College and pro football are right around the corner. Let’s get ready by counting down the top 50 pro prospects for the 2018 class
#5 Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Conner Williams was good enough to win the starting LT job as a freshmen. Last season, in his sophomore season, Williams took his play to another level earning first-team All American honors. Williams is one of the most athletic lineman in the country. He has quick and light feet who is able to slide and mirror his opponent. Combine this with his 6-6 length he is very difficult to get around off the edge. Conner only conceded 1 sack on the entire season last year. Williams is a solid run blocker as well. Williams is still growing as he continues to fill in physically and his technique seems to get better every Saturday. It is a strong OT class this season but Williams is my early favorite to be the first one off the board.
#4 Arden Key, Edge, LSU
Fair or unfair, I may have had Arden Key listed as the number 1 overall prospect had it not been for his temporary leave of absence from the program. There may have been a very good reason why he left the team for a couple months but unless we are told what the specific reason there has to be some doubt of commitment to the game. Making matters worse for his draft stock it was confirmed that Key had a minor shoulder procedure as well in the off-season. When Arden is on the field he is someone that you need to game-plan around. Arden has produced lining up in different positions with his hand in the dirt or standing up. Key recorded 12 sacks last year for the Tigers and can exceed that this year. At 6’6 he is incredibly long and springy. He has all of the twitch that NFL teams crave. Key is still growing into his frame as he is going to enter the season at a very slender 238 pounds. Ideally, he will add some more bulk before entering the pros.
#3 Saquan Barkley, RB, Penn State
You almost do not need to know anything more about Saquan Barkley as his 2016 statistics paint an accurate picture. Barkley carried the rock 272 times last fall for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns. He can make plays in the passing game as he added 28 catches for 404 yards and another 4 touchdowns. Barkley put up these crazy numbers in one of the nation’s premier divisions in the Big Ten East. The Penn State RB is a complete player that can win in multiple ways. He has excellent balance and surprising power inside when asked to carry the ball between the tackles. Barkley has the speed to bounce outside to pick up big chunks of yards when it is there. Saquan has elite vision in the open field and is always aware of where his blockers are and potential tacklers at the same time. His cuts are smooth and crisp and his foot agility is first class. Barkley is a true 3 down back as he will continue to create mismatches on Sundays out of the backfield. Barkley is top talent and should be a favorite for the Heisman this year.
#2 Derwin James, S, Florida State
It was a sad day for FSU fans, and college football fans as a whole, last year when Derwin went down with a season-ending knee injury. The good news is that James is back and all indications are that he will be 100% ready for opening day against Alabama. James played like a veteran his freshmen year and recorded 91 tackles. James is going to draw a lot of comparisons to former Seminole defensive back Jalen Ramsey as both players are able to line up in different spots across the secondary. Ramsey has settled in as a CB in the NFL and I think James will settle in at either SS or FS. While Ramsey has the fluid hips, ball recognition, and feet agility to line up at CB I believe his size and sideline to sideline speed will make him more effective as a safety. James has intimidating size at 6-3 and 211 pounds. Derwin is a leader on the defense and plays with a lot of energy that was missed last fall in Tallahassee.
#1 Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The soft-spoken star QB was quoted saying “I don’t think any team should tank their season because of me” during an interview on ESPN earlier in the year. I think there are a lot of New York Jets fans out there, and fans of other teams too, that would love to take the pill this year and end up with the number 1 pick to have the opportunity to draft Sam. No prospect is perfect and Darnold is no exception. Let’s address his concerns first as the list is short. Darnold has an inconsistent and often a longer than normal delivery. Quarterbacks with slower throwing motions not named Philip Rivers have not had a lot of success in the NFL as it gives the coverage that extra split second to get a jump on the ball. Darnold has gotten the ball out quickly at times so we know that he is capable of doing so. Reports out of USC are that this is an area that Darnold put a lot of focus on in the off-season. The other knock on Sam will be that we don’t have a large sample of work from him yet as he has only started 13 games for the Trojans.
While Darnold only played in 13 games he was phenomenal. USC was 1-3 when Darnold took the helm and all he did was lead them to a Rose Bowl win. Darnold has ideal size at 6-4 and 225 pounds, has the athletic ability to make plays with his legs, has the arm strength to make any throw, the field awareness and poise to pick a defense apart, and the accuracy that makes 5 yard throws to be 10 yard gains. Sam has earned the reputation as a clutch gamer who finds a way to get the job done. Sam threw for 453 yards and 5 touchdowns against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. If Darnold can have a comparable season to last year’s he will be the first pick of the draft.