The annual NFL Scouting Combine is the unofficial kickoff of the silly season that precedes the NFL Draft, with prospects rising and falling on draft boards based on workouts without so much as a single football helmet or game plan in sight.
Every year, teams and the media straddle the line, trying to learn key information about the top college prospects without getting overwhelmed with information overload.
So before we get consumed with quarterback hand size, straight-line speed (or lack thereof) or the perceptions made after a 15-minute interview with a nervous 21-year-old who has never even heard of Mike Mamula, let's re-establish the baseline rankings.
The Big Board is not a mock draft. No attention is paid to team needs. This is simply my personal ranking of the top 50 NFL prospects available for the 2018 NFL Draft.
1. Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California, 6-3, 225, 4.74, redshirt sophomore
Darnold shows off a mix of talent and intangibles to project as a franchise quarterback in the NFL. Like any young player, Darnold has his flaws, most notably an elongated windup that contributes to fumbles and interceptions. He is accurate (including on the move), athletic and tough. He also comes with a pro-caliber build, offense and media market, making the projection to the next level simpler than most of his competition.
2. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA, 6-3, 220, 4.97, junior
Rosen possesses many of the traits to project as a franchise quarterback, including intelligence, a lightning-quick release, accuracy to all levels of the field and plenty of velocity. But after missing action in multiple games for the second consecutive season, it is fair to question Rosen's durability. A brash, outspoken personality also raises concerns as to whether Rosen possesses the intangibles preferred as the face of the franchise. That said, Rosen is the most accurate quarterback in the draft, showing the precision to make an immediate impact and earn trips to the Pro Bowl early in his career.
3. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State, 5-11, 223, 4.49, junior
Arguably the best pure athlete in college football, Barkley's elusiveness and breakaway speed as a perimeter runner, receiver and returner has NFL scouts salivating. In terms of immediate impact ability, Barkley is comparable to recent Top 10 picks Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley.
Massive and shockingly mobile, Nelson can dominate at the point of attack as well as in space, projecting as a future Pro Bowl guard, like his Notre Dame predecessor Zack Martin, now a star in Dallas.
5. Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State, 6-3, 275, 4.84, senior
Chubb is as polished as it gets in this class at defensive end, offering a game very similar to last year's top edge rusher, Derek Barnett. A former linebacker, Chubb wins not only with athleticism but hustle, physicality and refined technique. He recorded career-highs in tackles (72), tackles for loss (23) and sacks (10) in 2017 posting similar numbers in 2016 (56-21-10).
6. Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS/CB, Alabama, 6-0, 201, 4.52, junior
With today's pass-happy NFL offenses, versatile defensive backs are more important than ever and no one in this class can match Fitzpatrick's combination of instincts, coverage skills and reliable open-field tackling. Fitzpatrick may lack the elite fluidity and change of direction of today's top cover corners, but his route anticipation and physicality make up for it.
7. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama, 6-2, 308, 5.38, junior
Payne may lack the imposing size and burst of some of the other top defensive linemen but his pure strength (including a 545-pound bench press) and motor stand out. Payne's value lies with his ability to be a two-gap run stuffer, not a consistent pass rush threat, which could earn him a lower spot on draft boards given the focus on the pass in today's NFL, though I view him as the safest of this year's defensive tackles.
8. Vita Vea, DT, Washington, 6-4, 344, 5.34, redshirt junior
Vea is one of the true freaks of the 2018 draft. As his size suggests, Vea can dominate as a run-stuffer. He is also incredibly athletic for a man of his size, surprising opponents with his initial burst and speed in pursuit. Vea is a prototypical nose guard with a blend of size, power and athleticism likely to earn comparisons to former freakish first-rounders Haloti Ngata and Dontari Poe.
9. Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia, 6-0, 225, 4.64, junior
As the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions proved the past two years with the first-round selections of "undersized" linebackers Ryan Shazier and Jarrad Davis, respectively, speed is valued above all else in today's game and Smith certainly possesses that, showing the agility, acceleration and instincts to truly be a sideline-to-sideline defender.
10. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama, 6-1, 190, 4.50, junior
The statistical expectations some placed on Ridley after breaking Julio Jones' school record for most receptions and receiving yards as a true freshman (89 for 1,045) were, frankly, unrealistic given Alabama's run-heavy offense. Ridley may not possess the eye-popping numbers of his peers but scouts appreciate his polished routes, deceptive speed and strong hands.
11. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State, 5-10, 191, 4.37, junior
Ward might lack the imposing frame of some of this year's other top cornerbacks but no one has quicker feet and pure man-to-man cover skills, as was yet again demonstrated in the Big Ten championship, when did not allow a reception, intercepted a pass (at the four-yard line) and made a terrific breakup of another. He is a plug-and-play "starter" at nickel with the upside to make a similar impact as the one former teammate Marshon Lattimore had for the New Orleans Saints this season.
12. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech, 6-4, 250, 4.82, junior
Edmunds racked up 100-plus tackles in each of the past two seasons and first-team All-ACC honors in 2017 and yet still appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential. It isn't often that you come across traditional off-ball linebackers with Edmunds' exciting blend of size, instincts and speed.
13. Connor Williams, OT, Texas, 6-5, 320, 5.31, junior
When healthy, Williams is a bit of a throwback, showing the power and aggression as a run blocker that scouts covet along with the athleticism, balance and girth to stone pass rushers. He is not as clean of a player as the Irish's Nelson but plays a more important position (not to mention one with less depth) and therefore could be the first offensive lineman drafted in 2018.
14. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming, 6-4, 233, 4.76, redshirt junior
If someone were to draw up the physical prototype for an NFL quarterback, it would look a lot like the strapping, rifle-armed, and shockingly athletic Allen. Unfortunately, for all of his exciting traits, Allen remains very raw, failing to show the accuracy and poise in losses to Iowa and Oregon this season that are required in the NFL.
15. Derwin James, SS, Florida State, 6-2, 211, 4.52, redshirt sophomore
After shaking off the understandable rust, given that he missed most of 2016 with a knee injury, James starred in 2017, showing off the combination of range, physicality and big-play chops that helped him stand out as a true freshman. A modern safety who truly blends the traits of a linebacker and cornerback, James is a moveable chess piece on defense and the clear-cut top pure safety in the 2018 draft.
16. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M, 5-11, 200, 4.39, junior
Kirk is this year's most dynamic run-after-the-catch threat as a pass-catcher and returner. Like current Detroit Lions standout Golden Tate, Kirk possesses the squatty frame of a running back, using terrific lateral agility, balance and pure speed to be a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Forget that his numbers this season (58 catches for 730 yards and seven touchdowns) dropped from the previous two years, as the Aggies struggled with inexperience at quarterback.
17. Billy Price, C/OG, Ohio State, 6-3, 312, 5.19, redshirt senior
Built like a cinder block (and just as tough), Price's initial quickness and power played a key role in the Buckeyes' offensive attack. Price could have made the jump to the NFL a year ago and earned top 50 consideration; instead, he returned and proved his versatility by switching from guard to center, the position I believe he is best suited to playing in the NFL.
18. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma, 6-0, 220, 4.64, redshirt senior
I will be the first to admit that I jumped on the Mayfield bus late but after scouting him in person at the Senior Bowl, I'm convinced he can be successful in the NFL. With all due respect to my No. 1 rated prospect (Darnold), the most accurate passer in the draft (Rosen), the QB with the highest upside (Allen) and the most exciting athlete at the position (Lamar Jackson), Mayfield might just be the best of the bunch in at least one important category: competitiveness. Mayfield is a natural, showing the accuracy, zip and mobility required in today's NFL, as well as the natural leadership skills to inspire teammates.
19. Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn, 6-1, 203, 4.50, junior
Scouts can check off a lot of boxes with Davis, a physically-imposing corner with the long arms and athleticism necessary to match up with the monster receivers playing on the perimeter in today's NFL. Davis does not just look the part, he is battle-tested, starting the past three years and showing steady improvement, ascending from third-team All-SEC accolades in 2016 to first-team honors in 2017.
20. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU, 5-11, 212, 4.52, junior
Guice is not the freakish combination of size and speed that his predecessor Leonard Fournette is. He is built more like another star NFL rookie running back -- Kansas City's Kareem Hunt. Like Hunt, Guice possesses a squatty, powerful frame as well as excellent balance through contact and the burst to gain chunk yardage.
21. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville, 6-2, 200, 4.42, junior
A true dual threat very much in the mold of a taller Michael Vick, Jackson is a potential difference-maker if an NFL team is willing to commit its offense around his unique talent. Though Jackson is improved in terms of accuracy, he remains a work in progress as an NFL passer because he routinely stares down his primary target. Further, while Jackson is noticeably bigger this season, he remains undersized by NFL quarterback standards, a significant concern given his playing style.
22. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan, 6-2, 282, 4.93, redshirt senior
With today's focus on the quick passing game, "undersized" defensive tackles who can collapse the pocket from the interior are much more valuable than in previous years. Hurst combines the initial burst to split gaps with the toughness and strength that belie his 'tweener frame. Hurst was a proven difference-maker at Michigan, recording 60 tackles, including 13.5 for loss and five sacks during the 2017 season.
23. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State, 6-3, 240, 4.67, redshirt junior
If there was a breakout player of the year award in college football, Vander Esch would be the runaway winner, going from 27 stops in 2016 to an eye-popping 141 tackles in 2017, earning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors. He fell through the recruiting cracks after playing eight-man football in tiny Riggins, Idaho (population 406) but is a clear-cut NFL athlete with the size, awareness and reliable open-field tackling skills to be a long-time starter at linebacker.
24. Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio, 6-6, 255, 4.77, senior
A former receiver who simply kept growing, Davenport dominated Conference USA, setting school records with 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2017, earning the league's Defensive MVP honors. He struggled amid unrealistic expectations and increased physicality during Senior Bowl practices but produced during the game, teasing with his potential. Long and agile (with good intangibles, to boot) Davenport possesses all of the traits to warrant a roll of the dice in the first round with the understanding that he remains a project.
25. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa, 6-1, 185, 4.53, redshirt junior
Every year some lanky cornerback draws the distinction of being the "Richard Sherman" of the class, but Jackson might actually live up to the comparison. Like Sherman at Stanford, Jackson played wide receiver and cornerback in college, a fact that honed both players' route anticipation and ball-skills. Questions about schematic fit pushed Sherman into the fifth round of the 2012 draft. In part because of the trail Sherman blazed, scouts won't make the same mistake with Jackson, who led the country in interceptions (eight) and passes broken up (26) in 2017.
26. Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame, 6-7, 315, 5.27, redshirt senior
While not quite the physical dominator that his teammate, Quenton Nelson, is at guard, McGlinchey is a plug-and-play blocker in his own right. The physically-imposing blue-collar blocker started the past two seasons at left tackle, taking over the blindside after Ronnie Stanley graduated to the NFL via his own first round selection. Not as nimble as Stanley, McGlinchey would be better served moving back to the right (where he started the entire 2015 campaign) in the NFL, winning more with his length and strength than elite foot speed.
27. Arden Key, DE/OLB, LSU, 6-5, 240, 4.74, junior
With his long arms, explosive get-off and rare flexibility to scrape the corner, Key is the most gifted edge threat available in the 2018 draft. Questions about his toughness and dependability, however, make him one of the year's biggest boom-or-bust picks.
28. Taven Bryan, DT, Florida, 6-4, 293, 4.96, redshirt junior
The Gators have churned out at least one first-round defender in each of the past five drafts and if those close to the program are to be believed, Bryan may be just as gifted as any of them. Bryan is still very much a work in progress, too often blowing through or past would-be blockers only to locate the ball too late to do anything about it. He is an explosive athlete, however, who seems to be just scratching the surface of his potential.
29. Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford, 6-3, 290, 4.96, junior
Phillips had a solid (if unspectacular) week at the Senior Bowl after leading Stanford in tackles (100), tackles for loss (17.5) and sacks (7.5) while drawing the focus of every opponent's blocking scheme. Phillips does not possess the dominating traits to excite scouts but his instincts, quickness, physicality and intensity consistently stand out on tape.
30. Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia, 6-3, 308, 5.06, senior
Asked to move outside in 2017, Wynn won at left tackle for the Bulldogs, paving the way to Georgia's SEC crown and national championship game berth. Due to his height, Wynn projects better inside at the next level, where he was terrific at the Senior Bowl, showing a combination of balance, power and quickness that helps him project as a plug-and-play left guard.
31. Ronald Jones II, RB, Southern Cal, 6-0, 200, 4.39, junior
The explosive Jones perhaps possesses the best elusiveness and straight-line speed of any running back in this class. Overshadowed at USC by Sam Darnold despite rushing for a gaudy 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2017, Jones could enjoy the more-immediate success at the next level, projecting as a Jamaal Charles-type big-play specialist.
32. Will Hernandez, OG, Texas-El Paso, 6-3, 340, 5.54, senior
Hernandez possesses a prototypical build for the interior with broad shoulders and fire hydrants for limbs, dominating opponents when he latches on with raw strength and the nasty demeanor which -- along with his four-year starting experience -- will endear him to offensive line coaches.
33. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma, 6-7, 345, 5.47, redshirt junior
The son of the late Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens' standout tackle of the same name, Brown was born to play in the NFL. While not as nimble as scouts would prefer, his great size and length force pass rushers so wide that Brown is able to protect the edge.
34. Rashaan Evans, OLB, Alabama, 6-2, 232, 4.73, senior
There are flashier linebackers in this class but few who possess a more pro-ready combination of instincts, physicality and reliable form tackling than Evans, a scheme-versatile lunch-taker.
35. Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College, 6-2, 250, 4.74, senior
Statistics can be deceiving but in the case of Landry -- who left BC with 25 career sacks and 10 forced fumbles -- they speak volumes. An injury-plagued senior season could push him out of the first round but Landry's initial quickness, flexibility and closing speed should make him one of this year's top edge rushers.
36. Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida, 5-11, 191, 4.48, junior
A UNC transfer, Hughes provided an immediate big-play presence for UCF at cornerback and returner in 2017, sparking the undefeated Knights with lockdown coverage and four touchdowns scored, three of them on special teams.
37. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia, 5-11, 215, 4.43, senior
Michel played second fiddle to fellow stud running back Nick Chubb at Georgia but his burst and soft hands out of the backfield project even better to the NFL.
38. Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida, 5-10, 193, junior
Suspended for the entire 2017 season due to a credit card scheme (his third major off-field issue in as many seasons at Florida), Callaway comes with plenty of concerns. He's also a dynamic athlete with the burst, vision and knack for big plays as a receiver and returner that may remind scouts of Kansas City Chiefs' star Tyreek Hill.
39. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville, 5-11, 192, 4.45, junior
Every team in the NFL is looking for cover corners with agility, instincts and the soft hands to turn pass deflections into interceptions, and few are better in these regards than Alexander, who recorded five pass thefts in 2016 prior to an injury-plagued junior season.
40. Courtland Sutton, WR, Southern Methodist, 6-3, 216, 4.58, redshirt junior
The 2018 draft is loaded with flankers at receiver but offers few split ends with the height, leaping ability and strength to star in the red zone. Sutton excels in this area, catching 32 touchdowns over the past three seasons.
41. James Daniels, C, Iowa, 6-3, 295, 5.24, junior
With all due respect to Ohio State's Billy Price, Daniels is the center with the highest upside in this draft. He possesses rare agility for a man of his size with a prototypical frame for center. If teams get positive feedback from team doctors on Daniels' knees, he could quietly be one of the Combine's biggest winners.
42. Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama, 6-2, 214, 4.54, junior
A throwback to a previous generation as an in-the-box enforcer, Harrison won't be a fit for every team due to coverage limitations, but his size and fierce hitting will make his future NFL team immediately more intimidating.
43. Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma, 6-4, 254, 4.77, redshirt junior
A former wide receiver who simply kept getting bigger, Andrews matured into the nation's top tight end in 2017, earning the Mackey Award. Look elsewhere if in need of a blocker, but as a massive slot receiver with excellent hands and body control, Andrews is a matchup nightmare.
44. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State, 6-5, 265, 4.76, redshirt junior
Hubbard is a polarizing prospect as he does not possess the elite quickness, flexibility or closing speed scouts crave as an edge rusher, but he is such an instinctive, physical and technically sound player he'll be hard to get off the field. Hubbard is the kind of no-nonsense player teams love in the second round but struggle to justify in the first.
45. Justin Reid, S, Stanford, 6-1, 204, 4.53, junior
Reid opted to blaze his own trail at Stanford rather than follow his father and brother (Eric and Eric Jr.) to LSU, where they starred in track and football, respectively. Reid exploded for five interceptions in 2017 and is expected to turn heads in workouts as well.
46. Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech, 6-2, 335, 5.28, redshirt sophomore
Teams won't have to "settle" if they miss out on the elite defensive tackles worthy of top 10 consideration in 2018, but the class is loaded with raw athletes like the Hokies' youngster who could ultimately wind up being an even better player. Settle is a gamble on greatness as just a redshirt sophomore -- and one who battled weight problems at that -- but his initial quickness and agility at this size are special.
47. Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State, 6-1, 198, 4.49, junior
It is the tale of two tapes when it comes to McFadden, who took college football by storm in 2016 with eight interceptions but didn't record a single pass theft in 2017, despite breaking up 10 passes. He remains a work in progress but the raw tools are there to suggest the turnovers will return.
48. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State, 5-11, 224, 4.52, senior
In yet another terrific class of running backs, few shine brighter than Penny, who led the country with 2,248 rushing yards with 23 touchdowns, earning the Mountain West Offensive and Special Teams Player of the Year awards (three TDs on returns in 2017), the latter for the third consecutive season.
49. Rasheem Green, DE, Southern California, 6-4, 275, 4.87, junior
In some ways, Green is a lot like his former USC teammate, QB Sam Darnold, with each possessing the size and athletic upside to warrant a high pick despite neither yet playing with ideal consistency. Green's size and strength allowed the Trojans to move him all over the defensive line in 2017, offering a combination of versatility and still untapped potential that warrants top 50 consideration.
50. Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State, 6-5, 242, 4.76, senior
Gesicki was overshadowed by teammates but that may not be the case much longer in the NFL. A mismatch in the passing game due to his height, underrated agility and savvy route-running, Gesicki is a future red zone star.
Rob Rang is a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, a collaboration between The Sports Xchange and The Pro Football Hall of Fame.