We’re now heading into the 3/4 mark of the 2017 college football season, and we seem to have more questions than answers regarding the 2018 NFL Draft compared to the start of the season. The hyped QB class hasn’t played well as a whole, and no one has run away from the pack as the clear QB1. While it seems everyone has a different QB atop their rankings right now, who has helped their cause the most this season?
Between Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph all vying for the Heisman trophy, that hasn’t done enough to declare any as the top QB in this year’s draft class.
While I touched on the QB class a bit, below I give my own personal risers and fallers at the offensive skill positions.
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) September 9, 2017
Riser: Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
Entering the season, I was one of the biggest critics of Lamar Jackson, although I never stated the blasphemy that he should make the transition to receiver. Of course I was aware of his Michael Vick caliber athleticism under center, but it was his accuracy, mechanics and overall diagnosis as a passer which shied me away.
Now at the midway point of the season, it seems as if the masses of #DraftTwitter are still split on the reigning Heisman trophy winner. Regardless of your stance, Jackson has made major strides this season. I was sold in the North Carolina game where Jackson completely dominated, but he also showed much improved touch, accuracy and ability to work through his progressions and make sound throws. As you would guess, his running ability was on full display as well. Jackson tallied perhaps the most dominant QB performance as he whipped the Tar Heels for 525 total yards and 6 scores with no turnovers.
It hasn’t all been good for Jackson this season, however. After an explosive start to the year with his Heisman repeat in full swing, Jackson has suffered against conference opponents in Clemson, North Carolina State and Boston College, all of which were losses. Still, Jackson put the team on his back and continued to produce at a high pace.
Now more than halfway through the college season, it’s safe to say Jackson’s stock has soared despite recent performance. He has shown far more than any of Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. If Jackson happens to be the first QB taken come April, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
Faller: Josh Allen (Wyoming)
It didn’t take long for Josh Allen to be dubbed as a #1 pick caliber prospect by Matt Miller and Bleacher Report. After a late emergence in the 2016 campaign, Allen stole headlines throughout the offseason. Between his rocket arm, imposing mobility and size, Allen had the look of a QB you build in a lab. However, you forgot some pieces.
I think as fans and an amateur draft analyst like myself, we typically assume players will progress. But as the great saying goes, development is not linear. Allen hasn’t shown much of anything this year, besides what we already knew was there in his physical traits. You could even make the case that he’s regressed.
While he has flashed at times this season, there have been far more bad reps. It’s clear that Allen hasn’t been able to pickup the ability to read the field and deliver efficient throws, and his short-intermediate accuracy hasn’t gotten any better.
Based on physical traits, Allen will likely find himself in the 1st round, if he declares for the 2018 NFL Draft. However, I’m not taking before the third round. There is far too much he needs to work on to warrant an early draft selection, but you don’t find many QBs with his type of potential.
Tennessee / Oak Park RB John Kelly went crazy on this run ⚰️ pic.twitter.com/62uZkN6dBa
— The D Zone (@TheD_Zone) October 15, 2017
Riser: John Kelly (Tennessee)
We all know the popular choice here is Bryce Love, but I’m going to go in a different direction. John Kelly has been clicking on all cylinders as he takes over the feature role vacated by Alvin Kamara. It seems like Kareem Hunt is the model comparison this year for mid round RBs, and while some names have been thrown around, Kelly is the closest we’re gonna get.
Kelly’s running style, similar to Hunt, allows him to get by on balance and power through contact. At 5’9”/212, Kelly runs with tremendous strength and forces a pile to bring him down. He may go overlooked with the top made up of guys like Barkley, Guice and Chubb, but he presents great value as a Day 2 back.
Tennessee has struggled mightily in the passing game, and Kelly has put the team on his back throughout the season. Currently Kelly sits as the 5th leading rusher in the SEC, a good chunk coming in Tennessee’s opening week win against Georgia Tech where he rushed for 128 yards and 4 TDs.
Kelly isn’t the most overpowering athlete, but he’s well-rounded in just about everything else, like Hunt.
Faller: Kalen Ballage (Arizona State)
On the latest Breaking the Draft podcast I referred to Kalen Ballage as the Josh Allen of the running back class. Before you drag me, hear me out. As touched on earlier, Allen has tons of upside based on physical traits, but needed a strong showing in 2017 before we all bought in. Ballage entered the 2017 season with a lot of hype, and understandably so. At 6’2”/227, Ballage possesses a rare blend of strength and speed. According to NFLDS, he runs in the high 4.4s.
During my offseason work, it was easy to recognize the potential and talent in Ballage. However, at the same time, it was easy to spot concerning deficiencies. Ballage striked me as a runner who runs with a lot of hesitation, and doesn’t have the viable vision where he can find holes and hit them head on.
As Dane Brugler put it on his recent podcast, Ballage looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane. I’m upset that I hadn’t thought about that before, because that is the perfect metaphor. Nothing about Ballage’s play this season has answered any question marks I had.
For you box score scouts out there, Ballage hasn’t eclipsed 80 rushing yards yet on the season and is averaging less than 4 yards per carry. Misutilization will always be an argument regarding Ballage, but he hasn’t progressed this season, and you could even say that his development has gone in the opposite direction.
Riser: Michael Gallup (Colorado State)
You can make a case for a few other players here. Anthony Miller for Memphis is arguably Biletnikoff Award favorite right now, and Utah’s Darren Carrington flashes every time I flip on the Utes. Auden Tate would be the obvious choice here, but he was already my WR1 entering the season.
Ever since watching my first game of the year where Colorado State handled Oregon State, I’ve bought into Michael Gallup. He dominated that game, grabbing 11 receptions for 134 yards while making a few impressive downfield catches. More importantly, he showed a complete tool bag. Between his nuances as a route runner, reliable hands, and downfield ability, Gallup struck me as a player with Day 2 skills.
RELATED: Michael Gallup Scouting Report
Since, Gallup has done every bit to fit the billing. He currently leads the FBS in both receptions (65) and receiving yards (1,006). In his most recent outing against New Mexico, Gallup was held to perhaps his most modest performance of the season managing just six catches for 58 yards on 16 targets. While the box score seems underwhelming, Gallup was creating consistent separation in his routes throughout the game, but his QB just couldn’t find him.
In a top heavy WR class, Gallup is one of my favorites in the upper mid tier. He checks just about every box and will be a longtime player on Sundays.
Start your day with some Antonio Callaway pic.twitter.com/yquy2bHP1a
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) August 16, 2017
Faller: Antonio Callaway (Florida)
I originally slated Courtland Sutton here, but I’ll save that debate for a different day.
With an off-field history as long as a toddler’s Christmas list, Antonio Callaway really needed a big year to put some of those concerns on the back burner–similar to the Joe Mixon situation this past draft. Well, for Callaway, there lies a problem–he hasn’t played a single snap all season long due to suspension.
During my offseason work, Callaway easily could’ve been in my WR1 conversation, if not for the character concerns. He has it all. Callaway blends quickness and speed tremendously well in his routes. He has the initial suddenness and precision to win with quickness in his footwork, then has the 2nd gear to jolt away at his stem. Callaway excels in all phases of the field and is lethal with the ball in his hands. A legitimate playmaker.
If Callaway plays this year, I think he solidifies himself as a 1st/2nd round player. However, with him not playing yet this season and a murky future, it’s very hard to judge where he would get drafted, if at all. Callaway is a Josh Gordon type talent, but he could also struggle to see the field at the next level as well.
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) September 1, 2017
Riser: Ian Thomas (Indiana)
Back in Week 1 on the big stage against Ohio State, Ian Thomas launched onto the scene. His efforts helped Indiana to hoover around an upset bid, although that fell short as the Buckeyes came out striking in the 2nd half. Still, Thomas made a name for himself.
Early in the game he made a spectacular TD catch where he tracked the ball overhead, adjusted his body and hauled in the throw right at the corner of the end zone. He would go on to score another TD a few drives later.
While he’s been dinged up a bit this season, Thomas has been productive and dominated against a tough Penn State defense. His 6’4”/248 frame certainly doesn’t go unnoticed, and he has the athleticism to match. Thomas has a basketball background, and that has been on display at points this season with his ability to “go above the rim” and snag tough catches–perfect for the red zone.
In a dull 2017 TE class, Thomas adds some flare on Day 3, or potentially higher.
Faller: Mike Gesicki (Penn State)
It was difficult to find a faller at tight end. I feel the position is difficult to evaluate. College tight ends aren’t traditionally the focal point of their offense with so many good players sprinkled around. With the lack of consistent utilization, it can be hard to judge the player. It’s a position that, to a fault, can be widely based on athleticism.
Perhaps the most hyped TE throughout the summer was Penn State’s Mike Gesicki. Early in my Summer evaluation of Gesicki it was easy to recognize that he wasn’t a premier talent at the TE position. For one, his athleticism isn’t even close to that of a 1st/2nd round TE prospect. He runs like a hobbled deer. Aside from that, his receiving skills and blocking are both average at best.
Gesicki can still provide value at some point on Day 3 based on his size and ability to box out defenders for contested catches, along with efficiency in the red zone. However, he’s not that 1st round guy like the early hype indicated.