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2018 NFL Draft Position Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Southern Pigskin's home for all of the 2018 NFL Draft Position Rankings, as well as a first round mock draft.

There’s always excitement around the NFL Draft, but this year feels different somehow. There’s always debate, but this one’s especially contentious, particularly when it comes to the quarterbacks. There’s always a few unique individual prospects, but have there ever been this many?

For whatever reason, it just seems like something special is brewing -- or at least exciting, if nothing else. Now, less than a week until Roger Goodell calls that first name, here are my full positional rankings of ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, and Southern Conference draft prospects, as well as my post-combine first round mock draft.

POSITION RANKINGS:

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | IOL (OG/C) | EDGE (DE/3-4 OLB) | DL | LB | CB | S

FIRST ROUND MOCK DRAFT 2.0:

For this mock draft, the selections have nothing to do with what I think WILL happen, simply what I think SHOULD happen. Basically I put myself in the shoes of the Browns’ GM, then the Giants’ GM, etc.
The selections were determined by a combination of need, my personal evaluations of the prospects, and positional value relative to the point of selection (the reason there are no running backs in the first round).

1. Cleveland Browns: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville -- 6’3, 200

Strengths: Good accuracy at all three levels of the field. Plus arm strength. Doesn’t turn the ball over often. Dominates between the numbers. Athletically in a class of his own.

Weaknesses: Has made great strides with his accuracy, but still needs to improve on throws to the sideline. Occasionally panics against the blitz.

Player Comparison: Russell Westbrook, but football

IMO: Lamar Jackson is obviously the best quarterback in our coverage area, but he is also the best quarterback in the entire draft class. There’s a case to be made for Josh Rosen over Jackson -- that’s it. Darnold is the only other one worthy of a first round selection, and there’s a significant gulf between him and the two aforementioned. There are too many questions about Mayfield and Rudolph’s translatable skills and the Josh Allen hype train has gotten beyond out of hand. Jackson is the most well-rounded pure passer of the group and has as high a ceiling as any of them, even putting his athleticism aside. I’ll fight anyone who thinks that Lamar Jackson is a wide receiver in the NFL.

2. New York Giants: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA -- 6’4, 226

3. New York Jets (from Colts): QB Sam Darnold, USC -- 6’3, 221

*I don’t love Darnold. He’s definitely deserving of a first round pick, but not this high. However, the Jets traded up and you can’t not get QB when you move that much.

4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans): EDGE Bradley Chubb, NC State -- 6’4, 269

Strengths: Physically the prototype. Nice size, speed, and strength for the position. Probably the best run stopping edge defender in college football over the past two seasons. Very effective pass rusher be it off the edge or bull rushing, but especially off the opposing tackles’ inside shoulder. Has shown steady year-to-year improvement.

Weaknesses: Sometimes plays out of control -- led to too many missed tackles in 2016. Would like to see him convert a higher rate of his pressures into sacks.

Player Comparison: Jadeveon Clowney

IMO: Chubb is a day one starter and potentially an immediate impact player because of how developed he already is, both physically and technically. There have been a lot of comparisons to last year’s number one pick, Myles Garrett, but that’s not fair. Garrett was a generational talent, plus he and Chubb are different players. Chubb may not have the long term pass rushing upside as Garrett, but he could be similarly productive as a rookie, although perhaps not in the same way.

5. Denver Broncos: EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College -- 6’2, 252

Strengths: Long, in spite of height, with great burst and speed. Arguably the most well rounded high end edge defender in 2016. Elite outside pass rusher. Able to chase down running backs before they turn the corner.

Weaknesses: Not quite ideal size. Above average bullrush efficacy in college but that could change against NFL play strength. Took steps back last year.

Player Comparison: Jerry Hughes

IMO: Landry took a step back in 2017, but let’s just chalk that up to the ankle injury that sidelined him for a handful of games. Even the lesser version of him was better than most players could hope to be. He’s so lightning quick and his first step so devastating that he’ll be effective even as he continues to develop his pass rush repertoire. His athletic measurables at the combine were off the charts and he projects as one of the best sack artists in football for the foreseeable future. Even with his length limitations, I love him as a hand in the dirt defensive end more so than a standup edge defender, but he can do either with great success.

6. Indianapolis Colts (from Jets): OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame -- 6’5, 329

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Derwin James, Florida State -- 6’2, 215

Strengths: Exceeds every physical attribute one could ask for. Super versatile. Big and athletic enough to cover tight ends from the slot. Elite ball skills. High end run stopping safety coming up near the line of scrimmage, where he has added value as a pure pass rush option. Sure tackler. A natural at the position with great overall feel and instincts. Almost always in the right place and usually making the play.

Weaknesses: Has the tools but zone coverage skills need work, not reliable as single high safety.

Player Comparison: Draymond Green, but football

IMO: After being arguably the best safety in the country as a freshman, James suffered a moderate sophomore slump (he was still really good), before missing the latter half of the season with an injury. In 2017, he was back and better than ever, retaking his throne as college football’s best safety. He’s good at everything, his mockdraftable profile is basically just a perfectly blue nonagon, and he’s got the alpha dog demeanor that you just can’t teach. In the league, he’ll still be at his best near the line of scrimmage, playing the run, covering slot receivers or tight ends, and occasionally using what appear to be genuinely translatable pass rush skills. He can drop into a split safety role, as well. Here’s hoping that whoever gets James will appreciate his versatility and deploy him in ways that will torture offensive coordinators ad infinitum.

8. Chicago Bears: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama -- 6’1, 189

Strengths: Full route tree. Elite speed, separation. So effortlessly smooth. Devastating deep threat. Continues to improve as a run blocker. Has good hands, despite the drops -- plucks the ball out of the air. Can be effective outside or in the slot.

Weaknesses: Has struggled with drops throughout his career, in large part due to lapses in concentration. Slender frame and lack of strength allow him to be redirected by bump and run.

Player Comparison: Shorter A.J. Green

IMO: Ridley’s speed, acceleration, and near perfect route running make him a devastating threat at all levels of the field. Showing ample efficacy both outside or in the slot, he can line up anywhere and do damage. He also a handful after the catch, piling up a ton of yards on screens, especially in 2016. The drops are mildly concerning, he was literally one of the worst in the country throughout his career, by catch rate, but it’s not like he doesn’t have hands. He can make the highlight grabs, it’s mostly a matter of concentration. Even so, in a fairly deep receiver class, Ridley stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

9. San Francisco 49ers: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia -- 6’1, 236

Strengths: Elite athleticism for the position. After being only an average tackler in 2016, he totally assuaged those concerns last year. One of the best run stoppers in the draft, strength to compete in the interior and speed to beat even the faster backs to the sideline. More than capable pass rusher, albeit on a small sample size. Very good in coverage. High football IQ, never makes mistakes, always in the right place.

Weaknesses: Maybe slightly undersized relative to the prototype.

Player Comparison: Lavonte David

IMO: Roquan Smith isn’t your daddy’s prototypical linebacker, but you couldn’t build one in a lab that’s better suited to the modern game. Not only does he possess the best combination of sideline to sideline speed, run stopping instincts, and cover skills -- he might be the best in the class in all three facets, individually. Throw in an above average pass rusher with elite pass rush production, relative to his sample size, and it’s clear who the best in the class is.

10. Oakland Raiders: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech -- 6’5, 253

Strengths: An entirely unique physical specimen; a borderline unprecedented true linebacker with a combination of size, length, and burst, with speed to burn. One of the most gifted, imposing athletes in the class. Two years of solid all-around production. Greatly improved as a tackler last year while becoming even more of a force in the run game. Has steadily improved in coverage throughout his career and does a good job closing from zone.

Weaknesses: Relies pretty heavily on athleticism, only average feel, instincts. Still a work in progress in man coverage. Did miss a lot of tackles in 2016, although that might be fixed.

Player Comparison: Giannis Antetokounmpo, but football

IMO: Of the various “unicorns” in this draft class, Tremaine Edmunds is the unicorniest. He’s too big, too long, too fast for most blockers to keep him out of the backfield, and once he’s there he’s a sure tackler. He effortlessly discards linemen and mirrors running backs. He’s got added value as a pass rusher, tallying six sacks in both 2016 and 2017, as well. He even has added value as an above average coverage option. There may have never been a true inside linebacker prospect quite like Edmunds.

11. Miami Dolphins: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama -- 6’0, 204

Strengths: A special athlete, as versatile as they come. Rangy enough to be left alone in single high, even as he continues to grow into the position. Upper echelon ball skills with the added bonus of being a weapon with it in his hands. Plenty of experience as a slot corner at Alabama, can step right in and defend tight ends or receivers from the inside better than most true corner prospects. Plus in run support and has even shown prowess as a pure pass rusher.

Weaknesses: Played all over the field for Alabama but never had the chance to fully develop as either a corner or safety -- still gaining awareness.

Player Comparison: peak Malcolm Jenkins

IMO: Lately, Fitzpatrick has started to slip down some draft boards because of the sort of positionless role he took on at Alabama. Yet, as versatile as Derwin James was and is, Fitzpatrick is right there with him. It’s not as if he was just good at everything, but not great at anything. He was great at everything. Admittedly, he’s still developing his awareness at each spot which could see him be more mistake prone, early on, but he has shown the ability to excel all over the field. Maybe he ends up as a true outside cornerback, but I think his greatest value lies within his versatility. Then again, if teams are patient with him on the boundary, he has high end shutdown corner potential. Picking between James and Fitzpatrick was a nightmare, but I went with James because of his experience in one role. Fitzpatrick moved all over the place and showed great adaptability which is another point in his favor, but I could see him taking longer to reach his full potential because of it. There’s still no good reason for him to fall further than the top quarter of the first round.

12. Buffalo Bills (from Bengals): CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville -- 5’10, 196

Strengths: Versatility to play inside or outside. Speedy playmaker with plus ball skills. Smooth, agile, and keeps eyes on the quarterback. Sometimes looks like he’s running the receiver’s route better than the wideout. Particularly good against intermediate to deep patterns.

Weaknesses: Misses more tackles than one would like. Frame plus injuries in 2017 could lead to durability questions.

Player Comparison: Stephon Gilmore

IMO: Jaire Alexander may or may not be the best cornerback in this class, that’s up for debate, but he’s no lower than two (assuming you have Minkah Fitzpatrick as a safety, which you probably should). The guy that might be ahead of him, contrary to popular belief, would be Iowa’s Josh Jackson, not Denzel Ward from Ohio State, who I think is severely overrated. Ward had one good year for the Buckeyes and shares basically the same set of skills with Alexander, who has more good tape. I’ll hear Jackson over Alexander. I actually think Ward is very good, too, but there’s no case for him to be ahead of the former Louisville Cardinal. Still, with Jackson’s limited long speed, give me Alexander in spite of the injury concerns as CB1.

13. Washington Redskins: DT Vita Vea, Washington -- 6’4, 347

14. Green Bay Packers: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa -- 6’0, 196

15. Arizona Cardinals: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma -- 6’1, 215

*I’ve been saying that Jackson, Rosen, and Darnold are the only QB’s worth taking in the first round, but when the Jets traded up they sent everything into a tizzy and forced my hand here.

16. Baltimore Ravens: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame -- 6’8, 309

17. Los Angeles Chargers: DL Da’Ron Payne, Alabama -- 6’3, 311

Strengths: Faced high expectations going into the 2017 season, met them, exceeded them, and improved across the board. A unique combination of elite strength and athleticism with the ideal build for the position. Opposing coordinators must scheme away from him in the run game. Showed notable development as a pass rusher last season. An absolute technician, even by Bama’s standards.

Weaknesses: Has the tools to be a good pass rusher but his production was only about average. Would like to see him finish more sacks when he does get pressure.

Player Comparison: Johnathan Hankins, like, tomorrow, but with a way higher pass rush ceiling

IMO: Payne really helped himself in a loaded draft at this position with the way he dominated throughout the College Football Playoff. As polished as any of the Crimson Tide defensive linemen before him and as physically talented as many of them, Payne will be ready to start right away and be an immediate impact player. From day one, teams will have to scheme away from this guy in the run game. If he can put the existing pass rush potential together he could be an All-Pro for years.

18. Seattle Seahawks: OL Connor Williams, Texas -- 6’5, 296

19. Dallas Cowboys: WR Courtland Sutton, SMU -- 6’3, 218

20. Detroit Lions: TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State -- 6’6, 247

21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Bills): OG Will Hernandez, UTEP -- 6’2, 327

22. Buffalo Bills (from Chiefs): C Frank Ragnow, Arkansas -- 6’5, 312

Strengths: Good size, strength for the position. Gets into defenders quickly after the snap and finds work at the next level. Excellent technique in every respect. As good a run blocker as it gets. Plus pass protector at center. Starting experience at both center and guard.

Weaknesses: Only average athleticism.

Player Comparison: Travis Frederick

IMO: How anyone could have another center ahead of Ragnow is beyond me. Everyone is raving about how we might have the best guard prospect in a generation in this class in Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson. Well, we might have the best center prospect in a while, too. He is, perhaps, the only player to have been the indisputable best at his position over the past two years in college football, when healthy, which, speaking of, shouldn’t be a concern, even with last year’s ankle injury. Not only are other no weaknesses to his game, it’s composed almost entirely of strengths -- one of which is that he’s quite strong. Even that little bit about his athleticism is just nitpicking. He is athletic enough to play in any scheme. Sure, he may struggle with quicker interior pass rushers, like Aaron Donald, but that’s something he has in common with every person that’s ever been born. Take this guy and be set at center for the next decade, starting that second.

23. New England Patriots (from Rams): LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama -- 6’3, 232

Strengths: Very athletic, sideline to sideline player. Extremely efficient as both a run stopper and pass rusher, especially in 2016, on a more limited sample size. Adapted better to playing inside last season. Striker.

Weaknesses: Has the tools to be reliable in coverage but needs work. Not very instinctual. Slower to diagnose plays. Nagging injuries are a concern. Missed more tackles than would be ideal.

Player Comparison: Blake Martinez

IMO: As a run defender, pass rusher, and just athletic specimen, he’s up there with anyone in the class. However, he lacks the cover skills to be a truly elite linebacker early in his career. He does have the tools do develop in that respect, though. At Alabama, he never displayed a high level football IQ or feel for the position which could hinder his progress in the NFL, but if he puts it altogether this is a high ceiling prospect worthy of first round consideration.

24. Carolina Panthers: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State -- 5’11, 183

25. Tennessee Titans: EDGE Arden Key, LSU -- 6’5, 238

Strengths: Has added weight to his long frame without really sacrificing any of that elite athleticism that makes him so deadly. Extremely consistent, productive pass rusher both inside and, even more so, off the edge. Converts pressures into sacks at an above average rate.

Weaknesses: Never been much of an asset against the run. Less than reliable tackler.

Player Comparison: Jeff Bezos’ Barkevious Mingo

IMO: Key was a tough comp because he’s so physically unique. He’s probably the most gifted athlete within the position group and, as such, has the highest ceiling, but whether or not he gets there is another thing. There have been some off the field issues and his apparent disinterest in run stopping is mildly worrisome. Taking Key is a home run swing but the thing about home run swings is that when they connect they hit home runs.

26. Atlanta Falcons: DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan -- 6’1, 292

27. New Orleans Saints: TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina -- 6’5, 250

Strengths: Might be the most well-rounded tight end in the draft. Competes on every snap. Plus speed for the position. Sure handed, reliable pass catcher. Prototypical size, athleticism.

Weaknesses: Is probably fully developed, physically. Will be a 25-year old rookie. Routes need some polish.

Player Comparison: Eric Ebron

IMO: There’s no real consensus as to who projects as the best tight end in this class, long term, but there should be no question as to whom will be the most NFL ready from day one -- Hayden Hurst. Sure, he’ll be 25 years old as a rookie, but, by that same token, as high as his floor is, the team that drafts him will have anywhere from a solid starting tight end to one of the better ones in the league on a rookie contract well into his athletic prime. He’s extremely reliable, not dropping a single pass in 2017, and does some serious damage after the catch. His run blocking has some serious work to do, but he’s shown flashes of dominance. With the variety at the position this year, the first tight end to go should be largely scheme/need dependent, but Hurst has as good a case as any.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: S Ronnie Harrison, Alabama -- 6’2, 207

Strengths: An absolute physical specimen -- ideal size-speed combo. Experienced high safety with good feel for zone, closes well. Good ball skills. Physical, effective run stopper. Very reliable tackler with a penchant for laying down big hits. Has pass rush ability. Good general feel for the position, does his job and does it well.

Weaknesses: Not really an option to cover receivers from the slot, despite physical tools.

Player Comparison: D.J. Swearinger

IMO: Harrison may be underappreciated because he wasn’t even the best safety on his own team. In another draft, however, that didn’t have two super freaks like James and Fitzpatrick, Harrison would be the talk of the position group. Even at Alabama, because of how Fitzpatrick, and really that entire group of super versatile defensive backs, was used, Harrison may not have been as good as he can be, which is terrifying. In the NFL, where he can still play closer to the box in run support and cover tight ends, and not have to take reps as the lone safety, he has serious star potential. He can’t cover slot receivers like the other two, but he’s not far behind in any other respect. The league is moving more towards these multifaceted chess pieces, and everyone is taken with Fitzpatrick and James (with good reason), but Harrison fits that mold, too.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: OG Wyatt Teller, Virginia Tech -- 6’5, 314

Strengths: Well put together frame. A bully of a run blocker that doesn’t make many mistakes. Maybe the best pass blocking guard in college football over the last two years. Strength to handle bull rushing interior defenders.

Weaknesses: One of the most penalized offensive guards during his career. Won’t always look for more work when uncovered.

Player Comparison: Kevin Zeitler

IMO: This man is a bully, just ruining people’s days with regularity throughout his career. He’s been one of the best run blocking guards in the country since he was a freshman and significantly improved in pass protection as an upperclassman. He too will need to work on keeping a wider base to better deal with those quicker interior pass rushers, but other than that he’s going to be ready to roll from day one. Teller is being slept on. He’s got all the tools to be a great pro, and has been about as good as anyone could expect from a four year collegiate starter.

30. Minnesota Vikings: OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma -- 6’8, 345

31. New England Patriots: CB Donte Jackson, LSU -- 5’11, 178

Strengths: Track star, one of the fastest players in the entire draft. Can play in the slot or on the boundary. Aside from top end speed, really fluid acceleration and lateral agility helps him to recover from mistakes.

Weaknesses: Subpar instincts, feel. Questionable recognition skills.

Player Comparison: Ronald Darby

IMO: Everyone assumed that Donte Jackson would tear up the combine and that’s exactly what he did. This dude has jets. Athletically, few athletes can even begin to measure up, but it wasn’t until last year that he translated that into on-field success. He played inside and outside at LSU and has the potential to play both in the NFL, but he’s best suited as a slot corner where his recovery speed and change of direction could see him become on of the best in the league. That shouldn’t impact his value anymore, either. For all intents and purposes, nickel is the new base for just about everyone, so slot corners are as valuable as they’ve ever been.

32. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M -- 5’10, 201

Strengths: Big time playmaker -- picks up a lot of yards after the catch. Very shifty. Gets in and out of his breaks quickly. Natural pass catcher, improved his drop rate despite shaky QB play and a lot of double coverage last year. One of the great punt returners in SEC history.

Weaknesses: Below average catch radius. Quarterback play at Texas A&M has limited his ability to showcase how effective he can be as a deep threat, consistently.

Player Comparison: Golden Tate

IMO: I’m curious to see what Kirk looks like catching passes from an NFL caliber quarterback, a luxury he never enjoyed in college. In fact, it was he who was the luxury being taken advantage of by a carousel of lesser beneficiaries. The Golden Tate comp is one of my favorites in this entire draft guide. Tate, neither the biggest guy, the fastest guy, the best route runner, nor the guy with the softest hands is arguably one of the ten best receivers in the league based almost entirely on his ability after the catch. That’s Kirk. Best suited in the slot, he can also line up outside on occasion and stretch defenses from either alignment. It seems like Kirk may slip to the second day, but he exactly fits the bill of one of those guys that gets looked back at with everyone wondering, “how did he fall so far?”.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP