College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

The college football season is about a month and a half away and it can’t come soon enough. As rosters are finally completed with transfers (thank you Malik Zaire) and spring ball all wrapped up, it’s time to look forward to the fall. Who will be the top 25 teams in college football this season?

25. Kansas State Wildcats

Bill Snyder is back for another season as the head man of Kansas State. He had his youngest team ever last season and still finished 9-4. This year should show improvements for the Wildcats, but the record will likely be similar. They will grind out games in typical Snyder fashion.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Byron Pringle

Jesse Ertz will be back to lead the offense at quarterback with his dual-threat abilities. He led the Wildcats in both rushing and passing last year and looks like he will do the same this season.

A few running backs will get a chance to help him out on the ground, including Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon. Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath are good wide receivers on the outside, and will have to make the most of their opportunities, as Ertz only threw for 1,755 yards last season.

The bulk of the offensive line is back including center Reid Najvar and tackles Scott Frantz and Dalton Risner, which should help create more than the 32.2 points per game last year.

Defensively, the Wildcats will have to replace the pass-rushing ability of Jordan Willis, who is off to the NFL, but they do return the other three starters from the defensive line. They help make this defense great at stopping the run which ranked 11th in the country.

The linebackers will be all new starters this year, but keep an eye on Da’Quan Patton who was one of the best JUCO linebackers last season.

Three out of four starters from the secondary return to a unit that needs to improve from its 114th ranking against the pass a year ago.

With an easier non-conference schedule this season, the Wildcats should be undefeated heading into conference play. Their big games at home will be TCU, Oklahoma and West Virginia, while they will be on the road to face Texas and Oklahoma State. With these games posing problems, Kansas State should be able to get out of the regular season with a maximum of four losses by grinding out games and winning the turnover battle.

24. Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern had a solid 7-6 season last year that was capped off with a win over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. This season they return a lot of key players that should help them compete for the Big Ten West.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Justin Jackson (Photo by: Chicago Tribune)

The backfield is stacked with talent for the Wildcats, featuring three-year starter Clayton Thorson at quarterback and the man who will likely be the school’s all-time leading rusher at year’s end, Justin Jackson at running back. Both can run the ball really well and Thorson improved significantly as a passer from his freshman to his sophomore year. With his natural progression he can make Northwestern’s scoring offense one of the best in the Big Ten.

Four starters return on the offensive line, but they will need to replace Big Ten leading receiver Austin Carr from last year’s squad.

Defensively the Wildcats are best in the secondary, with Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Quiero, who are two of their best players and are paired with two other returning starters.

They lose Anthony Walker from their linebacking core, but feature a lot of capable replacements. There isn’t much depth on the defensive front, but their starters are solid. The defense lost its best player in Walker, but there is no reason why they should take a step back this year after ranking 24th in the country in scoring defense.

The schedule matches up favorably for Northwestern. They travel to Wisconsin and play Penn State at home in back to back games, but the rest of the games on their schedule should be manageable. The Wildcats will be going to a bowl game and expect at a very minimum eight wins.

23. Washington State Cougars

Winning the Holiday Bowl would have been a nice way to cap off the season, but the Cougars fell to Minnesota to finish with an 8-5 record. Mike Leach got the team rolling and won all eight games in a row, including seven of them being in conference. Washington State got the most important player to return to school for one more year, which will give them another solid season.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Luke Falk (Photo by: seattletimes.com)

Luke Falk could’ve gone to the NFL Draft, but elected to come back to Pullman for his senior season. Falk has two-straight 4,000-yard passing seasons and has a touchdown to interceptions ratio of over three to one. He will have another big year, even though he loses key receivers River Cracraft and Gabe Marks.

Multiple wide receivers are capable of stepping up, but Tavares Martin Jr. is the big play guy. Three returning starters on the offensive line will help protect Falk and the Cougars are also very deep at running back.

Last season, Washington State ranked in the top half of the country in scoring defense, and with that offense humming that’s all they really have to do to make the team successful.

The passing defense is awful and they lost Shalom Luani which hurts. They do return four starters from the secondary, two linebackers and two defensive linemen. Peyton Pelluer is a great linebacker who brings back a lot of experience with 233 career tackles. They will need the secondary and pass rush to get a lot better to be a successful defense.

Washington State has it’s fair share of tough games in 2017 including: Boise State, USC, Stanford and at Washington. Having three of those key games at home is a huge boost to the Cougars. They should be able to beat Boise State at the very least. Getting USC in the crossover game is tough, but Washington State could max out at 10 wins or bottom out with eight, assuming they don’t lose to an FCS opponent for the third year in a row.

22. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

There is no doubt that Brian Kelly’s seat is hot after finishing 4-8 last season. He brought in new coordinators so now the onus is totally on him. No Notre Dame team should ever go 4-8, especially given their schedule. A lot of players need to step up this season, but the talent is there.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Equanimeous St. Brown (Photo by: usatoday.com)

Notre Dame will be breaking in a new quarterback in Brandon Wimbush. He was a highly-touted recruit, but he didn’t play well in the spring game. The key for Wimbush’s development is the great offensive line he has in front of him. Four of the linemen are returning starters and two, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, could have been drafted very early in the 2016 NFL Draft.

A lot of the wide receivers are inexperienced, but Equanimeous St. Brown (along with being one of the coolest names in college football) is blossoming into a star. Durham Smythe and Alize Mack (formerly Alize Jones), provide good targets at tight end.

Running the ball is a versatile player who is capable of running and catching out of the backfield, Josh Adams.

The Fighting Irish have been decimated with injuries the past few seasons on the defensive side of the ball and don’t return many starters. The good news is that a lot of players have gotten experience over the last few years. The bad news is they didn’t play particularly well.

This season they need to get better at stopping the run. Nose tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Nyles Morgan will do what they can, but will need help. The secondary and defensive lines are shaky overall, but the linebackers are talented and will have to lead the team.

As always, Notre Dame does have some marquee games this season. They host Georgia and USC and travel to Miami and Stanford. Other games on the schedule are tricky, but those are the bigger games. Their matchup with Georgia in week two will let everyone know if the Fighting Irish are bouncing back or not. Notre Dame should win eight games during the regular season and if they don’t Kelly likely won’t be on the sidelines anymore.

21. Virginia Tech Hokies

Justin Fuente rejuvenated the Hokies last year and got them a 10 win season after they defeated Arkansas in the Belk Bowl. They lost some key players, but with Fuente, Virginia Tech will be able to figure it out.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Tremaine Edmunds (Photo courtesy: athlonsports.com)

Jerod Evans surprisingly left for the NFL Draft and went undrafted, so the Hokies will likely turn to Josh Jackson, who has great playmaking ability. Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges also left school early, but Cam Phillips will be a great target for Jackson. Other receivers need to produce as well.

Travon McMillan saw his production slip during his sophomore season, but is a solid running back and should have a good junior season. Three returning offensive linemen will help the Hokies move the chains.

The defensive front has one starter returning in Viny Mihota, but the back seven brings back a lot of experience. Their secondary should be one of the best in the country with Terrell Edmunds, Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman. Tremaine Edmunds will stand out as the best linebacker in the ACC. Virginia Tech was good on defense last year, but should be able to take it to another level in 2017.

The schedule shouldn’t be too rough on the Hokies, but they do have a few big games. They play a neutral site game against West Virginia, Clemson at home, at Miami, at Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech should be able to win most of those games. The Hokies can win anywhere between nine and 11 games in the regular season and can get back to the ACC Championship Game.

 

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Johnny Manziel deserves another chance

After being seen doing passing drills with Odell Beckham Jr., Johnny Manziel is ready for a comeback and absolutely deserves a shot. Let’s take a quick trip back through his recent years.

Freshman Season

In Aug. of 2012, to much surprise, Johnny Manziel beat out Jameill Showers, Matt Joeckel and Matt Davis, to win the Texas A&M starting quarterback job. On Oct. 13, Manziel goes for 576 total yards against Louisiana Tech, becoming the first player in SEC history to have multiple 500-yard games in one season.

Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M knock off No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10, 2012 (Bleacher Report)

Manziel and A&M were off to a quick 6-2 start going into November. On Halloween, as Johnny was climbing up the Heisman watch list, Manziel went out in an incredible Scooby-Doo costume. Why? Because he is a legend.

On Nov. 10, 2012, Johnny Manziel shocked the world. Throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns and 92 yards on the ground, Johnny Football and Texas A&M knocked off No. 1 Alabama, 29-24, in Tuscaloosa.

About a month later, Manziel was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Leading the Aggies to a 10-2 record with over 3,400 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 19 rushing touchdowns, and later a 41-13 romping over the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl, Manziel was on top of the world.

The day after the Cotton Bowl, Manziel posted a photo to Instagram in which he held a wad full of cash at a casino.

Ballers do baller things.

Stuff kids dream about

Johnny Manziel

Manziel enjoying life with NBA superstar Kevin Durant, and music icon Drake (USA Today)

After winning the Heisman, Manziel went on a run. He was seen sitting courtside at Rockets games and posting pictures with James Harden. Manziel also took part in the Super Bowl week festivities by partying with celebs like Jessica Biel, Rob Gronkowski and Justin Timberlake.

He then followed this up in March of 2013 by going to Toronto and partying with the GOAT in the music game, Drake. Johnny even showed up at the NBA Finals and hung out with LeBron James. A few first pitches and parties later, Manziel ran into some trouble at the Manning Passing Academy.

In the summer of 2013, after being sick and dehydrated, Manziel left the Manning Passing Academy early. He was faced with serious criticism from the media. The day after he left, Manziel was seen out at a club.

Then there was the NCAA investigation in which it was said that Manziel had accepted money to sign hundreds of items for autograph brokers. He was hit with a first half suspension against Rice.

His sophomore season stats were even better than the previous season’s. He would go on to throw for over 4,000 yards with 41 total touchdowns. Manziel left college in style with 455 total yards and five total touchdowns in a come-from-behind win against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

DRAFT DAY, JOHNNY MANZIEL

With the 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns selected Manziel. Arguably the worst franchise in sports, the Browns are as dysfunctional as it gets. The constant hire and fire strategy has yet to work.

Since 1999, they have had 26 different quarterbacks behind center. To make matters worse, the Browns have been terrible in the draft. Of the last five year’s picks, none of the Browns selected have made a Pro Bowl. With all that said, Manziel was walking into a losing situation.

Professional Career

In two seasons, Manziel went 2-6 as a starter. Is his record an appropriate way to judge his ability? Absolutely not. In his first season, the Browns ranked 32nd in rushing yards allowed per game. Luckily, in his second season, they moved all the way up to 30th, and finished 27th in total yards allowed per game.

Think that is irrelevant for someone who controls the offense? Of the 10 teams that finished in the bottom for total yards allowed per game, only one of them, the Washington Redskins, made the playoffs. The Browns gave Manziel no shot to succeed.

Johnny Manziel

Money Manziel. (cnn.com)

In his sophomore campaign, Manziel was one of only four quarterbacks to throw for at least 160 yards and rush for at least 100 yards in a single game. He was one of only two quarterbacks to throw for at least 160 yards and rush for at least 30 yards versus the Bengals defense.

Manziel was also one of the toughest quarterbacks the Titans had faced all year, posting the second-highest passing rater against their defense. The only qualified quarterback who had a higher passing rating against Tennessee was Blake Bortles.

In his 15 career games, Manziel has seven passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and seven interceptions. His career passer rating of 74.4 ranks ahead of Mark Sanchez and Derek Anderson, who both serve as backups. In eight starts, Manziel threw six touchdowns and five interceptions.

Let’s take a look at the two best quarterbacks of this generation: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. In Manning’s first eight starts, the soon-to-be Hall of Famer threw 16 interceptions and had the Colts sitting at 1-7. Tom Brady threw seven interceptions within his first eight games as a starter.

 #LOST IN THE SAUCE

After rehab, a tough breakup that involved a domestic violence case, and partying with endless celebs, Manziel was officially lost in the sauce. He was waived by the Browns on March 11, 2016.

After being waived, Manziel fluttered down a tough path in which he was followed by TMZ Sports, who would constantly catch him outside of nightclubs.

After getting more tattoos, hanging with Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio, being allegedly the passenger in multiple hit-and-run accidents, having to pay thousands of dollars in damage to a multi-million-dollar home, going to Coachella with Josh Gordon and watching the NFL Draft at a bar, Manziel was ready for a change.

Comeback Season

Johnny Manziel

Sporting a Josh Gordon jersey, Manziel clearly enjoying the view in Cabo (Larry Brown Sports)

I believe in Johnny Manziel, and you should too. This past March, Manziel proposed to model girlfriend Bre Tiesi. You may have seen her on MTV’s “Wild’n Out”. Tiesi is in full support of Johnny’s comeback and is exactly what he needed.

A stable girlfriend who can keep him focused, Tiesi could be the piece that Manziel needed. With Tiesi and support from friends, the sky is the limit for Manziel.

The talent has never been the problem. The 24-year-old has been training and working out hard, hoping for another shot at the sport he loves.

Not only is he working on his own game, but Manziel has also been working out with Wyoming’s quarterback, Josh Allen. Allen is projected to be a top pick in next year’s draft and claims Manziel has been “very informative” to him. Manziel has taught Allen the importance of “staying out of the spotlight, and doing the right things.” This is a clear sign of maturity from Manziel.

In a recent interview, former teammate Travis Benjamin spoke about Manziel and explained how the former college star is “ready to comeback”. Manziel is a “more determined man now” said Benjamin. Manziel is ready to prove himself, and prove to the doubters that he can succeed in the NFL.

Now, happy, healthy, and sober, Johnny Football is back and deserves another chance in the NFL.

 

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Where Bob Stoops retiring leaves Oklahoma Sooners football

There was a shock in the college football world today when Bob Stoops decided to retire as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. Stoops is only 56 years old, but has already become the winningest coach in Oklahoma history.

Bob Stoops with the 2000 BCS National Championship Trophy. (Photo by newsok.com)

While retiring at a relatively young age is surprising, Stoops retiring in June is more surprising. He has gone through the offseason and spring practices with the team as the head coach, which is a rarity for a coach that is retiring.

By staying past February, he made sure the recruiting class stayed in tact for this season. Now he has to explain to his players why he is retiring. After likely telling them that he’d be the head coach during their careers in the recruiting process, he is now gone and players who were under the impression that they’d be playing for him will not be happy.

Stoops had a tumultuous last couple seasons for the Sooners which included the high of reaching the College Football Playoff in its second year. The low part was how he handled player behavior, which included running back Joe Mixon. Mixon was suspended for one year after an incident in which he punched a woman. Stoops and the Sooners used a redshirt on Mixon back in 2014, which made it so although he was suspended, he would still keep all four years of eligibility.

Ultimately Stoops will be remembered for winning the National Championship in 2000 and being an all-time great coach.

Lincoln Riley

Lincoln Riley (Photo by: footballscoop.com)

Lincoln Riley is the new man in charge and the Sooners almost couldn’t ask for a better solution this late in the game. Riley has been the offensive coordinator for Oklahoma the past two seasons. He helped create a powerhouse of an offense that finished third in the country averaging 43.9 points per game.

During his tenure at Oklahoma Riley has helped make Baker Mayfield into one of the best players in college football. They lost Sterling Shepard after the 2015 season and Dede Westbrook stepped up and became a Heisman Finalist at wide receiver position. This season Riley was looking forward to getting Mayfield back, but did lose Samaje Perine, Mixon and Westbrook to the NFL.

Due to his impressive work as an offensive coordinator, Riley was one of the most coveted coaches in college football. Bruce Feldman has reported that he turned down some decent job offers like Cincinnati, Purdue and Houston. While these aren’t the biggest jobs in college football, it is impressive for a coordinator to get that many offers. Had he been at Oklahoma for another year under Stoops, he would have likely gotten even better offers after this season.

Riley is the youngest coach in the FBS at age 33, but will prove why he is a good choice. It may not go smoothly and turn into a National Championship right away, but Riley was the right choice given the circumstances and timing of the decision of Stoops.

The 2017 Season

Oklahoma will have a tough time making it into the College Football Playoff without going undefeated because they are in the Big XII. With big games at Ohio State and Oklahoma State this season, Riley will be tested in his first season.

He does have an experienced offensive line and quarterback coming back, but will need some new skill position players to step up. Their secondary has a lot of experience on defense, but the front seven is unproven.

Even with all of these circumstances, Oklahoma should be able to win at a minimum nine games. That would be a good start to what could be a great career at Oklahoma for Lincoln Riley.

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Best 2018 NFL Draft prospects: Safeties

Three safeties in the 2017 NFL Draft were selected in the first round. The 2018 draft class should also produce some good safeties that are good enough to be selected early on in the NFL Draft. Here are the best safety prospects playing college football in 2017:

Derwin James, Florida State

James is an elite safety prospect, that will in no doubt be a first round pick if he can stay healthy. He was sidelined for much of the 2016 campaign with a knee injury. He has great size that NFL teams will love at 6’3″ and 211 pounds.

In 14 games played for the Seminoles, James has totaled 102 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defended, two forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles. He displays great speed and athleticism, which makes him a unique player.

The Seminoles will play Alabama, Miami, Louisville, Clemson and Florida in the 2017 season. He won’t play too many pocket passing quarterbacks, but does have a chance to play a lot of good receivers this season. James can also help slow down some good rushing attacks this season.

Ronnie Harrison, Alabama

While he hasn’t hit the level of a lot of Alabama secondary players yet, Harrison is still a good NFL prospect. He too has good size at 6’3″ and 216 pounds.

Last year, Harrison had 83 tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions. While he has the measurables to be a good NFL player, Harrison needs to back up all his potential with some good tape this season.

Alabama plays Florida State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn this season. Harrison will be tested against Auburn’s high-powered offense and good receivers on the rest of the teams.

Armani Watts, Texas A&M

Armani Watts NFL

Armani Watts (Photo by: gridironnow.com)

Watts has been a playmaker for the Aggies ever since he stepped on campus. It is fitting that he will be taken in the first few rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. He is a bit undersized at 5’11” and 200 pounds.

In his career at Texas A&M, Watt has accrued 237 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and six interceptions. He has played in a total of 33 games and brings a lot of experience to the table. His best season was in 2015, when he played 13 games. Last year he tore his hamstring against Ole Miss and only ended up playing in eight games. He needs to stay relatively healthy this season to make teams have a vote of confidence in him.

The Aggies play a very difficult schedule in 2017 and their opponents include: UCLA, Alabama, Florida, Auburn and LSU. These teams provide a wide variety of assets for Watts to go up against and should allow him to prove himself many more times for NFL scouts.

Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh

Jordan Whitehead NFL

Jordan Whitehead (Photo by: zimbio.com)

Another safety prospect that has been starting from his freshman season, Whitehead has been a star for the Panthers. He too is a little undersized at 5’11” and 190 pounds.

As a freshman in 2015, Whitehead had 110 total tackles. He is very physical and able to come up and stop the run, but also demonstrates good range while defending passes. He was lost to the season with an arm injury last year after playing in the first nine games of the season.

The Panthers play a tough schedule that should test Whitehead. Their big games are against: Penn State, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech. The biggest games that will impact Whitehead’s draft stock are against Penn State and Oklahoma State, who should have high-scoring offenses.

 

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Best 2018 NFL Draft prospects: Cornerbacks

Cornerbacks were a hot commodity in the 2017 NFL Draft and the 2018 NFL Draft could offer some more quality players at the position. Here are the top cornerbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft class as of now:

Adonis Alexander, Virginia Tech

Alexander is one of the bigger corners in this class at 6’3″ and 193 pounds. He needs to add some weight to fill out his frame, but offers great length to shut down some of the taller NFL wide receivers.

He has six career interceptions and 13 passes defended in his two seasons in Blacksburg. While his length and cover skills are good, he needs to make sure he runs a good 40 yard dash time at the 2018 NFL Draft Combine to insure that a team will take him with a high pick.

Virginia Tech will play West Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Pitt. Alexander will face a handful of good receivers against Clemson, including Deon Cain.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

Minkah Fitzpatrick NFL

Minkah Fitzpatrick (Photo by: seccountry.com)

Alabama always has good secondary players, but Fitzpatrick was able to break into the starting lineup as a freshman and hasn’t left. He is 6’1″ and 203 pounds and should follow other Crimson Tide defensive backs who have been selected in the first round.

In is two seasons at Alabama, Fitzpatrick has eight interceptions and 17 passes defended. He has all of the physical tools to make it at the next level, but does need to work on his positioning and technique before he gets to the next level.

Alabama plays Florida State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. When the Crimson Tide play Texas A&M, Fitzpatrick will have to guard Christian Kirk, one of the best receivers in college football. If he is able to shut down Kirk, Fitzpatrick can prove once again that he can shut down NFL-level receivers.

Iman Marshall, USC

Marshall was a highly sought after recruit and has played across from the great Adoree’ Jackson the last two seasons. He is a good corner in his own right and could end up going first round too with a good season. He has decent size at 6’1″ and 200 pounds.

So far at USC, Marshall has six interceptions and 17 passes defended. Marshall does need to work on his run support and tackling ability, but he can cover, which is the most important thing.

This season USC will face Stanford, Texas, Washington State, Utah, Notre Dame and UCLA. The games against UCLA and Washington State will pit Marshall against some of the best quarterbacks in college football, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk.

Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State

McFadden got his first taste of major action in 2016 and showed some great flashes of potential. He has good size standing 6’2″ and 198 pounds, which should help him be one of the first corners selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

He tied for the NCAA lead with eight interceptions in 2016, demonstrating his great ball skills. One of his problems was he totaled only 19 tackles and needs to do better in run support to enhance his draft stock.

The Seminoles will play a lot of big games in 2017 including: Alabama, Miami, Louisville, Clemson and Florida. The games against Clemson and Alabama will give McFadden a chance to go up against Deon Cain and Calvin Ridley, two good receiver prospects.

Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma

Jordan Thomas NFL

Jordan Thomas (Photo by: newsok.com)

When a player seems like he has been around forever, that usually means they have been great. Thomas has tons of experience and will get another full slate of games this season. He is decently big, at 6’0″ and 192 pounds.

Thomas has seven career interceptions and 25 passes defended. He is a physical, cover corner who usually doesn’t have too many balls thrown his way. He did get beat more in 2016 than in 2015, but still had a solid season last year overall.

Oklahoma will play a lot of good offenses this season, which should test Thomas. The Sooners play Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Against Oklahoma State Thomas will have to go up against a great duo in quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington. He will also look to get redemption against Ohio State, who he played badly against in 2016.

Kevin Toliver, LSU

Toliver is another big time recruit that LSU signed to be a part of their great legacy. He has gotten playing time since his freshman year for the Tigers. He had a variety of injuries that held him back last season. At 6’2″ and 193 pounds he has great size and length.

In 18 games played for the Tigers, Toliver has just one interception and six passes defended. Now that he is healthy those numbers will increase drastically. He shows the ability and desire to help in the run game. The biggest key for Toliver is staying healthy long enough to put up good tape in 2017.

LSU plays BYU, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Like other players on this list, his toughest assignments will be against Kirk of Texas A&m and Ridley of Alabama. With a productive season, Toliver can put himself among the top 2018 NFL Draft prospects.

 

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Best 2018 NFL Draft Prospects: Linebackers

Linebacker is a position that is often overlooked, but very important nonetheless. In the 2017 NFL Draft there were plenty of talented linebackers selected. There are a lot of linebackers in this class that have potential, but will have to play well to justify a high draft pick. Here are the top prospects heading into the 2017 college football season:

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Tremaine Edmunds NFL

Tremaine Edmunds (Photo by: zimbio.com)

Edmunds is one of three brothers that have played for Virginia Tech and will look to have a big junior year. He has the most draft potential and has great size at 6’5″ and 236 pounds.

Last year Edmunds finished with 94 tackles. He has a great all around game with 16.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and three passes defended. If he can improve his coverage skills this season and keep consistent production, he will be a highly sought after prospect.

The Hokies play West Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Pittsburgh. Edmunds will need to step up in the game against Clemson for his team to win and if he does, his draft stock will be improved.

Malik Jefferson, Texas

One of the more highly touted linebackers coming out of high school, Jefferson has played early and often for the Longhorns. With solid size at 6’3″ and 238 pounds, he has all the tools to be the first linebacker selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Jefferson has 121 total tackles in his two seasons at Texas. He has great athleticism that makes him a well-rounded linebacker. With 16 tackles for loss, nine sacks, five passes defended and a touchdown scored he makes a lot of plays. Coverage and ball skills are things he will need to work on this season, but what he has already accomplished has made him a top prospect.

Texas has some big matchups this year that will require Jefferson’s best. They play USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. If he can help slow down the USC and Oklahoma offenses, he could be the first linebacker taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Kendall Joseph, Clemson

Joseph may have been overlooked because of all the talent on Clemson’s roster last year, but he will need to be the one making headlines this season. He is a little undersized at 6’0″ and 230 pounds, but makes plays.

Last year was his first season getting a lot of playing time and he broke out. He finished the season with 106 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. If he can have a solid campaign to follow up his breakout season, NFL teams will move him up on their boards.

Clemson plays Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Florida State, which should give Joseph a lot of opportunities to prove what he can do. He needs to produce against these good offenses this season to hold his ranking.

Skai Moore, South Carolina

Skai Moore NFL

Skai Moore (Photo by: cbssports.com)

Moore is a good prospect, but did miss all of the 2016 season with a neck injury. Staying healthy will be key to preserve and enhance Moore’s draft stock. He has average size at 6’2″ and 220 pounds.

In 2015, the last season he played, Moore finished with 110 total tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. He is a good run stopper and coverage linebacker, with 11 career interceptions, but could improve his blitzing ability. If his neck checks out and he has a productive year he will be one of the first linebackers taken.

The Gamecocks have Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Clemson all on the schedule. Moore will be called upon to be at his best this season for South Carolina and will reap the rewards if he answers that call.

 

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Best 2018 NFL Draft prospects: Defensive Tackles

There aren’t many defensive tackles who have made a name for themselves in the 2018 NFL Draft class, but more will emerge. As of now, these are the top defensive tackles in the 2018 NFL Draft class:

Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

Payne is the only returning starter from Alabama’s defensive line and now will have to step up for all of the talent they lost in the 2017 NFL Draft. He is 6’2″ and 319 pounds and fits in nicely at nose tackle for the Crimson Tide, but can probably play as a 4-3 defensive tackle in the pros.

While Payne doesn’t have a lot of stats, just four tackles for loss and two sacks in two years, he does a great job of taking on multiple blockers and shutting down running lanes. If he can continue to do that, he won’t need too many stats to be selected highly in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The junior will have multiple chances to go up against elite competition. The Crimson Tide play Florida State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. Both Florida State and LSU will feature some interesting duels between Payne and their interior offensive linemen.

Vita Vea, Washington

Vita Vea NFL

Vita Vea (Photo by: scout.com)

He only started five games, but Vea had a huge impact for the Huskies that would’ve gotten him drafted pretty early in the 2017 NFL Draft. He decided to come back to school for his redshirt junior season. At 6’5″ and 335 pounds, he has elite size for the position.

Vea demonstrated the ability to rush the passer in his limited action last season with five sacks. He needs to progress at stopping the run, but for only a few starts he is well on his way to improving in the 2017 season. A 3-4 nose tackle is likely his best fit at the NFL level.

The Huskies have key games against Colorado, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Utah and Washington State. If Vea can increase his production with increased playing time, he will be one of the first interior defensive linemen drafted.

Christian Wilkins, Clemson

Christian Wilkins NFL

Christian Wilkins (Photo by: youtube.com)

Wilkins has good size at 6’4″ and 310 pounds and is coming off of an impressive season that ended with a National Championship. With the exodus of talent from Clemson’s team, it will be Wilkins time to lead the team.

One of the best assets that Wilkins has is his ability to stop the run. He finished last season with 13 tackles for loss. He is a decent pass rusher, but could improve this season to make himself a more complete prospect. His best fit is as a 4-3 defensive tackle and isn’t really fit to play in a 3-4 scheme.

The Tigers will play Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech, NC State and Florida State. The Florida State game always features a lot of NFL Draft prospects and will likely be Wilkins biggest test.

 

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Best 2018 NFL Draft prospects: Edge Rushers

Edge rusher is one of the most important positions in the NFL and is routinely a position taken very highly in NFL Drafts. Here are the best  2018 NFL Draft prospects at the edge rusher position playing in college football this season:

Bradley Chubb, N.C. State

Bradley Chubb NFL

Bradley Chubb (photo by: rivals.com)

Chubb had a breakout season last year to put him on a lot of NFL Scouts’ radars. He has good size at 6’4″ and 275 pounds and with a good campaign in 2017, can be one of the first edge rushers off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft.

N.C. State will have a great defensive line in the upcoming season and Chubb will be the best player on it. He totaled 21 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2016. Chubb did a great job of beating one on one blocks with his strength and was effective in run support and pressuring the quarterback.

The Wolfpack will play plenty of tough teams in 2017, giving Chubb a chance to play against good competition. They play Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame, Clemson and North Carolina. The game against the Fighting Irish will be a really good matchup, if Chubb gets matched up with Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey.

Marcell Frazier, Missouri

Another year and another Missouri defensive lineman heading to the NFL as a top prospect. Frazier is 6’5″ and 265 pounds, which gives him the necessary length to win on the outside.

The most impressive thing about Frazier’s 2016 play was his ability to come on strong at the end of the season. He had 6.5 of his 8.5 sacks in the last three games of the season. If he can continue that progression into the 2017 season, he can be one of the first edge rushers taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.

With games against Auburn, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, the Tigers will have to go up against some good offensive lines. How Frazier fares against the Florida offensive line especially could have a huge impact on his draft stock.

Sam Hubbard, Ohio State

Hubbard got his start at Ohio State when Joey Bosa served a suspension in 2015. He didn’t disappoint with 6.5 sacks and even helped out when Bosa came back from suspension.

Last season he only had 3.5 sacks, but still impressed scouts with his play. He stands at 6’5″ and 266 pounds, which is good height for an NFL defensive end, but he likely needs to add on a few pounds of strength. Hubbard will have to show increased production in 2017 in order to justify a high selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Ohio State plays a lot of good teams next season. Hubbard will have to show up against Oklahoma, Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan. The big game for Hubbard could be Oklahoma, where it is possible he could be going up against Orlando Brown, a top tackle prospect.

Arden Key, LSU

Although it is still early in the draft process, Key is the front runner to be the first edge rusher selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has great height at 6’6″, but needs to add muscle to his 231 pound frame.

Key has produced since day one at LSU with 16 career sacks in his first two seasons. He has experience as a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker, which will make him appealing to all NFL teams. If he can get stronger and use his play strength to his advantage this season, he should be a top 15 pick.

LSU has a tough schedule that features BYU, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Going up against the Tennessee and Alabama offensive line will adequately test Key and if he performs well, he will be the first edge rusher off the board.

Harold Landry, Boston College

Harold Landry NFL

Harold Landry (Photo by: Bostonglobe.com)

Landry was one of the most improved players in college football in 2016. He went from 3.5 sacks in 2015 to 16.5 last year. If he puts up production like that again, teams will have a hard time passing on him.

At 6’3″ and 250 pounds, Landry has the necessary strength and weight, but his length is just adequate. There is no doubt he can produce, but the combine could hold him back after the 2017 season.

With games against Notre Dame, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Florida State, the Eagles will play the best of the best in the 2017 season. Landry will be going up against good offensive lines specifically against Clemson and Notre Dame.

 

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Best 2018 NFL Draft prospects: Guards and centers

The interior of the offensive line is not usually a position that is highly sought after in the NFL Draft. In the 2017 NFL Draft Forrest Lamp may have been the best lineman in the class, but he didn’t get drafted until the second round. These are still valuable players and will get some attention this season, even if it isn’t all the attention they deserve. Here are the best interior offensive linemen for the 2018 NFL Draft, as the college football season approaches:

Mason Cole, Michigan

Mason Cole NFL

Mason Cole (Photo by: mlive.com)

Cole is one of the few linemen in this class who has the capability to play both tackle and center. His best NFL position is center, so he moved there permanently in 2016. He has good size at 6’5″ and 305 pounds.

While he has played solidly, another year of good tape is needed to be the best interior lineman in this class. Getting better at pass protections would be a nice bonus heading into this season.

The Wolverines will go up against some good teams in 2017 that should give Cole the opportunity to prove why he should be the first center selected in the draft. Michigan plays Florida, Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State this season.

Will Clapp, LSU

LSU had a few good interior offensive linemen last season, but Clapp is the best one remaining. He can play both guard and center and likely will play the latter this season.

He is 6’5″ and 309 pounds, giving him decent size. Staying healthy will be a key for Clapp, as he has had some shoulder issues in the past. Clapp is good at both pass and run blocking and needs to continue to show that this season.

The Tigers will have a tough schedule as always in the SEC West. They have tough games against BYU, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas A&M.

Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

Nelson is another good offensive line prospect out of Notre Dame and would have been one of the first interior offensive linemen off the board. Nelson has great size at 6’5″ and 325 pounds.

He has the necessary athleticism to pass block in the NFL, but has been more of a run blocker at the college level. He has started for the past two seasons and helped get the Notre Dame run game going.

Notre Dame has some good teams on the schedule this year and they play Georgia, Michigan State, USC, North Carolina, NC State, Stanford and Miami.

Billy Price, Ohio State

Billy Price NFL

Billy Price (Photo by: landof10.com)

A lot of the interior linemen have good experience, and Price does as well. He has started since 2014 and really helped Ezekiel Elliot emerge as a top running back.

He is 6’4″ and 315 pounds, which is solid for a guard. He has the experience and the run blocking down, but needs to improve his pass blocking in his last season of college football.

Ohio State plays Oklahoma, Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State and Michigan. Price will have his hands full with a reloaded Michigan offensive line, but he has played well against them in the past. With a good season he could go in the top two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.

 

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Best 2018 NFL Draft Prospects: Offensive Tackles

The 2017 NFL Draft didn’t have as many highly sought after tackles as in years past. The 2018 class is going to have plenty of tackles to choose from in the first round. Here are the top offensive tackles heading into the 2017 college football season:

Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

Orlando Brown NFL

Orlando Brown (Photo by: zimbio.com)

Brown is likely the biggest tackle prospect in this class at 6’8″ and 360 pounds. He may even have to lose some weight in order to deal with fast pass rushers at the NFL level.

He is the son of the late Orlando “Zeus” Brown, who had a good NFL career.  Brown was redshirted for one year, but has started every possible game since at left tackle. This season he needs to show he has the mobility and flexibility to stay in front of pass rushers.

Brown will be tasked with protecting Baker Mayfield again at left tackle. He has big matchups against Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia. The Ohio State game will pit him against several good defensive linemen for scouts to evaluate him.

Mitch Hyatt, Clemson

With 29 starts in two years, Hyatt has a lot of experience. He has started in two National Championship Games and did a good job of protecting Deshaun Watson. He has average height at 6’5″, but below average weight at 295 pounds.

Hyatt will have to add strength to be able to hold up in the NFL. He finished this past season as a National Champion and as a first team All-ACC member (Media). In their only loss against Pittsburgh, Hyatt left the game with an injury and the team didn’t look the same without him.

Clemson will have key games against Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Florida State. The Auburn and Florida State games will both test Hyatt and give him another opportunity to go against great defensive linemen.

Martez Ivey, Florida

Ivey was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school and has played decently, but not up to his ranking. He hasn’t always been healthy, but this season is his time to shine.

He will play left tackle for the first time at Florida now that David Sharpe has moved on to the NFL. At 6’5″ and 305 pounds he has average height and weight, but left tackle feels like his natural position. He won the SEC offensive lineman of the week twice last year.

The Gators play Michigan, Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia and Florida State. Ivey will be tested against LSU, Georgia and Florida State, but the key match up for him to prove himself is against Arden Key of LSU.

Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

McGlinchey could have been the first tackle off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft, but elected to go back to school for his senior season. He is the leader this season in terms of sought after tackles. He has good size at 6’7″ and 310 pounds.

One asset that McGlinchey offers is experience at both tackle spots. He played right tackle to start his career and moved to left tackle last season. He might end up being more of a right tackle in the NFL, due to lack of athleticism, which could hurt his draft stock. Although he is, for the most part fundamentally sound, McGlinchey does need to cut down on the number of penalties he gets this season.

Notre Dame will go up against some good teams and defensive fronts this season. McGlinchey will be tested by Georgia, USC, Michigan State, North Carolina, Miami, NC State and Stanford. He will be specifically tested early by Georgia in week two.

Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State

Had he entered his name in the 2017 NFL Draft, Rankin would have been selected in the second-fourth round range. He has a chance to improve his stock, but it will be difficult to do so with so many good tackles in this year’s class.

Rankin was good as both a pass blocker and run blocker and should get some more good reps with Nick Fitzgerald behind center. He has average size at 6’5″ and 307 pounds.

The Bulldogs will have a few big matchups playing in the SEC West. Rankins will play against good competition against LSU, Georgia, Auburn, BYU, Texas A&M and Alabama.

Connor Williams, Texas

Connor Williams (Photo by: bleacherreport.com)

A lot of the national media hasn’t picked up on Williams as much as they should have in terms of being a good draft prospect. If Williams has a good year he could be the first tackle off of the board. He stands 6’6″ tall and is 288 pounds and needs to add some weight to his frame to handle strong pass rushers.

Williams has been the starting left tackle at Texas since his freshman year and brings a ton of experience. He is more athletic and flexible than most tackles in this class and could develop in to a great pass blocker.

Texas will be challenged by a few teams on their schedule this season. The Longhorns play USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Williams will get a chance to show what he has against USC and Oklahoma, which are both monumental games for Texas.

 

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