After talking about the top offensive players at each position a couple of days ago, we now switch to the defensive side of the ball. So we are looking at the best edge rushers (meaning 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers primarily), interior defensive linemen (everything from nose tackle to 5-technique), off-ball linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties. Some of these guys are hybrid players, so I judged them according to where they line up primarily and what their best spot is. Once again, my criteria for which I judge them is their tape from their collegiate career so far, including the potential I see for them heading into this season, and I evaluate them as college players instead of NFL prospects, where they might fall a little lower because they don’t have pro measurements or athleticism necessarily.
After talking about the most intriguing questions heading into the 2019 college football season, which is right in front of us, I now want to present my five best players at each position. This list is mostly based on where I would rank them right now, but also partially me projecting where they will stack up mid-season. So with some of these established players I really rank them as of right now, but with others I have to consider the talent and what I think they will develop into this year. To do so, I watched plenty of tape on all the top performers from last season (and who stood out to me in limited action) and tried to break them down as individual players. So I did not want to take their team or supporting cast into context and simply judge them based on their ability. Therefore you might not see some of the more common names or guys with the best statistics where you would find them on most lists out there. And to avoid confusion, this is a ranking of them as college players – not simply draft prospects. Today we start things off with the offensive side of the ball.
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
This former number one overall recruit was inserted into the starting lineup four weeks into the 2018 season and had a freshman campaign for the ages. Lawrence completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 3280 yards and 30 TDs compared to just four INTs on 8.3 yards per attempt. He is special arm talent with much more athletic ability to extend plays and toughnesss in the pocket as well as on the run than you would give him credit for. In his first year of college he also showed some of the anticipatory skills to let the ball go before receivers even get into their breaks and he throws his guy open with perfect ball-placement, letting his playmakers make plays for him. Lawrence seemed to never be fazed as a freshman, which is underlined by a passer rating above 100 when pressured. He reportedly added muscle to his 6’6” frame that only carried 215 pounds last season. Lawrence should only continue to get better with a full offseason and make Tee Higgins as well as Justyn Ross 1200+ yard receivers with double-digit touchdowns each potentially.
2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
After coming in at the second half of the 2018 National Championship game and leading the Tide to a comeback over Georgia, Tua won the battle versus Jalen Hurts and never looked back. As a sophomore he completed 69 percent of his passes for just under 4000 yards, 43 touchdowns and six picks. The lefty was the favorite to take home the Heisman trophy all the way until December, when he got his ankle banged up versus those same Bulldogs in the SEC title game, and had his worst showing as a college player. While he was nearly perfect in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma, Tua completed only 54.2 of his passes for three touchdowns and four picks combined versus Georgia and Clemson in the big game. However, while he didn’t quite look like himself down the stretch, back healthy I would expect Tua to light up defenses once again. With his ability to operate within the pocket (passer rating over 140 from clean pocket) and the accuracy he throws the ball with combined with all the weapons around him, I would expect huge numbers once again.
3. Justin Herbert, Oregon
After playing in eight games in each of his first two years, Herbert started all 13 games as a junior. Unlike the previous two guys, the Oregon QB never entered the Heisman race and could not quite measure up to the other guys statistically, completing just under 60 percent of his passes for 29 touchdowns compared to eight picks. When protected and in rhythm we have seen what he can do however. Versus Stanford last season Herbert completed 17 of his first 18 passes and followed that up a couple of weeks later by coming up clutch against Washington’s tough defense. While he only completed 60+ percent of his passes in only five games last season, he has flashed the ability to make special throws on the run and be that playmaker that can lead the Ducks to a Pac-12 title. With what I think will be the best O-line in the country and a couple of dynamic backs lining up next to him, Herbert could produce big plays off play-action as well as carving up opponents with quick throws from the pocket.
4. D‘Eriq King, Houston
This guy was one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the country last season. Through their first eight games they actually were at a Ludacris 49.8 points and 571 offensive yards per game with the Cougars flying high at 7-1, but over the next two games the 31 and 49 points respectively were not enough to win either game. The following week their QB was lost for the rest of the year with a knee injury and Houston ultimately lost four of their final five games. However, I don’t want anybody to forget what kind of a playmaker King was for them, He might not have the NFL prototype size sub-six feet and sub-200 pounds, but he actually put up a higher PFF grade in 2018 than Tua or Trevor. He scored 50 combined touchdowns last season. With him on the field it was just bombs away. On passes that travelled 20+ yards, King completed 21 of them for 778 yards and 11 scores compared to just one pick. However, he was equally excellent in condensed spaces, combining for 20 TDs in the red-zone. His long speed as a runner seems constantly burns defender’s angles and despite being so fearless as a ball-carrier, he only fumbled four times last season. The one thing that can be questioned about King is the style of offense he is in, with a lot of simple one-read concepts off RPOs and play-action.
5. Jordan Love, Utah State
I truly believe this could be that surprise first-round quarterback next year. At 6’4”, 220 pounds with a big arm and quick release, Love looks like an NFL signal-caller. Last season he completed 64 percent of his passes for 3567 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions on 8.6 yards per attempt. He led the Aggies to a school-record 11 wins and had them finishing ranked 22nd in the final AP poll. Utah State ranked second nationally with a bonkers 47.5 points per game and Love had seven 300+ yard passing games, has a chance early on to prove himself versus LSU. If he doesn’t get the ball out quickly, he can throw off his back- foot with a defender in his face, not afraid of attacking the deep middle, especially with Dax Raymond at tight-end. Without his top three receivers and a dynamic check-down option in Darwin Thompson available, Love will have to step up in 2019 and he will have a chance to prove himself early against LSU. The one things he really needs to stop doing is trying to lob balls into his guys instead of actually throwing.
Wild Card: Khalil Tate, Arizona
What Kevin Sumlin and that Wildcat coaching staff did to Tate last season was absolutely criminal. After going for 2875 combined yards and 26 touchdowns in only nine games, with almost half of it coming on the ground, averaging a crazy 9.1 yards per carry, I expected the explosive dual-threat QB to emerge as a Heisman trophy candidate and keep Arizona in the Pac-12 hunt in 2018. I thought the overall philosophy of trying to make Tate a pure pocket passer, the offensive play-calling and situational decision-making on the hands of the Arizona coaching staff were all atrocious. Of course you want the young guy to develop as a quarterback, but watching most of his tapes through the last two years, it’s not hard to see how much more comfortable Tate gets if he can use his legs early on and let the game come to him. You saw the talent in late-season wins over Oregon and Colorado as well as a one-point loss versus Arizona State. In those three games Tate tossed 11 touchdowns compared to three picks, while the offense averaged 42 points per contest. Let’s hope his coaches have learned from their mistakes.
Just outside: Jake Fromm (Georgia), Sam Ehlinger (Texas), Mason Fine (North Texas), K.J. Costello (Stanford), Nathan Stanley (Iowa), Ian Book (Notre Dame) and Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
1. D’Andre Swift, Georgia
After averaging 7.9 yards per touch on right around 100 chances as a freshman, Swift was asked to replace the production of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Because the coaches split carries pretty much 50-50 between him and Elijah Holyfield, Swift only had 163 carries in 2018, but made most of them, averaging 6.4 yards and scoring ten touchdowns and 32 runs of those runs went for 10+ yards. who The former five-star recruit converted 31.0 percent of his carries into first downs or touchdowns. Additionally he was one of the most productive pass-catchers out of the backfield with 32 catches for just short of 300 yards and another three trips to the end-zone, as the Bulldog coaches actually split him out in the slot to run routes. Swift can switch up his footwork on the fly, he has very loose hips to make that sharp cut upfield and that special elusiveness to make guys miss with the ball in his hands, At 5’9”, 215 pounds Swift might not the biggest guy, but he can convert speed into power when he has the opportunity blast through somebody’s chest and he runs through arm-tackles time and time again.
2. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Following the greatest rushing season of any freshman in NCAA history, Taylor only improved on his numbers, recording 2194 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns on 7.1 YPC last season. He converted 96 carries into first downs or touchdowns in 2018 and led the FBS with 61 rushes of 10+ yards. While he measure in an inch short of six feet and right around 220 pounds, Taylor is a big dude and his running style is built on explosiveness and power. Once you give him an opening to burst through, he can really load up and bring the thunder on that second level. Not every defender is ready for that and that is why more than half of his yards came after initial contact. However, for a guy who makes things happen with that first explosion through the line and his power, Taylor has pretty sweet feet to make guys miss in tight spaces and slightly switch up his running tracks. With an average of 300 carries through his first two years as a Badger, he has been the team’s clear-cut workhorse and big-play machine to rely on, with no signs of slowing down. The reason I have him behind Swift is the fact he only caught eight passes in each of his two years at Madison and while he has cut that number in half last year, he has fumbled the ball 12 times already.
3. Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
This young man set a new Arizona State record with 1642 rushing yards a season ago in 13 games. Benjamin recorded 90 first downs and touchdowns combined, with nine games of 100+ yards on the ground even though N’Keal Harry was basically the only other weapon on that offense. He added another 35 catches for 263 yards and scored 18 touchdowns from scrimmage. Benjamin is a very patient runner who utilizes hesitation steps and pressing one gap to force linebackers to commit. He is special in his ability to start and stop, bounce between gaps and make guys miss with a jump-cut, while he also has that spin move in the open field that can makes opponents just look stupid. Those moves led 77 missed tackles forced and 1030 yards after contact. He will probably not carry the 300 times again, but I could see an increased role in the passing game. The Sundevil is an extremely tough runner for a 5’10”, 200 pound guy, but my one critique of him is the fact that he can be caught dancing around instead of just trying to get back to the line of scrimmage at times.
4. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
No running back exploded on the scene quite like this Commodore breakout star. With just over 1000 rushing yards through his first two years at Illinois, expectations were fairly low after sitting out a year. However, over his last five games of 2018, Vaughn carried the ball 85 times for 749 yards and seven TDs, giving him an average of 8.8 yards per rush. Overall his number at over 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage with 8.3 yards per touch are impressive as well. He had 32 runs of 10+ yards in 2018. What I like to watch most about Vaughn is the way he will attack the line, then cut down his strides as he reads a blocker and all of a sudden turn on the jets again to beat a defender to the edge. So many times you see him bounce outside with one step if there’s a wall in front of him and nobody seems to ever be able to grab him. The Vandy back can be found dotting the I in heavy sets and run right through traffic as well as lining up next to his QB in shotgun and make things happen after catching a swing route. While they will have a change at quarterback, on that offense is my number two tight-end and a dynamic receiver that I like a lot. I will be following closely to see if Vaughn can continue with that late-season success.
5. Travis Etienne, Clemson
In only his sophomore season, this kid set new Clemson records with 1658 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns on just over 200 carries, giving him a crazy average of 8.1 yards per attempt. He converted 77 of his 204 carries into first downs or touchdowns in 2018 and averaged a ridiculous 8.1 yards with 24 touchdowns. Etienne does a nice job hesitating to let the blocking get set up and then exploding through the opening, and you really have to watch out once he clears the first wave of defenders, because he absolutely has the long speed to consistently finish big runs in the opposing end-zone. The Tiger back has the burst to get the edge on defenses, keeps his legs churning constantly and is just tough to slow down, leading to 52 missed tackles forced and gaining 884 yards after contact. However, he doesn’t really make defenders miss and his hands aren’t very trustworthy, as he only caught 12 passes all of last season. I felt like I had to put Etienne on here simply because of the stupid numbers he put up last season and the fact he will probably not be too far off in 2019, plus he is a really good pure inside/outside zone and power runner. With that being said, I just don’t think he quite has the individual ability of these other four guys.
Just outside: J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State), A.J. Dillon (Boston College), Trey Sermon & Kennedy Brooks (Oklahoma) and Najee Harris (Alabama)
1. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
In only his first season as a starter, this kid won the Fred Biletnikoff award for best receiver in the country, as he caught 68 passes for over 1300 yards and 14 touchdown, giving him an average of 19.3 yards per reception. Jeudy is a very smooth route-runner with the hips to make any quickly and the speed to quickly burn defenses. He understands how to pace his routes and truly attacks the ball in the air. You set up defenders with jab-steps and leave them behind in the dust, He can be the X single receiver, line up in the slot or even as the number three receiver. Jeudy is very advanced in his hand-work, has a feel for creating separation and uses subtle push-offs if he does have a defender on his hip, while also quickly stacking his corner on go-routes. He displays excellent ball-tracking and comfort in tight spaces to go with the timing he utilizes. Jeudy is a highly creative open-field runner who makes some ridiculous jukes, including backwards jump-cuts, dead-legs and all that kind of stuff. He is amongst the highest graded 2020 draft prospects of all eligible players and should be the first receiver off the board next April.
2. Laviska Shenault, Colorado
At 6’2”, 220-pounds, this young man is almost built like a linebacker. After catching only seven passes the year before, he jumped onto the scene like nobody else. Over the first six games of last season, Shenault amassed 867 yards and five touchdowns from scrimmage. Unfortunately he banged up his toe and wasn’t himself when he returned for the final three weeks of the year. However, he can run routes like sub-six feet guys, go over the top over defenders with size and just take the top of the opposition. He lines up out wide by himself, in the slot, is put in stacks, runs jet sweeps and even bangs into the endzone as a wildcat QB. He makes the tough catches with defenders draped over him or putting a hit on him as the ball arrives. While he is not nearly as schooled with his releases or route-running as Jeudy and allows some defenders to get back into the picture, the talent is off the charts. Shenault is as strong a runner at the wide receiver position as you will ever see, just blasting through a couple of awaiting defenders or dragging them on his back for a couple of extra yards. He forced 29 missed tackles in 2018 and averaged 7.4 yards after the catch on average. He is not nearly the type of physical blocker he probably could be, but some of that probably has to do with the volume of touches he receives and how the Buffs just motioned him around.
3. Rondale Moore, Purdue
While he doesn’t even come close to prototype measurements at 5’9”, 180 pounds, this little dynamite can produce big plays in all facets pretty much like nobody else in the country can. Moore is Very sudden out of his breaks and just doesn’t drop the ball (92 percent catch rate on catchable passes). Purdue lets him run a lot of out-routes, drags and screens, where they know he can gain separation and make things happen after the catch. Moore is so elusive in the open field that you would think he is glazed with butter and he has better contact balance than you would think from a 180 pound receiver. That’s probably because he routinely squats 600 pounds! You see spins, hesitation moves and foot-fakes, He forced an FBS-high 37 missed tackles and gained 892 yards after the catch in 2018, with over 2000 all-purpose yards, Moore was not always used as an every-down receiver. However, while he started off as more of a gadget player and still might be as dangerous as a return man than anything else, he is growing as a receiver and will only become more of a headache on offense.
4. Ceedee Lamb, Oklahoma
Unlike Marquise Brown back in April, nobody should question Lamb’s size at 6’2”, close to 200 pounds. While he doesn’t have the flat-out speed of “Hollywood”, you could certainly argue that Lamb is a better all-around receiver and his speed is still plenty good. He led the high-flying Big XII with 2.94 yards per route run and recorded a passer rating of 145.2 when targeted in 2018, while also averagng a stupid 12.7 yards per target, which manifested itself in catching 65 passes for 1158 yards and 11 touchdowns, giving him an average of 17.8 yards per catch. What I really like about Lamb’s game are the different gears he uses on his routes and how physical he can get. He really understands how to adjust his routes on the fly in that Lincoln Riley Air-Raid system and comes back to the ball aggressively on routes along the sidelines. Not only is Lamb highly flexible and makes tough catches look easy, he tracks the ball and adjusts his body mid-air very well, shielding the ball from the defender’s swipes.
5. Justyn Ross, Clemson
While everybody is talking about quarterback Trevor Lawrence – and deservedly so – nobody dominated the College Football Playoff quite like this guy as a freshman. Ross caught 12 passes for 301 yards and three scores on over 25 yards per grab in those two games combined. Over the course of the full season he recorded an unprecedented 4.98 yards per route run in 2018. While it “only” measured up for exactly 1000 yards, he needed only 46 receptions to get there and converted a fifth of them into touchdowns. The way Ross came up with huge plays on third down in that national title game was unbelievable. At 6’4”, 205 pounds with his speed, strength and hands combined with who throws him the ball could make him the most dangerous weapon on the outside in all of college football this season and put him all the way at number two on my list. He has just blazing speed and slaloms around defenders with subtle jukes. Tee Higgins deserves his fair share of targets on the opposite side as well, but this kid is a different breed.
Just outside: Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State), Tee Higgins (Clemson), Jalen Reagor (TCU) and Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)
1. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
Through his first 18 games with Missouri, Okwuegbunam has caught 72 passes for 881 yards and 17 touchdowns. He recorded a passer rating of 129.1 when targeted and averaged 4.6 yards after the catch in 2018, while partially playing through a sprained knee last season. In only nine games, he still topped his freshman total by 50 yards. While he plays a lot of traditional Y, wing-man and H-back, “Albert O” also puts in work detached from the line and split out wide at times, as they target him on goal-line fades. The big target at 6’5”, 255 pounds has strong hands and won’t let a defender coming over his back bother him. He has that speed to be a nightmare down the seams or after the catch off drag routes, while tracking the ball over his shoulder beautifully. There are not a lot of things in college football that are scarier than that big #81 in Black and Gold having a couple of steps on the linebackers in the middle of the field off play-action, Okwuegbunam also displays excellent footwork in pass-protection and can guide edge rushers around the QB. However, he drops his head too much into blocks and doesn’t really catch and control with his hands the way you want to see
2. Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt
This 6’4”, 240 pound Commodore actually put up the best numbers of anybody in this group. Pinkney caught 50 passes for 774 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He is the most traditional Y tight-end, who spends the majority of snaps with his hand in the dirt. Pinkney Has a strong grip and can turn defenders’ bodies, he excels at sealing the backside off zone run plays and puts in the effort as a blocker downfield when a fellow receiver catches the ball. He has a unique way of avoiding contact with defenders when he gets into his routes and does a great job slipping out into his route after faking the run. Once he has the ball secured, he invites collisions after the catch and consistently gains extra through defenders. Pinkney might not be the type of dynamic vertical threat as some of these other guys are, but he is a big, reliable target who Kyle Shurmur seemed very comfortable targeting over the deep middle last year. You won’t see him just run away from defenders, but he catches the ball with his hands, can box out and just won’t go down without a fight.
3. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
When Mike Gesicki entered the NFL draft last April, the Nittany Lions lost a ton of production – over 1200 yards and 14 TDs over his final two years – but once they saw this kid hit the field, they knew the tight-end position was in good hands. In his freshman season Freiermuth snagged 26 passes for 368 yards and eight score. While the volume wasn’t quite there yet, you see the incredible potential. He has all the size at 6’5”, 255 pounds and athleticism you are looking for. He flashes head-fakes and jab steps that can absolutely leave safeties behind in the dust. As graceful as he is at going up in the air for the ball, he is equally violent when he has it in his hands and a defender is in his way. Freiermuth can pick up chunk plays on seam, corner and post routes. His catch radius is immense and he consistently catches the ball at its highest point. The Penn State TE didn’t catch more than three passes in any game last season and has yet to show that he can be a main option in the passing game, plus he isstill learning how to stay under better balance and find the right aiming points as a blocker as well as learning when to sit down versus zone, but the future is incredibly bright for this kid.
4. Hunter Bryant, Washington
I already had Bryant as a top five tight-end for last season after what I saw from the dynamic do-it-all guy in his freshman season, who excelled at breaking tackles. He can play in-line, flexed out or as an H-back. His size is different to most of these guys at 6’2”, 240 pounds with more of a big receiver stature. He only appeared in five games last season and caught 11 passes, but he flashed his dynamic ability, averaging 21.6 yards per grab. While his hand-placement and footwork aren’t very refined, you see the aggressive mindset and willingness to contribute as a blocker. There’s only so many guys at 240 pounds who offenses target on corner routes 30+ yards down the field and Bryant is one of them. You see some double-catches on tape, he needs to show he can healthy and kind of just establish himself at some spot, but the talent is obviously there and two plays on third-and-long showed that last year – a 59-yard catch-and-run versus Washington State off a scramble and that a ridiculous one-handed grab on 3rd&10 in the Rose Bowl versus Ohio State with a defender right on him.
5. Grant Calcaterra, Oklahoma
This guy is certainly not as massive as some of tight-ends I watched at 6’4”, 235 pounds. To me he basically a slightly oversized slot receiver, who shows soft hands and catches the ball at full extension on several occasions. He does a good job breaking down in open space and getting his hands on safeties in the run and screen game. Calcaterra caught 26 passes for just under 400 yards and six scores despite being the third or fourth option in the OU passing game and almost having three separate 1000-yard rushers. Two plays that stood out about him were a a crazy diving catch in the Orange Bowl versus Alabama and a tremendous one-handed touchdown grab versus Texas in the Big XII title game with a defender right on his hip. While he does line up next to the O-line at times, Calcaterra does not really bring you much upside as an in-line contributor and he never caught more than three passes in any game all of last season. As a pure receiver, he is better than most of what I have seen around the county.
Honorable mentions: Harrison Bryant (Florida Atlantic), Colby Parkinson (Stanford), Jake Ferguson (Wisconsin) and Matt Bushman (BYU)
1. Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin
Ever since I first watched the 2017 Wisconsin tape and saw this kid play center, I knew he would be great. These last two years Biadasz has started all 27 games right in the middle of that Badger O-line. During that stretch running back Jonathan Taylor has set the freshman rushing record and even improved on his numbers in year two, earning him the Doak Walker Award for almost his 2194 yards on the ground. The 6’3”, 320 pound center returns to Madison as a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and the most highly graded offensive linemen returning to the conference in 2019 according to Pro Football Focus. To me the mobile center is at his best running those inside/outside zone schemes, where he can attack and control or reach D-linemen, but I have also seen him drive 320-pounders backwards by five yards on simple dive plays. In pass pro Biadasz likes to use an initial stab against nose tackles and 1-techs to take away that initial burst and then settles in with patient feet. I expect Wisconsin to field one of the most feared rushing attacks once again and Biadasz to be the first center drafted in 2020.
2. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
This former four-star recruit started all 15 games at right tackle as a true freshman and was named to the Freshman All-American team by multiple outlets. Last season he moved to the left side and was voted All-SEC first team by the league’s coaches. At 6’5”, 320 pounds, Thomas shows patient feet in protection and you see him hand out some punches to just shoot guys beyond the arc and not bother his QB. He also uses that on draw plays, where you him let edge rushers get upfield and then they just fly several yards towards the end-zone. Moreover, he is excellent at transitioning on twists. Thomas has led the way for two separate 1000-yard rushers in each of the last two years. His mobility to work down the line in the zone run game is off the charts and you see him use sort of a hook technique on the backside at times, where he pins the inside arm of the defender and doesn’t allow him to cross his face. He initiates that first thump with good pad-level and brings his hips through on the contact, while also continuing to reposition his hands in the run game.
3. Walker Little, OT, Stanford
A former five-star recruit, Little became the first true freshman since 2000 to start at left tackle for Stanford and despite playing in just nine games he received Freshman All-American honors by ESPN before becoming a full-time starter at left tackle last season and immediately being named to the All-Pac 12 first team. The 6’7” giant might not just blow guys off the ball, but he can torque bodies and get in front of defenders, who are forced to go through him. He looks to come off combo-blocks quickly and consistently gets his hands on smaller guys at the second level. Little’s jump off the snap is outstanding and he is just awaiting edge rushers. Even when you think the defender has an angle, the Cardinal tackle seems to always recover with his length and guide him past the arc. He’s really tough to get away from once he puts his mitts on somebody and seems to have perfected the art of holding without being flagged for it. However, I think he has to do a little better job at protecting his chest and keeping that post-leg ready to counter inside moves.
4. Calvin Throckmorton, OT, Oregon
There is no more versatile offensive linemen in the country than this Oregon standout. Overall Throckmorton has started all 38 games in his career for the Ducks – all at right tackle as a freshman, 10 at RT and three at right guard as a sophomore and last season he started everywhere but left tackle. Throckmorton has excellent thickness throughout his frame and looks more like an entire guy body-wise despite being 6’5”, 310 pounds. The O-line chess piece has allowed just three combined QB sacks and hits in almost 900 pass-pro snaps since the start of the 2017 season and didn’t surrender a single sack for 27 straight games until late last season. He stays under good balance and has a tight grip on pass-rushers. In the run game, Throckmorton has the agility to work the inside and outside zone game, was utilized plenty as a puller on gap schemes and does the load of the work on combo-blocks by creating a ton of movement at the point of attack. As I have said plenty of times, the Oregon O-line has a chance to be special this season. Throckmorton doesn’t quite have the athletic ability of the two guys I have ahead of him, but his technique and smarts for the position are excellent.
5. Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
This is the only starter on that Oklahoma O-line returning from last season, which won the Joe Moore award for the top unit in the country after leading the way for three 1000-yard rushers almost and giving the eventual Heisman trophy winner Kyler Murray time to fire bombs downfield. A redshirt freshman only, Humphrey immediately was named second-team All-Big XII. The 6’5”, 315-pound center gets underneath the pads of defenders, which gives him leverage on them in the run game and stymies their momentum in pass pro. He is light on his feet when it comes to mirroring guys at the line or getting his hands on linebackers in the run and screen game. Humphrey quickly gets his butt around to reach defenders and put his body in front of them and allow the ball-carrier to get to the outside. In protection he matches and re-positions his hands constantly with a rusher in his face and uses kind of a pedal technique when uncovered and looking for work. In that area his background as a wrestling standout really shows up. Humphrey was highly impressive versus Quinnen Williams and Alabama in the Orange Bowl, where he was the best offensive lineman and probably overall player for the Sooners.
Just outside: Ben Bredeson (G, Michigan), Alaric Jackson & Tristan Wirfs (OT, Iowa), Trey Adams (OT, Washington), Penei Sewell & Shane Lemieux (OT & G, Oregon) and Cole Van Lanen (Wisconsin)
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A few weeks into the black hole of the offseason, which is filled with overblown reports from OTAs and media analysts coming up with crazy ideas for discussions, I had the time to go back and analyze which moves teams have made to improve a specific area of their football team. However, this is not about the most improved team overall, such as the Browns who added on several fronts, and I won’t name any teams that only added one superstar at a position and nothing else. This list is more about how these front offices made it a priority to invest into a unit that either needed to get better anyway or might have been solid to this point, but could be a true strength for them in 2019. These are the ten position groups I came up with and I added a few units at the bottom, who didn’t quite make the cut.
We have spent a lot of time talking about the NFL draft, handing out grades and pointing out steals from that weekend. With that being said, even after 254 picks there still was a lot of talent left out there and some prospects, who I had rated pretty high, never heard their names called on those three days. Instead they are now entering some team’s practice squad, looking to prove themselves and carve out a role. These ten names I think have the talent and/or are in a situation where they could contribute early on and be valuable pieces for their respective franchise. Every year there are some undrafted free agents I see making an early impact, who actually end up doing so – Phillip Lindsay and J.C. Jackson in 2018 for example.
Another draft is in the books and once again there are all these grades being handed out and experts criticizing what teams did. While I don’t think you can properly evaluate prospects until they turn into actual player on the field and even then it takes some time, I do believe we can look at how these teams stuck with the principle of “best player available”, if they reached to fill needs and how their draft picks could help them out going forward. Not only that, we can also look at specific players or coaches and how these selections will impact them directly. Therefore, I listed my biggest winners, losers, steals and reaches from draft weekend, considering the information we have at this moment and the rankings I had put together.
I have now done all my positional draft rankings, given in-depth analysis of about 150 prospects and put together my top 100 big board. Now it is time for my one and only mock draft of the year. I don’t like doing more than one since it’s all speculation and listening to reports, rather than actually being able to evaluate talent and where these young men should be selected. It is almost impossible to predict draft day trades and there could still be a major chess piece ruling the first round – where will Josh Rosen end up if the Cardinals do go quarterback at number one? Regardless, I tried to predict So to clear this up – This is what I think will happen, not necessarily what I would do.
After watching hundreds over hundreds of hours of film, putting together positional rankings and comparing them to each other, I have finalized my big board for this upcoming draft. Obviously this will look different for each individual team because of scheme fit, needs, etc., but for me I just went with who I think are the top 100 prospects available. This is clearly a defensive draft with 10 of my first 14 players on that side of the ball, but I also think there are several offensive linemen worth being selected within the first two days, especially since it’s a rather thin group beyond that, and while some might argue there is not a lot of talent at the skill positions, I think there could be a run on wide receivers on Friday, since I have eight of them with a second-round grade.
Just to set the table here, unlike my positional rankings this list takes injuries and other concerns into consideration. That is why a guy like Jeffery Simmons from Mississippi State isn’t somewhere around the top ten.
We have finally reached the last and most discussed position to analyze in this upcoming draft – the quarterbacks. Obviously I have spent several hundreds of hours purely on watching film from all these prospects I have already talked about, but with these signal-callers I had to invest even more time. Every year the quarterbacks are the hardest to fully evaluate because not only do you have to consider athletic ability, arm talent and work within the system, but you also have to understand the offensive play-calling, the opposing defense’s scheme, how these guys have to work through progressions and how all of that will translate to the next level. Moreover, this will be the face of your franchise and there are certain leadership and work ethic qualities that are necessary for somebody to succeed.
This group of quarterbacks certainly doesn’t have the same type of high-end quality at the top as last year’s did with four guys within the first ten picks and another one with the final selection of day one, but I think this group has gotten a bad rep by many. While a couple of guys are receiving way too much hype in my opinion, I think there are two hands-down first rounders, seven guys worth being drafted within the first two days, three talented developmental prospects to round out my top ten and a couple of quality backups beyond that.
We have reached the final defensive position for the upcoming draft – the safeties. In today’s NFL there is a multitude of players with the same name-tag, but completely different roles. You have true seam-controlling free safeties, the counterpart in-the-box strong safeties, two-high players, guys who play the big nickel and so much more. They can be utilized in one certain role or play multiple ones in one scheme. Some teams may only have one actual safety on the field at times, while others may use four to fit certain game-plans (see Chargers vs. Ravens in the Wildcard Round). So when I put all these prospects in one hat, I don’t feel like doing them a disservice, because there would be way too many ways to differentiate between them and a lot of times, they can fit several roles.
I already said it on my Instagram account – Man, is this safety class fun to watch! When I first went on to the tape to specifically analyze what is available at the position, I didn’t think there was a lot of special talents, especially with some of guys I liked a year ago falling off a little, but there are some absolute ballers in this group. My number one guy should definitely be selected in the first round in my opinion and the second guy is largely regarded as the top safety prospect available. After that there are several guys, who I really enjoyed watching and I think could be long-time playmakers in the NFL. The first nine names I will mention here should all crack the top 100.