The finishing touches are being put on draft boards throughout the league as the 2018 NFL draft approaches. The work’s mostly done and not much will change between now and when Roger Goodell walks to the stage in Arlington, Texas, and puts the Cleveland Browns on the clock. So, who makes up my Top 50? It’s led by a guard from Notre Dame and concludes with a quarterback from Oklahoma State.
As we wrap up our prospect analysis for the year, however, we’re adding a little something extra; a key question about each prospect that could alter his draft fate, starting with my No. 1 prospect.
1. Quenton Nelson, guard, Notre Dame (6-foot-5, 325 pounds)
Can he play tackle?
He could but he doesn’t need to. Nelson could play any position on the line of scrimmage, but he’s a Pro Bowl guard from the second he enters the NFL. Moving the best interior lineman of the past eight to 10 years to tackle is foolhardy. Nelson is as “plug and play” as it gets in this draft. Sure, the offensive tackles in this draft class are underwhelming, but that shouldn’t force Nelson into a completely foreign position, even if it’s only three feet to his left. Don’t. Do. It.
2. Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State (6-0, 233)
Why, and how, is Barkley different than Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott?
Barkley will enter the NFL with as much hype as any rookie running back we’ve seen, including Elliott and Leonard Fournette (Jaguars). Although Fournette was taken fourth and had a solid rookie campaign, Elliott and Barkley are in a different class. The biggest differences are Barkley’s balance and lateral quickness. Barkley can stay on his feet after glancing blows better than anyone I can remember and his ability to jump cut or slide past defenders is uncanny. Elliott exacts more of a punishment with his one-cut, downhill running style. He is decisive to and through holes, choosing not to bounce runs to the outside often, doing so only if he doesn’t have a direct lane to exploit.
Elliott was a top-notch pass protector in college and has only gotten better in the NFL. He is a true triple-threat back — running, receiving and protecting. Barkley is a weapon in the passing game and will be on the field all three downs but he’s not the protector that Elliott was and is.
3. Bradley Chubb, edge, N.C. State (6-4, 269)
What differentiates Chubb from last year’s No. 1 overall, Myles Garrett? And vice versa.
Chubb is a more athletic Derek Barnett (Eagles). Like Barnett, he’s a more polished football player than Garrett, who is a freaky athlete with loads of potential. Chubb is an athletic edge player, even more so than Barnett, but not in Garrett’s class. Chubb can win multiple ways on the edge; Garrett wins with speed and athleticism in the same spots. Ultimately, Garrett has a higher ceiling, but Chubb’s rush skills will allow him to flourish immediately.
4. Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC (6-3, 221)
Why does Darnold’s calm demeanor make him the top quarterback in this class?
Take all of the quarterback physical measurables and throw them out the window. Which guy do you trust to remain calm down four with two minutes left and one time out? Which guy would maintain his composure down a couple of touchdowns in the first half? Which quarterback could handle a difficult situation in Cleveland and remain undaunted? Darnold. The old “ice water in his veins” cliche is apropos with Darnold. He commanded the respect of his teammates at USC as a redshirt freshman and he thrived in late game situations, even when he hadn’t played well up to that point. Darnold’s calm demeanor will have a domino effect on his entire offense, no matter where he’s drafted.
5. Denzel Ward, cornerback, Ohio State (5-10, 191)
Will Ward play like Marshon Lattimore (Saints, Def. ROY) or Gareon Conley (Raiders)?
When those three played together at Ohio State in 2016, Ward never came off the field and the 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year shared time with Conley. Tough, fast and confident, Ward has the requisite demeanor to play the position like Lattimore, who thrived in New Orleans last season. If healthy, he’ll be much more like Lattimore than Conley, who struggled as a rookie in Oakland.
6. Roquan Smith, inside linebacker, Georgia (6-1, 236)
Why is Smith ahead of uber-athlete Tremaine Edmunds?
What Smith lacks in size in relation to Edmunds, he makes up with his football IQ and ability to redirect to the football. He reads blocks well and knows where the ball is going without skipping a beat. If the running back takes a different path, though, Smith can change path on the fly to make the tackle. He can make plays in the box, out in space and sideline to sideline. Edmunds relies on his athleticism and speed to make up for potentially misdiagnosing a play’s design but Smith combines 4.52 speed with that high football IQ to tackle anything that moves anywhere on the field.
7. Minkah Fitzpatrick, safety/nickel, Alabama (6-1, 202)
Given his positional flexibility, what’s Fitzpatrick’s best fit in the secondary?
Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick’s cover skills are minimized a bit if he makes a full-time move to safety. However, there’s not another player in this draft that’ll lead an NFL secondary from the safety position, as a rookie, quite like Fitzpatrick. He’s a film nerd and obsessed about preparation, which will make him a tremendous pro. That said, he’s best served playing the nickel/slot position where he’ll flourish playing the run, covering slots, roaming in zone coverage and blitzing the edge. Playing the nickel position allows him to capitalize on his playmaking ability, so that’s his best fit. In base defense, his best fit is at safety, but when in subpackage schemes, he’ll thrive inside at the slot position.
8. Tremaine Edmunds, linebacker, Virginia Tech (6-5, 253)
Where does Edmunds fit best and what should he do on third downs?
Think Jamie Collins when he was with the Patriots. When Collins was coming out of Southern Miss, he was one of the only players I studied who could play every single linebacker position in any scheme, inside or outside on all three downs. The Patriots didn’t need Collins to rush the passer from the edge, which allowed him to cover slot receivers, tight ends and running backs, in addition to playing the run with speed and physicality. Edmunds has a similar athletic and playing skill set but, depending on his future destination, he may need to rush the edge on third down more often. For example, if Oakland drafts him, he won’t need to play outside and will play as a stack linebacker who can thrive playing off the ball on first and second down. If Indianapolis drafts him, he may need to rush the edge opposite Jabaal Sheard. Edmunds’ biggest asset is that, like Collins, he can do both.
9. Derwin James, safety, Florida State (6-3, 215)
Why has James seemingly fallen under the radar?
After missing most of 2016 with a leg injury, James was out of sync early in the 2017 campaign. He also was adjusting to playing free safety after playing strong safety as a freshman in 2015. Over the second half of the season, though, James was much more comfortable in his new role. That said, he’s 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, and there’s that hint of Sean Taylor to his game. Yes, I know that’s a mouthful and Taylor was one of my all-time favorite prospects. Yet, if anyone reminds me of Taylor, it’s James. He’s a ruthless hitter and delivers a message every time he strikes but he’s a playmaker who can make plays rushing the quarterback, playing linebacker or covering receivers. If he’s fully healthy, he’s going to be one of the best true safeties in the NFL in a short time.
10. Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma (6-1, 216)
What is Mayfield’s biggest strength and how could that be his biggest weakness as well?
Mayfield thrives with a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder. He practically begs critics to say something negative, and keeps such comments and analysis on his phone to remind him of the haters. Many of his detractors have had to eat their words, but if he struggles early as a rookie, and odds are that he’s going to have some rough times, and the noise grows louder, does it erode his confidence? Does he start to believe that the critics are finally right? He’s confident and tough but will that overarching desire to prove them all wrong backfire?
11. Josh Rosen, quarterback, UCLA (6-4, 225)
What is the most underappreciated aspect of Rosen’s game?
Love of competition. In the opener of the 2017 season, Texas A&M wasn’t just putting a whooping on UCLA but the Aggies defense was putting a physical stamp on Rosen. Down 44-10 and seemingly beaten to a pulp, Rosen he led UCLA to an improbable 45-44 win over the Aggies. Question his love of football at your own peril but enjoy the burning desire to compete on a weekly basis.
12. Vita Vea, defensive lineman, Washington (6-4, 347)
Can Vea play on all three downs and would that separate him from fellow former Husky Danny Shelton?
Yes. In his final campaign at Washington, Vea rushed from a defensive end spot against tackles on third downs. Shelton was a true nose tackle, a two-down, run-stuffing nose tackle, but that’s all he’s ever going to be. Vea is as athletic a big guy as we’ve seen on either side of the ball in a while. As a result, he can rush on third downs from a few different positions, which instantly separates him from Shelton. Notice that I put defensive lineman as his position and not nose tackle. He’s clearly more than just a 3-4, two-down nose tackle like Shelton.
13. Josh Jackson, cornerback, Iowa (6-1, 192)
Can Jackson’s length and ball skills overcome his lack of blazing speed?
Take one look at his one-handed interception against Ohio State and tell me no. Look, he’s not a 4.32 burner like Denzel Ward but his length and ball skills make up for that. Furthermore, Jackson read and undercut routes with the confidence of a cat burglar. He ran 4.52 at his pro day, which won’t win any medals, but his length makes up for that a bit, even if he has to take some educated risks in coverage.
14. Da’Ron Payne, defensive lineman, Alabama (6-2, 311)
If Payne shows up every week, every down, what is his ceiling?
Watch Payne in the national championship game against Georgia and tell me he can’t be a Pro Bowl regular. He’s not as dynamic as Ndamukong Suh (Rams) or as quick as Gerald McCoy (Bucs), but he’s powerful and agile for a man of any size. There were times when he disappeared in games at Alabama, but when the lights went on for a big game, Payne turned up his effort and production followed. He can be one of the top interior players in the NFL, if he desires. It’s that simple, really.
15. Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville (6-2, 216)
If Michael Vick is right, why is Jackson consistently listed as the fifth of the five potential first-round quarterbacks?
Vick said that Jackson was a spitting image of himself and a much better passer. So why hasn’t he gotten the hype and respect that Vick received when he entered the NFL in 2001? First, only one other quarterback in Vick’s class deserved it, and that guy was only 6 feet tall, some guy named Brees. As such, Vick was really the only legitimate option. As his career progressed, teams feared Vick’s playmaking significantly more than they feared other quarterbacks as dropback passers. Yet, here comes Vick’s spitting image and some want him to move to receiver? Did the NFL not learn anything over the past decade? It’s always been a playmaker’s position and Jackson can certainly do that running and throwing.
17. Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming (6-5, 237)
Is it just the inaccuracy or is there something more missing?
Watching Allen completely miss a throwing net on a simple quarterback pocket drill from 15 yards away at the Senior Bowl was alarming. Yet he rebounded, improving every day, including a sterling performance in the Senior Bowl. What he didn’t see at the Senior Bowl, though, were exotic coverages and schemes, some of which he saw at Wyoming. Consequently, he struggled in those situations. His immense physical skills helped save some of those plays as he scrambled away from rushers/blitzers. However, had he just thrown to his check down or checked the protection, he would’ve created even bigger gains. Saving plays after an incorrect, or poor, read worked at Wyoming but he won’t get away unscathed in the NFL.
17. Isaiah Wynn, guard/tackle, Georgia (6-2, 308)
Is Wynn the most versatile and complete offensive lineman in this draft?
Quite frankly, he’s the best offensive lineman not named Quenton Nelson in this draft, no matter the position. Throughout the offseason, it’s been widely discussed that Wynn will move to guard in the NFL. He played guard all week at the Senior Bowl and dominated, even though he had a torn labrum suffered in the last few weeks of the season. That said, I’m not convinced that he shouldn’t get a crack at tackle, considering the dearth of options. Like Wynn, former Georgia star Cordy Glenn was a tackle in college, destined for guard in the NFL. Then the Bills drafted him and kept him at tackle for his entire stint in Buffalo before trading him to Cincinnati. Wynn is a better player than Glenn so there’s a chance Wynn could stay at tackle and be a star. Then again, if he moves to guard, he’ll be a star there, too.
18. Marcus Davenport, edge, Texas-San Antonio (6-6, 264)
How long will it take Davenport to truly blossom into a player?
In the draft world, the word “project” ranks right up there with the seven words George Carlin said you couldn’t say on television. At the Senior Bowl, it was clear that Davenport could turn it on and off, seemingly whenever he wanted. The light really went on for him during a two-minute drill on the last day of practice and continued into the game. His length is problematic for offensive linemen and his athleticism allows him to rush the quarterback in varied ways. If he turns it up to max volume every day, he won’t be a project long. If not, he’ll be a project long into his rookie year.
19. Harold Landry, edge, Boston College (6-3, 252)
Did Landry reach his ceiling at Boston College?
It’s easy to think that because Landry was productive, when healthy, and doesn’t have quite the upside of, say, Marcus Davenport, he’ll be limited going forward. That’s erroneous thinking because Landry seemingly has just scratched the surface of being a complete pass rusher. In college, he often won with speed and a rip under to get the quarterback, but if he can expand his tool kit, he’s going to be a star off the edge for a while. Von Miller was similar coming out of Texas A&M. He was so fast that he ran around offensive linemen with ease, but as he adjusted to the NFL, he was forced to become more of a technician. As Landry learns to adequately use his hands at an NFL level, he’s going to be difficult to keep out of opponents’ backfields.
20. Derrius Guice, running back, LSU (5-10, 224)
Why is Guice a better overall option than last year’s No. 4 pick, Leonard Fournette?
Fournette will be a Pro Bowl running back in due time but there’s nothing fancy or cute about his style. It’s demanding and it’s punishing and it’ll take a toll on him. He doesn’t make anyone miss and took more than 300 hits on more than 300 touches in 2017. When he got runway or a sliver of space, his speed took over and he made some long run highlight plays. Teams won’t allow him to run against six or even seven in the box much longer. Guice, on the other hand, can make defenders miss as well as power through them, running angry as he noted at the combine. He said that he looked up to Marshawn Lynch (Raiders) and that’s evident when watching Guice run. He’s also blessed with enough wiggle to get to the second and third level without powering through two or three defenders like Fournette. Guice’s style is less demanding and he’ll be a better receiver out of the backfield as well. Fournette will get the early glory as he did at LSU, but Guice will carve out a strong career following in the footsteps of his hero, Beast Mode.
21. Will Hernandez, guard, Texas-El Paso (6-2, 327)
What NFL player(s) come to mind when studying Hernandez?
Marry the assets/liabilities of Mike Iupati (Cardinals) and Richie Incognito (formerly of the Bills) and voilà, it’s Hernandez. He probably would’ve thrived in the 1980s/1990s NFL when the run game was the focus of most offenses but he’ll still succeed in this nouveau riche, fancy NFL. He’s a mauler at the point of attack and like Incognito, he has a love for on field violence.
22. Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Boise State (6-4, 256)
How damaging are the recent reports of Vander Esch’s health/medicals?
Draft analysis has ramped up exponentially over the past decade but no one in the media is privy to the most important information — medical reports. All 32 medical staffs examined every single prospect at the combine and no personnel decision is made without their significant input. Consequently, those teams all look at a player’s injury history differently. Case in point: former UCLA all-American Myles Jack. He was a potential top five pick in the 2016 draft, yet concern about a potential arthritic knee scared plenty of teams. As a result, he was a top five pick all right — in the second round. Yet all he’s done is help transform Jacksonville’s defense into the scariest monster this side of John Krasinski’s silence-seeking beast. How Vander Esch’s neck injury is perceived by teams is going to be a story worth watching, but we won’t really know whether teams have taken him off their boards until draft night. Vander Esch’s agent has emphatically denied any issues, stating that he was not asked for further follow-up tests at the combine. On the field, Vander Esch is a 256-pound heat-seeking missile who has his best football in front of him … if he’s healthy. Or, better put, if a team thinks he’s healthy.
23. Taven Bryan, defensive tackle, Florida (6-4, 291)
Is his lack of production at Florida alarming?
Detractors will certainly point out his lack of flashy stats and numbers. He finished the 2017 season with only six tackles for a loss and four sacks in 11 games. Yet, there were times in his junior campaign when he thoroughly dominated up front. Take the Texas A&M game as an example. He was credited with 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Since sacks count as tackles for a loss, he wasn’t credited with any tackles for a loss on run plays. However, he was nearly unblockable throughout that game and lived in the A&M backfield throughout the night. His quickness and burst off the ball are nearly without peer in this draft class and a team looking for a disruptive force should have Bryan in mind.
24. Courtland Sutton, wide receiver, SMU (6-3, 218)
Why is he the top receiver on your board?
Sutton gives me a Julio Jones (Falcons) vibe, given his size and ability to run away from secondaries with ease. The first time I saw him I immediately thought of Julio and the impact his size, speed and athleticism have had on the Falcons’ offense. Sutton isn’t as dynamic, but he has similar physical assets and wins in the passing game in a similar manner.
25. Sony Michel, running back, Georgia (5-11, 214)
Is NFL offensive rookie of the year Alvin Kamara an apt player comparison?
Saints coach Sean Payton took one look at Kamara last offseason and knew he had to have him. As a result, the other 31 teams now crave a “Kamara-type.” Enter Michel. The ability to impact both the run and pass games in an explosive manner is similar, even though Michel is a better runner and Kamara a better receiver. A slippery running style, mixed with a dash of power when needed, defines both players. The conflict they impose on second-level defenders in the passing game is similar as well. Kamara complemented incumbent Mark Ingram; Michel did the same with Nick Chubb at Georgia and will do that as well in the NFL. Consequently, the comparison is more than apt.
26. D.J. Moore, wide receiver, Maryland (6-0, 210)
Can Moore realistically play both inside and outside?
No question. Moore was one of my favorites to watch in 2017 and he’s as complete as any receiver in this draft class. Size, Strength. Ability to embarrass defensive backs with speed after the catch. Tough. Physical. Fast. He’s an outside receiver that can transition inside when needed. DeAndre Hopkins (Texans) does the same thing. So does Antonio Brown (Steelers). Moore will be a receiver that can play X or Z or transition into the slot easily and that makes him an attractive option late in the first round.
27. Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Alabama (6-0, 189)
Is his lithe frame a concern at the next level?
It wasn’t in the SEC against some of the most physical defensive players in the nation, but it is at this level. It’s not breaking news that NFL press corners have gotten stronger, longer, faster and even more physical over the past eight to ten years. Small receivers aren’t going to get off the ball against Jalen Ramsey (Jaguars) or the Rams’ cornerback duo. Ridley is quick in and out of his breaks and his releases are top notch, but he’s going to be in a physical battle every single time he lines up on the perimeter. Now, he may move permanently inside to the slot at some point and if teams anticipate that, it’ll impact his current draft stock.
28. Nick Chubb, running back, Georgia (5-11, 227)
Now fully healthy, can Chubb be a true three-down running back?
At Georgia, Chubb didn’t have to be on the field much on third down because his Sony Michel was the consummate third down option. So teams will have to forecast what he can do versus using prior history. His freshman season at Georgia he did have 18 receptions before Michel became more a part of the offense and stole the show in the passing game, so to speak. Worst case, Chubb is going to be a factor in the screen game and if he can master pass protection early in his career, there’s little question that he can be an all-around, three down back.
29. Dallas Goedert, tight end, South Dakota State (6-5, 260)
Are his speed (he hasn’t run a 40 this offseason) and blocking concerns enough to keep him out of the first round?
For the teams that think so, would they want a younger version of Travis Kelce (Chiefs)? Of course, they would. How much does Kelce actually align as an in-line Y-tight end? Not often. Goedert was similar at South Dakota State. He aligned in nearly every pass catching position possible and caught everything thrown his way. He was asked to block infrequently but was willing to get physical. Let’s be clear, though: He’s going to be overmatched a bit in that realm as a rookie, but there are few in the league that can match his receiving acumen. The mismatches that he creates in the passing game are more valuable than his ability as a run blocker.
30. Connor Williams, tackle/guard, Texas (6-5, 296)
Williams has guard dimensions but is he the best tackle option in this draft class?
The underlying question is whether Williams is indeed a tackle. He weighed less than 300 pounds and had the shortest arms of all the linemen at the combine. The lack of size wouldn’t be concerning if he wasn’t susceptible to power off the edge. He doesn’t play with a ton of pop in his pads and that would be a worry at guard. That said, his pass protection technique/footwork is excellent. For a tackle. That’s his best fit at the next level.
31. Mike Gesicki, tight end, Penn State (6-5, 247)
Can he block anyone effectively enough to play in-line or is he a permanent move tight end?
Quick, name the best blocking tight end in the league? I’m not going to wait for you because we’ll be here all day. Consequently, there’s tremendous value in being a move/flex tight end in this new world NFL. The tight end position has evolved in a such drastic way over the past seven or eight years, in particular, and a tight end’s ability to run block takes a back seat to his contributions in the passing game. If Gesicki is put in a position to have to block the edge in the running game a majority of the time, he’s certainly not being utilized in a proper manner. Like Goedert, he’s more Travis Kelce (Chiefs) and Zach Ertz (Eagles) than he is an old school, hand-in-the-dirt tight end. As such, certain teams with a tight end need don’t make sense for Gesicki. For example, the Jacksonville Jaguars need a tight end, but it’s clear that the Jaguars want to build the offense behind Leonard Fournette, the offensive line and the running game. If the Jaguars take a tight end at No. 29, that guy is going to be asked to block the edge often and do it well. On the other hand, if the expectation is for Gesicki to team with a true Y-tight end in two tight end sets, flexing out to exploit matchups in the passing game as a big receiver, then he makes a lot of sense at No. 29.
32. Ronald Jones, running back, USC (5-11, 205)
Did his demeanor off the field in the offseason hamper his first-round prospects?
He certainly didn’t do himself any favors, but all it takes is one team to fall in love with the next Jamaal Charles (formerly of the Chiefs). He has Charles-like explosive abilities and that may outweigh any off the field damage.
33. Hayden Hurst, tight end, South Carolina (6-5, 250)
Are any teams concerned with his age (25)?
The NFL seemingly gets younger every year. The days of the Jason Wittens and Larry Fitzgeralds (i.e. players playing 12-plus years) are more than likely over. Certain teams may not want a player at his physical peak, while some may want a grown man (like Hurst) at a key position like tight end that can contribute immediately. The word “potential” doesn’t really apply for a guy who’s five years older than last year’s first round tight end selection, David Njoku (Browns). Whereas Njoku still has room to grow physically and mentally to get where he needs to be a quality player in this league, Hurst does not. He must be a plug-and-play prospect at age 25. Thankfully, Hurst is that type of player, possessing glue sticks for hands and a nasty on-field temperament.
34. Rashaan Evans, linebacker, Alabama (6-3, 232)
Should there be concern about Evans’ speed?
The NFL has turned into a space and speed game, so there should be some concern about Evans’ straight line speed. However, he reads quickly and reacts accordingly, which gets him to the football in a hurry. Furthermore, Evans has the ability to rush the edge on third down, where his quickness presents issues for pass protecting tackles and tight ends.
35. Jaire Alexander, cornerback, Louisville (5-11, 192)
Did missing significant time this year hurt his draft stock?
His absence took him out of the public eye heading into the combine, but when he ran 4.38 at his size, he jumped back into the first-round conversation. He’s confident and when healthy, he made plays I didn’t see other cornerbacks able to make.
36. James Daniels, center, Iowa (6-3, 306)
The Hawkeyes’ starting center toiled in anonymity for a team that only beat one ranked team during the season. The two-year junior starter didn’t even earn first-, second- or third-team all-Big Ten honors in 2017. He declared early, catching analysts off guard, but it was the right move. He has physically strong hands and controls defenders in pass protection when he has hands on them. He’s strong as an ox, quick off his snap and excels in zone game running responsibilities. If his name is called Thursday night, it won’t be surprising.
37. Christian Kirk, wide receiver, Texas A&M (5-10, 201)
Will Kirk play exclusively inside?
For some reason, being labeled a slot receiver is some sort of slap in the face but that’s where Kirk thrives. He was still a deep threat as he often ran slot fades or post routes from that inside position. That’s the difference Kirk provides from the slot. More than likely, he’ll get matched up on a slot corner or a safety and he can exploit those cover guys repeatedly. So, yes, he should play inside, alongside an established No. 1 outside receiver, and should catch 75 passes or more in the process as a rookie.
38. Kolton Miller, left tackle, UCLA (6-9, 309)
Is he the next Nate Solder?
Well, he certainly looks like Solder, that’s for sure. When I first saw Miller on film, Solder immediately came to mind. Similar height/weight dimensions. Similar outstanding combine testing results. Both from the Pac-12. Neither were maulers entering the NFL but were more technical in their approach to the position. Solder parlayed seven strong years in New England into the richest contract for an offensive tackle in the NFL when he left for New York. Miller does need to improve his overall core strength so he doesn’t get run over by NFL edge rushers. His athleticism, combined with a lack of overall depth at the left tackle position, will ensure that he’s a first-round selection.
39. James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State (5-11, 213)
What is the right situation for Washington to flourish at the next level?
Heading into the Senior Bowl, I knew without hesitation that Washington could fly. He was a deep ball waiting to happen at Oklahoma State. He exploded past defenders in the Big 12 and then he did the same thing at the Senior Bowl. He made plays in the deep passing game every week he stepped on the field. Then, he got to the combine and ran a rather pedestrian 4.54 in the all-important 40-yard dash. That complicated his analysis for some, but given his deep ball tracking skills, smooth speed and big play ability, he’s an immediate deep threat for an NFL team. It won’t be the volume of catches, but the quality of catches, that’ll define Washington’s early career in the NFL.
40. Maurice Hurst, defensive tackle, Michigan (6-2, 292)
Why is Timmy Jernigan (Eagles) valuable to consider in reference to Hurst?
When Jernigan came out of Florida State, his draft profile was nearly identical to Hurst’s. Many saw Jernigan as a surefire first-rounder, but I worried that he didn’t have scheme versatility. He needed to be a 3-technique in a 4-3 or a situational interior pass rusher on third down. He’s quick upfield and disruptive, but not going to play well enough off blocks to dominate inside and play in a two-gap system. Hurst is similar. He’s as quick off the ball as Taven Bryan but if he didn’t win with quickness off the snap, he struggled. Against Ohio State, Billy Price and the Buckeyes guards presented a ton of issues for Hurst. Using Jernigan as a reference point, Hurst should be a solid second round pick, at the latest, and if he ends up in a 4-3, he’s got a chance to be much more productive than Jernigan.
41. Mike McGlinchey, tackle, Notre Dame (6-8, 309)
There are rumors McGlinchey could go in the top 10; why is he listed so low in this Top 50?
McGlinchey is a solid player but not top ten material. In a year when a Trent Williams (Redskins) or a Duane Brown (Seahawks) were in the mix, he wouldn’t be in top ten consideration. The desire for McGlinchey is more about the demand for a decent offensive tackle than it is for the player himself. He’s not a stiff, but his technique breaks down when facing speedy edge or speed-to-power converting pass rushers.
42. Isaiah Oliver, cornerback, Colorado (6-1, 190)
As a one-year starter, is there a concern about lack of playing experience?
No. The 2016 Buffs secondary was one of the most impressive groups in the nation with three players drafted overall. Furthermore, the two starting cornerbacks — Chidobe Awuzie (Cowboys) and Ahkello Witherspoon (49ers) — were taken in the first three rounds of the 2017 draft. When the Buffs played nickel, Oliver moved outside to cover the opponent’s best receivers, while Awuzie moved inside to the slot. Oliver moved into the starting lineup permanently in 2017 and starred, earning first-team all-Pac 12 honors. He’s long, smooth and fluid, possessing prototype NFL cornerback dimensions.
43. Sam Hubbard, edge, Ohio State (6-5, 270)
What does Hubbard do better than other edge players in this draft?
That’s a question that’ll be asked in plenty of draft rooms and, quite frankly, it’s why he’s lower on the top 50 than a productive, well-built edge player from a Power 5 conference school should be. There isn’t any one thing that’ll stand out about Hubbard’s game. He does a number of things really well, but he doesn’t have elite traits. He’s not a dynamic speed-to-power player like Joey Bosa (Chargers) or Nick Bosa (next year top five pick). He’s not a power end. Yet he’s smart and disciplined and plays his guts out on every play. He will be a solid Day 2 selection.
44. Carlton Davis, cornerback, Auburn (6-1, 203)
Size, speed and length are all there, is there something missing and what is it?
Given his dimensions and demand for corners of his size, Davis should be a rock solid first-round pick. He didn’t blaze the 40 at the combine, but 4.5 at his size is more than adequate. What’s missing, then? I loved watching him get physical with receivers and I even saw him drive receivers right out of bounds with one arm in press coverage. Yet when he missed the jam or was ineffective, he often lost a receiver in coverage. With space and separation, he struggled. If he hugged up on a receiver, he was like Velcro. If a team is going to ask him to play off or zone, it must understand his limitations outside of playing press man coverage.
45. Kerryon Johnson, running back, Auburn (5-11, 213)
What trait does Johnson possess that other running backs in this class may lack?
Patience. Johnson has an uncanny knack of staying patient on his runs until the exact moment where he bursts through to the second level. The Auburn offense really went into the tank when Johnson got injured late in the Iron Bowl win over Alabama. He put that offense on his back for most of the year and his patient running style was a significant reason he flourished and will again in the NFL.
46. Rashaad Penny, running back, San Diego State (5-11, 220)
Did a rough start at the Senior Bowl negatively impact his draft stock?
The first couple of days at the combine were rough for Penny. Yet when the lights came on Saturday afternoon in the rain, Penny lit it up. Had Penny not excelled over the final couple of days, perhaps there would be some concern that he was a one-year wonder. He started for only one year, but he led the nation in rushing with 2,248 yards. Once he got comfortable in Mobile, he showed the burst, speed and explosiveness in the run and pass game that put him there in the first place. Penny is overshadowed in this draft class by a superb group of running backs, but he is one as well.
47. Billy Price, center/guard, Ohio State (6-4, 305)
How has his biceps injury changed Price’s draft outlook?
Four reps into Price’s bench press testing at the combine, he racked the bar and immediately reached for his pectoral muscle. I remember thinking this could be bad; luckily, it shouldn’t keep the former Buckeye All-America from participating in training camp. That said, it has kept him from testing and showing the strength and power that exemplify his overall game. He loves to swap paint and maul defenders at the point of attack but his injury may force some teams to look in another direction. This is a deep interior offensive line draft class so teams may rationalize passing on Price but at their own peril. Price is a ten-year starter in the league, at either center or guard.
48. Orlando Brown Jr., offensive tackle, Oklahoma (6-8, 345)
Yes, really. Watch him play. Don’t watch him lift. Don’t watch him run a 40-yard dash. Take an in-depth look. He’s the son of the former NFL tackle of the same name and has an NFL game. It doesn’t always look pretty but he gets the job done. He doesn’t move with the swiftness of Tyron Smith (Cowboys) nor does he have the feet of Jason Peters (Eagles) but he has arms for days and he knows how to use them. He may not play left tackle, but he can play the position at the next level. Really.
49. Ronnie Harrison, safety, Alabama (6-3, 214)
Can he cover or is he just a box safety?
Harrison was a former high school quarterback but played a lot like a linebacker in his college days. When he played near the line of scrimmage, he was a heat-seeking missile and seemed comfortable in that role. However, when he played deep in coverage, he seemed comfortable playing half field zone coverage, reading routes and staying on top of the receivers. I do worry about him a bit in man coverage; then again, he’s not going to be matched up on receivers man-to-man much of that time, if at all. If he’s utilized as he was at Alabama, he’ll be a factor near the line of scrimmage on third down, blitzing or covering a running back or tight end. I would certainly not put a “just a box safety” title on him, but don’t expect him to be an Eric Berry or Earl Thomas coverage savant either.
50. Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State (6-4, 229)
Could he sneak into the first round?
It wouldn’t be surprising, given a first rounder’s rookie deal: four years with a team option for the fifth. If Rudolph is drafted in the second round, the team must put significant money on the table one year earlier. Some want to put him on the same level with the five quarterbacks projected ahead of him, but he’s not in that class. He has touch on his goal line fades and was accurate on the deep ball at Oklahoma State. But the throws that he needs to make in the intermediate areas of the field were concerning. Watching Bedlam 2017 (Oklahoma at Oklahoma State), it was clear that there was a gap between Baker Mayfield and Rudolph. Mayfield didn’t miss all day long and hit on numerous types of throws. Rudolph was inconsistent, dropping a dime on a deep ball for a touchdown, followed up with inaccuracy in the middle of the field.
John Harris contributes to The Washington Post’s NFL draft coverage. He is the sideline reporter and football analyst for the Houston Texans and owner of footballtakeover.com.