The college football season is only three weeks in, but there are already plenty of things to be learned from the first month of games from a talent evaluation perspective. That’s not to say it’s early, which means that as NFL scouts and front-offices go through the ebbs and flows of the season so do we.
With that, it’s time to update our rankings, with some scouting notes and observations on who’s rising and one big faller on our Big Board as we update our preseason top 50.
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With that, here we go.
It would be easy to read all the takes that are out there and think this hyped 2018 class has fallen off since the season’s started, but that’s far from the case. Sure, no one’s been perfect and expecting that is simply foolish, pie in the sky type talk. Fact is we’ve seen some pretty impressive flashes from the quarterback class and that’s led to some rising names on our board.
Most of all, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, has bounced back from a turbulent and injury-riddled 2016 season to reposition himself as a contender to be the top signal-caller taken. Rosen hasn't always been perfect; he will still throw plenty of boneheaded picks and has plenty of offensive deficiencies to overcome on his team. Yet, Rosen has that “it” factor, he also has great footwork is already familiar with plenty of pro-style concepts and has flashed great accuracy in tight windows at all levels. He simply looks the part, and as we’re about to enter the conference schedule he’d be my top quarterback in the class.
A secret to no one, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is a phenomenal collegiate player, easily one of the best we’ve seen in the last 10 years. However, his NFL fit is more questionable, but Jackson’s doing his best to make it hard on NFL evaluators, playing spectacularly thus far and at this point having quelled concerns of him being more of an athlete than a QB.
Coming off his worst game against Clemson, Jackson still flashed the ability to operate from within the pocket and throw with good accuracy in tight windows. His arm isn’t the issue, his ability to be a more pro-style QB is, but he’s already made huge strides and is one of the biggest risers on our board (now firmly in the top 15). His talent is just too appealing and while it won’t be an easy transition for him to the NFL, it’ll be hard for the league not to pull the trigger on him in the first round. He's looking more and more like Michael Vick, though he might have a better head on his shoulders.
On the other side of Los Angeles, Sam Darnold’s been quite erratic, maybe even more so than he was a year ago. However, he’s flashed more high-end skills especially making throws on the run and with his deep ball accuracy. He still has tons of things to work on but Darnold is another player that’ll be hard to pass on come April if he keeps showing the peaks in performance that we've seen thus far.
Isaiah Oliver is the best cornerback no one is talking about
Buffs fans know Isaiah Oliver too well, but draftniks around the country are still catching up to Colorado’s star cornerback. Blessed with 6-1 size and track speed, Oliver came into the year with ball skills that shined in the Buffs biggest game against Washington State where he blanketed receivers deep, swatting anything that was thrown his way as if he was Dikembe Mutombo in his prime. He’s picked up right where he left off and been outstanding in the early part of the 2017 season as he already leads the nation in passes defended with eight and has two interceptions on the year.
It’s hard to argue there’s been a better draft-eligible cornerback in college football this season and he’ll have his biggest test yet with Dante Pettis of Washington this Saturday, a speedy receiver who’s making a case for himself as a top wideout in 2018. Once more people start paying attention, expect Oliver's star to rise in a hurry as he checks off every box you look for in a modern-day NFL shutdown cornerback.
A road-grader that would look nice in Denver
The biggest omission from our preseason positional rankings was UTEP left guard Will Hernandez who wasn’t even on our watchlist. A preseason All-American selection, Herandez was dominant in his matchup against Oklahoma in Week 1 of the season.
At 6-foot-3 and 330-pounds, he has a boxy build that won’t get NFL scouts too excited and is at his best in a power scheme which will limit his value. That aside, Hernandez is powerful in everything he does and he plays with a nasty edge destroying anything or anyone in his path. A truly elite run blocker, who also plays with great balance and a strong anchor in pass protection Hernandez is simply impressive.
Certainly, a name to keep in mind for the top 50 and one of the more fun players to watch if you enjoy seeing a real football player who wants to bury his opponent on every single snap. He'd look great in Denver adding to the Broncos tone setting nasty lineman up front. Playing guard opposite Ronald Leary he could be a fantastic addition to the line and create a bulldozing duo.
Josh Allen’s struggles against the Power 5
The quarterbacks in this class have had some notable performances, good and bad. One of which is Wyoming quarterback, Josh Allen, who’s started off the year with two tough tests that he and his offense have failed. Wyoming opened the year playing Iowa on the road and Allen looked like he’d made an effort to play more within the pocket flashing some nice power but also inaccuracies, in a lopsided loss.
After an easy win against Gardner-Webb, Allen faced Oregon at home this past weekend and it was a struggle. Seeing things live from the press box, it looked like Allen's receivers created little separation and he had close to no time from his offensive line. At the same time his accuracy and especially ball placement were frustratingly erratic - even in warmups, he was off with his touch missing some easy sideline throws against air. Even his accuracy on his deep ball, usually a strength let him down against the Ducks defense.
It’s hard to say if his processing is slow or if he just had no time but he needs to be quicker in his decision-making. He also needs to avoid mistakes that come from trying to do too much and forcing things, which led to his one interception and another two fumbles against the Ducks.
In fairness to Allen, he did have some flashes (as he always does) with three throws that particularly stood out. Only one was caught and that’s probably the problem, he’s not getting much help at all from his offensive playmakers, meaning this entire season could be a struggle for him. Especially if his receivers can't finish off big time throws in scrambles on the run.
More than a bad performance against a clearly better opponent, the concern with Allen is there doesn’t seem to be much progression especially in improving on the weaknesses of his game. Against Oregon he was clearly at his best on the run or on scrambles, he’s flashed the ability to stand tough in the pocket and deliver darts but that accuracy needs to become more consistent, which starts with his lower body mechanics.
It’s important not to overreact to one game, likely the worst of his career, no matter how closely observed but it’s impossible to ignore these continued ups and downs. Allen’s talent is undeniable and is sure to get him drafted very high like so many others before him (Jake Locker anyone?), but for our top prospect coming into the year, he’s now dropped to about where Rosen was to start the season the early teens. Now the pressure will be on to step it up and do his thing in Mountain West play assuming the offense can improve.
Time will tell, but Allen already seems to be fighting an uphill battle and if the consistency doesn't pick up he'll be a very risky selection.