The 2018 NFL Draft class is stacked with talent at the top. Plenty of deserving players won’t even be drafted in the first round, even though they would have been in previous years. Some prospects have the potential to be among the NFL’s best in a few years. Here are ten to keep an eye on:
10. Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
Highly recruited out of high school, Sweat has fantastic physical talent but hasn’t quite put it all together yet. Over his three seasons in college, he totaled 138 tackles, 29 for loss, and 14.5 sacks. Sweat’s injury history going back to his high school years is concerning to NFL teams, but he showed no signs of wear and tear as he dominated the combine.
At 6’5″ 251 lbs, Sweat ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and had a 39.5-inch vertical. His 34 5/8-inch arms are ideal for an edge rusher, and Sweat should be a second-round pick based on his physical traits alone. If he learns proper technique, he could be one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL.
9. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
At Southern Methodist University, Sutton completely outclassed his competition. He caught 193 passes for nearly 3,200 yards and 31 touchdowns in three seasons. He has ideal size for an outside wide receiver at 6’4″ 218lbs. His catch radius is insane; if a ball is thrown anywhere towards him, he has the ability to catch it.
His 40-yard dash time was 4.54 seconds, which is not fantastic, but for a guy his size, he doesn’t have to be an absolute burner. After the catch, he is a great runner, able to fake out defenders as well as run over them. Sutton has elite #1 WR potential and should be an instant contributor as a rookie.
8. Brian O’Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
NFL teams love having athletic offensive tackles, and O’Neill is one of the most athletic lineman to enter the draft in a while. At 6’7″ 297 lbs, O’Neill is long and lean. He ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.82 seconds, a great time for someone his size.
O’Neill is such a good athlete that Pittsburgh would line him up at tight end and throw screen passes to him; he scored two touchdowns in 2016. O’Neill needs to refine his technique and add more strength, but with a little development, he could become an elite left tackle.
7. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
An ideal NFL cornerback must have three traits: good ball skills, good speed, and good size. Oliver has all three, and that’s why many view him as the best cornerback in the class. He stands six feet tall and weighs 201 lbs. He’s big enough to cover taller, physical receivers such as Julio Jones, and his 4.5 speed will allow him to stick with smaller, quicker players like Jarvis Landry.
With 12 passes defended in 2017, Oliver has the closing skills needed to break up a pass and prevent the WR from hauling in a completion. He needs more time to develop, but he has the chance to be a very good CB1 at the next level.
6. Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
In a 4-3 defense, teams prefer to have two different types of defensive tackles. One is larger and stronger, primarily to draw double teams and stop the run. The second is smaller and quicker, and his job is to split double teams and rush the passer. Florida’s Taven Bryan is both of these combined.
At 6’5″ 291 lbs, he possess elite size for the position. But, his athletic traits are what really set him apart from the position. His explosion and first step off the snap are comparable to All-Pro Aaron Donald, and his 4.98 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical, and 119-inch broad jump vaulted him into the conversation for the first round.
Bryan is extremely ra, and often does not use the best technique, but his physical gifts are rare and he could end up terrorizing opposing quarterbacks for the next decade.
5. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Barkley has been hailed as a “generational” running back prospect, and while that term is overused, Barkley is certainly one of the best to come out of college in a while.
At the NFL Combine, Barkley ran a 4.40 40-yard dash and displayed a 41-inch vertical jump, all while standing six feet and weighing 233 lbs. He is an exceptional athlete, and that exemplified itself on the field. In his three seasons at Penn State, Barkley ran for over 3,800 yards, had nearly 2,000 receiving yards, and scored a total of 51 offensive touchdowns.
He can completely change a game with his fluidity while running with the ball. His jump cuts and jukes are rivaled by few. If there is one knock on Barkley, it’s that he doesn’t run up the middle through contact as much as he should. But, he has the size to do so, and if a good coach can help Barkley refine his skills, he could have a Hall of Fame career.
4. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Speaking of exceptional athletes, Edmunds is about as prototypical of a linebacker prospect as you can possibly want. At 6’5″ 253 lbs, he towers over other players and has the physicality to take blocks from offensive lineman straight-on. A 40-yard dash of 4.54 seconds is ridiculous for someone his size, but Edmunds is not all potential.
He was almost always the best player on the field in college, even though he hardly knows how to play the position yet. He is easily fooled by play action and is always looking to make the big play. These are typical young linebacker issues, but Edmunds isn’t your normal young player.
He has three years of starting experience and is still just 19 years old. He excels in pass coverage, as he has the size to cover tight ends and the quickness to match up with running backs. Virginia Tech even played him as a slot corner and had him cover wide receivers.
Edmunds’ potential is almost limitless, and any defensive coordinator would salivate at the chance to mold him into what he can become.
3. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Heisman Trophy winner in 2016, Jackson has been hailed as the second coming of Michael Vick since his freshman year of college. His dynamic running ability combined with a lighting quick release and strong arm have made him a tantalizing NFL prospect.
He needs to add more weight onto his frame and must fix his footwork and inconsistent accuracy, but he has experience in a pro-style offensive system With more time to learn, Jackson could be the most exciting QB in the NFL.
2. Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
Davenport was a rather unknown prospect until he put on a show at the Senior Bowl. At UTSA, he played four seasons, and in 2017, he logged 17.5 tackles for loss along with 8.5 sacks. His 6’6″ 264 lb frame will allow him to play end in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
A 4.58 40-yard dash, 33.5-inch vertical, and 124-inch broad jump showing at the combine sent his stock climbing, and he should be a top-20 pick. Davenport needs quite a bit of technical refinement, but he is incredibly gifted physically, which is the first step to being a dominant edge rusher.
1. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Allen is the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect. He might have one of the strongest arms the NFL has ever seen, he has ideal size for the position at 6’5″ 237 lbs, and his athleticism is excellent. He is able to make incredible throws from an off-balance position, making passes down the field that most NFL QBs are flat out physically incapable of.
But, Allen never completed more than 56% of his passes at Wyoming, and his performance took a nosedive when facing power-5 competition. He needs to refine his footwork and must throw with more anticipation in order to succeed in the NFL. Allen is a gigantic risk, but the reward could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game.
Most of the players on this list will hear their names called on Thursday night. They all have the potential to be perennial Pro-Bowlers in the NFL, but they need to be put in the proper situation. It will be interesting to see how NFL teams view these players and if they are worthy of being tasked as franchise cornerstones.