The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. It’s important for daily fantasy players to know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
Last week I wrote about 20 notable skill position prospects at the East-West Shrine Game. Here are 20 such players to watch in the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl, which is being played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, AL, on Saturday, Jan. 27.
Josh Allen, Wyoming
Redshirt Junior | 6’5″ and 237 Pounds | Born May 21, 1996 (Age: 21)
Some draft analysts say that Allen is comparable as a non-major conference prospect to Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz. That might be true, but the available data don’t support that stance: Allen has great size, but not every big quarterback from a middling program becomes an NFL starter. Exhibit A: Paxton Lynch. While Allen has the body of a prototypical passer, he doesn’t have the accuracy. In his three collegiate seasons as a starter (from first to last), Roethlisberger completed 63.3, 63.3, and 69.1 percent of his passes. In his two starting seasons, Wentz had 63.7 and 62.5 percent completion rates. Allen, though, has rates of 49.0, 56.0, and 56.3 percent — and his first season was at Reedley Community College. Think about that: Allen didn’t complete even 50.0 percent of his passes at junior college. Even so, Allen looks like the type of quarterback Browns GM John Dorsey tends to like, and the Browns have two picks in the top five. In my most recent mock draft, Allen goes No. 1 to the Browns. In a draft-focused edition of the Daily Fantasy Flex, Matt Waldman says that Allen is a mannequin: He might look the part, but he’s not real.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Redshirt Senior | 6’0″ and 216 Pounds | Born April 14, 1995 (Age: 22)
If all that mattered in prospect evaluation were college production, the 2017 Heisman winner would easily be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. OU’s passing attack in 2017 ranked first in both Passing S&P+ and success rate (Football Study Hall). Mayfield is the only player in the 14-year history of ESPN’s Total QBR metric with two seasons above 90.0. A four-year starter, Mayfield in his three final seasons had an absurdly elite mark of 11.9 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) — and he improved each season, posting a 6.3 AY/A as a freshman, 10.4 as a sophomore, and 12.3 and 12.9 as a junior and senior. With a 96.2 overall grade, Mayfield was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 offensive college football player in 2017, ranking first with an 82.6 percent adjusted completion rate, 134.8 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards, and 105.3 passer rating under pressure. Per Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting, Mayfield was great in Senior Bowl practices: “Mayfield looks like a computer going through reads and looks completely comfortable in the pocket with his progressions.” Of all the quarterbacks in Mobile, Mayfield has almost certainly done the most to distinguish himself.
For more, see Mayfield’s player profile.
Luke Falk, Washington State
Redshirt Senior | 6’4″ and 211 Pounds | Born December 28, 1994 (Age: 23)
Falk has good size and started 40 games in a Power Five conference, but he has a number of red flags. Although he has many Pac-12 passing records, Falk was less productive and efficient in each of his seasons as a starter.
- 2015: 4,561 yards passing, 7.7 adjusted yards per attempt
- 2016: 4,468, 7.5
- 2017: 3,593, 6.8
Additionally, Falk has limited mobility as evidenced by his career mark of -1.6 yards per carry. On top of that, even though Head Coach Mike Leach’s quarterbacks have historically produced in college, NFL general managers have rarely shown interest in them because of the perception that they benefit from a pass-happy spread system that inflates their statistics.
For more, see Falk’s player profile.
Kurt Benkert, Virginia
Redshirt Senior | 6’4″ and 215 Pounds | Born July 17, 1995 (Age: 22)
At UVA, Benkert completed just 57.5 percent of his passes for 6.3 adjusted yards per attempt. On top of that, he exhibited limited mobility, as he rushed for -1.3 yards per carry (including sacks). Overall in 2017 he led a passing attack that was just 90th out of 130 in success rate (per Football Study Hall). Benkert has some building draft hype, but the numbers suggest that he’s a bigger and less productive Nathan Peterman-esque prospect likely to enter the NFL as a Day 3 selection and to disappoint whenever he inevitably and randomly gets a spot start as a rookie.
For more, see Benkert’s player profile.
Tanner Lee, Nebraska
Redshirt Junior | 6’4″ and 220 Pounds | Born February 14, 1995 (Age: 22)
A number of promising quarterback prospects have declared early for the NFL draft this year — and Lee isn’t one of them. While many draftniks didn’t expect Lee to leave school in 2018, his decision makes sense: He was a double redshirt, and the man who recruited him — head coach Mike Riley — was dismissed (partially because his quarterback didn’t play well enough to win games). Rather than learn a new system and hope to remain the starter under new HC (and Nebraska legend) Scott Frost, Lee decided to move on to the NFL — where scheme and coaching changes never (read: often) happen. Lee is similar to Benkert in that he’s basically a cheap version of Allen: A big-bodied transfer, Lee has a strong arm and profiles as a pro-style boom/bust pocket passer.
For more, see Lee’s player profile.
Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
Senior | 5’11″ and 224 Pounds | Born February 2, 1996 (Age: 21)
Penny is a big-bodied workhorse with a versatile skill set: He’s not only a capable receiver with 34 receptions since 2016, but he’s also an elite return man with seven kick return touchdowns and one punt return score since 2015. For a guy of his size to have the long speed and elusiveness to break that many returns for touchdowns is amazing. To put this in perspective: The last college back of Penny’s size to have rushing, receiving, and kick and punt return touchdowns in the same season was Penn State stud Larry Johnson in 2001. Although Penny served as a backup to Donnel Pumphrey for the first three years of college, he forced his way into a timeshare as a junior, rushing for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns and averaging 4.8 yards after contact per attempt. As a senior Penny was an absolute beast, rushing for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns, leading all draft-eligible backs with 74 missed tackles forced and 31 runs of 15-plus yards (Pro Football Focus). In total, over his two final seasons Penny averaged 134.3 scrimmage yards and 1.63 all-purpose touchdowns per game. As a big-bodied multi-talented non-Power Five runner, Penny has some Kareem Hunt — or maybe even David Johnson — potential as a prospect.
Royce Freeman, Oregon
Senior | 6’0″ and 238 Pounds | Born February 24, 1996 (Age: 21)
Freeman is the definition of a workhorse. The Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year in 2014, Freeman was so dominant in his first year at Oregon that the coaching staff shifted Byron Marshall — a 1,000-yard rusher the previous season — to wide receiver. Freeman and quarterback Marcus Mariota formed a dynamic backfield duo that led the Ducks to the College Football Championship as Freeman rushed for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns. The next year, Freeman became the focal point of the Mariota-less offense, rushing for 1,836 yards and 17 touchdowns and chipping in 26 receptions for 348 more yards. After an injury-impacted junior campaign (in which he still had 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns), Freeman returned to his studly form as a senior, rushing for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns in 12 games. Blessed with elite size and good speed (4.58-second 40 in 2013), Freeman was a five-star recruit and one of the top high school running backs in California, rushing for 7,601 yards and 111 touchdowns. With his pedigree, size, athleticism, raw production, and receiving ability, Freeman is comparable to Carlos Hyde, Jordan Howard, and maybe even Leonard Fournette. One of the few backs in major college history with three 1,350-15 rushing campaigns, Freeman could be selected as early as the second round if he tests well at the combine.
Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State
Senior | 6’0″ and 223 Pounds | Born July 20, 1996 (Age: 21)
While NFL teams might not be sure how to use Samuels, one of them is likely to draft him no later than the fourth round. A versatile hybrid player, Samuels regularly moved across the formation in college as a tight end, slot receiver, fullback, H-back, goal-line back, and sometimes even wideout. Samuels is in the mold of Kyle Juszczyk, Charles Clay, and Aaron Hernandez as a high-level multidimensional contributor, except he’s built like a workhorse back and was a more prolific college producer (2,719 yards and 45 touchdowns from scrimmage over his three final years). A backup as a freshman, Samuels broke out as a sophomore, leading the Wolfpack with 65 receptions, 597 yards, and seven touchdowns. On top of that, he rushed for 368 yards and nine touchdowns. After a respectable junior year (754 yards, 13 touchdowns), Samuels balled out with an even 1,000-yard, 16-touchdown campaign on 75 receptions and 78 carries. Even though he was primarily a receiver, he was a highly effective and efficient ball carrier throughout his career, rushing for 1,107 yards and 28 touchdowns on a robust 6.1 yards per attempt. A mismatch chess piece, Samuels (I expect) will ultimately be leveraged by an innovative play caller as an early-down fullback and slot receiver with the flexibility to move across the formation and a third-down halfback with the ability to run and catch out of the backfield. If he also turns into a short-yardage rusher with a proclivity for touchdowns, he might become the NFL’s most valuable non-workhorse back.
Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi
Senior | 5’9″ and 201 Pounds | Born September 11, 1995 (Age: 22)
After starting six games as a true freshman and then playing in an uber-productive committee with the senior Jalen Richard as a sophomore, Smith was the primary back for the Golden Eagles for his two final campaigns. In his three full seasons as an every-game contributor Smith averaged 134.3 yards and 1.18 touchdowns per game over 40 contests. What makes Smith especially dynamic is his receiving ability, as he had 140 receptions for 1,446 yards and seven touchdowns receiving for his career. In fact, since at least 2000 he was the only college player with at least 4,400 yards rushing and 1,400 yards receiving. Smith doesn’t have workhorse size, but he reportedly has good athleticism (4.40-second 40). Given his small school pedigree, versatility, production, and physical profile, Smith looks like a Day 3 selection with the potential to contribute as a change-of-pace and third-down back.
Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Redshirt Senior | 5’10″ and 188 Pounds | Born March 13, 1995 (Age: 22)
As a Big Ten lead back, Wadley isn’t unknown, but he’s not a hyped prospect. After redshirting for 2013 and playing as a reserve for 2014, Wadley was a committee player for much of 2015-16, splitting carries with Jordan Canzeri and then LeShun Daniels as the change-of-pace back. Despite his size, Wadley was productive in his limited role, turning 14.0 touches into 94.6 yards and a touchdown per game. As a senior Wadley saw his usage increase to a workhorse-like 21.5 touches per game, which he turned into an average of 112.5 yards and a touchdown. While Wadley is unlikely to be used much as a runner in the NFL, he’s an accomplished pass catcher with 64 receptions for 668 yards and six scores over the past two years.
James Washington, Oklahoma State
Senior | 5’11″ and 210 Pounds | Born April 2, 1996 (Age: 21)
The 2017 Biletnikoff award winner as the nation’s top receiver, Washington had an impressive college career. As a true freshman, he led the Cowboys with six touchdowns receiving, and the next year he had the first of three straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving. As a junior he was highly impressive with 1,408 yards and 10 touchdowns, and in 2017 of all the wideouts in college football he had the best combination of yardage and touchdowns with 1,561 and 14 in 13 games. A versatile (though smaller-than-desired) receiver, Washington was fifth in the nation last year with 3.47 yards per route (PFF). Despite his size, he has an outside chance to be the No. 1 receiver selected in the draft with a strong combine.
For more, see Washington’s player profile.
Anthony Miller, Memphis
Redshirt Senior | 5’11″ and 190 Pounds | Born October 9, 1994 (Age: 23)
I try not to get too excited about small non-Power Five wide receivers who played almost exclusively in the slot, didn’t break out early in college, didn’t supplement their receiving stats with significant rushing or return production, and will turn 24 years old as rookies — because I’m a realist — but Miller is intriguing. After redshirting his first year and missing his second year to injury, Miller finished first on the team in 2015 with five touchdowns receiving, second with 694 receiving yards, and third with 47 receptions. The following season, Miller took college football by storm, turning 95 receptions into 1,434 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 36.2 and 41.2 percent of Memphis’ receiving yards and touchdowns. Showing that his breakout was no fluke, Miller as a senior had 96 receptions for 1,462 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 33.8 and 46.2 percent of the receiving yards and touchdowns. On top of that, throughout his career he’s chipped in 31 carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns, which isn’t massive but also isn’t insignificant. No one can question his production. In 2017 he was third in the country with 3.50 yards per route run (PFF). The problem is that there have been lots of productive non-Power Five receivers who do nothing in the NFL — and Miller looks like them. Barring a strong showing at the combine, Miller looks like an expensive version of Justin Hardy and unworthy of his Day 2 hype.
Tre’Quan Smith, Central Florida
Redshirt Junior | 6’2″ and 202 Pounds
Smith is the type of receiver I tend to like. He’s received so little hype that I expect him to be a Day 3 prospect, but he has significant Day 2 potential. A three-star recruit entering college, Smith is probably not a strong athlete, but with his size and style of play he might be able to succeed in the NFL with average (a.k.a. Robert Woods-esque) athleticism. After redshirting in 2014, Smith emerged as the team’s top pass catcher in 2015. Although the Knights were awful, going 0-12 and finishing with one of the worst offenses in football, Smith led the team with 52 receptions, 724 yards, and four touchdowns, capturing 32.2 and 30.8 percent of the receiving yards and touchdowns — strong numbers for a first-year player. He progressed in 2016 with 57 receptions, 853 yards, and five touchdowns, and last year he turned into one of the most dominant receivers in the country: He was sixth among all FBS receivers with a 143.5 pass rating when targeted (PFF), and he caught 73.0 percent of his targets for 59 receptions, 1,171 yards, and 13 touchdowns. He even chipped in five rushes for 23 yards and a touchdown. With a strong combine he could be a surprise second-rounder. If selected in the middle rounds, he might still produce like a second-round pick.
Cedrick Wilson, Boise State
Senior | 6’2″ and 194 Pounds
The NFL probably won’t like his non-Power Five pedigree and lack of bulk, but he has good height and an NFL heritage: Cedrick Wilson, Sr., played in the league for seven years and won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2005. A high school quarterback, Wilson went the junior college route and converted to wide receiver and return man at Coffeyville Community College. After learning the position as a freshman (and still catching 10 touchdowns in his first season), Wilson broke out as a sophomore, turning 66 receptions into 1,045 yards and 17 touchdowns in just nine games. A Junior College All-American, Wilson was recruited to Boise State, where he immediately became a big-play receiver for the Broncos, balling out with a 1,129-11 season in 2016 while averaging 20.2 yards (and 7.7 yards after the catch) per reception (PFF). He regressed as a touchdown producer in 2017 with just seven scores — Boise State dealt with issues at quarterback — but Wilson still played well, accumulating 83 receptions for 1,511 yards. Across his three non-transitional seasons, Wilson averaged 105.9 yards and one touchdown receiving per game in 35 contests. So much will depend on how he tests in workouts — if he’s thin and slow, his prospects will be bleaker than a Dickens novel — but if he exhibits good athleticism at the combine he will look like a Robby Anderson-esque talent.
J’Mon Moore, Missouri
Redshirt Senior | 6’3″ and 205 Pounds
Moore is one of just 18 Southeastern Conference players with a season of 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving since at least 2000. That list includes Mike Evans, Amari Cooper, and Jarvis Landry. Of the 16 such players already to go through the draft process 10 were selected no later than the second round, and only three weren’t selected within the first four rounds. As a producer from the top conference in college football, Moore belongs to a cohort that possesses significant draft capital. A bit of a late bloomer, Moore redshirted in 2013 and played as a reserve receiver in 2014 before leading a poor Tigers team in 2015 with 29 receptions and 350 yards. In the two following seasons Moore emerged as an underappreciated force, securing 62 receptions for 1,012 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016 and 65 receptions for 1,082 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. An SEC prospect with good size, Moore doesn’t have a lot of draft hype, but he’ll likely be drafted no later than Round 4 as long as he’s not an abominable athlete at the combine. The only other player in school history with two 1,000-yard receiving seasons is former first-rounder Jeremy Maclin.
Michael Gallup, Colorado State
Senior | 6’1″ and 198 Pounds | Born March 4, 1996 (Age: 21)
A Biletnikoff finalist, Gallup was one of the top wideouts in the country and a potential Day 2 pick. Even though as a high school student he was recruited by some SEC institutions, Gallup started his career at Butler Community College, leading his team as an 18-year-old freshman with 44 receptions, 780 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He missed all but three games of his sophomore campaign with an ankle injury, but he leveraged his first-year dominance into a number of scholarship offers, ultimately committing to CSU. Gallup immediately became the team’s top receiver and was one of the best wideouts of the 2016 season, turning 76 receptions into 1,272 yards and 14 touchdowns. His market share numbers were especially impressive, as he captured 40.0 and 48.3 percent of his team’s receiving yards and touchdowns. Of all the 2018 draft-eligible receivers, he was first with 4.34 yards per route. While Gallup’s touchdown total dropped to seven last year, he had even more receptions and yards with 100 and 1,418, and he was PFF’s No. 1 wide receiver, sporting a 92.0 positional grade. With his history of production and reputation as a well-rounded receiver, as long as he’s not a nonathletic sloth at the combine Gallup will have an opportunity to contribute in the NFL as a secondary receiver.
Justin Watson, Pennsylvania
Senior | 6’3″ and 213 Pounds
A Freedman favorite, Watson is a big-bodied small-school dominator. After playing as the No. 3 receiver as a freshman, he tore up the Ivy League for his three final years, averaging 120.6 yards and 1.07 touchdowns per game across that time. Most impressively, he improved each year, and by the end of his senior year he had an unreal market share of Penn’s aerial production.
- 2014: 16.0 percent of receptions, 18.1 percent of yards, 13.3 percent of touchdowns
- 2015: 35.7 percent of receptions, 44.5 percent of yards, 36.0 percent of touchdowns
- 2016: 44.1 percent of receptions, 49.0 percent of yards, 44.4 percent of touchdowns
- 2017: 47.6 percent of receptions, 50.5 percent of yards, 70.0 percent of touchdowns
Not every uber-productive Football Championship Series receiver makes his way to the NFL, but Watson looks like a Day 3 pick.
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Grad Student | 6’1″ and 202 Pounds | Born March 10, 1995 (Age: 22)
Hamilton was one of the winners of the East-West Shrine Game process last week. As a freshman he led the Big Ten with 82 receptions and Penn State with 899 yards. As a sophomore and junior he had middling campaigns, but last year he returned to form with a team-leading 857 yards and nine touchdowns receiving. Per Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst, Hamilton creates good separation in his routes and makes contested catches.
Mike Gesicki, Penn State
Senior | 6’5″ and 242 Pounds | Born October 3, 1995 (Age: 22)
Gesicki holds the Penn State record for most receptions by a tight end. A backup for his first two years, Gesicki in 2016 became a major part of Penn State’s passing offense, functioning as the No. 2 option behind wide receiver Chris Godwin, finishing with 48 receptions for 679 yards and five touchdowns and ranking second among all FBS tight ends with 301 yards on targets of 20-plus yards (PFF). Following Godwin’s early departure to the NFL, Gesicki in 2017 led the Nittany Lions with 57 receptions and nine touchdowns receiving. A red zone presence with ample size, Gesicki has gotten some recent hype as a potential third-round prospect.
Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
Redshirt Senior | 6’5″ and 260 Pounds
Goedert (hamstring) suffered an injury in Tuesday’s practice and will not play in the game, which is a shame, since he’s in the running to be one of the top tight ends selected in the draft. After redshirting for a season and playing as a reserve in his freshman year, Goedert was a top-two pass catcher for the Jackrabbits in his three final seasons, and he especially dominated in 2016-17 with two straight FCS All-American campaigns. As a junior he had a monster year, leading the team with 92 receptions, which he turned into 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns. As a senior he once again led the team in receptions, accumulating 72 catches on his way to 1,111 yards and seven scores. Goedert will need to improve as a blocker if he hopes to be a three-down player, but he’s the rare small-school pass catcher with the potential to be drafted on Day 2.
Photo Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports