2018 NFL Draft Watch: Ronald Jones as ready to contribute as Sam Darnold

Each week during this year’s college football regular season we will highlight some of the top draft-eligible performers from around the country.

Sam Darnold was great Friday in the Trojans’ 31-28 Pac 12 Championship victory over Stanford with 325 passing yards and two touchdowns, but it was running back Ronald Jones who really led USC down the stretch.

Stanford’s Bryce Love got all the attention coming into the game, and deservedly so. He has been fantastic this year, will likely be a first-round pick, and even has an outside chance to win the Heisman trophy, but Jones is very good in his own right.

The junior out of McKinney, Texas rushed for 140 yards on 30 carries and found the end zone twice in the win and finished the regular season with 1,486 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. 

Jones is both a talented runner and receiver and even has some ability reminiscent of another USC back in Reggie Bush, only this time Jones is coming into an NFL much more capable of making use of the ability.

The junior could be used very similarly to Christian McCaffrey with the Panthers next season and will make an immediate impact at the NFL level.

Here are some of Saturday’s top NFL Draft-eligible players

J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State — Barrett was not at his best Saturday going 12 for 26 for 211 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but he rushed for another 60 yards and a touchdown supplying every touchdown in the game for the Buckeyes. Barrett led his team to the Big Ten Championship after having surgery this week to fix up a knee injury sustained in pregame against Michigan last week.

Kelly Bryant, QB, Clemson — Bryant likely won’t come out in the draft this year, but at 6-4, 220 pounds with a good arm and solid mobility, he has every bit of ability to lead an NFL offense just like his predecessor Deshaun Watson. Bryant went 23-of-29 passing for 252 yards with a touchdown both on the ground and through the air in Clemson’s ACC Championship victory.

Deon Cain, WR, Clemson — Deon Cain is another in a long line of talented Clemson wide receivers, and he tallied another touchdown Saturday with three catches for 39 yards in the Tigers 38-3 demolishing of Miami. Cain has decent size, good speed and is a good route runner to boot and the junior has every chance to be a productive wide receiver at the next level.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia — Chubb rushed for 77 yards on 13 carries and passed Kevin Faulk for third all-time on the SEC rushing list. Chubb is big and strong and durable, and honestly with missing a year with a knee injury he was able to save some tread on his tires for when he inevitably gets a chance with an NFL team.

Riley Ferguson, QB, Memphis — Ferguson did his best to will the Tigers to an AAC Championship, and while it didn’t ultimately works as the Tigers fell to UCF 62-55 in double overtime, his numbers showed his effort. Ferguson went 30-of-42 passing for 471 yards and four touchdowns.

Kenny Hill, QB, TCU — Kenny Hill is a conundrum. He has some decent size at 6-1, 212 pounds and he’s put up good numbers both in the SEC with Texas A&M and in the Big 12 with TCU, but he has been so inconsistent scouts will have a hard time pinpointing exactly what he is. However, he has the mobility and arm strength to succeed at the next level and had a good Big 12 Championship game even in a loss going 27 of 37 for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for another 51 yards on 13 carries.

Travin Howard, LB, TCU — Like Roquan Smith, Howard was all over the field Saturday amassing 15 tackles, six solo, in the Horned Frogs 41-17 loss to the Sooners. Howard will be a typical Gary Patterson linebacker when he gets to the next level. He’s not the most physically gifted guy, but he has good instincts and he has been taught well. That is very desireable in an NFL linebacker.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma — Baker Mayfield is the likely Heisman winner this season and he showed why again Saturday tossing four touchdowns while amassing 243 yards passing and 65 yards rushing against the best defense in the Big 12 in TCU. The biggest challenge Mayfield will have to face when talent evaluators are deciding where he belongs in the NFL is not what you think. Mayfield was throwing to wide open receivers all day Saturday and has had tons of open men each of his last three seasons with OU. He will have to throw into much tighter windows when he gets into the NFL and his ability to throw receivers open will have to be tested before teams make the final decision on him. Right now it remains to be seen, but a look against a defense like Georgia’s in the College Football Playoff could give a better idea of his ability there.

Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis — Anthony Miller is small at a listed 5-11, 190 pounds, but he makes plays and catches and has the versatility to both catch and run the ball. He had 14 catches for 195 yards and three touchdowns in Memphis’ loss to UCF. The question with Miller is where he fits in an NFL offense. He looks tailor-made to be a slot guy, and considering the Tigers run a very untraditional route tree, putting him in the slot will make his transition to the next level go more smoothly.

Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia — If there was a play where Smith’s name was not called in Georgia’s SEC Championship victory over Auburn it was few and far between. The junior linebacker had 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two fumble recoveries to lead a superb defensive effort by the Bulldogs. Smith has a non-stop motor and shows great leadership skills on the field for one of the best defenses in the country. He could go very high in the draft this year if he decides to come out.

Tre’Quan Smith, WR, UCF — Smith makes plays. It’s that simple. He matched Memphis’ Anthony Miller play for play in UCF’s AAC Conference Championship tallying six catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. Smith has great leaping ability and a willingness to fight for the ball and will be an interesting look in the draft if he decides to come out, which he very well could not. He is just a junior.

Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State — Yet another in a long line of overlooked players at Boise State, this junior had 16 tackles, 10 solo and an interception in the Broncos win Saturday. The 6-4, 240 pound junior has more than enough size to succeed in the NFL, and he’s likely going to be well coached and ready to make an impact in the NFL after leaving Boise State. 

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