Is it too soon to look ahead to the 2019 NFL draft class? Not if you talk to evaluators, coaches and agents. They are all already angling for what should be an epic class at a premier position—pass-rusher.
Scouts and evaluators originally viewed the 2018 draft class as weak at the defensive end and defensive tackle positions, but in every conversation about Bradley Chubb or Maurice Hurst or other pass-rushers in this year's class, each evaluator undoubtedly points to next year's class with big eyes and unguarded excitement.
Why are scouts in love with the pass-rushing class of 2019? Because some are already comparing the talents to Aaron Donald, Joey Bosa and Ndamukong Suh.
Nick Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State
"Baby Bosa," as some have started calling him, looks like a better NFL prospect than older brother Joey did heading into his junior season at Ohio State. Nick, at 6'4", 263 pounds, has a combination of strength and athleticism rarely seen from college prospects. He's also well ahead of the game in terms of technique.
Bosa, who rotated on an upperclassman-heavy defensive line in 2017, still managed a team-best 16 tackles for a loss and eight-and-a-half sacks. And for those who don't know, the Bosas are like the Mannings of defense. Their dad, John, was a first-rounder back in 1987, his uncle Eric Kumerow was a first-rounder in 1998 and obviously big brother Joey was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. That's the talent Nick was born with.
It's only May, with the 2019 NFL draft nearly a year away, but Bosa is the hands-down favorite to be the first pick in the draft. What he brings in terms of on-field production and off-field leadership can't be found elsewhere at defensive end.
What Scouts Say: You talk to coaches there and they say this kid was named a "champion" every win last year...which doesn't happen. He's rare on and off the field. Start talking about him the way you did Saquon Barkley because he's the defensive end version of that. He's more consistent than any of the top defensive ends I've seen in the last few drafts, and he's more athletic than his brother.
Ed Oliver, Defensive Tackle, Houston
The 2017 Outland Winner and a consensus All-American, Ed Oliver has been earmarked for a potential top selection in the NFL draft since he left high school as ESPN's No. 4 overall player in his class. Oliver is so sure of his future that he's already declared for the 2019 NFL draft even though the deadline isn't until mid-January.
Oliver is an impressive athlete at 6'3", 290 pounds, which is where the Aaron Donald comparisons come from when talking to scouts. He's not a hulking 315-plus-pounder but is a quick, twitchy, fluid athlete. In fact, a video of Oliver doing defensive back drills went viral on Twitter.
The good news for Oliver is that teams are already aware of his talent. Houston games will be a hot bed for scouts throughout the summer and fall in order to see the only underclassman who has already thrown his name into the 2019 draft.
What Scouts Say: "He would have been the first defensive tackle picked in this year's class, that's for sure. He probably would have been a top-10 pick, even. I don't care if he ever plays another down of college football, he's the best 3-technique in next year's group."
Rashan Gary, Defensive Tackle, Michigan
It's rare for a player to actually exceed expectations, but that's been the case for former consensus No. 1 prep player Rashan Gary. The 6'5", 281-pound junior has moved all around the Michigan defensive line while showing off his athleticism and football instincts.
In a breakout 2017 season, Gary notched 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss while being the focal point for every offensive line he matched up against. Gary, said one NFC scout, was the reason defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, a 2018 fifth-round pick of the Raiders, got so many one-on-one looks in pass-rushing situations.
Gary won't get the Heisman talk that Oliver probably gets, and he will likely be on a defense that struggles compared to Bosa's Ohio State support system, but those breaking down the film will see how he impacts the game outside the stats. That's what has scouts and coaches excited.
What Scouts Say: "This is the hidden gem of the group because Michigan hasn't been very good and Bosa and Oliver get all the love. Gary is scheme-versatile and a great athlete. He's like a younger Calais Campbell—meaning how CC plays now but only 20 years old."
Others to Watch
Every year someone comes out of nowhere to rise up draft boards. In 2018, that was Marcus Davenport from Texas-San Antonio, who the Saints drafted 14th overall. Who are the lesser-hyped players to watch this season?
Clemson has a load of talented defensive linemen (Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins) who college football and draft fans will want to become acquainted with. Ferrell is the best of the bunch on tape, but all four have potential.
Alabama will no doubt have players pushing for top spots at edge-rusher and defensive lineman. Already Raekwon Davis (DL) and Anfernee Jennings (EDGE) are getting love from NFL scouts going through Tuscaloosa.
Ohio State doesn't just have Nick Bosa. Defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones has a top-20 grade on my early big board and would have likely had a Round 1 grade had he entered the 2018 draft class.
The 2018 college football season won't start for another 10 weeks, which means a lot can and will change from these lists. But that doesn't stop evaluators from already getting excited about three players who are receiving rare grades and superlatives. Bosa, Oliver and Gary have all been in the spotlight since they left high school three years ago. This is their season to prove the hype is real and turn it into the draft stock that will make each a very early selection.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.