Written by: David Parks – Staff Writing Intern (@_Parskie)
With bowl season in full force, it’s time to unveil the first version of the Grandstand Big Board for next May’s NFL Draft. (Stats per Pro Football Focus)
# 1. Jonathan Allen, DT – Alabama
Only two defensive tackles have won the Bednarik Award since its inception in 1995: Ndamukong Suh in 2009 and Aaron Donald in 2013.
Pretty good company for Allen, who returned to Alabama despite being regarded as a first round prospect this time last year. Per PFF, Allen leads all interior linemen in pass rush efficiency while simultaneously being ranked top five in rush defense efficiency.
Allen doesn’t really need any further explanation for this ranking, but yet another reason why he’s a lock to be a top three pick is his ability to step into the league and immediately be a 3-down lineman. Often times, especially with pass rushers, they’re only able to be used on obvious passing downs. Not so with Allen, who should step into whatever team’s starting lineup immediately upon entering the league.
2. Reuben Foster, LB – Alabama
Again – important to note; these aren’t rankings based on where I think these guys are going to get drafted. There’s almost no chance Foster will be a top five pick because of his position, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the five best defensive players in this draft.
The Tide have a track record of producing outstanding inside linebackers under Saban (McClain, Hightower, Mosely, Ragland), but Foster may be the best of the bunch. He’s quicker sideline-to-sideline than any of those three, yet still capable of plugging run gaps as good, if not better than those three. Much like his teammate Allen, Foster enters the league as a three-down prospect.
3. Jamal Adams, S – LSU
PFF’s highest graded safety this season. Has started since he set foot on campus – something that shouldn’t be overlooked considering how loaded LSU has been in the secondary in recent years. Adams is a playmaker who can line up anywhere on the field and take on the opposition’s slot receiver or tight end.
4. Derek Barnett, DE – Tennessee
Will probably be the only list that has Barnett above A&M’s Myles Garrett, but the bigger question, is why?
Each entered the SEC in 2014 as true freshmen; below are their career sack totals as well as SEC sack totals:
Player A: 32 sacks, 29 sacks vs. SEC in 24 SEC games
Player B: 32.5 career sacks, 12 sacks vs. SEC in 22 career SEC games.
Player A, as you might be able to guess, is Barnett.
There’s no question both are elite edge rushers, but 16 of Garrett’s career sacks came in five games vs. the likes of: Lamar, Rice, Louisiana-Monroe, Nevada and UTSA.
Each are fantastic prospects, but Barnett’s production in the nation’s best conference gives him a slight edge.
5. Myles Garrett, DE – Texas A&M
Physically, he offers as much upside as anyone in the draft. But as I referenced above, half his career sacks came in five games against non-power five competition. He’s able to play both the run and pass and might be best used as a stand up pass rusher. With no quarterbacks being worthy of the first pick, expect Garrett and Allen to battle it out for the top spot come spring.
6. Dalvin Cook, RB – Florida State
Fournette is seen as the bigger “freak,” but I have a feeling come draft time Cook will be the higher draft pick. Much like Fournette, he’s a three-down, between the tackles runner. But what gives him a slight nod over Fournette is his ability to stay in the game on long third downs and provide value as a pass catcher. Cook also led the nation in missed tackles forced with 80.
7. Mike Williams, WR – Clemson
Bounced back from missing all of 2015 with an 1100 yard/10 touchdown 2016. Averaged 14 ypc and was held without a touchdown in only four games this season. Expect the (on the field) Martavis Bryant comparisons to be out in full force come draft season.
8. Desmond King, CB – Iowa
Top corner in an absolutely loaded defensive back class. After an eight interception campaign in 2015, King surprised many when he opted to return for his final season. Might be the best corner at playing against the run which should help him tremendously come May.
9. Zach Cunningham, LB – Vanderbilt
Strong likelihood Cunningham is the most underrated player in the nation. Might be a bigger physical freak than Foster which is saying something. Elite against the run but will definitely need to shore up his tackling as he missed over 30 in his last two seasons on campus.
10. Sidney Jones, CB – Washington
First of several players on Chris Petersen’s defense. Jones has good size (6-0), and allowed a passer rating of only 42.1 to opposing quarterbacks when targeted. Even more impressive is the fact opposing quarterbacks threw at him just 48 times in 13 games.
11. Malik Hooker, S – Ohio State
Possible the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year will return to school, but he’ll likely receive a first round grade from scouts making that seem unlikely. The problem for some with regards to Hooker is the small sample size. Coming into the season he had only 25 snaps to his name. Some teams will see that as a negative, while some will see him with massive amounts of untapped potential.
12. Malik McDowell, DT – Michigan State
McDowell likely fits in a 3-4 at the next level in the mold of a DeForrest Buckner along the line. He’ll make for a nice consolation prize for a team that misses out on Jonathan Allen. His ability to disrupt both the run and pass from the interior gives him a nod over pure pass rushers.
13. Cordrea Tankersley, CB – Clemson
Last year teams avoided throwing at Mackensie Alexander and instead targeted Tankersley who responded with a team-leading five interceptions. This year Tankersley is the corner opposing teams are avoiding. His 6-1 frame won’t keep him on the board for long.
14. O.J. Howard, TE – Alabama
He’s going to be one of those guys that’s ten times better in the pros. We saw what kind of skills he had in last year’s national championship game; once he gets into the pros his skill set will be used much more than it has been. And unlike some tight ends, there’s little doubt about his ability as a blocker. I expect him to make an immediate impact wherever he winds up.
15. Leonard Fournette, RB – LSU
Probably lower than he should be, but I’m a tad concerned about his ankle heading up to the draft. Racked up 41 total touchdowns in under three full years of play including averaging over 5.5 ypc each season. If his ankle/foot doesn’t get flagged at the combine, he’ll move into the top ten.
16. Quincy Wilson, CB – Florida
Say what you want about Will Muschamp as a head coach, but his ability to recruit and develop defensive players should not be overlooked. Wilson had the lowest QB rating on passes allowed in the nation this past year. Despite his teammate Teez Tabor garnering more headlines and notoriety, Wilson is the best pro prospect on Florida’s team.
17. Marlon Humphrey, CB – Alabama
Gets lost on a loaded Bama defense, but he’s as good as any corner in this class. Held Juju Smith-Schuster to one catch for nine yards. Needs to work on playing the ball as well as overcoming the stigma of Bama corners at the next level.
18. Corey Davis, WR – Western Michigan
The debate between Davis and WIlliams should be interesting leading up to the draft. Davis is probably more pro-ready while Williams offers a higher ceiling. Despite playing against mostly MAC competition, Davis’ numbers are insane; three straight seasons of at least 1400 yards and 12 touchdowns.
19. Gareon Conley, CB – Ohio State
Most have his teammate Marshon Lattimore ranked higher but I like Conley’s size and physicality more than his teammate’s. At 6-2, Conley is one of the biggest corners in this class.
20. Teez Tabor, CB – Florida
Bigger and more aggressive than his teammate Wilson, but that aggressiveness can come back to haunt him against double moves. He and Desmond King are probably the best two corners at helping against the run in the class.
21. Marshon Lattimore, CB – Ohio State
So much for the talent drop-off in Columbus. Lattimore is the third member of the Buckeye secondary to appear on this list – giving them the opportunity to claim four first round secondary players in the last two drafts… Insanity.
22. Jabril Peppers, S – Michigan
Easily the most interesting guy in this draft. He’s clearly talented, clearly physically gifted, does a lot of things good… but does he do anything great? What exactly is his position at the next level? See him as a Mark Barron-type hybrid who can do a little bit of everything. But I can see why he might slip come draft time – despite his versatility, only a select few teams will be able to figure out how to properly use him and thus, justify a high draft pick on him.
23. Charles Harris, DE/Edge – Missouri
Next three prospects are all similar.. Harris struggles a bit against the run, but very much a threat in the passing game. 10 sacks, 17 QB hits and 33 hurries this year surrounded by less-than-stellar talent. He, Tim Williams and Carl Lawson should all be grouped similarly.
24. Tim Williams, EDGE – Alabama
Best pass rusher in the draft and I’m not sure it’s close. The stats are wild (per PFF):
- Has accounted for pressures on the QB 27.8% of his pressures (national avg is 10%)
- 20 sacks, 18 hits and 78 pressures on 418 pass rushes
- Over the course of three seasons, played 418 snaps against the pass compared to just 146 against the run.
While the pass rush numbers are eye-popping, it’s the last stat that may lower Williams’ stock come draft time. One of the reasons Allen, Barnett and Garrett are so valuable is because they’re able to play every snap. While Williams can certainly be a weapon on obvious passing downs, his inability to be a factor in the run game limits his overall value at least early on in his career..
25. Carl Lawson, DE/OLB – Auburn
Outside of Garrett, no player may offer more physical upside than Lawson. The problem of course, has been his injury-riddled past. He finally put together a full season in 2016 and did not disappoint with nine sacks.
26. Jourdan Lewis, CB – Michigan
Incredibly deep corner class. Those at the top of the draft are going to have some great options at the beginning of the second round. In three seasons of play Lewis has allowed just 36 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. Even more impressive is that he’s surrendered just two touchdowns in his career.
27. Takkarist McKinley, EDGE – UCLA
Exploded on the scene this year after showing glimpses his first two seasons on campus. McKinley registered ten sacks and three forced fumbles despite the Bruins’ subpar season. If he tests well in Indy he may find himself creeping up this list.
28. DeMarcus Walker, EDGE – Florida State
In my opinion, the most underrated player in the country. While other pass rushers garner more headlines and praise, Walker racked up and ACC-leading 15 sacks while also forcing three fumbles. He’s going to provide someone with excellent value as an edge rusher.
29. Ryan Ramczyk, OT – Wisconsin
In a subpar year for offensive tackles, the former D-III lineman looks to be the best option for teams. Though he has just one season of playing experience on an FBS level, Ramczyk’s physical tools should quell any concerns teams have over his inexperience at a major college program.
30. Pat Elflein, OG – Ohio State
Caught some flack for having Stanford’s Joshua Garnett as a top 20 prospect this time last year because of his position. He’s turned out to be one of the biggest bright spots for the Niners this year and I see Elflein as much of the same. Can play guard or center and excels at run blocking.
31.Vita Vea, NT – Washington
Similar to another former Husky, Danny Shelton. Massive nose tackle who can blow up running lanes. At 6-5, 330 pounds, he’s one to watch in Indy. If he tests well, he’ll keep moving up the board as his combo of size and athleticism is a premium.
32. Caleb Brantley, DT – Florida
Yet another Gator defender. Some debate on where exactly he translates to at the next level, but wherever he winds up he’ll almost assuredly be productive. Through ten weeks of the college season, no other interior defensive lineman had a better pass rush productivity rating than Brantley.
Rest of top 50:
33. Budda Baker, S – Washington
34. Chris Wormley, DE/DT – Michigan
35. Dan Feeney, OG – Indiana
36. Jarrad Davis, LB – Florida
37. Cam Robinson, OT – Alabama
38. Taco Charlton, EDGE – Michigan
39. Mitch Trubisky, QB – UNC
40. Adoree’ Jackson, CB – USC
41. Jake Butt, TE – Michigan
42. John Ross, WR – Washington
43. Solomon Thomas, DE – Stanford
44. Dawaune Smoot, DE – Illinois
45. Deshaun Watson, QB – Clemson
46. Eddie Jackson, S – Alabama
47. Eddie Vanderdoes, DT – UCLA
48. Xavier Woods, S – Louisiana Tech
49. Juju Smith-Schuster, WR – USC
50. Harold Landry, EDGE – Boston College