As the offseason winds down and we come ever closer to training camp starting, excitement is starting to brew for the new season. For me, this has been an offseason of relative ease when it comes to thinking about football. There was never a worry about if the Eagles could take the next step, rather just a constant enjoyment of their Super Bowl victory (the Eagles won the Super Bowl) and a relaxed patience for the upcoming season. With the fall approaching quickly, that also means college football and NFL Draft talk will slowly pick up. To give a preview of what the draft landscape will look like this season, here are the best prospects at every position heading into this draft cycle.
Justin Herbert, Oregon: After five quarterbacks went in the first round in the 2018 NFL Draft, this upcoming quarterback class doesn’t nearly have that same shine. Among a weak group, Justin Herbert stands out due to his upside. The 6’6”, 240 pound quarterback is a very good athlete with a big time arm. He has flashed a lot of great moments during his two years at Oregon, but has fought through injuries, inexperience and young supporting casts. Heading into his junior year; Herbert is poised to break out in a big way.
Second Team: Will Grier, West Virginia
Bryce Love, Stanford: Bryce Love could have come out in 2018 and been a top fifty draft pick. The 5’10”, 190 pound speed demon is a touchdown waiting to happen. After a 2,100 yard rushing season where he averaged 8.1 yards per carry and scored 19 touchdowns; Love is gunning for a Heisman and could be the first running back selected a year from now.
David Montgomery, Iowa State: Like always, college football is crowded with talented running backs. David Montgomery stands out as a the true star of his offense, carrying the team on his back from week to week. He is a shifty and powerful back who makes contributions in the passing game. While his sophomore year stats look mediocre on paper (1,146 yards at 4.4 YPC), it was a year filled with broken tackles behind the line of scrimmage and big plays in the open field. Expect him to take a big leap this season.
Second Team: Damien Harris, Alabama and Justice Hill, OK State
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina: Deebo Samuel was poised for a big junior season. In only three games, he had six total touchdowns; three receiving, two on kick returns and one rushing the football. However, his season was cut shorter after a broken leg in only the third week of the year. Now healthy, Samuel should have a great senior campaign as South Carolina’s main threat on offense with the ability to score in various ways.
AJ Brown, Ole Miss: AJ Brown was one of the stars of the SEC last season. While Ole Miss did not make much noise, the 6’1”, 225 pound sophomore caught 75 passes at almost 17 yards per catch and scored 11 touchdowns. That type of playmaking ability will be huge for the Rebels this season and Brown could take a step into stardom.
Second Team: N’Keal Harry, ASU and Anthony Johnson, UB
Noah Fant, Iowa: Iowa doesn’t pass the ball much, but when they throw to Noah Fant good things tend to happen. In 2017, the sophomore pass catcher scored 11 touchdowns on only 30 catches and averaged a wild 16.5 yards per catch, a truly impressive figure for a tight end. Fant is a great athlete at 6’5”, 240 pounds and is truly in the mold of the modern archetype of the position. The fact that he is also a high effort blocker only adds to his impressive profile.
Second Team: Caleb Wilson, UCLA
Jonah Williams, Alabama: Since arriving at Alabama, Jonah Williams has been a star. The 6’5”, 300 pound tackle has a very solid all around game and is a smooth athlete to boot. While he is still young and has his bad reps, his elite stretches of play suggest he could be one of the better tackle prospects to enter the draft in a while.
Trey Adams, Washington: After an All-Pac 12 Campaign in 2016, Adams had his sights on the NFL draft last year before an injury cut his season short midway through. At 6’8” and nearly 330 pounds, Adams certainly has the build of an NFL tackle. His long arms engulf defenders while his mean streak intimidates them. If he can stay healthy this year, Adams will be a first round pick next spring.
Second Team: Mitch Hyatt, Clemson and Greg Little, Ole Miss
Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama: Alabama’s famous run game wouldn’t be possible without the hog mollies up front. Ross Pierschbacher is in the class Alabama mold of big, technical and nasty. With 42 career starts under his belt, Pierschbacher is as seasoned as a lineman comes. He is a tough, smart player who will grind defenders into the dirt.
Michael Deiter, Wisconsin: Similar to Alabama, Wisconsin is nothing if not for their bulldozing offensive line. Michael Deiter was a star of the group, collecting All Big 10 honors last season, along with second team All American recognition. Deiter will be lauded for his experience and his versatility. Not only has he started 41 games, he has seen action at guard, center and tackle. Unsurprising given his 6’6”, 328 pound body. Deiter should compete for top honors at guard this season and he certainly has the tools to do so.
Second Team: Connor McGovern, Penn State and Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin
Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi State: Elgton Jenkins has been one of the more impressive lineman in the SEC in recent years. At 6’5” and 313 pounds; Jenkins has good size for the position while also possessing impressive, and important quickness. After a very good center class in 2018, Jenkins has the spotlight all to himself this season.
Second Team: Nick Linder, Indiana
Ed Oliver, Houston: Since arriving as a freshman, Ed Oliver has been one of the most outstanding players in college football, period. The 6’2”, 290 pound junior has piled up 10.5 sacks and 29 tackles for a loss in only two years. Oliver is a full package of athleticism, technique and motor. Oliver is expected to continue his ascension and could very well be a contender for the first pick in the 2019 draft.
Dexter Lawrence, Clemson: Dexter Lawrence amazingly came onto the college football scene at the same time as Ed Oliver. Lawrence had a tremendous freshman season where he picked up 6.5 sacks and 9 TFLs but his numbers dipped into his sophomore season. Regardless, Lawrence is a dancing bear type of player. At 6’5”, 340 pounds; he has impressive athleticism and strength that allows him positional flexibility. Lawrence looks like a better version of Vita Vea, who went in the top 20 of this past draft.
Second Team: Dre’Mont Jones, OSU and Raekwon Davis, Alabama
Nick Bosa, OSU: As soon as Joey Bosa moved on to dominate the NFL, Ohio State replaced him with his talented younger brother. Nick Bosa has a similarly impressive athletic profile that combines size (6’4”, 270) with good athleticism and a high motor. Bosa had 13.5 sacks and 23 TFLs in his first two seasons and those numbers could see a huge uptick as he becomes a bigger part of the Ohio State defense. In a class that looks full of impressive defensive linemen, Bosa will be among the top prospects.
Rashan Gary, Michigan: Up north from Nick Bosa, there is another incredibly gifted defensive lineman. Rashan Gary, also heading into his junior season, has experience playing inside and out of the defensive line but his NFL position may be better suited on the edge. The 6’5”, 280 pounder has a great frame, with long arms, and tremendous explosiveness to move him up field and past blockers in a hurry. Gary had 6 sacks and 12 TFLs last year, being moved all over the line for the Wolverines. It would not be surprising to see him in the conversation with Nick Bosa for the second best defender in the draft (behind Ed Oliver, of course).
Second Team: Clelin Ferrell, Clemson and Josh Allen, Kentucky
Devin White, LSU: Devin White is one of the more fun defenders to watch in college football. At 6’1”, 240 pounds, White is built like a can of soup but moves like a cruise missile. His aggressive, instinctual style of play translates to intimidating run defense and a guy who strikes fear into receivers running crossing routes. With guys like Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds now in the NFL, Devin White should carry the mantle for the top linebacker in college football.
Devin Bush, Michigan: After Jabrill Peppers left for the NFL, Michigan was able to replace his impact immediately with Devin Bush. Similarly to Peppers, Bush looks like a safety playing linebackers at 5’11” and 220 pounds. His size might give some teams pause, but his speed could assuage any fears of translation. Bush is a true new age defender with his ability to attack against the run and also cover tight ends and slot receivers. Add in his big hitting ability and NFL teams would be foolish to write him off for being a bit short.
Anfernee Jennings, Alabama: Alabama is a linebacker factory. There is no doubt about that. After making Rashaan Evans a first round pick in 2018 and Reuben Foster a first rounder in 2017, the next guy in line is Anfernee Jennings. The massive 6’3”, 260 pound inside linebacker is an old school thumper, but he flashed good movement in space. Jennings was more of a reserve his first two years with The Tide, but always made an impact when he saw the field. Now that he is set to start in the middle of Nick Saban’s defense; expect a quick rise to the top of college football defenders for the talented junior.
Second Team: TJ Edwards, Wisconsin, Kendall Joseph, Clemson and Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois
Greedy Williams, LSU: Andraez “Greedy” Williams burst onto the college football scene in his redshirt freshman year. The 6’2”, 180 pound defender picked off six passes and broke up 11 more, earning himself Freshman All American honors. Williams has a phenomenal combination of speed, size and instincts that are rare for a defender in their first season, especially at a difficult position like cornerback. However, Williams dominated his SEC competition in a way that suggests he could be an elite cornerback prospect in the vein of Jalen Ramsey, Marshon Lattimore and Patrick Peterson.
De’Andre Baker, Georgia: The Georgia defense was a big part of their run to the National Title game. The unit was loaded with NFL talent and De’Andre Baker flew relatively under the radar when the defensive personnel were discussed. The rising senior’s play last year can be described as nothing less than incredibly steady. Baker brings a certain level of consistency and awareness to every snap that is rare for college athlete. Baker is a confident, technical player who does a good job finding the football and preventing big plays. While he can be called unspectacular, sometimes those defenders are the ones who find greatest success in the NFL.
Second Team: Julian Love, Notre Dame and Clifton Duck, Appalachian State
Lukas Denis, Boston College: Lukas Denis quietly was the second most productive defensive back in college football last season. The rising senior picked off seven passes in 2017 and broke up another 10. Denis is a classic free safety who diagnoses from deep field to close on the football and make a play. He is less a big hitter or run supporter, but definitely someone who can change the game against the pass.
Marvell Tell III, USC: USC’s defense is not as star studded as it used to be, but Marvell Tell could be their big name player in 2018. Tell picked off three passes in 2017, returning one for a touchdown. His 6’3” frame will intrigue a lot of NFL teams and some may look at him as a potential cornerback conversion. Regardless, he has good size and fluidity in coverage. Also, he has a willingness to tackle that teams will like in a player who could switch between safety spots in a cinch.
Second Team: Taylor Rapp, Washington and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida