We've been waiting for the 2018 NFL Draft for years. Literally, years -- because of the quarterbacks.
I've written and talked about all of these signal-callers at length. I think this class has five franchise passers -- and predict six will come off the board Thursday night in Round 1. Exactly when and where will each guy go? Who knows?? The drama and intrigue is off the charts in this draft, more so than in any I can remember.
But here's the thing about this draft: Despite all of the attention given to the quarterbacks -- what else is new? -- this prospect pool offers plenty of talent at the other positions. There's spectacular depth at running back. You can draft instant-impact studs at linebacker, safety and O-line in Round 1. And with the widely anticipated early run on quarterbacks, the teams that aren't looking to address that glamour position will reap the benefits, with true difference makers falling right into their laps.
So, who are the top dogs beyond the game's most important position? Here's my Schein Nine ranking of the best non-quarterbacks in this class, with some thoughts on potential landing spots.
I asked an NFC general manager in March, via text, if Nelson was as good as advertised. He simply wrote back: "HOF." Well, OK then ... Apparently, he's a gold-jacket guard.
It seems as though the Notre Dame product will most likely come off the board in the 5 to 8 range, and instantly be in the mix for first-team All-Pro honors. The Colts have foolishly eschewed the offensive line for years -- Nelson would be dreamy at No. 6 overall. The Bears, picking eighth, just snagged O-line coach Harry Hiestand from Notre Dame in January. Could Chicago bring Hiestand's prized pupil along with him?
I've previously campaigned for Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette to be top-five picks, and each ended up coming off the board at No. 4 overall. Barkley is in that boat, too -- a wildly gifted running back who's absolutely worthy of a premium draft slot. Barkley can do it all; the physical marvel will immediately change the fortunes of whichever franchise calls his name.
I think the Giants are gaga for the Bronx-born back. If he gets past Big Blue at No. 2, Cleveland will happily gobble him up two picks later.
I don't think Cleveland will (or should) trade out of the 4 spot. After you nab the best quarterback in the draft at No. 1, take a player who can provide immediate help in the cleanup spot. If Barkley is off the board, teaming Chubb with Myles Garrett will strike fear in offensive coordinators across the AFC North. And the AFC.
A tough, physical, fast, playmaking corner who can play man to man ... Could this be the replacement for Aqib Talib in Denver?
Whether or not he goes at that No. 5 pick, Ward is a lock to go in the top 10. His relatively small stature (5-foot-11, 183 pounds) is the only knock, but the Ohio State product makes up for it with supreme athleticism and ball skills. He'd be great for the Bucs at 7 or Raiders at 10. And it's not crazy for the Colts to snag him at No. 6, but I'd still take Nelson over the highly regarded corner.
Edmunds is such an instinctive and speedy tackling machine. And his ceiling is spectacularly high, given that he doesn't even turn 20 years old until next month.
The versatile linebacker should slide into the draft puzzle somewhere in the 7 to 10 range, which is going to end up being a sweet spot for players on this list if (when) there's a quarterback run. Chicago (if Nelson is gone), San Francisco and Oakland could all use Edmunds' services.
He's a flat-out stud who was a star in college and instantly makes your defense great. Generally speaking, inside linebackers aren't as highly valued in the modern game as they were in the past. But Smith is a special player who can be a force against the run and pass. The former high school wideout boasts elite athleticism, and his diagnostic skills get him to the football in a flash.
I could see Edmunds and Smith both ending up in the Bay Area, one with San Fran and the other in Oakland.
Safety. Corner. Nickel. Pass rusher. This Florida State freak, who possesses the speed, size and instincts to terrorize opponents from all over the field, is a modern chess piece defenses are built around.
With a glaring need in the secondary, Tampa Bay at No. 7 is a logical landing spot. The Bucs have to deal with several big-bodied pass catchers in the NFC South.
Fitzpatrick was an impact starter in each of his three seasons at Alabama -- something that can't be overlooked, given all of the five-star recruits constantly competing for playing time in Nick Saban's defense. He played all over the place in Tuscaloosa, so there are questions about where his best spot will be in the NFL.
I'm not as high on Fitzpatrick as some others (particularly those who rank him above James), but I think Oakland (picking 10th), Miami (11th) and Green Bay (14th) make a ton of sense. And I wouldn't bat an eye if he's picked earlier than that.
I could also list his position as FREAK. He's a superb athlete at 6-6, 264 pounds. And in a draft class that's quite thin at edge rusher, I actually think it is impossible for his name to be called too high. Realistically, Miami (11), Washington (13) and Green Bay (14) are perfect spots.
I know, I know: The level of competition wasn't great at UTSA. I don't care. And neither should you when he's sacking the quarterback 10 times next year.