- Who's ready for next April? Get familiar with these 32 names now before their draft buzz starts to build in the fall.
Teams have not even had their 2017 draft picks in for a practice yet, but the NFL machine never stops. It’s already on to the 2018 draft prospects for scouts around the league, so now is as good a time as any to start learning a few of these names.
The same two caveats that are included with our way-too-early mock every year:
a) Don’t spend too much time worrying about team needs and player fits. There is meant to be at least some basic connection between where a roster may look thin and the player that team receives in this mock, but way too much will change in the next year to nail anything down.
b) The draft order is not an official prediction of where teams will finish, but rather is based off the Super Bowl odds offered by Bovada. Adjustments have been made in the 21–32 range just so all the playoff spots line up as they should.
So, that’s it. Enjoy. And file these 32 prospects away for when the 2018 draft season really kicks into high gear a few months from now.
Let’s not lock any quarterbacks into the top five 12 months early—Brad Kaaya was thought to be a 2017 QB1 contender at this time last year. But it does look rather apparent that the ’18 class will be built around the quarterbacks, and that Rosen, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen are going to have the most NFL hype headed into the coming season.
Depending on how DeShone Kizer’s development goes, the Browns may not need another QB next year. But it will be hard to get away from a quarterback in the top spot.
This could go either direction. A dominant edge rusher, Key has top-of-the-draft level ability. He also just took a leave of absence from LSU in February for ”personal reasons,” has yet to rejoin the team and felt he had to announce over the weekend that he doesn’t plan to sit out his junior year.
Is he a cornerback or a safety? He played both for Alabama last year, moving to safety after Eddie Jackson’s season-ending injury, and he probably can line up either spot at the next level. Ironically, the Bears just drafted Jackson, in the X round.
Lewis played opposite Joey Bosa in 2015, then was the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year last season. He opted to stay in Columbus for his senior season, and he should be an easy first-round call if he has a solid year. Buffalo drafted Shaq Lawson in ’16, but Sean McDermott will want to keep stockpiling pieces off the edge.
It was a minor upset when McGlinchey decided to bypass the 2017 draft, especially given how shallow the OT pool was. He’ll head into his senior year among the top handfuls of tackles in the country. The Chargers fixed their guard spots last weekend, so they can find a tackle next draft.
Chubb had a very strong game against McGlinchey, and he too was on the fence about the 2017 draft. Count on him to be consistently mentioned among the first-rounders for next year. He’s scheme-versatile off the edge with a well-rounded game.
Terrelle Pryor is on just a one-year deal, so Washington could be on the lookout for a skill-position guy again next year. Ridley may not be a runaway WR1—Courtland Sutton, Christian Kirk, James Washington and Deon Cain are among a deep group—but he’s a gem.
Wilkins has played end, despite weighing in above 300 pounds, so his versatility can be a selling point. He has the look of an NFL anchor inside, though. He and Ndamukong Suh together would make for a dominant duo.
A 6' 2" cornerback with speed? Yeah, that’ll play in the NFL. McFadden is coming off labrum surgery, but he should be good to go for the 2017 season. Cincinnati has a mess of players at CB, but it’s hard to say any of them really are standout lockdown defenders.
With Hubbard and Lewis teaming up off the edge, the Buckeyes’ defense will be a headache for opposing offenses. Either one could emerge among the top edge rushers in this class. The Bucs used their 2016 second-rounder on Noah Spence, but they could benefit from reinforcements.
DaQuan Jones is headed into the last season of his rookie contract, which means the Titans could have a hole to fill along their line by next April. Hand is the latest talented ’Bama defender up front, and his inside-outside game is reminiscent of Jonathan Allen’s.
The light hasn’t always stayed on for Jefferson (a problem for which the previous coaching staff in Austin is at least partly responsible), but the athletic upside is there. He’s moving from ILB to OLB this season; the Saints could be in need of help either spot, depending on how well Alex Anzalone works out in 2017.
Not sure there is a more entertaining prospective pairing among the 32 picks here than this one, which places the electrifying Jackson under Bruce Arians’s tutelage. How much progress Jackson shows as a passer this season will dictate how high he can climb as a draft prospect.
This makes five quarterbacks off the board in our 2018 first round, and Rudolph is the most known commodity among them. Washington State’s Luke Falk could be in the mix, too, among others. The Vikings are down to the final year in the contracts of both Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater.
Michigan’s Mason Cole, another prospective 2018 first-rounder, is expected to play left tackle again this year after a year spent at center. Rankin may be headed the other direction, from LT to the middle—he handled the center job in the spring. A position switch would only add to his NFL appeal. The Panthers may regret their Matt Kalil contract sooner rather than later, and center Ryan Kalil’s deal is up after 2018.
(Pick via Kansas City) The Bills picked up a pair of linebackers on Day 3 this year, Matt Milano (Round 5) and Tanner Vallejo (Round 6). Even if one carves out significant playing time, Sean McDermott probably wouldn’t mind another playmaker. Smith has averaged 80.5 tackles over his first two USC seasons, despite missing time as a freshman.
He had a spot reserved on my 2017 “draft crushes” team, then decided to return to school. The first round should be well within reach for Landry next year, if he can come anywhere close to the 22 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks he racked up last year. Letting him work in a rotation behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon would set Landry up for success.
(Pick via Houston) There was some midseason talk that Thomas could climb into the upper echelon of this spring’s draft class at the CB spot. Talent-wise, he should be there in 2017. The big issue with him is off the field—he had two ’15 suspensions plus a ’16 arrest. Fourth-round pick Howard Wilson could be a good player for the Browns, but they eventually will have to load up at the cornerback spots.
The Steelers very well might have taken Jabrill Peppers had he lasted to No. 30 this year, and the obvious positive for Peppers is his versatility, so Whitehead’s game figures to be appealing. He’s shifting from strong safety to free safety this year and carries an all-around skill set.
There’s no need at wide receiver in Atlanta yet, but it’s best to get out in front of possible trouble spots—Taylor Gabriel can be a free agent after this season, and Mohamed Sanu’s deal gets rather expendable by June 1, 2018. Even if that duo and Julio Jones is still around, though, there could be room for a dazzling weapon like Kirk.
Don’t want to spend too much time worrying about player-team fits a year early, but ... well, a 6' 1" cornerback whose main drawback as a defender is that he’s too aggressive? Sure sounds like a Seahawk. Richard Sherman’s uncertain future could make the CB spots a pressing need for Seattle next spring.
There are people who will tell you that Guice, not Leonard Fournette, was the real generational talent in LSU’s backfield last season. That’s setting the bar extremely high, but Guice could challenge for a very early draft slot himself. The Raiders are basking in Marshawn Lynch’s return for now, but that’s not a long-term marriage.
Yet another Ohio State prospect, Billy Price, could have something to say about the projection of Nelson as next year’s top interior lineman—Price will follow in Pat Elflein’s footsteps, shifting from guard to center. That said, Nelson deserves the praise. He’s a bruiser up front, and he could help solve whatever lingering issues Green Bay has at guard ahead of 2018.
Chaz Green could make the discussion moot with a strong 2017, but the Cowboys also could find themselves in need of a right tackle upgrade for ’18. Brown, a nasty run blocker at a staggering 6' 8" and 360 pounds, could be the guy to fill that role. He already has 26 starts to his credit at left tackle.
Alexander picked off five passes last season, including two against Clemson, and he’s also served as a punt returner for 2015 and ’16 (9.6 yards per return average). He may not be an Adoree’ Jackson carbon copy, but he fits a similar profile: versatility and blazing speed. If New England feels the loss of Logan Ryan this year, it could nudge a slot-corner option or two up its board.