Heading down the home stretch of the college football season, and having reached the halfway point of the NFL schedule what better time to start focusing our attention to the 2017 NFL draft.
This week, we take a look at the offensive side of the ball and rank the top-five players (seniors and juniors) at their respective positions for the draft. While conceding that this is way too early to rank prospects. What this exercise can do is help identify some of the top talents that could be available in the 2017 NFL Draft.
1. DeShaun Watson, Clemson
2. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
3. Brad Kaaya, Miami
4. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
5. Luke Falk, Washington State
The top three quarterbacks for the upcoming draft have not changed from what they were at the start of the season with Clemson’s Watson ranked at the top. While many have claimed that Watson has not had a great season so far, he still displays the type of dual-threat playmaking ability that he showed versus Alabama in last year’s championship game. Watson’s versatility to beat you with his legs and arm is what really makes him stick out among this draft group.
As for Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, while he may eventually turn out to be the better pro QB amongst the group, his inconsistencies this season, along with 17 interceptions over the past two seasons, make it easy to believe that he may need a bit more time developing.
The wild card in the group is North Carolina’s Trubisky, as the junior has made a name for himself in just his first season starting for the Tar Heels. Trubisky’s size and athleticism coupled with a strong arm has drawn the scouting community’s attention. While some will use Trubisky’s lack of starting experience against him, there is no doubt that he has played himself into a possible first round pick.
1. Leonard Fournette, LSU
2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State
3. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
4. D’Onta Foreman, Texas
5. Nick Chubb, Georgia
Leonard Fournette tops the running backs group in this draft class as he and FSU’s Cook are ready made NFL running backs who could line up this coming Sunday for a NFL team and play well. Fournette possesses everything teams look for in a lead-back with his combination of speed, power, and vision. While Cook has the speed and quickness to go along with his pass catching abilities that allow him to also project as a three-down runner.
The one back who has really impressed me this season has been the Longhorns’ Foreman. The 6-foot-1 249-pound junior already has amassed over 1,100 yards this season. He has rushed for over 100 yards in every game so far and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry to go along with his 10 rushing touchdowns.
1. Mike Williams, Clemson
2. JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC
3. Corey Davis, Western Michigan
4. John Ross, Washington
5. Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech
Clemson’s Mike Williams sits atop of the wide receiver rankings as the junior, who is making a comeback from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2015 season, has hauled in 46 receptions for 648 yards and four touchdowns. Williams combination of size and ball skills allows him to pluck balls out of the air. He has become a big-play threat, and a potential No. 1 receiver, even though he appears to lack elite speed.
The Trojans’ Smith-Schuster is not far behind Williams for the top spot as he also seems capable of being the top option on offense. Smith-Schuster is more physical than Williams at fending off press coverage and at the top of his route or when going up to secure a 50-50 jump ball. He is a natural hands catcher able to reel the ball in cleanly, and will immediately look to head upfield for additional yardage.
Western Michigan’s Corey Davis (14) and Washington’s John Ross (11) have put up impressive numbers in terms of touchdowns this season. Davis, in particular, has corralled 47 career touchdowns playing in head coach P.J. Fleck’s offensive system.
1. O.J. Howard, Alabama
2. Jake Butt, Michigan
3. Jordan Leggett, Clemson
4. Evan Engram, Ole Miss
5. Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
While last year’s tight end class may have been one of the worst, as a whole, in recent memory the 2017 collection is shaping up to be a very deep and talented group.
Alabama’s Howard just might be one of the most underutilized weapons in all of college football. The 6-foot-6, 251-pound senior has the skillset to be a dominant performer week in and week out. Howard possesses the size, speed and hands to be a big-play tight end capable of threatening defenses down the field. His huge hands allow him to naturally catch the ball and his long arms (33-inches) give him a wide catch radius as he is able to extend away from his body to haul in a reception. Howard is very impressive after the catch as well, as he is able to take a short pass and quickly turn it upfield for a big gain.
Similarly, Michigan’s Jake Butt also has the size-speed combination that makes him a weapon on offense. Butt’s versatility to line up as either the Y (inline blocker), or flank out wide as a receiver or line up in the slot allow him to be a three-down performer. His knack for making tough catches over the middle of the field, with good speed and quickness to break free and gain more yards is another element of his game that makes him so appealing.
While the trio of Leggett, Engram, and Hodges are all talented pass catchers in their own right as well. However, what separates Howard and Butt from the rest of the group is their abilities as blockers. Not being a liability as pass blockers will allow both Howard and Butt to be immediate three-down contributors while the rest of the group still needs to work on that aspect of their games.
1. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
2. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
3. Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
4. Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
5. Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Alabama’s Cam Robinson headlines what could be a very thin offensive tackle draft. Questions about whether or not Robinson could play left tackle in the NFL, or if he will need to switch over to the right side, still exist. However, when you watch Robinson play you can’t help but notice the size, strength, and athleticism he displays when both run blocking or in pass protection. His power at the point of attack allows him to be a dominant run blocker who will get bodies to move in front of him by keeping his legs driving. He plays with an angry temperament looking to finish off his blocks and will blow up defenders at the defense’s second level.
Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk has really impressed me this season and cracks my top five due to his size (6-foot-6 and 314-pounds) and the nastiness he displays on tape when he is run blocking. Ramczyk, just like Robinson, may eventually need to switch over to the right side in order to succeed at the next level especially if he struggles with speed off the edges early on in his career.
Indiana’s Dan Feeney and the Irish’s Quenton Nelson make the cut as the top two guards. Both possesses the size, strength, and nasty disposition to excel as run blockers. Nelson and Feeney will look to bury their defenders into the ground and both will play through the whistle. Similarly, both prospects are above average pass blockers who have shown they can struggle versus quicker interior lineman.
Next week we will rank the defensive players.