10 players who could sneak into first round of 2018 NFL draft

The football world is constantly debating which player will be selected No. 1 overall, but a large group of prospects are simply hoping to hear their name called at any point during the first round.

Although each of these talents will be picked early, they’re considered a fringe Day 1 choice at best. Not only does an earlier selection come with a higher salary — and that’s important, too — the players could wake up Friday knowing their NFL home. That

And in a waiting game like the draft, there isn’t a bigger relief than that.

Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Ranked fifth nationally in total tackles last season, Leighton Vander Esch has soared from a mid-round afterthought to a potential Day 1 pick. He racked up 141 tackles with 8.5 stops for loss, including four sacks. He forced four fumbles and grabbed three interceptions, too. The big question for Vander Esch is whether the rumored medical concerns are real. However, if a couple of NFL teams are comfortable with their evaluation, the decision-makers in draft “war rooms” won’t be comfortable letting him slide to Day 2.

Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida State

Josh Sweat

The year before arriving in Tallahassee, Josh Sweat had a major knee injury. That recovery limited him early at Florida State, and the severity of the issue lingered as a concern for the NFL. In fact, at least a couple of teams have removed him from their board entirely. But it only takes one general manager ready to be a little risky. Sweat collected 24.5 tackles for loss with 12 sacks over his last two seasons. Plus, he checked in at 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds during the NFL combine and ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash. That’s a tough talent to pass up.

Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia

After playing left tackle for the SEC champions, Isaiah Wynn is slated for a move inside to guard. Although the 6-foot-3, 313-pounder is built more for the interior anyway, his combination of power and agility strengthens that appeal. He’s sturdy in pass protection and has great potential as a run blocker. Wynn is likely the third-rated guard behind Quenton Nelson and Will Hernandez overall, but both of those standouts could be off the board by No. 20. If that happens, there’s room for Wynn to slide into the last 12 picks.

DJ Chark, WR, LSU

The other D.J. — Moore, from Maryland — is the popular late-rising option, but DJ Chark quietly has attracted NFL brass. As a senior at LSU, he secured 40 passes for 874 yards. That 21.9-yard per-catch averaged ranked sixth nationally. Chark reinforced that explosiveness with a 4.34-second 40-yard dash and 40-inch vertical at the NFL combine. Of all players even rumored to have a first-round chance, Chark certainly would be one of the more surprising to appear on Day 1. But in a class with no clear-cut top-five, Chark has a chance to soar up the board.

Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State

Sep 3, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Sam Hubbard (6) rushes the quarterback during the first half against the Bowling Green Falcons at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won the game 77-10. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Considering he played safety in high school, it’s remarkable that Sam Hubbard turned himself into a first-round prospect as an edge-rusher. The Ohio State product accumulated 29.5 tackles with 17 sacks in three college seasons. Hubbard added 42 hurries during his time with the Big Ten powerhouse, according to CFB Film Room. What’s keeping the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder from locking up a first-round position is the fear he’s maxed out his ability. Hubbard plays with great technique and is a good yet unspectacular athlete. But that suggests a ready-made three-down contributor.

Marcus Allen, S, Penn State

Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James have dominated the spotlight for the position, but Marcus Allen is a quality immediate option. Throughout mock draft season, Allen has wavered between late inclusion and being a “top prospect out.” After recording 320 tackles in college, though, the hard-hitting safety has showed immense value as a downhill player. Analysts are split on Allen’s capacity to play “center field” in pass defense, but his aggressiveness could support a Day 1 draft slot.

Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

Which tight end is the top prospect of the 2018 class? For some, the answer is a former minor-league pitcher. Hayden Hurst will be a 25-year-old rookie, but he certainly has reliable hands. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder made 100 catches while at South Carolina and only dropped one pass. Though the NFL has slowly drifted away from in-line tight ends, Hurst is a promising blocker. That ability is what could separate him from Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, who is a tremendous athlete but a pass-catcher first. In the right system, Hurst is a first-round option.

Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

If you like stats, you’re going to love Dallas Goedert. In 2016 at South Dakota State, he piled up 92 catches for 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns. Goedert followed up that impressive season with 72 receptions, 1,111 yards and seven scores as a senior. That production helped him earned an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he officially became a mainstream draft prospect with a terrific week. Goedert is a big target and precise route-runner who can also block decently well. In a thin class of pass-catchers, he’s a worthwhile Day 1 gamble.

Justin Reid, S, Stanford

Versatility has never been more important for a safety. In today’s pass-driven league, a safety capable of playing man coverage allows for more disguises, fewer substitutions and quicker adjustments. Fitzpatrick has garnered that praise, but Justin Reid offers a similar skill set at a lower price. He recorded 99 tackles as a junior at Stanford, intercepting five passes and breaking up six more. Reid is highly intelligent and physically gifted; that’s the exact type of player coaches want roaming the back end of the defense.

Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest

Jessie Bates is not an athletic marvel, but the safety’s blend of long-distance speed and outstanding anticipation makes him an appealing prospect. He collected 179 tackles in two seasons as a starter for Wake Forest, snatching six interceptions and breaking up nine passes. While athleticism can be improved slightly, Bates has unteachable natural awareness in both run support and coverage. Throw in his potential as a special-teams contributor — he returned a punt for a touchdown in his college finale — and Bates is a high-value selection at the end of the first round.