The 2018 NFL Draft is less than three weeks away. You probably have seen mock draft 77.0 by now. You’ve become somewhat familiar with players you never heard of from a few schools you didn’t even know existed.
As non-events go in sports, the annual NFL selection process of available college prospects is as big as it gets.
Who will your favorite team select first? Who will be the first player picked? Who is the best quarterback in the draft? The NFL Draft has become a sport unto itself.
And regardless of who your “expert’’ source is on how this will play out, it’s all a guessing game. No one knows for sure which player is going where and when.
Nevertheless, I’ll make a few fearless predictions after reviewing piles of information and listening to more a few NFL experts. Today is a look at players on offense:
Best Player: Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame
Most people would say Penn State running back Shaquon Barkley, an exceptional athlete who deserves all the praise he receives. The Cleveland Browns should make Barkley one of their early first-round picks – either the first pick or the fourth.
But Nelson is a once-in-a-generation offensive lineman, possibly the best guard to come out of college since John Hannah 45 years ago. Yes, Nelson is that good.
At 6-4, 330, he dominates opponents with his strength, but also has the reflexes and quickness of a tight end. Nelson had an uncanny ability to see and understand what defensive fronts are trying to do and often picks up more than one rusher on the same play.
Best Quarterback: Josh Rosen of UCLA
Rosen is brilliant and outspoken about things that matter. He comes from a prominent family that is politically active. Those things tend to scare off some teams in light of the issues over pre-game protests the last couple of seasons.
Some NFL executives have questioned his dedication to the game and his desire to do whatever it takes to have a successful NFL career.
Anyone in that camp is way off the mark and any team wanting a quarterback that passes on Rosen will live to regret it. At 6-4, 220, no one in this draft better fits a pro-style offense than Rosen. His ability to zip a throw 30 yards downfield into a tight coverage is uncanny. He throws the ball accurately in any situation.
He not only can read the defense and understand coverages designed to fool most quarterbacks, he also can turn the table and fool defenders by going through his progressions and keeping his eyes off the intended target until the last second.
The one legitimate knock on Rosen is his lack of mobility. He’s not going to win games with his legs, but he’s going to win plenty with his arm and his head.
Quarterback to Avoid: Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.
I made my dislike for Mayfield obvious long before he won the Heisman Trophy because of his childish behavior. No doubt he has the ability to get the job done as an NFL starter, but does he have the character attributes you want at the most important position on the field?
I wouldn’t use an early first-round pick, or any first-round pick, on a guy with questionable maturity. Drafting him in the first round means you expect him to be the team leader, making the right decisions on and off the field, and a person you will need to pay millions of dollars down the road. Mayfield isn’t worth the risk.
Overrated receiver: Calvin Ridley of Alabama
Ridley is expected to be the first wide receiver selected in the draft, but he has a few clear weaknesses. Going against press coverage in the NFL, a receiver either needs the strength to muscle past the cornerback or the quickness to get around him. Ridley (6-foot, 190) can’t do either one.
He’s plenty fast, running a 4.4 40 at the Combine, but speed and quickness are two different things.
Ridley has issues with initial contact and could struggle against bigger NFL corners. He also have issues at times trying to catch passes in traffic. Ridley has 20 drops on three seasons at Alabama.
Other First-Round Running Backs: Sony Michel of Georgia and Derrius Guice of LSU
The prevailing logic is don’t draft running backs in the first round unless they are all-world players like Barkley. The NFL is a passing game for the most part, so running backs aren’t worth a first-round investment.
I don’t necessarily agree with that theory in any year, but definitely not this draft. This is the best class of running backs in more than a decade.
No back in this draft has a more explosive burst to the line of scrimmage than Michel, which enables him to hit holes and get to the second level before most defensive linemen have engaged to fill the gap.
Once Michel gets in the open field, he has the speed to make a big play. At 5-11, 210, he also has the strength to breaks tackles, and he’s a surprisingly skilled pass blocker.
Guice (5-11, 220) has a fullback’s mentality in a running back’s body. He is a punishing runner, similar in style to Marshawn Lynch. Guice was overshadowed most of his college career by Leonard Fournette, but Guice has the talent and skills to be a game-changing back.