If I were to pick a play that crystallises why Arden Key has so much potential in the NFL, it would be his sack against Florida, in 2016, with 6.59 to go in the 2nd quarter. The ball is snapped, almost everyone else on the O and D lines is moving at normal speed (David Sharpe, the Gators’ LT, and the Raiders’ 4th round pick in 2017, is moving with the speed of an oil tanker that’s run out of gas), whilst Key is already two yards ahead of anyone else by the time Appleby has his arm cocked to throw. This is the sort of thing that has NFL scouts salivating like ravenous Frenchmen presented with a plate of fois gras. In backside pursuit, Key pursuing a QB looks like a lion in chase of a gazelle, demonstrating exceptional explosiveness, flexibility and speed. Against the run, he is a bit more raw but, even so, it’s still worth noting how seldom he gets pushed back, even if his angles and instincts are occasionally awry. This is impressive, given that he looks like he could carry an extra 20-25lbs on his frame without compromising his speed. In essence, Key is an elite prospect – a top 5 talent in this year’s draft, should he elect to declare. There are, however, some off the field issues which will need to be carefully explored. He was suspended for the A&M game and, earlier this year, he took a leave of absence from the LSU program – these are massive red flags, which will need to be checked out. These issues compromise my grade on Key slightly but, nevertheless, he should be one of the very best players in the 2018 draft.
Lewis is an aggressive, powerful edge rusher who shows a relentless streak in his pursuit of the QB. He has played mainly with his hand on the ground at Ohio State although, on occasions, you will see him standing up. He is a much better prospect going forward than he is when he’s asked to read and react; he looks almost lost in space and I have doubts about his ability to project to an OLB role in the NFL. As such, he doesn’t look to me to have much scheme diversity, fitting best as a DE in the 4-3. He sets the edge extremely well and uses his hands very effectively, showing impressive strength and power – he is one of the very best run defenders in this draft class. An underrated part of Lewis’ game is the quickness of his feet, which enables him to change direction quite subtly and, as a consequence, attack half a blocker very effectively. His speed off the edge is good but not great at this point – he doesn’t really have an explosive first step and he will have to add some moves to his arsenal if he is to really thrive at the next level. He is a very productive player, who won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and will should in the mix for national preseason awards. At the moment, I see him as a second round guy but I expect NFL scouts to have him firmly in the 1st round discussion.
The first words and phrases that spring to mind when you watch Ridley are uniformly positive – competitive, gamer, great effort, athletic. He could well end up being a more successful pro WR than he was a college one. Watching his tape, it is evident that he makes quick breaks, runs accurate routes and has the speed and niftiness to get open on a regular basis. He has not been helped, however, by QBs, over the last couple of years, who are skittish in the pocket and slow to make a decision. He has a lot of experience playing in the slot and running jet sweeps. He could carve out a very successful career in the slot but I also see a scheme versatility in Ridley – I have every confidence in his ability to win outside as well. He is fluid and twitchy off the line and will make the circus catches, as well as the competed ones – his hands seem very reliable. His tape suggests a real love of the game and this is especially evident in his blocking. At 6-1 and only 188, you might justifiably expect him to be a speedbump in the run/screen game. In fact, however, he is willing and able as a blocker. He is very good at everything; I’m just not sure he’s sufficiently elite at anything to warrant a 1st round grade. I do, however, see him as a productive NFL player and, with a good 2017, he could leap into 1st round consideration.
Following a serious knee injury in 2015, Chubb came back well in 2016, running for 1180 yards and 8tds, without ever flashing the potential for greatness that was evident after his freshman season. He is a thickly built runner – particularly in the lower body – who will break tackles and finish runs well. He is equipped to be a solid, between the tackles runner in the NFL, with just enough speed to enable him to threaten the edge as well, although he will never be much of a breakaway threat in the open field. He wasn’t always running behind the most solid O-Lines at Georgia and often had to engineer his own opportunities. He made demonstrable progress in pass protection between 2015 and 2016; he was stronger and squattier in this area and it will be interesting to see if he can develop this part of his game still further in 2017. As a pass catcher, he doesn’t have much feel for the passing game – he is quite a stiff route runner and doesn’t always react intelligently when his QB is in trouble. This is another area where he will be worth following in 2017. At the minute, I see Chubb as a very solid part of a RB rotation in the NFL – not a superstar but a guy who could have a productive career and would be a good value selection early on Day 3, provided the medical history checks out. If he returns to the Nick Chubb of 2014 and early 2015, however, he could be back in the Round 1 conversation.
Guice is a simply outstanding prospect, who runs with an exceptionally impressive combination of balance and power. He is scheme versatile, as well; at some times, he explodes into the hole and at others, he just waits for his blocks and makes a quick and usually intelligent decision. For a runner of his physicality, he has impressive speed and he has no interest in going down on first contact, using both the fend and the spin move to evade tacklers. He hasn’t done a huge amount as a receiver but that looks to be as much a matter of scheme as of ability. He does, however, impress as a pass blocker – he showed willingness and ability as both a cut-blocker and a chip-blocker. His short area quickness gets him into the open field with intriguing regularity – when he gets there, DBs have no great interest in tackling him. He falls forward after contact, he makes the most of his opportunities and, personally, I thought he was a much more impressive prospect than his teammate, Leonard Fournette, in 2016. In terms of sheer talent, he is probably one of the top three or four players available in 2018. Given the movement we have seen recently towards taking RBs in the top 10, there is every reason to think that, if Guice continues on his current trajectory, he will be a very wealthy man by the end of the 2018 draft.
There’s a lot to like about Rudolph. He throws a very catchable ball, demonstrating fine touch on intermediate passes, both down the seams and to the sidelines. He is excellent at taking care of the football – he is less of a risk-taker than some of his peers in the 2018 class and will cheerfully throw the ball away when there’s nothing there. As one might expect, given the OSU offensive scheme, he throws a lot of tunnel screens and swing passes, so I was interested to examine his long ball game. I was really impressed; he doesn’t go deep often but, when he does, he can put the ball on a sixpence – his throw in the 2016 bowl game v Colorado to James Washington and over 2nd round pick Chidobe Awuzie (2Q, 8:59) was a thing of beauty. In general, ball placement is a strength. It’s not all sunshine and pina coladas, however; he is a pretty limited athlete and, when he’s forced to scramble, he resembles an elderly gentleman, caught in a heavy shower of rain and trying to scuttle for shelter. He doesn’t have the quickest feet in the pocket and can be somewhat statuesque back there at times. In the NFL, however, these aren’t huge concerns and I’m happy to put a strong 1st round grade on Rudolph – he looks a really good prospect.
Darnold can make some properly breathtaking throws. His anticipation, field vision and ability to use his feet to create time in the pocket mark him out as a prospect of enormous potential. He has also demonstrated the ability to put his team on his back at crucial moments – his performance in the Rose Bowl was the stuff of legend. What I like most about Darnold, though, is his touch in the short and intermediate passing game. When he has to caress the ball in, he can do that; when he has to rifle the ball in, he can do that. He’s not an elite athlete like Cam Newton but he’s quick enough to escape from the pocket when things break down and shows toughness and desire in running to convert 3rd down situations. There are some mechanical eccentricities in his release; he has an idiosyncratic wind-up which an NFL QB coach will want to address pretty quickly. He also still needs to work on his deep passing game but, for a redshirt freshman, he showed a huge amount in his freshman year and, at this point, should he decide to come out, he has a very strong chance of going high in the first round.