The scout had just started his rental car. The air conditioning blasted as he called me from a remote location in some football-obsessed college town. "This class sucks," he said as he started his midsize sedan and put it into gear on his way to another football-obsessed college town down the road. "You got the two guys at the top, and then everybody else. And everybody else isn't very good."
It's the third week in September, which means the NFL draft evaluation process is in some ways just getting started. But in others—like for quarterback assessment—it's been ongoing for two to three years. By now, area scouts have a good feel for where the prospects are and should have a better feel for which players aren't worth the team's time.
It might seem like the April 2019 draft is ages away, but for the men paid to find talent, there is already a panic as they look for key contributors in this year's crop. Outside those two elite players the scout mentioned, 2019 might be a down year.
Nick Bosa is a second-generation superstar at defensive end for Ohio State. His brother, Joey, and dad, John, were both first-rounders, and he looks like the next high pick in a family that also features a mob boss: his great-grandfather, Tony Accardo.
Bosa might not be shaking down anyone for the mob, but he is intimidating quarterbacks on a weekly basis. He's dealing with a core injury and, per Cleveland.com's Bill Landis, head coach Urban Meyer announced Thursday that Bosa had a procedure to correct it and has no return timetable.
However, that won't change the stock of a player scouts have told me is "better than his brother" and a "sure thing" as a top-three draft selection. In fact, a relatively minor injury like a hernia will keep him off the field—where he could suffer a more serious injury that could actually hurt his stock.
If Bosa is the household name, Houston's Ed Oliver is the athletic marvel. A former Houston coach relayed a story to me regarding how Oliver was expected to compete for playing time in his true freshman season...until they turned on the summer practice tape and saw the 18-year-old's domination. Oliver quickly made the starting lineup.
Since putting on a Houston jersey, he has been unstoppable even when offensive lines have thrown every resource they have into stopping him. The junior is so talented and well-regarded that he declared for the 2019 NFL draft before the first pick of the 2018 draft had even been announced.
Bosa and Oliver aren't just special; they've had comparisons to Joey Bosa and Aaron Donald placed on them, respectively. But after them, this class lacks a loved quarterback prospect, playmaking running back or prototypical stud at offensive tackle.
"We've seen this before: You get a class without a Heisman winner at quarterback or a Saquon [Barkley] at running back and people say it's not good. Well, good scouts find good players," one AFC general manager told me this week.
Good scouts find good players. That's the job description, but those scouts may be traveling far and wide in their beat-up rentals to find those players this season.
What else is happening this week?
- NFL draft prospect stock watch
- Rumors from around the NFL and NCAA
- Stick to Football podcast Tailgate Tour details
- Parting shots
The Scout's Report
—NFL scouts remain pessimistic about the strength and depth of the 2019 draft class, but after updating my rankings (posted below) this week, I see four cornerbacks with Round 1 grades to be excited about. Greedy Williams (LSU), Deandre Baker (Georgia), Kendall Sheffield (Ohio State) and Jamal Peters (Mississippi State) are all rating as top-32 picks. This is, of course, before athletic testing numbers, which tend to affect cornerback grades heavily. As of now, all four look like day-one starters.
—Defensive line looks even stronger than cornerback. If you combine edge-rushers and tackles, 13 are ranked in my top 32. That is unprecedented. It's a good year to need a defensive lineman.
—Starkville, Mississippi, is a fun town to go through on scouting trips. Plenty of NFL evaluators are doing that this season to watch a defense loaded with stars. On the line, Jeffery Simmons (DL) and Montez Sweat (EDGE) are notable prospects. In the secondary, the Bulldogs have Jamal Peters (CB) and Johnathan Abram (S). That doesn't include offensive standouts Nick Fitzgerald (QB), Elgton Jenkins (C) or Kylin Hill (RB). There is a lot of scouting going on at State this fall.
—Some scouts see Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham as QB1 in this class. Most others view him as at least a first-round prospect. Though it's early, I see Stidham as a similar prospect to Mitchell Trubisky: accurate in short to intermediate areas, tough, athletic and mobile. He's also a touch stiff and can struggle with telegraphing passes or short-arming deep throws. Stidham, in an unproven quarterback class, could still be the first passer taken (Trubisky was in 2017), but he's not a slam dunk prospect.
Stock Up: LSU Linebacker Devin White
In a class that's lacking outside a few elite names, linebacker Devin White could intrigue teams early in the draft thanks to his special combination of athleticism and instincts. White is a lot like former UCLA linebacker Myles Jack—now with the Jacksonville Jaguars—as a former running back-turned-'backer who has the eyes of an offensive player with the meanness of a defender.
Stock Down: FSU Edge-Rusher Brian Burns
Brian Burns has been heralded by some scouts and analysts as a Leonard Floyd or Marcus Davenport—a long, lanky edge-rushing prospect you draft early and attempt to build up physically while maintaining his speed and agility. That might be the case, but Burns hasn't shown the production or awareness as a rusher to get me excited.
Stock Up: Alabama Safety Deionte Thompson
The nation's best draft-eligible safety plays at Alabama. Deionte Thompson isn't your classic Alabama banger at the position. He's a true center fielder who takes the top off in coverage with the instincts, hips and closing speed to be a major asset on the ball. He's similar to former Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, who was a top-15 pick in 2017.
Stock Down: Ole Miss Wide Receiver A.J. Brown
A.J. Brown will dominate poor competition, but when facing a Georgia, Alabama or LSU, he's yet to show himself as a big-game playmaker. That's a concern for the 6'1", 225-pounder, who at times disappears and struggles to play the physical brand of ball that should be his calling card. Brown looked like a potential Michael Thomas-like prospect over the summer, but he might be trending closer to Ole Miss' 2016 first-rounder, Laquon Treadwell.
The Big Board
1. Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
2. Ed Oliver, DL, Houston
3. Rashan Gary, EDGE, Michigan
4. Jonah Williams, OL, Alabama
5. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
6. Devin White, LB, LSU
7. Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
8. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
9. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
10. Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma
11. David Edwards, OT, Wisconsin
12. Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss
13. Dre'Mont Jones, DL, Ohio State
14. N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
15. Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
16. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss
17. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
18. Montez Sweat, EDGE, Mississippi State
19. Zach Allen, EDGE, Boston College
20. Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
21. Jeffery Simmons, DL, Mississippi State
22. Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
23. Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State
24. Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson
25. Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
26. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia
27. Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
28. Oshane Ximines, EDGE, Old Dominion
29. Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State
30. Jamal Peters, CB, Mississippi State
31. T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin
32. Dexter Lawrence, DL, Clemson
Consider this: The Patriots sent a 2019 fifth-round pick to the Browns for Gordon and a 2019 seventh-rounder. New England acquired Gordon—one of the most physically gifted players in the league—for what would have been a near-dart throw in any draft. A little more than a decade after the Pats traded a fourth-rounder for Moss, they might have found a similar steal at an even cheaper price.
6. Cool note from Dale Vogel, an assistant football coach at East Mississippi Community College and a former coach at Butler (Kansas) Community College: When the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks meet this weekend, there will be three players from Butler on the field. Demarcus Lawrence, Chris Carson and Michael Gallup all spent time at Butler before moving on to Division I schools.
5. I love this tweet from Gil Brandt, the godfather of the NFL draft and a should-be future Hall of Famer:
4. Game balls for Week 3 of college football:
- Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: 26-of-43, 375 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
- Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis: 14 carries, 233 yards, 2 TD
- Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: 9 catches, 191 yards, 1 TD
- Antoine Wesley, WR, Texas Tech: 13 catches, 261 yards, 3 TD
- Wyatt Ray, EDGE, Boston College: 8 tackles, 4 sacks
3. Here are the college games you'll want to scout this weekend:
Texas A&M at Alabama: The Crimson Tide are steamrolling folks on a weekly basis and bring a talented defense to face Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. This is a big game for 'Bama defenders Mack Wilson, Raekwon Davis and Deionte Thompson as prospects.
Wisconsin at Iowa: If you like trench play, this is the Week 4 matchup to watch. Iowa and Wisconsin are traditionally two of the best-coached offensive and defensive lines in the nation. With all five Wisconsin starters looking like legit NFL prospects, they'll have a tough test against an Iowa defense that shut down Iowa State stud running back David Montgomery in Week 2. If Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor can get going in this one, his Heisman stock will soar.
Stanford at Oregon: Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is the top-ranked passer in the 2019 NFL draft class for many scouts. He has to show toughness and poise against a Stanford defense that is always disciplined and well-coached. This is a big game for his draft stock as well as a marquee Pac-12 matchup.
Georgia at Missouri: If you like quarterbacks, then this is the game for you. Missouri's Drew Lock will face a Georgia defense led by first-round cornerback prospect Deandre Baker with a chance to prove he's more than "just" a strong arm. For the Bulldogs, true sophomore Jake Fromm isn't draft-eligible yet, but he's already building a resume that has scouts excited for 2020.
2. Our Tailgate Tour had a great time in Austin, Texas, last week and will head to Fort Worth for the TCU vs. Iowa State game September 29. Come out and see me, Mello, Connor and TR (the intern), and enjoy a great day of tailgating.
1. Stick to Football talks year-one and year-two quarterbacks and stock up/down for the 2019 draft class this week, and Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead will join us on the Friday show. Check it out and subscribe if you haven't already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.