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).
It’s not too late to grab the 2018 NFL Draft guide and stock up on your knowledge of every rookie player who should make a big impact in the 2018 NFL season.
1. Nick Bosa, Ohio State
Strengths – One of the most technically-sound pass-rushers with his hand usage that you’ll ever see in college football.
Room to improve in 2018 – Still has too many ugly, off-balance reps that see him ending up on the ground.
2. Rashan Gary, Michigan
Strengths – A physical tour de force whose capable of playing through or around offensive linemen.
Room to improve in 2018 – Gary has gotten by on pure physical tools for most of his career up to this point and his hand usage needs refining.
3. Anthony Nelson, Iowa
Strengths – An ox of a man, capable of barreling through offensive tackles and guards alike.
Room to improve in 2018 – He’s a bit of a tweener at 6-foot-7, 271 pounds. It might help him to either bulk up and play inside or trim down a tad and play outside.
4. Jalen Jelks, Oregon
Strengths – Impressive length that he knows how to use to his advantage.
Room to improve in 2018 – Jelks plays mostly inside in Oregon’s 3-man fronts, but projects more to edge at the NFL level. Seeing more snaps outside will help his evaluation.
5. Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion
Strengths – Never takes himself out of the play as a pass-rusher and will win as often late as he does on first contact.
Room to improve in 2018 – His explosiveness is nothing special for the position and he could stand to add some strength.
Defensive Interior Linemen
1. Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State
Strengths – Perhaps the best interior pass-rusher in the draft, Simmons won 16.2 percent of his pass-rushes last season, best in the draft class among interior rushers with at least 250 rushes. Ranked second among returning interior defensive linemen with a 90.8 overall grade last season and ranked fourth with a 90.3 grade against the run.
Room to improve in 2018 – Simmons has all the tools to dominate, both against the run and as a rusher, so it’s all about producing at a high level in all phases this season.
2. Ed Oliver, Houston
Strengths – An incredible athlete, Oliver moves up and down the line of scrimmage like a linebacker and his 94.7 grade against the run is the third-best we’ve seen in our four years of grading. Best finisher in the nation, posting a run-stop percentage of 12.0 in each of the last two years (ranked fifth in nation in 2016, seventh in 2017).
Room to improve in 2018 – Pass-rush production has been lacking for an expected top-end pick and his 69.2 pass-rush grade ranked only 75th in the nation last season.
3. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
Strengths – Great size and excellent disruptor in the run game, as he’s able to jack up blockers and deter running backs. Can push the pocket and rush the passer, ranking third among FBS defensive tackles with a pass rush productivity of 11.8 in 2016.
Room to improve in 2018 – Pass-rush productivity dropped to 7.0 last season (25th in FBS) and he can be moved by double-teams, despite his 340-pound frame.
4. Ricky Walker, Virginia Tech
Strengths – Low pad-level and quick hands allow him to get under offensive linemen and rush the passer. Ranked eighth among returning interior defensive linemen with a 76.4 pass-rush grade. Solid run defender.
Room to improve in 2018 – May not have the power to push the pocket as a pass-rusher, only picked up four pressures on bull-rushes last season.
5. Christian Wilkins, Clemson
Strengths – Wilkins has the tools to beat blocks and make plays in the running game and that’s where he’s been at his best during his three-year college career.
Room to improve in 2018 – The pass-rush production simply hasn’t been there for Wilkins in order to justify the first-round hype. He needs to take a major step forward in 2018 after grading at only 67.8 as a pass-rusher last season.
1. Dakota Allen, Texas Tech
Strengths – Allen’s speed and raw athleticism are his biggest strengths, and it’s allowed him to be a factor in coverage in a way many linebackers aren’t. From 27 targets in 2017, he allowed a passer rating of just 55.9.
Room to improve in 2018 – He can be washed out of the play by offensive linemen if they get to the second level cleanly, and he needs to work on how he takes on those blocks or at least avoids being driven out of the play at the second level.
2. Devin Bush, Michigan
Strengths – A player that has flashed immense ability from Day 1 at Michigan, Bush has been a versatile linebacker whose greatest strength may be his unstoppable attack on the blitz. A season ago, he had seven sacks and 26 total pressures when rushing the passer.
Room to improve in 2018 – At his best, he is one of the best linebackers in the game, but needs to work on doing it consistently every week in all facets of the game.
3. T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
Strengths – Play in coverage has been a strength of Edwards across multiple seasons, and in 2017, he had four interceptions and six pass breakups from 41 targets.
Room to improve in 2018 – There really aren’t many flaws to Edwards’ game, with impressive grades in coverage and against the run. He has multiple seasons of quality play and had his best year in 2017.
4. Joe Giles-Harris, Duke
Strengths – Giles-Harris is a tackling machine, who notched 66 defensive stops a season ago, good enough to rank fifth in the nation behind two first-round NFL draft picks. He missed just seven tackles from 115 attempts.
Room to improve in 2018 – Raw athleticism isn’t a great strength and it could cause him to have some problems in coverage against superior athletes, but it has yet to really manifest itself as a problem in his game.
5. Paddy Fisher, Northwestern
Strengths – Much like Giles-Harris, Fisher’s biggest strength is against the run and finding his way to the football. He topped 60 defensive stops in 2017, and had fewer than 10 missed tackles from 136 attempts.
Room to improve in 2018 – Fisher was a force against the run in his lone season of action in 2017, but coverage was a little behind, though far from a weakness in all but a couple of games. He needs a season of improvement in that area to catapult him up draft boards.
1. Deandre Baker, Georgia
Strengths – Shows the ability to stick with receivers in man coverage. Moves well and has good ball skills, leading to 10 pass breakups and three interceptions in 2017.
Room to improve in 2018 – Baker’s poor plays typically come when his eye discipline lacks, peeking in the backfield.
2. Greedy Williams, LSU
Strengths – Excellent size, speed and length allows him to play press-man coverage and stick with receivers in man coverage.
Room to improve in 2018 – Less comfortable playing off coverage. Can lose at the catch point down the field, leading to big plays.
3. Lavert Hill, Michigan
Strengths – Stays in phases with receivers and has a good feel for playing zone coverage. Showed good ball skills at the catch point when he finds the ball.
Room to improve in 2018 – Was often late to react to the ball at the catch point, so can be targeted on back-shoulder throws. Can get grabby at the top of routes.
4. Jamel Dean, Auburn
Strengths – Great size gives Dean an advantage in press situations. Moves well for his size and has a good feel for underneath zone.
Room to improve in 2018 –Will have some ugly plays when lined up against shiftier receivers and is not as comfortable playing off coverage.
5. Jordan Wyatt, SMU
Strengths – Playmaker. Wyatt sticks his nose in on screen passes and he’s shown a knack for forcing fumbles and making plays on the ball. Good speed and acceleration.
Room to improve in 2018 – Change of direction could be an issue and has been susceptible to double moves.
1. Jaquan Johnson, Miami (Fla.)
Strengths – Solid ball skills, with four interceptions and three pass breakups last year.
Room to improve in 2018 – Could take a small step forward at everything in order to be a top prospect. More plays on the ball to take him from solid to good there.
2. Lukas Denis, Boston College
Strengths – Denis is a playmaker with seven interceptions and eight pass breakups last year, he also had one interception and five pass breakups from 113 snaps in coverage in 2016.
Room to improve in 2018 – Needs to improve as a tackler, way too wild right now, leading to 18 missed tackles from 86 attempted last year.
3. Andrew Wingard, Wyoming
Strengths – Good run defender as a strong safety. Three straight years with a PFF run-defense grade of 73.0 or higher and 40-plus stops in the run and pass game.
Room to improve in 2018 – Inconsistent as a tackler. Missed 30 in 2016, and had four games last year where he missed at least two.
4. Taylor Rapp, Washington
Strengths – Really good attacking the run off the edge from the slot. Had 21 tackles resulting in a defensive stop and was an effective run-blitzer.
Room to improve in 2018 – Tackling technique is really poor at times. Gets into good position then just throws himself at the offensive player’s legs. Missed 6-of-54 attempted tackles last year.
5. Darnell Savage Jr., Maryland
Strengths – Strong season in coverage in 2017 while being versatile enough to play deep, close to the line of scrimmage and in the slot. Finished the year with three interceptions and seven pass breakups.
Room to improve in 2018 – Doesn’t offer a lot in run support. PFF run-defense grades of 64.9 and 67.6 over the past two seasons and 25 missed tackles from 128 attempted.