With the 2017 NFL Draft now in the books, it’s time to take an early look at the potential class of 2018. I’ve found that a “hit rate” of around 50% has become the norm in these early versions of Flash Forward mock drafts. That is caused by both disappointing performances as well as players returning to school rather than declaring for the NFL Draft. Regardless, projecting and studying the potential 2018 draft class can be a rewarding exercise for both dynasty and devy players alike.
Before we get to the picks, let’s take a quick glance at the overall strength of each position.
After back-to-back classes viewed as subpar, next year’s rookie quarterback group could be a game changer. Three quarterbacks are widely expected to be among the draft’s top five overall picks, including Josh Rosen (UCLA), Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Sam Darnold (USC). With so many quarterback needy teams expected to land early picks, there is a good possibility the Jets, Browns, 49ers, Bills or Jaguars find their next franchise quarterback.
Other potential early picks include reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville, along with a pair of signal callers who returned to school rather than joining the class of 2017, Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) and Luke Falk (Washington State). I also like Auburn transfer Jarrett Stidham as a dark horse candidate.
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We’ve been looking forward to the current running back class for months, if not years. We’ll have to wait to see if Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and the lot can live up to the hype, but there is also a chance next season’s class could be just as highly sought after.
Along with the players including in the below mock, others who could make an impact and be early round targets in 2018 include Royce Freeman (Oregon), Myles Gaskin (Washington), LJ Scott (Michigan State), Damien Harris (Alabama), Mike Weber (Ohio State) and Kamryn Pettway (Auburn).
The wideout class of 2018 will be one to track throughout the upcoming college season. Opinions vary greatly as to who the top wideout should be and even if that point was agreed upon, the next half-dozen pass-catchers are all close within the same tier. Many of those show up in this mock, though there are others who could land in the first-round range come next spring. Some players to watch are Deon Cain (Clemson), Richie James (Middle Tennessee State), Antonio Callaway, Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) and Allen Lazard (Iowa State).
Dynasty owners are currently feasting on what has been called the best tight end class ever, with as many as three rookies being selected in the first round of rookie drafts. We should enjoy this now, because the class of 2018 offers little hope for the tight end class. There are a couple of options, including Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, but overall there may not be a tight end worthy of a top 25 rookie pick next season.
The Mock Draft
1.01 – Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State
After years of wide receivers holding down the top overall spot in rookie drafts, the running back position has regained a foothold and Penn State’s Barkley could make it four consecutive seasons with a back being the favorite pick at the top spot, following Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette. After rushing for nearly 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, Barkley enters the 2017 as a Heisman contender and the runaway favorite to be the key player in the 2018 rookie class. Barkley combines speed and power, also showing reliable hands as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He is projected to be a top five overall draft pick.
1.02 – Derrius Guice, RB LSU
For much of the 2016 season, Guice looked like the best running back on his LSU team, which is saying something considering he was behind Fournette on the depth chart. With the latter missing much of the season with nagging injuries, Guice stepped up and looked dominant despite the overall struggles of the Tiger offense. Even in a part-time role, Guice managed just shy of 1,400 rushing yards along with 15 scores. Expect the LSU offense to run through him this season, which should be his last in Baton Rouge. Some dynasty players view this as a close competition between the top two backs, but Guice is likely to end up as the second overall pick in 2018 rookie drafts.
1.03 – Courtland Sutton, WR Southern Methodist
Many were disappointed when Sutton announced his intention to return to Southern Methodist for his junior season, but if he continues to follow the path of Corey Davis, a top wide receiver from a non-Power Five school, he too could end up as a top ten NFL Draft pick. The wide receiver class is wide open with no defined order among the top prospects, but Sutton should be the clear target for dynasty owners. At 6’4” and 214 pounds, he offers ideal size and dominated his competition all year long. His own head coach, Chad Morris has compared him to Chargers rookie Mike Williams, but I think he can be even better than that. While others might disagree, I view Sutton as a top tier rookie in the class of 2018 along with the top two running backs.
1.04 – Equanimeous St. Brown, WR Notre Dame
As I mentioned, I currently see a top tier of three players and then a large, muddied second tier. My personal favorite to rise to the top of that tier and maybe even break through the ceiling is Notre Dame’s St. Brown, a tall lanky playmaker who enjoyed a breakout season as a redshirt freshman in 2016. St. Brown looks primed to continue to grow his role playing alongside a new quarterback and for a new offensive coordinator in 2017. If he can improve on his play from a season ago, St. Brown offers the type of upside dynasty owners love and he could rise up to the ranks as a top five dynasty rookie pick.
1.05 – Nick Chubb, RB Georgia
It is surprising to see Georgia’s Chubb on this list, not because he is not deserving of a first-round dynasty rookie pick, but because no one expected him to return to campus for his senior season. Chubb suffered a serious knee injury during his sophomore season and was able to return to the field last year, but never looked the same. Although he did eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau, Chubb’s dynasty value and NFL Draft stock were slowly fading. Returning to school, Chubb will face a ton of competition from teammates Sony Michel, who also returned for his final season, Elijah Holyfield and freshman DeAndre Swift. Chubb should lead the way, but if he falters at all, he could lose his starting spot. If Chubb can somehow regain his pre-injury form, he will not only be a first-round dynasty rookie pick, but could move into the top tier.
1.06 – Christian Kirk, WR Texas A&M
In what became a very deep wide receiver corps, Kirk stood out for the Aggies during his first two seasons. With players like Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones now gone, Kirk could see a huge bump in production during his junior season. Kirk has made some electrifying plays from all over the field, including making an impact in the return game. He’s routinely being projected as a top ten pick in next year’s NFL Draft, but he could be in a similar spot as John Ross, a top pick that falls to the mid to late first round. If he is a first-round NFL selection, he would surely fall in that range in rookie drafts, as well.
1.07 – Calvin Ridley, WR Alabama
After his freshman season, Ridley looked like the premiere prospect in this wideout class. Last season though, the Alabama passing offense slowed as run-first freshman Jalen Hurts led the team at quarterback. We could see more of the same in 2017, which could put more of a ding in Ridley’s dynasty value. There is also some concern about his age considering he is already 22 years old and will be 23 by the time he takes his first NFL snap. That is not a deal-breaker necessarily, but if he cannot easily beat SEC defenders who are sometimes three years younger than him, we can’t expect him to succeed in the NFL. Regardless, Ridley has all it takes to become an all-SEC receiver and make a career in the NFL and he’s projected by most to be a NFL first-rounder, meaning he’s also likely to fall among the top twelve in dynasty rookie drafts, too.
1.08 – Bo Scarbrough, RB Alabama
Bruising Alabama back Scarbrough has had an up and down career with the Crimson Tide, including off-field issues, multiple injuries and some big-time performance down the stretch this past season. Although Scarbrough’s season ended in surprising fashion, a broken leg and a loss in the National Championship game, he chose to return to school despite being nearly 23 years old, making him an eventual 24-year-old rookie, at least. This factor could push him down the board in dynasty rookie drafts, but if he can pick up where he left off, he should prove to be the best option in a crowded Alabama backfield.
1.09 – Kalen Ballage, RB Arizona State
If this were simply a ranking, Arizona State’s Ballage would find himself ahead of his fellow big bodied back Scarbrough. Ballage has proven to have a nice combination of size and speed and has been heavily involved in the Sun Devil passing game as well. It must be the west coast bias that has kept Ballage somewhat under the radar, but he could easily end up as one of the top 12 players drafted a year from now.
1.10 – Ronald Jones II, RB Southern California
The potential 2017 running back class looks to be another deep group, and players like Jones II are good examples of that depth. He’s been somewhat overlooked by other members of the Trojan offense despite being a former top ranked back in his class. Jones has really improved all aspects of his game during his two college seasons, drawing comparisons to Jamaal Charles as a threat as both a runner and receiver. As is often the case with players in this range, landing spot will play a large role in ultimately determining his value, but Jones has the potential to be a first-round rookie pick.
1.11 – James Washington, WR Oklahoma State
It was a bit of a surprise when Washington spurned the NFL Draft and chose to return to Oklahoma State, along with his quarterback Mason Rudolph. Washington does everything well and has the potential to really move up in next year’s draft from this range late in the first round. If Washington does land in the first-round of the NFL Draft, as some are projecting, he would likely leap from the second and third round backs listed ahead of him.
1.12 – Auden Tate, WR Florida State
At 6’5” and 225 pounds, Florida State’s Tate has the ideal frame to be a dominant big wideout in the ACC and considering all of the receiving production lost from last year’s Seminoles, he should also see plenty of opportunity. Now Tate must show that he can live up to expectations and show a high level of consistency as a pass-catcher. Tate was a solid red zone threat last year, but he is going to be counted on to be the top receiver on the team all over the field. If he can improve his game, he’s a sleeper to make the leap to the NFL and could be in this first-round range.
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Awesome write-up. Do you think a QB (Darnold being my favorite) could go in the 1st Round in Devy Drafts this year? Thanks.
Thanks for reading, Dave! Even with the strong QB group next year, I don’t think any are worthy a 1st round devy pick unless you’re in a super-flex league.
Just awesome. Thanks, Ryan.
Thanks for checking it out!
Great stuff thank you!