In recent years, the NFL Draft has turned into a year-round topic, with all of the prospects under a consistent watch by just about everybody who follows the sport of football. With the accessibility that everybody know has to the college game, there's no shortage of discussion on exactly which college players are set to make an impact at the next level. As always, there are plenty of elite college talents looking to take the next step, and will be drafted come April.
Naturally however, there are some of them who aren't going to live up to expectations, to go along with the ones who will ascend to stardom quickly. The draft is always a risky endeavor for any team, but a necessary one to get quality talent on the cheap (at least for a few years). With plenty of big names set to enter the league in 2018, it's never too early to predict which ones are going to excel, and which ones are going to underwhelm. Let's take a look at some candidates for each of those outcomes.
Ranked below are 8 rookies who will take the NFL by storm in 2018, and 7 who will be epic busts.
15 Calvin Ridley: Wide Receiver (Take By Storm)
Considered by many to be the best receiver in the upcoming draft class, Ridley would be yet another Alabama pass-catcher that is primed to excel in the pro ranks. Following the footsteps of the likes of Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, Ridley has a chance to dominate at the next level. Even in Alabama's relatively conservative offense, he was able to put his skills on display with regularity.
Ridley has an all-encompassing skill set, and is nearly a lock to be productive at the NFL level to some degree. It's difficult for any player to live up to elite expectations, but he has a good shot of doing that as well. In all likelihood, he'll be a 1st-round pick, and just another in a long line of Alabama receivers that have succeeded in the NFL.
14 Nick Chubb: Running Back (Epic Bust)
While Chubb was undoubtedly one of the biggest running back prospects a year or so ago, questions have arisen this season regarding how effective he'll be at the next level. Besides suffering numerous injuries in his college career, there remains a possibility that he was a product of Georgia's run-first offense, and that the tandem with Sony Michel gave him a greater opportunity for success.
True, he was going against tough SEC defenses, and he legitimately does have a good amount of talent, but the question marks are beginning to add up for Chubb. For a player that is going to have to earn his money as a pure downhill runner in the pros, there's a lot working against Chubb, despite his skill-level. We predict him to be underwhelming.
13 Josh Allen: Quarterback (Take By Storm)
There are a lot of questions about this year's quarterback class, and many of them revolve around Allen, and his ability to succeed in the NFL. He has awe-inspiring raw talent, including a cannon for an arm, better mobility than many prospects, and the demeanor of a pro quarterback through and through. The consensus is that he'll need to go to the right system in order to succeed, and that's not necessarily wrong.
The good news is that he's unlikely to go to the Browns at this point, and that's the one situation that would definitely be unfavorable. Many people have Allen ranked as the 3rd-best quarterback prospect in the draft, but when it's all said and done, he could end up being the best. If he's not forced to be a starter right away, he'll likely develop into a very good NFL player.
12 Christian Kirk: Wide Receiver (Epic Bust)
Kirk was a dynamic receiver at Texas A&M in a pass-heavy offense that sought to get him the ball in space. He should be at least serviceable at the NFL level, but the real problem is his likely draft position. With his size, it's hard to see Kirk being an every-down receiver in the NFL, and he could just be limited to certain packages and plays for most teams.
A 1st-round player, which is where he's projected to go, should be able to excel in all facets of their position. While it's not guaranteed that Kirk can't do that, his size and skill set say that he's more of a gadget piece than a full-time elite receiver. If a team drafts him expecting to be that, they could be in for a serious disappointment.
11 Kerryon Johnson: Running Back (Take By Storm)
Perhaps the most overlooked running back prospect in the draft this year, at least one that's expected to be taken before the 4th-round, Johnson was far and away Auburn's leading rusher from this past season. While his numbers may be inflated a little bit, he still proved that he was able to be a bell-cow runner on a team that was often going up against the best defenses in the country, in the SEC.
Johnson should expect to split duties in an NFL backfield next season, but he could very well ascend to the top of the depth chart by the end of the season, depending on which team he goes to. With development of his pass-catching ability he could truly be one of the best players in the league several years down the line, and a steal as a 2nd-round pick.
10 Sam Darnold: Quarterback (Epic Bust)
There's no shortage of press attached to Darnold's name coming out of USC, and rightfully so. He's an exciting player, and certainly was able to win a good amount of games for the Trojans over the past two seasons. The issue lies in his deficiencies, which may be too prevalent to overcome at the NFL-level, where there is considerably less room for error as a quarterback.
Darnold's mechanics can be wonky at times, breaking down far too often when there is considerable pressure put on him by the pass-rush. He has tendencies of turning the ball over, and sometimes plays fast and loose when he really doesn't need to. He'll need to go to a team that excels in developing quarterback talent and getting rid of bad habits. If those continue to remain an issue, Darnold's NFL upside could be severely limited.
9 James Washington: Wide Receiver (Take By Storm)
Washington is a very intriguing prospect who had a stellar year for Oklahoma State in the Fall. Besides winning the Biletnikoff Award for being the best receiver in the nation, he also racked up some huge numbers, and will be one of the most coveted skill players in the draft. He's not the biggest receiver, but he has the skill set to make up for it if he goes into the right offensive system.
There's a good chance that Washington could make an impact right away. He played all four years in college, and has the maturity to be placed into an NFL system and immediately contribute. A few other receivers are getting more praise, but Washington should be able to make the jump more easily, and if he hits his ceiling, he could be the best of the lot.
8 Courtland Sutton: Wide Receiver (Epic Bust)
One of the top names at the receiver position on NFL draft boards, Sutton's time at SMU proved him to be one of the better receivers in the country. There's no doubt he has talent, but a lanky frame and playing in a pass-heavy college offense could be altering the reality of his ability to succeed in the pros.
Sutton is a player that is going to be helped or hurt by his pro day, even though he's likely to be a 1st-round pick either way. He needs to prove that he has the speed to be NFL defenses, as he won't be able to rely on his height exclusively at the next level. With a very good skill set to his credit, he needs to improve in order to make an impact at the next level, but if he goes into the wrong situation, that may not end up happening. He has plenty of star potential, but also a lot of bust potential.
7 Bradley Chubb: Defensive End (Take By Storm)
Chubb is considered by many to be the best defensive end pass-rusher in the entire draft, and his track record at North Carolina State does little to debunk that assessment. His productivity the last two years has been on par with anyone else in the country, and he's going to be a top-15 pick, unless something goes horribly wrong between now and draft day.
There's just very little working against him right now. A four-year college player in a respected ACC conference, adept at playing both the pass and the run, is going to be high on any NFL team's draft board. Chubb should be a very good NFL player at least, and could end up being one of the greats.
6 Sony Michel: Running Back (Epic Bust)
The other half of the Georgia backfield along with the aforementioned Chubb, Michel is a talented player for certain, but some of the same problems with Chubb also plague him. He's a player that may not live up to his draft position. Michel isn't used to being a lead runner, and he could be forced into that situation sooner rather than later if he goes to a team with an unstable backfield.
He's also suffered plenty of injuries in his college career, something that could also hinder his NFL potential. While it's tempting for many teams to get their hands on a 1,000-yard rusher in the SEC, it's also important to consider the drawbacks. Overall, there are far better running back prospects than Michel.
5 Derwin James: Safety (Take By Storm)
The standout on Florida State's defense for the past several years, James is set to make a difference in the NFL, as the next all-purpose safety. He has a great frame, and will be able to cover, play the run and blitz at the next level. He's used to living up to the hype, as he was one of the best high school recruits before committing to the Seminoles, and overall this is a very low-risk option for any team in need of defensive backfield help.
James could very easily excel as a day-one starter on a lot of NFL teams. He could very well end up being the best defensive player in the draft if all goes according to plan. There's little reason to not be a believer in him; he has the skill set and work ethic to go very far at the next level.
4 Lamar Jackson: Quarterback (Epic Bust?)
There hasn't been a more exciting college football player for a long time than Jackson has been these past few years. An all-world athlete with tremendous running instincts, and the ability to make big plays at quarterback with consistency, would intrigue any NFL team into selecting him with a high pick. Unfortunately, there are some issues with mechanics and pocket-passing that are likely to show themselves at the next level.
Jackson's best option is to find another position to play in the NFL. He's going to be drafted, and with some tweaking, there's a good chance that he'll be able to contribute to a pro roster. The issue is that he's not going to live up to his Heisman Trophy-winning college legacy, and that a high draft pick likely won't yield a good return such an investment.
3 Josh Rosen: Quarterback (Take By Storm)
To some, Rosen is the most complete quarterback prospect in this year's draft, or at least carries the least amount of risk as an NFL starter. He's a true pocket-passer, and has a pro's mindset when playing the position. He turned in some miraculous performances at UCLA over the past several seasons, and all of the signs are there for him to become a great NFL player.
Of course, in the wrong situation, any prospect's future can go haywire. But Rosen's skill set offer the least amount of potential for being a bust. He may not turn out to be elite like a Rodgers or Brady, but you can bank on him being at least a good, solid NFL starting quarterback. For a lot of teams that kind of output would be welcomed with open arms.
2 Baker Mayfield: Quarterback (Epic Bust)
Perhaps the most controversial player in the college game over the past few years was Mayfield, as he led Oklahoma to an appearance in the College Football Playoff this season. He's been dynamic, there's no question of that, although many will be quick to question his maturity, and whether he has an NFL-ready skill set.
He has a tendency to run around and cultivate big plays through improvisation. It's not that different from what Johnny Manziel was doing at Texas A&M just a few years earlier. Unfortunately, Mayfield has shown a similar lack of maturity, and some of the things he's done on the sideline aren't going to fly in an NFL franchise.
It's really a mystery as to how high Mayfield is going to be drafted, but he's certainly going to garner a ton of attention either way. Unfortunately for him, excelling in the NFL is going to be an uphill battle, despite his legacy in the college ranks.
1 Saquon Barkley: Running Back (Take By Storm)
There hasn't been a more complete running back prospect for a long time now, and Barkley has absolutely lit up the field for Penn State over the past few seasons. He has elite traits in running, pass-catching, and pass-protection, and will certainly get the opportunity to contribute week one of next season. He may even be the bell-cow running back in the backfield depending on which team he goes to.
While stardom is never guaranteed, if there was one player this year who had a chance at a Hall Of Fame-career, it would be Barkley. His sheer ability just jumps off the screen anytime you watch him. It's almost a lock that he ends up being a top-5 pick at this point. The talent level is too high, and there are zero off-field concerns or injury problems. Far and away the best skill player prospect in the 2018 draft.
The hype is real; Barkley is that good.