It’s never too early to be looking ahead to future NFL Drafts and several true and redshirt freshman stood out during the college football season, giving us some early information as to who the top draft prospects are for the 2018 NFL Draft. As always, this is a way-too-early projection and just an educated guess as to how the 2018 draft could possibly turn out.
The draft order is completely random. All 32 teams were entered into a random number generator and taken from there. I, by no means, harbor bad intentions towards your team if they happen to have an early pick.
1. Chicago Bears – Josh Rosen/QB/6-4/210/UCLA – Josh Rosen had a phenomenal true freshman season at UCLA, perhaps the best season by a true freshman quarterback in the last decade. He displayed great arm strength, accuracy and good pocket presence as well. If Rosen continues to develop as a passer, there is no doubt in my mind that he could be the first overall pick as a junior.
2. Buffalo Bills – Mitch Hyatt/OT/6-5/295/Clemson – A five-star prospect out of high school, Mitch Hyatt earned the starting job at left tackle for Clemson and started all 15 games for the Tigers. He was an essential cog to the offense that was one of the nation’s best and proved himself multiple times against some of the best pass rushers in the nation.
3. Tennessee Titans – Derwin James/S/6-3/213/Florida State – Derwin James was absolutely dominant as a true freshman, both as a coverage safety and as a pass rusher. His role in Florida State’s defense should continue to evolve as Jimbo Fisher realizes his immense potential.
4. Cleveland Browns – Connor Williams/OT/6-5/283/Texas – Connor Williams was the lone bright spot on Texas’ offense last season. The true freshman anchored the left side of the line and should continue to develop as Texas’ offense improves.
5. Washington Redskins – Calvin Ridley/WR/6-0/188/Alabama – Despite the fact that Ridley will be a bit older prospect, he will undoubtedly be compared to former Alabama greats Julio Jones and Amari Cooper by the time the 2018 draft rolls around.
6. Baltimore Ravens – Sam Hubbard/DE/6-5/265/Ohio State – No Joey Bosa, no problem. Ohio State has a future stud at defensive tackle in Sam Hubbard. The former high school safety showcased in limited opportunities that he has the chance to be as good as Bosa was.
7. New Orleans Saints – Kevin Toliver II/CB/6-2/196/LSU – LSU’s secondary is home to some of the best talent in the nation, but Kevin Toliver still managed to earn a starting job as a true freshman. He is the archetype of what the NFL wants in a long, lengthy cornerback.
8. New York Jets – Saquon Barkley/RB/5-11/220/Penn State – The junior running back class will get all the hype, but Saquon Barkley should continue to dominate college football as a sophomore. Barkley carried the Penn State offense as a true freshman and will be a stud running back as a pro.
9. San Diego Chargers – Christian Kirk/WR/5-11/190/Texas A&M – Despite the quarterback problems at Texas A&M, Christian Kirk was still a thousand-yard receiver as a true freshman. He is also very adept in the return game and should draw Tavon Austin comparisons.
10. Cincinnati Bengals – Josh Sweat/DE/6-5/237/Florida State – Before a knee injury ended his high school career, Josh Sweat was the top recruit in the nation. If he can regain his freakish burst and speed that he had before the injury, Sweat has a chance to be one of the best pass rushers in college football.
11. Oakland Raiders – Cameron Smith/LB/6-1/245/USC – Cameron Smith burst onto the national scene after a three-interception performance against Utah. Before an injury ended his season, he also showed great abilities in coverage as well.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Arden Key/DE/6-6/231/LSU – Arden Key still has to add some weight to his frame, but was outstanding for the Tigers in pass rushing situations.
13. Carolina Panthers – Orlando Brown/OT/6-7/342/Oklahoma – Part of the reason why Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon had so much success on the ground was because of the improved play of the offensive line, particularly Orlando Brown at left tackle.
14. San Francisco 49ers – Deon Cain/WR/6-1/200/Clemson – In my 2017 mock draft, I have the 49ers selecting Brad Kaaya. As such, a reasonable option here would be to grab Kaaya a No. 1 receiver like Deon Cain.
15. Green Bay Packers – Da’Shawn Hand/DE/6-5/278/Alabama – At any other school, Da’Shawn Hand would probably be a starter and likely All-American. However, he’s been stuck behind future NFL players at Alabama. Hand has a chance to burst onto the scene as a junior and senior however.
16. Los Angeles Rams – Aliz’e Jones/TE/6-5/240/Notre Dame – With their first first-round pick since the Jared Goff selection, the Rams grab a versatile tight end for their franchise quarterback. Jones has to develop as a blocker, but worked nicely as a receiver as a true freshman.
17. New England Patriots – Malik Jefferson/LB/6-2/232/Texas – Malik Jefferson was the best player on Texas’ roster as a true freshman. There’s no telling how good he he could be as a junior.
18. Denver Broncos – Ross Pierschbacher/C/6-4/298/Alabama – Pierschbacher started at guard as a redshirt freshman for Alabama, but is moving to center with the departure of Ryan Kelly to the NFL. He has a chance to be as good as Kelly was.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ronnie Harrison/S/6-2/218/Alabama – Harrison has prototypical size for an NFL safety and should continue to develop as a defensive back under the tutelage of Nick Saban.
20. Minnesota Vikings – Myles Gaskin/RB/5-9/192/Washington – The Vikings have to start thinking about Adrian Peterson’s replacement eventually and there might not have been a better true freshman running back in the nation than Washington’s Myles Gaskin.
21. Philadelphia Eagles – Minkah Fitzpatrick/CB/6-1/200/Alabama – Fitzpatrick played a nickel cornerback role for the Crimson Tide as a true freshman, but it will be interesting to see if the coaching staff sticks him at cornerback or safety to continue his career.
22. Arizona Cardinals – Jake Browning/QB/6-2/205/Washington – Carson Palmer only has so much left in the tank, which means that the staff needs to start thinking about his successor. Browning had an excellent true freshman season at Washington and should be one of the better quarterbacks in the nation as a sophomore.
23. Kansas City Chiefs – Khalil McKenzie/DT/6-3/328/Tennessee – A five-star recruit out of high school, McKenzie worked himself into the rotation at Tennessee as a true freshman and should continue to develop as a sophomore and junior.
24. Dallas Cowboys – DeShone Kizer/QB/6-4/230/Notre Dame – Tony Romo is nearing the end of his career and none of the backups on the roster are suitable replacements. Kizer shined as a redshirt freshman and could be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation by the time the 2018 draft is upon us.
25. Atlanta Falcons – Rashaan Evans/LB/6-3/225/Alabama – Much like Da’Shawn Hand, Evans has been sitting behind future NFL players at Alabama. It looks as if he will have a starting role in 2016 and should be in line for a breakout season.
26. Indianapolis Colts – Porter Gustin/LB/6-4/250/USC – A linebacker-defensive end hybrid, the coaching staff at USC is still learning how to best use Porter Gustin. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him bulk up and play defensive end full time.
27. Houston Texans – Jordan Whitehead/S/5-10/185/Pittsburgh – The reigning ACC Rookie of the Year, Jordan Whitehead showed great versatility as a run stopper and cover safety as a true freshman.
28. New York Giants – Iman Marshall/CB/6-1/200/USC – Iman “Biggie” Marshall was a five-star recruit and earned a starting job at USC opposite of Adoree Jackson. He should only continue to improve as his career in a Trojans uniform progresses.
29. Miami Dolphins – Brett Rypien/QB/6-2/197/Boise State – Ryan Tannehill really hasn’t shown much progression as a pro, which means the Dolphins could be in the market for a new quarterback. Brett Rypien isn’t on a national stage at Boise State and had an excellent under-the-radar freshman season.
30. Detroit Lions – Ronald Jones/RB/5-11/185/USC – Ronald Jones was nearly a thousand-yard rusher despite splitting carries with other running backs. He is an electric running back and will star in an offense that features him as a workhorse back.
31. Seattle Seahawks – Chance Hall/OT/6-4/318/Tennessee – Hall worked as Tennessee’s right tackle last season but a move to left tackle is imminent in his collegiate career. Seattle is always in the market for more offensive linemen.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars – Daron Payne/DT/6-2/315/Alabama – Despite being a true freshman, Payne worked himself into the rotation at Alabama alongside players like A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed. That’s a very impressive feat for any player.