This section highlights which players have improved or worsened their 2018 NFL Draft stock as the draft approaches.
By Charlie Campbell.
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2018 NFL Draft Stock Up
Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama
There are a lot of divided opinions on Hand in the scouting community. During the fall, one area scout told me that they were grading Hand well into the third day of the 2018 NFL Draft. They thought he was just a guy and not a special player in any regard. In speaking to sources from a few other teams last week, they had a higher opinion of Hand, and one area scout felt that Hand was among the top five-technique defensive ends in this draft class. A director of college scouting told me that Hand was awesome in his Senior Bowl interview. He has obviously been coached well and has developed technique. That is similar to former teammate Dalvin Tomlinson, who wowed at the team interviews and displayed excellent technique to help him rise to the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-3, 282-pound Hand has a good build with athleticism. The Texans' coaches liked what they saw from Hand at the Senior Bowl, with defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel singling out Hand as a player who impressed him. Some sources think Hand could go in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
Like Hand, Ballage was able to take advantage of the Senior Bowl opportunity to have an impressive week in front of NFL scouts. Ballage was part of a running back by committee approach in college but he is a tough runner with a powerful build and surprising quickness for such a big back. The 6-foot-2, 222-pounder had an excellent week in Mobile displaying his downhill running style with a burst to hit the hole. He also showed some receiving ability. As a senior he averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 157 attempts for 669 yards with six touchdowns. He had 14 touchdowns as a junior and caught 44 passes for 469 yards and a score that season. Ballage is sleeper back that could be a nice value pick.
Hercules Mata'afa, LB, Washington State
Sources have been impressed with tape study of Mata'afa leading up to the NFL Scouting Combine. They feel that he is a talented player who played out of position in college. Washington State used Mata'afa at defensive tackle, but the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Mata'afa will have to move to the edge in the pros. He lacks the height, length and weight to be a base end in a 4-3 defense, but his twitchy athleticism and speed will translate well to playing as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Evaluators like Mata'afa's pass-rushing ability as they think he has natural feel as a quarterback hunter. To start his NFL career. Mata'afa could be a designated pass-rusher in the sub package while developing into a starting outside linebacker. Sources see Mata'afa as a good mid-round value in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Some team sources feel that Jackson is worthy of going as a top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft because of his No. 1 corner potential. One director of college scouting compared Jackson to Aqib Talib as a big corner with excellent ball skills. They say that Jackson may not be as fast and is not as twitchy as Talib, but Jackson is more disciplined than Talib and not a gambler. They feel with Jackson's size, length, and excellent tape from the 2018 season, he could justly be a top-10 selection this April.
Jesse Bates, S, Wake Forest
Bates (6-2, 195) went under the radar playing for Wake Forest, but team sources have been impressed with him and say he has some ability. Bates had a respectable redshirt sophomore season with 79 tackles, five passes broken up, and an interception. His freshman year was more impressive with five interceptions, 100 tackles, and four passes broken up. Bates was a surprise early entry to the 2018 NFL Daft, but it doesn't appear to be a bad decision as he could end up going on the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft.
D.J. Chark, WR, LSU
Chark had a solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl to help his draft stock. He displayed that he is a quick receiver who is a threat to challenge defenses downfield with his quickness and route-running. In 2017, Chark totaled 40 receptions for 874 yards and three touchdowns despite LSU having an inconsistent quarterback. The 6-foot-2, 196-pounder also brings special teams value as a returner. His Senior Bowl week should help him to be a mid-rounder who also contributes on special teams.
2018 NFL Draft Stock Down
Justin Reid, S, Stanford
Reid played really well for a lot of 2017 and showed the potential to be an early-round pick. However, he didn't play as well to close out the season and had some real problems in pass coverage. USC picked on him repeatedly in the Pac-12 Championship Game, when Reid was abused while playing slot cornerback. That performance illustrated that Reid is not a safety who also has the ability to play slot cornerback in the NFL. With the way that Reid ended his final season, he looks more like a second-day pick rather than a first-round candidate in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Arden Key, DE, LSU
As we discussed in the Hot Press
, Key is a prospect who is facing some critical weeks and interviews that will have a massive impacts on his draft stock. Team sources love the physical talent and skill set with Key. They believe that he has the potential to be an elite edge rusher; however, he has serious off-the-field issues that are weighing down his draft stock. In speaking to sources at the all-star games, Key is viewed as a real wild card who could go high in the first round, later on the opening night of the draft, or slip lower. Key needs to impress teams in the interviews and on pre-draft visits to stabilize his draft stock to ensure he ends up going where his talent level suggests he should.
Taylor Hearn, G, Clemson
Hearn decided to skip his final season of eligibility to enter the 2018 NFL Draft, which team sources feel was a mistake. That view was given further proof at the Senior Bowl, where Hearn really struggled with the South team's defensive linemen. In the run scrimmage, Hearn (6-4, 319) achieved zero push, even when going against defensive tackles who would be undersized for the NFL. Hearn needs to redistribute some weight as he lacks heavy hands and power to knock defenders off the ball. One team told me they graded Hearn as an undrafted free agent, and that grade was validated by the Senior Bowl.
Bo Scarborough, RB, Alabama
In 2017, Scarborough averaged 4.8 yards per carry for 596 yards with eight touchdowns as the backup to running back Damien Harris. One can make a good argument as to whether Scarborough should have entered the 2018 NFL Draft. On the positive side, Scarborough was wise to enter the draft because Harris was returning and Scarborough probably was going to fall to third string as Najee Harris is far more talented than Scarborough. On the negative side, Scarborough never was that impressive for Alabama, aside from big game that ended with him breaking a leg. He was never the starter and didn't display dominant ability as a junior. Scarborough looks destined for Day 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft.
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