NFL Draft 2018 Stock Watch
The road to NFL Draft is now officially underway. Of course, the big name players will dominate the headlines, but others that garner the words “intrigue, buzz, and riser” have an opportunity to make a name for themselves over the next couple of months.
Let’s take a look at 5 NFL Draft Prospects to keep an eye out for leading up to the big day.
RB | San Diego State
One of the most dominating players in college football this season sure has not received the attention he deserves. San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny registered a “Heisman Like” campaign during the 2017 season. In his first year as a starter, Penny rushed for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns. At 5’11, 220 pounds, Penny is one of the most intriguing backs in this year’s draft. Possessing great vision and one cut capability, the former Aztec displayed his elusiveness leading all draft-eligible running backs with 74 missed tackles. The 21-year old had a game to remember at the Armed Forces Bowl running for 221 yards and four touchdowns. Penny has also proven himself to be cable receiving back and a more than reliable return man as he recorded seven career touchdowns on special teams. Last season, Penny’s former teammate Donnel Pumphrey was the leading running back in the country and was selected by the Eagles in the 4th round of the 2017 draft. At the next level, Penny projects to be a more productive back then his former counterpart due to his size, power, and breakaway speed. Early word from scouts is that Penny could be selected as high as the 2nd round.
Leighton Vander Esch
LB | Boise St
Boise St. linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was expected to return for his senior year, but decided to declare early for the NFL draft following an impressive outing in 2017 and was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. Vander Esch recorded 141 tackles (third best in NCAA) 14.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, and two interceptions. At 6’3, 240 pounds Vander Esch displayed the traits of a three-down linebacker as he received positive grades as a pass rusher, run stopper and in coverage. Displaying quick reaction and good instincts, Vander Esch is always around the ball as he ranked 3rd in the FBS with a 14.8 % run stop percentage. In the Oregon Bowl, the former Bronco was a dominant force on defense leading the team with 12 tackles (three for a loss) 1 sack and one forced fumble. Even though Leighton only had one dominant year during his time at Boise State, his combine and pro day performances could help him rise as a fringe first-round prospect.
LT | Western Michigan
One player that is garnering much buzz leading up to the NFL Draft is Western Michigan left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. Currently ranked as Mel Kiper’s No. 5 offensive tackle, scouts have told NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein that Okorafor is a name that is currently on the rise. Okorafor moved from right tackle to left tackle in 2016 and was part of a group that allowed only 22 sacks and twelve QB hurries through 12 games this past season. The former Bronco has all the prototypical traits of a franchise left tackle. Possessing a solid combination of power and technique Okorafor uses his arm length and hand placement to seal the edge in the run game. Okorafor is an athletic 6’5, 355 pounds displaying quick feet and a good change of direction. If Okorafor tests well, he could sneak into the back end of the first round of the draft.
LB | Oklahoma
Perhaps no player has used the 2017 season to catapult his draft stock like Oklahoma linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Before the season began, Okoronkwo was projected to be selected after the draft as an undrafted free agent. However, due to his play-making abilities on defense, he rose quickly was labeled by scouts as a mid-round prospect by the midpoint of 2017. Okoronkwo recorded 8 sacks, 17 tackles for a loss and 3 forced fumbles during his senior campaign. At 6’2, 250 pounds, Okoronkwo has a slight frame that he uses to his advantage to rush underneath tackles. With the ability to play either linebacker or defensive end, Although Okoronkwo brings versatility to a defense, his best fit at the next level is probably in a 3-4 unit. As a disruptive force for the Sooners, Okoronkwo possesses elite speed and quickness as a pass rusher. His speed is expected to be on display next month in Indianapolis as he is expected to run in the mid-4.7s
SS | Stanford
Lineage is always something to keep an eye on in the NFL, but when you combine lineage with solid production, that’s when you create a true name for yourself. That is just what Stanford safety Justin Reid has done. As the younger brother of 49ers safety Eric Reid, the former Cardinal finished his college career registering 94 tackles (2nd on team), 6.5 tackles for a loss and five interceptions. At 6’1, 195 pounds, Reid brings a polished game to the safety position displaying good instincts and solid tackling ability. That same tackling ability also made Reid a valuable contributor on special teams. As a 2nd team, All American and a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, Reid possess the size, length, and athleticism to warrant a team’s consideration early in round 2.
Other Suggested Reads:
- NFL Draft Profile: Glenn Harris, DB – Wayne State College
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- NFL Mock Draft (Version 1.0)
- 7 NFL Free Agents That Could Benefit From A Change of Scenery