As we get ready to kick off the 2018 NCAA football season, our team of draft analysts and experts have been hard at work all offseason, watching film and dissecting our wealth of data on every snap of FBS action since 2014 to outline the nation’s top prospects who could hear their names called next April.
Based upon grades, premium statistics and advanced study of film, here are our analysts top-5 players to watch at each position for the 2019 NFL Draft:
1. Justin Herbert, Oregon
Strengths – Accurate to all levels, good decision-maker and can make plays late in the down. Fourth in overall PFF grading over the past two seasons at 90.4.
Room to improve in 2018 – Needs to get more consistent with processing and accuracy to second and third options. Blitz recognition can better, has been middle of the pack with grade against the blitz the past two seasons. Making it through a full season will be big after missing chunks of the 2016 and 2017 seasons with injuries.
2. Will Grier, West Virginia
Strengths – Confident thrower down the seams and over the top of the defense, posted the most big-time throws on 20-plus yard passes in 2017. Shows the poise to hang in the pocket and work through multiple reads.
Room to improve in 2018 – Decision-making under duress. At times can force the ball down the field when under pressure, needs to find more outlets and not always look for the big play.
3. Ryan Finley, NC State
Strengths – Steady and consistent player with ability to play within in the offense – gets the ball out on time and to the right place. Finished 10th in overall grades in 2017.
Room to improve in 2018 – Possessing just marginal arm strength, Finley must win with precise accuracy at intermediate 10-19 yard area of the field, where he has struggled when the coverage gets tight on the back end. Also can clean up his red-zone plays as he finished with a below average grade of 59.4.
4. Drew Lock, Missouri
Strengths – Elite vertical thrower with the ability to stretch any part of the field – has the most big-time throws on 20-plus yard attempts over the past two seasons and third-most yards at 2,504. True timing and rhythm passer who has good accuracy when the defensive look goes as he expects it post snap.
Room to improve in 2018 – Decision-making and his play late in the down. Lock has been inconsistent dissecting secondary coverage, needs to be better at finding outlets and more completions instead of forcing throws that aren’t there. 89th out of 93 qualifiers in adjusted completion percentage on plays lasting longer than 3.0 seconds over the past two seasons.
5. Mckenzie Milton, UCF
Strengths – Playmaker with good overall feel for the position. Shows good downfield touch, leading all players in 2017 in yards on 20-plus yard throws at 1,812.
Room to improve in 2018 – Accuracy can be spotty, with balls fluttering when zip is needed at the intermediate 10-19 yard level. Although out of his control, will battle size issues as he’s listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds.
6. Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
7. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
8. Brett Rypien, Boise State
9. Eric Dungey, Syracuse
10. J’Mar Smith, Louisiana Tech
1. A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Strengths – Big-bodied pass-catcher with a good feel for route running in man and zone coverage. Posted second-highest passer rating when targeted versus press coverage at 154.8. Showed versatility, leading NCAA with yards from the slot in 2017 with 432 yards.
Room to improve in 2018 – Brown needs to clean up some drops as he struggled with the occasional concentration drop, totaling seven in the 2017 season.
2. Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
Strengths – Consistent and solid across the board, Johnson led all receivers in 2017 in explosive plays – showing his ability to make plays on contested targets down the field as well as after the catch on short to intermediate routes.
Room to improve in 2018 – Often more physically gifted than his opponents, Johnson could use 2018 to work on the subtleties in his route running that will be relied on at the next level.
3. Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
Strengths – Explosive route-runner that shows ability to score from anywhere after the catch – posted the third-highest average yards after catch for wide receivers in 2017 at 6.8.
Room to improve in 2018 – With his slight build, Brown struggled in tight contested targets hauling in just 1-of-12 passes in tight coverage in 2017.
4. Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
Strengths – Samuel excels in multiple areas and plays with an aggressiveness whether it’s creating separation on a route, working back to stay friendly to the quarterback, and especially with the ball in his hands where he averaged 6.5 yards after the catch in his shortened 2017 season.
Room to improve in 2018 – At times, Samuel can let the ball get to his body instead of reaching out to snatch it with his hands.
5A. Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska
Strengths – Morgan has a good understanding of pacing different speeds throughout the route as well as strong hands at the catch point.
Room to improve in 2018 – Morgan needs to clean up some drops as he has 13 over the past two seasons, mostly coming on in-breaking routes.
5B. N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Strengths – Harry is a strong, physical receiver with consistent hands. His physicality shows up at the catch point in contested areas and after the catch where he has a knack for the big plays, having 47 explosive plays over the past two seasons (ninth).
Room to improve in 2018 – Harry is not going to run by many people with pure speed, showing he can win in pure press 1-on-1 situations with his route technique is something to keep an eye on.
7. JJ Arcega Whiteside, Stanford
8. Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Texas
9. JD Spielman, Nebraska
10. Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
1. David Montgomery, Iowa State
Strengths – Montgomery’s balance and ability to make small moves that break tackles is unmatched in college football, and went a long way towards manufacturing solid production last season despite poor blocking in front of him.
Room to improve in 2018 – His top speed is a question mark, but one he might not be able to do a whole lot about, but there are also occasions where he could improve his vision on the initial cut, though that also would likely be helped with improved blocking.
2. Damien Harris, Alabama
Strengths – Harris has an outstanding skillset with good vision and the ability to break tackles, busting through 33 in 2017 on just 135 carries.
Room to improve in 2018 – Harris needs to show he can be a workhorse and be as effective as he was a season ago with a greater volume of carries and targets, but that’s his only potential flaw.
3. Bryce Love, Stanford
Strengths – Blazing speed. There is no greater home-run threat at the position than Love, who can make one cut and be gone for a touchdown in a heartbeat.
Room to improve in 2018 – Size is a question mark but not one he can really do anything about, instead, Love needs to work on his role in the pass game, as he saw just eight targets in 2017, dropping two of them.
4. Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
Strengths – A complete back, Anderson was a significant factor in Oklahoma’s passing offense a season ago, catching 17-of-21 targets and breaking five tackles once he caught them.
Room to improve in 2018 – Anderson was excellent a season ago, but the bulk of his positive grade came in just six games, and we simply haven’t seen a prolonged period of production for him. Proving he can do that in 2018 would be big for his prospects.
5. Devin Singletary, FAU
Strengths – Only Singletary came close to Montgomery in terms of broken tackles, with 83 of them in 2017 on 299 carries, gaining 3.9 yards per carry after contact.
Room to improve in 2018 – He needs to hold onto the football better. Only two running backs fumbled more than the four occasions Singletary did a season ago, and even adjusting for his high volume of carries he needs to improve ball security.
1. Noah Fant, Iowa
Strengths – Ridiculous athlete, comfortably outran defensive backs at points last year, helping him to average 6.0 yards after the catch.
Room to improve in 2018 – Needs to work on his hands. Dropped 7-of-37 catchable targets in 2017, and had some really poor, right-between-the-numbers drops in there too.
2. Caleb Wilson, UCLA
Strengths – Already a very gifted receiver. His 91.7 receiving grade ranked second best of any tight end in this draft class, and he has dropped just two of the 56 catchable passes thrown his way over the past two seasons.
Room to improve in 2018 – Body of work is still really limited. Missed Week 6 onwards in 2017, and was only heavily featured late in 2016. Need to see how he comes back from the injury.
3. Kaden Smith, Stanford
Strengths – Decent athlete. Despite only having 23 receptions, he still forced two missed tackles which helped him average 18.0 yards per catch.
Room to improve in 2018 – Body of work is also still very limited. Career includes just 26 catchable passes, three of which were dropped. Increased workload and fewer drops in 2018 would help.
4. Harrison Bryant, FAU
Strengths – Solid all-around player. 92.2 receiving grade was the highest in this class in 2017, didn’t drop a single pass from 33 catchable targets.
Room to improve in 2018 – Run-blocking grades of 64.4 and 65.0 over the past two seasons aren’t terrible, but still a way to go before you’d be comfortable with him blocking in the NFL.
5. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
Strengths – Tough to bring down. Averaged 7.2 yards after the catch per receptions and forced two missed tackles in 2017.
Room to improve in 2018 – Needs to get better with his hands. Four drops from just 33 catchable targets in 2017.
6. Tommy Sweeney, Boston College
Strengths – All-around player but seemed to click for him in the second half of 2017. Six of the seven games over the final half of the season saw PFF game grades above 70.0.
Room to improve in 2018 – Needs to get better at securing the football. Three fumbles from 62 receptions over the past two seasons.
1. Dalton Risner, Kansas State
Strengths – One of the most technically-sound offensive linemen in this class, Risner has graded out as elite each of the past two seasons.
Room to improve in 2018 – Risner has to prove he can pass protect against elite competition which he might not get a chance to do until the Senior Bowl.
2. Jonah Williams, Alabama
Strengths – Already takes beautiful pass sets with exceptional core strength to hold up to the bull-rush.
Room to improve in 2018 – Would like to see his game-to-game consistency taken to the elite level to justify top-10 pick.
3. Bobby Evans, Oklahoma
Strengths – Evans has hands that latch on and won’t let go in both the run game and pass protection.
Room to improve in 2018 – Evans has been slow to react to counters and his change of direction is an issue when passing off stunts.
4. Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
Strengths – Hyatt has an ideal frame (6-foot-5, 305) for the tackle position with a strong upper and lower body.
Room to improve in 2018 – First punch gets slapped away too easily at times and then he struggles to reset his hands.
5. David Edwards, Wisconsin
Strengths – Already incredibly patient in his pass sets, rarely overextending himself to land first punch.
Room to improve in 2018 – Play strength is average at this point and isn’t much of a people mover.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
1. Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin
Strengths – One of the most athletic centers in college football, Biadasz can make any block you want on the move.
Room to improve in 2018 – Still slips off too many blocks and gets himself overextended and off-balance.
2. Max Scharping, Northern Illinois
Strengths – Strong upper body that he uses to torque and control smaller defensive linemen in the MAC.
Room to improve in 2018 – Footwork in pass sets is underdeveloped at this point and needs tightening up.
3. Michael Deiter, Wisconsin
Strengths – Has performed exceptionally well at both center and tackle over his career with also the skillset to play guard.
Room to improve in 2018 – Lateral agility is an issue and you’d like to see him lean out to improve upon that.
4. Calvin Throckmorton, Oregon
Strengths – Thick build with strength throughout and powerful first strike.
Room to improve in 2018 – Takes a very limited number of true pass sets in the Oregon offense compared to what he’ll have to do in the NFL.
5. Tyler Bowling, Tulsa
Strengths – Can sink his hips and drive defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage one on one.
Room to improve in 2018 – Needs to prove his ability more against stiffer competition outside of the AAC (Texas on schedule this year along with Houston’s Ed Oliver).
Source: Pro Football Focus