Cagen Cantrell presents his first big board of the year, with his current Top 50 prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft:
1. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
My love for Roquan Smith has transcended beyond potentially any prospect of the last couple of years. His athleticism, leadership, and most importantly his intelligence have him as a near perfect prospect. People will try their best to undermine his rare talents and peg him as “undersized”, but there have been many All-Pro inside linebackers with measurables aligning similar to his. Smith is on his way to receiving arguably the highest grade I’ve ever given.
2. Quenton Nelson, OL, Norte Dame
Quenton Nelson would’ve been a Top 5 prospect in 2016 as well, yet he found ways to add polish to the minute details of his game in 2017. He’s by far the best pass and run blocker in the class, and his strength and grit are essentially unmatched. No matter your opinion of the value of interior lineman early in the draft, there’s zero excuse for Nelson to not be a Top 5 draft selection.
3. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Immediately after the 2017 NFL Draft had concluded, I crowned Saquon Barkley my top prospect heading into next season. Now that next season has come and gone, Barkley drops down to number 3 because there are very small flaws in his game. Those minor flaws will be easily coached up in his first training camp. Other than that, Barkley is a rare talent, and he will have the same grade (if not better) than Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott coming out.
4. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
When I watch Josh Rosen; whether it be his freshman, sophomore, or junior season film, I simply see a completely tooled signal caller who is ready to be a starting NFL quarterback Day 1. While Rosen will need to refine his risqué decision making and his supposed ability to be “uncoachable”, he’s the guy you want to centerpiece your franchise around for the next decade.
5. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, North Carolina State
Bradley Chubb started off his senior season with the hottest of hands and never decided to cool down. He has everything you desire in an edge rusher: speed, length, strength, bend, and a plethora of rush moves. Chubb’s only knock is his weight as he’ll be around 270 pounds, which somewhat limits him to being elite in a 4-3 defense. That’s no major issue though, since I see Chubb as the next John Abraham.
6. Maurice Hurst Jr., DT, Michigan
Maurice Hurst is another guy whose alignment on a defense will be very slightly limited due to his weight. Hurst has all the tools needed to be an elite 3-technique at the next level. His ability to get inside penetration and be a disruptive force on any given play is going to make him a superb defensive anchor for many years.
7. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
One of the most intelligent, versatile, and complete players in the entire draft is Minkah Fitzpatrick. He’s capable of being an All-Pro at both safety and corner (with nickel being best position on the field). Fitzpatrick might have less room to grow out of college in comparison to Jalen Ramsey, but he’s going to be a difference maker Day 1.
8. Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Vita Vea is one of the most exciting guys to watch film on. His size matched with his athletic prowess and run stuffing talent is incredible. Vea is one of the many defensive tackles in this draft who are well developed already and will start on an NFL D-line out the gate. I expect him to be a consensus top 10 player after he shreds the Scouting Combine.
9. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
By now, I’ve well documented my affinity for Tremaine Edmunds’ upside. The 19 year old hasn’t even realized his full potential, and yet is still one of the craftiest players I’ve ever watched coming out of college. Edmunds could play any of the linebacker positions and his speed and frame helps separate him from any other LB in the class.
10. Derwin James, S, Florida State
Since Derwin James did not put up the ridiculous statistics or eye-popping highlights in 2017, folks have begun to write him off as one of the top players in the class. However, I beg to differ with the common notion among draft circles. I believe he’s still a top 10 prospect to draft. There is a concern with James’ lack of interception production, but his instincts will always make up for that and he’ll always have play-making potential. He’s one of those guys who are destined to be a great pro.
11. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
DBU will continue to graduate first round talent to the NFL with Denzel Ward in 2018. Ward is one of most complete cornerbacks to be part of a draft class in recent history. Though he can struggle to get his head around in 1-v-1 coverage, that’s just part of his aggressive and confident coverage style. He’s able to blanket receivers with his close out speed, so don’t be surprised if he posts one of the fastest overall 40 times at the Combine.
12. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Da’Ron Payne was already a first round talent throughout the season, but his dominance during the College Football Playoff (especially the Nat’l Championship) elevated him to the top of boards. He proved in those two games that he’s capable of making plays throughout the duration of a game. His strength and explosion off the snap give him upside to be both an elite run stuffer and pass rusher. As long as he keeps being consistent, Payne could be near the top of the league’s tackle for loss rankings on a yearly basis.
13. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Ever since Christian Kirk stepped foot in College Station as a 5-star high school prospect, he’s had the electricity to change a game’s momentum at any given moment. His speed is unmatched, his routes are precise, and his hands are natural. I don’t see him as being limited to playing in the slot either. Depending on what team snags Kirk in the first round, he could utilized all over the field; and he’ll see dynamism similar to Odell Beckham Jr.
14. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Rashaan Evans did a spectacular job stepping in the shoes of Reuben Foster and leading the Crimson Tide to another national championship. While I don’t see Evans comparing to Foster pound-for-pound as a pure talent, his athletic ability and hard hitting make him an immediate impact player. This inside backer class is proving to be as top-heavy as they come; so a team who needs the middle of their defense to be upgraded immediately might need to find a way a trade up for Evans before he gets crossed off the board.
15. Ronald Jones III, RB, USC
The Texas Tesla has hit the fast lane, and there is no looking in the rear view mirror. Ronald Jones III’s elite speed, elusiveness, and power aren’t even his single best quality as a runner. His best trait is his vision, and his manipulation over a defense with the ball in his hands proves he understands what it takes to be a bell cow NFL running back.
16. Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State
I suppose this will be the first “shocker” of the big board, but Sam Hubbard’s production while at Ohio State speaks for itself. He’s a technician of the position. His ability to shed blockers and always place himself in a position to make a play on the ball carrier are a huge nod to his football intelligence. He’s a bit limited athletically, but I believe Hubbard has one of the highest floors. He will be a consistent and productive edge rusher for the next 10-12 years.
17. Braden Smith, IOL, Auburn
Braden Smith was the undertaker of many SEC defenders during his time at Auburn. He has an amazing blocking skill-set in the run game; and while he might not be the most polished pass blocker yet, he has the technique and flexibility to be a durable hog in the trenches.
18. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Although injured throughout much of his junior season, Jaire Alexander is undoubtedly the best cornerback in coverage in the class. I’m sure he’ll receive a slight grade knock for his size (5’10”, 190 pounds), but his eyes control his body, which gives him a chance to make a play on every thrown ball or just to cover a receiver downfield. That eye control, lurking skill, and versatility to excel either outside or in slot, to me, is a cloning of Janoris Jenkins.
19. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Derrius Guice isn’t my RB2 as the general consensus would agree upon, but I’m still a huge fan of his style of running. Reason being, he plays like an old-school type of back. He runs with a low center of gravity, pushes his momentum downhill in the second level, and then delivers punishing contact to anyone attempting to tackle him. While I don’t feed into his potential “Dalvin Cook” similar testing at the Combine, I do believe that Barkley and Jones III will test much better. Nevertheless, there’s no legitimate reason that Guice should fall past the Lions at number 20 in the draft.
20. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Here we go, finally we have another quarterback. The significant gap between between Rosen and the other potential first round signal callers cannot be ignored. Baker Mayfield possesses the two top qualities I look for in quarterback prospects; confidence and field awareness. The real concern I have for Mayfield is his throwing base. The elongated base that he throws from could lead to issues with his accuracy at the next level. For a guy with his size at the quarterback position, he’ll need to perfect the fundamentals; but I believe he has the work ethic to master them.
21. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
“Mr. Interception” himself, Josh Jackson, is another fun guy to crank out film on. Jackson is extremely fluid and spacious in zone coverage, with the range and instincts to make a play on the ball at all times. I think he could use work in press man and flipping his hips on sharp routes. Jackson with his ridiculous 2017 production (8 INTs, 18 PBUs) possesses the most upside in the cornerback class.
22. Billy Price, IOL, Ohio State
The interior lineman class might be the most underrated group in the 2018 Draft, because it is filled with the great value from top to bottom. Unlike Nelson and Smith, who we’ve already covered in the rankings, Price will be a center at the next level. Price rarely makes mistakes, he’s strong and smart, and already brings extensive experience to the position, as he made a school record 55 career starts for the Buckeyes. That durability and sense of mastery makes him a another decade-long interior lineman in this class.
23. Jeff Holland, EDGE, Auburn
The more I was able to watch Auburn play in the big-time games, the more Holland made big-time plays. He’s a smooth criminal, as he can sneakily bend and flatten off the edge to get to the quarterback. Those pass rush traits play in his favor to his scheme versatility, as I could see Holland playing as either a 3-4 OLB or a 4-3 DE.
24. Uchenna Nwosu, LB, USC
If I had to chose one prospect who consistently rose to the occasion to elevate his draft stock, the first guy to come to mind is Uchenna Nwosu. Whether it was Western Michigan or Ohio State, Nwosu, with his high motor and great speed, always found his way to the ball. Not surprising, in 2017 he led the nation in QB pressures with 61. His most significant production will come from playing outside backer in a 3-4, but his sideline and downhill burst make him the FOOTBALL PLAYER you can’t afford to pass up on.
25. Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State
Moving forward with another guy who rose to the occasion with big moments in 2017, Michael Gallup shined against a stout Alabama defense, and rode that momentum to a wicked one-handed snag in the New Mexico Bowl. The former JuCo standout brings forth the best of both worlds to the wide receiver position. While he’s athletically capable to take the top of a defense, his technical skill-set makes him a possession receiver who can run the entire route tree.
26. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Back to everyone’s favorite scheduled programming, I present to you: Happy Feet. On a serious note, Sam Darnold does struggle with his footwork and his poise within a broken down pocket. On the flip side, Darnold has all the tools to be a successful quarterback in the league. If week one of the 2018 season started today, Darnold would not be ready to handle a pro defense; but he’ll hopefully he molded with his natural physical advantages to handle the pressure and dissect an opposing defense down the field.
27. Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Outside of Connor Williams, the next best offensive tackle in the class could vary widely. My personal pick is Kolton Miller, who isn’t getting the consistent draft love I would expect him to have. He’s a mauler in the run game, and has the upside to be an a tremendous blindside blocker. While there are issues with his kick step, his base and hand strength always appear to be consistent. He’ll be a day 1 starter at right tackle, and eventually will make the transition to be a grand left tackle.
28. Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
Ronnie Harrison was a guy who would be all over the field as a leading tackle collector one week, and subtlety disappear for the majority of the next game. I’m optimistic that won’t happen at the next level though, because Harrison will more than likely be drafted into a scheme where he can flourish as a box safety. He’s the hardest hitting safety in the class, but what makes his upside exciting is that he has flashes of becoming a free roaming center fielder. I see on many occasions the comparison to Kam Chancellor, but I see a bit of thunderous John Lynch during his prime Tampa days.
29. Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
With the revolution of the running back in full effect again across the league, teams are itching to find runner stuffing linemen to plug middle of the field. Those teams will be happy to know that Harrison Phillips can provide that help, as he’s an elite run stopper who is quick to find his way into an opposing backfield. The knock on Phillips is his frame. At 6’3” and 303 pounds he’s well below the average nose tackle, but he’s able to provide elite pass rush from the 3- or 5-technique. If he’s able to maintain explosiveness at that weight, he’ll be rising up my board.
30. Holton Hill, CB, Texas
If you don’t consider the off the field issues with Holton Hill, he looks like a clear-cut first round talent on film. Hill’s indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules is well noted, plus his multiple failed drug tests throughout his career. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles authority and guidelines in a professional environment. From a strict football standpoint though; Hill has the length, speed, and confidence to be a lock-down cornerback. If I am confident in any pro comparison for a prospect, it would pairing Hill with Jimmy Smith of the Ravens.
31. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Mike McGlinchey is a guy that I was very much intrigued with to begin the 2017 season. While he continued to be a tremendous factor in Notre Dame’s run game success, he struggled with athleticism off the edge from pass rushers. McGlinchey doesn’t have the worst hip flexibility, so there’s potential for him to improve his pass pro technique; but until then he’ll be limited as a right tackle.
32. Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College
It’s unfortunate that Harold Landry’s ankle injury has caused him to be a forgotten man in the draft, but none of us should forget his unbelievable showing in 2016. Out of the gate, Landry will probably struggle with polished NFL lineman (see: Notre Dame game), but Landry has the physical traits you typically bet on with a pass rusher.
33. DJ Moore, WR, Maryland
At 5’11” and 215 pounds, D.J. Moore is built almost like a running back. That certainly isn’t a knock either, because he is just like an electric ball carrier. Before he even receives the ball, Moore has some of the crispest routes you’ll see. In the right system, Moore will immediately see production in the slot and be an advantage mismatch against linebackers or even drop-down safeties.
34. Wyatt Teller, IOL, Virginia Tech
More interior linemen love, and Wyatt Teller is arguably one of the most deserving of it. I nearly drooled over Teller’s games against Pittsburgh and West Virginia. The Lawrence White Award winner (given to Virginia Tech’s strength and conditioning MVP) has outstanding movement skills, but yet still could earn a job as an IHOP cook with his many pancake blocks.
35. Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
As the general love for Taven Bryan continues to grow rapidly, I myself am becoming a steady fan. His incredible motor is plastered throughout his film, which gives him the opportunity to make his many flashy athletic plays. His technique and strength will have to be channeled by coaching to get consistent play-making from him, but Bryan is a guy to bank on his upside.
36. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
I understand I am in the minority of having a non-first round grade for Calvin Ridley, but hear me out. Yes, Ridley’s age of 23 going on 24 is to be noted, but it stems deeper than that. Ridley’s inconsistent hands and peculiar production give him a high floor and low ceiling. Exemplary of that high floor; Ridley looked like pro-ready receiver at Alabama, and a team will get a solid WR2 on a bargain of a rookie contract.
37. Mark Walton, RB, Miami
Mark Walton had an electrifying 2016, and began his junior year with an even bigger bang. Unfortunately his season was cut short early with ankle surgery. Walton has the chance to be what Alvin Kamara was this past season. He’s well-rounded with speed, agility, and balance, and contributes in the pass game as well. The injury prevented Walton from a first round grade, but he’ll be a tremendous value selection during some point of Day 2.
38. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
Being the son of a former NFL player, it’s interesting that Orlando Brown has only played organized football for six years. That amount of experience correlates with his rawness at the left tackle position. On the bright side, Brown brings forth moldable traits and comes from a program where offensive lineman are developed and ready to handle NFL education.
39. Armani Watts, S, Texas A&M
During the first three or four weeks on the season, Watts is one guy I kept watching and after each game I came away even more impressed. His athletic play making can sometimes make up for his shaky field awareness, but he’s always looking to fly to the ball at full speed. Watts is a prospect who I see unbelievable heights in his development, if under the right coaching.
40. Duke Ejiofor, EDGE, Wake Forest
Duke Ejiofor is an interesting study. For a guy with limited power, especially considering his 6’4” and 275 pound frame, Ejiofor is always finding his way into the backfield. That’s because he has fantastic technique and hand usage in his rush repertoire. He has a ton of upside for a defensive lineman; he can play off the edge with his speed, or down into a 5T or maybe even 3T with his leverage and technique off the snap.
41. Will Hernandez, IOL, UTEP
If you need any convincing to be a Will Hernandez fan, just watch his film against Texas (2016) and Oklahoma (2017). Hernandez is massive, posting at 6’2” and 340 pounds at the Senior Bowl. He’s a guy that when you watch film on him, you have to admire his field awareness and always looking for work on a play. Hernandez could be the best pure run blocker in the class.
42. Lamar Jackson, QB. Louisville
When it comes to evaluating Lamar Jackson, folks jump to conclusions of either rating him too high (next Mike Vick) or too low (no, he’s not playing wideout). I’ve been able to absorb both sides, and find my healthy median. Jackson has flashes of NFL signal caller talent, and his play-making ability is obviously unquestioned. However, his mechanical issues play a significant factor into his accuracy on passes outside the hashes. Another quarterback that simply isn’t ready to play week 1, but has the tools to become polished with patient development.
43. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
For Arden Key, 2017 could probably be considered a year worth forgetting. His abundance of injuries sustained through the year, plus his limited team interaction due to personal issues have pegged him with a red flag. Not to mention that when Key was healthy, he was inconsistent from play to play and looked uninspired. On the flip side, he has freakish athletic ability and looks like an NFL edge rusher. Teams will have to do their homework to determine if Key is worth the risk.
44. Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississipi State
Like many of the other left tackle prospects in this class, Martinas Rankin possesses both good and bad. He excels in his hand placement; once he’s able to lay his paws on you, there’s almost no chance of getting around him. The issue with Rankin comes before the contact, as he struggles with athletic edge rushers and is easy manipulated by rush moves. Although raw, Rankin has upside to play any position on the line if needed.
45. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
To the casual viewer, James Washington is written off because he’s “undersized” and “unathletic” for the wide receiver position. While it is noted that he isn’t going to take the top off a defense, his physical and technical skill-set are what’s going to earn him trust with his quarterback. He simply doesn’t drop passes very often. Side note: Washington is 5’11”, but posted a ridiculous arm length of 34 inches, similar to Michael Crabtree, who he plays a near identical style too.
46. Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin
While this year’s tight end class has more depth than people have actually given it credit for, it’s certainly one of the weakest in recent history at the top. There’s no clear cut TE1 among draft circles, but I came away very impressed with Fumagalli. He’s known for his success as a blocker, but he also runs deceptive routes and has strong hands to make all the catches whenever called upon. I also believe he’ll have the smoothest transition into a pro-style offense, due to Wisconsin’s underrated tutelage in producing NFL-ready talent.
47. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
Rashaad Penny throughout his career was one of the most underrated players in the entire nation. It even took myself a while to warm up to him. Once I was able to crank out his tape, I noticed that he’s the kind of workhorse running back that’s truly dependable. He’ll need to some work to earn himself snaps on all 3 downs; but much like Jordan Howard, he’s a guy you can give 25+ carries a game and he’ll average 4 yards a carry all the way.
48. BJ Hill, DT, North Carolina State
BJ Hill is one of the many Wolfpack faithful who will be drafted this April. When watching Bradley Chubb, you cannot ignore Hill’s ability to plug up the middle. He might not put up the prettiest stat line, but you can expect Hill to make an impact every game and teams will have to game plan specifically for him. Hill has been one of my biggest risers, and still has potential to rise with a strong Senior Bowl performance.
49. Da’Sean Downey, OLB, UMass
Speaking of risers, my highest riser, and the most surprising name in this ranking, is a guy most of you have probably never heard the name of before. Da’Sean Downey, at 6’3”, 240 pounds, has all the physical tools be a 3-4 OLB. I came away most impressed with his fundamentals, being from a smaller school. Downey looks adaptive and flashy on tape, and is already further ahead in potential development than many of the hyped-up edges or outside backers in the class.
50. Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan
Wrapping up the big board, I have to give ode to one of my favorite prospects in the 2018 class. Darius Phillips has proven to be an exciting play-maker in the many games I’ve watched of him. He’s sticky in coverage and while that does cause him to over-anticipate at times, his athletic ability helps him regroup. Size won’t be a huge issue for the former wide receiver either, because he has the dynamic ball skills (he’s a great returner as well) that teams will be drooling over.