Top-50 lists are a useful experiment. Rather than finding a player to fit the team, the players have to stand out on their own qualities to see how they line up in a neutral setting.
Of course so much changes on these lists. The Combine will have a massive effect. As will the interviews, pro days and news stories that leak out over the upcoming weeks. However having a place to start from is always important. Here is the Pre-combine Top-50.
1. Myles Garrett — Defensive End — Texas A&M
An explosive first step combined with a wide assortment of pass rushing moves makes Garrett the clear number 1 prospect in 2017. He’ll be an instant difference maker in the NFL.
2. Jamal Adams — Safety — LSU
Adams has the rare gift of being able to transverse traffic inside and still deliver a ball-jarring hit. Yet his ability to cover in both man and zone coverage is the most impressive part of his game. The most complete safety to come out of the draft since Eric Berry.
3. Marshon Lattimore — Cornerback — Ohio State
One of the few corners to enter the draft with man, press and zone experience despite only playing one year as a starter. Lattimore’s athleticism jumps off the screen as does his in-game intelligence. The only minor concern is his tendency to hold beyond the 5 yard line.
4. Malik Hooker — Safety — Ohio State
Exceptional range combined with natural ball hawking skills makes Hooker a potentially game changing presence in any backfield. His tackling technique will need some work but he’ll quickly become on of the league’s premium free safeties
5. Reuben Foster — Inside Linebacker —Alabama
A natural leader, Foster dominates gaps before bursting into the backfield to make tackles. His sideline-to-sideline range and natural instincts also makes him a 3-down lineman. The only knock is Foster is still a little raw in coverage but this improved noticeably over the past year.
6. Jonathan Allen — Defensive Lineman — Alabama
One of the most versatile rushers in the draft. Allen displays remarkable body control on contact to either over-power or rip away from his opponents. Coupled with a natural instinct to find the ball and above-average lateral movement, Allen is a valuable commodity at both Defensive Tackle and End.
7. Ryan Ramczyk — Offensive Tackle — Wisconsin
Ramzcyk’s fluid feet and powerful hands makes him a natural left tackle in the NFL. His ability to recover and anchor even when beaten is a particularly valuable skill. The biggest concern is how he is recovering from a late season injury which will be revealed at the combine.
8. Solomon Thomas — Defensive Lineman — Stanford
A special reaction time to the snap followed by strong hands that fend off opposing lineman gets Thomas into the backfield with alarming regularity. His unconventional body shape may deter some but he may be perfect for the modern NFL as a Defensive End who can move inside as a true game wrecker on obvious passing downs.
9. Dalvin Cook — Running Back — Florida State
Cook is a player who maximises every opportunity. His vision allows him to find the smallest of holes which is when his agility comes to the fore. Add in receiver like hands and Cook becomes a promising all-down franchise running back. Testing on his shoulders at the combine may be the only thing that stops him being the first back off the board.
10. OJ Howard — Tight End — Alabama
Under-utilised for much of his time with the Crimson Tide, Howard is a persistent blocker who also offers a genuine deep threat. Soft hands and ever-improving route running skills rounds out his impressive array of talents. The question is whether he will be able to perform to his potential consistently.
11. Sidney Jones — Cornerback — Washington
Fluidity of movement allows Jones to track his opponent change of direction better than any other corner in this draft. Strong hands from being a former receiver also makes Jones a significant turnover threat. Ideally he’d be a little longer but his overall ability overcomes this shortcoming.
12. Teez Tabor — Cornerback — Florida
A habitual lack of eye discipline in man coverage and a slightly over-aggressive nature cannot hide the natural talent Tabor is. A smooth player, Tabor is always in contact with his opponent despite playing off coverage better than man. He’ll top some teams’ boards as the best corner for their scheme.
13. Leonard Fournette — Running Back — LSU
The best pure runner in this draft. Probably the best since Adrian Peterson came out of Oklahoma. His mix of power, speed and vision has the potential to break any run to the end zone. However he’s an old school back with improving but undermining blocking and receiving skills. Would not be a surprise if he’s considered the best player from this class in a few years time.
14. Derek Barnett — Defensive End — Tennessee
With three 10 sack seasons in the SEC, Barnett has been remarkably productive throughout his college career. A well developed pass rusher with great instincts, his one flaw is a decidedly average first step. He’s a reliable plug and play starter with promising upside.
15. Corey Davis — Wide Receiver — Western Michigan
Davis combines ideal size with crisp route running and proven touchdown production. His ability to break contain with speed variation also shows a genuine understanding for the position. Only knock on him is lack of experience against top college teams.
16. Tre’Davious White — Cornerback —LSU
A long corner who could always shadow the receiver comfortably, White raised his profile at the Senior Bowl by showcasing his bump and run coverage. Lacks the interception numbers of some others in this draft but his size, speed and body control combination is difficult to overlook.
17. Taco Charlton — Defensive End — Michigan
Charlton’s final four games as a Wolverine establishes everything to like about him as a player. His size and speed makes it difficult for one player to block him. His variety of moves makes him unpredictable and he is a natural at finding the ball carrier. What Charlton needs to do is prove that this is his norm and not a purple patch.
18. Marlon Humphrey — Cornerback — Alabama
Few players were as daunting to play as the Crimson Tides’ Humphrey. His length means it hard to throw over him. His agility means he can jump a route better than many receivers can run them and his pace makes him a constant pick 6 threat. However too many big plays and lapses of concentration makes him a bit of a boom or bust player.
19. Budda Baker — Safety — Washington
Undersized but fabulously competitive and not adverse to delivering a big hit. Baker has true sideline to sideline reach with the added benefit of man, off and zone coverage experience. A player who will make teams better from his attitude alone.
20. Mike Williams — Wide Receiver — Clemson
Williams is a huge target who naturally high points the ball. His body control also gives him the rare gift of being able to box out opponents even when the thrown ball is technically 50/50. Will move up the board significantly with a better than expected 40 time at the combine.
21. Takkarist McKinley — Defensive End — UCLA
A player who could both excel at defensive end or outside linebacker, McKinley’s greatest quality is his unerring effort on each down. Often wearing out Tackles, his speed on the edge never seems to decrease which opens up his swim move late in games. Will need to get stronger to develop a better bull rush or to maintain the edge on run plays.
22. Charles Harris — Defensive End — Missouri
Possessing a devastating spin move, Harris is another who may well find success dropping back into linebacker. He’s physically gifted but can undermine those gifts by playing too upright or over-thinking his role. Yet Harris may be the most natural pass rusher when he lets his game flow.
23. Gareon Conley — Cornerback — Ohio State
Raw but talented. Conley has a natural ability to defend passes and stop the receiver running the route they want. He uses his long frame to great affect on contested throws. Needs to work on picking the right man in combination releases but has made big improvements each of the last two years.
24. Alvin Kamara — Running Back — Tennessee
A pure athlete at the position, Kamara can run around, over or slide past tacklers and then has the break away speed to take the ball home. He also offers a legitimate threat out of the backfield as a receiver. There are some question marks over whether he always picks the right hole but always seems to maximises yardage.
25. Garett Bolles — Offensive Tackle —Utah
Bolles is an elite athlete for the position. He possesses an easy slide and powerful hands that drives opponents back on contact. Also has a nasty edge that is key in dominant lineman. He will be 25 in his rookie season which is quite old to be entering the NFL but his ability still makes him a potential 10 year starter.
26. Mitch Trubisky — Quarterback — North Carolina
Trubisky may have only started 13 games for the Tar Heels but he showed enough to be the top rated quarterback in this draft. He has a compact throwing motion much valued in the NFL and great accuracy on short and medium routes. Like most quarterbacks in this draft, he will need to adapt to a pro system but all his qualities are amenable to this process.
27. David Njoku — Tight End — Miami (Fla.)
Njoku wows with his combination of size, speed and flawless 90 degree cuts. A mismatch against either linebacker, safety or corner, his long arms and frame also give him a massive catch radius. Has the odd drop and is a flawed blocker but has so much explosive upside that he’s worth changing the game plan for.
28. Marcus Williams — Safety — Utah
Overlooked in this star studded defensive back group, Williams has great instincts to break plays up and possesses that coveted sideline to sideline speed. Also has 11 interceptions as a collegian so a proven turnover threat. Do not be surprised if he is taken much earlier than generally expected.
29. Malik McDowell — Defensive Tackle — Michigan State
McDowell is one of the most talented players in this draft class. His stature allows him to bully opposing lineman while his surprising agility makes him a genuine threat in the backfield. The issue is whether he can be his destructive best consistently.
30. Chad Hansen — Wide Receiver — California
A consistent deep threat who does most of his best route running 15 yards down the field, Hansen has been burning up PAC-12 defences for the past two years. He is in the unusual position that he needs to prove his deep form can be replicated closer to the line of scrimmage. If he can, he’s another who could make a major move up the board.
31. TJ Watt — Outside Linebacker — Wisconsin
Watt uses his hands as well as any pass rusher in this draft. He uses this to confuse and then break down Tackles who become unbalanced by his craftiness. Watt is not the most obviously athletic player on tape but his ability to be in the right place at the right time suggests this flaw has been overstated.
32. Jarrad Davis — Inside Linebacker — Florida
Impact tackler who traverses blockers with ease. Davis makes his impact with Tackles For Loss. He’s also big and quick enough to run with Tight Ends, a critical skill for any linebacker in the modern NFL.
33. Ethan Pocic — Centre — LSU
A tough inside blocker with good hands, Pocic excels at marshalling offensive lines and setting the right schemes to neutralise blitzes. A skill hugely underrated. He needs to strengthen to take on NFL size Defensive Tackles solo but his excellent diagnosis rarely leaves him in that situation.
34. Haasan Reddick — Linebacker — Temple
A projection based on a stellar career as a Defensive End at Temple and a week-stealing performance at the Senior Bowl. Reddick appears to possess the nimbleness of a corner with the raw power of a player upfront. However picking him with a top 64 draft pick will be a gamble as this ability is not game tested.
35. Quincy Wilson — Cornerback — Florida
The combination of timing and physicality gives Wilson a real potency at the point of attack against both pass and run. Sudden direction change also means he has become adept at stepping in front of his man at the last moment. Needs to work on his feet work to maximise on these gifts as he can be let down by his balance.
36. Taylor Moton — Offensive Tackle — Western Michigan
Long arms and good movement makes Moton one of the few obvious candidates to develop as a tackle. He could do with a little more weight and learn to lock his opponents out for longer but the raw ingredients are there to be a top 15 NFL tackle.
37. Christian McCaffrey — Running Back — Stanford
McCaffrey can make even the best tackler miss. This skill is evident from the angles he takes to bust open coverages to the little stutter moves he uses to fall defenders into losing their balance as he accelerates past. However he is small and hasn’t been asked to run between the tackles due to it. Is he only a very good 3rd down specialist?
38. John Ross — Wide Receiver — Washington
Fearsomely quick wide receiver who always holds the threat of a big play on every down. Possibly more frighteningly, Ross is also a natural route runner that has finally been seen after a college career marred by injuries. Its this history that holds the key to his chances of being a first round pick.
39. Caleb Brantley — Defensive Tackle — Florida
Powerful lineman with a decisive burst off the snap. His ability to run over and through lines makes him a mismatch player against both single and double teams. There are question marks around his ability to maintain these bursts every down and offers little when it comes to twists and stunts.
40. Raekwon McMillan — Inside Linebacker — Ohio State
Undersized but fearless. Uses his quickness to run round guards trying to get to the second level. Also a deliberate finisher in tackles if a little uncoordinated. Can be bullied out of gaps when a lineman does get his hands on him. Probably best suited to playing in a 34 defence.
41. Forrest Lamp — Offensive Lineman — Western Kentucky
A tackle in college. His short arms have many suggesting he’ll move to guard. Has the raw characteristics to play both positions well with above average body control and powerful hands. Intelligence is also key to his play.
42. Tim Williams — Outside Linebacker — Alabama
Natural pass rusher with the quick release and bend expected from any edge player. Became significantly better at setting the edge against the run in 2016. However Williams’ on-field intelligence is a little doubtful. Often beaten by screen and misdirection. Questionable how he will adapt to NFL complexity systems.
43. Cam Robinson — Offensive Tackle — Alabama
Robinson possesses every attribute on a check list for a top tackle. He moves smoothly and has the length and strength to dominate oncoming pass rushers. The problem is he struggles to put all these elements together. Often one area letting him down. He’ll need careful coaching to get the best out of him.
44. Jerod Evans — Quarterback — Virginia Tech
Clinically accurate on short and intermediate routes, Evans can dominate teams with his quick release and mobility inside and outside the pocket. There is huge amounts of work to be done to fix foot work errors as well as learning to play within a pro-system but the raw ingredients are there.
45. Kevin King — Cornerback — Washington
King is all to often overlooked in favour of his more heralded DB teammates. He is a dominant force at the line of scrimmage where he scuppers planned attacks before they begin. He also has the size to force even the biggest of NFL receivers to struggle. Must improve on stopping inside releases where smaller players can get underneath him for easy gains.
46. DeShaun Watson — Quarterback — Clemson
No player in this draft has proven themselves on the big stage like Watson. His two tremendous games against Alabama including his 2016 championship would normally make him a top 5 prospect. However for all the arm strength, mobility and accuracy there are poor reads and forced throws into coverage. Only time will tell who is the true Watson.
47. Roderick Johnson — Offensive Tackle — Florida State
Had Johnson returned to school, he would be a top 5 pick next year. Possesses a huge frame and has shown glimpses of absolute domination of his opponent. However he is still learning his body, let alone the position so can be awkward looking and plays with his weight to far out in front. Still has the biggest upside of any O-lineman in the draft.
48. Jabrill Peppers — Defensive Back — Michigan
Astonishing athlete who can do anything asked of him. He played in multiple positions on both offence and defence for Michigan. However his lack of consistency costs him at the next level. He lacks the instincts in pass defence and has showed little in the way of takeaway threat. A move to linebacker may be in his future but a steep learning curve is a definite.
49. Carl Lawson — Defensive End — Auburn
A natural controlling the edge on running plays, Lawson is also an adept pass rusher when allowed to play from the wide-9 stance. His lack of size can mean he is lost in the shuffle from more orthodox positions though. Will excel in the right situation.
50. Jaleel Johnson — Defensive Tackle — Iowa
Disruptive inside presence who has a talent for getting off blockers. Also has the ability to eat pressure inside to release other players to get home. Lacks the extra burst to make tackles in the backfield though which undercuts his effectiveness at times.