For the last couple of years I've analyzed a draft class by looking at 'potential' first rounders. This avoids any definitive statements on a prospect so early in the process.
Having spent the last two weeks working my way through Draft Breakdown and absorbing several games over opening weekend, here's the first list of the year. We'll see how it changes month-to-month (and it WILL change, a lot).
The elite four
Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
Myles Garrett (DE, Texas A&M)
DeShaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
At the moment this quartet seems like a safe bet to go very early. Fournette is special -- arguably a generational talent who can define an offense in the way Adrian Peterson has in Minnesota. He could end up being a perfect pick for a team in the top-five who already has a quarterback of the future. Fournette is the complete back -- he has the power to run up the middle and break tackles, the speed to bounce outside and break off the big run, the vision to make key gains. He had a big play in the passing game vs Wisconsin on a nice wheel route. There are no obvious flaws.
Garrett is a close second to Fournette. He's a modern day EDGE -- incredibly fast with elite burst, great hand-use and surprising power for his size. He can beat a tackle for speed and drive them into the backfield with strength. On Saturday he had a great battle with UCLA's Conor McDermott. Garrett didn't have too much success until the second half, when he walked McDermott back into Josh Rosen for a sack. He fits any scheme and looks like a future star.
Watson, for now, looks like the only genuine first round QB prospect. Others could emerge (see: Paxton Lynch a year ago). He's a strong candidate to go #1 overall and a vastly superior prospect than this years #1 Jared Goff.
Allen had two sacks against USC and has the size and athleticism to line up anywhere on the D-line. He can move inside and rush as a three-technique, play the edge, work as a five-tech in the 3-4. He's better than Leonard Williams who went #6 overall in 2015.
The next group
Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
Josey Jewell (LB, Iowa)
Tre'Davious White (CB, LSU)
Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida)
Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
Cordea Tankersley (CB, Clemson)
Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan)
Peppers is being tipped for a LB/S 'deathbacker' role ala Deone Bucannon. He flashed his athletic potential against Hawaii on Saturday by hurdling a defender on a punt return. Big time recruit -- big time NFL potential.
Josey Jewell is a player I only started watching last week but he's pretty incredible. Watch his performance vs Indiana last year. He's a MLB with great range, closing speed, instinct and he hits like a sledgehammer. He was ejected at the weekend for a reckless hit but he's not a dirty player. He's a tone setter. Fingers crossed his athletic profile matches up to the tape. He could be a first rounder.
It's shaping up to be a really nice cornerback class with about 10-12 possible first and second round prospects. Tre'Davious White is a respected leader at LSU, has great athleticism and adds some special teams value. Cam Sutton is an incredible athlete with great length and that will appeal to teams. Jalen Tabor has some character issues but he's big on talent, while Cordrea Tankersley is a former track star with ideal size. Marlon Humphrey is an enforcer with a great build -- but he can cover too.
Jehu Chesson is a good receiver, blocker and returner -- plus he embarrassed Vernon Hargreaves in the Citrus Bowl last season. He could be the most complete receiver in college right now -- but he won't have major stats in the Michigan offense. Everyone knows how good Christian McCaffrey is while Tim Williams and Jarrad Davis are two big name SEC defenders who could go very early if they test well at the combine.
Knocking on the door
Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois)
Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster (WR, USC)
Budda Baker (S, Washington)
Malachi Dupre (WR, LSU)
Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
Jake Butt (TE, Michigan)
O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
Dan Feeney (G, Indiana)
Smoot plays hard but he needs to avoid penalties. He's a bit of a Michael Bennett -- offsides, running into the punter. He had three flags over the weekend. He's a good looking EDGE prospect though.
Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster was handled by Alabama with blanket coverage but that's more a review of USC's tepid offense. They didn't have a clue how to work him into a better match-up. Malachi Dupre isn't the biggest but he's a really fluid athlete. His stock could be hampered by LSU's terrible QB situation.
Athletic safety's are the en vogue thing in the NFL and that should secure Budda Baker a high grade. Reuben Foster is the next first or second round inside linebacker from Alabama. Jake Butt is a really solid, dependable tight end while Howard is a major athlete with raw potential. Howard's play has been underwhelming given his recruiting hype -- but he showed in the National Championship what he's capable of.
Cook has some character flags that will need investigating -- but he's a breakaway runner who can turn good blocking into chunk plays in the run game.
I want to see how Indiana's Dan Feeney tests athletically because in terms of the tape -- he's superb. He plays right guard for the Hoosiers and does a great job opening holes in the interior. He's really good at pulling and finding a linebacker to block and he consistently finishes. He's a terrific prospect. Keep an eye on this guy.
Here's his performance on opening weekend vs Florida International:
High profile players who might be overrated
Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
Cam Robinson (T, Alabama)
Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)
Malik McDowell (DT, Michigan State)
Roderick Johnson (T, Florida State)
Ethan Pocic (C, LSU)
Eddie Jackson (S, Alabama)
Pat Elfin (G, Ohio State)
Devonte Fields (EDGE, Louisville)
Jamal Adams has been crowned by some as an elite talent in this class -- but I was a little underwhelmed watching him. The same goes for McDowell at Michigan State. We'll see how they get on in the first month of the season.
Barnett is a bit hit and miss working the edge and I'm not convinced he's a great athlete. Cam Robinson plays with heavy feet and while he has the size and physical talent -- he doesn't look like a left tackle prospect. He also has character red flags.
FSU's Johnson just doesn't impress. Big, not athletic enough. It's an underwhelming bunch of LT's at the moment and that might be a position Seattle has to look at next year (and could be why George Fant is getting the redshirt treatment).
The two big name O-liners Pocic and Elfin just didn't look that great watching 2015 tape. There was very little to get excited about, especially in comparison to someone like Feeney or Dorian Johnson at Pittsburgh.
Eddie Jackson is big but doesn't look like a great athlete and might have a limited role at the next level. Devonte Fields is too hit and miss at Louisville.
Underrated (possible mid-round) players
Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)
Dorian Johnson (G, Pittsburgh)
Patrick Towles (QB, Boston College)
Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)
Tony Conner (S, Ole Miss)
Corey Davis (WR, Western Michigan)
John Ross (WR, Washington)
Cooper Kupp (WR, Eastern Washington)
The stock of Cunningham, Conner and Davis will depend on their ability to test well as athletes. All three in terms of on-field production and tape are intriguing. Three guys to watch.
John Ross is just an explosive weapon -- the type every team is looking for these days. Towles is toolsy with a frame and skill set a good QB coach can work with. He could be an interesting developmental QB. Pittsburgh duo Bisnowaty and Johnson are big, physical, athletic lineman. Definitely check them out if you get a chance -- they had a nice start to the season on Saturday.
Cooper Kupp is a playmaker. He might be a small-school star without elite athleticism -- but whenever he faces a bigger name team he always puts on a show. He destroyed Oregon's defense last year and similarly took it to Washington State in Eastern Washington's upset victory on Saturday.
Other players of note to monitor
Lowell Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
Chad Weeler (T, USC)
Sean Harlow (T, Oregon State)
Davon Godchaux (DT, LSU)
Caleb Brantley (DT, Florida)
Charles Harris (DE, Missouri)
Kendall Beckwith (LB, LSU)
Travin Dural (WR, LSU)
Carl Lawson (DE, Auburn)
Daeshon Hall (DE, Texas A&M)
Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia)
Harold Brantley (DT, Unattached)
Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
Skai Moore (LB, South Carolina)
David Sharpe (T, Florida)
Mike McGlinchey (T, Notre Dame)
Jeremy Sprinkle (TE, Arkansas)
Chris Wormley (DT, Michigan)
Desmond King (CB, Iowa)
Charles Walker (DT, Oklahoma)
Brad Kaaya (QB, Miami)
Matthew Dayes (RB, NC State)
Brandon Facyson (CB, Virginia Tech)
Conor McDermott (T, UCLA)
Da'Shawn Hand (DE, Alabama)
Adoree' Jackson (CB, USC)