I've been fortunate enough to watch and study these guys all college football season. In many cases, I get to see them in person -- both in preparation, and on gameday. This year, I'm thrilled to get to talk about what will come next for so many of the best players in college football. As I watched this 2018 class, some specific categories stood out. It's not your typical set of draft rankings, but hey, I'm a draft rookie.
That's the idea. Here are the 2018 NFL draft Herbies.
Most NFL-ready quarterback
I didn't say best or highest ceiling -- I said most NFL-ready. I got to see and study Mayfield close-up twice this past season, when he shredded an NFL-stacked Ohio State defense in September, then tried to carry the Sooners past Georgia in the Rose Bowl. He'll enter the league having played a whopping 48 college games off a two-year stretch in which he completed over 70 percent of his throws. If you need one of these rookie QBs to play, I'd bet on Mayfield being most ready for Sunday.
In each of the past two seasons, we've seen a rookie running back lead the league in rushing, with Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 and Kareem Hunt in 2017. Barkley is good enough to be the third straight. We know running back is a position where guys can transition to the NFL quickly in terms of learning curve -- in fact, the ability to pick up blitzes matters as much as reading blocking on runs -- and Barkley is ready to make an immediate impact.
Chubb is a very good pass-rusher, though not a dominant one. But in a relatively lean year for pass-rushers, he is head and shoulders the best, and he should help a defense right out of the gate. He has 10.0 sacks in each of the past two seasons, and he has a consistent motor. Keep an eye on Okoronkwo, who has 17.0 sacks over the past two seasons and could be a steal.
Day 2 steals
What an underrated career Chubb has had. People forget that after Todd Gurley got injured in 2014, Chubb stepped in and was just as effective. Chubb had his own injury in 2015, but he has since played in 28 games over the past two seasons, and he finishes his Georgia career with a rushing average of 6.3 yards per carry. All Miller has done is catch 191 passes over the past two seasons.
Best overall defensive player
The premium placed on other positions will mean Smith could be available perhaps even outside the top 10 picks (although I doubt it), which would make him a steal. He is such a complete player and has exceptional instincts. He's a Week 1 starter. Fitzpatrick is supremely versatile, and I've heard James compared to Earl Thomas. High praise.
Most overlooked player
While Barkley deserves all the hype he's getting, Michel is probably underrated because of that. Michel is the No. 2 running back in this class, but the guy averaged a whopping 7.9 yards per carry -- including 16.5 and 7.0 yards per carry against Oklahoma and Alabama, respectively, in the College Football Playoff -- and he could have been the No. 1 guy in other years. He's a potential steal.
Best player, period
The top offensive player in the draft gets the slight edge over the top defensive player in the draft. And that third guy? If you don't know about Vea, read up. At 350 pounds, he moves extremely well, and he is more than a clogger in the middle of the D-line. The former Husky could sneak into the top 10.
Most explosive player
To say Jackson is explosive isn't just to say he has exceptional speed and quickness when he decides to take off with the ball. He's just explosive in all his actions, period -- and that starts with an explosive arm. Ridley is lean, but his explosiveness is obvious on tape. He ran a 4.43 40 in Indy, which is plenty fast for a guy who has good length at 6-foot-3.
Best tight end
I didn't get to call a South Carolina game, but Hurst jumps off the tape for me during draft preparation. He is a rare tight end who can do some damage after the catch. The dude runs angry. He also has the long frame you're looking for, and he has shown he can make difficult catches. Andrews put up big numbers for a tight end at the college level, with 62 catches in 2017.
Best slot WR: The Julian Edelman prototype
It's not a great year for wide receivers from the standpoint that there's no Julio Jones or Randy Moss -- a total freak at the top of the board. But this trio shows there's a lot of quality and production. Kirk is a smooth route runner who can separate, and that's what you need in the slot. He caught 234 passes in three seasons. Keep an eye on Moore, who could challenge to be the top receiver taken.