A handful of FBS programs have already played a game, but college football begins in earnest this coming weekend. Of course, college football leads into the NFL Draft, so with that in mind, here are seven early predictions to kick off the scouting season.
Drew Lock will be the first senior QB drafted
Brian Lewerke and Dwayne Haskins look like the most likely underclassmen to crash the first round conversation, but Missouri’s appropriately-named Lock is a shoe-in to be the first senior quarterback off the board. Lock is 6’4” 225 pounds and has 33 starts under his belt already. He’ll also post athletic testing numbers (40 time, vertical, etc.) similar to those of recent big-armed, early first-rounders Carson Wentz and Josh Allen. Last season, Lock set an SEC record with 44 touchdown passes while averaging 9.5 yards per pass attempt. The knock will be his accuracy, but he’s improved his completion percentage each year.
Will Grier will be compared to Baker Mayfield, but will fall out of the top 50
In fact, Grier is already drawing Mayfield comparisons, which is understandable considering their similar statures and play styles. Grier is listed at 6’2” 223 by the notoriously generous West Virginia homepage, but he probably still is a little bigger than Mayfield, and will almost certainly perform better in combine athletic testing as well. So what’s holding Grier back from being a first rounder?
First, he doesn’t have nearly the production or experience Mayfield had. Mayfield entered his final college season having started 34 games and having thrown 88 touchdown passes - twice as many as Grier has in each category. Secondly, Grier and Mayfield are almost the exact same age. Grier is actually a few days older, meaning he will turn 24 before the 2019 draft. Expect draftniks resistant to comparing Grier to Mayfield to cite these two facts regularly.
Bryce Love will be a first round pick
Draftnik criticism usually begins with Love’s size. Draftscout.com lists the Stanford senior at 196 pounds, but the school website lists him at 202, the same number Christian McCaffrey registered before being drafted 8th overall in 2017. Bruce Feldman’s 2018 Freak’s List has Love a pound heavier at 203. Expect Love to work very hard to stay above 200 for the draft, and that, coupled with sub-4.4 speed, puts him in select company. Since 2008, only 14 running backs have run a 40 in under 4.4 seconds while weighing 200 pounds or more. Four of those backs went in the first round, with all four having posted a college season of 1600+ yards at over 5.5 yards per carry. Love checks all of those boxes, and of the 10 non-first rounders, only Jamaal Charles achieved that level of production, and he was still a Day Two pick. Many draft and fantasy football analysts won’t consider it a good first round investment, but what Love is doing is rare, and some NFL team will take the gamble.
Parris Campbell and Emanuel Hall will be Day Two picks
Campbell and Hall are already pretty well-regarded among senior wide receivers, but they get pushed down rankings that include draft-eligible juniors and sophomores. The Draft Network, for example, rates Campbell 17th among receivers, and has Hall unranked at the moment. These players, however, are unlikely to make it out of Day Two of the draft.
Campbell has legitimate 4.3 speed. Ohio State listed him as its third-fastest player last season, two hundredths of a second behind Denzel Ward, who ran an official 4.32 at the 2018 combine. Campbell is also an elite athlete with a 40” vertical and 11’ broad jump, all at 6’1” 208 pounds. He only has one season as a starter under his belt so far, but is a team captain this year, and expected to be a focal point of the passing game.
Missouri’s Hall is another burner, and a proven deep threat, coming off a 33-catch 817-yard 8-touchdown season. With 2017’s leading receiver J’Mon Moore gone, Hall should have even more opportunities this year. At 6’3” 195, Hall is said to run a 4.4 40, and he registered a 40” vertical in high school. If both Hall and Campbell crack the 4.4/40” barriers at the combine next winter, they will become only the 7th and 8th receivers since 2000 to measure at least 6’ 190 pounds and touch those numbers. Four of the existing six members of this club were drafted in the second or third round of the draft, and one - Chris Owusu - went undrafted due to concussion concerns.
AJ Brown will disappoint at the combine (or sit out the tests)
There aren’t many (any) 6’1” 230-pound slot receivers in the NFL, but Brown’s overall athleticism appears to limit him to that role already. And while Brown has been a monster producer at Ole Miss, there just aren’t many examples of a player with his dimensions becoming an early round draft pick.
Brown’s 40 time is said to be around 4.50, and that seems to be a generous estimate. He posted around a 28” vertical in high school, and his body type hasn’t changed much since then, so it’s difficult to project much improvement. Brown needs about a 6” or better growth in vertical before successful NFL comparisons emerge. His supporters will point to Anquan Boldin, Jarvis Landry and JuJu Smith-Schuster for favorable comps, but other recent disappointments like Laquon Treadwell, Brian Quick, and Rueben Randle show up too, along with a host of familiar names who fell to the late rounds or went undrafted after testing poorly. If Brown only improves to 32” or less, the comparisons get even less favorable. Ultimately, he may be best-served to avoid as many of these combine tests as he can.
Kendall Sheffield is Ohio State’s next 1st round cornerback
Ohio State has produced five first round cornerbacks since 2014, including four in the last three years. Sheffield, who recorded nine pass breakups in his first season as a starter, figures to continue this trend. Listed at 6’ 193, Sheffield was the second-fastest Buckeye on the team last year, one hundredth of a second behind Denzel Ward. Sheffield has legitimate 4.3 speed, has reportedly touched 40” in the vertical, and he’s been clocked as low as 4.09 seconds in the short shuttle. Of the 19 corners drafted since 2000 who measured at least 5’11” 190 with sub-4.4 speed and an above average (37” or better) vertical, nine have been drafted in the first round, with another two going in the second round. If Sheffield, a fourth-year junior, declares, he’s as close to a first round lock as there is.
Rashan Gary stays at DE
For some reason, a number of draftniks seem infatuated with the Michigan junior playing on the interior D-line at the pro level. But the school lists Gary at 6’5” 283, and he himself seems to be targeting an even lighter weight. Recently, Jonathan Allen was drafted to play inside, but the 6’3” 286-pounder ran a 5-second 40. Gary reportedly runs in the 4.6s, with a sub-7 second three cone, and about a 10’ broad jump. Literally no player since 2000 fitting Gary’s size and athleticism profile has been drafted to play defensive tackle on a down-to-down basis, and it’s difficult to understand why he would become the exception. Aside from situational snaps, Gary will be given every opportunity to utilize his length and speed on the edge at the NFL level before anyone gets too cute with his usage.