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The New Reality No.88: 2018 NFL Draft Class Preview

Examining the key prospects and metrics to track for the 2018 NFL Draft class

With the 2017 college football season set to start, dynasty owners are checking out the next wave of upcoming talent for future NFL Drafts. With notable talents eligible in 2017 returning to school, there is a known subset for the 2018 class as well as the upcoming prospects eligible for the first time. Here is a look at the key prospects and metrics to monitor during the college season:

Quarterbacks

The key word with quarterbacks in devy leagues is caution. The wind of NFL Draft stock can change in a matter of months for projected top signal callers. Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Josh Allen are all projected as top-10 NFL Draft picks as the cream of the prospect crop. On the metric side, Darnold is the most complete without a flaw, other than logging more experience to meet the baselines of more successful historical prospects. Josh Rosen is the most metrically-flawed heading into 2017 with a sub-60% completion rate and a negative rushing total. While a quarterback does not need to be an overtly athletic specimen, functional mobility (representing sack avoidance and some scrambles when necessary) are preferred. Also, Rosen has a concerning 2.1-to-1 TD/INT ratio. There is plenty for Rosen to improve upon in 2017. Josh Allen has the mobility numbers Rosen lacks, but a more concerning 56% completion rate. Allen's 1.9-to-1 ratio is also low. Lamar Jackson and Nick Fitzgerald have low completion rates. Mason Rudolph, Max Browne, and Luke Falk have negative rushing totals. 

The big takeaway is there are few clean prospects. Another factor is there is a season to go, at least, for all of them to improve (or worsen) their profile. Even No.1 overall picks in the NFL Draft are a shade over 50/50 bets to become steady fantasy starters. Plus trying to shoot the needle for the No.1 overall pick is a risky endeavor as another hurdle.

The only environment where I recommend drafting a devy quarterback is *potentially* in a high quarterback-premium league (start-2 mandatory for example). Even then, the devy risk is why loading up on proven NFL quarterbacks already through the entire process and being productive with job security in the NFL is the preferred method of team-building.

Running Backs

Running backs are historically the best bets in devy. They are more predictable entering college and their profiles project better to the NFL during their productive college careers. The 2017 draft class was a strong one, but 2018 projects to rival - or even surpass - this past year's crop with the season to go.

SaQuon Barkley and Derrius Guice are the top options by nearly every consensus and the metrics love both. Barkley checks all the boxes, physical and production, and a top-5 draft selection would not be a surprise. Guice's metric to improve in 2017 is his receiving score, a poor -68% (0% is average for a drafted NFL back) thus far. Guice needs a strong market share of LSU's backfield receiving production and decent raw numbers through the air to boost his score. Otherwise, Guice would have a more tempered fantasy upside than Barkley.

Nick Chubb and Royce Freeman are both returning seniors after subpar (by their standards) junior seasons. Both are prototypically-sized and elite recruits. Chubb has more athletic upside and the potential to rival Barkley and Guice for top honors if returning to his pre-2016 form. Freeman projects as an elite metric prospect destined for Day 2 considering his tepid-by-comparison athletic profile compared to the typical Round 1 pick.

Other seniors to keep in mind include with quality size:

Sony Michel: Elite recruit with quality size and athleticism. Sagging production as Georgia consistently has a loaded throve of strong running backs.

Kalen Ballage: Enviable size-speed combination. Yet to be a true lead back at Arizona State. Elite receiver. Will crush the NFL Combine.

Jarvion Franklin: Smaller school pedigree (Western Michigan) but quality size and elite producer.

Undersized productive seniors:

Justin Jackson: Well under 200 pounds and a sagging athlete, but elite RUSH and REC scores in model.

Nick Wilson: Projected in 205-210 pound range, elite RUSH score but low REC marks.

Terry Swanson: Toledo back around 200 pounds and better receiver than rusher to-date.

Other potential early declarations with prototypical traits:

Mike Weber: Up around 215 pounds, started as redshirt freshman at Ohio State, not an overly strong athlete but early break out on the ground. Elite recruit, Ohio State track record to produce low REC scores.

Kerryon Johnson: Added weight in 2017, elite recruit, balanced producer, likely committee again in 2017 with Kamryn Pettway preventing truly elite season.

Josh Adams: Decent athlete and balanced producer, but more of a straight-line runner out of Notre Dame.

Damien Harris: Added weight in 2017, lagging production at Alabama with many mouths to feed, good athlete.

Chris Warren: One of the wild cards of the 2018 (potential) class. Chiseled build and around 250 pounds. Was Texas lead back before injury and D'Onta Foreman ran with the job to close 2016. 

L.J. Scott: 230+ pounds and quality two-way back in the LeVeon Bell mold at Michigan State.

Bo Scarbrough: Durability concerns plus an older prospect (would be 24-year-old NFL rookie if declaring for 2018 draft). Critical 2017 season to string together production for the first time in Alabama career. Strong athlete for 230+ pound frame.

Jordan Scarlett: Added weight in 2017, up to 215 range. Quality recruit and good tape. Sagging production making 2017 critical to a declaration and quality draft profile.

Undersized early declaration candidates:

Ronald Jones: USC back with low REC score and sub-200 pounds.

Mark Walton: Miami prospect with balanced production (strong receiver) but sub-200 pounds and not as strong an athlete as Ronald Jones.

Myles Gaskin: Strong producer for Washington. Needs receiving boost for likely role in NFL

Bryce Love: The replacement for Christian McCaffrey at Stanford. Has done little to-date, but could declare if an elite season.

Wide Receivers

Wide Receivers without strong college production are dicey devy investments. Here are the notable productive seniors for the 2018 NFL Draft:

James Washington: Would have been a quality prospect in this year's class. Returning for senior season and will have returning quarterback Mason Rudolph to cap off a highly-productive career. Thick build with deep tracking ability.

Allen Lazard: Iowa State high-level recruit, 6'5" build and quality producer. Likely mid-round pick.

Jordan Villamin: Horrific 2016 season after promising career start at Oregon State. Needs strong finish with similar 6'5" build to Allen Lazard.

Jester Weah: Pittsburgh receiver, under the radar, but well-rounded metric profile. Expect growing appeal after this season.

Michael Gallup: Colorado State with strong athleticism and one of the strongest production scores of 2018-eligible receivers.

Boom-Bust senior profiles

Saeed Blacknall: Penn State with lauded athleticism. Yet to produce with Chris Godwin notably in front of him. Critical 2017 season to translate physical traits to the box score.

Dante Pettis: Washington and in shadow of John Ross until now. Like Blacknall, critical year to improve production score.

D.J. Chark: LSU with above-average athleticism, program has underperformed as a pass game for years now. Chark needs a quality season to avoid the boom-bust moniker.

Notable underclassmen

Courtland Sutton: The most well-rounded metric prospect of the potential 2018 class out of SMU. Former defensive player with 6'3" and nearly 220-pound frame. Strong athlete and producer. Nothing left to prove for draft profile as many projected him as a top-half Round 1 pick if he had entered 2017 draft.

Equanimeous St.Brown: Decent athlete for size with strong production. Candidate for Round 1 selection with strong finish to Notre Dame career.

Christian Kirk: Elite recruit and dominated as an all-around weapon (including as a returner) since true freshman season. Thick build. Monitor usage as an intermediate and deep threat for well-rounded projection to the NFL in 2017.

Antonio Callaway: Florida wild card with off-field concerns. Average athlete but savvy route-runner and hands.

Deon Cain: Critical year to produce and Deshaun Watson gone. Elite recruit and strong deep threat and athlete.

Auden Tate: Returning quarterback at Florida State, enviable frame at 6'5" and 220+ pounds. Not a strong athlete but decent feet for size. Needs a true breakout season to complete profile and potential top-50 selection.

Calvin Ridley: Undersized and older (would be 23.7 years old as NFL rookie even with early declaration). Lagging athlete for size and yet to produce elite season. 2017 is a critical year for Ridley to strengthen his metric profile. Largely projected as Round 1 NFL Draft pick.

Tight Ends

No class in the next two or three years projects as strongly as the 2017 class of tight ends. However, there are promising options in 2018:

Mark Andrews: Former wide receiver from Oklahoma. Elite producer and strong route runner and after-catch option. Expect a mid-Round 2 projection or better.

Mike Gesicki: Strong athlete and 6'6" from Penn State. Needs to cap off boom-bust profile with dominant 2017 season.

Dallas Goedert: Small school special from South Dakota State. Elite producer and needs to confirm athleticism. Wild card to rise during draft process.

Adam Breneman: Former Penn State recruit now highly productive at Massachusetts. Above-average athlete and, like Goedert, potential high NFL Draft pick few are tracking entering season.

Troy Fumagalli: Wisconsin tight end with more mass appeal than metrics. One of the lower rated metric prospects of 2018 eligible options. Projected poor athlete.

Cam Serigne: Wake Forest with strong production but limited physical profile. Projects as mid-round pick.

Lastly, other options in the mix include Blake Mack (Arkansas State), Zach Boyd (Colorado State-Pueblo), DeAndre Goolsby (Florida), Marcus Baugh (Ohio State), and Durham Smythe (Notre Dame).