The 18 for '18 series continues with a look at 18 offensive prospects who have star potential at the pro level. We've stuck to skill-position players here, as star players generally handle the ball in one way or another. Players were selected for this list in consultation with NFL scouts and college coaches. Some priority was given to players with a deeper body of college experience, hence gifted talents such as Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, who helped lead Alabama to a title in the national championship game but played sparingly as a freshman, are not included. After a deep and talented draft at the tight end position, no tight ends managed to crack the list, which includes eight running backs, six quarterbacks and four receivers.
When the Seminoles landed Akers as a five-star recruit and the No. 2-ranked running back in the class of 2017, it was presumed he would capably fill the void left by Minnesota Vikings 2017 second-round pick Dalvin Cook. He did just that. In fact, he broke Cook's FSU freshman record on his way to 1,024 yards on the ground. Akers runs with good initial patience and vision before exploding through the crease. He shakes tackles more than he runs through them, showing a knack for absorbing contact and maintaining his balance. NFL scouts have at least two more years to build an evaluation on Akers, but he's already made them take notice.
The former QB prodigy took his time to embrace a switch to wide receiver, but now that he's done so, he's flourished in the role as one of the nation's most dangerous receiving threats. He scored on 30 percent of his catches last year (60 receptions, 18 TDs), a ridiculous ratio that wasn't even approached by any other top receiver in the FBS. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, he's a very tough matchup for smaller cornerbacks, and with Will Grier as his quarterback for another year, Sills should offer NFL scouts two seasons' worth of outstanding production.
The Bulldogs' 2017 duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel gives way this year to Swift and Elijah Holyfield, but expect Swift to command the team lead in carries. He has the speed to turn the corner on stretch plays, but he doesn't shy away from contact and packs a lot of power in a short frame (5-9, 215 pounds). He was exceptional in a backup role last year, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He played his best game on a big stage, ripping Auburn in the SEC title game for 88 yards and a TD on seven carries.
Nicknamed "Motor," Singletary revved high last season as the engine of a prolific Owls offense. He ran away with the FBS lead in rushing touchdowns with 32 (the next-highest total was 23). He broke the school rushing record (1,920 yards) and was selected Conference-USA MVP. Marshall coach Doc Holliday called Singletary an NFL-caliber talent last year, just days before he ripped the Thundering Herd for 203 yards and another 72 receiving. At 5-9 and 200 pounds, he's compactly built and runs with power that's especially noticeable around the goal line.
We're looking a long way down the road with Fromm, who enters his true sophomore season at UGA this fall. But there is no denying he's already established as one of the top quarterbacks in the college game. Georgia's perennially strong rushing attack helped him get acclimated to the starting role last year, and it will only aid his effectiveness as a play-action threat going forward. Without suggesting anything about Fromm's pro potential, one SEC coach told NFL.com that Fromm's poise and decision making remind him of former Alabama QB AJ McCarron, who signed with the Buffalo Bills this offseason.
Last offseason, Bo Scarbrough was considered a threat to Harris' starting role in the Alabama backfield. That threat never materialized, and Scarbrough wasn't the only serious challenger -- UA also brought in the nation's No. 1 RB recruit in Najee Harris. Meanwhile, Damien Harris' all-around game -- he's an excellent pass protector -- kept earning him start after start. Despite averaging fewer than 10 carries per game, he led the team in rushing yards (1,000), yards per carry (7.6) and rushing TDs (11). One NFC scout told NFL.com that Harris' running style is much like that of Atlanta Falcons RB Tevin Coleman.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin's UM freshman record for receiving yards stood for 31 years until Richards broke it in 2016 with 934. However, his 2017 season wasn't the sort of encore Richards wanted. Between being slowed by a hamstring injury early in the year, and being shelved late in the year with a meniscus injury in his left knee, he missed as many games as he played. Expect a rebound this year from Richards, whose sub-4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash makes him a dangerous deep threat and a crucial cog in the UM offense. He's also put in some offseason workouts with Steelers star WR Antonio Brown (both are South Florida natives).
There were a number of true freshmen who made a big splash in a powerhouse program last fall, including several listed here, but none were more impactful than Taylor. He ranked third in the FBS in rushing with 1,977 yards while averaging more than 20 carries per game. That's a lot to ask of a freshman, but with Wisconsin's offensive line returning with vast experience, he should be even better as a sophomore. One area where he can improve is ball security -- he fumbled eight times last year -- and as a receiver (eight catches). Expect a more well-rounded game from Taylor in his second year.
The NCAA cleared Patterson for immediate eligibility at Michigan last month, following his transfer from Ole Miss. He'll be a junior this fall, and will give the Wolverines' offense a dimension it desperately needs -- a quarterback who can get out of the pocket when the play breaks down and burn defenses with throws on the move. He combines a strong, accurate arm with a knack for escaping pressure. NFL scouts will be glad to evaluate him running the UM offense, which will provide a much different look than Ole Miss' wide-open scheme.
Among the top 10 rushers in the Big 12 last year, only one averaged better than 6 yards per carry -- that would be Anderson (6.2), who exploded onto the scene as a first-year starter. To do so, the nephew of former Alabama star and Chicago Bears DE Mark Anderson overcame two season-ending injuries -- a broken leg in 2015 and a fractured vertebrae in 2016 -- to show breakaway speed and elusiveness in the open field at 220 pounds. It took some time -- over the first half of the last season, Anderson had just 82 yards -- but in the second half of the year, he gashed Big 12 competition with 100-yard games in five of six contests. With Baker Mayfield now off to the NFL, don't be surprised if the OU offense becomes a bit more run-centric this fall. That would mean all the more action for Anderson, who could use all the carries he can get to show scouts more than a half-season sampling of his top form.
Built like a running back at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Brown can overpower defenders trying to play bump and run, and he's tough to bring down after the catch, as well. Minnesota Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell saw Brown break his school record for single-season receiving yards last year with 1,252. Considering he's lost QB Shea Patterson to a transfer, it won't be surprising if Brown's numbers take a dip this fall. But that shouldn't affect his standing with NFL scouts, who consider him one of the program's top two prospects, along with OT Greg Little.
The Buckeyes quickly learned they had a gem in Dobbins, who exploded for 181 yards in his college debut against Indiana last September. At the end of the year, he was just as effective in dismantling Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game with 174 yards on 17 carries. He shows elite lateral quickness to break inside running plays to the sideline. He also finishes runs with leverage and power. NFL.com analyst Chad Reuter included Dobbins on his list of the nation's top sophomores to watch in 2018.
Lock serves as the catalyst for one of the most prolific passing offenses in the country. He fell 36 yards short of the 4,000-yard mark last year in a fast-paced spread attack. His 44 TD passes led the nation and set an SEC record. He gets the ball out quickly and distributes to a wide array of weapons, though he'll certainly miss Green Bay Packers 2018 fourth-round pick J'Mon Moore, who served as his top target a year ago. At 6-4, he has the frame NFL scouts look for, as well as the experience they desire -- he'll be a four-year starter.
After a season and a half on the shelf following his transfer from Florida, Grier opened his WVU career last season with seven consecutive 300-yard passing games, and nine over his first 10 starts. He's cool in the pocket, excellent at finding the open man, and more athletic and elusive than his modest rushing statistics would indicate. He's also been a success in two different offenses (he was 5-0 as a Florida freshman under Jim McElwain), which will give NFL scouts an additional frame of reference for his ability. A finger injury that required surgery knocked him out of WVU's last couple games, but he still finished with 34 TD passes, second-most among returning Power Five conference QBs behind Missouri's Drew Lock.
Already fielding questions about whether he'll enter the 2019 NFL Draft as an underclassman, Harry has imposing size (6-4, 215) and knows how to position his body to separate cornerbacks from the catch point. Expect him to be the most productive receiver in the Pac-12 this year, coming off a 1,142-yard junior season. He'll also be an interesting test case in new coach Herm Edwards' NFL-modeled program. ASU has installed a pro-style approach to all things football, from offseason training to how players are coached to off-field accountability, so Harry's idea of life in the NFL should be much clearer by season's end. Whether it works in the win-loss column remains to be seen, but from an individual standpoint, it should be ideal for a pro-caliber talent like Harry.
If the Ducks make a quick return to CFB prominence under new coach Mario Cristobal, Herbert will be central to the surge. He combines a quick release with exceptional vision and enough athletic ability to escape pressure, moving the chains on his own when needed. At 6-6, 225 pounds, the junior has all the size scouts look for, and he has the pocket poise that evaluators like to see, too.
Stidham proved to be one of the most effective passers in the SEC last year in an Auburn offense that gave him the balance of a strong running game. He lost his last two starts, against Georgia in the SEC title game and UCF in the Peach Bowl, but big regular-season wins over Georgia and Alabama were more representative of what to expect in 2018. NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein believes Stidham would have been a second-round pick at worst had he entered the 2018 draft. With another year of experience (he's made just 17 career starts), his pro potential should show itself even more this fall.
A reluctant celebrity on the Stanford campus, Love is one to let his play do the talking. It said a lot in 2017 as he broke out with 1,973 yards -- second only to 2018 Seattle Seahawks first-round pick Rashaad Penny -- and 17 rushing TDs. He's especially dangerous in the open field, where his speed and quickness allow him to to elude would-be tacklers, evidenced by an FBS-record 11 straight games with a rush of 50-plus yards, dating back to his sophomore year in 2016. Love is on the small side (5-10, 196 pounds), but his big-play ability and third-down value should make for plenty of Sunday excitement.