Welcome back to Studs & Duds, friends! This week's column is all about 2019 Draft prospects! But before we dig in, a brief moment of reflection. I remember the first time I played Texas Hold 'Em. The card game got real popular when I was in high school (about twelve years ago now...yikes. Not great!) and one of the guys in our neighborhood always hosted.
Everyone threw in 20 bucks and the table of ten of us would stay up until the wee hours of the morning daring each other to make the big move and put the game out of it's misery. It didn't take me very long to realize that you knew what kind of night it was going to be well before the last of the chips traded possession.
The poker gods, like the football gods, are cruel. Often times they'd tease you into chasing ghosts...
Well if I can hit the queen on the turn then all I need is the jack on the river. Let's pay to see the hand through. A two?! Damn.
Next thing you know you're down half your chips. And now you're scrambling to make up ground before the next hand snowballs on you. It's easy to get washed away in the emotions of each individual hand.
But while it's important to take the game one hand at a time, the direction of your night is undeniable within the first half hour. Some of us were well on our way to a payday. Others often found themselves folding up shop and trading their chips for Xbox controllers.
What if I told you the NFL Draft process is much like those long nights of Texas Hold 'Em? That just like Hold 'Em, you can't get washed away in the moment of any one performance from a prospect...good or bad? But that just like in Hold 'Em, you can generally tell within the first quarter of the Draft process exactly where a player is going to trend?
The Draft process is long. It starts in the summer time (technically) but the kickoff of the college football season is generally regarded as the opening bell. And that process runs well through the winter and all the way to April.
But here we are, thirty minutes to our 2019 NFL Draft game of Texas Hold 'Em. We've reached the unofficial tipping point. There's a whole lotta ball game left, but for the prospects below, I've seen enough to know where their night (stock) is headed.
HOLD 'EM (STUD) - EDGE Jachai Polite, Florida
Polite is a high card pocket pair. It's already an asset by itself and there's ample upside to develop into a game breaking hand.
Polite's explosiveness and speed rush ability are tremendous qualities, the kind that will move the NFL needle upon close inspection. And with Polite reportedly already leaning into the 2019 Draft pool as an early entry, it feels like just a matter of time before this winning hand becomes red-hot.
I love Polite's inside spin counter and some of his lower body mobility is unreal in game action. I've seen enough at the tipping point, count me in on this hand.
FOLD 'EM (DUD) - RB Bryce Love, Stanford
Deal me out on Bryce Love. The healthy flashes from Bryce are enough to make you hotter under the collar than going all in on a pair of deuces.
But Love's ability to stay healthy has to be called into serious question at this point. He's a smaller scat back who has endured lower body injuries in each of the last two seasons. The difference? Love isn't gutting out the pain and has missed two full games and portions of others.
And then there's that whole 'averaging less than 2 yards per carry vs. ASU and San Diego State' deal.
Love may still get drafted high, but if he does it's going to be a total swing in the dark that the NFL team that picks him can find the secret something he hasn't done yet: stay healthy. That's too rich for my blood.
HOLD 'EM - TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
If Hockenson finds himself a part of this year's Tight End class, look out. Hockenson is an absolute dog at the line of scrimmage, he can be found running defenders out of the picture as a run blocker. I love the tenacity...but he's also cutting his chops as a receiver this year. Iowa may well be Tight End U at this rate, between George Kittle, Fant and Hockenson the team has put through some serious NFL talent in recent memories.
(Seriously, Hurricanes fans, step down...I didn't mean it.)
Hockenson is absolutely no guarantee to find his way into the 2019 NFL Draft, he has multiple years of eligibility left. But if he does make the jump, I'm all in.
FOLD 'EM - QB Drew Lock, Missouri
I said at the end of September that Lock's three game stretch against Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama would be the defining gauntlet of his NFL Draft portfolio. It didn't go well.
This is not good news, friends. Lock has been abysmal against top tier competition. Like your friend's little brother whose mom used to intervene and ask to let him play cards for a while, Lock is totally out of his league against the CFB elite.
Georgia and Alabama befuddled him with pressure looks. Lock's response to pass rushers? Backpedal and throw off the back foot. The accuracy has been poor. Lock has relied too much on his arm to get the ball out and it's compromised his accuracy in the process. The decision making hasn't been up to snuff. And the production has been horrible.
I get the attraction. Lock is a big armed passer who has posted monster career numbers. But he's closer to Paxton Lynch than he is to Pat Mahomes and to me it's not even close.
Deal me out on the Lock hype, no matter what happens the rest of the way.
HOLD 'EM - LB Devin White, LSU
I am still very #MadOnline about that bull targeting penalty the SEC officials hit White with from this past weekend's 19-3 victory over Mississippi State.
White pretty clearly shoves Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald in the chest on a pressure, and yet after review the officials upheld the penalty.
With the targeting penalty aside, White has had himself a terrific 2018 college season thus far. Seeing White impact the game in all phases has been impressive. So, too, is his hitting power and explosiveness downhill.
White checks all the boxes needed to be a first round linebacker in today's NFL...it's something I spoke at length about after his game against the Florida Gators. He's only reaffirmed that impression since.
Sure, there's more ball to play, but White has got the goods. I don't need to see any more to know it.
FOLD 'EM - OT Greg Little, Ole Miss
The Rebels have a lot of promising prospects on their roster. Their best one, WR D.K. Metcalf, is out for the year with a neck injury. Fellow wide receivers DaMarkus Lodge and A.J. Brown show promise. QB Jordan Ta'amu has a real live arm.
But the only other Rebel to get first round buzz is Greg Little, a bluff I'd be more than happy to let someone else call.
Auburn DE Nick Coe gave Little fits this weekend, the latest disappointment from a prospect who has all the tools and none of the results.
You'll hear more first round buzz on Little, but it won't be from me.