As of this weekend when the NFL’s annual Draft Combine will begin it’ll officially be full on Draft season, which means lots of your team’s future could be determined this upcoming week. While the Combine is a very useful tool in having standard data for all the top prospects in a class. It can also be overblown sometimes elevating inferior football players due to their perceived athletic upside – just being able to run in a straight line doesn’t necessarily translate to actual football athleticism for example – while some of college footballs best get knocked down due to poor testing.
The question of upside over actual production is one that will forever be debated in all sports but it’s always at the forefront during the Combine week as we often disregard who players are now becoming enamored with what they could be.
Because of all that it’s important to offer up our first positional rankings for this 2017 NFL Draft class. To have a baseline going into the Combine of who are the best players based off of what we know now – meaning the actual tape and games played over their entire collegiate careers.
The rankings below are a top 10 at every position though there are clearly classes that would merit top 20’s while others are a struggle to even find 10 guys to get excited about, that’s partially why some honorable mentions are lengthier than others.
The two positions with the least amount of prospects in our top 100 are at quarterback and the two offensive line positions with four a piece. The deepest position is by far cornerback with an outstanding 19 prospects in the top 100, followed by the edge rushers who have 15 representatives in the 100. Running back, safety, and wide receiver are also incredibly deep.
It’s worth mentioning that the positions below are listed somewhat uniquely, but done so in a way that issues with scheme don’t occur. We’re listing linemen as interior and exterior on both sides of the ball and linebackers who would play as 4-3 backers or inside in a 3-4 get grouped with the linebackers while 3-4 outside linebackers who are more of the pass rushing types are categorized with the edge rushers.
There are also some versatile players in this group who appear in two different positional rankings.
Note an asterisk (*) next to a player’s name denotes an off-field red flag that’s affecting the players stock. In most cases, the player would be ranked higher if not for some big time character question marks.
Here are things as they stand now.
The top four is pretty closely grouped with a massive drop off afterward. Watson and Trubisky have more NFL ready skills today and more importantly better consistency on tape while Kizer and Mahomes have immense upside. Given the steep drop off after that top tier we could see all four get pushed up higher then they deserve in a relatively week quarterback class, especially in depth.
Webb, Kaya, and Kelly have all shown flashes throughout their careers and at points were considered to have upside similar to if not higher than Mahomes. Inconsistencies for Webb and Kaya have plagued them, while Kelly has been too risk prone on the field and is a risk for teams picking him off the field.
Liufau had a big time season in 2016 and has the NFL physique but the inconsistent accuracy and poor performance at the Senior Bowl have plagued his stock – not to mention the injuries that have started to pile up.
Peterman and Rush project as backups with Peterman having a better physical and athletic upside while Rush would be well suited in a West Coast offense. If only six players are drafted that wouldn’t be surprising.
1. DeShaun Watson, QB, Clemson
2. Mitch Trubisky, QB, UNC
3. DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
4. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
5. Davis Webb, QB, Cal
6. Brad Kaya, QB, Miami
7. Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado
8. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss*
9. Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh
10. Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan
Jarod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
Trevor Knight, QB, Texas A&M
C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa
This is a phenomenal running back class. The best we’ve seen in a long time. Kamara didn’t make the top 10 but he’s in my top 100 above many other players in these rankings who crack their positional top 10’s.
The top three are all special talents that should merit first round selection and as many as eight could easily go in the top two rounds based on their talent, though considering the depth teams could wait a bit long to take their backs forcing some to drop a bit.
Lesser known players like Mack and Williams make up for their lack of notoriety with NFL ready physiques and skill sets. Watch out for Brian Hill who runs with excellent patience, creates yards after contact and is a load to bring down.
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
3. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
4. D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
5. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma*
6. Curtis Samuels, WR/RB, Ohio State
7. Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson
8. Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida
9. Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU
10. Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo
Matthew Dayes, RB, NC State
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Joe Williams, RB, Utah
Davis and Williams have become the consensus top two, with Williams being the more physically imposing of the duo and Davis being the more well-rounded wideout. Both merit first round selections and should go in the top 20 barring any setbacks from now until April.
Things open up after that with lots of players stacked up in the same group, and the Combine will help create separation. You have slot guys in Samuels and Switzer, big bodied types like Smith-Schuster, Dupre, Brown, and Cannon and also speedsters like Ross, Westbrook, Stewart and Jackson. Pick your flavor and you’ll have options.
Watch out for Stewart who isn’t the biggest name due to Alabama’s focus on the run but he always showed up for the Tide when they needed him and he’s blistering fast. At 6-foot-1 204-pounds he could be a big riser in Indy. Adoree Jackson is an interesting case and might be best suited for a Tyreek Hill type role than on defense, his return skills are incredible.
This group might not have many superstars but the number of potential starters and early contributors is significant.
1. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
2. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
3. Curtis Samuels, WR/RB, Ohio State
4. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
5. John Ross, WR, Washington
6. Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma*
7. ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama
8. Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
9. Adoree Jackson, CB/WR/PR, USC
10. Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina
Malachi Dupre WR LSU
Chad Hansen, WR, Cal
Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina
Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State
K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor
This tight end crop promised to be loaded once Howard, Engram and Butt didn’t declare for the 2016 Draft but as other notable talents have shined this past season there’s an embracement of riches at the position now.
The biggest riser from the 2016 season is Njoku who’s vaulted himself into the first round conversation and could go very high if his Combine testing matches up with the freakish athleticism he showed on tape.
Engram and Hodges are fantastic receiving tight ends who should also show well in Indy. Then there are the small school types who’ve become all the rage in Everett – who measured out on the small side at the Senior Bowl but is no fun match up against defensively as a receiver – and Shaheen everyone’s favorite DII player. Shaheen is massive weighing over 275-pounds and listed at 6-foot-6, if he runs decently he could be a huge riser.
Hikutini isn’t talked about much but he’s another move tight end who could be a dangerous offensive weapon. Brown has some off-field and injury baggage teams will have to become comfortable with but his size and ability as a receiver make him very appealing.
1. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
2. David Njoku, TE, Miami
3. Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss
4. Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech
5. Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
6. Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama
7. Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
8. Cole Hikutini, TE, Louisville
9. Pharaoh Brown, TE, Oregon*
10. Adam Shaheen, TE, Ashland
Jeremy Sprinkle, TE, Arkansas*
Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International
Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo
Darrell Daniels, TE, Washington
Interior Offensive Line
This interior linemen class isn’t spectacular but it’s also far from disastrous. Lamp was a high level left tackle at WKU and had a fine showing against Alabama’s front seven, but a lack of length will force him inside where he should do nicely – particularly if moved to center. Moton has the size of a tackle and has played right tackle at WMU but his best position in the pros might just be inside at guard. Regardless his versatility will go a long way for him as he might also impress int he athletic testing.
Feeney has injury questions (concussions) that might scare teams away, but the tapes solid, while Pocic is also solid but could be best suited as a guard than center where his size would work best for him.
Johnson is a big guy with some movement skills who might get pushed up higher because of his athleticism. Elfin would have been a top prospect on the interior last season but decided to come back and had a bit of a down season with the rest of the Buckeyes o-line.
Siragusa and Asiata are two names to keep an eye. Siragusa’s tape isn’t that far off Feeney’s with maybe some more mobility. While Asiata plays on a fun offensive scheme to watch and is great as a pulling guard.
Orlosky is a sound center prospect and Mama has some size and strength to bring to the table. While there aren’t necessarily exhilarating talents all these guys at least project as NFL starters – barring injury concerns.
1. Forrest Lamp, OG/OC, Western Kentucky
2. Taylor Moton, RT/OG, Western Michigan
3. Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
4. Ethan Pocic, OC, LSU
5. Dorian Johnson, OG, Pittsburgh
6. Pat Elfin, OC, Ohio State
7. Nico Siragusa, OG, San Diego State
8. Isaac Asiata, OG, Utah
9. Tyler Orlosky, OC, West Virginia
10. Damien Mama, OG, USC
Alex Kozan, OG, Auburn
Dan Voltz, OC, Wisconsin
Danny Isidora, OG, Miami
J.J. Dielman, OC/T, Utah
Johnny Caspers, OG, Stanford
The top three is a clear cut above the rest with the next three being in a tier of their own and having the upside to merit fairly high picks thanks to them playing premium positions. Even then the top six is made up of lots of guys who ultimately might project best as right tackles or even guards.
After the top six Johnson and Davenport offer some intriguing upside but will also be big projects. Watch out for Eluemunor the Aggies right tackle who received a little buzz lately. He moves fairly well, is mostly technically sound and can do some damage in the run game. As a right tackle or even guard he could have some staying power in the NFL and might impress at the Combine.
1. Ryan Ramczyk, LT, Wisconsin
2. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
3. Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
4. Antonio Garcia, OT, Troy
5. Taylor Moton, RT, Western Michigan
6. Dion Dawkins, OT, Temple
7. Rodrick Johnson, LT, FSU
8. Julie’n Davenport, LT, Bucknell
9. Jermaine Eluemunor, RT, Texas A&M
10. Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pitt
Chad Wheeler, OT, USC
Erik Magnuson, RT, Michigan
Andreas Knappe, RT, Uconn
Dan Skipper, OT, Arkansas
Interior defensive Line
The 2016 class of interior linemen was fairly spectacular, 2017 isn’t at that level but the group isn’t bad and particularly at the bottom of the list there’s a decent amount of depth.
Allen and Thomas aren’t perfect fits on the interior. Both are ideally suited as 3-4 ends but could also find roles in 4-3 with creative coordinators. As long as they’re allowed to attack gaps and hunt in the backfield they’ll be special players. Same goes for McDowell though he’ll have a few more questions regarding his character and consistent play on-field.
After that, the group drops off a bit but don’t sleep on Jones who has immense upside nor Adams who tore up the Senior Bowl and is a great interior penetrator. Johnson is also getting some buzz thanks to his penetration skills and he’s also fairly stout against the run. Brantley’s a bit more complete than those guys and has some big fans amongst some in the scouting community. Same could be said about Wormley, who’s long, tough as nails and seems perfectly suited in a 3-4 front as an end.
Tomlinson appears here after a nice Senior Bowl showing confirming himself as the top nose tackle prospect in the class. Qualls is a fun watch as he’s a 300-pound bowling ball who has some nice mobility, shows real skills in shooting gaps and is even rushing the passer as a stand-up edge at times.
1. Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
2. Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
3. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
4. Jarron Jones, DT, Notre Dame
5. Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn
6. Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
7. Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa
8. Chris Wormley, DE/DT, Michigan
9. Devin Tomlinson, NT, Alabama
10. Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA
Nazair Jones, DT, UNC
Charles Walker, DT, Oklahoma*
Davon Godchaux, DE/DT, LSU
Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson
Outside edge rushers
Garrett is the consensus no. 1 pick and for good reason. He’s the full package at a premium position. McKinley is still underrated now but could make a big jump if his athleticism shows up in tests the way it did on the field in 2016.
Williams will have lots of questions to answer off the field but his unique burst and ability to get after the passer should still keep him drafted fairly high. Barnett and Charlton are other ultra productive players in this group that should merit first round selections.
Lawson and Harris could also if Lawson’s medicals check out while Harris needs to show that he’s more than just a speed rusher.
Don’t sleep on the small school talent Rivers who was aces during the Senior Bowl week and possesses some electric get off the line. J.J.’s brother T.J. also makes an appearance. He’ll definitely be an interesting name to keep an eye on in Indy as his quick burst makes him appealing in combination with a great motor and some developing well rounded skills.
Even the honorable mentions are full of players who could contribute early on and be factors rushing the passer as professionals. A great class.
1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
2. Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
3. Takkarist McKinley, EDGE, UCLA
4. Tim Williams, OLB/EDGE, Alabama*
5. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
6. Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
7. Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
8. Charles Harris, EDGE, Missouri
9. Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State
10. T.J. Watt, EDGE, Wisconsin
Ryan Anderson, OLB, Alabama
Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio
Devonte Fields, OLB/EDGE, Louisville
Dawuane Smoot, EDGE, Illinois
Daeshon Hall, DE, Texas A&M
Vince Biegel, EDGE, Wisconsin
Jordan Willis, EDGE, Kansas State
Foster is one of the better interior linebacking prospects we’ve seen in a few cycles and could threaten to go very high in the first round. Cunningham is also in the first-round mix and could be a star if used the right way.
Davis has suffered through some injuries this season but has an exciting skill-set and fun tape to watch as he’s omnipresent and plays all over the field.
Reddick is one of the big risers of the entire draft class after showing the skills to play off the line and be a complete linebacker at the Senior Bowl – on top of confirming his skills as an edge rusher. He should be a lock in the top 50 picks at this point.
After that top four things drop off some though there’s still plenty of talent. Taylor is a personal favorite who wasn’t invited to Indy but flashes every time you put Houston’s tape on. Similar to underrated stud Jatavis Brown who was drafted by the Chargers in 2016 he could outplay his draft position early in his career.
Walker, Lee, and Vallejo all have nice movement skills and could be three down players in this league. Valuable commodities.
1. Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
2. Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
3. Jarrad Davis, OLB, Florida
4. Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple
5. Raekwon McMillan, ILB, Ohio State
6. Ryan Anderson, OLB, Alabama
7. Steven Taylor, OLB, Houston
8. Anthony Walker, WLB, Northwestern
9. Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State
10. Tanner Vallejo, OLB, Boise State
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, OLB, Tennessee
Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida
Duke Riley, LB, LSU
Skai Moore, WLB, South Carolina
Paul Magloire, SS/LB, Arizona
Our deepest group by a landslide in a very deep draft class as is. The top seven should all be in the first round mix and there isn’t much separation amongst them, meaning the athletic tests could make a big difference.
The Combine could also elevate some of the other players in the class and add to the group of first round hopefuls.
There’s just an abundance of talent even after the top tier guys. If you want a slot corner you have some fantastic options with Lewis, Kazee, Awuzie, or Elder. Or if you want size on the outside the choice is yours with King, Tankersley, the other King, Witherspoon, Douglas and Moreau.
Just a phenomenal group that will suit the need of modern NFL teams who can’t get enough cornerbacks these days.
1. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
2. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
3. Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
4. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
5. Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
6. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
7. Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
8. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
9. Kevin King, DB, Washington
10. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State
Adoree Jackson, CB/WR/PR, USC
Chidobe Awuzie, DB, Colorado
Desmond King, CB, Iowa
Ahkello Witherspoon, CB, Colorado
Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia
Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
Corn Elder, CB, Miami
Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee
Not quite at the level of the cornerbacks class but these safeties aren’t messing around either. Hooker and Adams are rare talents with top 10 type ability and are perfectly suited for the modern game. With prototypical profiles for a strong and free safety (Adams and Hooker respectively).
Peppers can play all over and is a very interesting test case, but based on his athleticism, size and versatility should go very high. Baker is a great playmaker and just phenomenal in the slot, reminiscent of Tyrann Mathieu.
After the top four talents who could all go in round one, the class doesn’t drop off much with still lots of potential starter talent. Jackson might have been in the top tier if not for an injury that ended his season early and Melifonwu might just get elevated to that point before this is all said and done thanks to his massive upside.
The two CU players are very different with Thompson being a perfect free safety type with nice range and ball skills, will Awuzie could be used in ways similar to Baker.
Maye’s been a hard hitter in the SEC for a little while and likes to get in the action flying all over the place, while Evans has some big upside but needs to play with more of that abandon that Maye has.
Even the honerable mentions promise to have some highly coveted players. Another impressive defensive class.
1. Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State
2. Jamal Adams, SS, LSU
3. Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
4. Budda Baker, FS, Washington
5. Eddie Jackson, FS, Alabama
6. Obi Melifonwu, S, Uconn
7. Tedric Thompson, FS, Colorado
8. Chidobe Awuzie, DB, Colorado
9. Marcus Maye, FS, Florida
10. Justin Evans, FS, Texas A&M
Marcus Williams, S, Utah
John Johnson, FS, Boston College
Xavier Woods, FS, Louisiana Tech
Nate Gerry, S, Nebraska
Jonathan Ford, FS, Auburn