NFL draft: Four prospects who could be surprise first-rounders

The first round of the 2018 NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. ET on April 26 in Dallas. And while the most elite prospects are all but guaranteed to hear their names called on opening night of this three-day event, the back half of Round 1 could feature some guys who aren't exactly mock draft darlings at the moment. Here's snapshot of four prospects who have a better shot to come off the board on Thursday night than you might think, based on recent conversations with NFL executives, scouts and coaches:

One veteran NFL assistant coach compared Ragnow to Saints center Max Unger. In part because of his height (6-foot-5), some project him to be a guard at the next level. That versatility brings value, too.

"He's a stud," an offensive coordinator said of Ragnow, a three-year starter and team captain for the Razorbacks. "Nobody's talking about him because he's a guard, but he's a really good football player."

There could be a run on interior O-linemen, with Iowa center James Daniels, Georgia guard Isaiah Wynn and maybe even Ohio State center Billy Price -- despite the partially torn pec he suffered at the NFL Scouting Combine -- all potentially coming off by the end of the first round.

"Those guys are just safe. They're steady. The bust factor is very low on those guys," an AFC executive said. "Maybe they're not the sexiest picks, but worst-case scenario, you're going to end up with a solid player who can step in and contribute pretty early."

After probable top-five pick Saquon Barkley, it's choose your flavor among the next tier of backs -- a list that includes LSU's Derrius Guice, USC's Ronald Jones II, Georgia teammate Nick Chubb and Michel, who racked up over 4,200 scrimmage yards and 39 total touchdowns in four years with the Bulldogs.

"He's my second(-ranked) back," an NFC executive said. "Michel's aggressive. He's downhill. He's got good vision. He's strong. He's got burst. He's explosive. Doesn't have elite long speed (4.54 in 40-yard dash at 5-11, 220 pounds), but he's pretty good."

Michel's character is considered a plus, too. He's a three-down player. If Michel doesn't go high, one factor would probably be the medical report, which concerns some teams more than others. Michel missed just two games over the past three seasons, but he has dealt with some kind of injury every year.

He probably has gotten the least attention among the clump of borderline late-first/early-second round cornerbacks behind top prospect Denzel Ward. Oliver isn't a particularly "sudden" athlete, but the former high school track star's length and long speed (4.50-second 40-dash dash) are intriguing to press-man teams.

"He's tall (6-1) and he's got long arms (33 1/2 inches), he's got good range," one scout said. "He kind of plays like Rod Woodson did back in the day, where he's tough and he'll hit. He's a young kid. He's only 21. He's got a bunch of opportunity to grow and get better, too."

Iowa's Josh Jackson, UCF's Mike Hughes and Louisville's Jaire Alexander all figure to be in play in the same area.

On paper, no tight end should go in the first round, scouts and coaches say. But one figures to get pushed up the boards, and the best bet is Hurst, who turned to football in 2015 after control problems short-circuited his career as a minor league pitcher. He caught 92 passes over his last two seasons with the Gamecocks and declared for the draft following his junior year -- a logical move, since he'll already be 25 years old as a rookie when the 2018 season starts.

"It's just such a thin position, and he's pretty dang good," an NFC scout said. "He can play Y or he can split out, play H, and catch the ball. Kind of a weird story -- just walked on and has developed himself into this."

Workout wonder Mike Gesicki of Penn State and perhaps South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert are the other first-round possibilities at the position.

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.

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