It’s bittersweet. We’re far enough through the season that I’ve watched a fair bit of 2018 prospects — enough to slap together a Top-75 board. My Top-10 positional rankings are also available under all of the “Prospect Rankings” tabs you see above and in the sidebar.
We cleared the 10-player mark for iDL on my Top-75 board — 12 players made the cut, good for 16% of the total board. That’s more than QB (3), RB (3), and LB (5) combined! Those positions are the weak ones I see thus far in the class.
The following players were omitted for injury:
That’s three defensive tackles in the Top 5; four in the Top 10; five in the Top 15. Remember what I said about this class being wild?
While Ed Oliver retains his throne as DT1, Quinnen Williams is the headliner of the 2019 NFL Draft thus far. He went from nobody to No. 3 overall player, and he’s the only prospect I could see possibly dethroning Nick Bosa from his No. 1 overall spot. He got the edge over Jeffery Simmons because he’s even more powerful, despite playing at a lighter weight. An improved 2019 version of Clelin Ferrell rounds out the Top 5.
The top of this class is also the Alabama show: four defenders in the Top 15?! No wonder they’re having such a dominant season. Deionte Thompson and Mack Wilson both look built for today’s NFL: Thompson is a classic rangy centerfielder, yet he’s unafraid to come up and hit; Wilson has excellent coverage instincts, but can still exchange power in the trenches. Raekwon Davis has taken a wee slide, in that I expected a little more from the pass-rush in 2019. Greedy Williams and Brian Burns have reached if not exceeded their lofty expectations coming into the season — Burns especially looks like the real deal.
Two big risers in Jerry Tillery and David Edwards deserve a moment’s notice: both are stellar athletes in the trenches and have taken steps forward with their technique in key seasons. Edwards and teammate Tyler Biadasz both look like scheme-diverse NFL players, which is rare in this class; Noah Fant as well has the balance as a blocker and receiver to work for any team. Byron Murphy III should be dedicated to a Cover 3 scheme, but he has elite potential in that role.
This is where the receiver class starts to get dangerous, with three Top-30 players — would have been four, if not for the DK Metcalf injury. Kelvin Harmon is still one of the most nationally under-appreciated players in the country, but he’s a true three level threat that should be a WR1 in the NFL. JJ Arcega-Whiteside lacks Harmon’s explosiveness in the short areas, but downfield he’s an unmatched threat; and Deebo Samuel finally seems to be playing up to his skill level as of late. That South Carolina offense hurts him.
And as far as pass-catchers go, I’m really excited about this TE class. Kaden Smith has panned out fantastically, building on 2018’s flashes of potential — his ability to adjust mid-air is crazy, only rivaled by Albert Okwuegbunam’s.
Some may wonder why I have Justin Herbert so low: he’s simply too shaky under pressure and too dedicated to his first read for me to fully trust him at this point. He needs more time — either as a rookie in a rebuild, or a senior in college — before we’ll see the finished product. I feel similarly about Dre’Mont Jones, who has improved in 2019 but still lacks polish, and even Amani Oruwariye, who’s a bit inconsistent in his first year as a starter.
This safety class doesn’t blow me away early — it’s just Thompson and then Jaquan Johnson, the thumper from Miami who plays like his life depends on it. Better tackling from Johnson would bump him up, though I can’t help but like his play style. Same goes for the linebacker class and Devin White, who is super enticing but simply must play with better instincts to be considered a blue-chip ‘backer.
Jonah Williams lost the OT1 handle for me, mostly because David Edwards continues to impress — but Williams is silky smooth in his pass sets and equally comfortable handling speed, power, and technique. Folks want to move him to guard, but I don’t see why — just draft Chris Lindstrom if you need one of those. Lindstrom is another well-kept secret for now in Draft circles, but he’s got phone booth power to die for, and excellent hand fits.
And that leaves us back on the defensive line. Montez Sweat is such a tricky eval for me: he’s uber-productive and undeniably smart, but I think he’s limited to 3-4 OLB because of his size. He was passed by Jachai Polite and Gerald Willis III on my board, two players who have taken leaps and bounds because of their elite traits: Polite has bend, and Willis has power.
Major steps forward in 2018 for Kendall Joseph and Yodny Cajuste — you love to see that. I think both will still leave the board on Day 2, but their arrows point in the correct direction — the Combine should help both as well. We should also highlight Anthony Nelson, who is quietly doing yeoman’s work for the Hawkeyes. He’s as heavy-handed and intelligent as any pass rusher in this class.
The big fallers were N’Keal Harry and Dalton Risner, I’m afraid. Both have athletic questions at their respective positions: Harry can’t buy any separation on the outside, while Risner struggles mightily with quickness off his outside shoulder (some project a move to guard).
Two spots at which I can’t make up my mind: Taylor Rapp and Juan Thornhill are neck and neck as different safety molds. Thornhill has the corner experience, with a lean and lanky frame that can cover ground; Rapp is compact and comfortable playing in the box. In a safety class that struggles tackling in general, I had to edge Rapp.
Then, the Garretts: Brumfield from LSU and Bradbury from NC State both look like future NFL starters. Again, a key difference separates them: Bradbury has his technique down to the p’s and q’s, but his lack of anchoring power may limit his NFL ceiling as a pass protector. Brumfield, on the other hand, is the athlete you’d build to play offensive guard at the next level — and while his technique is improved, he still has costly lapses, especially in pass protection. The higher ceiling gives Brumfield the edge.
Be sure not to sleep on the other iOL in this group: Oregon’s Jake Hanson and Washington’s Nick Harris. Harris moved to center this season and is showing out for the Huskies — with a thick lower half, his ability to generate full-body power will entice power-blocking teams. Hanson has been the center at Oregon for a while now, and he’s got a longer build than Harris, but still brings tremendous power as a pass-protector.
Rashan Gary remains an enigma who needs to kill the Combine; Kris Boyd remains a limited, but viable starting corner prospect. Could Dawson Knox see more targets with Metcalf sidelined? We have to hope so. The QB-convert has every tool you could ask for, but teams will pass on him if he doesn’t have the production to prove he’s made the switch.
Damien Harris is my RB1 by default at this point. He hasn’t done much to impress me this season, but his primary threats for the throne — Rodney Anderson and David Montgomery — are either injured or equally unimproved. Let’s start looking forward to 2020.
Small school alert! I think Oshane Ximines is a stud in the making: he has the explosiveness to win outside and an established counter with his little euro-step/two-handed swipe combo. That’s bankable production at the next level. The other EDGE here is Zach Allen, who the NFL evidently loves. Tough to argue with the production, but easy to circle Allen’s lack of athletic ability as a cap on his NFL ceiling.
We get WR heavy here, with Riley Ridley pacing the pack. I love Ridley’s ability in the air, though his lack of experience and opportunity, especially as a route runner, has to hold him back for now. A.J. Brown has that volume and those crisp routes, but he can’t hold a candle to Ridley’s athleticism. If Ridley isn’t the riser out of this pack, it’ll be Collin Johnson, who has elite tracking ability and the grip strength of Zeus down the field — I’d love to see more intermediate work for him as well. David Sills V could be preferable over Ridley and Johnson for some, but I don’t think his ceiling is as high.
Let’s round out the pass-catchers with RB David Montgomery and TE Irv Smith. One of Montgomery’s biggest boons is how active he is in the Iowa State passing attack, though that usage has seemingly dipped in 2019. I have athleticism questions for Montgomery that are tough to ignore. Not so for Smith, who is clearly a stupid athlete for his size — but will Alabama ask him to run complex routes or make plays in traffic? I need to see it to boost him higher.
More interior blockers! I think we have a strong class here, though these folks will only find success if used in the correct scheme. Michael Deiter is a power blocker who is back playing guard, where his footwork issues can be more effectively masked; Elgton Jenkins surprised me in film viewings: he gets his hands active quickly off of the snap and can re-anchor and redirect power well from the interior, though again — he seems like a power-blocking specific player.
Let’s keep talking limits: Michael Joseph may be too stiff to play off coverage, but if you’re willing to let him get aggressive in the contact window, he can be a starting-caliber player for you. Ugo Amadi may be too small to play tight ends in man coverage, but he can handle shifty slots and scatbacks with ease — and his ball production is undeniable. I’m buying stock here.
Greg Little may end up being a project tackle when all is said and done, but you eventually have to go fishing for toolsy players in the college OT pond, and he’s got everything in spades. Charles Omenihu is another player that looks the part, and his flashes for the Longhorns have been shockingly disruptive.
That leaves us with Will Grier. While many others have elevated Dwayne Haskins to QB2, I’m holding out hope that Grier will offer a more mature product in the back half of the season. I don’t need him to stop playing the gunslinger — that’s his role — but I need him to pick his spots better. He still makes bucket throws that his fellow 2019 QBs don’t dream of, and that talent warrants investment.
As you might imagine, I snuck more than a few of college football’s well-kept secrets onto the bottom of the board.
Some have begun receiving their due exposure: Miles Sanders has a thick and explosive frame to compliment a physical running style, with impressive body control for his size. Anthony Johnson has taken a big step forward this season in terms of route-running and releases, though his big money maker is still the body control in the air. And, despite waiting patiently for his turn behind inferior play, Dwayne Haskins is very much the real deal at quarterback — he’s got a whip and places a nice ball down the field. I think, to this point, he’s generally unproven: I haven’t seen the plethora of difficult throws I expect from an elite quarterbacking prospect.
But some secrets are still waiting for their time in the sun. Ben Burr-Kirven leads the nation in tackles after seven weeks despite being undersized for between-the-tackles play; I love his proactive, aggressive style of addressing contact. Jace Sternberger, a recent riser, can absolutely fly down the field, and should make a living in the seam as an NFL player.
What if I offered you one of the best tacklers in the safety class who also has the size and explosiveness to cover stretch TEs at the next level? That’s Evan Worthington. Or a prototypical press corner in terms of length and physicality in the contact window, with developmental upside if he adds mass? That’s Derrick Baity. You’ll hear these names come January and February — might as well learn ’em now.
The Clemson interior guys — that’s Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins — are having solid seasons, but neither is the Round 1 talent they were once billed as. Tuf Borland might get to that level eventually, but the redshirt sophomore is just too timid coming in to contact at this point in his career. I also once thought Caleb Wilson had a Round 1 ceiling, but the massive drop-off in quarterback play after Josh Rosen’s departure limits his opportunity. The redshirt junior may elect to return to school.
I find myself in a “still waiting” mode with DaMarkus Lodge, who has had some nice performances but simply needs to play with greater consistency in such a thick class. I’m also still waiting for Kaleb McGary to develop his pass set so that explosiveness off the edge doesn’t give him as many issues. And I’m still waiting for Rashard Lawrence to reach the same pass-rushing prowess he was at last season.
Chase Winovich deserves the final spot here. Chase has played so, so well in his final season with the Wolverines. He won’t blow the doors off the Combine or out-class every opponent he faces, but NFL teams will just love him. Why? Because he has an incredibly hot motor, clearly puts the time in to the film room, and loves the game of football. Put him on your Top-75s, and put him on my team.