Prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, sources with the Jets told me they didn't like the 2017 quarterback prospects. They also said that Christian Hackenberg was developing well and worked really hard behind the scenes during his rookie year. However, if Hackenberg doesn't show some promise on the field in 2017, the Jets could be targeting a quarterback in next year's draft class. If Hackenberg does show signs that he's the long-term starter, New York could consider an edge rusher like Arden Key, a franchise left tackle like Trey Adams, or maybe a feature back like Saquon Barkley.
In 2017, Darnold has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,002 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions. A general manager who has scouted Darnold in person this year has told me that he likes the "it factor" that Darnold displays. That general manager thinks there's nothing wrong with Darnold's throwing motion or arm strength and has some similarities to Philip Rivers.
Darnold was very impressive as a redshirt freshman in 2016 and impressed evaluators even though he wasn't being graded yet. Along with a quality skill set, teams like his intangibles and moxie. Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The 6-4, 225-pounder led USC on a nine-game winning streak to end the season.
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John Lynch grabs the 49ers a franchise quarterback. San Francisco should be in position to land one of the top-four quarterback prospects of the 2018 NFL Draft.
On the year, Rosen has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,283 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions. Rosen had a mixed game against Memphis with a painful pick-six in the second half that was huge for the Tigers pulling off the upset. He had a legendary performance in UCLA's 2017 season opener, leading one of the greatest comeback wins in college football history. The Bruins were down 44-10 in the third quarter before Rosen led them back to a 45-44 victory over Texas A&M. Rosen completed 35-of-58 passes for 491 yards with four touchdowns on the evening.
Of the top quarterback prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft, Rosen has the best mechanics and is most natural pocket passer. He throws a tremendous ball and can really spin it. Rosen's tight spiral helps him to get his passes through tight windows and beat good coverage. He has serious arm talent with field vision and pocket presence.
Rosen completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,915 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions in his six games of 2016 before being sidelined by shoulder surgery. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder has a strong arm with pocket-passing skills, yet could stand to improve his decision-making and accuracy. Scouts who have done advance work on the 2018 prospects have told me that Rosen is disliked by his teammates and lacks leadership skills for the NFL. That could cause him to slide.
Rosen had an impressive debut as a freshman in 2015, completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,670 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He showed off a powerful arm and the ability to be an NFL pocket passer.
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The Bills grab their future franchise quarterback.
Thus far this season, Allen has completed 56 percent of his passes for 566 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He struggled other than against FCS competition.
Allen was running for his life all day against Iowa in Week 1. The Wyoming offensive line was dominated, and Allen got no help from his supporting cast. He also made mistakes of his own, including two ugly interceptions, and there easily could have been at least one more interception that was dropped by Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell. Allen ended up completing 23-of-40 passes for 174 yards with two interceptions and zero touchdowns. Overall, Allen showed his big skill set with size, toughness, athleticism, and a strong arm. There were plays where he looked like a young Ben Roethlisberger. There were other plays where Allen showed bad decision-making and inaccuracy. Allen was also disappointing against Oregon.
Allen will probably be a high pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but his 2017 season opener indicates that he could be a work in progress who will need some developmental time. His completion percentage and interception total from 2016 provide evidence for that assessment. He completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,203 yards with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last year.
Allen (6-5, 222) became a discussed prospect late in the 2016 season, but he wisely decided to return to Wyoming. He has a special skill set, and some draft analysts were projecting him high in the first round, but one general manager told WalterFootball.com that he had Allen as a third-day prospect and thought Allen should improve before going pro. Other team sources that did advance work for National Scouting for the 2018 prospects really liked Allen and compared him to Ben Roethlisberger, so don't be surprised if he is a polarizing prospect. Still, Allen has a great skill set with tons of upside.
The Bears could use a difference-maker in the back end. Quintin Demps was a nice signing, but he is on the wrong side of 30 and is a strong safety. Here's a stud free safety for Chicago.
While James didn't have a flawless performance against Alabama in Week 1 of 2017, it was good overall with six tackles and .5 sacks. James was healthy and able to display his great instincts and rare combination of great size, speed, physicality and versatility. He played dime linebacker, nickel corner, free safety and strong safety, basically doing everything a coach could ask of him.
James totaled 11 tackles and an interception through two games in 2016 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. He had been playing well for Florida State. Entering last season, there was a lot of hype that James was an elite player and perhaps the best defensive player in college football. As a freshman in 2015, he had a strong debut with 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, four passes broken up and two forced fumbles, but zero interceptions.
The 6-foot-3, 211-pounder has a great athletic skill set with tremendous speed, instincts, and strength to hit. He shows the ability to do everything a NFL safety is needed to do. James is fast and long with coverage skills in the deep middle of the field. He also is strong enough to be the eighth man in the box and tackle.
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Key could be too good for the Rams to pass on, as at this point, I have him as the best talent for the 2018 NFL Draft. I know team sources who feel the same way. Los Angeles could use an edge rusher to pair with Robert Quinn. William Hayes led the Rams with only five sacks last year and was traded to Miami.
Key missed the first two games of 2017 and was eased back into action in Week 3 against Mississippi State. He had three tackles and a sack against the Bulldogss. In 2016, Key was one of the best players in college football. He recorded 56 tackles with 14.5 for a loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and three passes broken up on the year. Key is a dangerous pass-rusher with excellent speed and the ability to bend around the corner. He flashed a ton of potential as a freshman for LSU, totaling 41 tackles with 6.5 for a loss, five sacks and one pass broken up.
The 6-foot-6, 231-pounder is a lightning-fast edge rusher with a ton of upside to develop. Sources have told me that Key loves football and is a hard-worker who strives to improve in the offseason. They said he has worked with pass-rushing moves guru Chuck Smith, and that is impressive dedication for a collegiate player.
The Bengals need more offensive line talent. If they take a tackle in the 2018 NFL Draft, they could kick Cedric Ogbuehi inside to be the replacement for Kevin Zeitler.
Adams showed some rust in Week 1 and wasn't as dominant against Rutgers as he finished last season versus Alabama. Against Rutgers, Adams had a holding penalty along with a couple of other mistakes. Still, he showed his quick feet and agility. Adams is a smooth mover with length who makes it tough to get by him. He plays with nice body lean and leverage that he uses to help sustain blocks. Adams will probably start overwhelming defenders in the weeks to come.
Adams was one of the top left tackles in the Pac-12 during 2016. The Huskies fielded a potent passing offense, and Adams did a nice job of keeping Jake Browning protected. The 6-foot-7, 302-pound Adams has length and size on the edge to go along with good quickness and athleticism. Sources have raved about Adams being one of the top talents for the 2018 NFL Draft class with franchise left tackle potential. They were impressed with his 2016 tape, including how well he did in one-on-ones with Alabama's edge rushers in the Huskies' playoff game.
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The Browns have Isaiah Crowell entering free agency. Here's a stud back to make DeShone Kizer's job a lot easier.
Barkley is averaging 8.1 yards per carry in 2017, which makes for 307 yards with three touchdowns. He has 11 receptions for 241 yards and two touchdowns as well. Barkley was excellent in 2016, and NFL sources have already said they think Barkley has a stud back for the next level. The sophomore averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also made 28 catches for 402 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver.
Barkley was very impressive as a freshman in 2015 when he averaged 5.9 yards per carry for 1,076 yards with seven touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 161 yards and a score. Barkley was very impressive running for 194 yards on 26 carries against an Ohio State defense loaded with NFL talent. The 5-foot-11, 223-pounder is a tough runner with a burst.
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The Cardinals grab their replacement for Carson Palmer.
In 2017, Jackson has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,088 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. He has also taken 57 carries for 303 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Some team sources think that Jackson is worthy of being a top-10 pick, while other scouts think they may end up with a second-round grade on him.
Jackson has a great athletic skill set, including a powerful arm that can make all throws the NFL requires and some rare passes. While his tremendous running ability gets a lot of attention, Jackson is better passing from the pocket than he is given credit. Jackson will take some shots and deliver good passes in the face of the rush. He also handles Bobby Petrino's scheme well. Jackson can be inconsistent with his accuracy, and needs to add weight to his frame for the NFL.
Jackson (6-3, 205) set college football on fire in 2016 while winning the Heisman Trophy. He was a massive point-producer for the Cardinals. Jackson completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the year. He also ran for 21 touchdowns and 1,571 yards while averaging six yards per carry.
The Colts grab a difference-maker for the point of attack, which will bring a more physical, smash-mouth element to their defense.
Payne played well against Florida State in the 2017 season opener, showcasing his freakish speed and athleticism. He has 15 tackles and a pass batted thus far in 2017.
Scouts who have looked ahead to the 2018 class have raved about Payne's potential. Coming from Alabama, it isn't a stretch, and Payne could take on the lead role for the Crimson Tide with Jonathan Allen moving on to the NFL. Payne (6-2, 319) is a run plugger with a lot of potential to grow. When given the opportunity to rush the passer in 2016, Payne was impressive, and sources have said that he helped set up sacks for Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson last season.
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The Giants have starting center Weston Richburg, along with guards Justin Pugh and D.J. Fluker, heading into free agency. Even if Richburg is re-signed, New York could easily be in the market for more talent at guard. They also need tackle help. If they draft a left tackle, they could move Ereck Flowers to the right side.
Williams is out indefinitely after tearing a knee meniscus and straining some other ligaments against USC. In speaking with one general manager, he said he thinks Williams is overhyped and clearly needs to spend a lot of time in a weight room for the NFL. Williams had a moderately disappointing showing in the 2017 season opener against Maryland. He allowed a few pressures and had plays where he allowed defenders to gain leverage on him. He also had two critical holding penalties in the fourth quarter, including one that negated a successful conversion of a fourth-and-14 situation.
Williams (6-6, 290) started at left tackle as a freshman and sophomore for the Longhorns. He was a steady pass protector and a consistent run blocker. Williams has good length, quickness and athleticism. It would be good to see him become stronger and show more heavy hands.
The Saints could use a defensive tackle to replace Nick Fairley and a defensive end to go across Cam Jordan.
Chubb has 14 tackles with 5.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks and one pass broken up in 2017. He made a number of nice plays in Week 1 and used his speed to cause problems in the backfield. However, he did have a few missed tackles, including on a critical touchdown run for the Gamecocks. Chubb totaled five tackles with two for a loss against South Carolina.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Chubb has scheme flexibility and is a tough defender for the Wolfpack. In 2016, he totaled 58 tackles with 22 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one pass batted. As a sophomore in 2015, he collected 5.5 sacks.
The Chargers have some big needs on defense. They still haven't adequately replaced Eric Weddle while watching Corey Liuget's sack totals decline over the past four seasons, including zero in 2016. I think Los Angeles may end up regretting passing on Malik Hooker and Jonathan Allen with the seventh pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Here's a safety to lead the back end.
Fitzpatrick has 13 tackles and a pass broken up in 2017. In the season opener, he was beaten for a jump ball in the end zone by Florida State wide receiver Auden Tate. The 6-foot-5 wideout jumped above Fitzpatrick to make a short touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone. Otherwise, Fitzpatrick played really well, covering receivers downfield, staying around the ball, and helping out his cornerbacks. He finished the game with five tackles.
In 2016, Fitzpatrick recorded 66 tackles with seven passes broken up and six interceptions. He was dominant at times for Alabama, splitting time between corner and safety. Fitzpatrick had a superb 2015 season for the Crimson Tide. The freshman totaled 45 tackles with two sacks, 11 passes broken up and two interceptions - both returned for a touchdowns.
The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder has excellent size and some natural cover skills. He also has a ton of upside to develop. It sounds as if his preference and natural position is safety. Sources who have looked ahead to the 2018 NFL Draft have said that Fitzpatrick is a prototypical free safety who can cover over the slot or in the middle of the field, yet also be a center fielder. They say he has good size, speed, athletic ability, high football IQ and is a play-maker.
Jacksonville's offensive line played much better than expected in the season opener, but that was against a Houston team still reeling from Hurricane Harvey. In Week 2, the Jaguars' offensive line predictably looked overmatched. Here's an upgrade to the interior as A.J. Cann has been overwhelmed.
Nelson has been exceptional in 2017. He destroyed Boston College, leading Notre Dame to have two players go over 200 yards rushing with seven rushing touchdowns. Nelson also tossed around Boston College defensive end Harold Landry like a rag doll on one play.
The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Nelson was dominant in 2016. He is strong at the point of attack to open holes in the ground game and athletic in pass protection. Sources say that Nelson is receiving first-round grades, and one national scout told WalterFootball.com that they think Nelson is a future Pro Bowler. One general manager told me this fall that they have Nelson as the clear best guard prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Vikings grab a dynamic receiver to go with Laquon Treadwell and Stefon Diggs.
Ridley has 15 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns in 2017. He totaled 82 yards on seven receptions with a touchdown against Florida State. In the second quarter, Ridley made a huge play as he torched the Florida State secondary for a 53-yard touchdown. He also drew a pass interference to prevent him producing another long touchdown.
In 2016, Ridley made 72 catches for 769 yards with seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder had a tremendous freshman season for the Crimson Tide as the replacement for Amari Cooper. Ridley was very effective in that role with 89 receptions for 1,045 yards with seven touchdowns. He finished the 2015 season with impressive performances against Florida and Michigan State to help push Alabama to the National Championship.
Ridley has size, speed and a ton of upside for the NFL.
The Panthers grab a young end to be their replacement for Julius Peppers.
In 2017, Armstrong has 10 tackles with two for a loss. A NFC general manager told me that Armstrong continues to impress him. He was a big presence for Kansas in 2016 as he totaled 10 sacks with 20 tackles for a loss, 56 tackles and three forced fumbles. The 6-foot-4, 241-pounder could use more weight for the NFL to be an edge rusher against pro offensive tackles. He also could be considered at linebacker.
The Broncos could move on from Aqib Talib before too long. Here's a third corner.
Toliver didn't play in the 2017 season opener and has four tackles since then. Head coach Ed Orgeron wouldn't specify if it was an injury or suspension that kept Toliver out in Week 1, but the strong suspicion is the latter. Orgeron said he wouldn't announce suspensions to avoid giving LSU's opponents a competitive advantage.
Toliver impressed as a freshman and sophomore. Considering the amount of talent the Tigers' secondary has produced, it is a serious statement that he played immediately at LSU. In 2015, the freshman had 35 tackles with five breakups and an interception. As a sophomore, he totaled 21 tackles with one breakup in seven games.
The 6-foot-2, 193-pounder is a big corner who can run. Team sources have said Toliver has a first-round skill set.