One does not need 20-20 vision to see that next spring’s NFL draft is going to be loaded with playmakers.
The conversation begins – as always – at the quarterback position where Oregon senior Justin Herbert and Alabama junior Tua Tagovailoa are the clear-cut leaders. Herbert’s more unique physical traits earn him the top spot on my board but Tagovailoa is also a legitimate No. 1 overall candidate even if he is not even the highest ranked prospect from the Crimson Tide.
That honor would fall to silky smooth reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy (No. 3 overall), who along with cornerback Trevor Diggs (No. 16) and massive defensive lineman Raekwon Davis (No. 19) give Alabama the most prospects on this list from a single team and, therefore, Nick Saban yet another great opportunity to compete for a national title.
The most unique aspect about this class could be the defensive backs with six making my initial Top 32 Big Board; only three cornerbacks and safeties were drafted in the first round last spring.
The Big Board is not a mock draft. No attention is paid to team needs. It is simply my personal ranking of the top 32 pro-eligible prospects in college football.
*Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk. Only players who will be three full years removed from their high school graduating class at the time of this spring’s draft are eligible.
1. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon, 6-6, 233, 4.60 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 29 TDs/8 INTs, 3, 151 passing yards, 59.4%/166 rushing yards, 2 TDs
The Skinny: Herbert has everything scouts look for in a franchise quarterback and he will be operating behind college football’s most experienced offensive line.
2. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn, 6-4, 318, 4.90 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 48 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 1 FF
The Skinny: As impressive on the field as off, Brown turned down an opportunity to be a top 10 pick a year ago.
3. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama, 6-0, 192, 4.40 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 68 receptions for 1,315 yards (19.3 avg.) and 14 TDs
The Skinny: Of all the great receivers in Alabama’s storied history, perhaps none of them can match Jeudy’s elusiveness and breakaway speed.
4. Grant Delpit, S, LSU, 6-2, 205, 4.55 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 74 tackles, 9.5 for loss, five sacks, 9 passes defensed, one INT, one FF
The Skinny: Like his predecessor Jamal Adams, Delpit is a sheriff in the secondary with the instincts, speed and tackling critical for playing safety in today’s game.
5. A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa, 6-4, 280, 4.80 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 37 tackles, 16.5 for loss, 10.5 sacks, 3 passes defensed, 4 FF
The Skinny: A more productive player than either of the Bosa Bros. to this point in his career, Epenesa may very overtake former Hawkeye defensive back Tom Knight (No. 9 overall in 1997) as the earliest drafted Iowa defender of the modern era.
6. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama, 6-1, 218, 4.65 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 43 TDs/6 INTs, 3,966 passing yards, 69.0%/190 rushing yards, 5 TDs
The Skinny: The so-called “left-handed Russell Wilson” has the guts, accuracy and arm to warrant No. 1 overall consideration but needs to bounce back after sputtering in the postseason.
7. Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia, 6-1, 200, 4.50 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 62 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, 21 passes defensed, 2 INTs, 2 FF
The Skinny: Quickness personified, Hall led the nation in passes broken up a year ago, demonstrating not only agility but terrific hand-eye coordination and the guts to enforce the run, as well. Hall may very well have been the first cornerback selected had he entered the 2019 draft.
8. Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson, 6-3, 235, 4.65 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 88 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two sacks, six passes defensed, 3 FFs, one INT
The Skinny: There isn’t a defensive coordinator on the planet who wouldn’t love to find a role for playmaker with Simmons’ unique blend of size, strength and speed.
9. Laviska Shenault, Jr., WR, Colorado, 6-2, 225, 4.55 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 86 receptions for 1,011 yards, (11.8 avg.) six TDs/17 rushes for 115 yards, 5 TDs
The Skinny: Sure, the PAC-12’s passing attacks bloat statistics but the exceptional talents – like Shenault, Jr. – make it look easy. Whether attacking deep or running the Wildcat, Shenault is a one-man wrecking crew.
10. C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida, 6-0, 190, 4.45 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 38 tackles, five for loss, three sacks, 5 passes defensed, two INTs, two FFs
The Skinny: Physically reminiscent of former Florida star Joe Haden, Henderson is a true cover corner on the verge of superstardom.
11. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia, 6-5, 320, 5.20 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): Voted 2018 All-SEC First Team by league coaches at LT; started 15 at RT in 2017
The Skinny: Thomas took over for 2018 first round pick Isaiah Wynn at left tackle as a true sophomore and excelled in Georgia’s pro style offense. In a good year for offensive linemen, he may boast the best combination of pro readiness and still-untapped-potential.
12. Collin Johnson, WR, Texas, 6-5, 220, 4.55 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 68 receptions for 985 yards (14.5 avg.), seven TDs
The Skinny: Johnson isn’t a speedster but his size, body control and reliable hands make him a future No. 1 target in the NFL.
13. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State, 6-5, 265, 4.65 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 33 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed, one FF
The Skinny: Arguably the most gifted of a terrific young crop of Buckeyes, Young flashes a wicked combination of burst, bend and power to project as a future top five pick.
14. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa, 6-5, 320, 5.20 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): First true FR to start at OT in Ferentz era; Honorable Mention by coaches in 2018
The Skinny: In terms of sheer size and brutal power, Wirfs may be the best looking-offensive lineman in the country. His counterpart at left tackle, Alaric Jackson, is a future early round NFL draft choice, as well.
15. Shaquille Quarterman, ILB, Miami, 6-0, 235, 4.75 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 82 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, 2 passes defensed, one FF, one INT
The Skinny: Fellow sparkplugs Roquan Smith (Georgia) and Devin White (LSU) won the Butkus Award the past two seasons demonstrating the same kind of instincts, closing speed and grit Quarterman put on tape last year.
16. Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama, 6-2, 200, 4.50 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 20 tackles, zero for loss, zero sacks, 6 passes defensed, one INT, one FF
The Skinny: The younger (but equally athletic) brother of the Minnesota Vikings’ star receiver, Diggs is simply the latest in Alabama’s pipeline.
17. Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin, 6-2, 318, 5.20 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): Consensus First Team All Big Ten; started the past 27 consecutive games at center
The Skinny: Learn how to pronounce it now (bee-AH-dish), as Biadasz just might be the best blocker in college football.
18. D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia, 5-09, 215, 4.45 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 163 rushes for 1,049 yards (6.4 avg.), 10 TDs/32 receptions for 297 yards (9.3 avg.), 3 TDs
The Skinny: In an above average class of running backs, Swift’s joystick-like elusiveness, naturally low center of gravity and proven hands out of the backfield lift him to the top of my rankings.
19. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama, 6-6, 309, 5.0 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 55 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks
The Skinny: Quite possibly the most imposing defensive lineman in college football, Davis was born a generation late, projecting best as a block-eating 3-4 defensive end – and not the “sackmaster” who will generate an early pick.
20. Leki Fotu, DT, Utah, 6-5, 330, 5.20 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 34 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one FF
The Skinny: Like the afore-mentioned Davis, Fotu won’t wow scouts with his burst or closing speed but his size and strength make him virtually immovable in the running game.
21. Brandon Jones, S, Texas, 6-0, 210, 4.55 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 70 tackles, 5.5 for loss, one pass defensed, one INT
The Skinny: Alert, athletic and reliable, Jones is a plug and play starting safety in the NFL – and quite possibly the Longhorns’ best defensive prospect since Kenny Vaccaro was selected 15th overall by New Orleans back in 2013.
22. Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Auburn, 6-6, 305, 4.85 (est.)
The Stats (2018): Started all 13 games at LT last year
The Skinny: A native of Nigeria who began his career on the defensive side of the ball, Wanogho is still learning the subtleties of the position but he is an exceptional athlete whose best football still lies ahead of him.
23. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU, 6-0, 192, 4.45 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 25 tackles, one for loss, nine passes defensed, one INT, one FF
The Skinny: Every bit as smooth in coverage as his former, more recognized teammate Greedy Williams but a much more consistent run enforcer.
24. Calvin Throckmorton, OT, Oregon, 6-5 318. 5.25 (est).
The Stats (2018): Only OL in FBS to start four different positions (LT, RT, RG, C); 38 consecutive starts
The Skinny: The best blocker on the nation’s most experienced offensive line (153 career starts!), Throckmorton is a Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none-type with good size, strength and agility. It is his toughness and dependability, however, that could get him drafted in the first round.
25. Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU, 5-11, 195, 4.35 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 72 receptions for 1,061 yards (14.7 avg.), 9 TDs/ 8 PR for 97 yards, 4 KR for 121 yards
The Skinny: A speedy playmaker in the mold of last year’s top-drafted wideout Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Reagor might become a household name with a little more consistency from his quarterbacks.
26. Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah, 6-3, 265, 4.75 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 47 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, three passes defensed, one FF
The Skinny: Arguably the most feared edge rusher in the PAC-12 the past two years running, Anae teams with Fotu (No. 18) to give the Utes the best 1-2 punch along the defensive line in the conference.
27. Trey Adams, OT, Washington, 6-8, 306, 5.10 (est.)
The Stats (2018): Fully cleared for 2019; missed 17 of past 28 games due to multiple injuries
The Skinny: When healthy, Adams has demonstrated rare agility and balance for a left tackle of his size, projecting well to the NFL. With the Huskies breaking in a new QB in 2019, there will be plenty of attention on Adams and his recovery from the back surgery that limited his 2018 season.
28. Justin Madubuike, DT, Texas A&M, 6-2, 304, 5.10 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 40 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three FF, two passes defensed
The Skinny: A squatty, powerful player with an intriguing burst to close, some believe Madubuike is on the verge of a monster breakout season.
29. Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri, 6-5, 255, 4.65 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 43 receptions for 466 yards (10.8 avg.), six TDs
The Skinny: A massive seam threat in the Jimmy Graham mold, Okwuegbunam is a redzone mismatch who needs to play up to his size more often to earn the top 20 consideration his massive frame and soft hands warrant.
30. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson, 5-10, 215, 4.40 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 204 rushes for 1,658 yards (8.1 avg.), 24 TDs/ 12 rec. for 78 yards (6.5 avg.), two TDs
The Skinny: The 2020 running back class looks loaded with the backs likely to sneak into the top 32 possessing either the soft hands to attack as a receiver, elite straight-line speed or – as in the case of Etienne – both. In an era of air backs, Etienne might be the best of this class for that role.
31. Jabari Zuniga, DE, Florida, 6-4, 257, 4.70 (est.)
The Stats (2018): 45 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks
The Skinny: In terms of sheer explosiveness – both power and speed – Zuniga flashed as much on tape last year as any of the edge rushers on this list not named Epenesa. To move up the board, Zuniga must show more consistency in 2019.
32. Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford, 6-6, 245, 4.75 (est.)*
The Stats (2018): 29 receptions for 485 yards (16.7 avg.), seven TDs
The Skinny: The Stanford experiment at tight end continues to produce NFL-ready stars. Fortunately, Parkinson is taller and more agile than some of the Cardinal’s recent submissions, projecting as a seam and redzone mismatch.