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Brandon Carusillo’s 2018 NFL Draft Big Board: Top 32 prospects

My top-32 prospect rankings for the 2018 NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington
Penn State Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs the ball as Washington Huskies linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (25) defends during the second half during the 2017 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason certainly hasn’t lacked headlines. We’re a little over a week away from the 2018 NFL draft, and no one has a definite answer on where many of these prospects will land. On April 26, the draft should produce more drama than a late-night TMZ special.

Below is my Big Board, which ranks players in terms of physical traits (height, weight, etc.) and athletic ability (speed, catch, etc.) This isn't influenced by anyone’s view, as these opinions and scouting breakdowns are my own.

1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Barkley is the best athlete in the draft, and his NFL combine performance only verified that. He’s a more dynamic running back than both Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley, which is saying a lot considering they’ve shown elite production for their respective teams. Barkley is lighting quick, jaw-dropping moves and fantastic vision that allows him to hit his second gear for a breakaway score. Once he hits the hole in the open field: He’s gone. Don’t underestimate his ability to break tackles either; Barkley loves running through people, not just around them. A truly rare talent that can change an NFL franchise.

2. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

It usually requires a double-take from readers to see a guard ranked as the second best player on a Big Board, but Nelson is as NFL-ready as a college athlete can be. At 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, Nelson is a naturally powerful, technically sound lineman who can become an interior anchor for years to come. Not only is Nelson big and strong, but his footwork is nimble and smooth that keeps him balanced from the point of attack until the whistle blows. His base in pass protection remains balanced, and he mauls people backwards when run blocking. The former Notre Dame guard can be slotted into any team's starting lineup without a worry — which can’t be said for most NFL rookies. Nelson the potential to become one of the best guards in the NFL.

3. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, North Carolina State

While this draft is one of the weakest edge rushing classes in recent memory, Chubb would be a prized selection in any draft. Chubb is a 6-foot-4, 260-pound beast who can beat you with speed, strength, tenacity and excellent pass-rushing abilities. Despite his explosive physical attributes, he’s not completely polished yet and struggles a bit with consistent pad level. His hands are violent and can throw linemen aside like rag dolls, but plays a bit stiff against the more athletic tackles because his body is unbalanced. He’ll need to be coached to bend his knees more consistently at the point of attack, and not get caught on blocks in run defense. However, anything less than a highly successful career for Chubb would be surprising.

4. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

As the most naturally talented thrower in the draft, Rosen (6-4, 226) has all the tools to be a franchise quarterback. When given time in the pocket, he can make every throw that’s asked of him. His touch, accuracy and mechanics are exactly what teams want in a QB at the next level. His decision making under pressure was a spotty, but it never reached the concern that surrounds Sam Darnold or Josh Allen. He’ll have to stay healthy — something he failed to do his entire college career — and he’ll have to develop leadership traits that make a decent teammate. On paper, he’s the best QB out of this class, but it’s up to him to prove it.

5. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama

Fitzpatrick (6-1, 203) is arguably the second best athlete in the draft behind Barkley. The safety from Alabama can be used all over the field in the secondary, and won’t be any less effective in doing so. Is he a corner or safety moving forward? It’s simple: You put talent on the field and label the position later. His nine career interceptions shows his ball-hawking ability, and his four touchdowns validates his playmaking ability. It’s very difficult to step in and make a huge contribution as a rookie defensive back, but Fitzpatrick is well polished and in a good position to make an impact right away. His size and strength and strong tackling ability will be very beneficial for a team’s run defense.

6. Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Darnold’s final season at USC was nothing short of a roller coaster ride, however, his skill set should translate into NFL success. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Darnold possesses every physical trait that teams look for, including above average athleticism that will make life difficult for defenders who try to tackle him in the backfield. With an above average arm, Darnold can make every throw from the pocket or on the run. However, he was far too careless with the ball in 2017, accounting for 22 turnovers (tied for most in the FBS).

When Darnold operates in a clean pocket, he’s shown he can lead an offense downfield with ease, making quick decisions and accurate passes. But last season, his responsibility became so insurmountable that he never showed consistency. A team will have to sit the former Trojan and let him see the field to ease into the speed of the NFL. Darnold still hasn’t mastered progression reading yet, and will need to alter his wind up release, but he has a very high ceiling as an NFL quarterback.

7. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Arguably the most polarizing figure in the draft, Baker Mayfield, has been one of the hottest topics this offseason. Whether it’s his antics off the field, or his fiery passion on it, Mayfield is not everyone’s cup of tea. But his ability to sling it all over the yard and beat you with his legs when he has to, makes a deadly dual threat for NFL defenses to cover. His arm isn’t as natural as Allen’s or Rosen’s, but his accuracy and decision making are among the best in the draft.

Not only is Mayfield (6-foot, 215 pounds) arguably the best passer with a clean pocket, but he thrives under pressure too. According to Pro Football Focus, Mayfield was annually ranked No. 1 in passer rating under pressure out of qualified college quarterbacks since 2015. With one of the quickest releases in the draft, Mayfield excels at throwing receivers open and can thrive in an offense built around airing it out. He feasts off defenses using timing, trajectory and anticipation to fit balls into windows that don’t seem available. The sky is the limit if Mayfield lets his play do the talking, rather than expressing it by grabbing his junk or planting a flag on the opponent’s logo — even if it does make for good entertainment.

8. Derwin James, S, Florida State

It’s hard to fully grasp what James (6-2, 215) is based off his inconsistent and injury riddled college career. He’s not much of a tackler, but he may be the best defensive back in the draft who hasn’t hit his potential yet. With excellent size, strength and versatility, James is able to play in coverage as a deep safety, box safety, outside corner, slot corner and weak side linebacker. While he shows technique and experience in blitzing and run support, the former FSU safety takes a fair share of poor angles when tackling, allowing big plays to transpire.

As one of the physically gifted athletes in the draft, James has the potential to be an All-Pro defensive back. But the concerns are a bit head scratching. He lacks consistency when focusing or tackling. His injuries prevented him from being the same player he was in 2016, and he was hesitant to enforce contact last year. Instead of establishing a base and driving forward, he often catches targets flat-footed when making a tackle against quicker opponents. The ball hawking ability, athleticism and physical traits are all there, but can he put it together and reach his potential?

9. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

At 6-5, 250, Edmunds is a freak-athlete who also plays linebacker. The 19 year old has an outstanding knack for using his athleticism and strength to burst through protection and sack the quarterback. His lightning quick reaction ability allows him to hunt fluidly sideline to sideline. His strong ability to read a QB’s eyes and dissect a play is rare for such a young player. Good luck beating him one-on-one to a destination, as most won’t be able to outrun the speedy linebacker. As a sound tackler in the open field, Edmunds also sheds blocks and takes great angles toward ball carriers.

He still needs work in pass coverage. This isn’t to say he’s bad or unable — quite the opposite in fact — but his eyes get lost guessing what the quarterback’s next move will be, rather than identifying his target in coverage. Occasionally, Edmunds will try to make the spectacular play rather than the assigned one. He must stay disciplined and play smart football, rather than out-muscling or out-running targets purely based off physical attributes. As one of the highest ceilings in the draft, Edmunds can be a rare talent at the SAM spot in a 4-3 defense if he can continue to grow as a football player.

10. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

At 6-foot-1, 236 pounds, Smith plays into the stereotype of the NFL’s new-aged linebacker. As a smaller, explosive athlete (4.51 40-yard dash) who can truck opponents with exceptional reaction time, Smith’s instincts make him the most dangerous hunter in the draft. He also shows the ability to cover receivers, as he was ranked No. 1 in coverage among linebackers by PFF. The former Bulldog reads the quarterback’s eyes, bolts to the target and makes technically-sound tackles in the open field. Smith’s ability to play sideline to sideline can blanket running backs by cutting off outside angles to escape. You’ll rarely catch Smith making any wasted movements when dissecting plays.

Although he possesses rare athleticism for a linebacker, his lack of size can take him out of plays against bigger linemen. When attacking the line of scrimmage, he won’t be able to beat every opponent using speed or strength; he’s going to have to develop a few go-to moves similarly to an edge rusher. However, the lack of size shouldn’t be a concern from watching Smith reach his potential as a star linebacker.

11. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

After highly coveted cornerback Marshon Lattimore was drafted out of Ohio State by the Saints last year, Ward now follows in his footsteps as a top-10 pick this year. Lattimore fell to No. 11 in 2017, and Ward could find himself selected anywhere between five and 10. Ward (5-foot-10, 191 pounds) is a bit smaller than Lattimore (6-foot, 193 pounds) but Ward is equally as smooth and athletic as Lattimore is. Ward is an explosive athlete who plays the game with lightning quickness and footwork. His loose and fluid hips allow him to backpedal and quick twitch react to change of direction. Ward is balanced, disciplined and sticky in coverage, and he dissects the field before the QB makes the throw.

Ward must play more physical in press coverage, and his lack of size may limit him in run support -- or tackling overall.

12. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

Jackson (6-1, 196) isn’t an elite athlete but he is a smart, instinctive defensive back who acts as a ballhawk in zone coverage. The lengthy cornerback does an outstanding job of baiting the QB into poor decisions, before making a quick break on the throw and picking it off. His ability to high-point 50-50 balls and make spectacular interceptions shows he can hang with the freak-athlete receivers at the next level. Jackson is elite at tracking the ball, turning his head and locating the ball at the last second to make a play. While his hips are fluid, he sometimes opens them up too early instead of using a backpedal technique to keep his eyes on both the QB and his assignment.

Jackson struggles with technique in press-man coverage. His footwork is choppy, and he struggled with smaller, quicker receivers who fake or break in and out of routes. He also must allow the route to develop more before taking an overzealous stab at dissecting the play.

13. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The Wyoming star has prototypical size for an NFL quarterback at 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, and is built with a strong upper body that gives defenders difficulty when tackling him. Allen has a cannon for an arm — possibly the strongest arm in college football — but like many gunslingers, he trusts his arm a bit too much. Allen is a quarterback that can be trusted to sling it all over the field for four quarters. His mechanics are relatively clean, and his release is quick enough to fire darts under pressure. There isn’t a long-distance throw that he can’t make, nor a part of the field that he can’t attack. He throws on the run at an elite level, and shows above-average athleticism when scrambling and escaping pressure.

Despite occasional flashes of touch, Allen relies heavily on his fastball which has gotten him in trouble. He can see the field and make reads, but he doesn't always trust his eyes and instead trusts his arm. When he has time, he steps up in the pocket and delivers dimes. When he’s under pressure, his decision making, accuracy and vision all become very spotty. Allen would often run for his life with a mediocre offensive line, and receivers would also drop easily catchable balls. Allen has made his share of mistakes, but he has rarely been helped by his teammates. He has a bad habit of letting it rip into a window that is too tight, or forcing something out of nothing on a broken play. He must cut down on the forced throws and interceptions, and must learn to call a play dead. While Allen has made some gorgeous throws on tape, he has also made dumbfounding ones that raises a high level of concern. There are throws that shouldn’t be made, and throws that should never be made — Allen made quite a few “never-throws.”

Allen is very susceptible to mental crumbles that lead to a domino effect. Once a couple of mistakes take place, he isn’t the same player the rest of the game. He showed it in 2016 against Nebraska and BYU, before showing it once again against Iowa in the Cowboys’ season opener in 2017. He needs to develop mental toughness, resiliency and poise under pressure. If he can learn to slow the game down and trust his mechanics, he can become an elite QB at the next level. But despite his throwing talent, he has a lot of work to do as a quarterback.

14. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

Hurst pulled out of the combine field workout after potential heart issues were found in the medical portion. He was cleared to participate in Michigan’s pro day and has resumed football activities since. At 6-foot-1, 292 pounds, Hurst has an explosive first step who plays with great leverage and power. He plays with a high motor and rarely loses technique when battling. Hurst has also shown versaitility by playing nose tackle in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, as well as 3-technique and 5-technique. His combination of strength, athleticism and quickness are off the charts for an interior lineman with his frame. Hurst simply lives in the backfield.

Hurst must polish his pass rushing ability, as he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. The lack of redirection or secondary moves will get him in trouble against All-Pro linemen. His lack of height and length may be problematic when double teamed at the next level. Despite being cleared to play, medical concerns will linger throughout his career.

15 Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Jackson was the most dynamic athlete in college football for the past two years, but can he be an equally dynamic quarterback? Yes. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Jackson has the second best arm in the draft behind Allen. Jackson’s ability to sling it downfield with a flick of the wrist is remarkable, and he has deep ball accuracy to compliment it.

The odd part about Jackson’s game is his inconsistent accuracy on short throws. Jackson has the tendency to awkwardly release the ball as if he’s aiming it, rather than throwing it. However, his release works greatly on intermediate to deep throws. It’s an enigma that will have to be coached and polished, but it shouldn’t hurt his chances at blossoming as a thrower. The former Cardinal also has elite athleticism and rare running ability that won’t be found in many quarterbacks.

While there are questions about if Jackson can become a pocket passer, his vision and patience is vastly underrated. Jackson is a quarterback who will read through his progressions before taking off to run, and always keeps his eyes downfield while hanging in the pocket. He must learn to recognize defenses earlier, and go through his progressions quicker to avoid an attempt at a play that isn’t there. However, with all the tools in the world, Jackson’s potential is limitless if he’s used in a system created for his skill set.

16. Vita Vea, DT, Washington

Vea (6-4, 347) isn’t as athletic or laterally quick as Hurst, but he’s a menace in the trenches. As a 1-technique or nose tackle depending on what defense he’s placed in, Vea can clog lanes and shut down the opposing running game. As one of the strongest players in the draft, Vea will give offensive linemen fits by using rare core strength and sneaky quickness. Even against double teams, Vea can stand his ground and absorb contact without losing his gap assignments. Despite Vea’s size, he can occasionally be kicked out as a 3-4 defensive end with bull-rushing ability.

There won’t be many 1-techs who come along that possess the rare strength and quickness Vea has, and the former Washington Husky should be a highly productive defensive tackle at the next level.

17. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Evans is a playmaking linebacker who is used in multiple linebacking roles. He was placed all over the field at Alabama, and was effective at every position. Evans was aligned off the ball as the middle linebacker, stood up outside at the strong side and weak side and also put his hand in the ground as a pass-rusher. Evans is one of the fastest linebackers in the draft, and brings ferocity as a hitter too. He was mainly used for defending the run, and wasn't often assigned in coverage. Instead, he was used primarily as a pass rusher (15 career sacks) and a QB spy. It remains to be seen how effective he can be in coverage, but he’s athletic enough to be a three-down linebacker at the next level. He needs to improve reaction time, but his deadly speed and effort will never be questioned. Evans can play just about any of the linebacking positions in a 4-3 defense.

18. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UT-San Antonio

Davenport’s elite size (6-6, 264) will make teams drool over the potential he has if he can polish his game. His broad upper body is strong and his frame allows for him to grow even stronger. He has a developed bull-rush that has room for improvement, and also possesses effective swim and spin secondary moves. His explosive speed-to-power distribution can be deadly when used with consistent pad level, and his high motor never quits until he reaches his target. Davenport can have an impact without acting as a pass rusher by dissecting plays, batting balls and setting the edge in run defense.

Lack of production against power five conferencves is concerning. He lacks top speed as a pass rusher, and struggles to change direction freely. Davenport does a poor job of committing himself to the running back prematurely while the quarterback freely roams. Davenport flashed his potential as a monster, but his lack of consistency raised questions on if he’s a flash player or a future star.

19. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

At 6-foot, 189 pounds, Ridley is the best route runner in the draft, but he lacks explosion that may be problematic in the NFL. His straight line speed (4.35 40-time) shows he can take the top off a defense, but he may have a tough time impacting games early on in his career. While he's a bit raw both as a receiver and athlete, he has physical tools and abilities that translate well at the next level. Ridley’s reliable hands can grab poorly thrown balls, and his body-contorting ability allows quarterbacks plenty of room for error. He’s not a freak athlete like previous Alabama receivers, and in some drafts may be a second-round pick, but he can win a lot of one-on-one battles on the outside and potentially serve as a highly effective possession receiver moving forward.

20. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Guice finally got his chance at a full-time starting gig this season for LSU, after star teammate Leonard Fournette declared for the NFL draft last year. Guice failed to stay healthy, but he shined on the ground when active, even though LSU lacked a throwing identity again this year (shocker). According to Pro Football Weekly’s Marcus Mosher, Guice on average faced the most defenders in the box. With a strong lower base (212 pounds) and muscular upper body (5-foot-10), Guice’s frame is well built. His ability to read the lanes and make sharp cuts to adjust to defenses is what makes him so dangerous in the trenches. Guice uses quick footwork and athleticism to gash defenses with subtle cutbacks, or by absorbing contact and running over second-level tacklers. He isn’t much of a receiving threat, but he can do the bare minimum to beat defenses if need be.

Guice isn’t Fournette, but he’s a franchise back who can change an offense. If Fournette is a Cadillac truck, then Guice is a Hummer; not as big or long, but can still transport precious cargo effectively.

21. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

At 5-11, 192, Alexander is a playmaking ballhawk who can mirror any receiver thrown at him. With his second gear speed (4.38-40), he also can be used as a weapon in the kick return game. His instincts, footwork, sunken hips and quickness makes him a smooth operator in man-to-man coverage. He’s the best in the draft at baiting a QB into a throw that shouldn't be made, and undercutting the route to intercept the pass. Alexander also does an excellent job of turning his head in time and locating the ball without being flagged for interference.

While Alexander brings everything a team looks for in coverage skills, his lack fo tackling ability can be used against him. There were far too many instances where he tried to arm tackle athletes only to come up empty. Alexander must also add bulk to improve his play-strength, or else he’ll be out-muscled by bigger receivers in the NFL.

Despite the knocks on him, he has a sparkling bright future if he can stay healthy.

22. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

Payne (6-2, 311) had a quiet campaign for much of 2018, but he may turn into a better pro than college player. Used as a nose tackle for most of his college career, Payne shows the physical attributes and athleticism to be a 3-tech or a 3-4 defensive end. With the limited pass rushing opportunities, he flashed a remarkable first step off the snap to shred his way through protection. Payne has underrated explosion and closing speed that can become a weapon for a defense. Despite his knack for pass-rushing, Alabama played him strictly as a true nose tackle for whatever reason. It’s hard to question Alabama’s championship strategy by putting Payne as a most tackle, but he looked extraordinarily quicker when rushing the B-gap. He showed quintessential techniques with hand placement, arm extension and lower body drive that lead to near sacks or tackles for loss.

His motor is a cause for concern, and questions about his effort will rise, as he missed some easy tackles/sacks and didn’t disrupt in run defense as often as he should’ve. Can Payne become the player he should be?

23. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College

As a new-aged speed rusher, Landry came into the year as a top-10 pick. At 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, he has raw athleticism and attributes that make up a great pass rusher. However, after an injury-plagued year, he failed to capture his 2016 form and fell completely out of the national spotlight. What mustn’t be forgotten is his high motor and elite first step that allows him to shoot out of a cannon as the ball is snapped. The agility and bend he gets around the edge is terrific, as he uses a variety of effective moves to beat opposing linemen. Despite having a well-built frame, he may have maxed out and won’t be able to add more bulk without sacrificing athleticism.

Landry struggles to convert speed to power at times, and fails to make an impact when defending the run. Occasionally, he’ll get swallowed by towering linemen who push him into the pile and slow him down by closing space.

24. Isaiah Wynn, OT/G, Georgia

As both a guard and tackle at Georgia, Wynn (6-2, 308) is a well-rounded lineman who will be very successful in both power and zone blocking offenses. His raw power is demonstrated by his nearly immovable base and strong hands that blanket defenders. Wynn also has underrated athleticism that can compete with edge rushers/outside linebackers. The former Bulldog has excellent awareness and picks up disguised blitzes, stunts and twists from the defense.

Wynn is a bit undersized as a tackle, and his technique needs a bit of polishing, but his versatility allows him to both play inside and outside effectively — as evident in the Senior Bowl. His footwork lacks a bit of quickness and his kick-slide is a bit jagged in pass protection, but he’s dominant as a run blocker and could step in as a starting guard right away.

25. Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Goedert has great size (6-foot-4, 256 pounds), speed and catching ability to make him a complete tight end prospect. He wins battles with natural separation ability and physicality, and beats defenders with very clean routes. His soft hands are the best among tight ends in the draft, and he has an elite ceiling as a pass catching weapon in the NFL. As a fluid athlete with vision, Goedert tracks the ball like a wide receiver and can haul in spectacular catches, and is no stranger to athletic body adjustment grabs. He’ll also gain yardage after the catch using strength, speed and physicality to break arm tackles, comparably to the elite tight end talents in the NFL.

Goedert is a promising blocker, but needs polishing. His base is too narrow/wide and he must get lower and generate more power when blocking and challenging defenders with leverage. While his route running is smooth, it’s also inconsistent. Goedert must sell fakes and sharpen subtle movements when changing directions, or he’ll get blanketed by athletic defensive backs. The lack of competition is a bit of a concern, as South Dakota State rarely played competent talent that will be seen at the next level. That being said, Goedert has all the tools to be a top-10 tight end in the NFL if he’s coached well.

26. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Michel finished his career with 3,613 rushing yards (16th all-time in the SEC), which is unheard of considering he never once entered a season as the feature back for Georgia’s offense. As a runner who can beat defenses in multiple fashions, Michel can run over defenders, evade them with quickness or run past them with top end speed. His ability to change directions without losing speed makes life for an opposing defender very difficult. Michel plays with good balance, but needs to polish his vision as a runner. Too many times he ran into the trenches when nothing was there instead of bouncing it to the outside. Michel still needs to create more than contently take what’s given, especially when the left-side A-gap is swung open.

Michel runs with a purpose like a bowling ball rolling down hill at a fast pace. But that won’t cut it in the NFL, and could shorten his time at a position that already has a short life span. Michel must learn to play with patience and trust his vision, rather than trying to run everyone over. His injury history at Georgia already indicated that. However, polish his vision, and he’ll run past or through a defense as a franchise back who changes an offense.

27. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

Line up Moore with any quarterback throwing, and he’ll make a defense pay. Throughout his entire college career, Moore dealt with mediocre quarterbacking and still performed at a high level. Moore is a menace in space and is nearly unstoppable in short yard gains. He doesn’t have elite size (6-foot, 210 pounds) or length, but his strength allows him to absorb contact and gain extra yards after the catch. The former Maryland WR can beat defenses over the top with speed, and has spectacular hands that make highlight reel catches on 50-50 balls. His quickness, athleticism and smooth route running make him a nightmare in the slot, and his physicality allows him to compete with bigger corners who play on the outside.

As an overlooked, under hyped complete package, Moore has a chance to be the best wide receiver in the class.

28. Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

Hughes is a versital corner who can play match receivers step-for-step using his speed and quick footwork. His flexible hips allow him to turn and run smoothly, and his excellent closing speed can make up a lot of ground between him and the receiver. His ball skills should translate into turnovers in the NFL, and his speed off the edge can be used as a heatseeking missile in blitz packages. While he’s a willing and aggressive tackler, Hughes is a bit undersized (5-10, 189) and lacks length to disrupt bigger receivers who can simply shield him off on 50-50 throws. Hughes plays faster than he really is, and may need to adjust his strategy in coverage against the freak athletes who have blazing speed. He’ll be an immediate contributor on special teams as a returner.

He’s still a bit raw with technique in coverage, and may need to transition to the slot to gain experience before taking on the outside duties.

29. James Daniels, C, Iowa

Daniels combines size (6-3), bulk (306 pounds) and athleticism as a center. Daniels posted terrific times for the short shuttle (4.4) and three-cone drill (7.29) at the combine, cementing his first-round status. Why are those drills important? The short shuttle tests hip flexibility, while ankle flexibility is the focal point of the three cone. Both drills reveal an athlete’s ability to change direction at high speeds, which is important for those who protect franchise quarterbacks. Daniels shows a quick first step against interior linemen and seals off any angles or gaps that defenders look for.

The former Hawkeye must keep a solid base and avoid over-aggressively engaging larger defenders. When attempting to reach a second level block, Daniels was caught with his weight exchanged forward, throwing him off balance before he could distribute any power behind his block. It’s rare to find hype surrounding centers, but Daniels is definitely a first-round talent.

30. Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

Hurst is still polishing as a blocker, but he’s fully developed as an offensive threat. When the well-built tight end (6-4, 250) is given the ball, good things happen for an offense. Hurst has great hands combined with smooth athleticism in the open field. He’s not a freak athlete, but he’s shown ability to make defenders miss and gain extra yardage. As one of the tougher tight ends in the draft, Hurst plays like his hair is on fire once he gets the ball, lowering his shoulder and absorbing contact with a smile on his face. As one who’s not afraid to get physical with defenders, his blocking should progress, which will only make him a more well-rounded tight end than he already is. With all the ability in the world, Hurst can be a key cog to an offense in the NFL.

31. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Vänder Esch has the size (6-4, 256) and athleticism to effectively play any linebacker position at the next level. As a former multi sport athlete, he has fluid hips and excellent footwork that allow him to change direction without any wasted movement. What stands out most is his quick twitch ability to read a play and hunt down his target laterally. His range extends from sideline to sideline, and his coverage skills are among the best out of the linebacker class. Vander Esch even shows high productivity as an edge rusher or a blitzer.

While Vander Esch brings a lot of physical attributes, he’s still filling out his frame. Despite having sound technique as a tackler, he isn’t much of a thumper yet. Additionally, there were occasions where he struggled to get off blocks, swallowed by linemen when defending the run. The former Bronco must avoid over aggressive pursuits that leave the rest of the defense with a gaping hole. His highest ceiling could be fulfilled if he’s used as a weak-side linebacker.

32. Billy Price, G/C, Ohio State

Price (6-4, 312) is a powerful blocker who plays with a wide base and good leverage. He keeps his hips sunk and pads low, and drives defenders backward in power-run schemes. Price has a knack for picking up blitzes and absorbing heavy contact without giving up his ground, and deals with stunts or twists nicely. Not only does the former Buckeye have good hand usage, but he shows the ability to pull and solidify the edge for a running back.

Price struggles with the elite athletic interior linemen who can win with hand usage or footwork. He also needs to develop more awareness on delayed blitzes and inflict contact before throwing his body at defenders in space. He occasionally was caught blocking air or leaning with his weight forward.