An early look at the top 32 NFL draft-eligible college football players taking the field in 2019
It's never too early to take a look at college football's burgeoning stars
The deadline to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft has come and gone. There notable exits, and some teams were able to celebrate the return of star players and key contributors as college football turns its attention to next season. But as the depth charts and way-too-early rankings get fired up in the first month of the year, so too does the attention on the 2020 NFL Draft.
Below, we've ranked the top 32 draft-eligible players for next year's draft. It's a group that's headlined by an all-time recruiting class that will be in its third collegiate season this fall and face some tough decisions at the end of the year. Oregon's Justin Herbert could have been the first quarterback taken this spring, but the conversation changes when you insert the likes of Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia's Jake Fromm into the conversation.
This is not a mock draft, big board or even a ranking of players based on the way their games might translate to the next level. The rankings below take college success into consideration, first and foremost, followed by expectations of what might be to come for each individual on Saturdays next fall.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama: Don't let the memory of one night in Santa Clara, California, cloud your judgement. Not only did Tagovailoa show enough in his Heisman Trophy runner-up campaign in 2018 to earn this distinction, the hype will only grow as he returns this fall with Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs and Najee Harris all in tow for another year of overwhelming opponents with offensive firepower.
2. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia: If Tagovailoa has the absurd statistics, Fromm is going to get equal consideration because he checks so many boxes as a top quarterback prospect. From the Elite 11 and the recruiting process onward, Fromm has found ways to separate himself from the competition with a gamer's attitude and an arm that can, as they say, "make all the throws."
3. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: Next year's Ducks offense is going to challenge Alabama for the best in the country, and it's going to make the quarterback battle (which plays out in Heisman and All-America balloting way before we get to the NFL Draft) fascinating. Herbert has no downside, but could end up falling behind the aforementioned juniors if only because Oregon's best path to the College Football Playoff includes a heavy dose of a ground game that took off in 2018.
4. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: At 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, Brown is a disruptive force in the middle of the line that could have easily been a first-round pick this spring. His decision to return for another year was as surprising as that of Herbert, and it was equally impactful in the way we view his team going into the fall.
5. Andrew Thomas, OL, Georgia: Another member of the 2017 recruiting class that was thrust into action early and has done everything you'd expect across two seasons at a high level.
6. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: The 2018 Biletnikoff Award winner might not see as many catches or yards in 2019, but there is no chance he's going to lose his status as the best receiver in the game.
7. Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado: This was the season that Shenault went from being one of the most underrated players in college football to the most valuable player on his team. Colorado's offense lost its way when Shenault was not on the field, and Mel Tucker won't need any offensive wizards to advise him to get the ball to the 6-foot-2 playmaker from DeSoto, Texas.
8. Walker Little, OL, Stanford: After a breakout season as a freshman, Little followed it up with a first team all-conference nod in 2018, even as the Cardinal offense shifted from Bryce Love as the featured star to a downfield passing attack led by K.J. Costello.
9. Grant Delpit, DB, LSU: Every September, we start to learn a few new names for college football's ring of stars based exclusively on playmaking ability. It's these defensive players who pop, flash and always seem to be near the action that get me scrambling for the depth chart and win my affection. Delpit was that dude in 2018, and there's no signs of him slowing down as the new leader of DBU.
10. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: So much for a letdown after Taylor's breakout freshman season. Wisconsin's star running back led the nation in rushing, claimed the Doak Walker Award in 2018 and should be considered one of the top running backs in the mix for the Heisman Trophy in 2019.
11. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: We started to see flashes of Young's otherworldly playmaking ability in 2018 after Nick Bosa went down with a season-ending injury. With some turnover on the defensive line, it's to be expected that he's going to become the new star of that group.
12. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama: The future plans for Moses have always included the NFL. He's been a pro talent since high school and has only improved his game during these last two years. As the NFL game continues to embrace spread offense, Moses will become archetype for what teams want in a linebacker.
13. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson: A strong downhill runner with impressive breakaway speed, Etienne was the motor behind Clemson's national championship push in the regular season. He claimed ACC Player of the Year honors and while he might see less work as Trevor Lawrence continues to grow and improve, that does nothing to his stock in the minds of NFL execs.
14. Tyler Biadasz, OL, Wisconsin: There was an option to go pro after this year, but the All-Big Ten lineman decided to return for a redshirt junior season. With Taylor back as well, Biadasz and the Badgers are hoping to recapture the bruising rushing attack that led to back-to-back Big Ten West titles.
15. Isaiah Simmons, DB, Clemson: Brent Veneables found out this week that the Tigers defense, while it is losing four all-stars on the defensive line, returns its top tackler and the team-leader in pass breakups in Simmons. Clemson's nickel/outside linebacker has been one of the keys to bolstering the second level of the defense during the year, and he'll be one of the team leaders as the Tigers defend their title in 2019.
16. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama: This will be the leading nominee for your "He's still in the SEC?" team in 2019. Because Alabama has a deep defensive line rotation and Davis, at 6-foot-7 and 316 pounds, has been a part of that group basically since he arrived, it feels like he's been around since the BCS era. Davis is an incredible talent and a certain pro, and he'll lead Alabama's revenge tour in 2019.
17. Nick Coe, DL, Auburn: Like Delpit at LSU, Coe was a player who flashed early in the season and quickly became a personal favorite among SEC linemen. He's role is going to be increased in 2019, which is only good for Auburn, and combined with Derrick Brown should be leading one of the best defensive fronts in the country.
18. C.J. Henderson, DB, Florida: A sophomore from the Miami area, Henderson didn't even start to play cornerback until late in his high school career. Auburn and West Virginia recruited him as a tailback, but at Florida he has become one of college football's budding stars in the defensive backfield. A grinder off the field as he continues to improve his craft, the trajectory for Henderson is only going up as he enters his junior season in 2019. Don't be surprised to see classmate Marco Wilson in this group as well; he stood out for the Gators as a freshman but missed nearly the entire 2018 season due to injury.
19. Mekhi Becton, OL, Louisville: There was a lot of attrition and frustration around Louisville football this year, but Scott Satterfield inherits a pro talent with Becton. He has proven that he's got much more to offer as a lineman beyond his 6-foot-7, 355-pound frame and 7-foot wingspan, showing flexibility and movement that has kept him on the minds of NFL decision makers even as the Cards were struggling.
20. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson: The always-crowded wide receiver room at Clemson leveled up over the last month of the season as Higgins continued his progression and Justyn Ross emerged as a superstar in the playoff. We could see Higgins, a true junior in 2019, return for a senior season in Death Valley; but if he goes pro, there is no shortage of teams ready to pick him up as one of the top four or five receivers in the draft class.
21. Kenny Willekes, DL, Michigan State: A handful of key Spartan defenders have all made decisions to pass on NFL opportunities this offseason and return for another year, but none were as important as Willekes. He became one of the top defensive lineman in the Big Ten and the country last season; now, he enters his fifth year in the Michigan State program ready to dominate for one more season.
22. Paddy Fisher, LB, Northwestern: Outside of his rising NFL Draft stock, Fisher is maybe the most Northwestern player in the history of Northwestern football since Pat Fitzgerald. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound inside linebacker has incredible instincts before and after the snap and has become a tackle machine.
23. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State: As the Buckeyes leaned more on Dwayne Haskins in 2018, it was Dobbins who saw less work following a breakout freshman season. What Ohio State will look like in 2019 with Ryan Day as the new coach and no Urban Meyer around is yet to be determined, but Dobbins's explosiveness and balance as a runner has not changed.
24. Tommy Kraemer, OL, Notre Dame: The Irish lost two first round (and potentially all-time) talents on the offensive line yet remained successful in the trenches and even made the College Football Playoff. Kraemer was a big part of that effort, and with another year of blocking for Ian Book, there's no reason to believe he won't be getting first-round grades as well.
25. Kristian Fulton, DB, LSU: After waiting two years in NCAA eligibility limbo, Fulton's patience paid off with a tremendous performance in 2018. With Greedy Williams gone, he's the new top corner for the Tigers and with five-star Derek Stingley already enrolled, it looks like LSU will have yet another argument for the top secondary in the country.
26. A.J. Terrell, DB, Clemson: All week heading into the title game, Clemson's coaches and players knew it was going to be a challenge for the Tigers' corners to win battles against Alabama's wide receivers. But the entire landscape of the game changed with Terrell won a battle against Tagovailoa and supercharged the sideline to kickstart what would become among the most stunning title game beatdowns in modern college football history.
27. Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU: At the end of a frustrating and injury-plagued season for TCU in 2018, the Horned Frogs' star wide receiver made a bold prediction, guaranteeing that he will be up for the Biletnikoff at the end of 2019. If Reagor continues his consistency -- he caught a touchdown in none of 12 games played this year -- he should definitely be in the mix for that award and a top NFL Draft pick.
28. Collin Johnson, WR, Texas: Hopes for Texas' Big 12 title contention in 2019 were boosted when Johnson announced his intentions to return to Austin for another year. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound wideout caught 68 passes for 985 yards and seven touchdowns this season and has been a matchup nightmare for his entire career.
29. Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan: If Michigan's offense, under new leadership, opens up and begins to utilize Patterson as a dynamic playmaking threat on a regular basis, then look for his stock to rise beyond this current position. As it stands, he probably remains a tier below the top quarterbacks in the class.
30. Rashard Lawrence, DL, LSU: In the Fiesta Bowl win, Lawrence gave LSU fans a highlight reel that throws an aerosol can into the campfire of hype heading into the Tigers' 2019 season. Lawrence dominated in the win, totaling four tackles for loss and two sacks, giving credence to the idea that he is the special sauce for LSU's defensive front.
31. Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State: There's a lot that needs to improve about Ohio State's defense as a group, but Harrison has done nothing to sway experts from seeing the pro potential that has been projected since he was in high school.
32. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma: After what Lincoln Riley has done with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray as back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners (with Mayfield the No. 1 overall pick and Murray likely a first-rounder), it was likely a smart decision for Hurts to transfer to the Sooners. Given his success over a three-year career at Alabama, it's not crazy to think he can play his way up into a first- or second-round status by the end of the season.
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