NFL Position-By-Position Draft Preview
NFL DRAFT PREVIEW
It's our annual position-by-position look at the top players as we close in on the NFL Draft set for Thursday, April 26.
SAM DARNOLD, QB, USC - Truth of the matter is this 6-foot-3, 222-pounder played better in 2016 than he did a year ago as last year the Trojans' slinger committed 22 turnovers while throwing for 4,143 yards and 26 TDs. Cerebral type player who throws well on the run - and apparently in bad weather too as evidenced by his pro workout day in the rain - and throwing on the run and in bad weather may be key if indeed Darnold goes #1 to the Cleveland Browns.
JOSH ROSEN, QB, UCLA - The "other" signal-caller who played his college ball in Los Angeles is the best pure passer in this man's draft and he comes off a 3,717-yard /26 TD / 10 INT season a year ago. Rosen can really zing it but may - at times - be a bit overconfident in his rocket right arm but the down side (say his critics) are concussion-related issues and a question as to whether he'll be hungry enough to win. Odds are he slips no lower than the draft's #3 pick with the New York Jets.
BAKER MAYFIELD, QB, Oklahoma - Is it possible that the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner can wind up being a top five pick? Mayfield -- who last year threw for 4,627 yards with 43 TDs and just 6 INTs - has impressed scouts/general managers in recent weeks even with his at-times brash attitude and there's even some sentiment (though we don't believe it) that he'll be the numero uno pick come Thursday night.
JOSH ALLEN, QB, Wyoming - Can't beat the size here as the Firebaugh (CA) native stands 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and he's more mobile than one might think. Allen can look pinpoint perfect with some passes and then miss other intended targets by five yards and so he needs some polishing on this next level and note last year's stats were rather ho-hum at 16 TDs / 1,812 yards passing. Some shoulder issues hampered his production last season in Laramie. Look for Allen to get nabbed somewhere in the top 10-to-12 picks.
LAMAR JACKSON, QB, Louisville - The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner has been a forgotten man for many folks in the lead-up to this draft but expect him to land somewhere in Round I. Jackson - who threw for 3,543 yards with 30 TDs while rushing for 1,571 yards and 21 TDs in his sophomore/Heisman season - followed that up with 3,660 yards passing / 27 TDs along with 1,601 yards rushing and 18 TDs and so he's really been college football's most dynamic offensive player for the past two years.
MASON RUDOLPH, QB, Oklahoma State - We've seen one web site list this former Cowboys' star as the 10th-best overall player in this draft … whoa, you might want to pump the brakes there! Truth is Rudolph - who stands at 6-feet-5 and 235 pounds - is adept at dropping his throws "into the bucket" of downfield targets and has a nice feel getting away from traffic in the pocket. Might wind up being a real steal in the latter portion of Round One.
QUENTON NELSON, G, Notre Dame - The unquestioned top blocker in this man's draft and a very likely top five pick come Thursday night in Dallas. Note that Nelson - who stands 6-feet-5, 330 pounds but appears even bigger - plays with a real passion for the game and he's not afraid to show his nasty side. Get this: Nelson was Notre Dame's first offensive lineman to be named team MVP (first time that's happened since 1975) and there's all sorts of reports that teams are looking to trade up to get him … and not one of those fancy-dan quarterbacks.
ORLANDO BROWN, T, Oklahoma - Generally considered a top 10 pick on draft night, this monstrous 6-foot-8, 360-pounder was a two-time winner of the Big 12 Conference's Offensive Lineman of the Year. His detractors claim that smaller-sized speedball rushers will get past 'em in a heartbeat but fact is it'll take a while just to get around his massive frame plus pro scouts love his drive technique that gets 'em to the "second level" defenders in a hurry.
WILL HERNANDEZ, G, UTEP - This Las Vegas dude is massive at 6-feet-2, 350 pounds and he's a real iron-man having started all 49 of his college games. Hernandez played for a Miners club that didn't win a single game last year and yet pro scouts seem to think he'll be a pick #25-to-30 guy on draft night.
ISAIAH WYNN, G, Georgia - Just go ahead and ask former Georgia Dawg running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel (remember them?) how important this 6-foot-2, 305-pounder was to their near-national championship club from a year ago. Wynn's gotta make the shift to guard after starring as a tackle in Athens and word is he pulls like a natural guard, so this could be a move-up-the-charts pick for a quality team needing interior blocking aid.
CONNOR WILLIAMS, T, Texas - Only played four games for the Longhorns last year because of a knee injury that probably is costing him a dozen-or-so spots in this NFL Draft but keep in mind Williams was a once-upon-a-time three-star recruit who actually was the first in school history to start at LT for the 'Horns as a true frosh.
FRANK RAGNOW, C, Arkansas - A high ankle sprain in a mid-season game against Auburn last year cost this 6-foot-5, 310-pounder his final year with the Hogs but the reality is Ragnow had started 26 college game in a row prior to the ankle injury and he played for an Arkansas team that allowed precious few quarterback sacks. Likely second-rounder who is considered a top 35 player.
Running Backs / Wide Receivers / Tight Ends:
SAQUON BARKLEY, RB, Penn State - The drama is building towards next Thursday's draft and most in-the-know folks believe this six-foot, 235-pounder will be a top three pick though the jury is still out on whether the New York Giants at #2 will snatch 'em up or whether someone may trade up to get 'em (San Francisco?). Barkley has elite down-the-field speed and note last year he averaged a haughty 5.9 yards a pop and also caught 54 balls while scoring 21 total TDs in his junior/final season at Happy Valley.
COURTLAND SUTTON, WR, SMU - This lanky 6-foot-3, 218-pounder nabbed 31 touchdown passes the past three years and averaged 16.5 yards per catch and his college career included a lot of whiffs by enemy defensive backs who had trouble catching up and then wrapping up this former Mustangs' star. Word is that both of the Super Bowl teams from a year ago - Philadelphia and New England - are antsy to trade up into the top six or seven picks in order to land him.
DERRIUS GUICE, RB, LSU - Last season's 1,251 yards rushing (and 11 TDs) pretty much flew under the radar but the pro scouts know 'em/love 'em and so this Bayou Bengals star should go somewhere inside the top 15 picks. Note that Guice is the only SEC running back to register a pair of 250-plus yard rushing games and his vision/balance makes him uber-dangerous behind a great blocking wall.
JAMES WASHINGTON, WR, Oklahoma State - The Okie State Cowboys were one of the premier passing teams in the land last year when this 5-foot-11, 215-pounder was busy catching 74 balls worth 1,549 yards with 13 TDs. Washington may be considered a tad undersized as a pro pass-catcher but he sports great hands and often out-fights enemy DBs for up-for-grab throws. Last year's Biletnikoff Award winner figures to go somewhere in the top 25.
RONALD JONES II, RB, USC - This three-year starter for the Trojans upped his rushing yardage totals / touchdown totals from his freshman year in 2015 (987 yards and 8 TDs) to his sophomore season (1,082 yards and 12 TDs) to his junior/final season (1,550 yards with 19 TDs) and some NFL talent evaluators think he's just hitting his peak as a runner who isn't afraid to operate between the tackles.
DALLAS GOEDERT, TE, South Dakota State - We expect this 6-foot-5, 255-pounder to get nabbed before Penn State TE Mike Gesicki comes off the board but both players figure to slip into Round II. Note that Goedert caught 72 balls worth 1,111 yards with 7 TDs and he caught 92 passes for 1,293 yards with 11 TDs as a junior.
MICHAEL GALLUP, WR, Colorado State - One of our favorite college players the past couple of years, this former CSU Rams' star snagged 100 passes for 1,413 yards and 7 TDs last season and the combo of strong/sure hands and great agility makes him a darling pick somewhere in the #20-thru-30 range.
BRADLEY CHUBB, DE, N.C. State - This 6-foot-4, 260-pound speed pass rusher is the clear-cut top defensive player on the board and many draftniks believe he's the top overall talent in this man's draft. Chubb registered 10 sacks in his senior season and recorded 26 tackles for losses despite sitting out the Wolfpack's Sun Bowl win against Arizona State. Chubb could be gone by the draft's third or fourth pick.
MAURICE HURST, DT, Michigan - Some folks considered him a late bloomer with the maize-and-blue but the fifth-year player wound up with 60 total tackles (five sacks) in his final year in Ann Arbor. Hurst sports long arms, a quick first step and a never-ending motor. Likely top 10 pick.
TAVEN BRYAN, DT, Florida - Great hands and surprising speed for this 6-foot-4, 290-pounder but many in-the-know NFL folks wish he played with more consistency prior to the 2017 campaign. Maybe Bryan's best characteristic is he's just as effective in a 4-3 scheme as he is in a 3-4. Probably gets gobbled up between picks 15-to-20.
VITA VEA, DT, Washington - Super-strong dude who weighs in at nearly 350 pounds, this former Husky star was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and was a rare bright spot in Washington's Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State.
MARCUS DAVENPORT, DE, UTSA - At 6-feet-6, 260 pounds, this lean-and-mean really upgraded his stock with a special showing in the Senior Bowl. Conventional wisdom says Davenport falls to the #20-thru-25 pick range but he might be top 15.
DA'RON PAYNE, DT, Alabama - One of the Crimson Tide's most important players in its Sugar Bowl win against Clemson and National Championship overtime triumph over Georgia, the 6-foot-2 / 312-pounder even caught a touchdown pass against Clemson while being named Defensive MVP in both post-season games. A sure first-rounder who may fall to the #25-thru-30 slots.
ROQUAN SMITH, ILB, Georgia - The 2017 Butkus Award winner really cemented his status as the best LB in the land with three terrific games in a row to end last year as Smith collected 13 tackles (including 10 solo) in the SEC Championship Game win against Auburn and then racked up 24 total stops in the post-season games against Oklahoma/Alabama. Great sideline-to-sideline speed and a real hitter - could go in the draft's top six picks.
OGBONNIA OKORONKWO, OLB, Oklahoma - Some folks list 'em as a defensive end but this 6-foot-1, 242-pounder should be lined up outside where he'll also provide a solid run-stopper. Okoronkwo registered eight sacks last year and was a major menace while getting into enemy backfields plenty. Likely a mid-first round draftee.
TREMAINE EDWARDS, ILB, Virginia Tech - Monstrous size at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds and he sports great speed but scouts say he needs to polish up his play when trying to shed blockers. Still, a Butkus Award finalist who could be a missing puzzle piece for some NFL team drafting in the mid 20's.
LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH, OLB, Boise State - No doubt his 12-tackle/one-sack showing in last year's Las Vegas Bowl upset win against Oregon really convinced this junior that he was ready for the leap to the NFL. Vander Esch is a real physical specimen at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds and he sports great speed but is still learning the position.
DORIAN O'DANIEL, OLB, Clemson - Not one of the really big names on last year's Tigers' team but this former high school running back is fast, recognizes plays instantly and he proved to be an iron-man for the '17 Clemson club while on the field for 727 snaps on "D".
RASHAAN EVANS, ILB, Alabama - What would our draft board be without a Crimson Tide 'backer, right? The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Evans reads plays quickly and attacks but he's a borderline Round One pick at best.
DERWIN JAMES, SS, Florida State - The folks at cbssports.com have ranked this 6-foot-3, 215-pounder as the second-best overall prospect in this man's draft even though he played just a year-plus in college (tore up his knee just two games into his freshman campaign). James showed major versatility in Tallahassee as he often lined up as a linebacker/pass rushing defensive end. Okay, so James probably won't go #2 in this draft but he'll get gobbled up in the top 10.
MINKAH FITZPATRICK, FS/CB, Alabama - Generally regarded as the country's numero uno defensive back last year (Fitzpatrick appeared on our Jim Sez Heisman Trophy top five list for a batch of weeks, remember) and a probable top 10 pick even though many pro scouts are not quite sure if he'll line up at CB or one of the safety spots. Great leader who nabbed both the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards last year.
DENZEL WARD, CB, Ohio State - This former Buckeyes' star is quickly moving up the draft boards despite his smallish statue (he's listed at 5-feet-10) as positive reports state Ward sports blazing speed and is considered a sure-fire lockdown corner for the next 10-to-12 years.
JOSH JACKSON, CB, Iowa - Great ball skills and truly one of the headiest players in the land last year when he intercepted eight passes and returned two of 'em for touchdowns (plus Jackson collected 18 passes broken up). At 6-foot-1, 193 pounds, Jackson's agile and can gobble up real estate in a hurry.
JAIRE ALEXANDER, CB, Louisville - Listed as 5-feet-11, scouts say this Charlotte native is ultra-quick to attack the ball but beware: A sprained knee cost him a handful of games for the U of L Cardinals last year and then a different knee injury cost 'em some late-season action. Probably will drop to the lower-third of Round One because of all the 2017 health concerns.