2018 NFL draft primer – Mel Kiper, Todd McShay answer 25 questions on prospects, rankings, mock draft

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It’s December, and ESPN NFL draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have been following the 2018 draft since, well, the 2017 draft ended.

And now that we’re officially less than 150 days until next year’s first-round class takes the stage in Arlington, Texas, McShay and Kiper are here to catch you up on the best 2018 prospects, lingering questions and more.

So, in what has become an annual tradition, they’re here with a 25-question primer to help you out. If you really don’t care much about this quarterback class, skip ahead to question No. 8.


1. Everyone wants to know about the quarterbacks in this class. We’re putting you on the spot: How many will go in Round 1?

McShay: I think we’ll see four: USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.

Darnold and Rosen are on a separate tier than the other two. Darnold has better intangibles and a higher ceiling, but Rosen can make every throw with ease. Allen is a physical freak who didn’t play as well this season as I had hoped, but he should dominate the postseason process. Mayfield has elite leadership abilities that make up for his physical shortcomings and has improved his draft stock tremendously.

2. Which QB is most ready to start right away in the NFL?

Kiper: It’s Rosen, who has played under former NFL offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and has elite physical tools.

3. Darnold’s still in the mix at No. 1 overall, right?

McShay: Yes, but this is the least confident I’ve been since the start of the season. I’ve been his biggest supporter over the past year, but it was eye-opening to watch him on the same field as Rosen. Right now, Rosen is superior going through progressions; and Darnold has had a huge problem with turnovers — his 19 combined interceptions and lost fumbles this season led FBS. I think if he can be more consistent in his footwork, he’ll be OK down the line. But remember: Darnold is a third-year sophomore and could still return to USC.

4. Fill in the blank: Allen will be selected in the first __ picks.

Kiper: 10. Yes, I know his numbers aren’t great, but NFL teams are drafting on projection. Scouts and front-office folks love what he can be. And there are a bunch of teams that will need quarterbacks in 2018 — in the draft or free agency. At 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds, Allen is a physical specimen, and I think he’s going to impress at the combine. I also love his competitiveness. However, he’s going to need to show teams that the shoulder injury that kept him out of the Cowboys’ final two regular-season games isn’t serious.

5. Todd, are you buying the comparison of Allen to Carson Wentz?

McShay: I see some similarities. Allen’s coach actually recruited Wentz to North Dakota State and had him for three years before leaving for Wyoming, so both played in the same system and both can create plays outside the pocket. But Wentz was a superior decision-maker and was more accurate than Allen has been. Allen is a little bigger and definitely has a stronger arm. There is an argument that Allen should go back to school for another year, but he’s so freakishly gifted that a team will likely take a chance on him on Day 1.

6. Mayfield is about to win the Heisman Trophy. Todd says he’s a first-round pick. Agree, Mel?

Kiper: He’s on the fringe. Mayfield is one of the most difficult evaluations I’ve had to make in the past several years. He has had some incidents with immaturity, and NFL teams are always watching and evaluating. Mayfield’s size has been a discussion among scouts too. He is listed at 6-foot-1, but I think he’s closer to 6 feet. Russell Wilson is the only NFL starting quarterback under 6 feet tall, and Drew Brees is the only NFL starting quarterback right at 6 feet. That’s it. Neither was drafted in the first round. I like Mayfield as a prospect, but the pre-draft process will be extremely important for him.

7. So what about 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson?

McShay: He’s not in the Round 1 conversation at this point. The Louisville quarterback still has a long way to go in terms of making throws from the pocket and being accurate down the field. He is a dynamic athlete, however, and he’s going to light up the combine. What worries me is that he’s a runner first with a slight 6-foot-3 frame, and those guys don’t usually hold up in the NFL, where everyone’s a great athlete.

8. OK, enough about the QBs: Is there a surefire No. 1 prospect in this class right now?

Kiper: No, and that’s what makes this class so interesting. It’s the three quarterbacks — Rosen, Darnold and Allen — vying for the spot with three others: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Florida State safety Derwin James and Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. Barkley is my top-ranked prospect right now, but it’s unlikely that a tailback is going to go No. 1 overall. He has an elite grade from me, but he has to find the right team fit in the top 10. James and Fitzpatrick are both dynamic athletes who fit today’s NFL in terms of versatility and athleticism. It’s going to be a fun process leading up to April’s draft.

9. So where are the pass-rushers? Is there a Myles Garrett in this class?

McShay: No. Garrett is a special talent. NC State’s Bradley Chubb is a great all-around player, but he doesn’t have Garrett’s elite skill set. Chubb is No. 5 in my Top 32. LSU’s Arden Key, my No. 7-ranked prospect, is probably the best natural pass-rusher, but he has battled injuries and hasn’t produced as much.

10. You’re drafting for the winless Browns at No. 1 overall: Who are you taking and why?

Kiper: It has to be a quarterback. That is Cleveland’s biggest need. Stop trading down and get a guy who can be the face of your franchise for 10 to 15 years. Rookie second-round pick DeShone Kizer has been a turnover nightmare, so let him compete with the top 2018 pick. This team has won one game in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there also were a new coach and front office next year.

11. What if the 49ers, who traded Jimmy Garoppolo earlier this season, get a top-two pick? Should QB still be in play?

McShay: No. I think Garoppolo can be a starting-caliber quarterback in San Francisco. He’s only 26 years old. He needs a better supporting cast around him. Wide receiver and offensive line are two of the 49ers’ biggest needs, and because there isn’t an elite lineman or wide receiver worthy of the top pick, the first thing I would do is put the pick on the block for the highest bidder that is looking to move up to take one of the quarterbacks. The 49ers’ rebuild will take some time, and they need multiple picks to build the team.

12. Are there any legit No. 1 wideouts in next year’s group?

Kiper: Alabama’s Calvin Ridley is the clear No. 1 guy, and he’s the only receiver I see as a guaranteed first-round pick right now. He’s No. 12 on my Big Board.

13. If my team needs a ______, we’re in luck in this draft.

McShay: Running back. It’s a very deep draft at the position. Barkley is No. 1, but LSU’s Derrius Guice, Stanford’s Bryce Love and the Alabama duo of Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris are really good too. I have nine backs with grades that would put them in the first three rounds.

14. By the time it’s April, Mel, who are people going to be saying, “Oh, Kiper loves that guy!”

Kiper: I mentioned Allen earlier, so I’ll note two more guys: Harris, who Todd just mentioned, is one of my favorite prospects in this class. He just gets the job done. I also like Memphis wideout Anthony Miller, who just had three touchdowns in the AAC title game and has had 32 total touchdowns over the past two seasons. Both are likely Day 2 picks.

15. What about you, Todd?

McShay: It’s still early and this kid’s a third-year sophomore, so he could return to school, but I’ll go with Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell. He’s a Richmond, Virginia, kid with a tough upbringing who has improved so much since 2016. He plays with great energy, and he had 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss this season.

16. Who are the guys we’ll all be calling “freaks” after the NFL combine?

Kiper: Jackson might run in the 4.4s in the 40-yard dash. That is flying for a quarterback. Barkley is a gifted athlete for his 230-pound frame, and I think he’ll run under 4.4 in the 40. Love can fly too, and he might be even faster than Barkley. On defense, Key is a freaky athlete with rare size (6-foot-6, 265 pounds); he could rise into the top-five discussion after the combine. Florida’s Tavon Bryan is a 6-foot-4, 290-pound brick wall of a defensive tackle with a rare size-and-speed combo.

17. Which prospect has helped his stock the most this season?

McShay: It’s tough to give any other answer than Mayfield. I wrote that he was probably a Day 3 prospect at this time last year. Since we touched on Mayfield earlier, though, I’ll offer up South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert, who ranks No. 1 at the position. He’s supertalented and could sneak into the first round. I’d also throw in Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert, who has generated some buzz and could move up if he performs well during Senior Bowl week.

18. Which prospect has hurt his stock the most this season?

Kiper: I really thought Alabama defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand, a former five-star recruit who had been a rotation player, could have a breakout season in his first season as a full-time starter. But he hasn’t been consistent, and he only has 2.5 tackles for loss. At 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, he’s a tweener — not big enough to be a tackle but not explosive enough to play end at the next level. I’d also include Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk, whom I had thought heading into the season could be a first-round pick. Now I think he’s a Day 2 guy who will likely primarily be a slot wideout.

19. Which prospect-to-player comparison do you think is most spot-on?

McShay: I know, I know, this is going to sound crazy, but hear me out. Mayfield reminds me some of Russell Wilson, with a little bit of Johnny Manziel and Brett Favre in there. That’s if the Oklahoma QB hits his ceiling, of course. Don’t discount the Mayfield-to-Wilson comp. Both are good athletes with stockier frames than other quarterback prospects, and both have above-average arms.

20. Is there a No. 1 cornerback in this draft who could start right away, like Marshon Lattimore and Tre’Davious White?

Kiper: There’s no Lattimore, who had a high grade all year, lit up the combine with a 4.36 40 and 38½-inch vertical and went No. 11 overall. But there are three really good corners in my top 25. Denzel Ward, Lattimore’s former teammate at Ohio State, is polished and has good instincts. Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver, a bigger defender with return ability, and Iowa’s Joshua Jackson, a ballhawk who had three picks in the Hawkeyes’ win over Ohio State, are right there, as well.

21. Which team is an obvious candidate to try to trade back?

McShay: I mentioned San Francisco earlier, but Indianapolis is another team to watch. The Colts could have a top-three pick, and they already have a franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck. They need extra picks to get Luck some help and shore up their defense.

22. Help out Mitchell Trubisky: What should the Bears do in the top 10?

Kiper: Trubisky absolutely needs some weapons. The Bears’ best pass-catcher is a 5-foot-6 running back, and former first-round pick Kevin White can’t stay healthy. Alabama’s Ridley has to be in play. Chicago also could take a look at the offensive line class. Tackles Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame), Orlando Brown (Oklahoma) and Connor Williams (Texas) all rank in my top 20 and should be available.

23. Who’s the underclassman who could use another year of development?

McShay: Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson. At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, he has NFL size and an NFL skill set. But he has technique deficiencies and doesn’t play to his size. He needs to get stronger and continue to improve his ability to diagnose and attack plays.

24. What about the underclassman with nothing left to prove to NFL scouts?

Kiper: Barkley and the top tier of running backs — Guice, Love and Harris and USC’s Ronald Jones II — have taken a lot of hits. Running backs have a short NFL life span, and they’re not going to be drafted any higher based on how they perform in 2018.

25. The Broncos’ quarterback situation is far from settled, and they could be picking in the top 10. Is it QB or bust?

McShay: Yes. Denver should be ready to pull the trigger on another first-round quarterback, even after taking Paxton Lynch at No. 26 overall in 2016. Lynch has only thrown 97 passes in two seasons, but Allen and Mayfield could be upgrades, if Rosen and Darnold are off the board. I said in 2016 that it was a reach for Lynch to go in the first round, as he was more of a developmental prospect, and the Broncos shouldn’t shy away from this QB class because of him.



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