** 6 Weeks into the 2017 College Football season, Harry Latham-Coyle brings you his initial 2018 NFL Draft position rankings on Offense. Follow Harry on twitter @Hlc1221 and tweet @TheInsideZone with your thoughts on the list. **
1. Josh Rosen, UCLA
I think Rosen’s blend of arm and accuracy is the best in this class. Though he can make questionable decisions and will have to learn to better improvise when the play breaks down, Rosen offers a portfolio of tools that I would most like to develop. He is a leader from the quarterback position who has extremely clean mechanics and throws a good deep ball. He may struggle early in the NFL with his tendency to push for the big play and not just take what the defense gives him, but with good coaching and play calling offers tremendous upside.
2. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Jackson is polarising: some consider him a can’t miss dual-threat quarterback, others foresee his NFL future at wide receiver. I fall more in the first camp and disagree strongly with those calling him a wideout. Jackson is a first-round talent with elite running ability and a developing skill set as a passer but sufficient skills for early NFL success. His completion percentage is much improved from a year ago but his improvements stretch beyond statistical measurements: when you watch the tape you see a quarterback who can throw at all three levels with accuracy, timing and strength.
Critics dismiss what Jackson is asked to do in Louisville’s offense, but it requires decision making and progression through reads to be successful and Jackson is improving in these facets also. At only 19, Jackson has enormous upside should he continue to develop at the rate he has. Undersized, there are doubts over Jackson’s ability to stay injury free with his slight frame and running style, but aside from that there are few questions over his ability as a quarterback. The NFL is beginning to realise the value of the mobile quarterback, and with a creative play caller Lamar Jackson should thrive as perhaps the best pure athlete at quarterback the NFL has ever seen.
3. Sam Darnold, USC
I really want to like Darnold, and I do to some degree. He has the intangibles that make a top quarterback and when on song is a very good passer of the football. His mobility compliments his ability to progress through his reads, keeping his eyes downfield even under duress. His freshman tape was excellent, but this year has been more up-and-down than I would like.
Much has been made about his peculiar throwing motion but that does not handicap him as a passer. What does is his inconsistent footwork. Darnold is somewhat lazy in this regard and needs to tighten up to avoid missing open receivers or limiting plays with bad ball placement, two things that have been apparent on this year’s film alongside some questionable decision making. With a further two years of eligibility remaining, there is no guarantee Darnold declares after this season, and he may be wise to return to the Trojans to refine his game and improve his consistency from this season.
4. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mayfield’s stature will turn evaluators away but this is a quarterback with chutzpah who thrives in Oklahoma’s offense. With a strong enough arm to succeed, Mayfield is capable from within the pocket but is at his best outside of it as an improvisational weapon like many college quarterbacks. Accurate and able to throw with good touch, Mayfield has improved this year and is displaying an NFL skill set with a particularly strong game against Ohio State. His footwork can slip as he tries to make plays, compromising his downfield throwing ability but I like Mayfield as a Day 2 player. Probably 6-foot at most, Mayfield could prove a lot of doubters wrong in the NFL.
5. Luke Falk, Washington State
Falk edges out Mason Rudolph as my fifth rated QB. Falk is an accurate quarterback without the cannon arm that some crave. I like his ability in Wazzu’s spread system to get the ball out quickly and with timing. At best, he can be a Kirk Cousins-like starter in a good offense that suits him in the NFL, while his low end is probably as a backup for a team who can be relied upon as a spot-starter. I anticipate Falk will go in the third round, which is about where I rate him.
Sleeper: Riley Ferguson, Memphis
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Little needs to be said about Barkley. A phenomenal athlete with vision and power, he is an easy runner who glides through contact. A dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield, he is also solid as a pass blocker when required and is showing every game how special a talent he is, with rushing, receiving, return and passing touchdowns already this season.
2. Derrius Guice, LSU
Guice’s numbers have taken a hit as he has dealt with injury during the 2017 season, but he remains a top NFL prospect. Agile, quick and powerful, Guice is a good runner who reads his blockers well and brushes off weak tackle attempts with ease. Some have him pushing Barkley close as RB1 but I think there is a gap between the pair. Able to perform as a receiver and a blocker also, Guice still figures as a first round talent, however.
3. Ronald Jones II, USC
Jones’ athleticism, vision and lower body power blends to create a dangerous runner who is patient but explodes through the hole. His size will cause some to overlook what he is able to do between the tackles, but it is here where he often excels, weaving between blockers and defenders with ease.
4. Nick Chubb, Georgia
Chubb suffered a bad knee injury halfway through a Heisman-calibre sophomore year after a ridiculous freshman season. He returned last year but did not look the same play, and my preseason evaluation had him quite a way down this list of halfbacks as I felt his athleticism had been hampered such that he was not a top running back prospect. This year, however, Chubb looks more explosive and quick but has retained his power and stout frame that allows him to break through contact. Ideally sized for the NFL, he is also creative as a runner. Provided there are no long lasting injury troubles resulting from that knee injury, Chubb should push into the first-round discussion on current form.
5. Bryce Love, Stanford
Love’s small frame will handicap his workload in the NFL but he is lightning-in-a-bottle quick and tearing defenses apart for the Cardinal. He turns tacklers inside out and accelerates away from even the fastest of defensive backs. A big-play threat every time he touches the ball.
Sleeper: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
1. Deon Cain, Clemson
Cain is a great route runner and athlete who catches the football well no matter where he is on the field, particularly threatening as a vertical, downfield option. Cain’s off-field troubles may cause him to slide on draft day but he is the best pure receiver in the class.
2. Courtland Sutton, SMU
Sutton’s size is ideal for an NFL possession receiver and redzone threat. He can highpoint the ball better than most and boxes out corners well, using his big frame to get good position and attack the ball. He may not be a dominant athlete, but he is the type of receiver a quarterback craves.
3. Calvin Ridley, Alabama
I have my doubts about Ridley but I cannot deny how natural a talent he is. An easy route-runner who is quick out of his breaks, Ridley makes a number of impressive catches on errant balls but lapses in concentration sometimes leads to easier catches slipping through his hands. He appears a good athlete in the open field but may not dominate the combine, and I wonder if this lack of true athletic prowess is exposed when he arrives in the NFL. A lot of Ridley’s big plays come on coverage lapses or when Alabama creatively scheme him open, and I don’t know if he is going to win consistently in the NFL, particularly downfield.
4. Auden Tate, FSU
Tate is someone I am high on compared to most. Big, quick and powerful with good hands, Tate is having a good season despite battling injury. A redzone threat with his size (6-foot-5), he is also one of the better receivers downfield, adjusting well to the ball in the air and snagging impressive catches over defensive backs. Someone who could rise right the way up this list come next year.
5. James Washington, Oklahoma State
Washington is a complete receiving package who catches everything thrown his way. A vertical threat in Oklahoma State’s high-powered passing offense, he is a quarterback’s best friend, contorting his body to make sure slightly errant throws are still hauled in. He probably won’t go in the first round due to a lack of size and speed, but he could be a Day 2 pick who emerges into a top option for an NFL team early in his career.
Sleeper: Simmie Cobbs Jr., Indiana
1. Troy Fumigalli, Wisconsin
Fumigalli is my favourite tight end in this class right now. Improved as a blocker from a year ago, he is also a good receiver and route runner who has a knack for getting open and catching everything despite having only nine fingers. He seals the edge well as a blocker, not overwhelming defenders with power that often but springing a number of big runs at Wisconsin.
2. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Andrews is an ideal tight end for the NFL. A good blocker and a reliable receiver, he will probably see the field early and often as an inline blocker. Someone who will play in the league for a long time, one suspects.
3. Mike Gesicki, Penn State
Gesicki is more of a slot receiving option who is long and athletic and threatens defenses up the seam. He will be attractive to many NFL teams with his big-play ability and athleticism, even if he cannot contribute in the way others can as a blocker.
4. Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
Hurst enjoyed a brief baseball career earlier in his life, so will be 25 during his rookie season. A superb athlete and receiving weapon for the Gamecocks, Hurst burns past linebackers and safeties and plays physically when he gets the ball in his hands. He needs to develop technically as both a route runner and a blocker, but the athleticism and size are there if a team looks past his more advanced age.
5. Adam Breneman, UMass
Breneman plays at a smaller school (though he transferred away from Penn State) so is not as high-profile a name as many of the aforementioned tight ends, but offers a tremendous all-around skill set. He has had some medical issues, so will face scrutiny in this regard, but is a polished receiver and blocker who should go on Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Not Ranked: Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State (I don’t know where to rank Samuels, who is a unique offensive weapon as a runner and receiver. Incredibly versatile, someone will get a Swiss Army Knife to play with in the NFL)
1. Connor Williams, Texas
How Williams recovers from his torn meniscus may yet decide how high he goes in the draft but on tape alone he is a potential Top-10 player. His pass protection is not always perfect but he has lovely flowing feet and an ability to move people in the run game. Mobile and powerful with long arms, if healthy Williams should become a franchise left tackle.
2. Orlando Brown Jr., Oklahoma
Brown is a BIG man, even by offensive line standards. Listed at 6-foot-8 and in excess of 340 pounds, Brown is a surprising agile tackle, able to get to the second level and showing impressive mirror technique against even the quickest of pass rushers. With some refinement to his technique, Brown’s upside is extremely high.
3. Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
I go back and forth on Hyatt too much to consider him a top tackle prospect but I like what he is able to do for Clemson on the blindside with his athletic skills. However he can struggle when bull-rushed and with power off the edge, particularly after missing his initial punch, sometimes being walked back into his quarterback. With long arms and a tendency to finish blocks Hyatt has a lot of attractive traits, but needs to develop his upper body strength to succeed in the NFL.
4. Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
McGlinchey might be the best technician among this group but he has to be given his lack of pure athleticism. He struggles with pure speed off the edge at times (his game against Georgia, for example) but is powerful and moves defenders in the run game. Someone who perhaps projects long-term on the right side.
5. Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
Rankin might slide inside in the NFL (MSU tried him at center during Spring practices) but he is having an excellent senior season as a tackle, becoming much more consistent from a year ago. Able in both pass protection and as a run blocker, Rankin has good size and versatility.
Sleeper: Chukwuma Okarafor, Western Michigan
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
1. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Nelson is the best interior lineman I have ever scouted. Powerful, athletic, technically sound and incredibly aware, Nelson is efficient in blowing interior defenders off the line the scrimmage. Be it double teaming a defensive lineman into the dirt with McGlinchey or stonewalling a blitzing linebacker without taking a step backwards, he is a joy to watch and makes guard play look incredibly easy.
2. Billy Price, Ohio State
Price has shifted over to center this year and has continued his generally sound play. Physical and aggressive as a blocker, he is no great athlete but moves well to the second level. His interior versatility will appeal to many NFL teams.
3. Frank Ragnow, Arkansas
Ragnow is another tall center (6’6″) but is a people-mover in the run game for the Razorbacks. Strong and explosive with his upper body he can drive defensive tackles off the ball with ease at times. He didn’t allow a sack in either of the previous two seasons but could still stand to improve his ability when the quarterback is throwing the ball; Ragnow is limiting the pass rush rather than stopping it at the moment.
4. Braden Smith, Auburn
Smith is playing some tackle for the Tigers this year as well as guard. His 2016 guard tape was strong and his tackle play shows some traits that translate well to a prosperous NFL future as a guard. He is a good run blocker for Auburn’s dynamic rushing offense and displays balance and a good anchor as a pass protector. Not an immense physical presence but sufficient power to move people, I like Smith as a Day 2 plug-and-play starter at guard.
5. Mason Cole, Michigan
Cole started as a freshman at left tackle for the Wolverines but was moved to center, where he started 13 games last season. He is back at left tackle for this season, and has now made 43 consecutive starts on the offensive line. He is not a tackle in the NFL, that much is true from his subpar tape this year, but his play at center last season was such that I like his future at this position. Cole is tall for the position but keeps his pad level low and anchors well against the rush. An able run blocker, Cole’s frame could handle some more weight, and an NFL team wishing to play him at guard would probably like him to put some more on. Cole may be overlooked after his play this season but I think he is a good interior lineman for the third round.
Sleeper/Insufficient Tape Watched: Will Hernandez, UTEP (very limited study indicates he deserves a spot in this top-5)
2018 NFL Draft Position Rankings