When it comes to fandom and the NFL Draft, we all want that flashy playmaker, that player who just ran a 4.3 at the NFL Combine, even though we didn’t know that player existed before he turned on the jets in Indianapolis. Something I feel that goes overlooked, and a question we should ask ourselves when evaluating the top prospects, “Can this player be a franchise cornerstone?”
What exactly do I mean by franchise cornerstone? Cornerstone: something that is essential, indispensable, basic. To translate into football lingo, I’m talking about longevity, reliability and playmaking ability all wrapped into one prospect. Someone who could be the face of your franchise for the next decade. Below I compiled the top 10 players in this class I feel fit that mold.
Before we get into it, let’s look at how it breaks down by position:
- QB: 4
- RB: 2
- DL: 1
- EDGE: 1
- LB: 1
- DB: 1
- WR: 0
- OT: 0
As you would expect, QB reigns supreme here, making up nearly 50% of my top 10. The man under center plays the most glamorous position in all of sports, along with the most critical. Still, the player who commands the offense and touches the ball on every play holds the most potential to be your franchise player. Even in recent years we’ve seen guys like Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick, among others, look to be franchise players.
Breaking down the RB position is easy. Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice both hold All Pro potential at the next level and are perhaps the best 1-2 punch we’ve seen at the position since the 2005 NFL Draft. Shoutout to fellow BF writer Cagen Cantrell who made that comparison on the latest episode of the Breaking the Draft podcast.
On defense, we see one player from each position group–all of whom are likely top 10 prospects for me this year. We’ll start with the Alabama tandem. Rashaan Evans and Minkah Fitzpatrick are likely to land as my top two defensive prospects in the class. Vita Vea is a rare specimen with mammoth size but the athleticism of a FB. Bradley Chubb just cracked the list, beating out a couple players you’ll read about shortly.
Looking at the positional breakdown, you may come away surprised with no appearances from a WR or OT. Regarding the WR class, I’m a big fan of the talent pool. However, I don’t view Calvin Ridley or even Auden Tate (my top 2 WRs) as a franchise cornerstone. As for OTs, the “big three” all face big questions marks. Connor Williams looks like a stud, but he suffered a devastating knee injury back in Week 3 and hasn’t seen the field since. Although, he is set to return this week. Mike McGlinchey has been underwhelming this year and Orlando Brown faces serious questions marks whether or not his feet can hold up against speed rushers at the next level.
Before you were quick to jump into the comments or @ me on Twitter, I wanted to say my piece. Without further ado, I present to you my Top 10 Franchise Cornerstones in the 2018 NFL Draft:
*Disclaimer: This is not based off my overall big board or prospect rankings of any kind, although there could be correlations
- OT Connor Williams (Texas)
- G Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)
- LB Roquan Smith (Georgia)
- S Derwin James (Florida State)
10: Bradley Chubb – EDGE – North Carolina State
Potential Landing Spots: Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This was a difficult position to slot someone in at and I found myself debating for a good bit. It came down to Bradley Chubb, Derwin James and Quenton Nelson. As generational of a prospect as Nelson is at the G position, the positional value is always going to be a knock, and it’s rare to see an offensive linemen serve as a franchise cornerstone. I was tempted to place Derwin James here, but his game has been inconsistent this season, and I feel Chubb is the safer pick.
As far as the EDGE class is concerned, Bradley Chubb has been the biggest riser this season and perhaps has solidified himself as the top EDGE in this class. While he’s not close to the level of a Myles Garrett, he is a solid overall prospect with a high floor. Chubb owns a full toolbox when it comes to beat offensive linemen. He is an advanced technician with his hands, possesses the speed and bend to win around the edge and can win with his bull rush. He also has the production to back it up with 42.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks over the past two seasons.
As I touched on, Chubb is expected to be the top EDGE drafted in this year’s draft, but he’s not a Myles Garrett. To compare, I expect him to share a similar career path to Carolina’s Charles Johnson. No, Johnson wasn’t a first round pick. However, he has been a staple in Carolina’s intimidating front 7 for nearly the past decade. Johnson has three seasons with double-digit sacks and 67.5 on his career. Good enough to be considered a franchise cornerstone? Depends on who you ask.
9: Vita Vea – DL – Washington
Potential Landing Spots: Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins
If there’s a prospect I’ve seen during my short time evaluating NFL Draft prospects, Washington’s Vita Vea is the closest you’ll get to Haloti Ngata, just a more athletic version. Vea is one of my favorite prospects in the class, my undisputed top DL and a top 10 overall prospect.
At 6’4”/344, Vea possesses extremely rare movement skills for his size. A former high school RB, Vea has reportedly been recorded at 4.8 in the 40 yard dash. A 334 pounder running a sub 5-flat is unheard of. Vea isn’t just a rare combination of size and athleticism, he is a phenomenal football player as well. He’s explosive off the ball with advanced hand usage and brute strong to toss offensive linemen out of his path. If you need one word to describe Vea, that would be ‘disruptive’.
Many expected Vea to declare for last year’s draft where he likely would’ve been a 1st round pick. Instead he returned to UW in hopes of getting back to the College Football Playoff. Now, he has top 10 potential. Vea, like Ngata, may not always stuff the stat sheet, but his impact and versatility along the line will do wonders at the next level. He’s a reliable player who will do the dirty work up front and open up things for the guys behind him. Remember how dominant those Baltimore defenses were with Ngata up front? He made it easier for Ray Lewis to do his job. Vea will have a similar impact in the NFL which makes him a franchise cornerstone.
8: Josh Rosen – QB – UCLA
Potential Landing Spots: Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers
The most polished and technically sound passer in the class, Josh Rosen is also the most underappreciated QB in the class. UCLA has suffered a poor season and Rosen’s supporting cast has been less than abysmal. On a weekly basis you’ll see him endure numerous dropped passes and an offensive line that gets beat like they stole something.
Don’t let Rosen’s poor supporting cast distract you from the talent he is. Aside from his graceful mechanics, Rosen has an NFL arm–he’s dropped plenty of dimes this season. While he may not be as flashy as a Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold or Lamar Jackson, I don’t think it’s a stretch to tab him the safest QB prospect this year.
While he may not possess the extra dimension, or pizazz of other QBs in the class, I could see Rosen’s career take the Eli Manning route. He’ll post five-six very good years, but aside from that provide top-half QB play. Rosen has the makings of a winner at the next level. As long as he has some playmakers, and a top 10 defense built around him, I could easily see him ending his career with a couple rings, just like Eli Manning.
7: Derrius Guice – RB – LSU
Potential Landing Spots: Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins
Entering the year I was a Barkley > Guice guy, and while I’m still in that boat, it’s a lot closer now. While Barkley tops this list, I’ve been debating on who’s more efficient as a pure runner. I’m not sure on the exact stat, but Barkley noticeably gets tackled for negative yardage more than Guice. Now this isn’t a Barkley vs Guice article, so go read that here.
Guice has missed a couple games this season and has only been playing at full strength as of late, and he’s been as good as advertised. You’ll rarely see Guice go for negative yardage on any given run–he even looked good running the ball against Alabama as he carved out 100 total yards. Then this past week he drops a season-high 147 rushing yards and three scores against Arkansas.
Like Barkley, Guice is also a rare specimen but not quite as gifted athletically. Guice is extremely fluid to be considered a bigger back. He’s a nasty, violent runner with tremendous strength and leg drive and can be relied upon to tough out positive yardage. While we haven’t seen much of a receiving sample size in college, he has potential as a three down back. Guice will be productive in the NFL and a guy who will tote the rock 25 times per game and make the most of that volume, which makes him a potential NFL cornerstone.
6: Lamar Jackson – QB – Louisville
Potential Landing Spots: Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets
If Louisville was actually good this year, I think Lamar Jackson would be getting the Baker Mayfield hype. In the debate with Mayfield, Jackson could be the most fun player to watch in this year’s draft class. Yet, there still lie non-believers who declare he transitions to WR.
While Jackson may not be as polished as a guy like Mayfield or Josh Rosen, but his upside is undeniable. Every week he puts the team on his back and posts video game numbers. If there’s another Michael Vick out there, Jackson is the guy. The element he adds with his feet gives him elite dual threat potential.
I’ll admit that I was skeptic entering the year regarding Jackson’s passing mechanics, accuracy and touch. He has improved vastly in all three areas, although he still has some work to do, but the progression is encouraging. Jackson is a world class athlete playing QB, with an improving arm. The sky is the limit for him. Starting QBs with his skillset have franchise cornerstone written all over them.
5: Minkah Fitzpatrick – DB – Alabama
Potential Landing Spots: Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It seemed everyone was on the Derwin James bandwagon throughout the offseason, but there’s a new sheriff in town. Minkah Fitzpatrick has blown up this season in an expanded role. While a predominant corner in year’s past, Fitzpatrick has transitioned to safety this year in order to maximize Alabama’s capabilities on defense. Along with his duties as a base safety and nickel corner, you can also see Fitzpatrick blitzing from the box or setting contain on the edge. He could be the most versatile player in this year’s draft crop.
When I say Fitzpatrick could be the most versatile player in the class, it doesn’t mean he just lines up all over the defense, but he excels in every role that’s asked of him. Fitzpatrick is a stellar athlete with tremendous movement skills, elite route anticipation and playmaking ability. You don’t believe me? Just watch him last year against Arkansas where he accumulated a hat trick of interceptions.
Of all the prospects in the class, Fitzpatrick could be the most trendy at the moment. Despite your views on a DB’s positional value, Fitzpatrick has been mocked as high as #1 in some recent mock drafts I’ve seen sputter on the Twitter feed. Fitzpatrick will make an impact all over an NFL defense, and could be in-line for multiple Pro Bowls at the next level.
4: Rashaan Evans – LB – Alabama
Potential Landing Spots: Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts
Year after year Alabama routinely recycles star defensive talent, and yet I would make the argument that Rashaan Evans is the best defensive prospect during Nick Saban’s tenure; and yes, Fitzpatrick is in the conversation as well. Evans recently suffered a “painful” groin inury, but hopes are that he could return for the College Football Playoff. Evans flashed last year in a limited role, and he has broken out while starting as a senior.
Listed at LB, Evans would even land towards the top of my EDGE rankings. The Crimson Tide love to utilize him as a pass rusher and he flourishes. As twitchy as they come, Evans is explosive off the snap with relentless speed and bend off the edge. Out of the 2nd level, Evans is a devastating blitzer who is always around the ball whether he’s defending the run or the pass.
The hype hasn’t quite been there for Evans, but he’s a guy who will blow up on the national stage, assuming Alabama qualifies for the College Football Playoff. With the athleticism he’s displayed, he’s likely to cement himself as a top 10 pick come April. Evans is locked in as a top two defensive prospect for me, and lands as my top defensive cornerstone.
3: Sam Darnold – QB – USC
Potential Landing Spots: Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, USC
My top QB entering the season, it hasn’t been all good for Sam Darnold in his first full year as the starting QB down in Los Angeles. Darnold generated #1 overall pick hype after he took over as the starting QB a few weeks into the season and flourished. He put the stamp on what was one of the best season’s from a USC QB with his incredible comeback victory in last year’s Rose Bowl against Penn State.
The traits are there for Darnold, as is the demeanor–the most important aspects you look for in a potential franchise QB. I believe many are being too impulsive by knocking him. Let’s remember, Darnold is only 20 years old. His best football is still ahead of him. Not many QBs possess his combination of strength and elusiveness as a runner. Mix in his raw arm talent, ability to make plays off script and sky high upside, Darnold has the most potential of any QB in college football right now.
While it’s likely that Darnold returns to Los Angeles for another season, which is probably best, that doesn’t deny his potential as a franchise QB at the next level, and as a franchise cornerstone. He has the attitude and potential to be the face of an NFL franchise.
2: Baker Mayfield – QB – Oklahoma
Potential Landing Spots: Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos
I’ve always been a big fan of Baker Mayfield, but I never expected him to blowup in this fashion. Now looking like the Heisman favorite and perhaps the top QB in the draft, he tops my list among QBs as potential franchise cornerstones in the NFL.
Even counting his days at Texas Tech, Mayfield has always excelled at taking care of the ball. Except his playing style could be described as “reckless”; two brands that typically don’t go hand in hand. Still, Mayfield pulls it off. His ability to create and keep plays moving are reminiscent of Pro Bowl QB Russell Wilson. Along with that, Mayfield has improved his accuracy year by year and is arguably the most accurate passer in this year’s class.
Mayfield’s image, moxie and ability on the field make him the top franchise cornerstone at the QB position in this draft. He has recently drawn comparisons to both Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. While it’s sometimes difficult to compare college prospects to Hall of Famer caliber players, Mayfield looks to fit the bill.
1: Saquon Barkley – RB – Penn State
Potential Landing Spots: Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers
Dubbed the top overall prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft back in October, Barkley’s hype train has silenced a bit due to some silent games here in November. Regardless of what the haters (on Twitter) say, Barkley is still very in the conversation as the top prospect in the draft, and my top franchise cornerstone.
First let’s talk about what makes Barkley so rare. A man that sits at 5’11”/225 shouldn’t be able to move how Barkley does. Over the Summer Barkley was #1 on Sports Illustrated’s Freaks List. Barkley has reportedly dropped his 40 time to the low 4.3s and has broken a school record, held by former draft pick Anthony Zettel, for the power clean recorded at 405. Barkley has also repped the squat at 525 pounds.
Barkley has rare size, speed and strength which he showcases every Saturday. Along with instincts as a runner, elite elusiveness and top tier receiving ability out of the backfield, Barkley is arguably the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson. His dynamic playmaking ability as a runner, receiver and returner, plus athleticism makes him the top cornerstone in the 2018 NFL Draft.