The Most Intriguing Prospects at the 2018 NFL Draft

The 2018 NFL Draft is around the corner, and football fans from all around the globe are getting their first taste of the new season. While many are focused on mock drafts, the most interesting part of the process is the story behind the prospect. 

Some may have had difficult upbringings or taken an unusual path to draft day. Others may have battled back from devastating injuries or are making a position change. No matter what the circumstances, all of the prospects have one common goal, making it in the NFL. This year’s draft class is compiled with hundreds of talented prospects, and below are a few of the most intriguing.

Josh Allen, Quarterback, Wyoming

Josh Allen didn't receive any scholarships to play football at a Division I school. In high school in Firebaugh, California, he was the starting quarterback of the football team, a pitcher on the baseball team, and the leading scorer on the basketball team. Without any Division I scholarships, he began his college football career at Reedley, a junior college in California, but he still strongly believed he deserved to be a Division I quarterback. He sent an email to hundreds of college football programs around the country. Eastern Michigan and Wyoming were the only two programs to offer Allen a scholarship. He visited Wyoming near the end of the JUCO transfer deadline, and Eastern Michigan decided to withdraw their offer. Therefore, he would transfer to Wyoming. In his first year there, starting quarterback Cameron Coffman suffered a knee injury and Allen took over. However, he suffered a broken collarbone on a 24-yard carry in his first start and would be forced to miss the rest of the 2015 season. The stats tell the rest of his story, and in two seasons, he completed 365 out of 649 passes for 5,066 yards, and threw 44 touchdowns and only 21 interceptions.

The Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers  all have veteran quarterbacks that are nearing the end of their careers, so any of those teams could draft Allen and prepare him to be their successor. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of choices at the quarterback position in this year’s draft, including Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma, Josh Rosen from UCLA, Lamar Jackson from Louisville, and Sam Darnold from USC. Allen is projected by many to be a top-three pick, with the Browns, Giants, and Jets up top.

Jack Cichy, Outside Linebacker, Wisconsin

Cichy began his college football career as a walk-on for the Badgers in 2013, and he decided to redshirt the 2014 season. He eventually rose to stardom at Wisconsin and was a big threat to opposing offenses. Throughout his college football tenure, Cichy played in twenty games and registered 6.5 sacks, 121 tackles and two forced fumbles. Although he suffered a torn ACL in August that forced him to miss the entire season, Cichy is still a promising linebacker in this year’s draft and has lots of NFL potential. However, not playing at all last season may have an effect on where he is selected.

Cichy’s injury won't help him come draft day, but teams like the Cincinnati Bengals will be searching for linebackers to improve the depth of their front-seven. Outside linebackers for Cincinnati include Vontaze Burfict and 2017 sixth-round draft pick Jordan Evans, but Cichy could fit well and add depth into the system of Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett. Look for him to be selected in the fifth or sixth round. 

Shaquem Griffin, Linebacker, Central Florida

Griffin was born with a condition that forced doctors to amputate his left hand at a young age, but that did not stop him from dominating on the gridiron. His twin brother, Shaquill, is a cornerback and was drafted in the third round of last year’s draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Shaquem recently got attention for his combine performance, as his 4.38 40-yard dash was the fastest for al inebacker since 2003. He also impressed fans and scouts with twenty reps in the bench press event using a prosthetic hand. The speed he showed did not come as a surprise, though, as Griffin ran track in high school and could have gone to college on a track scholarship. Griffin, who was a redshirt senior last season, made a huge impact in his college career, with 195 total tackles (33.5 for loss), 18.5 sacks, three interceptions, and four forced fumbles. Griffin was also a force on special teams.

Griffin was invited to the NFL Draft, but may not be selected until the second night (second and third rounds).There will be lots of linebackers ahead of Griffin on teams’ draft boards in the earlier rounds, such as Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech), Roquan Smith (Georgia), and Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State), which will ultimately affect where he is picked. Griffin should go somewhere between the third and fifth rounds. 

Hayden Hurst, Tight End, South Carolina

If Hayden Hurst gets a chance to play for an NFL team next season, it won’t be the first time he's played professional sports. Hurst was drafted in the 17th round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and played two seasons in the minor leagues for the Pirates. After an unsuccessful baseball tenure, he became a walk-on tight end at South Carolina, and earned a scholarship with the Gamecocks after his sophomore season. After this year, he was unanimously voted to the 2017 All-SEC first team. In three seasons at South Carolina, he caught 100 passes for 1,281 yards and three touchdowns, and also rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown. 

Hurst will fit in an offensive system that utilizes his receiving ability. With over 1,200 yards receiving at South Carolina last season, he proved to NFL scouts that he has the talent. There are two teams that could be particularly interested. Jason Witten, the longtime Dallas Cowboys tight end, appears set on continuing his career, but at age 35, he won't play foe much longer. Delanie Walker, the productive 33-year-old tight end for the Titans, is also nearing the end of his career. Another team that may have interest is the New Orleans Saints, who hold the 27th overall pick and could use a tight end. Hurst should go either in the late first round or early in the second round. 

Nathan Shepherd, Defensive Tackle, Fort Hays State

Shepherd had a difficult path to success as a college football player. In 2012, he played his freshman year at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada and had promising statistics with twenty tackles and 2.5 sacks. However, due to financial difficulties, he was forced to leave the school and find work. Fort Hays State contacted Shepherd in 2014 but did not offer a scholarship, so he decided to walk on at the Kansas-based school. After that season, Fort Hays State did offer him a scholarship, and he played three successful seasons there. In those three seasons, he made 168 tackles. Shepherd was one of only four players from Division II or III to be invited to the 2018 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. During his practice with the North team, he made a presence and showed off his talents to NFL teams, at one point getting past high-ranked guard prospect Will Hernandez from UTEP. However, Shepherd was unable to play in the Senior Bowl itself because of a broken hand he suffered in the practice.

Shepherd proved he was worthy of being drafted with his high performance not only at Fort Hays State, but also at Senior Bowl practices. He is listed as 6'5" and 300 pounds, so he would be an undersized nose tackle and would probably fit better at the regular defensive tackle position. With star defensive lineman David Irving returning for another season, the Cowboys could be the perfect team for Shepherd to end up with. His presence would add depth to the position, and he would learn from the talented Irving. Shepherd should go in the fourth or fifth round.

Chad Thomas, Defensive End, Miami

Coming out of Booker T. Washington High School in Miami, Florida, Chad Thomas had talent in both football and music. As a musician, Thomas plays nine instruments: trumpet, trombone, drums, guitar, bass guitar, piano, tuba, snare, and euphonium. He balanced his musical passion with football, leading his team to two state titles. Because of his talent, Thomas received 150 college scholarships from schools around the country. He made the decision to stay home though, and played football and studied music technology at the University of Miami. He chose Miami over offers from Alabama, Arkansas and Florida State, among others.  In four years at Miami, Thomas recorded ten sacks and 103 tackles.

Chad Thomas would be placed perfectly on a team that has less depth in the edge-rusher/defensive end position. The New England Patriots could be a potential fit for him, as they will likely go into draft day looking for an edge-rusher. It is expected that they will be looking for additions to their offensive line, secondary and quarterback depth in the first and second rounds, but as they move into the third/fourth rounds, they could be a team interested in Thomas.

Photographs (from top): Ethan Miller/Getty Images; Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images;Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images; Jim Dedmon/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images; Michael Hickey/Getty Images​; Rob Foldy/Getty Images​

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