a weak tackle class, however the need for the Colts is so great that it trumps overall value. Williams is talented, sure, but he missed most of the year with a knee injury, which is something that has haunted the Colts the last few years. But Indianapolis NEEDS offensive line help. They gave up the most sacks in the NFL last year and have been a big reason why Andrew Luck has yet to reach his potential and missed the entire 2017 season due to injury. I wouldn’t be surprised if they trade down to settle for a similar talent in Mike McGlinchey and build draft capital, much like I think the Browns could.

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans)-Saquon Barkley-RB-Penn State

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The Browns need playmakers. Period. Aside from Josh Gordon, there is nobody on their offense that opposing defenses really need to worry about. Isaiah Crowell isn’t a bad runningback, but he’s not the difference-maker the Browns need to get them over the top. Saquon Barkley could be that back. I think wide receiver is a bigger need, as Josh Gordon needs a battery-mate to take some of the pressure off and Corey Coleman can’t seem to stay healthy, but I think the Browns would be better off waiting until the second round for a guy like DJ Moore or Simmie Cobbs. Barkley reminds me a bit of Ray Rice in that he’s not the biggest guy, but he packs so much punch and can be so quick in his cuts that it really doesn’t matter. Plus he hasn’t openly stated that he doesn’t want to play for the Browns, so that’s a positive.

5. Denver Broncos-Josh Allen-QB-Wyoming

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This could be a fallback option if the Broncos can’t strike a deal for the top 2 picks and are forced to remain at number 5. While I don’t think Josh Allen is a finished product by any means, I do think he has all the potential in the world. Whether the Broncos are going to be able to develop that talent remains to be seen. I think they’ve gotten the most out of Trevor Siemian but Paxton Lynch has been a major disappointment and we’ve all seen what Brock Osweiler can do in a starting role, so quarterback is really what’s holding this team back from returning to contention. But don’t be surprised if the Broncos also go for a free agent acquisition or some kind of trade (Kirk Cousins, perhaps?).

6. New York Jets-Bradley Chubb-EDGE-North Carolina State

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The Jets’ approach to the Draft has typically been “best player available.” Chubb isn’t my best available player at this stage, but that’s mainly because my highest ranked player from my initial big board, Minkah Fitzpatrick, is a safety; a position that the Jets have a plethora of young talent at. However, I’m of the belief that a team can never have too many pass rushers and the Jets could use a guy like Bradley Chubb to wreak havoc on offensive lines. They have a ton of holes on offense, but aside from the guys I have already being taken, there is nobody worth this draft slot on that side of the ball. I think they’ll start addressing the offense in round 2.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minkah Fitzpatrick-S-Alabama

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Minkah Fitzpatrick is the top player on my big board, yet I have him going 7th to the Buccaneers. That’s just the way the Draft shakes out sometimes. The Buccaneers ranked last in yards allowed in 2017 and can use an upgrade pretty much anywhere on the field. I could also see this pick being Boston College pass rusher Harold Landry, however I think Fitzpatrick’s versatility will earn him the Bucs’ preference. He can play both corner and safety and I’ve seen him play up on the line of scrimmage at times (and seen him cause problems in the backfield to boot!). Fitzpatrick could add a much-needed boost to this Bucs defense that’s a long ways away from the days of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch.

8. Chicago Bears-Harold Landry-EDGE-Boston College

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Harold Landry is one of the quickest and fastest defensive linemen I’ve ever seen, which is something the Bears need more of. Leonard Floyd is a nice player, but aside from him there isn’t much of a pass rush to speak of. Chicago’s secondary played reasonably well in 2017 but an improved pass rush could help them out immensely. Enter Landry, who led the nation in sacks in 2016 and actually managed to show improvement in 2017. I think he could be a big lift for the Bears defense.

9. Oakland Raiders-Arden Key-EDGE-LSU

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Arden Key’s a little raw, but he is oozing with talent. He kind of reminds me of Aldon Smith given his skinnier frame and elite athleticism. I watched some highlights on him and he has a tendency to disappear from games at times, but I think the right coach can get the most out of him. Enter Jon Gruden, who appears to be the next Raiders head coach. Gruden is a guy who has a history of firing up his team and getting the most out of his guys. Plus, Key will have Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin to learn from as this Raiders defense looks to improve on a very unimpressive 2017 season.

10. San Francisco 49ers-Mike McGlinchey-OT-Notre Dame

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Watching Jimmy Garoppolo play well with the 49ers is like watching my son succeed. That’s why is pains me when I see him get drilled by pass rushers while trying to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. He needs a better offensive line so that he can go through his reads more easily. A lot of scouts think McGlinchey would be better at right tackle as opposed to left, where he played in college, and that’s probably where the biggest hole on the 49ers offensive line is. At least, when I watch Garoppolo highlights it is. McGlinchey can step in day one and protect Garoppolo for at least the next 10 years.

11. Miami Dolphins-Derwin James-S-Florida State

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Derwin James showed a lot of promise as a freshman before getting injured and missing most of his sophomore season, then having a disappointing junior season in 2017. However that talent would emerge in flashes and I think given the right circumstances, he can reignite the spark that had scouts so excited for him when he was a freshman. James is a similar type of player to Jamal Adams of the Jets, who went 6th overall last year, in that he’s a traditional all-around safety in the mold of Brian Dawkins who can not only cover well, but bring the boom. The Dolphins need a guy like this roaming the secondary, as they really lack an enforcer away from the defensive line.

12. Cincinnati Bengals-Quenton Nelson-OG-Notre Dame

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Quenton Nelson is probably the safest pick in this year’s class, as he consistently goes up against top competition on the defensive line and puts up great performances. Plus, I find that top-end guards tend to transition to the NFL really well. The Bengals need someone like that badly. After the departure of Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati’s offensive line was a mess and was a big part of the team’s struggles offensively. Nelson won’t fix their problems by himself, but he could become this team’s version of Zack Martin.

13. Washington Redskins-Courtland Sutton-WR-SMU

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This one was kind of tough because Calvin Ridley is also a very viable option here and I’m not 100% sold on Courtland Sutton’s ability to transfer from playing at SMU to the pros. I think he has the highest ceiling of any of the receivers in this class, as he reminds me a lot of Alshon Jeffery, but I also think he has the lowest floor, as he never really had to face any top-caliber corners. The Redskins need more receivers. Josh Doctson is still figuring out how to play in this league and Jamison Crowder can’t be your top guy if you hope to compete in the NFC East. If Sutton can have the type of impact I think he’s capable of, the Redskins will be right back in the hunt for a division crown.

14. Green Bay Packers-Derrius Guice-RB-LSU

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Overall I thought Derrius Guice was kind of a disappointment in 2017. As Leonard Fournette’s backup for the first couple years of his college career, Guice showed to practically be his counterpart’s equal, as he would torch defenses on days that Fournette couldn’t go. Perhaps it was for a similar reason to Todd Gurley in 2016 as to why Guice didn’t have the breakout year I hoped for, as he was his team’s only real option on offense, allowing defenses to stack the box to stop him. Nonetheless, he still finished with over 1000 yards rushing on the season and could provide a huge boost to a running game in Green Bay that has had its struggles since Eddy Lacy’s rookie year.

15. Arizona Cardinals-Baker Mayfield-QB-Oklahoma

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With the retirements of head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer, the Cardinals may be in a state of panic, as they appear to be in limbo. They need a new quarterback and they need him now because the ACL-less Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert aren’t going to cut it for the long haul. Baker Mayfield is a guy I think has an extremely high ceiling but an extremely low floor. We saw a bit of both in Oklahoma’s Rose Bowl defeat against Georgia. When Mayfield was on, like in the first half and fourth quarter, the vaunted Bulldogs defense stood no chance at stopping him. When he was off, like he was in the third quarter, he played like how I would in that spot. There’s plenty of talent on offense in Arizona and I think this could be a great spot for Mayfield to land depending on who the Cardinals’ brass decides on for their next head coach.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Calvin Ridley-WR-Alabama

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Calvin Ridley is a lot of peoples’ favorite receiver in the 2017 class, and he might even be mine, too. However he doesn’t do a whole lot that really stands out to me. He’s got good hands, good route running skills, and he’s reasonably quick. But there isn’t really anything that just makes you say “wow!” However, a team in need of a good receiver like the Ravens probably won’t care too much about “wow” factor as long as he can move the sticks. Ridley has kind of been kept under wraps since Jalen Hurts became the starting quarterback and Alabama became a more run-heavy offense (they’ve always been run-heavy, but under Hurts it feels like it’s gone up a notch). With a guy with an arm like Joe Flacco, I think Ridley can unlock his full potential.

17. Los Angeles Chargers-Rashaan Evans-ILB-Alabama

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Rashaan Evans has battled injuries throughout the year but when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best linebackers that have come out in a while. He’s not as polished as Reuben Foster was coming out last year, but he does a lot of things similarly to the young 49ers stud. For a team that missed out on the playoffs, the Chargers surprisingly don’t have that many holes. Ideally, I think they’d like to get someone opposite Keenan Allen, but I’d give Mike Williams a chance to get healthy before pulling the trigger on another guy this early. I think the Chargers can afford to go with the best on the board and for me, that’s Evans.

18. Seattle Seahawks-Denzel Ward-CB-Ohio State

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Denzel Ward is a guy I’ve gone back and forth on. He didn’t impress me in the season opener against Indiana, but he was lights out against Wisconsin. Granted, he was on Simmie Cobbs much of the night against Indiana and Wisconsin doesn’t have anybody near that caliber, but still, holding any opponent to zero catches when targeting you is something special, which is what Ward did on the Big Ten’s biggest stage. Offensive line is still the biggest need for the Seahawks, but I don’t see any quick fixes in this class worth spending a high pick on so I think solidifying their secondary should be a priority. Shaq Griffin looks like he could be a solid player, but after him and Richard Sherman, there isn’t a whole lot in terms of long-term ability. The Seahawks’ secondary was super inconsistent after Sherman and Chancellor went down for the season and adding a guy like Ward could make Pete Carroll a little more comfortable with their depth.

19. Dallas Cowboys-Maurice Hurst-DT-Michigan

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Maurice Hurst is a guy I want to highlight on future scouting segments so I won’t go into TOO much detail about why I like him so much, but just know now that he’s probably the best defensive tackle in the nation in my opinion and I think he could really help the Cowboys, who once again dip into the Michigan well after taking two Wolverines defenders with early picks in last year’s Draft (Taco Charlton and Jourdan Lewis). Dallas could be losing DeMarcus Lawrence to free agency and they’ll need other guys to pick up the slack in case Taco Charlton doesn’t develop the way they hope. This pick could be Clemson’s Clellin Ferrell if they aren’t confident in him, however.

20. Detroit Lions-Ronald Jones II-RB-USC

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The Lions have no ground game whatsoever. Ameer Abdullah has struggled in the feature back role and I think he’s better suited as a change of pace guy. Theo Riddick is purely a pass catching option. They really lack that one guy that can carry the load. Ronald Jones II can do that and then some. He kind of reminds me of a bigger Alvin Kamara with his skills not only as a runner, but as a receiver running routes. Watch his performance against Texas early in the season to see what I mean. He could be the feature back the Lions haven’t had since Barry Sanders.

21. Buffalo Bills-Lamar Jackson-QB-Louisville

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I’m not in love with Lamar Jackson as a passer, I’d be a lot more intrigued by his potential if he were to convert to wide receiver, where I think is where teams can best utilize his abilities for the long term. However the former Heisman trophy winner does bring a lot to the table in terms of athleticism and he did improve his passing game from 2016-17, so it’s not unreasonable to think he can continue to grow in an NFL system. The Buffalo Bills clearly don’t envision Tyrod Taylor as their future, hence why he was randomly benched for Nathan Peterman midseason. Jackson plays a similar type of game to Taylor so they won’t have to adjust their playbook too much to accommodate his skillset like they might have to with a less mobile quarterback like Mason Rudolph. Plus the Bills already have a guy like LeSean McCoy at runningback, who could form a DEADLY read-option combination with Jackson.

22. Atlanta Falcons-Da’Ron Payne-DL-Alabama

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Da’Ron Payne was the star of Alabama’s Sugar Bowl semifinal win over Clemson, as he had an interception AND a touchdown reception as a 310-pound defensive tackle. That’s the big man’s dream right there. Payne is also an excellent run stuffer, which could be very useful for a team like the Falcons, who currently employ Grady Jarrett and had to release Ra’Shede Hageman amidst domestic violence charges. Jarrett is set to become a free agent after the 2018 season, so establishing a running mate or potential heir would be beneficial in clogging the middle of the defense for the foreseeable future.

23. Tennessee Titans-Clellin Ferrell-EDGE-Clemson

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The Titans are fairly old on the pass rushing front, as both Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are hovering around the age of 30 (Orakpo is 31, Morgan is 28). Both are also set to become free agents after 2018, heightening the need for an heir. Ferrell isn’t a finished product, but he’s super athletic and can really benefit from learning from the veteran pass rushers.

24. Carolina Panthers-Orlando Brown-OT-Oklahoma

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The Panthers have always been in need of offensive linemen, though in 2017 they weren’t too bad, though Cam Newton was sacked 35 times, tied for 9th in the league. You’d like to bring that number below 30 if you can help it and if you’re going to grab an impact tackle in this Draft, you have to pull the trigger right now because after Orlando Brown there is a pretty steep drop-off in offensive line talent. Brown is pretty raw, but he is so freaking huge (6’7 340 pounds) that you can’t help but take a chance on him. He was Baker Mayfield’s chief protector at Oklahoma and helped Rodney Anderson rush for over 1000 yards.

25. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs)-Christian Kirk-WR-Texas A&M

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Time to give Lamar Jackson a new toy to play with. Bills receivers had a pretty rough year in 2017, even after the acquisition of Kelvin Benjamin from the Panthers, as Antonio Brown outpaced their entire group by himself. They’ve got some size to them, as Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, and Zay Jones are all at least 6’2, but they lack that quick route runner that can act as kind of a safety blanket. Enter Christian Kirk. What he lacks in size (5’11 201 pounds), he makes up for in quickness and agility. No matter who is quarterbacking the Bills in 2018, I’m sure they’d love to have this guy in the slot.

26. New Orleans Saints-Christian Wilkins-DL-Clemson

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Christian Wilkins was a guy a lot of people had in their preseason top 10 players, but he kind of fell off as the season went along, with some experts leaving him out of the first round altogether. I watched footage from the Auburn game and I can kind of see why Wilkins might have fallen off. He doesn’t really do anything particularly special. His technique is good, but I think he lacks the ideal strength you want out of your interior linemen, though I will admit, watching that tape, he improved in that as the game went along. But he is pretty quick and athletic and I think with a few more trips to the weight room, he could become a dangerous force. The Saints don’t have a single hole on their team that I can see so they can afford to draft and stash a guy like Wilkins and bank on his development.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars-Ronnie Harrison-S-Alabama

at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama.

Quarterback is the biggest need for the Jaguars, but given that Blake Bortles is set to hit free agency after this season, you would need that quarterback to start immediately and none of the remaining QBs are day one starters. I think the Jaguars will franchise tag Bortles before looking for a potential replacement (though he has looked really good these last few weeks). They could also go receiver here, but I think they’ll get another defender to add to that ruthless defense like Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison. Barry Church is up there in age and finding another enforcer-type in the secondary could help turn the Jaguars defense from a really exciting one to an all-timer. Harrison’s hit in the photograph above was one of my favorite plays from the Iron Bowl, as Kerryon Johnson was trying to make his way for the pylon before getting earholed by Harrison.

28. Los Angeles Rams-Joshua Jackson-CB-Iowa

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Joshua Jackson led all of college football with 8 interceptions and the Rams could use a ball hawk like that at corner. Trumaine Johnson has been in the perpetual franchise tag so finding a potential successor could be in the Rams’ benefit. Jackson played with Chargers rookie standout Desmond King at Iowa so one would be forgiven for thinking he could provide a similar boost to an already strong defense. Plus, like with pass rushers, I feel that one can never have too many good corners.

29. Pittsburgh Steelers-Malik Jefferson-LB-Texas

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I disagree with a lot of scouts on Malik Jefferson when watching footage. I read that he’s super athletic and he’d be best suited as an edge defender. Watching that footage, I didn’t think Jefferson looked that athletic, though I did like his technique a lot and he looked like he had a solid future as an off the ball linebacker. He rarely ever goes for the risky knockout hit, he consistently wraps up, and he’s pretty good in zone coverage (his man coverage leaves some to be desired). The Steelers could be in need of an inside linebacker soon. Vince Williams was a revelation this season, but the scary injury to Ryan Shazier could be career threatening and the Steelers may need to find a guy to fill the potential void.

30. Minnesota Vikings-Vita Vea-DL-Washington

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A guy built like Vita Vea should not be as quick as he is. He’s 6’5 340 pounds but he moves like a guy 100 pounds lighter. Analysts, myself included, seem to be all over the map about where his projected value is and I think how he does at the Combine could be a huge barometer as to where he might end up. My main beef with him is I think he has a slow get-off. When I watched some of his early-season highlights, it seemed like the ball would be snapped, a whole second would pass by, and then he’d break out of his 3-point stance. If he can work on anticipating the snap, he’ll be unblockable. As if the Vikings need another impact defender, though I think defensive tackle is a weak spot for them. Sharrif Floyd is a really good player, don’t get me wrong, but he’s often injured and the Vikings fear they may have seen the last of him in the NFL. Plus, current starters Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson will each be in their 30’s next season, so getting younger at that position seems to be the wise move.

31. Philadelphia Eagles-Isaiah Oliver-CB-Colorado

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On paper, it seems that the Eagles’ weakest position would be runningback and Kerryon Johnson, Bo Scarbrogh, or Damien Harris could all be the pick here. However they seem to have found a way to make it work so I don’t think they will go that route. Instead, I think they go with the big corner in Isaiah Oliver. I only watched footage of one game on Oliver, I don’t even remember who they were playing, but he never got beat once in coverage by any receiver. He doesn’t appear to be particularly fast, but that’s not really his game a la Richard Sherman. I think he could struggle against smaller, shiftier receivers, but in a division with bigger receivers like Dez Bryant, Josh Doctson, possibly Courtland Sutton based on this mock draft, and ODell Beckham, a big corner to match up is a must.

32. New England Patriots-Mason Rudolph-QB-Oklahoma State

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Patriots fans, settle down. I can explain. Quite frankly, I think the Patriots’ biggest needs are edge defender and potentially cornerback, depending on what happens with Malcolm Butler. If there isn’t a guy they like when they pick, I fully believe they will trade out of the pick. However I’m not projecting trades, so they have to stick here and in this mock I have them drafting a potential successor for Tom Brady. Bill Belichick is always grooming quarterbacks and they’ve all been used as trade pieces in the past. In fact, I thought Jacoby Brissett was far more raw than Mason Rudolph is when the Patriots took him in the third round of the 2016 Draft and he was able to start an entire season for the Colts. Rudolph has some pretty good arm talent, which I highlighted in my scouting quarterbacks blog, he just comes from a system that transitions pretty poorly to the NFL. However if he lands with the Patriots, I think he will be in the perfect situation to develop. Who better to learn from than Tom Brady and what better offense to work with than the Patriots? Plus, if Brady continues to play well into his 40’s and Rudolph impresses in practices and preseasons, the Patriots could have another trade chip on their hands.

That’s it for my first mock draft of the year. Let me know what you thought of it in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

How Jimmy Garoppolo’s Success Has Reshaped the NFL Offseason

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Heading into the Trade Deadline, the 49ers were having a season from Hell. They were 0-8 and it seemed feasible that they could end the season winless. Then they sent a second round pick to the New England Patriots for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the Patriots had been grooming since they drafted him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. They went 1-2 with CJ Beathard at quarterback and Garoppolo on the bench before he finally entered the game in the the 49ers’ loss to the Seahawks, throwing a touchdown in the process. After that appearance, it was announced that Garoppolo would remain the team’s starter. They haven’t lost since.

Sure the 49ers sit at a 5-10 record and will surely have a high draft pick, but the future is extremely bright, provided they shell out the money that Garoppolo will command. Jimmy G is a free agent at the end of the year, which was a big deciding factor for New England to trade him despite Tom Brady being 40 years old. I think it’s pretty clear that the 49ers are at worst going to franchise tag him, then work out a long term deal. He’s provided too much of a spark for the team and for the fan base to be allowed to leave. A big pay day is in his future. An argument against this could be that Garoppolo was beating lesser teams. Now yes, his first three wins were the hapless Bears, the injured Texans, and the underwhelming Titans. But then on Christmas Eve he led the ‘9ers to 44 points against one of the toughest defenses in the NFL in their win over the Jaguars. That pretty much confirmed for me that Garoppolo is no fluke. Some fans might complain that he may be playing too well, as a win on Sunday against the Rams could quite possibly knock them out of the top 10 picks (they currently sit at #8), which could’ve been used on a guy like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. But I’m sure 49ers fans will live with great play out of their young signal caller. The future is certainly bright.

With Garoppolo’s emergence, a different quarterback’s situation changes DRASTICALLY: Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. The obvious potential destination for Cousins (he developed into a good quarterback under the tutelage of current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan) is now gone so what this could mean is that Cousins may be stuck with the eternal franchise tag in Washington, which can’t be too bad of a gig as he’s going to be making well over $20 million under it. However there is no certainty around it whatsoever, which often makes players nervous and can put a lot of pressure on Cousins, as he’s basically in a contract year every year. A potential destination could be the Bills, who seem to be very non-committal to Tyrod Taylor and are blessed with two first round picks in 2018 thanks to the trade they made last year with the Chiefs so they could take Pat Mahomes. I don’t think they’ll do it, though. Both of the Bills picks will likely come in the late teens-early 20s range and each of the prize quarterbacks will likely be gone by then. The Redskins will need to acquire a pick in the top 10 to ensure they land one of the various talented quarterbacks in this year’s draft if they decide to trade Cousins. This could make the Browns an enticing option, as they will likely have 2 top 10 picks this year thanks to their trade with the Texans for the right to draft Deshaun Watson.

Garoppolo’s emergence also relinquishes one QB-needy team in the upcoming NFL Draft. I did a couple of personal mock drafts in my spare time earlier this year (because that’s the type of football guy I am) and each time I had the 49ers up, I either had them taking USC’s Sam Darnold or UCLA’s Josh Rosen, my two highest-rated quarterbacks. However not only has Garoppolo’s performance filled the gap the 49ers have had at quarterback that has been there since the height of Colin Kaepernick’s playing career, but it has knocked them out of a position to take one of these guys. This could actually make them into a very enticing trade partner. A team in the later part of the draft could get desperate if they think a team ahead of them will take the quarterback they wanted, so the 49ers’ phones will likely be ringing with calls from teams willing to trade up. Hell, it worked for the Bills last year. The Chiefs were scared the Saints were going to take Pat Mahomes (which they were), so they swapped with the Bills to jump one spot ahead of the Saints and gave up a future first rounder to Buffalo with the trade (the Saints ended up with cornerback Marshon Lattimore, so I don’t think they are too disappointed). I wouldn’t put it past a team like the Bills, possibly the Redskins, the Jaguars, or the Cardinals to part with a 2019 first rounder in order to move into the top 10 and the 49ers could be the beneficiaries of these desperations.

Garoppolo’s emergence could also make the 49ers an enticing free agent destination. They have the second most projected cap space in the NFL, barely trailing the Browns and significantly ahead of the third place Colts, so they ought to be big players in the free agent market. Potential free agents include Le’Veon Bell, Nate Solder, Trumaine Johnson, Dontari Poe, Ziggy Ansah, Malcolm Butler, and many others. If these guys want to be a part of an upstart organization, then the 49ers will be a very sexy pick and they’ll be able to get a little more cash than they would from a team that’s strapped for it such as the Chiefs and Eagles (who are expected to be over budget next season).

It’s pretty amazing how much one guy can change the fortunes of a franchise. The 49ers appear to have an extremely promising future and all it took to acquire it was what currently stands as the 40th overall pick in the Draft. That’s it for today’s blog, let me know what you think of Jimmy Garoppolo in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

NFL Draft Big Board 1

I know it might seem a little bit early to do an NFL Draft Big Board, but look at it this way: some teams’ seasons are over and they need to look towards the draft. How can they know who’s good and who’s not if I don’t post this thing? The college football regular season is over anyway so why not? When football season ends, I’m going to end up doing a bunch of Draft-related stuff because I love this event more than a 21-year old dude probably should. I don’t know what it is that gets me so excited for the Draft, but I almost made my family late for a wedding to try and squeeze in one more pick during the 2009 Draft (that pick ended up being the Broncos taking Knowshon Moreno. Not super exciting I guess). I’ll probably post a new Big Board at select intervals, the next one will probably come after the National Championship Game next month. My Big Boards will consist of my Top 50 players, regardless of position. So without further ado, here are my Top 50 favorite Draft prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. Players with an asterisk (*) next to their name still have eligibility remaining and could return to school.

50. Lamar Jackson-QB-Louisville*

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49. Anthony Averett-CB-Alabama

Alabama at Vanderbilt

48. Frank Ragnow-C-Arkansas

853810272

47. Tegray Scales-LB-Indiana

874679880

46. Mitch Hyatt-OT-Clemson*

849296274

45. Tremaine Edmunds-EDGE-Virginia Tech*

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44. Shaun Dion Hamilton-LB-Alabama

Alabama at Vanderbilt

43. Jaire Alexander-CB-Louisville*

842694674

42. Roquan Smith-LB-Georgia*

870220064

41. DeShon Elliott-S-Texas*

848580052

40. James Washington-WR-Oklahoma State

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39. Braden Smith-OG-Auburn

860687052

38. Dre’Mont Jones-DT-Ohio State*

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37. Dorance Armstrong-EDGE-Kansas*

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36. Tarvarus McFadden-CB-Florida State*

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35. Marcus Allen-S-Penn State

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34. Baker Mayfield-QB-Oklahoma

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33. Mark Andrews-TE-Oklahoma*

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32. Dallas Goedert-TE-South Dakota State

DallasGoedert-SouthDakotaState-FB-catch-2016-2

You know you go to a small school when Getty Images doesn’t have a single picture of you (photo credit: HERO Sports)

31. Ronald Jones II-RB-USC*

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30. Denzel Ward-CB-Ohio State*

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29. Sam Hubbard-EDGE-Ohio State*

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28. Malik Jefferson-LB-Texas*

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27. Mason Rudolph-QB-Oklahoma State

492180502

26. Derrius Guice-RB-LSU*

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25. Orlando Brown-OT-Oklahoma*

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24. Vita Vea-DT-Washington*

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23. Christian Kirk-WR-Texas A&M*

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22. Calvin Ridley-WR-Alabama*

873799154

21. Christian Wilkins-DT-Clemson*

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20. Joshua Jackson-CB-Iowa*

869120150

19. Mike McGlinchey-OT-Notre Dame

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18. Clellin Ferrell-EDGE-Clemson*

879206586

17. Da’Ron Payne-DT-Alabama*

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16. Ronnie Harrison-S-Alabama*

at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Auburn, Alabama.

15. Isaiah Oliver-CB-Colorado*

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14. Courtland Sutton-WR-SMU*

868393550

13. Maurice Hurst-DT-Michigan

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12. Quenton Nelson-OG-Notre Dame*

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11. Rashaan Evans-LB-Alabama*

at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

10. Connor Williams-OT-Texas*

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9. Arden Key-EDGE-LSU*

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8. Josh Allen-QB-Wyoming*

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7. Harold Landry-EDGE-Boston College

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6. Derwin James-S-Florida State*

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5. Bradley Chubb-EDGE-North Carolina State

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4. Saquon Barkley-RB-Penn State*

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3. Sam Darnold-QB-USC*

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2. Josh Rosen-QB-UCLA*

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1. Minkah Fitzpatrick-S-Alabama*

Alabama at Vanderbilt

So that’s my first edition of my Big Board for the 2018 NFL Draft. I expect a lot to change by the time I do this again. I’ve only been able to get around to watching footage (mainly Youtube highlight videos) on some of these guys so many of these aren’t set in stone. Is there anybody I forgot about? Did I rank somebody too high or too low? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.