Looking every bit the part of the No. 1 overall pick, Sam Darnold reigned in the rain at USC’s Pro Day. He delivered strikes in front of representatives of all 32 NFL teams, including the Cleveland Browns’ owner, general manager, head coach and probably a whole bunch of other guys.
The Browns hold the top selection and would be wise to consider Darnold, who has held steady at No. 1 on my Big Board since the Denver Broncos made Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly the last pick of the 2017 NFL draft.
While Darnold keeps his perch atop my rankings, there are several changes based on impressions from the workouts, medical evaluations and interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine and subsequent Pro Days.
Many of these updates involve former Big Ten stars, with Iowa offensive lineman James Daniels (pictured above), Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki and Maryland wideout D.J. Moore flying up the board, while medical questions caused slight falls for Buckeyes center Billy Price and Michigan defensive lineman Maurice Hurst.
1. Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California, 6-3, 221, 4.85, redshirt sophomore
In true Hollywood form, Darnold emphatically answered Browns head coach Hue Jackson’s famous water-soaked ball test, delivering strikes to all levels of the field at his Pro Day through a steady rain. While a slightly elongated throwing motion contributed to too many turnovers at USC, Darnold is accurate, including on the move, and also shows very good instincts and anticipation for such a young quarterback. Darnold plays bigger than his size and shows good overall athleticism. His extensive experience in a pro-style offense and major media market should only make his ascension into a franchise NFL quarterback that much smoother.
2. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA, 6-4, 226, 4.92, junior
While I give Darnold slightly higher grades in terms of leadership and durability, his crosstown rival, Rosen, is the most gifted and polished passer in the 2018 draft. Rosen earns blue-chip grades in the important areas of intelligence, release and accuracy with plenty of arm strength, size and athleticism to project worthy of No. 1 overall consideration.
3. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State, 6-0, 233, 4.40, junior
Coming off an impressive all-around performance at the Combine, Barkley is arguably this draft’s most elite athlete. Despite his imposing frame, Barkley is not simply a bulldozer. NFL scouts salivate over his elusiveness and breakaway speed as a perimeter runner, receiver and returner. Expect Barkley to make an immediate impact at the next level, a la recent top-10 picks Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley, who is most similar to Barkley in size and style.
4. Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame, 6-5, 325, 5.23 (est.), redshirt junior
It isn’t often that NFL teams are willing to invest a top-five pick on an interior offensive lineman but Nelson’s talent is so obvious — and the need for blockers in the NFL so critical — that a team may opt to choose the pro-ready masher simply because it could essentially forget about the position for a decade. Massive and shockingly mobile, Nelson can dominate at the point of attack as well as in space, projecting as a future Pro Bowl guard, like his Notre Dame predecessor Zack Martin, now a star in Dallas.
5. Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State, 6-4, 269, 4.65, senior
The 2018 draft is not nearly as gifted among pass rushers as last year’s crop, but Chubb is clearly the crown jewel. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Ted Hendricks Award winner (national defensive end of the year), Chubb is as polished as it gets, winning with athleticism, refined technique, physicality and hustle. A former linebacker whose commitment to maximizing his talent earned him captain roles the past two years, Chubb recorded career highs in tackles (72), tackles for loss (23) and sacks (10) in 2017 after posting similar numbers the previous season (56-21-10).
6. Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS/CB, Alabama, 6-0, 204, 4.46, junior
With today’s pass-happy NFL offenses, versatile defensive backs are more important than ever, and no one in this class can match Fitzpatrick’s combination of instincts, coverage skills and reliable open-field tackling. Fitzpatrick may lack the elite fluidity and change of direction of top cover corners, but his route anticipation and physicality make up for it, allowing him to project as a defensive eraser capable of starring wherever a team most needs help in its secondary.
7. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech, 6-4, 253, 4.54, junior
The NFL is all about upside and few prospects in recent years have had a more exciting blend of size, range and explosiveness than Edmunds, who entered the draft at just 19 years old. The defensive coordinator who gets the opportunity to work with Edmunds will inherit quite the toy. Edmunds is instinctive enough to remain inside while possessing the length and speed to handle outside duties, including, significantly, more rushing the passer.
8. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State, 5-11, 183, 4.32, junior
Ward has the best feet of any corner in this draft. Ward technically started only one season after playing behind 2017 first-round picks Marshon Lattimore (New Orleans) and Gareon Conley (Oakland), but he saw plenty of playing time at nickel before excelling on the big stage last season. The term “shutdown corner” is often overused, but Ward possesses the agility, speed and instincts to earn this distinction.
9. Vita Vea, DT, Washington, 6-4, 347, 5.10, redshirt junior
Despite an abbreviated Combine workout (due to a hamstring pull), Vea flashed precisely the same explosiveness that helped him earn the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award and the well-earned reputation as one of the true freaks of the 2018 draft. As his size and strength (42 repetitions on the bench press) suggest, Vea can dominate as a run-stuffer. He is also incredibly athletic for a man of his size, surprising opponents with his initial burst and speed in pursuit.
10. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming, 6-5, 237, 4.75, redshirt junior
Acing his workout and interviews, Allen was one of this year’s biggest winners at the Combine, jumping four spots on my list to the top 10. From his size, athleticism and million-dollar arm, Allen truly is the physical prototype. At times, he (and his team) looked overmatched against top competition outside of the Mountain West Conference last season, but Allen has been on a roll since, standing out in his team’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win, the Senior Bowl and Combine after coming back from a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder that sidelined him for the final two regular-season games. Allen’s 56.2 career completion percentage is worrisome but that is not much lower than the numbers put up by former top-three picks Matt Ryan (59.9) and Matthew Stafford (57.1) in college.
11. Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia, 6-1, 236, 4.51, junior
No individual player was more responsible for Georgia winning the SEC and earning a spot in the national title game than Smith, the reigning Butkus Award winner. While Smith may lack ideal size, his fluidity, speed and instincts against the run and pass are perfectly suited to today’s up-tempo, pass-happy NFL. Protect him with size at defensive tackle and Smith will star as a true sideline-to-sideline defender in the mold of Atlanta Falcons’ stud Deion Jones.
12. Derwin James, SS, Florida State, 6-2, 215, 4.47, redshirt sophomore
After missing most of 2016 with a knee injury, James showed off the combination of range, physicality and big-play chops that helped him stand out as a true freshman. A modern safety who truly blends the traits of a linebacker and cornerback, James is a movable chess piece on defense and the clear-cut top safety in the 2018 draft.
13. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama, 6-2, 311, 4.90, junior
Payne may lack the imposing size and burst of some of the other top defensive linemen, but his pure strength (including a 545-pound bench press) and motor stand out. Payne’s value lies with his ability to be a two-gap run stuffer, not a consistent pass rush threat, which could earn him a lower spot on draft boards given the focus on the pass in today’s NFL. I view him as the safest of this year’s defensive tackles.
14. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama, 6-0, 189, 4.43, junior
The statistical expectations some placed on Ridley after breaking Julio Jones’ school record for most receptions and receiving yards as a true freshman (89 for 1,045) were, frankly, unrealistic given Alabama’s run-heavy offense. Ridley may not possess the eye-popping numbers of his peers but scouts appreciate his polished routes, deceptive speed and strong hands.
15. Connor Williams, OT, Texas, 6-5, 296, 5.05, junior
The Longhorns have not produced a first-round pick on offense since Vince Young was selected No. 3 overall by Tennessee in 2006, but Williams will end that streak. Williams is a bit of a throwback, showing the power and aggression as a run blocker that scouts covet, along with the athleticism, balance and girth to stone pass rushers. Average arm length (33 inches) could push Williams inside to guard in the NFL.
16. Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio, 6-6, 264, 4.58, senior
A former receiver who simply kept growing, Davenport dominated Conference USA, setting school records with 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2017 and earning the league’s Defensive MVP honors. He struggled amid unrealistic expectations and increased physicality during Senior Bowl practices but produced during the game, teasing with his potential. Long and agile (with good intangibles to boot), Davenport possesses all of the traits to warrant a roll of the dice in the first round with the understanding that he remains a project.
17. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma, 6-1, 215, 4.84, redshirt senior
I will be the first to admit that I jumped on the Mayfield bus late, but after scouting him in person at the Senior Bowl, I’m convinced he can be successful in the NFL. With all due respect to my No. 1-rated prospect (Darnold), the most accurate passer in the draft (Rosen), the QB with the highest upside (Allen) and the most exciting athlete at the position (Lamar Jackson), Mayfield might just be the best of the bunch in at least one important category: competitiveness. Mayfield is a natural, showing the accuracy, zip and mobility required in today’s NFL, as well as the leadership skills to inspire teammates.
18. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State, 6-4, 256, 4.65, redshirt junior
If there was a breakout player of the year award in college football, Vander Esch would have been the runaway winner, going from 27 stops in 2016 to an eye-popping 141 tackles in 2017, earning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors. He fell through the recruiting cracks a bit after playing eight-man football in tiny Riggins, Idaho (population 406), but he is a clear-cut NFL athlete with the size, awareness and reliable open-field tackling skills. He can be a longtime starter at linebacker.
19. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame, 6-8, 309, 5.27 (est.), redshirt senior
While not quite the physical dominator that his teammate, Nelson, is at guard, McGlinchey is a plug-and-play blocker. The physically imposing blue-collar blocker started the past two seasons at left tackle, taking over the blindside after Ronnie Stanley graduated to the NFL via the first round. Not as nimble as Stanley, McGlinchey would be better served moving back to the right side (where he started the entire 2015 campaign), winning more with his length and strength than elite foot speed.
20. James Daniels, C, Iowa, 6-3, 306, 5.24 (est.), junior
The rare quickness and agility that helped Daniels star at Iowa also stood out during positional drills at the Combine. Even better, Daniels received favorable grades from medical evaluators in Indianapolis. Daniels’ primary experience is at center, but he is athletic enough to slide outside to guard if his NFL team has a bigger need there.
21. Taven Bryan, DT, Florida, 6-5, 291, 4.98, redshirt junior
The Gators have churned out at least one first-round defender in each of the past five drafts and if those close to the program are to be believed, Bryan may be just as gifted as any of them. Though his statistics last season were solid (40 tackles, including six for loss and three sacks), Bryan is still very much a work in progress, too often blowing through or past would-be blockers, only to locate the ball too late to do anything about it. He is an explosive athlete, however, who seems to be just scratching the surface of his potential.
22. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU, 5-10, 224, 4.49, junior
Guice is not the freakish combination of size and speed of his predecessor, Leonard Fournette. In fact, Guice is built more like another star NFL rookie running back — Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt. Like Hunt, Guice possesses a squatty, powerful frame as well as excellent balance through contact and the burst to gain chunk yardage.
23. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville, 6-2, 216, 4.42 (est.), junior
A true dual threat very much in the mold of a taller Michael Vick, Jackson is a potential difference-maker if an NFL team is willing to commit its offense around his unique talent. Though Jackson is improved in terms of accuracy, he remains a work in progress as an NFL passer because he routinely stares down his primary target. Further, Jackson possesses a relatively slight frame that could lead to injuries in the more physical NFL.
24. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan, 6-1, 292, 4.93 (est.), redshirt senior
Hurst’s stock is a bit in flux after medical tests conducted at the Combine turned up irregularities with his heart, sending the former Big Ten star home before he had an opportunity to work out for scouts. While he has been cleared to resume football, lingering concerns could impact Hurst’s ultimate draft position. Otherwise, his talent and timing is obvious. With today’s focus on the quick passing game in the NFL, “undersized” defensive tackles who can collapse the pocket from the interior are much more valuable than in previous years. Hurst, the son of the former New England Patriots cornerback of the same name, combines the initial burst to split gaps with the toughness and strength that belie his ‘tweener frame.
25. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa, 6-0, 196, 4.48, redshirt junior
Every year some lanky cornerback draws the distinction of being the Richard Sherman of the class, but Jackson might actually live up to the comparison. Like Sherman at Stanford, Jackson played wide receiver and cornerback in college, a fact that honed both players’ route anticipation and ball-skills. Questions about schematic fit pushed Sherman into the fifth round of the 2012 draft. In part because of the trail Sherman blazed, scouts won’t make the same mistake with Jackson, who led the country in interceptions (eight) and passes broken up (26) in 2017.
26. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M, 5-10, 201, 4.45, junior
Kirk is this year’s most dynamic run-after-the-catch threat as a receiver and returner. Like current Detroit Lions standout Golden Tate, Kirk possesses the squatty frame of a running back, using terrific lateral agility, balance and pure speed to be a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Forget that his numbers this season (58 catches for 730 yards and seven touchdowns) dropped from the previous two years, as the Aggies struggled with inexperience at quarterback.
27. Billy Price, C/OG, Ohio State, 6-4, 305, 5.19 (est.), redshirt senior
It is unfortunate that Price suffered a partially torn pectoral while competing in the bench press at the Combine, as he was the picture of reliability at Ohio State, with the two-time captain setting the school record with 55 consecutive starts. Built like a cinder block (and just as tough), Price’s initial quickness, power and smarts project very well to either guard or center. A late first-round selection is still possible, even after the injury.
28. Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida, 5-10, 189, 4.53, junior
A North Carolina transfer, Hughes provided an immediate big-play presence for UCF at cornerback and returner in 2017, sparking the undefeated Knights with lockdown coverage and four touchdowns scored, three of them on special teams.
29. Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College, 6-2, 252, 4.64, senior
Statistics can be deceiving but in the case of Landry — who left BC with 25 career sacks and 10 forced fumbles — they speak volumes. An injury-plagued senior season could push him out of the first round but Landry’s initial quickness, flexibility and closing speed should make him one of this year’s top edge rushers.
30. Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia, 6-3, 313, 5.06 (est.), senior
Asked to move outside in 2017, Wynn won at left tackle for the Bulldogs, paving the way to Georgia’s SEC crown and national championship game berth. Due to his height, Wynn projects better inside, where he was terrific at the Senior Bowl, showing a combination of balance, power and quickness that helps him project as a plug-and-play left guard.
31. Rashaan Evans, OLB, Alabama, 6-2, 232, 4.73 (est.), senior
There are other, flashier linebackers in this class but few who possess a more pro-ready combination of instincts, physicality and reliable form tackling than Evans, a scheme-versatile lunch-taker.
32. Will Hernandez, OG, Texas-El Paso, 6-2, 327, 5.15, senior
Hernandez possesses a prototypical build for the interior with broad shoulders and fire hydrants for limbs, dominating opponents when he latches on with raw strength and the nasty demeanor which — along with his four-year starting experience — will endear him to offensive line coaches.
33. Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State, 6-5, 247, 4.54, senior
Gesicki turned in one of the most impressive all-around performances at the Combine, showing speed, agility and rare explosiveness at his size with a 41.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-9-inch broad jump. Gesicki is far from just a workout warrior, earning top marks for his savvy route-running and soft hands. Whether viewing him as a massive slot receiver or a tight end, Gesicki is one of the elite mismatch candidates of the 2018 draft.
34. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn, 6-1, 206, 4.53, junior
Scouts can check off a lot of boxes with Davis, a physically imposing corner with the long arms and athleticism necessary to match up with the monster receivers playing on the perimeter in today’s NFL. Davis is also battle-tested, starting the past three years and showing steady improvement, ascending from third-team All-SEC accolades in 2016 to first-team honors in 2017.
35. Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford, 6-3, 307, 5.21, junior
Phillips had a solid (if unspectacular) week at the Senior Bowl after leading Stanford in tackles (100), tackles for loss (17.5) and sacks (7.5) while drawing the focus of every opponent’s blocking scheme. Phillips does not possess the dominating traits to excite scouts but his instincts, quickness, physicality and intensity consistently stand out on tape.
36. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State, 6-5, 270, 4.76 (est.), redshirt junior
Hubbard is a polarizing prospect as he does not possess the elite quickness, flexibility or closing speed scouts crave as an edge rusher, but he is such an instinctive, physical and technically sound player that he’ll be hard to get off the field. Hubbard is the kind of no-nonsense player teams love in the second round but struggle to justify in the first.
37. Ronald Jones II, RB, Southern California, 5-11, 205, 4.39 (est.), junior
The 2018 draft is loaded with talent at running back, with the explosive Jones perhaps possessing the best elusiveness and straight-line speed of any of them. Overshadowed at USC by Sam Darnold despite rushing for a gaudy 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2017, Jones could enjoy the more immediate success at the next level, projecting as a Jamaal Charles-type big-play specialist.
38. Arden Key, DE/OLB, LSU, 6-5, 238, 4.78 (est.), junior
With his long arms, explosive get-off and rare flexibility to scrape the corner, Key is arguably the most gifted edge threat in the 2018 draft. By opting not to compete at the Combine, Key failed to answer key questions about his toughness and dependability, however. He is this year’s biggest boom-or-bust pick prospect, capable of leading rookies in sacks nest season or falling out of the league entirely if the troubling inconsistency that plagued his third year at LSU continues.
39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville, 5-10, 196, 4.38, junior
Every team in the NFL is looking for cover corners with agility, instincts and the soft hands to turn pass deflections into interceptions. Few are better in these regards than Alexander, who recorded five pass thefts in 2016 prior to an injury-plagued junior season.
40. Courtland Sutton, WR, Southern Methodist, 6-3, 218, 4.54, redshirt junior
The 2018 draft is loaded with flankers at receiver but offers few split ends with the height, leaping ability and strength to star in the red zone. Sutton excels in this area, catching 32 touchdown passes over the past three seasons.
41. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland, 6-0, 210, 4.42, junior
Moore was a big winner at the Combine, measuring bigger and faster than expected after deservedly earning the Big Ten’s Wide Receiver of the Year award with a school-record 80 receptions last season. His stocky frame, strength and elusiveness make him a tough draw for cornerbacks, as Moore is the big-play threat that his 17 career receiving touchdowns indicate.
42. Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama, 6-2, 207, 4.54 (est.), junior
A throwback to a previous generation as an in-the-box enforcer, Harrison won’t be a fit for every team due to coverage limitations, but his size and fierce hitting will make his future NFL team immediately more intimidating.
43. Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma, 6-4, 256, 4.58, redshirt junior
A former wide receiver who kept getting bigger, Andrews matured into the nation’s top tight end in 2017, earning the Mackey Award. Look elsewhere if in need of a blocker, but as a massive slot receiver with excellent hands and body control, Andrews is a matchup nightmare.
44. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia, 5-11, 227, 4.52, senior
Erasing any concerns about his explosiveness and health after suffering a horrific knee injury two years ago, Chubb delivered a terrific Combine performance, clocking in the mid 4.4s on some watches and recording an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump at a rock-solid 227 pounds. Chubb isn’t for everyone. He is a between-the-tackles grinder with good — not great — speed. He is a proven workhorse, however, with the all-around game to project as a bell-cow runner an NFL team can center its offense around.
45. Rasheem Green, DE, Southern California, 6-4, 275, 4.73, junior
Green has the size and athletic upside to warrant a high pick despite not playing with ideal consistency. Green’s size and strength allowed the Trojans to move him all over the defensive line in 2017, offering a combination of versatility and still untapped potential.
47. Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia, 6-5, 250, 4.46, senior
Speaking of physically gifted edge rushers seemingly just scratching the surface of their potential, Carter wowed scouts at the Combine with his combination of length, explosiveness and straight-line speed. In a relatively weak class of edge rushers, Carter possesses the traits to intrigue teams that use a 4-3 or 3-4 base scheme.
48. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia, 5-11, 214, 4.54, senior
Michel often played second fiddle to teammates at Georgia but his elusiveness, soft hands out of the backfield and reliability in pass protection project beautifully as a three-down weapon in the NFL.
49. Justin Reid, S, Stanford, 6-0, 207, 4.40, junior
Reid opted to blaze his own trail at Stanford rather than follow his father and brother (Eric and Eric Jr.) to LSU, where each starred in track and football, respectively. Reid exploded for five interceptions in 2017 and turned heads at the Combine in the workouts and interviews.
50. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State, 5-11, 220, 4.46, senior
In yet another terrific class of running backs, few shine brighter than Penny, who led the country with 2,248 rushing yards with 23 touchdowns, earning the Mountain West Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year awards (three TDs on returns in 2017), the latter honor for the third consecutive season.
Rob Rang is a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, a collaboration between The Sports Xchange and The Pro Football Hall of Fame.