The college football regular season is in the books. For many, that's the official start of draft season, but if you're a fan of the Cleveland Browns or New York Giants (or a handful of other teams), you're probably like me and have been keeping an eye on college football and NFL draft news all season. Rest easy in knowing that the 2018 draft class is coming into focus.
An initial take of this class is that it is not particularly good. Compared to the drafts of the last five years, this group ranks ahead of 2013 and on par with 2015 but behind 2014, 2016 and 2017. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating that good scouts will have a field day with this draft class, because there will be value starters in the middle rounds. Teams like Seattle can clean up. New regimes like the one in Indianapolis should also do well given the evaluators on that staff.
How does this class look at the top end, since that's what everyone focuses on? Solid. Running back Saquon Barkley is a rare prospect. He has the highest grade I've ever given a back. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is a special person and player and could set the modern record for how early a safety is drafted. Offensive guard Quenton Nelson should be a plug-and-play All-Pro left guard.
Those three make this class, but the headlines will be about the quarterbacks.
Four quarterbacks are ranked in my top 32 as of now: Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield. I expect all four to be drafted in the first 15 picks. Louisville's Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph are likely to follow as second-rounders based on available film and grades.
So here is my pre-bowl season top 32.
- RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
- QB Sam Darnold, USC
- FS Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
- QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
- DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
- OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
- OT Connor Williams, Texas
- RB Derrius Guice, LSU
- LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
- QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
- SS Derwin James, FSU
- DE Harold Landry, Boston College
- SS Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
- QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
- WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
- LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
- DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
- DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson
- CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
- CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
- CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
- OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
- RB Ronald Jones II, USC
- RB Damien Harris, Alabama
- RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
- DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
- DT Vita Vea, Washington
- WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
- LB Malik Jefferson, Texas
- DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan
- TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
- DT Da'Ron Payne, Alabama
Stay up-to-date on every mock draft, big board and Stick to Football podcast episode throughout the season with the new B/R app.
Here's what else is going on this week:
- The Browns get it right at GM
- Updated Senior Bowl attendees
- Another top-25 player declares for the draft
- Stick to Football Episode 36: What the NFL thinks of Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson; plus ESPN's Field Yates joins us
The Scout's Report
• The Cleveland Browns hired John Dorsey as the team's new general manager one week ago. Already, I'm hearing of big changes he's instituted. Wide receiver Kenny Britt was immediately cut by Dorsey. There are also rumors in the scouting community that Dorsey plans to fire the entire scouting staff in Cleveland. Dorsey also made comments on a Cleveland radio station saying "the last guys didn't get real players." This doesn't bode well for any of those "last guys." My own personal belief is that no one in the Browns organization is safe with Dorsey in charge.
• The fastest way to burn down your Twitter mentions is to either report on Louisville's Lamar Jackson as anything but a quarterback or first-rounder. There's a difference in reporting and evaluating. I say all that to share a link from Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, who wrote this week that Jackson would be a surprise pick in Round 1. That echoes what I've heard from scouts and reported all along. ESPN's Mel Kiper said on his podcast last week he thinks Jackson will be asked to work out at wide receiver in the pre-draft process. These might not be reports you agree with, but both Breer and Kiper are plugged into the NFL's decision-making process and aren't making this up. For the record, because I see this get twisted on Twitter often, I have Jackson currently graded in Round 2. As a quarterback.
• NFL Network analyst Lance Zierlein knows offensive linemen. He's one of my go-to contacts when I have a question about OL technique or play. This week, Zierlein tweeted that he thinks Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown, Jr. is likely to be the first tackle drafted, if the junior declares. Brown is my No. 3 tackle at this time. He does fit what the league seems to go to at offensive tackle with his size (6'8", 345 lbs) and athleticism, but I worry about how slow he looks on the field reacting to speed rushes. His technique is also what I'd consider lazy (doesn't move his feet, late punch). It's early to put pro-player comparisons in ink, but Brown reminds me of Ereck Flowers of the New York Giants.
• Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan declared for the draft this week and is a player to watch at the NFL Scouting Combine. Bryan, who is 6'5" and 293 pounds, is an athletic phenom. One area scout I spoke to this week said Bryan "looks like he's one of the Watt brothers." I have a Round 2 grade on him ,but he could shoot up after testing in Indianapolis.
• South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst was one of the best at his position in college football this year, but after declaring for the draft this past week, where will he land? On tape, Hurst is a Day 2 (Round 2-3) player. The issue is that he'll be a 25-year-old rookie after starting college late following a baseball career. Hurst, who had a 95-mph fastball and was in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, is a stud tight end, but his age will be highly debated in NFL offices.
• What do NFL scouts think of Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield? Two scouts I spoke with last week have Mayfield as a "round 1 lock".
Despite his size, Heisman winner Baker Mayfield is looking like a first-round lock pic.twitter.com/yjZKruUMDJ— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 12, 2017
• Sometimes it pays to stay in school. North Carolina State pass-rusher Bradley Chubb had a late-first/early-second-round grade from scouts I polled this summer. Now? Chubb is a consensus top-10 player in this class among scouts, coaches and executives polled.
5 Players to Know
— Wisconsin LB Jack Cichy. On film last season, Cichy looked like a potential top-50 pick. Then he hurt his knee in August and was out for the 2017 season. So there are a lot of unknowns. Can Cichy run at the combine? How's his lateral movement, which is so important for a linebacker? As the next phase of the draft season heats up, Cichy is a name to watch.
— Penn State S Marcus Allen. One of the stars of the Penn State team, Allen almost entered the 2017 draft as a junior but opted to return to school. For some reason, he's been overlooked at times this year, but his play remains strong. Allen was invited to the 2018 Senior Bowl and will have a good platform to show his instincts, range and physical style of play there. He's currently ranked in my top 50.
— Iowa RB Akrum Wadley. I've written here before about Wadley, but the guy isn't getting enough love. He has patience, vision, power and enough speed to rip off long runs. Wadley is my candidate for this year's Kareem Hunt-style back who goes Round 3 but can be a good NFL starter right out of the gate.
— Florida CB Duke Dawson. The line of solid cornerbacks to come out of Florida adds one more with Dawson. A senior and already an accepted player to the 2018 Senior Bowl, Dawson is a little short (5'10"), but he is a feisty player at the line of scrimmage and looks like a good slot cornerback or even safety on film. Think Desmond King as a pro player comparison.
— Oklahoma State WR James Washington.
A thick, physical wide receiver at 6'0" and 205 pounds, Washington is an excellent crossing-route runner and has the size and speed to make plays after the catch. He's ranked in my second round but has the tools to be an impact player right away.
8. Will the New York Giants play Davis Webb this year? Webb, the third-rounder from Cal in last year's draft class, is a key component in the new front office's decision-making with the No. 2 pick (for now) in the first round. Does Webb have a future as a starter? It would be nice for the new general manager to know that before the Giants are on the clock in the first round.
Webb should play, but this situation is tricky. Eli Manning has already been benched once. Can Kevin Abrams, the team's interim GM and a potential candidate for the full-time job, bench him again? There's no easy way to do this, but with the season over for the Giants, they have to find a compromise in which Eli and Webb can both play.
7. NFL Draft Riser: Georgia RB Sony Michel. For a number of reasons, every time I watch Georgia film, I'm moving Michel up my board. Even ahead of his more popular teammate Nick Chubb. Michel is more of an NFL back, given his receiving skills and what he offers as an inside-outside runner. He's also more agile and can shake defenders in space. Depending on how many running backs leave school early, Michel has a shot at the second round.
6. NFL Draft Faller: Washington State QB Luke Falk. Listing Falk as this week's faller is partially due to what's shaping up to be a solidly deep quarterback class. When faced with guys like Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson moving up the board all season and the already strong resumes of Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Mason Rudolph, there is just unfortunately not room for Falk. The other issue is that injuries—particularly head injuries—are alarming. Falk will be at the 2018 Senior Bowl, and I'm interested in seeing his arm in person and getting to talk to him about his injury history.
5. NFL Draft Sleeper: Iowa LB Josey Jewell. I can't believe that Jewell is a sleeper, but at this point, I'm heated that his name isn't getting more attention. WATCH JOSEY JEWELL HIGHLIGHTS! Do whatever it takes to see this man. Jewell is a heat-seeking missile at linebacker and is constantly around the ball. All those hyperbolic cliches like "tackling machine" actually apply to Jewell. I'm calling my shot now and comparing him to Chris Borland.
4. Which underclassmen are declaring for the 2018 NFL draft? The list is small right now, but it will be updated each week before the Jan. 15 deadline. Note: Only those players confirmed, not rumored, are listed here.
• DT Taven Bryan, Florida
• S DeShon Elliott, Texas
• WR Quadree Henderson, Pitt
• CB Holton Hill, Texas
• TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
• CB J.C. Jackson, Maryland
• S Derwin James, FSU
• CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
• RB Mark Walton, Miami (Fla.)
• S Jordan Whitehead, Pitt
• OT Connor Williams, Texas
3. We're down to the final three weeks of the NFL season. Here's a look at the draft order with December half over.
1. Cleveland Browns (0-13)
2. New York Giants (2-11)
3. Indianapolis Colts (3-11)
4. San Francisco 49ers (3-10)
5. Cleveland (from Houston Texans 4-9)
6. Chicago Bears (4-9)
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)
8.Denver Broncos (5-9)
9. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8)
10. New York Jets (5-8)
11. Washington (5-8)
12. Arizona Cardinals (6-7)
13. Oakland Raiders (6-7)
14. Miami Dolphins (6-7)
15. Baltimore Ravens (7-6)
16. Los Angeles Chargers (7-6)
17. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
18. Detroit Lions (7-6)
19. Green Bay Packers (7-6)
20. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
21. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs 7-6)
22. Buffalo Bills (7-6)
23. Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
24. New Orleans Saints (9-4)
25. Tennessee Titans (8-5)
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)
27. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
28. Carolina Panthers (9-4)
29. Minnesota Vikings (10-3)
30. New England Patriots (10-3)
31. Philadelphia Eagles (11-2)
32. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)
2. The first wave of Senior Bowl attendees have been announced, and so far, this group looks good.
- WR Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State
- RB Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
- QB Kurt Benkert, Virginia
- S Quin Blanding, Virginia
- TE Adam Breneman, UMass
- DE Andrew Brown, Virginia
- DE Christian Campbell, Penn State
- OT Alex Cappa, Humboldt State
- LS Tanner Carew, Oregon
- K Daniel Carlson, Auburn
- TE Tyler Conklin, Central Michigan
- C Austin Corbett, Nevada
- OT Tyrell Crosby, Oregon
- DE Marcus Davenport, UT-San Antonio
- CB Duke Dawson, Florida
- LB Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State
- LB Garret Dooley, Wisconsin
- DE Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest
- QB Luke Falk, Washington State
- DE Kylie Fitts, Utah
- FB Dimitri Flowers, Oklahoma
- RB Royce Freeman, Oregon
- TE Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
- WR Michael Gallup, Colorado State
- TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
- OT Desmond Harrison, West Georgia
- S Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii
- G Will Hernandez, UTEP
- TE Chris Herndon, Miami (Fla.)
- DT B.J. Hill, North Carolina State
- DE Jalyn Holmes, Ohio State
- DL Maurice Hurst, Michigan
- CB Danny Johnson, Southern
- CB Taron Johnson, Weber State
- DT Justin Jones, North Carolina State
- CB Michael Joseph, Dubuque
- LB Micah Kiser, Virginia
- DE Harold Landry, Boston College
- QB Kyle Lauletta, Richmond
- WR Allen Lazard, Iowa State
- LB Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
- OT Cole Madison, Washington State
- S Tray Matthews, Auburn
- LB Mike McCray, Michigan
- WR Anthony Miller, Memphis
- CB Kamrin Moore, Boston College
- WR J'Mon Moore, Missouri
- LB Skai Moore, South Carolina
- CB Siran Neal, Jacksonville State
- DT Derrick Nnadi, FSU
- LB Uchenna Nwosu, USC
- OT Chukwuma Okorafor, Western Michigan
- OT Brandon Parker, North Carolina A&T
- OT Timon Parris, Stony Brook
- RB Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
- OG Skyler Phillips, Idaho State
- CB Darius Phillips, Western Michigan
- LS Ike Powell, Auburn
- C Frank Ragnow, Arkansas
- QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
- OT Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
- FB Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
- WR Jaleel Scott, New Mexico State
- TE Durham Smythe, Notre Dame
- CB M.J. Stewart, North Carolina
- CB Chandon Sullivan, Georgia State
- OG Wyatt Teller, Virginia Tech
- TE Ian Thomas, Indiana
- P Johnny Townsend, Florida
- DE Kemoko Turay, Rutgers
- CB D'Montre Wade, Murray State
- RB Akrum Wadley, Iowa
- LB Fred Warner, BYU
- WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
- S Armani Watts, Texas A&M
- OG Sean Welsh, Iowa
- QB Mike White, Western Kentucky
- LB Tre' Williams, Auburn
- OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
1. Stick to Football Episode 36 is ready for download—and if you haven't already, go ahead and subscribe and leave a five-star review!
This week, Connor Rogers and I break down the Heisman finalists and how the NFL sees them. Is Baker Mayfield a first-rounder? Is Lamar Jackson a wide receiver or quarterback? We're also joined by ESPN's NFL reporter and fantasy football expert Field Yates to talk about his time as a scout, working for Bill Belichick and what it's like being a young guy at ESPN. And as always, our intern Kennedy joins us to close it out with #DraftonDraft.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.