This is the 57th year I have produced rankings of NFL draft prospects. In the early years when I was with the Cowboys, we had only a fraction of the information we have today, with very few confirmed measurements and times for prospects.
But that has all changed. I can now look at my database and pull the confirmed short-shuttle or three-cone time of the 947th-ranked prospect instantaneously ... and in a matter of seconds have on my computer screen in front of me all the third-down-and-short run plays he was involved in at his Div. III school.
It makes an evaluator's job easier and harder at the same time. There's so much more to consider with the overload of information, but ultimately it's more accurate info, which should (in theory) make draft boards around the league more informed and precise.
With that said, here are my "Hot 150" prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft.
School: Texas A&M | Year: Junior. Has long arms (35 1/4 inches) and is very strong (33 bench lifts at the combine). Had 31.0 career sacks at A&M, with only 12 coming against SEC competition. Can be a game-changer, but needs to learn pass-rush moves. Just turned 21 last December.
School: LSU | Year: Junior. First player in Louisiana history to win national high school player of the year honors twice. Started six games in 2014, rushing for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns, with a 5.5-yard average. He also had a 26.0-yard average as a kick returner. Led nation in 2015 with 1,953 rushing yards (6.5-yard average) and 22 touchdowns, finishing sixth in Heisman voting. Suffered left ankle injury in 2016 fall camp and did not play well, finishing with 843 yards and eight TDs in seven games. In two career games vs. Alabama, rushed for just 66 yards. Very explosive runner. Had best 20-yard time of any running back at the combine. Looks like a linebacker when you meet him in person.
School: Stanford | Year: Redshirt sophomore. Spent three years at Stanford, but only played two after being redshirted in 2014. Strong (30 bench lifts at combine) and explosive (35-inch vertical). Has great short-area quickness. Very tough. Outstanding character, intelligence and leadership skills; could one day hold political office if he so chooses. Best position could be left defensive end, but will be a very good tackle because of speed and quickness.
School: Ohio State | Year: Redshirt sophomore. Was at Ohio State for three years but missed 2014 season with a hamstring injury that required surgery. After limited play in 2015, started 12 games. Was targeted 35 times last season, with 14 burns (40 percent), allowing only one touchdown. Had four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Ten of his burns came against receivers between 6-feet and 6-3. Had 74 plays on special teams. Has great ball skills with outstanding speed. Very fluid. Small hands (8 7/8 inches).
School: LSU | Year: Junior. Played nickel cornerback as a freshman in 2014. Started 24 total games at strong safety in 2015 and 2016 when he was targeted 36 times with 12 burns (33 percent). Last season, he allowed only one touchdown, had an interception, and made 73 tackles. Had 124 plays on special teams. Never had a holding or interference called against him. Good NFL bloodlines: father, George, played running back at Kentucky and was 19th overall pick of Giants in 1985. Tremendous pro day; ran 4.45-second 40-yard dash.
School: Ohio State | Year: Junior. Outstanding athlete. High school team in Pennsylvania won two state championships -- the only two years he played as a prep. Redshirted as a freshman at Ohio State and used primarily as a backup in 2015. Had big year in 2016. Targeted 36 times, with 16 burns (44 percent), only one TD allowed, seven interceptions, including three returned for scores. No interference or holding calls against him. Had 74 tackles last season, and played 96 snaps on special teams. Great recovery speed. Tough and competitive. Limited playing experience but has tremendous upside as a player.
School: Alabama | Year: Senior. Got some experience as a true freshman in 2013. Very strong. Had 28.5 sacks during his time at Alabama, second-best total in school history. Very quick. Played defensive end in Alabama's 3-4 front. Makes plays in big games. Blocked PAT in one-point victory over Arkansas. Named SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. Very good use of hands. Great instincts. Outstanding character. Reminds me of the Buccaneers' Gerald McCoy.
School: North Carolina | Year: Redshirt junior. Redshirted in 2013, and played very little the next two seasons. When he did play in 2015, he played well, completing 40 of 47 passes for 555 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Had a breakout year last season, completing 68 percent of his passes for 3,748 yards, 30 TDs and six INTs. Has very good accuracy. Moves around well. Quick release. Has traits that usually translate to NFL success. Led back-to-back come-from-behind victories vs. Pitt and Florida State. Poorest game came in loss vs. Virginia Tech when he completed just 13 of 33 passes with two INTs. Was sacked 20 times in 13 games in 2016. Had good success in the red zone.
School: Clemson | Year: Junior. Three-time Georgia high school player of the year. Started five games as a true freshman in 2014. Completed 60 percent of his passes and won 90 percent of his starts in his three years at Clemson. Reminds me of Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick of the 49ers in 2005; he doesn't have the strongest arm, but he has great character, is accurate, and is a proven winner. Grew up in house built by Warrick Dunn's foundation for single mothers.
School: Washington | Year: Senior. Played wide receiver, kick returner, and some at cornerback as a true freshman in 2013. Made four starts at wide receiver in 2014, before suffering a torn ACL in spring of 2015 that forced him to redshirt the entire season. Came back in 2016 for a breakout year in which he was targeted 131 times, with 81 catches and 17 touchdowns and only three drops. Fifty-one of those receptions were for first downs. Will willingly go over the middle to catch the ball. Very tough. Tracks ball well. Has great speed and explosiveness. Very athletic. Hands are on the small side (8 3/4 inches).
School: Ohio State | Year: Junior. Started 26 games over the last two seasons. Of the 44 times he was targeted in 2016, he was burned only 16 times (36 percent), gave up only one touchdown, and had four interceptions. He also had only one third-down defensive holding call against him. Outstanding athlete; had a 37-inch vertical jump at the combine. Has long arms (33 inches). Needs to get stronger. Day 1 starter in the NFL.
School: Stanford | Year: Junior. Good NFL bloodlines: father, Ed, played 13 years in the NFL and has three Super Bowl rings; brother, Max, is on the Packers roster. Was used in many capacities. Tough matchup for opponents. Can run, catch and return kicks. Has outstanding work habits and is an exceptional athlete (37.5-inch vertical and 6.57-second three-cone at combine). Great character. Outstanding, but small, hands (9 inches). Needs to increase upper-body strength.
School: Alabama | Year: Senior. Returned for senior season to improve his blocking. Had 45 catches in 2016 on 55 targets, with only two drops with a freshman QB; 24 receptions were for first downs. Played 150 special-teams snaps. Very athletic (4.16-second short shuttle, 6.85-second three-cone, and an exceptional 1.52-second 10-yard dash). Has big-play ability; averaged 26.5 yards on four catches in last season's national title game against Clemson.
School: Alabama | Year: Senior. Played regularly as a true freshman in 2013. Won Butkus Award in 2016 when he finished with 115 tackles. Very tough, competitive player. Very athletic. Was targeted 40 times in 2016 and opponents caught the ball 23 times. No one plays harder, but style of play has led to injuries; he's currently rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Can he stay healthy at 230 pounds? Has overcome a lot in his life to get where he is today.
School: Alabama | Year: Junior. Father is Steve Foley, who played in the NFL for seven years. Started 43 consecutive games in his three seasons at Alabama. Team captain. Has 35.5-inch arms. Very good initial quickness (1.77-second 10-yard dash at combine). Very good competitor. Allowed only one sack in 2016 -- against Tennessee's Derek Barnett, who also had three pressures in the game. Big, strong hands (10.5 inches). Called for only one holding penalty but had 10 false starts. Should play long time in the NFL at a high level.
School: Tennessee | Year: Junior. Finished with more sacks (33, including 13 in 2016) at Tennessee than Reggie White did. Participated in everything at the combine despite being ill. Had 29 of his 33 sacks vs. SEC teams. Played 76 snaps on special teams. Plays with energy and outstanding effort. Highly motivated. Has body frame to put on additional weight. Great character.
School: Missouri | Year: Senior. His junior season was stronger than his senior year, mostly due to a change in defense. Very good athlete. Has bend and burst off end of the line. Had nine sacks and 54 pressures in 2016. Very good initial quickness. High-effort player. Can develop into a very good pass rusher in the NFL.
School: Texas Tech | Year: Junior. Very strong arm; threw the ball 60 mph at the combine. Set NCAA record vs. Oklahoma in 2016 when he passed for 734 yards, completing 52 of 88 attempts, with five touchdowns and adding 87 yards rushing. Had 41 passing TDs in his final season at TTU. Good athlete; son of Major League pitcher Pat Mahomes. Would have been a high MLB draft pick coming out of high school were it not for his commitment to football at Tech. Will need time to develop in the NFL, maybe two years. With a good work ethic and a team's patience, he could play in the NFL for a long time.
School: Wisconsin | Year: Junior. Only played one year at Wisconsin after transferring from Div. III UW-Stevens Point and being redshirted in 2015. Took unusual route to NFL but great story of perseverance. Played great in 2016, allowing only one sack, with no holding penalties and just two false starts. Played in more than 900 snaps in 14 games. Very good competitor. Needs to work on upper-body strength. Very good feet. Recovering from hip surgery.
School: Florida | Year: Senior. Two-year starter at Florida. Can play middle or outside 'backer. Very competitive. Had 14 tackles vs. Vanderbilt. Missed four of last five games in 2016 with an ankle injury, which forced him to sit out the Senior Bowl and combine. However, he showed off his athleticism at the Gators' pro day. Plays well in space. Very explosive tackler. Very good on special teams. Tough, smart player.
School: Michigan | Year: Junior. Won four state titles at two different high schools in New Jersey. Came into his own in 2016. Played multiple positions on both offense and defense at Michigan, but his best is probably safety. Can return kickoffs and punts. Dropped some passes that should have been intercepted at UM's pro day. Was burned nine times on 14 targets in 2016 -- not good. Peppers is a pure football player. You need to figure out how to use him; and if you can't, don't draft him. Otherwise, you'll be doing him and yourself a huge disservice.
School: Utah | Year: Junior. Played only one year at major-college level after transferring from a junior college. Started 13 games at left tackle in 2016 and gave up just two sacks. Had seven holding and seven false start penalties. Will be 25 years old next month. Has elevated stock because of the lack of quality linemen in this draft, but he has a good chance to find success in the NFL. Good pick with some risk.
School: Clemson | Year: Senior. Reminds some of Keyshawn Johnson, the first player taken in the 1996 draft. Had 98 catches in 2016. Has good size and body control needed for success at position. Not the fastest receiver or best blocker. Former basketball player. Had five drops on 145 targets in 2016, and 63 of his catches went for first downs. Will win most 50-50 balls thrown his way. Exceptional receiver on back-shoulder throws.
School: UCLA | Year: Senior. Transferred to UCLA from junior college. Long arms (34 3/4 inches) and quick get-off to rush passer. Had 10 sacks and 54 pressures in 2016. Most sacks/pressures came against lowly regarded offensive linemen. At combine, did not perform well in short shuttle or three-cone -- drills that show short-area quickness. Has some pass-rush ability.
School: Florida State | Year: Junior. Became Seminoles' all-time leading rusher in yards (4,464) and touchdowns (46) in just three seasons. Exceptional vision as a runner, a trait Bill Parcells believes is the most important for a running back. Has strength and is tough. Plays fast. Good but not great hands, and some questions linger about his pass-protection skills. Has had some off-field problems in past, but seems like a good kid when you meet him. Has had three shoulder surgeries since high school.
School: USC | Year: Junior. Started 10 games in 2014 as a true freshman, including some at wide receiver. Very athletic. Outstanding kick-return skills; returned eight for touchdowns at USC. Has outstanding burst. High burn percentage in 2016 (52 percent), burn yards (499) and touchdowns allowed (7). Needs to play one position and forget about track. Teams are betting on speed and athletic ability with him. He's either a slot corner or wide receiver, and a kick returner.
School: Florida | Year: Junior. Has the size needed to match up with the new breed of NFL receivers. Strong, can re-route receivers. Smart, quick and competitive. Ran incredible 4.02-second short shuttle at the combine. Was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 47 times and had a very respectable burn rate of 34 percent (16 catches), plus nine passes defensed. Had three career INT returns for touchdowns. Father, Chad Wilson, was a corner at the University of Miami.
School: Washington | Year: Senior. Played safety first two years with the Huskies, moved to corner last two seasons. Was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 51 times in 2016, with 23 burns (45 percent) and did not surrender a touchdown. Had a very good combine. Has exceptional short-area quickness (3.89-second short shuttle, 6.56-second three-cone). Can play both safety and cornerback. Played 92 snaps on special teams.
School: Miami | Year: Redshirt sophomore. Had only nine starts in two seasons at Miami. Grew up in Nigeria, where parents still live. One of nine children. Only 20 years old. Uber-athletic; was national high jump champion in high school, and had a 37.5-inch vertical and 11-foot-1 broad jump at the combine. On 74 targets in 2016, he had four drops and eight TDs. Has unlimited potential. A risk because he's still somewhat raw, but one worth taking because of upside.
School: LSU | Year: Senior. Started 11 games in 2013 as a true freshman. Has started 47 games in four years at LSU. Good ball skills. Can return punts (three for touchdowns at LSU). Very athletic; was an outstanding high school basketball player. Hard worker in offseason. Not flashy but dependable. Had 20 burns on 51 targets (respectable 39 percent), with two TDs allowed and 17 passes defensed, in 2016. Played 155 special teams snaps.
School: Western Michigan | Year: Senior. Played as a true freshman in 2013 (67 catches). WMU was only Division I offer he had coming out of high school. Only player in FBS history with more than 300 catches, 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. Very good hands, but had seven drops on 142 targets in 2016. Biggest question: Will he be able to separate against NFL defensive backs? A lot like Cowboys WR Terrance Williams. Didn't face a lot of top competition, and struggled some vs. Ohio State in 2015.
School: Colorado | Year: Senior. Started seven games as a true freshman in 2013. Did not play well vs. Oklahoma State in bowl game (turf toe injury). Had an exceptional 1.50-second 10-yard dash at the combine. Very good tackler. Smart and tough. Can play corner, nickel and safety. Great character. Comes from a strong family. In 2016 he was targeted 63 times, with 31 burns (49 percent) and two touchdowns allowed.
School: Notre Dame | Year: Redshirt junior. Had 23 starts after being redshirted in 2014. Didn't start Week 1 last fall vs. Texas, but entered in reserve and nearly brought Notre Dame back to win. Has tremendous upside, maybe more than any quarterback in this draft. Very good arm strength. Has quick release, but his accuracy needs improvement. Did not play as well in 2016 as he did in 2015, but that was due to a lack of talent around him after losing key weapons. Has talent and athletic ability. Needs time with top quarterback coach like Kyle Shanahan at San Francisco.
School: Ole Miss | Year: Senior. Started six games as a true freshman in 2013. Will be a matchup nightmare for opponents. Has wide receiver speed. Tracks the ball well. Not sure how big he will get (240 pounds?). Natural leader; two-time captain. Four drops on 40 targets in 2016. Played big vs. Alabama and Florida State, with 18 combined catches for 259 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Had exceptional pro day workout.
School: Ohio State | Year: Junior. Played mostly running back. Will be a Percy Harvin-type of player in the NFL. Very fast. Will catch going across the middle. Despite lack of experience, more advanced than you might think at receiver. Started at H-back in 2016. Look at Michigan tape and you see a future NFL star in the making.
School: USC | Year: Junior. Very young; won't turn 21 until November. Started 12 games as a true freshman. Did not have a good quarterback at the start of the 2016 season (only one catch vs. Alabama in opener). Needs work as a route runner. Very strong and has big hands. Wins most 50-50 balls.
School: Temple | Year: Redshirt senior. Came to Temple as a defensive back walk-on, and redshirted his first season. Played linebacker in 2013 before settling in at defensive end in 2014. Had breakout season in 2016 with 10.5 sacks and 29 pressures. Good quickness and burst. Very tough and competitive. Biggest question: Is he better with his hand in the ground or as a 3-4 'backer? Wore No. 7 at Temple; defensive players are given single-digit numbers for toughness. Had off-campus fight in 2015 and was able to avoid a trial by agreeing to be placed in a diversionary program. Played 121 special teams snaps.
School: Utah | Year: Junior. Started six games in 2014 as a true freshman. Very athletic; had 43.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-9 broad jump, and 6.85-second three-cone drill at the combine. Very instinctive as a free safety. Very good hands. He was targeted 19 times by opposing quarterbacks in 2016, with five INTs and five burns for a very low burn rate of 26 percent. Participated on 98 special teams snaps. Will start as first-year player in NFL, might even play corner for certain teams.
School: North Carolina State | Year: Redshirt junior. Entered N.C. State as a running back out of high school. Redshirted in 2013. Played strong safety in 2014 and 2015, moved to free safety last season. Physical player, very aggressive. Had impressive 37.5-inch vertical jump at the combine. Was burned on 24 of 44 targets in 2016 (55 percent), three touchdowns allowed and three interceptions. Had 78 special teams plays. Impact tackler; had double-digit tackles in six games this past fall, 109 for season.
School: Kansas State | Year: Senior. Highly respected player of coach Bill Snyder's. Will compete hard from snap to whistle, and beyond. Against West Virginia last season he had two sacks and nine pressures in a game he had to come off the field twice with injuries, only to return both times. Had 11.5 sacks for the season and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Has great first-move quickness to go along with a 39-inch vertical. Team captain. Player whose stock rose through testing and as teams got to know him.
School: Western Kentucky | Year: Redshirt senior. Started 51 games at WKU, 48 at left tackle. Very strong; had 34 lifts at the combine. Good quickness off the ball. Had good short shuttle and three-cone times. History of wrist injuries is concerning. Very smart with good character. Try-hard player who is better suited at guard and could even end up at center.
School: Michigan | Year: Senior. Four-year player who had only started four games going into 2016 season. Had best game of college career against Ohio State (2.5 sacks, 3 pressures, 9 tackles), a performance that opened many eyes among NFL scouts. Finished with 10 sacks in 2016. Ran better at his pro day (4.85-second 40) after running 4.92 at the combine. Has long arms (34 1/4 inches). Looks the part, but does not always play the part. Very inconsistent. Underachiever label. Has size you want for position. Might be best suited to play left end.
School: Alabama | Year: Redshirt sophomore. Spent three years at Alabama, but played only two, with 29 starts. Has size, speed and intelligence needed for position. Has trouble finding the ball, which might not be correctable. Was targeted 58 times by opposing quarterbacks, with 28 burns (48 percent), and 492 yards and four touchdowns allowed in 2016. Had two interceptions, one he returned for a touchdown vs. USC. Father, Bobby Humphrey, was a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 1989 and played five years in the league.
School: Florida | Year: Redshirt senior. Five-year player with the Gators. Injured and didn't work out at the combine. Had a great pro day workout; ran the 40 in 4.46 seconds, had a 4.16-second short shuttle, and a 7.07-second three-cone drill. Played free safety at Florida. Was targeted 16 times by opposing quarterbacks in 2016, with just four burns (25 percent) and one TD allowed. Very good special teams player (113 snaps in 2016). Has quick feet and very good anticipation. Can play slot corner. Very smart. Has shot to be a first-year starter in the NFL.
School: Michigan State | Year: Junior. Three-year player for the Spartans who had 22 starts in two years. Missed three games with an ankle injury at end of 2016 season. Very athletic. Plays tall; difficult to change this. Only 20 years old. Very immature and did not interview well at the combine. Can run down opposing players. Had just 1.5 sacks and 17 pressures in nine games in 2016. Classic boom-or-bust player.
School: Vanderbilt | Year: Redshirt junior. Entered Vandy at 200 pounds and redshirted first year. Started five games in 2014, and has been the SEC's leading tackler the past two seasons. Looks lean at 234, but has the body frame to add another 20 pounds. Not real strong; only had 15 strength lifts at the combine. Had 35-inch vertical and 10-foot-5 broad jump. Very smart. Hands are a question. Had no interceptions in his three years of playing. High-character person. Patriots coach Bill Belichick came to his pro day.
School: Alabama | Year: Senior. Was never a full-time starter. Pass-rush specialist. Very explosive. Will need to become stronger. A lot like Bruce Irvin, the 15th overall pick by Seattle in 2012. Has history of character problems. Will compete on the field. Not sure he can play in space.
School: Michigan | Year: Redshirt senior. Redshirted in 2012 and finished with 30 starts. Team captain. Named Michigan's best defensive lineman in each of past two seasons. Had 18 career sacks. Terrific pro day; sister, mother, and grandmother all traveled from Toledo to attend. Will be good, steady player for team that drafts him.
School: Alabama | Year: Redshirt senior. Didn't start until last season. Best as a 3-4 linebacker. Very competitive player. Had 8.5 sacks in 2016, with one interception and four forced fumbles. Was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 10 times last season, giving up just 33 receiving yards on four receptions. Strong tackler. Had 117 snaps on special teams. Some off-field problems in 2015.
School: Indiana | Year: Redshirt senior. Started 12 games as a true freshman in 2012, but was redshirted in 2013 with foot injury. Finished with 46 career starts at Indiana. Played center in Senior Bowl. One NFC East team thinks he is a better defensive line prospect. Allowed just two sacks in four years. Very tough. Does a good job vs. blitz. Smart player and good leader; was a captain for two years. Played both tackle and guard at IU. All-Big Ten First Team in 2015 and 2016.
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