1. Sam Darnold, USC
Ever since being the named the starting quarterback of the Trojans, Sam Darnold became one of the best quarterbacks in the country, leading USC to nine wins in 10 games, including a thrilling Rose Bowl victory over Penn State in which he threw for 459 yards and five touchdowns. Darnold threw for a total 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions with a 67% completion percentage on the season. Coupled with the amazing numbers, Darnold’s prototypical size at 6’4, 225 lbs has pro scouts salivating at potentially the next big thing in the NFL.
2. Josh Rosen, UCLA
Josh Rosen shares the same position and city as Sam Darnold so it’s only fitting that they share the top of the QB class for 2018. Rosen, at 6’4 and weighing 218 lbs, came out of high school and was one of the most hyped QB prospects in the country, and he has lived up to expectations. His freshman campaign in 2015 saw Rosen throw for 3,670 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. However, Rosen’s 2016 season was cut short after only six games due to an injury to his shoulder. What sets Rosen apart from the rest of the quarterbacks in this class is how polished his mechanics are. His effortless throwing motion and high football IQ are an ideal tandem when projecting to the next level. I’d be shocked if Darnold and Rosen aren’t #1 and #2 or vice versa in next year’s draft.
3. Josh Allen, Wyoming
Josh Allen is the unknown member of this group but he could actually end up being the best. The 6’4, 222 lb signal caller for the Wyoming Cowboys is coming off a 3,230 yard passing season to go along with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Allen plays in the Mountain West, and even though his competition is not as strong as the other QB’s, his talent and mechanics are there. It should be noted that Allen’s lone game against a power 5 school came against Nebraska where Allen struggled mightily, throwing for 189 yards and 5 interceptions. Allen will become more and more talked about as the season goes on because of his raw ability.
4. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Believe the hype, kids. Lamar Jackson stands at 6’3, weighing 200 lbs, and is one of the most dynamic players in college football history. That was validated last season when he was awarded the Heisman trophy. In his historic season, Jackson threw for 3,543 yards and 31 touchdowns while rushing for another 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns. A lot of people may tell you that Jackson’s skill set doesn’t translate well to the NFL (also his slight build), but it does. Jackson isn’t necessarily the stereotypical “run first” QB. Jackson can stand in the pocket and sling the ball all over the field which will make him very attractive for NFL teams. If Patrick Mahomes II is a first rounder, so is Lamar Jackson.
5. Jake Browning, Washington
The Washington Huskies took the PAC-12 and the NCAA by storm last season due in large part to their signal caller, Jake Browning. Browning stands at 6’2 and weighs 210 lbs, but it’s not his stature that will generate interest from the NFL. In his 2016 campaign, Browning threw for 3,430 yards with 43 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions. Browning led the Huskies to the college football playoff where they lost to eventual runner-ups, Alabama. I actually wouldn’t be shocked if Browning returned for his senior season but if he did declare, I’d expect him to go relatively early.
Other QB’s to watch: Luke Falk, Washington State. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State. Trace McSorley, Penn State. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma.
- Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Saquon Barkley enters the 2017 college football season as one of the most dynamic players in the entire country. The 5’11, 223 lb junior rushed for nearly 1,500 yards last season with 18 touchdowns, adding 402 yards receiving and 4 receiving touchdowns. Barkley’s tough running ability, coupled with his blazing 40 yard dash time of 4.33 makes him one of the most desirable running backs in next year’s draft.
2. Derrius Guice, LSU
Another year, another LSU running back going in the first round. Derrius Guice shared the backfield last season with now Jacksonville Jaguar, Leonard Fournette. However, Guice actually out-rushed Fournette last season. Guice finished the year with 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns while sharing the load. This year, with Guice the clear #1 back in Baton Rouge, many expect him to put up monster numbers and propel himself even farther up draft boards.
3. Bo Scarborough, Alabama
Had Bo Scarborough not gotten hurt in the national title game, Alabama might have actually won. Scarborough stands at a whopping 6’2 while weighing 231 lbs. Nick Saban took the reigns off this stallion and let him run wild in both college football playoff games, where he totaled over 270 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns before bowing out of the national championship with a broken leg. Expect Scarborough to share the backfield this season with Damien Harris but still project as one of the top backs in next years draft.
4. Nick Chubb, Georgia
Nick Chubb suffered one of the most horrific football injuries in recent memory, when he got his leg trapped underneath of him during a tackle. He tore his PCL and two other knee ligaments. Chubb, who stands at 5’10 and weighs 228 lbs, returned to the field in 2016 and put up very good post-injury numbers with 1,130 yards and 8 touchdowns. Chubb’s play diminished from his 2014 campaign but that was to be expected. He will take the field this season to prove that he is still the same player that he was before the injury. That version of Nick Chubb will be a top running back in the draft.
5. Royce Freeman, Oregon
Freeman came into the 2016 season as one of the most talked about backs after finishing the previous season with 1,836 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. Freeman is a big back standing at 5’11 and weighing nearly 240 lbs, but the Oregon Duck saw a massive drop off in his play. Freeman finished the 2016 season with a very pedestrian (by his standards) 945 yards and nine touchdowns. It should be noted that Freeman carried the ball over 120 times less than he did the year before which is the biggest reason his numbers saw that big of a drop off. Freeman’s tape is still explosive and that dominant back is still there. That is why Freeman has a bright NFL future.
Other RB’s to watch: Ronald Jones II, USC. Akrum Wadley, Iowa. L.J. Scott, Michigan State. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt.
1. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M.
Christian Kirk has put together back to back impressive seasons with nearly 2,000 yards receiving combined. He also did this without stellar QB play. Kirk, who stands at 5’11 and weighs 200 lbs is so highly thought of by his teammates that he’s earned the moniker “Baby Beckham,” a reference to New York Giants all-pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr. If Kirk puts together another great season, he’ll be in contention to be the first receiver off the board in 2018.
2. Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Calvin Ridley, much like Christian Kirk, has put together great seasons two years in a row. In 2015, Ridley caught 89 balls for 1,045 yards and 7 touchdowns and followed that up in 2016 with 72 catches for 769 yards and seven touchdowns. Ridley also has prototypical NFL receiver size, standing 6’1 and weighs 190 lbs. Ridley’s production has been strong with several different QB’s, and it seems likely that he will be one of the top receivers taken in next years draft.
3. Courtland Sutton, SMU
Coming into 2016, there was a ton of hype coming out of SMU regarding Courtland Sutton, but everyone really started to take notice when Sutton started dominating on the field. In 2016 he totaled 76 receptions for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns. At 6’3 and 205 lbs, Sutton is one of the bigger receivers in the draft, and while he could have declared for this past draft, he decided to return for school. Watch out for Sutton to keep putting up big numbers in the AAC.
4. James Washington, Oklahoma State
James Washington has been Mr. Consistency for Oklahoma State. Since arriving in Stillwater in 2015, Washington has gotten better each and every season, with his best coming last year, when he totaled 1,380 yards on 71 catches and 10 touchdowns. With an NFL caliber quarterback in Mason Rudolph throwing him the ball, look for Washington to put comparable if not better numbers in 2017.
5. Deon Cain, Clemson
Cain returns to the national champion Clemson Tigers as their #1 receiver but will have to do so with new starting quarterback, Kelly Bryant. Cain is a big body receiver at 6’1, 210lbs and is a touchdown machine for the Tigers. In two years, Cain has 14 touchdowns on only 72 catches which is an average of one touchdown per 5 catches. Cain will look to add stability to a new look offense that will contend for a playoff spot.
Other WR’s to watch: Antonio Callaway, Florida. Dante Pettis, Washington. Deontay Burnett, USC. D.J. Chark, LSU.
- Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Do you know how ridiculously talented you must be to be missing an index finger and still be one of the top pass catchers in the country? That’s 6’6, 248 lb Troy Fumagalli. Born with amniotic band syndrome, Fumagalli hasn’t let it define his life. In fact, he’s defied the odds. He’s coming off of a breakout season in which he caught 47 balls, tallying 580 yards and two touchdowns. Look for Fumagalli, who’s game is already very well-rounded, to get even better.
2. Mike Gesicki, Penn State
Gesicki returns to Penn State and no Power Five tight end had more than Gesicki’s 679 yards last year, which came on 48 catches with five TDs. He’s a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-6, 252-pounds. The only knock on Gesicki’s is his tendency to drop balls but he keeps getting better in that regard every year. With a good quarterback in McSorley and a top runningback in Barkley to take the pressure off, look for Gesicki to feast in the redzone.
3. Marcus Baugh, Ohio State
Baugh is Ohio State’s returning receiver with both Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown in the NFL.While Baugh had a very pedestrian 24 catches for 269 yards and two touchdowns last season, that was more indicative of Ohio State’s terrible passing game as a whole. With J.T. Barrett calling the shots again for the Buckeyes, look for the swiss army knife Baugh to have an impact.
4. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Last season, Andrews hauled in 31 passes for 489 yards and seven TDs for a very potent Oklahoma offense. With Baker Mayfield returning at quarterback coupled with the loss of top targets Dede Westbrook and Joe Mixon, the dynamic Andrews should see an expanded role.
5. Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
Jaylen Samuels is unlike any other tight end in college football. Over his career at N.C. State, he has 126 career catches for 1,258 yards and 15 TDs and 104 career rushes for 700 yards and 16 TDs. Samuels is a tight end/fullback hybrid making him much more of a typical H-Back. Look for Samuels to continue his torrid pace this season.
Other TE’s to watch: Deandre Goolsby, Florida. Adam Breneman, Massachusetts. Cam Serigne, Wake Forest.
1. Connor Williams, Texas
Connor Williams led the Texas offensive line that heled D’Onta Foreman’s rush for 2,000-yards. The Longhorns did give up 32 sacks, but did also start an inexperienced freshman which inflated that number. Williams is the leader up front, a freshman All-American in 2015 and first-team All-American in 2016 who has started at left tackle since his freshman year.
2. Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
McGlinchey is a massive left tackle at 6-foot-8, 312-pounds. He could have turned pro last year and been a high pick, but he returned for his final season. While he’s not as explosive as Connor Williams, he is more of a mauler and that is needed when pass rushers are getting bigger, stronger, and faster.
3. Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
Rankin is a JuCo transfer and started 10 games at left tackle last season for the Bulldogs. Interestingly enough, he has played all over the line this past spring which makes him one of the most unique linemen in college football. Mississippi State has a very good quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald, and they also have a great player to protect him.
4. Chukwuma Okorafor, Central Michigan
Okorafor is one of those players that never played the game until he got to high school and therefore wasn’t a coveted prospect. That changed quickly once he arrived at Central Michigan. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound senior has 27 career starts, and he was the left tackle last year for a line that allowed only 16 sacks in 14 games.
5. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
The left side of the Notre Dame offensive line is ridiculously good. Nelson and McGlinchey both could be 1st round picks and they play 6 inches apart from each other. Nelson is the only true guard in this top 5, but he deserves to be ranked here. His combination of pass blocking and run blocking is unparalleled and should shoot him up draft boards.
Other OL to watch: Trey Adams, Braden Smith, Auburn. Mitch Hyatt, Clemson. Orlando Brown, Oklahoma. Billy Price, Ohio State.
1. Arden Key, LSU
Arden Key was one of the best players in the country last season. At 6’6, 230lbs, he tallied 56 tackles, 14.5 of them for a loss, 12 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Key is a wrecking ball for a stout LSU defense and will look to continue his success into next season. Look for him to get the Myles Garrett treatment and receive double and triple teams on a consistent basis.
2. Harold Landry, Boston College
Harold Landry could have been a first round pick had he come out this past year but shockingly decided to return to BC for his senior season. Landry stands at 6’3 and weighs 250lbs but it’s his motor that has NFL teams interested. Last year he dominated the ACC with his 16.5 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, and 7 forced fumbles. Landry projects as a 3-4 OLB in the NFL and has some serious Von Miller vibes.
3. Christian Wilkins, Clemson
Wilkins was a key part of the 2016 Clemson defensive front that featured Carlos Watkins and Clelin Ferrell. At 6’3, 310lbs, Wilkins has elite size for an interior defensive linemen and should feast on interior linemen in the ACC. Clemson lost a lot of talent from their championship team but Watkins gives them a stable force in the middle. With more of the onus on him, look for him to make a much bigger impact in 2017.
4. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
Sam Hubbard is one of those players who it feels like has been around the college football landscape for 10 years. Hubbard, who stands at 6’5 and weighs 270lbs, has shared the workload at Ohio State as a rotational player since his freshman year. The Buckeyes feature the most talented defensive line in the country which even has defensive coordinator Greg Schiano claiming them to be better than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line that Schiano coached back in 2011. Look for Hubbard to be one of the biggest difference makers on a stacked defense.
5. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
Another year, another Alabama defensive linemen being hyped up. Payne has elite measurable with his 6’2, 320lb frame, but it’s his opportunity and his potential that has him being talked about. Filling in for Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson is a tall task but with Nick Saban’s track record and Payne’s ability, this will be another home run prospect.
Other DL to watch: Lowell Lotulelei, Utah. Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State. Vita Vea, Washington. Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State.
1. Malik Jefferson, Texas
Malik Jefferson is one of the most physically gifted players in all of college football. His physical tools are unparalleled for his position and should make NFL coaches and scouts salivate. Texas is moving Jefferson to outside linebacker this season to maximize these skills. He should be able to think less and just let his athleticism take control.
2. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Tremaine Edmunds is one of the most instinctually sound players in college football and his tape shows that. His first step and burst is elite for a player of his size and his motor is ideal for pass rushing. If Edmunds can become a more patient defender and gain a little more control, he could easily become a 1st round pick in next years draft.
3. Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Alabama seems to always have star linebackers and this year is no different. Rashaan Evans is both a stud inside linebacker and a stud special teams player for the Crimson Tide. When he was switched to the inside, Evans didn’t waste any time in picking up the position. He doesn’t have a ton of tape due to being behind guys like Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland, but his traits and physical tools are enough to warrant the talk.
4. Azeem Victor, Washington
Azeem Victor may be the most complete linebacker in college football. His ability to both fill the hole in run defense and drop in coverage is exactly what NFL teams look for in a signal caller. His instincts cause him to float all over the field but his athleticism is enough to make up for the lapses in judgment. Victor is exactly the kind of guy you want patrolling behind the defensive line.
5. Dante Booker, Ohio State
Dante Booker missed all of 2016 with a PCL injury and is returning to the Buckeyes as one of their top defenders. Booker is a load at 6’3, 240lbs and is one of the most physical and explosive linebackers in the country. With the physical tools that he possesses and the hype his coaches and teammates are giving, look for Booker to make a big splash this season.
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Arguably the best defensive back in 2016, Minkah Fitzpatrick returns for his junior season and will be one of the leaders on the new look Alabama defense. Fitzpatrick will can play both cornerback and safety but his preference seems to be cornerback. At 6’1, 201lbs, Fitzpatrick has the ideal size to go along with range and tackling ability that NFL teams are looking for. Don’t let his big cheesy grin fool you, he is a stone cold assassin.
2. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama.
The only player who might be a better safety than Minkah Fitzpatrick is the man he lines up next to. Ronnie Harrison is a hulking safety standing at 6’3, weighing 213lbs and has the intensity to match. He ranked second on Alabama’s vaunted defense in tackles behind only new Reuben Foster. Harrison is also a former high school QB which helped him become even more dynamic once the ball gets in his hands. In a time where hybrid tight ends are becoming more and more prevalent, guys like Ronnie Harrison are in high demand.
3. Derwin James, Florida State
Derwin James tore his meniscus in week 2 last season against Chattanooga and missed the rest of the 2016 season. In the one game that he played, he tallied 8 tackles and an interception off of Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly. James, who is virtually identical in size to Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison, enters 2017 as one of the top defensive players in the country and will lead a loaded Florida State defense.
4. Tony Brown, Alabama
Tony Brown is the most physical college cornerback I have ever seen. He has good size for a corner at 6’1, 200lbs but his intensity is what sets him apart. His most impressive game was arguably in the national championship against Clemson where he made 7 total tackles. However, Brown has battled some off the field issues. He was suspended 4 games at the start of 2016 because of a failed drug test before the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State. He was also ejected in the Iron Bowl against Auburn for targeting. Brown is also a world-class track athlete and may try to make the United States Olympic team which could affect his draft stock.
5. Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State
Tarvarus McFadden is one of the most talented and pure CB’s in the country. He was tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions with 8 which included INT’s against Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Chad Kelly, and Brad Kaaya. McFadden’s biggest knock is that too often allows receivers to have a clean break off of the line. However, he has also shown a wicked one-handed jam which shows that his problem is fixable. With another year under his belt (and playing next to Derwin James), McFadden should blossom into a star.