As a 6-foot-0, 222-pound linebacker, Ben Burr-Kirven is entering the NFL at precisely the right time.
Over the past decade, pro teams have put an onus on speed, explosiveness, and ability in coverage over size and thumping ability at the linebacker position to counter the proliferation of spread offenses being used that are based on yards after the catch.
And Washington’s leading tackler is as speedy, explosive, and comfortable in coverage as it gets in college football. Based on what I’ve seen from him this season, he looks like a mid first-round pick.
Here’s my updated Top 20 prospects list.
1. Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Bosa’s top spot is safe for the time being. No legit contenders.
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2. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
Williams was spectacular against Tennessee on run and pass plays. His kick slide is the best I’ve seen in a long time, he’s always balanced and under control, and strikes with his hands inside. On run-plays, Williams is a quick and powerful combo-blocker. He could play guard in the NFL, but I’d leave him at tackle.
3. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
Williams had yet another pass breakup in LSU’s handling of Mississippi State in the rain on Saturday, and the biggest game of the season awaits against Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama. Williams will likely see a lot of the Crimson Tide’s 6-1, 192-pound Jerry Jeudy on the outside. Litmus test for the star corner.
4. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Oliver actually notched a sack against an extremely run-heavy Navy team and had two tackles for loss. Sure, there were some times he was blown off the ball by double and even triple teams, but the Midshipman run a unique option-based offense. Solid outing for Oliver whose play has trended in the right direction of late.
5. Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
The Bulldogs get a chance to rebound from the crushing loss to LSU with what should be a super-physical outing against rival Florida. However, Baker was excellent in the loss to the Tigers and is building a resume on par with Greedy Williams’. He’ll likely see plenty of Van Jefferson. I expect another strong showing for the veteran corner.
6. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Ferrell was in on some tackles for loss against NC State and, as usual, set the edge well against the best offensive line he’s faced this season. The few times he was able to simply attack upfield, I saw a rapid and effective inside swim move. If he continues to utilize that, it’ll be a tremendous counter to his speed rush.
7. Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State
Jones had more trouble than usual dispatching the grip of blockers against Purdue, but there were still a handful of quality reps for the polished pass-rushing defensive tackle. He’s been able to stay productive from a disruption standpoint without Nick Bosa next to him on Ohio State’s defensive front.
8. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss
Brown didn’t falter without D.K. Metcalf on the field, as the veteran slot receiver had 10 grabs for 155 yards and a late touchdown in Ole Miss’ loss to Auburn. He was elusive after the catch on a 51-yard gain and on the score, and the rest of his production was of the “possession” variety. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder is ready to be a chain-moving big slot in today’s yards-after-the-catch predicated NFL.
9. Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
Seven tackles and a forced fumble against Tennessee for the game-altering safety. I can’t say enough about the quality of his complete game. He’s a reliable tackler to go along with a rangy deep safety and thudding run-support defender.
10. N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
Against Stanford, Harry was held back by quarterback Manny Wilkins, but the sizable wideout had trouble creating separation and winning on jump balls against the Cardinal’s young cornerback Paulson Adebo. Somewhat concerning.
11. Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
Williams is challenging Dre’Mont Jones as the defensive tackle with the best hands in college football. He has good power behind his pads but effortlessly swipes and swims past interior blockers every game. He plays with a good amount of acceleration off the snap too. He was outstanding against Tennessee. Williams hasn’t had a bad game all season.
12. Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame
The towering defensive tackle got a rest week before Notre Dame faces Navy Saturday. He probably has the heaviest hands among defensive linemen in the country and moves fluidly for a 6-foot-7, 305-pound interior defender.
13. Dalton Risner, OT, Kansas State
Another top prospect who was off last Saturday, Dalton and the Wildcats travel to Norman to face an electric Oklahoma offense. The Sooners don’t have a premier edge-rusher, so don’t be surprised if Risner has another lockdown effort on the right side of Kansas State’s line.
14. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Herbert moved to QB1 for me after an awesome display of refined quarterback skill in the second half against Washington State, which ironically came after a dismal first half. Ryan Finley’s bad showing against Clemson had something to do with the quarterback-ranking change too.
15. Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss
Little was mostly effective against Auburn, but I’ve noticed he tends to stop his kick slide short when contact arrives, which gives edge-rushers a shorter arc to the quarterback. And he can get out of sorts against counter moves. There’s no questioning Little’s size, length, and athleticism comparison though.
16. Brian Burns, DE, Florida State
I’d like to see more high-energy plays from Burns on the edge, but when his motor’s humming, he can deliver excellent pass-rushing reps. Beyond the speed at which he turns the corner and his length to get strip sacks, Burns has a nice crossover move to the inside, which keeps offensive tackles honest.
17. Jachai Polite, EDGE, Florida
Coming off the bye week, Florida and Polite get a matchup with Georgia’s bruising offensive line after the Bulldogs were flattened by LSU. The Gators will need a big game from Polite on the outside.
18. Ben Burr-Kirven, LB, Washington
Burr-Kirven has emerged as the premier “big nickel” prospect in the country. Listed at 6-0 and 222 pounds, the Washington linebacker has safety size, safety coverage skills and is seemingly always around the football. He might be an NFL team’s third safety, but with nickel being used somewhere between 60-to-70 percent of the time at the pro level, he can stay at the position he’s playing now for the Huskies and flourish. He has amassed a ridiculous 108 tackles in eight games in 2018 and is rarely engulfed by bigger blockers. Linemen simply can’t get to him fast enough at the second level, and he’s flashed shedding ability.
19. Gerald Willis, DT, Miami
Boston College has one of the more underrated offensive lines in the ACC, and AJ Dillon is a boulder of a back at 6-0 and 245 pounds. Willis and the Hurricanes can’t take the Eagles lightly. I’ll be keeping a close eye on how quickly he defeats blocks when stopping the run.
20. Taylor Rapp, S, Washington
Rapp is the smaller version of Burr-Kirven and is obviously a bit faster. He rotates a lot between the second and third level of Washington’s defense. He had just one tackle against Washington State but was everywhere against Oregon the week before.
Jeffrey Simmons, DT, Mississippi State, Ryan Finley, QB, NC State, Zach Allen, DE, Boston College, Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State, Devin White, LB, LSU, Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford, Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson, Te’von Coney, LB, Notre Dame, Drew Lock, QB, Missouri, Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma, Michael Jackson, CB, Miami
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