Underclassmen declarations for the NFL Draft are increasing exponentially on a yearly basis. Over the last five years (2014-2018), 469 prospects left college eligibility behind for the NFL. In the five years prior (2009-2013), only 293 underclassmen declared - a difference of 176 or 35 prospects per season on average.
With another 100ish underclassmen expected to declare this year, it's not just the juniors but the redshirt sophomores that can ultimately shape so much of what could happen early in the draft.
To be eligible for the draft, a prospect must be out of high school for at least three years which opens the door for sophomores that have served a redshirt season to declare. In LSU CB Greedy Williams and Ole Miss WR D.K. Metcalf, two redshirt sophomores have already declared for the 2019 NFL Draft. Both Williams and Metcalf offer incredibly high ceilings and are likely to be first-round selections.
While there are consistency issues, Williams has every physical traits needed to become a top NFL cornerback. His size, length, fluidity, quickness and overall athletic ability are top notch traits that offer tremendous upside. Firmly in the CB1 conversation, Williams offers a highly desirable skill set at a premium position that will make him a coveted prospect in April.
Metcalf is the most physically gifted wide receiver prospect in the rising class. His technique in his release, burst, size and length have me drooling. His blend of traits for his size are rare. While he does have some inconsistencies to clean up at the catch point, Metcalf has just over 20 games of collegiate experience and his ceiling couldn’t be higher.
With two likely first-round redshirt sophomore's already in the mix, who else could be joining them? Let's examine.
Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
People can be too loose with labeling a defensive lineman as "unblockable", but if there ever was a time its correctly used it would be to describe Williams. The dude is a monster.
Destroying SEC offensive lines on a weekly basis, Williams is arguably the biggest riser of any prospect at any position this season. Not only is Williams a tremendous athlete with outstanding play strength, he complements that with polished technique and elite processing skills that destine him to be a top-10 pick. After Nick Bosa, Williams is my No. 2 overall prospect in the class.
Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Imagine Ohio State without Haskins this year. We're talking about a 3-4 loss team that doesn't sniff the Big 10 Championship Game. Instead, Haskins put together a record-breaking season in which he set new single-season Big 10 marks for passing yards and touchdowns in a single-season. The Buckeyes quietly enjoyed as 13-1 season as Big 10 Champions.
If he declares, I think Haskins could be the first quarterback off the board. While he isn't the most athletic passer, Haskins has a big arm and is a true surgeon from the pocket that can dice up secondaries.
Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
Greedy Williams is only CB1 if Murphy doesn't declare for the 2019 draft but I still expect both prospects to be top-15 selections in April.
Murphy is scheme-transcendent talent that offers exceptional feet, fluidity, route recognition skills and the ability to make plays on the ball. He's an aggressive playmaker that blends technique and instincts with athletic ability and competitive toughness that makes him a dynamic prospect with immense upside.
Tyler Biadasz, iOL, Wisconsin
If Biadasz declares, he unquestionably becomes the best interior offensive line prospect in the class. Biadasz is a game-changing interior blocker that comes with the coveted Wisconsin pedigree. He offers incredible play strength, mobility and football intelligence that destines him for a career littered with Pro Bowl Honors.
The importance of strong interior offensive line play is growing in the NFL and Biadasz could and should easily be a top-20 selection.
TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa
NFL offenses in search of an x-factor can have one in Hockenson. A balanced player, Hockenson thrives as both a blocker and receiver which is becoming increasingly difficult to find in tight end prospects.
Hockenson paired with Noah Fant this seasons to provide Iowa with a dynamic tandem of tight ends this season who combined to catch 85 passes for 1,236 yards and 13 touchdowns. Both could easily end up as top-40 selections and in contention to be the first tight end off the board in April. Hockenson is arguably the most complete tight end prospect in the rising draft class should he declare.