Preview 2016

2017 NFL Draft Top Prospects: College Football's Future Pro Stars

Sep 19, 2015; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 19, 2015; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Myles Garrett (15) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports


Who are the best-looking future NFL stars in college football this season? Who will everyone be talking about next April? These are the 2017 NFL Draft Top Prospects.


Disagree? Contact @PeteFiutak

Call this the jumping off point.

The college football season will obviously unearth a few new superstar NFL prospects, and will knock down several sure-thing talents who’ll come into the season with a higher stock. But after spring ball and coming off the 2016 Draft, here are the likely eligible first round 2017 NFL Draft Top Prospects, along with 20 more in the mix.

*Is for the underclassmen who have could return to college in 2018.

32. CB Desmond King, Iowa

He could’ve and should’ve turned pro early after coming up with eight picks and winning the Jim Thorpe Award. He’ll drop in the process because he’s not a blazer, but he’s a playmaker who could end up as a whale of a pro free safety.

31. DT Carlos Watkins, Clemson

The next great Tiger defensive lineman, he might not be a pass rusher like a Shaq Lawson or Kevin Dodd, but he’s a 6-3, 300-pound active interior presence.

30. TE O.J. Howard, Alabama

This only happens in the first round if he builds off his great national championship performance and becomes more of a receiver – that’s mainly on the coaching staff to make happen. If he gets up to around 255 and keeps his athleticism, he’ll be exactly what the next level passing games want.

29. CB Adoree Jackson, USC*

A true 4.4 blazer, he needs to show this season that he’s ready to look and play like a true next-level corner and not just an ultra-athletic jack-of-all-trades. His upside as a return man helps, but his first round status depends on his shutdown corner ability this season.

28. RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford*

More of a missing piece than a fan-favorite franchise player, the stats and the hype will be off-the-charts, and he’ll run and move well, but because running back is getting devalued he’ll be considered a part of a rotation.

27. RB Royce Freeman, Oregon*

Fast enough, with his 5-11, 230-pound size, moves, and production, he’ll be talked about as one of the all-time best of the Oregon running back prospects. Everyone outside of the Pac-12 will be talking about Mr. McCaffrey, but Freeman is the better next-level back.

26. DT Davon Godchaux, LSU

His stock is about to go through the roof in Dave Aranda’s 3-4 defense. A tweener who’ll be a strong 3-technique end, turn him loose and watch him dominate the interior.

25. DE Carl Lawson, Auburn

Now that he’s back and healthy after suffering a hip injury, he’s about to destroy SEC backfields. While it would be nice if he was a wee bit taller, the 6-2, 257-pound tweener is an NFL-caliber pass rusher.

24. DE Charles Harris, Missouri*

The 6-3, 255-pounder is the next great Tiger pass rusher to come out of the defensive end factory. He just started to scratch the surface last season with seven sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, and now he’ll be the next Shane Ray, Kony Ealy and Aldon Smith.

23. DT Jonathan Allen, Alabama

A likely first-rounder if he came out for the 2016 NFL Draft, the 6-3, 294-pounder is the lone returning starter to the epic national championship front three. However, considering A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed slid out of the first round, Allen might have made the right move.

22. WR Malchi Dupre, LSU*

All that’s missing is more of a passing game that can get him the ball. The 6-3, 190-pounder has the size and the skills, but does he have the raw wheels? He’s more of a high-4.5 runner than a true blazer, but he can find ways to make deep plays. One official run in the 4.4 range in front of all the scouts changes his stock.

21. OG Pat Elflein, Ohio State

Would he have been the guard that San Francisco took in the 2016 Draft instead of Joshua Garnett, or Seattle selected instead of Germain Ifedi? Those two are bigger – Elflein is more of a technician at around 295 pounds. He might not be for every style at the next level, but he’s a special talent.

20. WR K.D. Cannon, Baylor*

Wide receivers were going fast and furious at the end of the 2016 first round, and next year it should be Cannon who becomes the next big thing. With mid-4.4 speed, he’s got the wheels with decent enough size to get by. The stats he’ll put up this season will be too good to ignore.

19. G Ethan Pocic, LSU

His versatility will be the key. Good enough to have been a top 50 pick this year, he’s trying to come off a hip injury that would’ve soured his stock. If he can stay in one piece he should be a first rounder with the ability to work anywhere in the interior. At 6-7 and over 300 pounds, he can be tried out at right tackle, too.

18. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC*

Fast, athletic, and dynamic for a 6-2, 215-pound playmaker, he should be in the mix for all the big awards and should look the part of an NFL No. 1 target if the USC quarterback play is steady this season. If he hits the 4.45 mark in a combine run, his stock will go through the roof.

17. DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State*

He still has to prove himself as a star to work a line around, but he’s not far off. The 6-6, 280-pound former super-recruit can work anywhere up front as a 4-3 tackle or a 3-4 end, and he’ll be moved around wherever needed.

16. CB Tre’Davious White, LSU

An almost certain first rounder had he come out this season, or at least a top 50 pick, he has 5-11, 191-pound size and the veteran playmaking ability to step in right away. Throw in the sub-4.4 speed, and he’s what NFL teams are looking for.

15. S Quin Blanding, Virginia*

An ideal-sized safety, the 6-2, 205-pounder has the pop missing from most of the safeties going in the 2016 Draft, and he’s more than fine when the ball is in the air. With 238 tackles in his first two seasons, he’s like another linebacker.

14. S Jamal Adams, LSU*

6-2, 211 pounds and with 4.4 speed, he’s got all the NFL tools and the game to go with it. Not a shy tackler and a dangerous all-around playmaker, he’s going to blow up in the new LSU defensive style and could turn into a must-have top ten pick next April if all goes according to plan.

13. OT Roderick Johnson, Florida State*

The superstar recruit of a few years ago could stand to add a little bit of bulk, but he’s a ready-made NFL left tackle with 6-7, 307-pound size and the feet to become star pass protector. The ACC’s best blocker last year, he’s a sure-thing All-American who could turn into this year’s Laremy Tunsil – in all the positive ways.

12. LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State*

Exactly what you want for an inside linebacker, he’s a 6-2, 240-pound big-hitter with tremendous range. He’s always around the ball with the quickness and smarts to always be in the right position. The defense might be rebuilding a bit, but he’s the leader now.

11. LB Reuben Foster, Alabama

There are other very, very good Alabama linebackers ready to shine – Rashaan Evans should probably be on any list of top 32 pro prospects – but it’s Foster who’s about to blow up as the star of the inside. Yeah, Reggie Ragland slid out of the first round of the 2016 Draft, but Foster is a different sort of baller with far better range.

10. DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee*

It would be nice if he was just a wee bit bigger, but the 6-3, 257-pounder is a whale of a tweener and with pure pass rushing skills coming up with ten sacks in each of his first two seasons. Not just a one-trick guy, he holds up well against the run, too, but he’s more likely an outside linebacker or a hybrid at the next level.

9. CB Jalen Tabor, Florida*

No, he’s not better than Vernon Hargreaves, but he might be a stronger prospect than Keanu Neal – both went in the first round of the 2016 Draft. The key will be speed hovering around the high 4.5s – at least until he gets a shot to prove himself officially. But at 6-1 and 188 pounds, he’s got the size to look the part.

8. RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State*

He’s probably not going to go in the top ten because running backs are so devalued, but he’s got elite talent and should be one of the top prospects with his speed and big-play ability. He’s not all that huge at 5-11 and 206 pounds, and he might not be an NFL workhorse, but he’s going to be someone’s No. 1 option.

7. OT Cam Robinson, Alabama*

Alabama offensive linemen don’t quite get the glory the defensive guys do, but Ryan Kelly went in the first round in the 2016 Draft, and none of the D linemen did. Robinson should be a lock for the top 15 with prototype 6-6, 327-pound size and the blasting ability to play anywhere but center. The former top recruit has played up to the billing, and then some.

6. S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan*

Get ready for the hype to be off the charts. He’s going to work at linebacker, he’s got the speed to be a corner, and he’s an NFL dream safety with 6-1, 208-pound size and perennial Pro Bowl upside. Can he hone his skills at one spot to be everything he’s supposed to become at the next level? Don’t worry about it – he’s a rare talent who’ll be a cornerstone of a defense.

5. LB/DE Tim Williams, Alabama

Even though he was projected to be a late first or early second round pick had he come out early, get ready to watch his stock go through the roof. Alabama always has elite defensive talent, and sending stars to the NFL has become commonplace, but it hasn’t had a pure pass rushing terror quite like Williams in the Nick Saban era.

He might be undersized at 237 pounds on his 6-4 frame, but he was unstoppable in spring ball when turned loose and should now take his game to a whole other level after coming up with 10.5 sacks with 19 tackles for loss. He’s not going to come up with the silly 40 times, but if the scouts can get past that, they’ll find exactly what every NFL defense is looking for.

4. RB Leonard Fournette, LSU*

If the archaic and unfair NFL eligibility rules weren’t what they currently are, Fournette would be a Dallas Cowboy going into this season, not Ezekiel Elliott. No, he’s not going to run a sub-4.4 40 like he’s rumored to be able to do, but all that matters is that he’s in the ballpark.

The 6-1, 230-pounder has power, speed, moves, and want-to, as the rare generational franchise back with the most talent since Adrian Peterson came out of Oklahoma. Yeah, the running back position doesn’t matter so much now at the next level, but throw that all out with him – this is the guy who breaks through all that.

3. QB Brad Kaaya, Miami*

It would’ve been interesting to have seen where he would’ve gone in the 2016 Draft. He might not have the freakish tools of Carson Wentz, and he’s not necessarily the pure passer that Jared Goff is, but if he’s able to bulk up a wee bit to add more weight to his 6-4 frame, he has NFL starting ability to run a next-level attack for a long, long time.

But this is still a projection. He was fine under Al Golden, but not he never really blew up. Now with Mark Richt as the head man, there’s a chance he goes to a whole other level and becomes more of a playmaker who starts hitting more downfield plays and getting more opportunities in bigger games. If all goes according to plan, he should be in the hunt for a top five spot.

2. QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson*

The only question is his lack of raw bulk – he’s got the body of a punter. But so did Aaron Rodgers coming out of Cal.

He’s not built like a Tom Brady or a Cam Newton with 6-2, 210-pound size, and he doesn’t have an elite deep arm, but he’s got everything else in terms of moxie, mobility, smarts, personality, and accuracy. He’s the dynamic playmaker who proved in the national title game against Alabama that he can make the Rodgers NFL throws against a best of the best defense on the biggest of big stages.

He’s the dream. He’s not a prima donna in any way, and he’s what every coaching staff and every franchise wants in the leader to run the offense. The hype is there, the talent is in place, and now he’ll have one final season to get a little more experience to sharpen things up that much more.

1. DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M*

With an All-America track star mom, a world-class track star sister, and an NBA brother, Garrett is more than used to being around special athletic talent. But no one in his family was the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Quarterbacks are almost always going to get taken ahead of the star defensive end if all things are equal, but if Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya, or any of the new hot prospect of next year slip in any way, Garrett could be the easy must-have at the top spot.

At 6-5 and 262 pounds with the shot-out-of-a-cannon first step and freakish closing ability, he could be the best pass rusher to come into the league since fellow Aggie Von Miller – but Garrett is bigger.

It’s going to be a fun year with all the defensive awards on the table and even some talking Heisman if he’s as unstoppable as expected. But the real prize will come with a Roger Goodell hug next April, followed up by a whole lot of money.

20 More In The Mix

If you want to put any of these prospects in the early top 32, go for it. They’ll all be in the discussion for2017 NFL Draft first round status.

S Budda Baker, Washington*; OT Zach Banner, USC; LB Kendall Beckwith, LSU; TE Jake Butt, Michigan; RB Nick Chubb, Georgia*; RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin; S Tony Conner, Ole Miss; TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss; LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama*; QB Luke Falk, Washington State*; DE Jonathan Ford, Auburn; DT Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama*; DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss*; DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State*; CB Eddie Jackson, Alabama; QB Chad Kelly, Ole Miss; CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan; DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA; DE Demarcus Walker, Florida State; WR Mike Williams, Clemson