NFL Draft 2019: Prospects at each position who improved their stock the most this season

Every year an assortment of previously unknown players morph into serious NFL Draft prospects thanks to breakout seasons for their respective teams.

Also, players already held in relative high regard before their final year at the collegiate level demonstrate the improvement needed to drift into the first-round conversation.

Here are the prospects at each position who did the most for their draft stock with their play on the field in 2018. 


Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State

No one was really that sure what we'd see from Haskins this season, because he had only thrown 57 passes in his Ohio State career heading into his redshirt sophomore year. Now he's being discussed as a first-round pick and potentially the first quarterback off the board if he enters the 2019 NFL Draft. Talk about a draft rise. Haskins is the most NFL-ready signal-caller the Buckeys have had since ... Art Schlichter. Seriously. The sophomore was undoubtedly aided by the tremendous athleticism in Ohio State's skill-position group and needs to work on his game against pressure, but his arm, pocket-management skills, and full-field reading in 2018 were extremely impressive for such an inexperienced quarterback. 

Honorable mention: Daniel Jones, Duke

Running back

Elijah Holyfield, Georgia

Holyfield -- yes, the son of Evander -- patiently sat behind Georgia legends Sony Michel and Nick Chubb for two seasons and took full advantage of his opportunity as the lead back for the Bulldogs in his junior year. He enters the College Football Playoff with a hefty 6.5 yards-per-carry average and 965 yards on the ground to go along with seven rushing touchdowns. The rocked-up runner has a polished skill set ... he's typically very efficient, getting North-South as quickly as possible, but he's proven to have scary twitchiness to jump cut to the outside or against the grain on outside runs. He's capable of making multiple cuts on a short run to elude defenders. And yes, he's a bowling ball to tackle because of his chiseled, compact frame. Don't be stunned when he lands on Day 2 or early Day 3 after carrying the ball just 56 times in his first two seasons in Athens.

Honorable mention: Miles Sanders, Penn State

Wide receiver

Andy Isabella, UMass

It's easy to assume Isabella is the next "Wes Welker" slot receiver prospect, and coming from a small school made it even more of a breeze to overlook him. But this is not your "quicker than fast" slot-only wideout who'll average like eight yards per catch in the NFL. Isabella was a somewhat well-known name in the scouting community after a 65-catch, 1,020-yard, 10-score 2017, but how good was he really? Ummm ... ask the Georgia secondary. Yeah, Georgia ... as in the University of Georgia. Isabella went nutty on the Bulldogs with 15 catches for 219 yards and two long touchdowns. He also had 13 grabs for 191 yards and a touchdown against South Florida and nine receptions for -- wait for it -- 303 yards with two scores in a triple-overtime win over Liberty. And then there's this on Isabella from Jim Nagy, the new executive director of the Reese's Senior Bowl: 

The widespread talent of the 2019 receiver class could push Isabella down in the draft, but this is a top 100 pick all the way. 

Honorable mention: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford

Tight End

Irv Smith Jr., Alabama

In 2017, Smith Jr. had 14 grabs, 128 yards, and three touchdowns. Partly due to the passing proficiency of Tua Tagovailoa in 2018, the springy tight end had 38 receptions for 648 yards and seven scores. Huge improvement on the stat sheet. With a more open and consistent passing game in Tuscaloosa, Smith Jr. was able to showcase his intriguing athleticism that makes him a fun yards-after-the-catch seam-stretcher. The tight end class is relatively deep, but Smith went from relative unknown to among the top prospects at his position based on his performance this year. 

Honorable mention: T.J. Hockenson, Iowa

Offensive Line 

Jawaan Taylor, Florida

Montez Ivy was the Florida offensive line prospect to watch this season -- heck, that was the case a year ago too -- but Taylor's dominance on the right side in 2018 has made him the hotter commodity. The 6-5, 328-pound junior is what I'd classify as a "power blocker," but he showcased smooth footwork and centered balance all season for the Gators. He almost looks like a talented power forward in basketball on the edge. Check his battle against Kentucky's Josh Allen from early in the 2018 season. Heavyweight bout. Taylor can lose the inside on occasion but is a brick wall against any type of bull-rush attempt, and his feet make him extraordinarily difficult to beat to the outside. He's heavy-handed too. 

Honorable mention: James O'Hagan, Buffalo

Defensive Line

Quinnen Williams, Alabama

No prospect in the entire country has done more for himself as a draft prospect in 2018 than Williams. A redshirt sophomore, like many defensive linemen at Alabama, he has buried on the depth chart behind future top 100 picks early in his career but seized his opportunity this season after Da'Ron Payne and Da'Shawn Hand moved on to the NFL. A hand-work master with impressive burst off the ball and enough strength to overpower interior linemen in the SEC, Williams has a complete skill set and is equally as scary as a pass-rusher as he is stopping the run. He was basically an unknown after 2017... now he could go in the top 10. 

Honorable mention: Daylon Mack, Texas A&M


Josh Allen, Kentucky

Allen didn't rise from obscurity in 2018, but he proved to make the correct choice in returning to Kentucky for his senior season. He packed on weight -- now listed at 260 pounds -- yet didn't lose explosiveness around the corner. Beyond that, his block-shedding skills improved and he was impactful in coverage. Also, he didn't play tentatively in 2018 in hopes of not getting injured. Allen's motor was always outstanding, and his speed and bend to the quarterback played big roles in him finishing the regular season with 14 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. From a likely Day Two pick to a lock to be snagged in the first round, Allen did a lot for himself this year. 

Honorable mention: Zach Allen, Boston College


Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington

Maybe this is just my draft crush on BBK showing through more than anything else, but the Washington linebacker was impossible to ignore as a top prospect this season. Yes, he's only going to be 225-ish pounds at the combine. But after 84 tackles, three pass breakups, one pick, and two forced fumbles in 2017, as a senior, Burr-Kirven made 165 tackles, had two interceptions, forced four fumbles, and knocked down six passes. NFL linebackers are actually trending toward BBK's size profile. I'm not sure I want my weakside linebacker much heavier than 230. He's keenly aware of his surroundings, can sift through traffic on the way to the ball-carrier, and defeat blocks as he's getting close. Most importantly, he's outstanding in coverage thanks to his athleticism and loads of experience in college. Honestly, I have no idea when BBK will be picked ... but I'm confident in him having vast success at the NFL level.

Honorable mention: Te'von Coney, Notre Dame


Byron Murphy, Washington

Murphy looked the part of a talented freshman in 2017 with two picks and seven pass breakups in six games. But he was so good in 2018 that there's significant buzz about him making the way early jump to the NFL. If he did so, he'd likely be a first or second round pick. A smaller but ultra-twitchy cornerback with route-recognition skills well beyond his years, Murphy was a nightmare to throw toward this season. He defended 13 passes and had four picks in 13 games and was a spark plug in run-support.

Honorable mention: Kristian Fulton, LSU


Deionte Thompson, Alabama

Thompson barely played on Alabama's national title winning squad a season ago ... and he'll likely find himself in a battle to be the first safety off the board in the 2019 NFL Draft if he declares. That's just how it goes at Alabama under Nick Saban. Thompson is a forceful run defender and has the dynamic movement skills to disrupt passes down the field. He could stand to add some weight, but at 6-2, he has plenty of length for the safety position.

Honorable mention: Juan Thornhill, Virginia

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