I’m not the only one counting down the days until college football begins, right?
A little less than a month away, there are a handful of players making waves and turning heads before the season gets underway. Many of them are aiming towards a national championship, but only a few are destined to be first round prospects in April’s NFL Draft. There’s a lot to prove and a lot of scouts to impress, so without further ado, here are five prospects from each position to look out for during the 2018 college football season.
(Note: so far, this is looking to be one of the weakest class of quarterbacks in years. There are hardly any standouts and will probably only be two drafted within the first round.)
1. Justin Herbert, Oregon
Scouts are already saying that Herbert has big-time potential, which is essential for Oregon if they want to get back to the top of the Pac-12 conference. Although he only played eight games last season, the now-junior completed 67-percent of his passes for 1,750 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. As a true freshman, he racked up 1,936 yards with 19 touchdowns and a 64-percent completion rate.
Strengths: Good size, strong arm, patience in the pocket, pass placement that leads receivers out of coverage, ability to pick up yards running
Weaknesses: Field vision
2. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Another quarterback entering his junior season, Stidham finished 2017 with 67-percent of passes completed, 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. He steadily improved upon his struggles from the beginning of the year and rounded off the season by knocking off both undefeated Georgia and Alabama. Scouts have praised him for his potential as well saying he could end up being a high-first round pick if he stays consistent.
Strengths: high football IQ, good throwing mechanics including a quick release, vastly improved field vision against the rush, very mobile with excellent speed
Weaknesses: needs to fix side arm release, not that physically gifted compared to Herbert
3. Drew Lock, Missouri
Lock grabbed the media’s attention by setting an SEC single-season record for touchdown passes in 2017 with 43, while also completing 58-percent of his passes for 3,964 yards. Missouri has been known to be a lacking team over the past couple seasons. Lock turned that around in the last half of the year winning six straight games after the Tigers had a 1-5 start. Talk about a tear. He was very wise to return to Missouri before turning pro, because there are a lot of improvements to make.
Strengths: big-armed gunslinger with great ability to throw any pass, good size, tight window passing, downfield passing, mobility
Weaknesses: accuracy, field vision, prone to overthrow, a little too powerful, needs to be consistent with timing and anticipation
4. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
An ankle injury in the Egg Bowl ended his season early, which probably helped him decide to return for his senior year. He amassed 29 total touchdowns with 14 of them rushing and 1,782 yards. However, his high interception total (11) doesn’t excite a lot of scouts, but as Dak Prescott’s successor, he has a lot to prove this season if he wants to compete in the most challenging conference in college football.
Strengths: pro size, breakaway speed, charisma
Weaknesses: accuracy, pocket passing, too many forced passes
5. Easton Stick, North Dakota State
A lot of media buzz has generated after three nice seasons with the Bison, and what a statement to make after Carson Wentz entered the NFL. Just look at his consistently improving season statistics:
He unfortunately wasn’t listed on NFL team’s preseason watch lists with other first- through fourth-round projections. That could quickly change midway through the season.
Strengths: quality arm, mobility in and out of pocket, ability to make NFL throws
Weaknesses: needs to learn how to fit the ball in tight windows, connection with receivers, needs faster throwing motion
1. Bryce Love, Stanford
Currently getting a shocking comparison to Chris Johnson, Love is better than other smaller backs who have gone in the first round in the past (David Wilson, Jahvid Best, etc. At 5-foot-10 and 196 pounds, he’s tough and extremely fast. If you need proof, watch the video and how his vision of the field sends him to the end zone in a matter of seconds. This early Heisman candidate is deadly, as he’s already putting up NFL- like numbers (8.1 yards per carry, 2,118 yards, 19 touchdowns).
2. Damien Harris, Alabama
Harris took a very long time to develop into a well-rounded back. Scouts has compared him to Doug Martin when he was a dominant runner in the NFL. With great vision, good contact balance, and strength, Harris has the potential to be elite, especially since he was Alabama’s leading rusher. In 2017, he averaged 7.4 yards per carry with 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s due to explode for even more this season.
3. Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
Anderson is now the next man up for the Sooners now that Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine have moved on to the NFL. The now-feature-back had an impressive 2017 season with 5.9 yards per carry for 960 yards and 11 touchdowns. While he is quick with a superb ability to get to the second level of the defense, he’ll need to develop better acceleration to burn defenders on his way to the end zone.
4. Mike Weber, Ohio State
Limited by a hamstring injury for a few games, Weber still took 96 carries for 608 yards with 10 touchdowns. He won the starting job to replace Ezekiel Elliott out of a group of highly recruited and talented backs. In his impressive debut season, he averaged six yards per carry for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns.
5. Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
From his freshman year onward, Williams has looked like he’s got potential. The Aggies’ offensive line struggled, however, during his sophomore year and only totaled 575 yards on the ground. After getting a commitment out of the No. 1 offensive tackle out of high school, Kenyon Green, Williams will look to have an easier time boosting his draft stock. During his freshman year, he picked up 6.8 yards per carry with 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns.
1. A.J. Brown, Mississippi
The Ole Miss Rebels have had a hard time getting their swagger back over the past couple seasons, but A.J. Brown has been a standout on an offense that lost its starting quarterback to injury. He still managed to total 75 receptions for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns. Brown is quick with polish and physicality and dangerous with the ball in his hands. With broken tackles left and right, he has tremendous yards-after-the-catch potential.
2. Ahmmon Richards, Miami
Brad Kaaya lacked the consistency to really show Richards’ true ability in 2016 and in 2017, he only played seven games because of a hamstring injury. He still displayed his play-making ability in his appearances, averaging 19.1 YPC. Here are his statistics from his previous two years:
2017: 24 catches, 439 yards, three touchdowns
2016: 49 catches, 934 yards, three touchdowns
3. Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
Scouts are excited about the rise of this young projected 2nd rounder. If he stays healthy, he may go even earlier. In 2017, he displayed explosive speed and play-making ability with 15 receptions for 250 yards and three touchdowns. However, in the third game of the season, he broke a bone in his left leg. But after returning a kick for a touchdown in each of the two games prior, the Gamecocks knew they’d have him primed and ready for the following season.
4. N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Poised to be the leading receiver for the Pac-12 conference this season, Harry was able to snag 73 passes for 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017. Scouts report him as a late first-rounder or an early second-round pick. I expect him to be picked late in the first round if he can find enough speed to separate from the pro-caliber cornerbacks on his routes.
5. Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
Very fast and an instant threat to score, Brown can practically catch a pass whenever he wants to. As a sophomore, he averaged 19.2 yards per catch for 1,095 yards on 57 catches with seven touchdowns. He needs to get stronger for the NFL, but his thin frame will do for now because of his explosiveness. Just needs to work on adding weight while maintaining his speed.
1. Noah Fant, Iowa
To me, Iowa has become “TE University” in recent years after the amount of prospects they’ve produced; Fant can continue the trend after his breakout sophomore year, hauling in 28 passes for 486 yards and ten touchdowns. He can only get stronger and become a better blocker to climb up the draft boards. This kid is dangerous.
2. Caleb Wilson, UCLA
Wilson shined in the Bruins’ legendary comeback over Texas A&M, catching 15 passes for 208 yards. He was Josh Rosen’s most reliable receiving threat prior to a season-ending foot injury, therefore, his statistics don’t add up to much. However, scouts are eyeing him to be an early second-round weapon for the lucky NFL team that drafts him.
3. Kaden Smith, Stanford
Stanford is no stranger to producing great tight ends for the NFL, with most of them being solid blockers and productive receivers. Dalton Schultz is long gone and playing with the big boys professionally, so Smith should be seeing more playing time with the Cardinal. Look for him to build upon his resume after catching 23 passes for 414 yards with five touchdowns back in 2017.
4. Tyler Petite, USC
Although his college highlight reel has yet to be created, Petite had a great junior season with Sam Darnold at quarterback, catching 23 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. But now it’s time to break in a new quarterback after making only minor contributions to the offense over his past three seasons. His blocking also needs to improve drastically before he can see himself as an early third round pick.
5. C.J. Conrad, Kentucky
Seeing something great come out of the Kentucky football program is surprising to me to say the least. But they have a stud in Conrad who, in 2017, caught 16 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, his season ended early because of a foot injury that needed surgery. Although there was limited opportunities for him to shine, he has a lot of upside to grow and build his draft stock this coming season.
(disclaimer: some of the videos, if you choose to watch, won’t point out the linemen)
1. Jonah Williams, Alabama
Are you surprised an offensive tackle from Alabama is at the top of the list? Williams was a freshman when he earned a starting spot at right tackle for the Tide back in 2016. Now at left tackle in replacement of Cam Robinson, he’s reliable covering the blind side and very intuitive in the run game and pass protection. Williams’ size and speed will be very special for the NFL team that chooses him.
2. Trey Adams, Washington
Forced to return to the Huskies for his senior year after an ACL tear in October 2017, Adams is and will be a first round pick come April. He’s shown great range, quickness, athleticism, and agility after a far-from-flawless season opener against Rutgers. He was rated as one of the best pass protectors in 2016 and should be just as dominant once the season is in full swing.
3. Greg Little, Mississippi
Little showed big potential (see what I did there?) as a freshman starter for Ole Miss, but his sophomore year was lackluster at best. Scouts have reported that his recent gains of experience will make him elite as a junior in a conference full of highly-touted offensive linemen.
4. Bobby Evans, Oklahoma
Evans and Orlando Brown were a dangerous tag team last season with both of them covering the right and left ends of the pocket, respectively. He opened up a lot of holes in the run game and protected No. 1 overall Baker Mayfield diligently. Evans will be moving to the left side of the line this season and is projected to go within the first four rounds of the NFL Draft.
5. Michael Deiter, Wisconsin
The B1G Championship illustrated that Deiter needed to return to the Badgers in 2018, being constantly flustered by the skill of Ohio State’s defensive line. To put it in perspective, Nick Bosa made Deiter his “bitch” and showed him that there was a lot to work on with his technique. After replacing Ryan Ramczyk at left tackle in 2017, Deiter made a solid season with good size and athleticism. If he wants to be a first-round pick, he needs to get better leverage on the ground game.
1. Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama
Yes, yet another Crimson Tide lineman. Don’t act surprised.
Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris have this man to thank for opening up so many holes in the trenches. Pierschbacher has played both left guard and center for the Crimson Tide as a solid run blocker. This season will give him the opportunity to improve his pass blocking ability as Alabama will try to move him between guard and center.
2. Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin
Both Alabama and Wisconsin will have a lot of offensive linemen featured in the early rounds of this coming NFL Draft. Benzschawel adds to that list due to his bulky size with an ability to fire off the ball and generate the most important thing an interior lineman can do: push. His linear build does hurt him in retrospect, but he’ll beat you off the ball and make you regret lining up against him.
3. Alex Bars, Notre Dame
Although he has experience at right tackle for the Fighting Irish, Bars will be a better fit at inside guard this season and for his foreseeable future in the NFL. But head coach Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Jeff Quinn will have to make a decision whether he’ll be the right replacement for Quenton Nelson or Mike McGlinchey. Violent in the trenches, he pounces off the ball ready to attack like a proper interior lineman.
4. Michael Jordan, Ohio State
Bursting onto the season during his freshman year starting at guard, Jordan showed great improvement in 2017 as a sophomore. There’s a recent trend of interior linemen from the Buckeyes going in early rounds and he should be able to follow that, no questions asked. Jordan already has good size to go with his strength and athleticism. With a little bit more development, he’ll be able help the Ohio State offense dominate the B1G Conference.
5. Dru Samia, Oklahoma
Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma backfield was fronted by some quality offensive linemen last season and Samia is one of them. After moving from right tackle his freshman year to right guard the following season, he provided steady pass protection and holes for running. All he needs to do is gain some size and strength and his frame will be perfect for the NFL.
1. Dalton Risner, Kansas State
Performing well on both the inside and outside of the o-line, the Wildcats’ coaching staff knows they have a shuffle piece in Risner to move around at their disposal. Simply put, he’s been reliable anywhere he’s put. However, for the NFL, moving back to center will be his best fit.
2. Connor McGovern, Penn State
As aforementioned, some of the best running threats we saw last season would be nothing without their interior linemen. By far, the best running back we’ve seen in years, Saquon Barkley, has this man to thank for making him look good. McGovern opened a lot of holes for him as a quality run blocker and will need to maintain consistency as a pass protector for quarterback Trace McSorley. Great height and arm length makes McGovern a great fit for an NFL center spot.
3. Jesse Burkett, Stanford
There’s a reason why Burkett is playing for Stanford: he’s a very smart blocker. Overall, he has the best ability out of every center to block up to the second level of the defense. Only a little bit of size, however, but he makes up for it with a good combination of skills and athleticism.
4. Sam Mustipher, Notre Dame
As one of the shortest centers in this upcoming draft, Mustipher (6-foot-2) would be rated higher if he were taller and had more length. His size does limit him in certain aspects, but he has proved to be an impressive blocker for Notre Dame. Steady in pass protection and aggressive in the trenches, Mustipher may be a huge surprise this season.
5. Jake Hanson, Oregon
Hanson had a good season in 2017 and is still questionable as an entry into this upcoming NFL Draft. Why? Maybe it’s because he still has some strength to develop and experience to gain as a well-rounded center. The decision is ultimately up to him when he feels ready. As a quality athlete with some quickness, Hanson should know what he has to work on and will grow as a dominant interior lineman.