In scouting hundreds of players in preparation for the NFL Draft, it is impossible not to develop some favorites.
Rang's Gang is the collective answer to the question I'm often asked: "If you were running a team and you needed a (insert position), who would you take?"
There's only one rule -- no consensus first-round prospects. Anyone can compile a list of the top players per position and call them favorites. Let’s dig deeper.
This year’s squad joins a historical team including Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins (Class of 2012), Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (2013), Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (2012), emerging Packers edge rusher Kyler Fackrell (2016) and Super Bowl-standout turned Detroit Lions’ flashy off-season addition Trey Flowers (2015) among the many others who have exceeded expectations since entering the NFL.
Introducing this year’s favorites…
QB: Jarrett Stidham, Auburn, 6-2, 218, 4.81
Longtime football followers know that quarterbacks often receive too much credit when things are going right and too much of the blame when the opposite happens. That was certainly the case with Auburn in 2018, which finished 8-5 after an off-season of playoff hype. Stidham contributed to the Tigers’ disappointing season but so did poor blocking and a receiver corps that seemingly dropped as many passes as they caught in some games. The same smooth stroke, accuracy to all levels and poise I saw on tape was on display at the Senior Bowl, solidifying my Day Two grade and belief that he’s a future NFL starter.
RB: David Montgomery, Iowa State, 5-10, 222, 4.63
Forty-yard dash times are the single most overrated measuring stick used in grading running backs, in my opinion, and therefore my resolve about Montgomery was not shaken in the slightest with his below-average time running out of pads. On the field, Montgomery shows burst to and through the hole, lateral agility to elude and balance through contact – the No. 1 thing I look for in a running back.
TE: Foster Moreau, LSU, 6-4, 253, 4.66
If I was looking to highlight a future fantasy football standout here, I would feature Mississippi’s Dawson Knox or San Jose State’s Josh Oliver in this space but I’m old school (or maybe just old) and still expect tight ends to block, as well as catch and run. Moreau can do it all, but like Stidham at Auburn, he was limited by scheme. I don’t worry about his relatively meager career statistics (52 catches for 629 yards and six touchdowns) because his tape and subsequent workouts prove he has the speed to leave linebackers in his dust, the leaping ability and strength to overwhelm defensive backs, as well as the hands to pluck passes outside of his frame. Plus, he’s a proven sledgehammer as a third tackle, as well as on the move in LSU’s run-heavy attack. Moreau is a plug and play, full-service tight end who will help his actual team win, fantasy football results or not.
WR: Deebo Samuel, South Carolina, 5-11, 214, 4.48
This draft is loaded with big receivers. Very few of them also possess speed and only a handful with a proven track record of production against top competition. On an offense with few legitimate future NFL prospects around him, Samuel scored 27 touchdowns as a receiver (16), runner (seven) and kick returner (four) in just 30 career games, most of them, of course, against SEC competition. He lacks the height of some of this year’s gargantuan receivers but his running back-like build and physical playing style makes him a nightmare to tackle.
OT: Dalton Risner, Kansas State, 6-5, 312, 5.3
If fielding a full team, Washington’s Kaleb McGary would also be listed here as I’m a big, big fan of his game but Risner sealed this featured role in Mobile with a spectacular showing, including against projected top 15 pick Montez Sweat. You see, I remember evaluating Risner and Sweat’s initial showdown September 8 in a key out-of-conference battle between the Wildcats and Bulldogs. Risner held his own most of the day but Sweat beat him badly on a handful of snaps. I liked – no, make that loved – the competitive fire Risner showed in the rematch in Mobile, not just slowing Sweat but stoning him. I am convinced Risner (and McGary, for that matter) will either be selected among the top 50 – or prove over the course of long NFL careers that they should have.
OG: Phil Haynes, Wake Forest, 6-4, 322, 5.20
Most football enthusiasts know that scouts like prospects who played other sports growing up with wrestlers, track stars and basketball players among the favored activities. Haynes’ choice was basketball, which he played all four years of high school (only playing football as a senior). Basketball translates to the gridiron in terms of balance and - in the case of pass-catchers - hand-eye coordination. What I appreciate most about Haynes (a four-year starter) is that not only does he still have the balance and body control of a basketball player, he’s completely remade his body, now possessing as imposing and powerful of a frame as any blocker in this class. He’s so damn strong now (33 repetitions at the Combine) that he actually projects best in a power-based scheme and with just five years playing the sport, he still offers legitimate upside.
C: Lamont Gaillard, Georgia, 6-2, 303, 5.15
It is appropriate that Gaillard played for the bulldogs because that is precisely the sort of mentality with which he plays the game. Gaillard (pronounced GILL-yard) comes across this naturally, originally signing with Georgia as a defensive tackle. He is not as swift as some of the other top interior linemen in this class but he possesses the short, squatty frame so conducive to winning the leverage battle and is a three-year starter in a power run-heavy scheme, making him more prepared to immediately step in and compete for playing time than some of those who may be selected ahead of him. Gaillard is a future NFL starter likely to still be on the board well into Day Three, making him a potential steal.
DE: Joe Jackson, Miami, 6-4, 275, 4.80
In this year’s remarkable defensive line class, there are a number of players who warrant listing here with Iowa’s Anthony Nelson and TCU’s L.J. Collier certainly among them. With these upperclassmen performing well at the Senior Bowl, however, both have generated some buzz since their seasons finished and that has not been the case for Jackson, who topped out with just Honorable Mention All-ACC honors in 2018 after leading the Hurricanes with 8.5 sacks, making it the third consecutive time (in as many seasons) that he topped his unit in QB takedowns, tackles for loss, tackles or all three. Jackson does not possess the explosive burst to qualify as a true speed rusher but he is flexible - sealing the corner like Saran Wrap to be faster on the field than he was in workouts – with the long arms to lasso ball-carriers.
DT: Trysten Hill, Central Florida, 6-3, 305, 5.04
Hill had repeated run-ins with the UCF staff over his career so his character requires vetting. Just based on tape, however, he ranks as one of the more underrated prospects in the entire country – at least from a media coverage perspective – with a combination of gap-splitting explosiveness and effort to warrant first round consideration. One of my favorite football metaphors – he plays like a bowling ball of butcher knives – comes to mind with Hill, just as they did years ago when watching similarly built and active interior pass rushers like Geno Atkins, Jurrell Casey and Mike Daniels before they became Pro Bowlers.
Edge Rusher: Chase Winovich, Michigan, 6-3, 256, 4.59
From his long-flowing blond hair to almost maniacal playing style, some Big Ten enthusiasts have compared Winovich to former Packers (and current Rams) edge rusher Clay Matthews. Winovich has a shorter, stouter frame than Matthews and, frankly, was much more productive over his career at Michigan than Matthews was until his breakout senior season at Southern California. Throughout much of their respective college careers, each were overshadowed by others but an explosive burst, active and heavy hands and motors stuck in overdrive translate well better to the NFL than recruiting stars.
Traditional Off-ball Linebacker: Sione Takitaki, BYU, 6-1, 238, 4.63
Perhaps due to my background in education, I am a big believer in players who mature when given second (or third) opportunities, which is exactly what Takitaki has accomplished over his career at BYU. Once characterized as a “knucklehead” with multiple suspensions from the team, Takitaki developed into a leader at BYU, getting married and earning a team captain role in 2018. His talent was never in question. Takitaki is an instinctive, passionate defender with easy athleticism, projecting as a starter early in his NFL career. Still relatively unknown by many throughout the country, don’t be surprised if he’s off the board on Day Two.
Outside CB: Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt, 6-4, 211, 4.64
Looking to help build a program rather than just pop out a pipeline, Williams signed with the Commodores over several more prominent offers. I like that confidence, as well as the Williams’ exceptional length and physicality. Sure, his lack of top-notch speed limits his scheme fits but in the right one, Williams could prove a starter and one likely to be available well into Day Two. If he is still on the board outside of the top 100 picks, he’s going to wind up proving one of the biggest steals of this draft.
Nickel cornerback: Amani Hooker, Iowa, 5-11, 210, 4.48
The Hawkeyes’ third consecutive Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year (joining Desmond King, Josh Jackson), Hooker excelled wherever Iowa place him last season, excelling at nickel as well as both safety positions. That type of versatility – along with his prototypical size and proven speed – could make Hooker the highest player drafted on this list.
S: Taylor Rapp, Washington, 6-0, 208, 4.77
Rapp just might be the most appropriately named player in this draft and not just because his disturbing 40-yard dash has given him a bad rap among draft analysts. Rapp is also among the very best tacklers in this draft, using his exceptional short area quickness to make late, subtle adjustments to consistently hit his target square and wrapping his arms for the secure, immediate stop. His instincts make him much faster on the field than his timed speed suggests.