Narrowing down the list of available draft prospects to form a top 40 of favorites is difficult enough. I can only imagine how tough this is when your team—and your job as a talent evaluator—depends on it.
All of the names mentioned here could land in the first round. So, too, could an unknown additional number of players—probably at least 10 or 20, plus the inevitable late-rising sleeper or two that we’re not really talking about yet. Every draft class tends to be judged on its quarterbacks, but the 2017 class appears to run deep at a bevy of other spots. It would not be a surprise if this becomes one of the most impactful rookie groups, across the board, in some time.
With the bowl games approaching, here’s how the Big Board stands:
1. Myles Garrett, Edge
Junior, Texas A&M
A foot injury held back Garrett during the regular season—of his 8.5 total sacks, 4.5 came against Texas-San Antonio in November, after Garrett declared himself “close to being healthy.” Assuming all that checks out medically, Garrett is still a shoo-in to be one of the first names off the draft board. He is a game-changing pass rusher and has become a stronger, more reliable run defender.
2. Jonathan Allen, DL
3. Reuben Foster, LB
He was just named the Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker. Foster is as complete a LB prospect as there has been at this point in the process since Luke Kuechly in 2012.
4. Derek Barnett, DE
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5. Jabrill Peppers, S
Peppers didn’t quite live up to the hype this year, but some of that was due to what was asked of him—namely, everything. He should continue to move around as an NFL defender, but he will be even more productive when his semi-permanent home is at safety.
6. Jamal Adams, S
7. Dalvin Cook, RB
Junior, Florida State
With nearly 4,000 yards from scrimmage to his credit over the past two seasons and more than 5,000 for his career, Cook is a lightning bolt with the ball in his hands. An NFL team that can get him into space will reap the benefits for years to come.
8. Corey Davis, WR
Senior, Western Michigan
There have been times when it doesn’t even look fair to have Davis go against MAC defenders. He’s on another level. His best features were on display in the Broncos’` conference-title game win over Ohio, including his ability to cover ground in a hurry once he puts his foot in the ground and cuts upfield.
9. Tim Williams, Edge
10. Mike Williams, WR
The type of physical wide receiver that can wear down opposing cornerbacks, Williams is up there with Davis in terms of route running prowess. He is capable of dominating on 50/50 balls, which he should see frequently in the red zone as an NFL starter.
11. Desmond King, CB
He only has two interceptions this year as opposed to the eight he posted last season, but part of that is the Mackensie Alexander phenomenon: You can’t intercept passes if QBs won’t throw at you. King can lock down one-on-one, has the skills to be comfortable in zone and throws his body around against the run.
12. Leonard Fournette, RB
13. DeShaun Watson, QB
This QB class is even more of a “to each his own” situation than usual. Some will argue Watson as the right target for Cleveland or San Francisco at No. 1; others will recommend waiting on him until Day 2. It says here the former camp is on to something. Watson must get better at reading defenses and improve his accuracy, but the plays he does make are as impressive as any QB in the country. He pairs outstanding athleticism with the important mental ability to bury what has already happened so he can stay aggressive in the present.
14. Zach Cunningham, LB
Dabbled with Cunningham as a top-10 prospect, because the tenacity with which he defends the run provides him with a very high floor. He was a Butkus Award finalist alongside Foster, and he has the potential to be just as impactful as a rookie.
15. Quincy Wilson, CB
Without getting too hung up on the height/weight scales, Wilson has the size to be a terrific press-man cornerback at the next level. He rarely gets lost in coverage—he’ll find the ball, get his head around and make a play.
16. Christian McCaffrey, RB
It’s pretty special when an athlete can be as smooth moving horizontally as he is getting vertical. McCaffrey is effortless in his cuts, and he picks out his lanes for them with excellent vision. What he can add as a returner and pass catcher solidifies his chances for a long, productive career.
17. Malik Hooker, S
RS Sophomore, Ohio State