The staff at Pro Football Focus dish on who ‘their guys’ are for the 2019 NFL Draft. Whether it be a first-round prospect who deserves more hype or a Day 3 potential sleeper pick, PFF’s analysts discuss who they like in the upcoming NFL draft.
Jerry Tillery, DI, Notre Dame
For the life of me, I can’t understand why Jerry Tillery isn’t being rumored to go higher in the upcoming draft. He has the ideal size, length, and athleticism to play 3 or 5 technique in the NFL. Oh, and he also has arguably the most refined package of pass-rushing moves in this class. That combination works well in the league.
Darnell Savage, S, Maryland
Savage is one of the players whose on-field performances match his incredible workout numbers. He flies around the field, making plays in the run game and at the catch point where he could become a turnover machine at the next level. Savage has scheme diversity as he can play any role on the back end, but he may be best as a versatile coverage strong safety who thrives in a “robber” role in the middle of the field and plays over the slot in a zone-heavy system.
Gary Jennings Jr., WR, West Virginia
Every West Virginia game seemed to feature a segment about the back story of David Sills, the former quarterback recruit-turned WR for the Mountaineers, but it was Gary Jennings Jr. that was the biggest playmaker in that offense. Jennings is a smooth route runner with the size (6-foot-2, 215-pounds) to make an impact at the next level inside or outside. Last season there were three games in which Will Grier had a perfect passer rating when targeting Jennings, and overall, that duo combined for a rating of 144.7 on the season.
Chase Winovich, Edge, Michigan
Winovich has the skillset to cause problems as an edge rusher in the NFL, and his college production speaks for itself. He produced back-to-back seasons with a PFF grade of 90.0 or higher in 2017 and 2018, and while his sack numbers dropped, he averaged pressure at a higher rate in 2018, with a sack, hit or hurry once every 6.5 pass-rushing attempts. He didn’t just beat up on poor opposition either, with his highest-graded pass-rushing games in 2018 coming against Penn State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. He didn’t blow anyone away with his athletic testing at the combine (though his speed tests were impressive), but given that he likely slips into round two or beyond, I’ll back him to outperform multiple edge defenders who come off the board before him.
Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo
The 2018 season didn’t quite go to plan for Johnson after breaking out in his first year with the Bulls in 2017. That being said, Johnson still recorded 1,011 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns, an 83.7 overall grade and averaged 17.7 yards per reception, equaling his 2017 average. For a big man, he’s a sharp route runner, has excellent straight-line speed, can make defenders miss after the catch and is no slouch to explosive plays and contested catches, leading the draft class in both over the past two seasons combined. He’s a steal for someone in the late rounds as he proved he could dominate, albeit on a limited sample size, against non-MAC opposition with an 11-catch, 140-yard performance against Minnesota in his lone game against Power-5 competition.
Diontae Johnson, WR, Toledo
Diontae Johnson is (wrongfully) flying under the radar in this year’s class. The Toledo product is a skilled, deceptive route-runner with an unparalleled ability to create separation at the intermediate and deep levels of the field. Slotted as the No. 77 overall player of PFF’s top-250 list, Johnson has drop and size concerns that will push teams away, but his ability to separate consistently makes up for a lot of his woes. His two-year receiving grade (85.9) ranks tied for 10th in the class, and the fact that he can win in and away from the slot is more than enough reason to sprint the card in on Day 2.
Cortez Broughton, DI, Cincinnati
The terms “draft sleeper” and “diamond in the rough” are clichés that are used all too often this time of year, but in regard to Cortez Broughton, the saying rings true. During his career at Cincinnati (2014-2018), Broughton racked up 94 quarterback pressures and 98 defensive stops by putting all of his power into a vicious first step. He can apply interior pressure on any down, and he can clear lanes in an instant. Against the run, Broughton was just as efficient. He never fell outside of the top 10 among qualified AAC interior defenders during his final three seasons, posting a run-defense grade over 80.0 each year. An explosive athlete with a high motor? Sign me up.
Brian Peavy, CB, Iowa State
If Brian Peavy were 6’0” tall, him being drafted by Day 2 wouldn’t even be a question, but because he’s only 5’9” he’s likely going to fall despite being an incredibly talented corner. Peavy was one of the few bright spots on defense in the Big 12 last year, finishing as the sixth-highest graded corner in the entire NCAA. Despite playing against a murderer’s row of future NFL wideouts, Peavy allowed just 31 receptions on 59 targets all season. His 0.74 yards coverage snap was a top-20 mark among this draft class of corners. Despite his size, he isn’t afraid to make plays in the run game either, as evidenced by his 52 tackles in the run game over the past two seasons (second-most in the draft class). Not to mention, Peavy did all this while playing through a torn pectoral muscle for the entire 2018 season.
Ronheen Bingham, Edge, Arkansas State
If Bingham hadn’t torn his MCL in Arkansas State’s bowl game, I fully believe he’d be garnering first-round hype on Draft Twitter because he’s easily the most impressive non-Power 5 draft prospect in this year’s class. Bingham possesses a full move set, and he can beat offensive tackles in multiple ways. He has the flexibility to bend the edge and the speed and power to dip and rip. His best move is the spin move, and it works so well because of his speed to power ability. The only concern is his level of competition, as he only saw 26 pass-rush snaps vs. Power 5 teams, but he did get the better of Alabama’s Jonah Williams — the fourth-highest player on PFF’s big board — on a few occasions. Just Kentucky’s Josh Allen topped Bingham’s 94.1 pass-rush grade in 2018, and he’s a name that shouldn’t be forgotten this weekend.
Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis
The difference between Darrell Henderson and most running backs is that if a run play is blocked effectively, he will get six points instead of six yards. Henderson had 41 runs of 15 or more yards in 2018, which is the most in a single season since PFF began collecting college data. Henderson also led the nation in breakaway percentage at 70.8%, and his 6.2 yards after contact per attempt also leads the draft class. In addition, he can also line up in the slot as a receiver, as he did 22 times last season. Henderson is too fast for linebackers to cover and can provide an instant mismatch problem for defenses as a pass-catcher. Henderson will make an immediate impact as a rookie and outperform his draft slot.
Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
I want receivers who can win when the ball isn’t in the air, both before the throw and after the catch, and this is why Deebo Samuel belongs in the discussion about the top receiver in the class. He may not be the biggest or fastest receiver, but he’s well-built, and his 4.48 combine forty suggests he’s fast enough. Golden Tate has been a typical favorable comparison for him because of his elusiveness (he broke 21 tackles on just 62 catches last season), but I think the Steve Smith comparison is better suited. Samuel’s aggression is more on par to what we saw from Smith, and it allows him to consistently create separation, even against press coverage. We saw this on display repeatedly throughout his college career at South Carolina as well as Senior Bowl week, and he should be able to translate this dynamic skill set quickly to the NFL game.
Te’von Coney, LB, Notre Dame
In today’s NFL, the passing game is king, and this past year Te’von Coney showed an ability to make plays in coverage. His strength in coverage was reacting when the quarterback made a quick decision: on passes with a time to throw of 2.5 seconds or less, Coney had one interception, got in position but dropped another two potential interceptions, and he forced another two incompletions. His 0.34 yards per coverage snap is the third-lowest mark among linebackers in the class, and he is also among the class’ surest tacklers, with a 21.8 tackling efficiency which ranked third among players at the position.
Tim Harris, CB, Virginia
Unfortunately, due to injuries, Harris is the best-kept secret in this year’s draft class. However, he profiles as a guy with prototype size and elite athleticism, who can become a shut-down corner in the NFL. Turn on the tape, and you will see Harris be physical at the line of scrimmage in press, easily mirror routes in man, or even play off-man in zone. He has the requisite length to shut down throwing windows deep outside the numbers, and he also has the explosiveness to come up and make plays on throws underneath. Allowing a passer rating against of only 52.0 and a catch rate of 48.7%, Harris earned a 2018 coverage grade of 87.1 – good for seventh among all outside cornerbacks in this draft class.
Sean Bunting, CB, Central Michigan
As a small-school prospect coming off a relatively down year (76.7 coverage grade in 2018), Bunting isn’t getting a ton of attention, but the former Chippewa has a real chance to surprise as a day-two pick. For starters, he’s one of the best athletes at the position in this draft class, showing off impressive movement skills while also possessing the size and length so many NFL teams covet on the outside. And when you look at the entirety of his college resume, Bunting’s production compares favorably with just about any other cornerback in this class. Across 1021 coverage snaps, Bunting allowed a mere 905 receiving yards and a 51.0% completion rate into his coverage, picking off nine passes (tied for fifth-most in draft class) and posting a top-15 forced incompletion rate, all combining to give him a three-year coverage grade over 90.0.
Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic
While Singletary is not a home run hitter, if you get the ball in his hands, he will make defenders miss time and time again and turn negative runs into positive outcomes. Singletary forced 96 missed tackles as a runner in 2018 and racked up 1027 yards after contact, both ranking second in the running back draft class. He wasn’t used in the passing game, so that part of his game is an unknown, with only 10 targets passed the line of scrimmage in the past two seasons. I would compare him to Dion Lewis with the ball in his hands, and with a midround pick, I would be happy to add him to my squad.
Jamel Dean, CB, Auburn
At 6’1″, 206 lbs, Jamel Dean looks as much like a linebacker as he does a cornerback, but his 4.3-second 40-yard dash at this year’s NFL combine leaves no question about Dean’s ability to play on the outside. Arms nearly 32 inches in length help Dean with his ball skills, as evidenced by his 26% forced incompletion rate over the past two seasons that is second best among this year’s draft class at the position. As teams continue to target tight ends and move bigger-bodied receivers into the slot, a defender with Dean’s blend of size and coverage skills will be extremely valuable for whatever team selects him this weekend.