2018 NFL Draft: Highlighting Last-Minute Risers Up Big Boards

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 24, 2018

2018 NFL Draft: Highlighting Last-Minute Risers Up Big Boards

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    Surprise selections make the NFL draft special. It's great reality television because even the best at projecting what will happen rarely get it right.

    A team will fall in love with an individual and select him long before the general consensus, and social media will blow up while the talking heads rant on their respective telecasts. 

    Usually, earlier-than-expected selections weren't as highly regarded at the start of the draft process, yet their stocks increase for numerous reasons throughout an extended evaluation. 

    Offensive linemen and defensive backs are the current hot-ticket items due to the scarcity of NFL-ready blockers and the preponderance of defensive sub-packages. Multiple prospects at those positions, along with a pair of teammates, an athletic tight end and a few front-seven defenders, saw their value rise in recent weeks as those on the outside adjust to league thinking. 

    The 2018 draft is guesswork built upon billion-dollar organizations trying to make intangibles nonsubjective before Thursday in Arlington. It's not a perfect process, and that's where the fun lies.

Georgia RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel

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    Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were inseparable throughout their collegiate careers at Georgia, and there's no reason to separate them now. 

    Both running backs are considered early-round talents after combining for 8,407 rushing yards and 87 total touchdowns over the last four seasons. Both are viewed as second-round talents, but each has a chance to sneak into the opening frame. According to NFL Draft Scout's Rob Rang, one team has both graded as first-round prospects. 

    The two present varying skill sets. At 5'11", 228 pounds, Chubb is a physical runner who can carry a heavier workload, whereas Michel is a home run threat in the running and passing games. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reported Michel has a chance to be the second running back selected (after Penn State's Saquon Barkley).  

    Chubb and Michel's rise comes at Derrius Guice's expense since the LSU back's status took a hit in recent weeks. 

    "There's a lot of personality stuff there that I'll be interested to see if somebody takes a shot on him in the first round," an AFC scout said of Guice, per NFL.com's Tom Pelissero

TE Ian Thomas, Indiana

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    The incoming tight end class lacks a true standout with multiple raw prospects who could surpass more polished options. 

    Indiana's Ian Thomas is the most intriguing even if he still trails South Carolina's Hayden Hurst, South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert and Penn State's Mike Gesicki in the position rankings. Thomas has a chance to leapfrog a more decorated tight end like Oklahoma's Mark Andrews because of the Indiana product's raw athleticism, willingness to block and overall upside. 

    Thomas started only one year for the Hoosiers. The JUCO transfer snagged 25 receptions for 376 yards and five touchdowns as a senior. But he's only scratching the surface. 

    The 6'4", 259-pound target finished top-five among tight ends at the combine in the 40-yard dash (4.74 seconds), vertical jump (36 inches), broad jump (10'3") and short shuttle (4.2 seconds). In fact, Thomas finished second overall (behind Gesicki) with a SPARQ rating in the 91st percentile of NFL athletes, according to Three Sigma Athletes' Zach Whitman

    The search for playmakers never stops, and Thomas presents enormous potential.

OT Kolton Miller, UCLA

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    Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey is not the consensus top offensive tackle prospect, as once believed. Instead, UCLA's Kolton Miller may surpass the All-American on draft day. 

    According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, some NFL personnel believe Miller is the best available tackle and may not make it past the first 20 picks. 

    The reasoning behind the switch is simple: Miller is a better overall athlete with a higher overall ceiling. McGlinchey may end up as an NFL right tackle, whereas Miller displays the traits necessary to become a long-term blindside protector.

    Physically, the junior entrant is everything a team prefers. Miller stands nearly 6'9" and weighs 310 pounds with 34 ⅛" arms. The tackle prospect put on a show at the combine by finishing in the top four among offensive linemen in the 40-yard dash (4.95 seconds), vertical jump (31.5 inches), broad jump (10'1"), three-cone drill (7.34 second) and short shuttle (4.49 seconds). 

    Miller ranks in the 99th percentile in SPARQ rating. Franchises tend to favor raw athleticism over polish and consistency.

OG Austin Corbett, Nevada

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    The interior offensive class is loaded with talent, and Austin Corbett's name gets lost in the mix due to the presence of first-round prospects like Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson, Georgia's Isaiah Wynn, UTEP's Will Hernadez and Iowa's James Daniels. 

    Even so, Corbett has a chance to hear his name called Thursday night before the opening frame concludes.

    The first-team All-Mountain West performer developed into a four-year starter (48 straight starts) at tackle and team captain after walking onto Nevada's program. 

    "Just productive as hell," one scout, who gave him a first-round grade, told ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan. "Smart, competitive, just a really good player."

    The 6'4", 305-pound blocker is projected as a guard due to body type; although, his versatility provides added value. Corbett started at left and right tackle for the Wolf Pack before playing some center and guard at the Senior Bowl.

    When Corbett's intelligence and tenacious attitude are added to the mix, it's easy to see why NFL personnel love him as a prospect.

C Frank Ragnow, Arkansas

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    Arkansas center Frank Ragnow missed the final five games of the 2017 campaign after "tearing all the ligaments" in his ankle. Before that point, he played as well or better than any offensive lineman in the nation, and his draft status is finally starting to reflect his talent level. 

    According to Pro Football Focus, Ragnow ranked first overall in run-block percentage and second in pass-block efficiency among incoming center prospects. 

    "He's a stud," an offensive coordinator said of Ragnow, per NFL.com's Tom Pelissero. "Nobody's talking about him because he's a guard, but he's a really good football player."

    The flexibility to snap the ball or line up at guard adds even more value when considering the possibility of drafting the 6'5", 309-pound lineman.

    Once healthy, Ragnow posted an impressive pro day with a 4.98-second 40-yard dash, 33.5-inch vertical and 27 reps on the bench press, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Bob Holt.

    Due to Ragnow's level of play, experience in a pro-style blocking scheme and athleticism, he's now firmly in the first-round conversation.

DT Jullian Taylor, Temple

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    Jullian Taylor blossomed late in his career because a pair of knee injuries limited him until the 2017 campaign. The defensive lineman caught the attention of NFL scouts with a strong senior effort and an even more impressive pro-day workout. 

    Against the undefeated Central Florida Knights, Taylor registered 10 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

    "It's something not a lot of defensive tackles in the country can do," Taylor said of his performance, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Marc Narducci. "I was glad to show I have that kind of ability, and it felt really good."

    His late-season surge continued into the offseason where the 6'4", 295-pound lineman proved he's among the draft's most athletic front-seven defenders. According to Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline, Taylor posted a 4.83-second 40-yard dash, 33-inch vertical and 31 bench-press reps. 

    Taylor doesn't provide much interior pressure, but he's a long and athletic defensive tackle (or 5-technique) whose best days are still ahead of him. 

DE Josh Sweat, Florida State

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    The incoming edge class will dramatically thin out once North Carolina State's Bradley Chubb, UTSA's Marcus Davenport and Boston College's Harold Landry are off the board. 

    Once that point is reached, organizations will have to project multiple prospects who have the potential to rush the passer yet haven't shown the required skill sets needed to be top picks. 

    Florida State's Josh Sweat falls somewhere between those points. Sweat only registered 12 sacks in three seasons after suffering a devastating knee injury in high school. However, the physical tools are present to expect more from him at the professional level. 

    At 6'4", 251 pounds with 34 ⅝" arms, Sweat finished in the top five for edge prospects at the combine with a 4.53 40, 39.5-inch vertical, 10'4" broad and 4.28 short shuttle. 

    Sweat's knee still remains a concern, according to NFL Network Ian Rapoport. But the former elite recruit has the length, first-step quickness, flexibility and overall disruptive play to warrant an early-round investment even though he's far from a finished product.

LB Genard Avery, Memphis

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    Two-down linebackers aren't considered hot commodities since NFL teams want defenders who can play in space. Memphis' Genard Avery is stiff in coverage but presents value in different ways. 

    First, he's an outstanding overall athlete with a 4.59 40, 36-inch vertical and 10'4" broad jump. Those explosive numbers shouldn't come as a surprise after Avery led the Tigers with 22 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. 

    Second, the linebacker's statistics only tell part of the story. Avery contributed heavily as a blitzer and edge-rusher. The Memphis product finished first among linebackers (by a wide margin) with 47 total pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus

    "I love rushing off the edge and making an impact from that position," Avery said, per Draft Wire's Justin Melo. "I can play middle linebacker and blitz from there and make certain checks. I'm willing to play wherever my coaches want me to."

    Avery is a solid mid-round option for teams in search of a backup middle linebacker and sub-package pass-rusher.

CB Avonte Maddox, Pittsburgh

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    Size holds back the 5'9", 180-pound Avonte Maddox even though there are few cornerback prospects with better coverage skills

    Organizations took notice of his skill set after he performed well at the combine with a 4.39 40, 37-inch vertical, 10'5" broad jump, 6.51 three-cone drill and 4.0 short shuttle. 

    "He's really shooting up the board in our building," an executive told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "Great tester but he shows it on tape with how athletic he is in coverage. I know our position coach thinks he can get a lot better with some work on his technique."

    Maddox ranks among the 93rd percentile of NFL cornerbacks in SPARQ despite his size limitations. 

    Athleticism is only part of the equation, though. Maddox's hip flexibility and ball skills are rare. He defended 42 passes and snagged eight interceptions during his Panthers career. 

    A team will have a chance to select the cornerback in the mid rounds, and he'll have a defined role as a nickel corner as soon as he enters the locker room.

S Justin Reid, Stanford

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    The safety position's evolution allows players such as Stanford's Justin Reid to morph into something more than traditional free or strong versions and become a first-round pick. 

    Reid is a defensive back who can cover, defend the run, play both safety spots and provide a team with flexibility within a big nickel sub-package. 

    "Where Justin's unique is last year, he was our dime," Stanford defensive backs coach Duane Akina explained, per the Boston Herald's Adam Kurkjian. "This year, he was our disaster corner. ... Not only can he do all those things physically, but he can learn all those positions, too. There's some guys that can learn all six but they physically can't play them all. And there's some guys that can play them all, but they can't learn them all."

    Reid is better in coverage than his brother, Eric, whom the San Francisco 49ers selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. As a matter of fact, the Stanford safety spent 54.5 percent of last season's snaps covering the slot.

S Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi

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    Southern Mississippi's Tarvarius Moore has the ability to become an elite free safety due to his speed and resulting coverage range. 

    The 6'1", 199-pound defensive back posted an impressive 4.32 40, 38.5-inch vertical jump, 11'1" broad jump and drew plenty of interest from NFL teams. 

    "A lot of scouts told me they like what they see," Moore said after his pro day performance, per the Hattiesburg American's Jason Munz. "I have a lot of meetings scheduled these next two weeks. Cleveland (Browns), Miami (Dolphins), Houston (Texans), Indianapolis—a lot of places all over." 

    The safety's athletic profile may be driving his value, but he played well as a senior by leading the Golden Eagles with 87 total tackles and three interceptions. The JUCO transfer also finished second with 23 defended passes

    He's not just a center fielder, either. Moore finished first among draft-eligible safeties in run defense grade, according to Pro Football Focus. 

    Moore went from an afterthought to a potential top-100 draft selection because he presents true sideline-to-sideline capabilities. 

S Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech

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    Both Terrell and Tremaine Edmunds declared early for the NFL draft. The two brothers are impressive athletes made for the professional game. Yet only one, Tremaine, has been discussed as a first-round possibility until recently. 

    According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, teams "secretly covet" the safety prospect, and he has a chance to hear his named called during the first 32 selections. 

    Tremaine is often viewed as a one-of-a-kind prospect due to his size, athleticism and age (only 19 years old). Yet Terrell Edmunds shouldn't be overlooked in this brotherly duo. 

    At 6'2", 220 pounds, the defensive back ran a 4.47 40-yard dash with an impressive 41.5-inch vertical jump and 11'2" broad jump. Both of those leaps ranked first among safeties at the combine. 

    The older sibling (21) is an explosive downhill defender best suited as a strong safety. He'll miss a few tackles and struggle in space, but he can be an intimidating box presence. As such, his overall value will vary based on each team's vision for his skill set.