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Mel Kiper's way-too-early Big Board: Top 25 2018 prospects

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  • Mel Kiper's way-too-early Big Board: Top 25 2018 prospects

    Mel Kiper's way-too-early Big Board: Top 25 2018 prospects
    May 11, 2017
    Mel Kiper Jr.
    Football analyst

    Say so long to the Class of 2017. It's time for my annual way-too-early look at next year's (potential) NFL draft class.

    So how'd I do last year? Well, three from my top five went in the top six in the 2017 draft -- Myles Garrett (1), Leonard Fournette (4) and Jamal Adams (6) -- and another went 12th (Deshaun Watson). Tim Williams, on the other hand, dropped all the way to No. 78 after an inconsistent season. A few others dropped big time or returned to school for another season, but overall it was pretty solid.

    A few notes on my first 2018 Big Board:

    I'm not going to be too scouting-heavy here. My own reports on these guys are still half-formed, and so much will change between now and the 2018 draft.

    Keep in mind that several prospects here have only started one season, and so I'm projecting based on size, athletic ability, statistics and what I hear from people around the league.

    Speaking of sizes, what's listed here is what schools give out. These could vary greatly when players show up for the 2018 combine. True height and weight really matters for almost every position.

    Check out Todd McShay's first 2018 mock draft, and come back next week for my way-too-early rankings across every position group.

    Note: One asterisk denotes a junior, and two asterisks denote a redshirt sophomore for the 2017 season.

    1. **Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California

    Darnold has everything NFL teams want in a starter. He has a big frame (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), makes quick decisions and is an accurate and natural passer. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes last season and ranked second in the nation in Total QBR (86.8). He does have an unorthodox, long delivery, however, that will have to be retooled. And the third-year sophomore has only started 10 games.

    2. *Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

    There is some projection here because Fitzpatrick (6-1, 195) has played both corner and safety and appears likely to stick at safety in 2017. But the versatility is a plus, and he could be really good at either spot. He has eight interceptions in two seasons, and four of those were returned for touchdowns. I also like that Fitzpatrick will get after it on special teams. He had 11 special-teams tackles in 2016.

    3. *Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

    The buzz has been growing around the 6-5, 216-pound Allen, who can really throw. His numbers weren't great last season -- 28 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions while completing 56 percent of his passes -- but NFL teams will take into account the talent around him. And Wyoming is losing a few offensive players to the NFL, including center Chase Roullier, running back Brian Hill, wide receiver Tanner Gentry and tight end Jacob Hollister. Allen is raw but very talented.

    4. **Derwin James, S, Florida State

    James only played two games in 2016 after suffering torn meniscus in his left knee. The former five-star recruit was terrific as a freshman for the Seminoles with 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. I'm interested to see how James (6-2, 212) comes back from his injury.

    5. *Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

    Kirk's size (5-11, 200) might ding him in the eyes of scouts, but he's a tremendous receiver and return man with excellent speed. He has 163 catches and 16 receiving touchdowns during the past two seasons, and he had three punt-return TDs in 2016. From everything I've heard, Kirk is a studious guy who is always looking to learn. His 576 yards after the catch last season ranked eighth in the country.

    6. *Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

    Barkley is a lights-out athlete, a traditional running back with a great lower body and quick feet who shows tremendous balance. He rushed for 1,496 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns last season and had 1,076 rushing yards as a freshman. Barkley (5-11, 215) also has 48 career catches, so he'll help in the passing game. He plays extremely hard, too.

    7. *Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

    Coming off a stellar freshman season in 2015, Rosen was a sleeper pick to win the Heisman Trophy in 2016. Things didn't go well, as he only had 10 touchdown passes in six starts before injuring his shoulder and missing the rest of the season. Based on what I saw of him as a freshman, the 6-4, 210-pound Rosen is an NFL talent. Scouts are banking on him returning to form now that he's healthy again.

    8. *Arden Key, OLB, LSU

    Key is in limbo after taking a leave of absence from the LSU football team, though he is expected to return soon. The lanky, 6-6, 231-pound Key is a fantastic pass-rushing talent who can close quickly on quarterbacks. He has 17 sacks in two seasons (12 in 2016). He needs to improve against the run, but that should come in time when he adds weight to his frame.

    9. *Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

    With 161 catches and 14 touchdowns in two seasons, the cat-quick Ridley (6-1, 188) has been one of the nation's top wide receivers since he stepped onto the field as a freshman. What I really like about him is his competitiveness. He's a nightmare to try to tackle in the open field.

    10. *Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson

    Clemson just keeps producing first-round picks. Wilkins -- and the No. 14 player on my list -- could be next. At 6-5, 305, he moves inside and outside for the Tigers. Wilkins is a Jonathan Allen-type lineman. He could be an end in a 3-4 defense or a 3-technique tackle in a 4-3. He had 3.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss last season.

    11. *Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida

    Callaway has off-field issues -- he was cleared last year of a sexual assault allegation that resulted in a suspension, and he admitted to using marijuana -- and so this assessment is strictly about him on the field. He's a big play waiting to happen. Callaway (5-11, 198) averaged 19.4 yards per catch as a freshman in 2015 and 13.4 last season. He needs to improve as a route runner, but he has seven career touchdowns.

    12. Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College

    After leading the nation in sacks (16.5) last season, Landry could have been a late first- or early second-round pick if he had entered the 2017 draft. He also had 22 tackles for loss. There is value in the 6-3, 257-pound Landry's versatility. He could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or end in a 4-3. I'm excited to watch him play against Notre Dame's offensive line on Sept. 16.

    13. *Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

    Looking for a player who could break out in 2017? Harrison, who went overlooked at times on a loaded Crimson Tide defense, fits the part. He's aggressive and loves to hit. Harrison (6-3, 218) can cover, too. He had two interceptions last season, including a pick-six at Tennessee.

    14. *Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

    This is an upside pick because Ferrell hasn't played a ton. He'll be a third-year sophomore in 2017. But I like what I've seen, and he came on strong last season with 6.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. At 6-5, 250, Ferrell has the size that makes scouts turn their heads, and he showed some quickness off the edge.

    15. *Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State

    McFadden was tremendous in his lone season as a starter, picking off eight passes in 2016. At 6-2, 197, he's a big corner with ball skills. Those are two traits NFL teams love. With the Seminoles kicking off the season against Alabama on Sept. 2, McFadden will get a chance to lock down Calvin Ridley. Should be a fun matchup to watch.

    16. *Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

    Guice isn't the athletic specimen Fournette is, but I liked everything I saw from him last season, when Guice rushed for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns -- and averaged 7.6 yards per carry -- while Fournette battled injuries. Guice (5-11, 222) showed good burst running between and outside the tackles, and he's a physical runner.

    17. *Malik Jefferson, OLB, Texas

    Jefferson reminds me a little bit of Jarrad Davis, whom the Lions just took in the first round. He has moved between inside and outside linebacker, and looks like he'll settle outside this season. Jefferson (6-3, 232) has all the athletic traits of a first-round pick, but he needs to be more consistent. He was actually benched for a time in 2016. Jefferson finished the season with 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss.

    18. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

    Like Landry, Chubb could have entered the 2017 draft and been in the first-round discussion. He had 10.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss last season after having 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2015. Chubb (6-4, 247) showed good takeoff from the edge as a pass-rusher, and he has an excellent mix of speed and power.

    19. *Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

    Alexander is a playmaker. He had five interceptions and a punt-return touchdown last season. He has a slight frame (5-11, 170), but he reads quarterbacks well and has a good feel for the position.

    20. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

    I wanted to see more from McGlinchey in 2016 -- I don't think he played to the level of his talent. After starting every game at right tackle in 2015, he moved to the left side in place of 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley. At 6-7, 310, McGlinchey is a massive athlete who looks like a tight end with pads on. I think he could really take a step forward and improve in 2017. He could be a top-10 pick if he does.

    21. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

    The Wolverines had a senior-laden defensive line in 2016, and so Hurst wasn't a starter. But he stood out as a rotational player who could split double teams and get into the backfield. Hurst (6-2, 277) had 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss.

    22. *Trey Adams, OT, Washington

    The hulking Adams (6-7, 302) is a big-time talent who's still learning and improving and could shoot way up the Big Board in 2017. He has started 23 games at left tackle during the past two seasons, and he never looked out of place.

    23. *Jerome Baker, OLB, Ohio State

    The 6-1, 215-pound Baker fits today's NFL, where size doesn't matter as much as it used to. He's not a traditional linebacker, but he's fast, can cover pass-catchers, rush the passer and is always in the middle of the action. Baker had 3.5 sacks, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and 9.5 tackles for loss last season.

    24. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

    I'm not sure why Washington doesn't get much publicity. He's outstanding and has produced for three years. Washington (6-0, 193) has 152 catches for 2,923 yards -- that's a ridiculous 19.2 yards per catch -- and 26 touchdowns in his career. The Cowboys -- who also have my top-ranked senior quarterback, Mason Rudolph -- will be fun to watch.

    25. *Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

    Hubbard isn't a pass-rusher on the same talent level as former Buckeye Joey Bosa, but he's consistently solid and reliable. At 6-5, 265, he stands out on a super-talented Ohio State defense. Hubbard had 3.5 sacks and 8.0 tackles for loss in 2016 after posting 6.5 sacks, 8.0 tackles for loss and an interception the season before. Along with Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa, Ohio State has a talented defensive line.

  • #2
    We should be 3-13 or 4-12 this year. I say we finally address the WR issues we have and draft: Calvin Ridley.