To a college football fan, the NFL Draft is a system for rewarding the best college football players with sums of money commensurate to their skills and achievement. In a rational system that’s what things like salaries and contracts and bonuses are for, but we don’t have those in college football, so the NFL Draft is doubly important to us. Triply important because our highest honour, the Heisman Trophy, is bestowed by a group so perennially myopic and childish they completely fail to recognize the contribution of linemen and defenders.
We also regard the NFL Draft as something far too important to leave up to NFL scouts, who have ballsed it up so dramatically in the past. When Myles Garrett gets picked first, college football fans nod sagely. “Yes,” we think, “he was the best player, so he deserves the most money.” When Mitchell Trubisky gets picked second, we have a collective aneurysm. “Mitchell Trubisky?” we screech. “Who is Mitchell f****** Trubisky?” He won eight games at UNC, you tell us. “Eight games? How does this guy have more money than Deshaun Watson?”
We don’t understand the process, we certainly don’t Trust the Process, and we often suspect that the process is rigged against minority players, after years of watching mediocre white quarterbacks get selected ahead of otherworldly talents while Jon Gruden blathers on about capital-P “Poise” and “football IQ” or some other nonsense. Release time! Velocity!?
As a result, I’ve long lamented that there needs to be some way for college fans to communicate with NFL scouts, to say “hey, trust us: Deshaun Watson is really good at football. Your team should draft him. He’ll make your team better and I’ll feel better about him not getting paid yet.”
To help, I’ve enlisted my colleague Matt McEwan, SportsBettingDime’s head NFL analyst. I’ll be attempting to sell him the best college players, and he’ll be trying to draft a middling FCS quarterback or whatever it is NFL people like these days.
Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
Alex: Matt, my first question is this: do you like touchdowns, or do you hate touchdowns?
Matt: What man doesn’t love touchdowns?
Alex: Then your team should draft Lamar Jackson, who is very good at scoring touchdowns. He can throw touchdowns, he can run for touchdowns, at some point (likely in high school) he got bored of simply scoring touchdowns and became concerned with aesthetics, playing as if someone was awarding style points. He scored 51 touchdowns last year, then changed his whole game to better appeal to the NFL, and yet is currently tied for the lead in touchdowns nationally (26).
I can’t imagine an earthly reason for any touchdown-appreciating NFL team to not draft him with their first available pick. I’ve heard that he isn’t accurate as a passer (60% completions this year) and that he isn’t good in the pocket, but I think the broken turnstiles that comprise Louisville’s offensive line are partly to blame. If you like Josh Allen for what he does outside of the pocket, you should love what Lamar Jackson gets up to.
Matt: Because I am a touchdown-appreciating individual, who also believes Lamar Jackson can play in the pocket, I agree that the reigning Heisman winner should go very early in the 2018 NFL Draft. But since he doesn’t fit the NFL prototype, and many teams see him as too “raw,” you will likely see at least one pivot taken before him, and probably a handful of non-QBs, as well.
OVER/UNDER LAMAR JACKSON’S 2018 DRAFT POSITION: 9.5
JT Barrett (QB, Ohio State)
Alex: JT Barrett is maybe college football’s most underrated quarterback. Barrett is in his senior year at Ohio State, where he got his start backing up Braxton Miller and won a championship watching Cardale Jones from the sideline. He’s played under three different offensive coordinators, and performed admirably even when things weren’t going smoothly everywhere else. That’s sort of his super-power: he’s extremely good at making things work when they really don’t want to, willing his team to victory more than once and looking terrible doing it. The Indiana game in Week 1 was a perfect example. Trailing by one at the break, he ran mesh for the entire second half, like you sometimes do in Madden, and won (49-21).
I’d like very much for him to get the Christian Hackenberg treatment, and get stashed on the depth chart somewhere. I wring my hands about JT Barrett everytime I see him play, but he’s lost just five games in the 900 or so years he’s been at OSU.
Matt: Let me start here: I like JT Barrett. He is a solid college quarterback, but he’s going to have an awfully tough time transitioning to the NFL. He is a little undersized (generously listed at 6’2, 220 pounds) and hasn’t proven he can consistently beat a defense with his arm. Just look at his last handful of games against quality opponents. The Buckeye pivot may receive the Hackenberg treatment once in the NFL, but he won’t hear his name called nearly as early as Hackenberg did. The 22-year-old will need to dramatically improve his mechanics and accuracy to be taken any earlier than the third day of the 2018 NFL Draft.
OVER/UNDER JT BARRETT’S 2018 DRAFT POSITION: 230.5
Sam Darnold (QB, USC)
Matt: After capping a strong 2016 season with an incredible showing in the Rose Bowl against Penn State (five TD passes), Sam Darnold’s stock was about as valuable as Bitcoin is today. (Quick, time-stamp this article!) But 2017 has calmed the redshirt sophomore’s hype. While a portion of Darnold’s struggles can be attributed to a depleted supporting cast, the pivot needs to start making better decisions and regain his confidence — or swag, as you college folk say — to lock down the first-overall selection. Fortunately, Darnold possesses the arm strength, accuracy, and touch to excel at the NFL Combine, so don’t expect a rough 2017 season to drop him out of the top five in the 2018 draft, if he decides to come out.
Alex: Sam Darnold is a bum. That’s not true.
After an incredible win streak last year that culminated in maybe the best Rose Bowl I’ve ever seen, Darnold generated so much hype that the already supercharged USC hype-train looked ready to defy gravity. Vegas had him leading the Trojans to the College Football Playoff, winning the Heisman trophy, and being the #1 pick in the 2018 Draft. That, uhhh, didn’t happen, and so far this year, he’s looked human, like a good quarterback who, at times, struggles with confidence. Maybe it’s good for Darnold, maybe he’ll be spared the prophecy of becoming a Jets quarterback, maybe he’ll get an actual chance in the NFL. There are better guys for the #1 spot.
OVER/UNDER SAM DARNOLD’S 2018 DRAFT POSITION: 2.5
Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma)
Matt: Baker Mayfield has been one of my favorite college players to watch over the last few seasons. However, it’s not because he plays the quarterback position flawlessly. Mayfield (6’1, 220 pounds) is undersized by NFL standards, lacks arm strength, and badly needs to improve his footwork in the pocket. This is what makes the senior so much fun, though. In spite of glaring shortcomings, Mayfield shoulders the Oklahoma offense and puts points on the board week after week. Unfortunately, those shortcomings will prevent the 22-year-old from being selected in the first three rounds of the 2018 draft.
Alex: For once, I totally understand the “not fit for the NFL” argument. Baker Mayfield is one of those quarterbacks, like Johnny Manziel, who possesses an inimitable ability to improvise and pull off wacky stuff that is very unlikely to translate to the NFL. Most of this nonsense doesn’t work in the pro game, because you don’t get to play Tulsa and defenders are very good at finishing tackles, but it sure is fun to watch. I’m okay with him getting picked in the fourth round and getting a chance to develop.
OVER/UNDER BAKER MAYFIELD’S 2018 DRAFT POSITION: 150.5
Mason Rudolph (QB, Oklahoma State)
Alex: Mason Rudolph plays football like every nine-year old wants to. He throws deep at every opportunity, usually to his best friend, and makes physical runs. There’s certainly a calculation you have to do translating Big 12 yards into Imperial, but 2,866 yards in eight games is just crazy. His 2017 QBR (191) isn’t a quarterback rating. That’s somebody’s weight, or a highway. Not a quarterback rating.
Y’all opened your arms for a Big 12 gunslinger last year, drafting Pat Mahomes in the first round, and I’m hoping you’ll do it again this year. Mason Rudolph makes football fun to watch, and the NFL could use some of that.
Matt: Here’s the problem: nine-year-olds don’t play in the NFL, and it’s likely he won’t have bestie James Washington by his side in the pros. Rudolph will have to go through the same development process Mahomes is currently experiencing, but doesn’t have the same level of talent to woo any team over in the first round.
OVER/UNDER MASON RUDOLPH’S 2018 DRAFT POSITION: 140.5
Bryce Love (RB, Stanford)
Alex: I’m always hearing about how conservative NFL teams are, so Bryce Love, who plays in an offense mimeographed from an old Bear Bryant playbook, should do swimmingly in the draft. Power running. Hitting gaps. Shaking off the defender. Three yards and a cloud of dust. Running backs who can’t catch, or don’t catch as a form of protest. You guys love that stuff, right?
Matt: The Stanford playbook may resemble a Bear Bryant classic, but Bryce Love is no Wilbur Jackson. The junior is one of the fastest backs in the NCAA and is averaging an astounding 10.3 YPC — much better than three yards and a cloud of dust. If Love can add ten pounds without sacrificing speed, and convince his QB to throw the ball his way once in a while, you may see him taken real early on day two.
OVER/UNDER BRYCE LOVE’S 2018 DRAFT POSITION: 45.5
James Washington (WR, Oklahoma State)
Alex: As high as I am on Mason Rudolph, you have to take his stats with a grain of salt, because he’s throwing to one of the best receivers in the game. James Washington doesn’t look like a prototypical receiver — he doesn’t have the height or weight that creates automatic separation just by standing on the field — but he’s speedy, shifty, and can jump over pretty much every defensive back in the Big 12. He’s on pace to end the season with 1600 yards and 15 touchdowns, and I’m worried that he’s not going to go in the first round.
Matt: Jumping over a defensive back in the Big 12 is much different than jumping over a defensive back in the NFL. Though Washington’s speed will transfer, guys like Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, and Martavis Bryant have taught us that teams don’t particularly value one-trick deep threats. Hopefully the idea of Washington getting passed over in the first-round doesn’t cause you to lose sleep, Alex. We need you bright eyed and bushy tailed for Rivalry Week!
OVER/UNDER JAMES WASHINGTON’S 2018 DRAFT POSITION: 70.5
Courtland Sutton (WR, SMU)
Alex: The best way to evaluate wide receivers is as follows: who have you heard of, from a school you’ve never heard of? Jerry Rice was the king of this, coming out of Mississippi Valley State, which is both an FCS school and an HBCU, and thereby not one but two niche subcultures in college football fandom.
Enter Courtland Sutton, a wide receiver from Southern Methodist University. Widespread cheating and who-shot-JR-era extravagance aside, SMU might as well be the moon as far as college football is concerned. (The “death penalty” lived up to its name.) Courtland Sutton, appropriately, also appears to be on another celestial body, standing 6’4 and 215 pounds with bizarrely good hands and movement. There are few defensive backs in the country who can cover that combination of size and skill, and even fewer in the FCS, so Sutton puts up insane numbers.
Also, he played basketball in college! He’s exactly like Antonio Gates!
Matt: Listing Sutton at 6’4 may be a little generous, but the rest of the description is bang-on. The redshirt junior has the size and strength to play on the outside in the NFL, with the quickness and speed to create separation. This is a WR who should not fall out of the first round.
OVER/UNDER COURTLAND SUTTON’S 2018 DRAFT POSITION: 18.5
Peter Kalambayi (OLB, Stanford)
Matt: When you have edge prospects like Arden Key, who stands 6’5, 260 pounds, and runs roughly a 4.7 40-yard dash, it’s easy to overlook Peter Kalambayi and his nine sacks, especially considering seven of them came in one game. Signing on somewhere as an undrafted free agent is likely the senior’s ceiling.
Alex: Fair enough. This is an incredibly deep class of linebackers, and while Kalambayi is really impressive, is he someone you’d consider taking over Harold Landry, the other Josh Allen, or any of the guys from Ohio State?
OVER/UNDER PETER KALAMBAYI’S 2018 DRAFT POSITION: 253.5
Jalen Davis (CB, Utah State)
Matt: It’s hard to believe a mid-season All-American (in the eyes of the AP, ESPN, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated), a semifinalist for the Paycom Jim Thorpe Award, and the only FBS player with three defensive touchdowns this season is hardly receiving any draft buzz. But Davis’ size and level of competition are concerns in the eyes of NFL scouts. His matchup against Cedric Wilson and the Boise State Broncos this weekend will serve as a great test for the senior cornerback.
There’s an increasing need in the NFL to have multiple good corners, plus corners who specialize in playing the slot. So look for someone to take a shot on Davis come day three.
Alex: If we’re going to talk about a guy to make the jump to receiver at the next level, I think Jalen Davis is a good candidate. He made three catches for 95 yards against BYU, a game in which he played entirely on defense. There’s got to be a place in NFL for a ball-hawk like this, right?