NFL Draft Rankings: Ranking the Players I’ve Been Able to Watch
As with every year, the draft is a secondary focus for me. I won’t be firsting on any prospects because I don’t start watching players until two or three months before the draft itself. This year I was able to block out 90%+ of other opinions before coming to this class. This made it easier to get a clear, unimpeded view of each individual prospect.
It also means there will be some evaluations that don’t fall in line with the consensus. There are 50 players on the list below. I watched roughly 75 in total.
1. Josh Doctson, TCU, WR.
Doctson does it all. He’s a fluid mover in space with a wide catch radius that is highlighted by how the ball instantly sticks to him when it arrives. He can adjust to all types of throws, making him an accuracy-erasing receiver. Doctson will combine big plays with consistency working underneath against different coverages in the NFL.
2. Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss, OT.
Being concerned about Tunsil because of recent busts at the position is foolish. He’s not Greg Robinson, he isn’t an athletic projection who played in an offense that set him up for easy assignments. Tunsil is a great athlete and technician who can immediately be a staple piece of any offensive line.
3. DeForest Buckner, Oregon, DT.
It’s hard to find a player in the NFL with Buckner’s skill set. He is a massive body but carries his weight so well and plays so low that he doesn’t look it. Buckner should be a dominant force in the NFL as an interior rusher who will also swallow space against the run.
4. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame, LB.
5. Myles Jack, UCLA, LB.
Both Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack have significant injury question marks. Smith’s will hamper the early stages of his career while Jack’s threaten to hamper the late stages of his. Both are phenomenal talents who project as ideal inside linebackers in today’s NFL. Jack is more physical than Smith whereas Smith offers more range in space.
6. Jalen Ramsey, FSU, DB.
The positionless star of the FSU defense. Ramsey could be a cornerback. Ramsey could be a safety. If he’s a safety then he should become one of the best in the league from very early in his career. As a cornerback I have more concerns about how quick his feet are. Ramsey will be a valuable piece either way but where he lands will be key to determining how much of an impact he can have.
7. Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame, OT.
Stanley is an assignment run blocker and a great pass blocker. He may have obvious limitations at the point of contact in terms of moving defenders to create space, but his ability to mirror, recover and control in pass protection will more than make up for that.
8. Ryan Kelly, Alabama, C.
Kelly reminds me a lot of Weston Richburg. He’s an impressive athlete who will advance to the second level and take defenders out in space. As a center he won’t go close to this high in the draft but he could immediately diversify and upgrade any run game he is added to while offering stout resilience in pass protection.
9. Vernon Adams, Oregon, QB.
With quarterbacks, I am only going to draft a player who I am comfortable with in his current form. Adams isn’t like Carson Wentz, he isn’t just a physical canvas that needs to be developed into an actual quarterback. He has a skill set that can immediately be effective in the NFL if it is embraced. Chances are it won’t be embraced simply because he’s not tall. If it is, he should have a similar impact to Tyrod Taylor.
10. Shaq Lawson, Clemson, EDGE.
Lawson is the best edge defender in this class. He shows off the power and explosiveness to force his way through offensive tackles while being an aware and disciplined run defender. Lawson may not develop much further from this point but he should be a good starter from the beginning of his career.
11. Taylor Decker, Ohio State, OT.
Decker is more well-rounded than Stanley but Stanley gets the edge because of his superiority as a pass protector. Decker is primarily discussed as a right tackle prospect because of his value in the running game but his feet are quick enough to be trusted in pass protection on the blindside also.
12. Vernon Hargreaves, Florida, CB.
Hargreaves has the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He has natural movement skills with light feet and a strong lower body with the ability to play physical coverage against bigger receivers. Hargreaves also possesses impressive ball skills to intimidate quarterbacks.
13. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville, DT.
Although he won’t meet threshold requirements for many teams, Rankins is talented enough to make his shorter frame work in his favor. He’s a penetrating defensive tackle who can use his hands to work through blockers while combining strength and leverage to create balance while penetrating the pocket.
14. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State, RB.
Elliott will immediately be a quality starter in the NFL. He is the rare running back who is equally adept at everything he does. It’s why he is drawing comparisons to Ladainian Tomlinson.
15. Joey Bosa, Ohio State, DL.
The problem for me with Bosa is understanding where he fits. He’s too small to be an interior player in the NFL and he’s not explosive enough to come off the edge. Bosa should be a good player who can immediately offer value to whoever selects him but growth should be limited.
16. Andrew Billings, Baylor, NT.
Billings is a new-age nose tackle who can command double teams with ease while offering enough as a pass rusher to not be a liability. He isn’t an explosive player with his first step but can dominate blockers with his upper body strength.
17. Cody Whitehair, Kansas State, G.
Cody Whitehair has moved around a bit in college. He could possibly play tackle in the NFL but would make the most impact as a guard in a zone-blocking scheme. Whitehair moves with ease, showing off the control and precision to execute effective blocks in space.
18. Karl Joseph, West Virginia, S.
He has medical concerns coming off a torn ACL but Joseph’s talent is such that he should still go in the first round of this draft. He has the range, awareness and discipline to thrive as a lone deep safety in Cover-3 heavy defenses, with the physicality at the point of contact to negate any impact of his size.
19. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, DL.
Nkemdiche has a litany of off-field concerns that will impact his draft stock. On the field, he is a very promising player and that is what this ranking is based off of. Nkemdiche penetrates through gaps with ease, relying on his strength and balance to absorb impact from both sides. He can’t hold up against double teams but will be a nightmare to stop on zone runs.
20. Chris Jones, Mississippi State, DT.
Chris Jones is the prospect you seek out if you can’t land DeForest Buckner. He shows off outstanding strength and body control while forcing his way into running lanes and pushing the pocket from the interior. Jones will likely never be a great pass rusher but his value as an all-around player will be felt on every snap.
21. Mackenzie Alexander, Clemson, CB.
Alexander isn’t going to do too much for your run defense on the next level. He’s slow to transition from coverage to recognizing the run and isn’t going to work through contact. Part of his lax transition to run defense is playing in man coverage so often. That is where Alexander will earn his keep in the NFL.
22. Reggie Ragland, Alabama, MLB.
There are concerns about Ragland’s ability to play all three downs in the NFL. He is renowned as a dominant run defender who will get off blocks and crush ball carriers with consistency, but he isn’t going to turn and run downfield with tight ends or play man coverage outside. These are overblown issues because no linebacker should be expected to do more than be effective in covering underneath zones.
23. William Jackson, Houston, CB.
Jackson is a bigger cornerback who could very easily be the second defensive back off the board. He is an intriguing player who boasts enough body control and awareness to justify investing in his athleticism. He will need more development than Hargreaves and doesn’t boast a peak trait like Alexander but could become the best cornerback in this class.
24. Darian Thompson, Boise State, S.
It’s hard to watch Thompson and not be reminded of George Iloka. He’s not as big as Iloka but offers similar reliability and versatility while still being an oversized defender. Thompson doesn’t possess great range but he’s fast enough to be a very effective player if not overstressed in assignment.
25. C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame, RB.
26. Paul Perkins, UCLA, RB.
Prosise and Perkins are similar players to me. They have differences in terms of style. Prosise is a converted receiver who offers huge value in the passing game but is raw as a running back. Perkins is a more proven runner who also offers some value as a receiver but has question marks over his pass protection. Either way, both could develop into superstars.
27. Kevin Dodd, Clemson, EDGE.
Dodd is a polarizing player. His production was concentrated during his final season in college and he is considered a raw athlete despite his age. Dodd’s fluidity and balance to penetrate off the edge makes him an intriguing, even if flawed prospect.
28. Leonard Floyd, Georgia, EDGE.
Floyd is a weird prospect because he doesn’t appear to be an obvious fit as an edge rusher or as an off-ball linebacker. His tape isn’t impressive but his athleticism is attracting NFL teams. If he lands in a similar role to the one that Anthony Barr fills in Minnesota, Floyd could outplay this ranking with ease.
29. Keanu Neal, Florida, S.
Neal needs to play in the box in the NFL. He doesn’t have the discipline or range to play on the backend but can be an intimidating presence over the middle of the field. Neal may need to sit for a year to refine his technique, both at the tackle point and with his footwork in space.
30. Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech, DT.
Vernon Butler is a penetrating defensive tackle who shows off impressive movement skills for a player of his size. He plays with great intensity and can fluidity adjust to work through traffic from the inside.
31. Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky, EDGE.
Spence may never be a full-time defensive end in the NFL but his value as a pass rusher could see him make an immediate impact as a situational player from the beginning of his rookie season. Spence has major off-field concerns. He will fall in the draft because of those off-field issues but was likely never going to be a top-10 pick regardless.
32. Michael Thomas, Ohio State, WR.
If Thomas could catch the ball away from his body more consistently, he would be a top-20 prospect in this class. He has everything he needs to be successful, route running, strength, ball skills, but he too often relies on body catching to be effective. He can be effective that way in the NFL because of how he manipulates defensive backs but he will have a ceiling until he alters his approach.
33. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, WR.
Sterling Shepard is talented enough to play outside. Even if he’s not, who cares? Slot receivers are always on the field now anyway. Shepard is explosive with impressive ball skills and control in his routes. He will threaten defenses in every possible way regardless of where he lines up on the field.
34. Eli Apple, Ohio State, CB.
Stiffness is the concern with Apple. If he reaches his potential, he should be a reliable outside cornerback. A defender who can shut down sideline routes but someone who will struggle tracking receivers through sharp breaks. He is in the Vontae Davis, Jimmy Smith and Antonio Cromartie mold.
35. Su’a Cravens, USC, LB/S.
Cravens is the ideal candidate for the “chess piece” cliche. He will be used all over the field in the NFL, blending his role between linebacker and safety. His value will come in nickel packages when he can be tasked with doing a variety of different things in space.
36. Jared Goff, Cal, QB.
My approach to quarterbacks typically doesn’t lend itself to taking developmental options. I don’t think there is any point in picking a player who has more to do after being drafted than has done before being drafted when you don’t have a developmental league to put him in. While I would likely never pick Goff because I don’t think he will be a quality starter I can understand the attraction of him at this point.
37. Jonathan Bullard, Florida, DL.
Bullard is somewhat of a tweener, but that’s not a major issue if he lands in the right spot. He can be a situational pass rusher in the NFL, coming both from the outside and inside to be disruptive. Bullard would be an ideal addition to a team such as the Arizona Cardinals who could set him up for success.
38. Corey Coleman, Baylor, WR.
Corey Coleman is a lightning rod. It’s hard not to think of Tavon Austin in terms of how he plays, but Coleman is bigger than Austin so he should have more immediate success in the NFL. He’ll need to develop into a route runner and prove his consistency at the catch point against better defenders in the NFL.
39. Jack Conklin, Michigan St, OT.
Conklin is going to be overdrafted. He is this year’s Ereck Flowers. That doesn’t necessarily mean he will be a bad NFL player. Conklin just needs to find the right fit. If he lands in a run-heavy offense where he can play on the right side to focus on knocking people off their feet, he will have a long career.
40. Hunter Henry, Arkansas, TE.
Not a blocker. Not a mismatch receiver outside the numbers. Henry will have a very clearly defined role in the NFL as a slot-tight end. His ball skills are impressive and his movement is fluid. He will be able to consistently create separation underneath and on double moves while also being a threat down the seam.
41. Jarran Reed, Alabama, DL.
If Reed came out 10 or 15 years ago he’d be a lot more valuable than he is right now. He is Casey Hampton, a player who will dominate double-teams and eat up space against the run but rarely ever disengage to make tackles or penetrate as a pass rusher. Reed will have value, but that value is capped until he learns how to use his strength to generate power.
42. Will Fuller, Notre Dame, WR.
43. Laquan Treadwell, Ole Miss, WR.
Treadwell was the biggest surprise to me when I started watching draft prospects. Having witnessed what he did before breaking his ankle two years ago, I expected him to be a Dez Bryant-like prospect. A guy who would go in the top five and have no chance of falling outside the top 20. Unfortunately, that ankle injury appeared to sap his athleticism, preventing him from separating. Maybe it’s only a short-term issue, if it is he will be the steal of the draft, but if it’s not you have a narrow-skill set player who has to win at the catch point consistently to be productive.
He and Will Fuller are paired together because both have very clearly defined strengths and weaknesses. Fuller gets the nod above Treadwell because he will more easily create big plays. A Ted Ginn type of prospect.
44. Christian Westerman, Arizona State, G.
The NFL is relying on zone blocking schemes more and more. Westerman should be a perfect fit in a zone-heavy scheme but also has the violence in his hands and strength to be a puller in a power scheme. The question for Westerman is how strong is he in tight when he’s not the aggressor. Will he hold up in pass protection one-on-one or repel defensive tackles on short-yardage runs?
45. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech, RB.
This is a really good running back class and Kenneth Dixon could become a quality three-down back from his rookie season. He has a sudden burst with balanced feet and the vision to pick his way through traffic. My question with Dixon is about his ability to break tackles, is he powerful enough to run through NFL defenders or fast enough to run away from them?
46. Derrick Henry, Alabama, RB.
Behind a good-to-great offensive line, Henry will be an extremely productive back. He has impressive vision and breakaway speed to take advantage of space when he finds it. If he is asked to be a creative back and play behind a line that can’t create space for him behind the line of scrimmage, he will have major issues breaking tackles because he lacks quick-twitch fibres.
47. Braxton Miller, Ohio State, Gadget.
Braxton Miller is going to have to develop as a receiver. His routes look pretty but they take forever. There’s no value in getting open if you can’t get open in the timing of the play. Miller’s attractiveness extends past those vines of his routes from the Senior Bowl. He is an extremely elusive player in space and has some highlight plays where he shows off outstanding ball skills.
48. A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama, DT.
When you watch Robinson from the 2015 season you see a defensive tackle who is stuck in the ground. He looks heavy and laborious in his movement. When you look back to 2014 there is more explosiveness but he’s still not a hugely exciting player. Robinson will be a good lane-clogging nose tackle if he’s the 2015 version of himself in the NFL.
49. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech, CB.
You can teach a cornerback a lot of things, that doesn’t mean it’s realistic to expect that he will be able to learn those things but there are facets of the position that can be taught and those that can’t. One that can’t is how you transition your weight. Kendall Fuller is so light on his feet that changing direction and mirroring receivers comes naturally to him. Is he physical enough and aware enough to be effective in the NFL? That remains unclear.
50. Nick Martin, Notre Dame, C.
A powerful center who shows off a solid base when anchoring in pass protection and the strength to move bigger defensive linemen in the running game. Martin has quick feet to recover if initially beaten in tight but lacks the ideal athleticism to get out and work in space as a lead blocker. His lack of comfort advancing forward would hinder how creative the offense could be with screens.