I’ve spent 14 of the last 26 days on the road with stops to see eight different college football teams ranging from the Big-12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC.
The time in between those trips has been spent catching up on film or on the phone gathering info about players, one of the most difficult aspects of stacking even the smallest of boards.
While this was far from the beginning of the process (that starts over Summer with a watch-list around 100 players long), it’s one of the most vital periods of time for scouting.
I have two games left on my calendar (Syracuse vs. Notre Dame and Ohio State vs. Michigan) before the season ends, then it’s on to the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
A lot can change from now and throughout that timeline, but it’s time to stack an early board of who I believe are the 15 best prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft right now.
Let’s take a deep dive of what makes them stand out, who could be special and any buzz that looms around them.
The Top 15 Prospects
- Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
- Ed Oliver, DL, Houston
- Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
- Jachai Polite, EDGE, Florida
- Quinnen Williams, DL, Alabama
- Deionte Thompson, FS, Alabama
- Jeffery Simmons, DL, Mississippi State
- Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
- Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
- Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
- Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
- Devin White, LB, LSU
- Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
- Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
- Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan
Let’s start with the obvious: two offensive players out of 15?! The loss of D.K. Metcalf and Rodney Anderson for the season has severely damaged both the top of the wide receiver and running back classes, while long-term concerns now linger for both.
It’s quite clear league scouts are lower on Jonah Williams, but I see a starting caliber left tackle that has been tremendous in pass protection while also tough and agile in the run game.
As for Fant, he’s the entire package at tight end with athleticism, toughness and great pass catching ability at the position. He’s a mismatch weapon that’s too fast for linebackers, but has the size to win over defensive backs.
He’s on pace for another double digit touchdown season, but in the right offense his targets, receptions and yards should increase at the next level.
It’s no secret the pass rush talent steals the spotlight of this group. Even with his season cut short, Nick Bosa should be the number one pick. He’s the complete package coming off the edge.
It was a ‘quiet’ start to the year on paper for Ed Oliver, but while he’s turned on the production the traits on film have always flashed. He’ll be an outlier: a 270-280 pound interior defensive line prospect (who is probably closer to 6-1 than his listed height of 6-3), but his size doesn’t hinder him.
With his explosiveness off the snap, Oliver lives in the backfield against both the run and the pass. His play strength allows him to take on double teams and his motor always runs hot. There are some star-bound defensive interior players in this class, but the Houston native is the headliner of the group.
Speaking of those potential stars, no one has risen up boards this year like Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Florida’s Jachai Polite. Each have dominated offensive lines in the SEC week after week and would be wise to declare early.
This edge class had promise coming into the season with the finished products in Bosa and Ferrell, but the upside of Polite adds a new dimension. I see a pass rush threat similar to Melvin Ingram that has gotten significantly better during his time at Florida.
Much like the edge group, the cornerback class has made it’s presence well known in the top-15 as well. Greedy Williams might not have the athleticism Denzel Ward did, but his long, dense build will be intriguing for a press scheme.
For as much attention as he’s gotten, it’s been the opposite for Clemson’s Trayvon Mullen and Washington’s Byron Murphy.
Mullen, who is the cousin of Lamar Jackson, packs plenty of athleticism himself. Much like Greedy he has the desired length and build, but looks faster on film. He’s rarely been tested this season, but on film he mirrors receivers with ease.
As for Murphy, he’s the star of the Huskies defense, which is saying a lot. Multiple scouts I’ve talked to believe all five defenders in their secondary will carry draft-worthy grades, with Murphy and safety Taylor Rapp being near top-50 locks.
While Rapp has garnered some well earned recognition, Alabama’s Deionte Thompson is the only safety prospect locked into round one right now. His absurd range in coverage makes quarterbacks think twice before challenging the defense down the field.
Arguably the most polarizing player on this list is Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons. An off-the-field incident before he enrolled at the school is posted on a video online, showing him striking a woman as he breaks up a fight involving his sister.
This will certainly be an issue for Simmons throughout the draft process, but much like Joe Mixon (just to be clear, these incidents are not the same) he’s expected to overcome his past and be selected early next spring.
NFL Combine interviews will be huge for Simmons as it will give him a chance to not only explain himself, but as an opportunity to prove it was an isolated issue.
Finally, it’s no coincidence that the player with the most to prove on the field sits in the final spot. Michigan’s Rashan Gary had superstar expectations as a 5-star recruit, but his play hasn’t reached those heights just yet.
Many believe Gary has been misused in the Wolverines defense as an edge pass rusher, projecting more as a five or 3-tech defensive lineman.
He’s missed time this season with a shoulder injury, but when healthy his athleticism up front is a difference maker. There are going to be teams that feel he hasn’t come close to his ceiling while at Michigan, willing to roll the dice on him in the top 15 to develop game-changing talent.