By Tony Softli

My fifteen year NFL Scouting career began in 1995 with the Carolina Panthers, after spending four years coaching at the University of Washington under legendary Coach Don James.  Along with my work ethic, passion and the ability to identify talent at both the college and professional levels of competition, I was blessed to have several outstanding personnel men that took me under their wing and taught me the NFL scouting business.  They called themselves dinosaurs during my interview process. The two men that hired me at Carolina were Pro Football Hall of Famers Bill Polian and the late Mike McCormick.  Several others had a profound imprint on my career as well, the late Coach Bill Walsh and Dom Anile who was the College Director at Carolina. 

Throughout my years in the league you naturally acquire some very close friends (Kevin Colbert, Ozzie Newsome, Jerry Reese and Rod Graves just to name a few) and respect their work from afar.  I was also worked alongside senior scouts (C.O. Barcato, Milt Davis and Red Cochran Jr.) who helped shape me into a top flight area scout, which propelled me to a Director of College Scouting opportunity within five years.

I quickly learned the art of stacking players by position giving them the grade they deserve and let the lettering system undress them, while comparing them horizontally. The Top 5 By Position exercise helps in building a draft board and completing that process.

When building an NFL roster, some say “build it up the middle.” Others say start on either offense or defense edge. But based on what I’ve learned throughout my 15 years in the NFL, 11 of those as a front-office executive along with the last six years as NFL analyst, you start with a quarterback first. Without a franchise quarterback, you’re not very good. With a good QB, your chances of winning your division and making it deep into the playoffs increase tenfold.

The other positions of importance when developing an NFL roster are in this order: OT (offensive tackle), specifically a left tackle to protect the quarterback’s blind side; DE/DPR (defensive end/designated pass rusher), to rush and attack the opponent’s quarterback with consistent pressure off the edge; a MLB (middle linebacker) who controls the middle of the defense; a CB (cornerback) with man coverage skills to lock down receivers; and, lastly, a RB (running back) and run game that can carry the load for 16 games (plus postseason) to help grind the clock and shorten the game.

College football is developing quarterbacks to thrive in a spread, or one-back offenses with the quarterback in the shotgun formation a high percentage of the game (see 2012 Super Bowl). And, as seen last year, the read option is here to stay as long as the college game keeps producing quarterbacks who have the positional attributes as a combination passer and runner.

In today’s world of the NFL, the landscape continues to evolve. Offenses have moved from a run-first mentality to a pass-happy aerial attack like in years past, when Jim Kelly and the K-Gun earned four straight Super Bowl berths under Coach Marv Levy and GM Bill Polian it included multiple-receiver sets and formations.

With the influx of multiple-receiver formations, the NFL has seen the 3-4 defense come back from extinction. While a few NFL clubs stayed pat, several teams have recently started the transition or migration away from the 4-3 defense in order to apply more pressure on the pocket with athletic outside linebackers who are versatile enough to rush the passer and play in space. They boast awareness of both ball and receiver vs. multiple-receiver formations.

Below is my 2018 Top 5 By Position.  I also ranked ‘other top prospects’ that also deserve a mention.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks
1.  Sam Darnold – USC
2.  Josh Rosen – UCLA
3.  Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma
4.  Mason Rudolph – Oklahoma St
5.  Josh Allen – Wyoming

Other QB top prospects
1.  Lamar Jackson – Louisville
2.  Logan Woodside – Toledo
3.  Kyle Lauletta – Richmond
4.  Mike White – Western Kentucky
5.  Luke Falk – Washington St
6.  Chase Litton – Marshall

 

Running Backs
1.  Saquon Barkley – Penn St
2.  Sony Michel – Georgia
3.  Ronald Jones – USC
4.  Derrius Guice – LSU
5.  Royce Freeman – Oregon

Other RB top prospects
1.  Rashaad Penny – San Diego St
2.  Nick Chubb – Georgia
3.  Kalen Ballage – Arizona St
4.  Kerryon Johnson – Auburn
5.  Akrum Wadley – Iowa
6.  Nyheim Hines – North Carolina St
7.  Josh Adams – Notre Dame
8.  John Kelly – Tennessee
9.  Lavon Coleman – Washington
10.Kyle Hicks – TCU
11.Martez Carter – Grambling
12.Chase Edmonds – Fordham
13.Ito Smith – Southern Mississippi

 

Fullbacks
1.  Ryan Nall – Oregon St
2.  Dimitri Flowers – Oklahoma
3.  Donnie Ernsberger – Western Michigan
4.  Nick Bawden – San Diego St
5.  Chris Warren – Texas

  

Wide Recivers
1.  DJ Moore – Maryland
2.  Calvin Ridley – Alabama
3.  Christian Kirk – Texas A&M
4.  Courtland Sutton – SMU
5.  DJ Clark – LSU

 

Other WR top prospects

1.  Equanimeous St. Brown – Notre Dame
2.  Anthony Miller – Memphis
3.  Michael Gallup – Colorado St
4.  James Washington – Oklahoma St
5.  Simmie Cobb Jr – Indiana
6.  Dante Pettis – Washington
7.  Keke Coutee – Texas Tech
8.  Dae Sean Hamilton – Penn St
9.  Auden Tate – Florida St
10.Marcel Ateman – Oklahoma St
11.Deon Cain – Clemson
12.Deontay Burnett – USC
13.Javon Wims – Georgia
14.Daurice Fountain – Northern Iowa
15.Allen Lazard – Iowa St
16.Marques Valdes Scantling – South Florida
17.Antonio Callaway – Florida
18.Jaleel Scott – New Mexico St
19.Darren Carrington – Utah
20.Cedric Wilson – Boise St

 

Tight Ends
1. Hayden Hurst – South Carolina
2. Dallas Goedert – South Dakota St
3. Mark Andrews – Oklahoma
4. Mike Gesicki – Penn St
5. Dalton Schultz – Stanford

Other TE top prospects
1. Will Dissly – Washington
2. Troy Fumagalli – Wisconsin
3. Ian Thomas – Indiana
4. Chris Herndon – Miami
5. Durham Smythe – Notre Dame
6. Marcus Baugh – Ohio St
7. Adam Breneman – UMass
8. Tyler Conklin – Central Michigan
9. Austin Roberts – UCLA
10.DeAndre Goolsby – Florida

 

 

Offensive (Interior) Line
1.  OG  Quenton Nelson – Notre Dame
2.  C/OG  Isaiah Wynn – Georgia
3.  C  Billy Price – Ohio St
4.  OG  Will Hernandez – Texas El Paso
5.  C  James Daniels – Iowa

Other top prospects
1.  C  Frank Ragnow – Arkansas
2.  Braden Smith – Auburn
3.  Scott Queenberry – UCLA
4.  Sean Welsh – Iowa
5.  C  Tony Adams – North Carolina St
6.  C  Mark Korte – Alberta, CN
7.  C. Mason Cole – Michigan
8.  OG  Wyatt Teller – Virginia Tech
9.  OG  Colby Gossett – App St
10.OG  Skylar Phillips – Idaho St
11.C  Coleman Shelton – Washington
12.OG  Will Clap – LSU
13.OG  Sam Jones – Arizona St
14.C  Austin Golson – Auburn
15.C  Bradley Bozeman – Alabama
16.C  Brain Allen – Michigan St

 

Offensive Tackles
1.  Orlando Brown – Oklahoma
2.  Mike McGlinchey – Notre Dame
3.  Connor Williams – Texas
4.  Kolton Miller – UCLA
5.  Brian O’Neill – Pittsburgh

Other OT top prospects
1.  Martinas Rankin – Mississippi St
2.  Geron Christain – Louisville
3.  Jamarco Jones – Ohio St
4.  Will Richardson – North Carolina St
5.  Alex Cappa – Humbolt St
6.  Austin Corbett – Reno
7.  Brandon Parker – North Carolina A&T
8.  Tyrell Crosby – Oregon
9.  Chukwuma Okorafor – Western Michigan
10.Toby Weathersby – LSU
11.Matthew Gono – Wesley
12.Desmond Harrison – West Georgia
13.Joe Notebloom – TCU
14.KC McDermott – Miami
15.Jamil Demby – Maine
16.Brett Toth – Army
17.Greg Senat – Wagner
18.Bentley Spain – North Carolina
19.KJ Malone – LSU

 

Defense

Corners
1.  Jaire Alexander – Louisville
2.  Mike Hughes – Central Florida
3.  Denzel Ward – Ohio St
4.  Josh Jackson – Iowa
5.  Isaiah Oliver – Colorado

Other CB top prospects
1.  Donte Jackson – LSU
2.  Parry Nickerson – Tulane
3.  Anthony Averett – Alabama
4.  Carlton Davis – Auburn
5.  Nick Nelson – Wisconsin
6.  Tony Brown – Alabama
7.  Kevin Tolliver – LSU
8.  Duke Dawson – Florida
9.  MJ Stewart – North Carolina
10.Tarvarius McFadden – Florida St
11. Quenton Meeks – Stanford
12. DJ Reed –  Kansas St
13. Avonte Maddox – Pittsburgh
14. Christian Campbell – Penn St
15. JC Jackson – Maryland
16.  Holton Hilton – Texas
17.  Dane Cruikshank – Arizona
18.  Issac Yiadom – Boston College
19.  Greg Stroman – Virginia Tech
20.  D’Montre Wade – Murray St
21.  Danny Johnson – Southern
22.  Charvarius Ward – Middle Tenn St
23.  Andre Chachere – San Jose St

 

Defensive Backs
1.  Minkah Fitzpatrick – Alabama
2.  Derwin James – Florida St
3.  Ronnie Harrison – Alabama
4.  Terrell Edmunds – Virginia Tech
5.  Justin Reid – Stanford

Other DB top prospects
1.  Jessie Bates – Wake Forest
2.  Deshon Elliott – Texas
3.  Armami Watts – Texas A&M
4.  Kyzir White – West Virginia
5.  Jordan Whitehead
6. Marcus Allen – Penn St
7.  Troy Apke – Penn St
8.  Siran Neal – Jackson St
9.  Natrell Jamerson – Wisconsin
10.Quin Blanding – Virginia
11.Van Smith – Clemson
12.Damon Webb – Ohio St
13.Godwin Igwebuike – Northwestern
14.Tarvarius Moore – Southern Mississippi
15.Tray Matthews – Auburn
16.Tre Flowers – Oklahoma St
17.Jamar Summers – Connecticut
18.Sean Chandler – Temple

Linebackers
1.  Tremaine Edmunds – Virginia Tech
2.  Roquan Smith – Georgia
3.  Rashaan Evans – Alabama
4.  Leighton Vander Esch – Boise St
5.  Lorenzo Carter – Georgia

Other LB top prospects
1.  Uchenna Nwosu – USC
2.  Shaquem Griffin – Central Florida
3.  Ogbonnia Okoronkwo – Oklahoma
4.  Marquis Haynes – Mississippi
5.  Joel Iyiegbuniwe – Western Kentucky
6.  Oren Burk – Vanderbilt
7.  Milik Jefferson – Texas
8.  Darius Leonard – South Carolina St
9.  Kemoko Turay – Rutgers
10.  Dorance Armstrong – Kansas
11.  Jerome Baker – Ohio St
12.  Skai Moore – South Carolina
13.  Mike McCray – Michigan
14.  Tegray Scales – Indiana
15.  Anthony Winbush – Ball St
16.  Tre Williams – Auburn
17.  Darrius Jackson – Jackson St
18.  Davin Bellany – Georgia
19.  Garret Dooley – Wisconsin
20.  Chris Worley – Ohio St
21.  Shaun Dion Hamilton – Auburn
22.  Micah Kiser – Virginia
23.  Airius Moore – North Carolina St
24.  Dorian O’Daniel – Clemson
25.  Azeem Victor – Washington
26.  Genard Avery – Memphis
27.  Christian Sam – Arizona St
28.  Joel Lanning – Iowa St
29.  Nick Deluca – North Dakota St
30.  Keishawn Bierria – Washington
31.  Myles Pierce – Citadel
32.  Nyles Morgan – Notre Dame
33.  Peter Kalambayi – Stanford

 

Defensive (Interior) Line
1.  Vita Vea – Washington
2.  Maurice Hurst – Michigan
3.  DaRon Payne – Alabama
4.  Taven Bryan – Florida
5.  Harrison Phillips – Stanford

Other top prospects
1.  Tim Settle – Virginia Tech
2.  RJ McIntosh – Miami
3.  Trenton Thompson – Georgia
4.  Derrick Nnadi – Florida St
5.  BJ Hill – North Carolina St
6.  Justin Jones – North Carolina St
7.  Kendrick Norton – Miami
8.  Folorunso Fatukaski – Connecticut
9.  Nathan Shepherd – Fort Hays
10.Christian LsCoutre – LSU
11. Kahlil McKenzie Jr – Tennessee
12. Deadrin Senat – South Florida
13. John Franklin – Stephen F Austin
14. James Looney – California
15. Bilal Nichols – Delaware
16.  Bruce Hector – South Florida

Defensive Ends
1.  Bradley Chubb – North Carolina St
2.  Marcus Davenport – San Antonio
3.  Harold Landry – Boston College
4.  Sam Hubbard – Ohio St
5.  Arden Key – LSU

 

Other DE top prospects

1.  DaShawn Hand – Alabama
2.  Duke Ejiofor – Wake Forest
3.  Jeff Holland – Auburn
4.  Josh Sweat – Florida St
5.  Rasheem Green – USC
6.  Chad Thomas – Miami
7.  Justin Lawler – SMU
8.  Hercules Mata’afa – Washington St
9.  Ade Aruna – Tulane
10.Marcell Frazier – Missouri
11.Trevon Young – Louisville
12.Andrew Brown – Virginia
13.Tyquan Lewis – Ohio St

Athlete
1.  Jaylan Samuels – North Carolina St (RB, H-Bac, Wild Cat)