Kiper's 2017 Big Board: Stellar running back class taking shape
Mel Kiper Jr.
In this edition of my Big Board: A Big 12 running back and MAC wide receiver who put up monster numbers in 2016 make their debuts, and a speedy Pac-12 wideout jumps into the top 20.
A reminder: General scouting reports on these players won't change week to week unless my overall evaluation changes. I'll simply be updating performance notes and providing updates on key matchups to come.
One asterisk denotes a junior, and two asterisks denote a redshirt sophomore for the 2016 season.
1. *Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett has had a frustrating season, hampered by a high ankle sprain he suffered in late September. The injury has taken away some of the explosion that makes him such a promising talent. But when he's on -- the way he was against UTSA in mid-November, when he had 4.5 sacks -- he's a brilliant, natural pass-rusher. The injury shouldn't affect Garrett's draft status, as long as it doesn't linger past January. At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, he has the length, strength and ability to bend the edge. I think he's a top-five lock in April.
2. *Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette, too, hasn't had an ideal season, as he has struggled with a gimpy ankle and missed four games. Don't worry about him, though. Fournette's really special when he's healthy. At 6-1, 235 pounds, he has an incredible combination of size, speed and power that can make him look like a varsity player hanging with the JV. Mileage was a concern heading into the season, so the ankle injury could benefit him in NFL scouts' eyes. He had a whopping 300 carries in 2015, and he has only 129 this season.
3. Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Allen is consistently great for the Crimson Tide. He has seven sacks this season after having 12 in 2015. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Allen's performance against Texas A&M, in which he had a signature sack and returned a fumble for a touchdown. Defensive end, defensive tackle -- Allen can play anywhere on the line, and coach Nick Saban loves him. By April, he could be in the mix for the top pick.
4. Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
Foster is a big-time inside linebacker, and he might have been Alabama's best linebacker last season. Yes, better than Reggie Ragland, who went in the second round to the Bills in this year's draft and whom I had as the No. 24-ranked prospect. Foster (6-1, 240) has more range, runs sideline to sideline and is a more complete player. Expect him to follow in the footsteps of inside linebackers from Alabama who have gone in the first round, such as Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower and C.J. Mosley.
5. **Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
Peppers won't win the Heisman, but there's a case to be made that he is the most valuable player in college football. He's the best prospect on one of the best defenses in the country -- Michigan is giving up only 12.5 points per game. And Peppers (6-foot, 210 pounds) is also playing some offense -- running the ball and catching passes -- and is a dynamic returner, too. Could he become a Deone Bucannon type of linebacker at the next level? I expect him to test off the charts at the NFL combine.
6. *Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Adams has been a huge part of LSU's defensive success, even if it doesn't show on the stat sheet (one interception, one sack). The Tigers rank seventh in the country in points allowed per game (16.4). Adams (6-1, 213) has great bloodlines -- his dad, George Adams, was the No. 19 overall pick in the 1985 NFL draft -- and he is built for today's NFL as a versatile safety who can play in the box effectively, make tackles against the run and move to the edges and track slot receivers. There is a premium on these monsterbacks.
7. Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
Williams, the top-ranked prospect in my preseason Big Board, does one thing incredibly well: rush the passer. And that's what NFL teams are looking for. He's a fantastic pass-rushing talent who can be unblockable at times. But Williams showed some of his other talents in the Crimson Tide's victory over LSU on Nov. 5. I wrote about his day, in which he showed that he can adequately take on blockers and play the run. I feel much better about his all-around game. After 10.5 sacks in 2015, when he played only about 20 percent of Alabama's defensive snaps, Williams (6-4, 250) has eight sacks this season.
8. *Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Cook (5-11, 213) is a home run hitter who can turn small creases into massive gains. He has eight 100-yard games in his last nine games. Cook is averaging 6.0 yards per carry this season -- after averaging 7.4 in 2015 -- and he has surpassed his catch total from last season, with 30 receptions for 426 yards. With good hands and the ability to find and pick up blitzes, he's versatile. He has a whopping 39 touchdowns in the past two seasons.
9. Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA
Pac-12 offensive tackles had nightmares this season about McKinley, who is a dominant speed rusher. At 6-2, 240, he's not huge, but his explosion off the line is suited for today's NFL. A former junior-college player, McKinley has really come on as a senior -- he has 10 sacks and three forced fumbles. McKinley has impressed me with his motor, too, even while dealing with multiple injuries.
10. *Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Barnett has been stellar after a slow start to the season. He has 12 sacks, and he even had an interception in a loss to Alabama. At 6-3, 265 pounds, Barnett is an all-around defender who beats double-teams, makes plays in the run game and gets after quarterbacks. I see him as a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, not a 3-4 outside linebacker, but that shouldn't hurt his value. He's a really good player.
11. **Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
This is the year of the third-year sophomore, and Ohio State has two really good ones who could jump to the draft, including Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker, who was in an earlier Big Board. At 6-1, 190, Lattimore is a first-year starter who struggled because of a hamstring injury during his first two years in Columbus. He has been fantastic this season, standing out in a group of talented defenders. He tackles well and has locked down receivers; he has four interceptions. The cornerback class for the 2017 draft could be special, and Lattimore is in the top tier.
12. *D'Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
Foreman, who declared for the draft Wednesday, rushed for 2,028 yards this season, tops in the country. He was a huge portion of Texas' offense this season -- he had 323 carries, which also led the country, and 15 touchdowns. At 6-1, 249 pounds, he's a big back, but he showed enough speed to break away from defenders. I'll be interested to see what he runs at the combine. Foreman is also a very capable blocker, and I think he could be a three-down back in the NFL. One issue: with only 13 catches in three seasons, we still don't know much about his hands.
13. *Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
This isn't a great class for top-tier blindside protectors, and some of that has to do with the lack of seniors. The first senior in my list of the top 10 offensive tackles comes in at No. 6. Robinson, a junior, was a starter from day one at Alabama, and he has already a known commodity around the NFL. At 6-6, 327 pounds, he's battle-tested and extremely consistent. I still think he'd be better as a right tackle in the NFL -- he's a better run-blocker than he is a pass-blocker -- but he's probably going to get a shot on the left side. He has the talent to be a top-10 pick and the first tackle off the board.
14. *Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Williams, my No. 1 receiver, has great burst and speed for his size (6-2, 225). He has put behind him the scary neck injury that prematurely ended his 2015 season, and he's back to being Deshaun Watson's go-to target. He has 79 catches for 1,114 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, including three scores in the Tigers' rout of South Carolina last Saturday. He had more than 1,000 receiving yards as a sophomore in 2014 while averaging a whopping 18.1 yards per catch.
15. *Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
McDowell, who drops a few spots here, suffered an ankle injury in the Spartans' loss to Illinois in early November and missed the last three games of the season, as 3-9 Michigan State won't make a bowl game. He has had some growing pains, but the talent is there. He is a fantastic athlete with a 6-6, 290-pound frame. Production has been his issue -- McDowell had 1.5 sacks this season and only 7.5 in his career. He's an elite-level prospect, though, and he could be a top-15 pick.
16. *Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
I've been looking for a quarterback to make the leap this season, and I found it in Trubisky, who has been one of the best signal-callers in the country in his first year as the full-time starter. Trubisky (6-3, 220) is completing 68.9 percent of his passes, even with the nightmare game while playing in Hurricane Matthew in which he was just 13-of-33. He has 28 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. He throws a nice ball, has some touch and velocity, and is mobile, too. He has five rushing touchdowns. He could be the first quarterback off the board in April.
17. *John Ross, WR, Washington
After major knee injuries cost him most of the 2014 season and all of 2015, Ross has been sensational for the Huskies this season. He has 72 catches for 1,071 yards and 16 touchdowns, plus two more TDs on a kick return and rush. He's a speedster. You won't find many players in college football -- or the NFL -- faster than Ross, who reportedly ran a hand-timed 4.25 40-yard dash in March. And that speed shows on tape, as he consistently blows by Pac-12 defenders. Ross is only 5-11, 190, but he's not a guy who has to play in the slot. He can play outside at the next level, as he does at Washington.
18. *Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
Brantley was featured as my "prospect on the rise" after Florida beat LSU. He was sensational in that game, with three tackles for loss and a forced fumble. A fourth-year junior, Brantley's issue is consistency. At 6-2, 300 pounds, he flashes the upside and talent of a top-10 pick. But he only had 3.5 tackles for loss in the nine games before the win over LSU and he isn't dependably disruptive, though he did have another two tackles for loss in Florida's loss to Florida State. Maybe the lightbulb has come on now. Brantley could be a bigger name in the NFL than he was in college.
19. **Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
At 6-1, Humphrey is a big, lockdown corner. He had three interceptions as a redshirt freshman last season and was a key playmaker for the national champs. He has two interceptions this season, and the first was returned for a touchdown in the Tide's beatdown of USC in Week 1. Humphrey has great bloodlines: His father, Bobby, was a big-time running back at Alabama who was picked by the Broncos in the first round of the 1989 supplemental draft.
20. *Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
Tabor just makes plays. He showed up in big moments every time I turned on last season's tape, breaking up passes and locking down receivers. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns in 2015. He's all over the field this season, too. You could argue that Tabor was the most consistently effective Florida cornerback last season, and Vernon Hargreaves III went No. 11 overall to the Bucs. Tabor has four interceptions this season, including a 39-yard touchdown return vs. Missouri.
21. *Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech
Hodges is an unbelievable athlete. He was a quarterback in high school, and I think he'll be one of the fastest tight ends of the past few years when he runs at the combine. At 6-7, 245 pounds, he is imposing. He's productive, too, with 127 catches and 20 touchdowns in his career. In a great tight end class, Hodges might be the best.
22. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Howard hasn't been a prolific pass-catcher at Alabama, including only 35 catches this season, but he has all the tools scouts look for in an NFL tight end. At 6-6, 250, he is going to light up the NFL combine. He can stretch the deep middle of the field and become a more dynamic weapon. He could be a playmaker in the NFL. Just look at last season's national title game, in which he had 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
23. *Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
Harris has moved up and down on my Big Board a couple of times because his play has been up and down. The highlight of his season was his effort in the Tigers' loss to Georgia in September. He was tremendously disruptive with three sacks, a tackle for loss and a batted-down pass, and he showed off a variety of pass-rushing moves. That's how he can perform when he's at his best. Harris had 9.0 sacks this season. A 6-3, 255-pound pass-rusher, Harris can stand up in a 3-4 or put his hand on the ground in a 4-3. He even moved inside to defensive tackle a few times to rush the quarterback. Last season, he led the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss.
24. *Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
One of the most productive receivers in the country, Davis is a big-time playmaker for the 12-0 Broncos. He has 318 catches for 5,068 yards and 50 touchdowns in his career and he leads the country this season in receiving touchdowns (17). At 6-2, 212 pounds, Davis has ideal size and length to be a great NFL wideout. He has a chance to be really good, and I think he could be a lead option for an offense. He's considered one of the hardest workers on his team, too, and he really studies the game.
25. *Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
As I wrote on Monday, Charlton was the best defensive player on the field in Michigan's loss to Ohio State on Saturday. The 6-5, 270-pound defensive end had 2.5 sacks and nine total tackles, showing off a full arsenal of pass-rushing moves. He's up to 8.5 sacks this season despite missing two games earlier in the year because of an ankle injury. Charlton plays with good leverage for his height, has active hands and takes great angles when rushing quarterbacks. And he's helped by an incredible wingspan. Charlton showed Saturday that he can play on his feet, which means he could fit in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.