With the college football season in the books, several All Star games completed, and the Super Bowl only one day away, we are approaching draft season at a breakneck speed. With so many players to watch and so much info to process, building a coherent Big Board ranking of prospects can be a daunting task. I put my first board together in December. From that day forward, I added at least one prospect a day to my watch list. Yesterday alone I added four prospects.
So please understand this is a fluid situation, and understand there will be late risers and fall offs once I work through the mountain of games/prospects on my list. I will note that I have watched at least 3-8 games on each prospect listed, so the evaluations are my own, not some amalgamation and re-ordering made off the hard work of others.
The combine will obviously deal the biggest shakeup to my board. Medical checks, drug tests, newly discovered character concerns; these can be death blows for a players stock. Right now we don’t have that information, and I’m okay with that. The Combine can be a House of Horrors or a Field of Dreams. You will see draft boards severely altered based on what happens in Indianapolis, and that’s why the rankings I’m creating now may be my favorite. This is evaluation in it’s most pure form, unaffected by the ugliness to come and the unbearable hype train flavors of the month.
So, without further adieu, the beginnings up my pre-Combine, pre-Horrors, pre-Hype Big Board. Today, we start with the top 10:
(1) Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M) – The best defensive prospect to hit the draft in years is the clear cut #1 overall. Garrett has the size and length you covet on the edge, along with the speed and bend to consistently get to the Quarterback. While not what he’s known for, he is a plus in the run game and shows the the ability to use his hands and length to stack blockers. Garrett’s 2015 battle against highly rated Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil is a fantastic introduction for those unfamiliar with this polished pass rusher.
(2) Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama) – The “Reuben Missile Crisis” may be the best LB prospect since the likes of Luke Kuechley and Patrick Willis. Foster has very good range and is a vicious, controlled tackler. For as instinctive as he is in the run game, Foster will struggle at times covering in space, but overall he boasts an impressive combination of speed, intelligence, and nastiness that teams will be salivating over.
(3) Jamal Adams (Safety, LSU) – Breaking the mold of thickly built safeties, Adams has surprisingly fluid hips and is explosive moving forward while also being comfortable moving backwards. He does his best work close to the line of scrimmage and has the skillset required to roll down to cover the slot or become an extra run defender. Adams has the swagger and talent that you build a defensive backfield around.
(4) Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State) – Teams looking to transform their running game will be giving Cook a hard look leading the to the draft, as he possesses the short area burst and long speed to become a serious home-run threat on Sundays. He consistently flashes the ability to create and could be dangerous in the passing game if he shows he can be trusted in pass pro. Detractors will point to his three shoulder surgeries since high school. How high teams view him in April will be largely dependent on the results of his combine medical.
(5) Malik Hooker (Safety, Ohio State) – The Hooker v Adams debate is likely to rage on through draft season, but don’t take the cheese, it’s as absurd as arguing Earl Thomas v Kam Chancellor. They are different flavors, with Hooker being the pure centerfielder with elite range and ballskills. Scouts will knock Hooker for his tackling as he tends to bounce off hips, but the needle is pointing way up for the one year starter that could be special as he continues to develop his game. Teams looking to follow the Seattle Cover 3 model would be wise to insert this ballhawk in their future plans.
(6) Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida) – In a class loaded with cornerback talent, Wilson may be the most complete in coverage of the bunch. Wilson possesses a 6’1″ 215lb frame with long arms and surprising quickness to turn and run with receivers in press-man. I won’t knock other cornerbacks for being specialists in strictly man or zone, but when a cornerback can do both at a high level, it brings added value. Wilson is physical throughout the route, which may lead to flags at the next level, but he possesses the athletic ability and won’t have to depend on being grabby when he puts it all together.
(7) Jonathan Allen (DL, Alabama) – The biggest question about Allen is where do you play him? The answer: it won’t matter. Allen has enough tools in his toolbox to play anywhere along the line and is one of the more technically gifted players you’ll find in this year’s interior class. Won’t bring as much pass rush juice as Stanford DL Solomon Thomas, but is a well-rounded piece teams will move along the line in different situations.
(8) Corey Davis (WR, Western Michigan) – If you’re down on Davis because he won’t run at the combine, don’t fret, just put on the tape. Davis has sweet feet, good speed, and the ability to separate with clean routes. He also brings a knack for YAC and a good feel for how to set up defenders on his first move. The former Bronco put up gaudy numbers this year and performed at a high level when facing stiffer competition. Davis could be the steal of the draft if Clemson WR Mike Williams is the first wideout to get his named called in April.
(9) Mike Williams (WR, Clemson) – If you follow me on Twitter (@MichaelJKist), you may have seen me post Williams videos, and you may have seen me enthusiastically proclaim “Mike Williams is a DOG” several times. The most physically imposing WR in this draft, Williams plays grown man football at the catch point and will drag defenders on his way to paydirt. I question his ability to separate consistently at the next level, but there is no doubt that he will find a way to get it done in tight coverage on Sundays.
(10) Solomon Thomas (DL, Stanford) – While the draft world tuned in to watch UNC QB Mitch Trubisky’s final game as a Tar Heel before entering the NFL Draft, it was Thomas who turned the draft community on it’s head. In one of the most dominating performances from any player last season, Thomas consistently flashed the ability to penetrate and flat-out get after it. His hype train didn’t end there, as word is he will test off the charts at the Combine. Thomas has the same question marks surrounding him as Allen, as scouts question where you can play him, but his pass rush upside will likely cancel out any of those concerns.