Matt Miller's Best-Performing NFL Draft Prospects at Each Position
The 2018 college football season has given us plenty of wildness through six weeks. Texas beat Oklahoma. LSU was a Top Five team before losing to Florida. Notre Dame is undefeated. Clemson benched its starting quarterback and he left the team, yet the Tigers are still undefeated. Oh, and true sophomore Tua Tagovailoa is dominating defenses without having taken a snap in the fourth quarter all season.
As we try to catch our breath from the weekly roller coaster that is college football, it's important to keep an eye on how each win and loss affects the 2019 NFL draft class. What you see below is a collection of our 2019 All-NFL Draft team.
Note that these aren't the best prospects from each position—that's what a big board is for. Instead, this is a collection of the best-performing draft-eligible prospects at each position from an impact and statistics basis. The players aren't always the top prospects at their respective positions, but they are making the biggest impressions on the field through the first quarter of the season.
Quarterback: Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State)
All Dwayne Haskins was asked to do this season is replace a legend in J.T Barrett, fill a massive leadership hole and galvanize a squad that was shaken right before the season with the Zach Smith scandal.
Through six games, he's made Barrett an afterthought and reminded people just how good the Urban Meyer offense can be when there is a dangerous threat at quarterback. Haskins has done that to the tune of a 71.7 completion percentage, 1,919 yards, 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He's also one of the leading Heisman candidates thanks to his video-game-like numbers and big moments.
Haskins is still yet to be tested by an elite defense, which he likely won't see until November 24 against Michigan, but you can only play the team in front of you. Haskins has lived up to all the hopes and expectations of fans and put the Buckeyes in a position to make a run at a national title.
2019 NFL draft projection: Round 1
Running Back: Damien Harris (Alabama)
Playing running back at Alabama isn't the way it used to be. There are no more 40-carry games like Derrick Henry saw late in the 2015 season against Auburn and Florida as head coach Nick Saban went to a ground-and-pound attack. This is Alabama in 2018 with a high-octane passing attack and fewer carries for a star-studded backfield.
Damien Harris entered the 2018 season as the top running back on many draft boards, but those focused on pure statistics maybe haven't seen the number of carries or touchdowns to consider him in Round 1. But the stats need context. When given touches, Harris has been fantastic. On the year he has just 51 attempts but topped 360 yards for an average of 7.1 per run.
Harris has also improved as a dual-threat, grabbing 10 catches this season after only totaling 12 and 14 in years past. With a punishing 5'11", 215-pound frame, Harris looks like not only the best draft prospect at running back but also the most impactful when he does get the ball.
2019 NFL draft projection: Round 1-2
Wide Receivers: Marquise Brown (Oklahoma) and A.J. Brown (Ole Miss)
If you were building a team from this year's draft prospects, at wide receiver you'd want a burner with big-play ability after the catch teamed with a big, physical target who can dominate at the catch point.
Marquise Brown is your burner. He's a college football version of Antonio Brown with smooth, silky routes and a second gear that lets him get into the open field in a hurry and create huge plays. He's done that with 33 catches for a wild 675 yards and seven touchdowns this year as one of the most exciting players in the nation.
For the physical threat, there's no option better from an impact standpoint than Ole Miss wideout A.J. Brown. The 6'1", 225-pounder started slowly but has since turned it on with 44 catches for 586 yards and four scores. His teammate D.K. Metcalf might be the better draft prospect, but Brown is winning on the stat sheet.
2019 NFL draft projection: Round 1 (Marquise Brown) and Round 2 (A.J. Brown)
Tight End: Noah Fant (Iowa)
The numbers for most tight ends won't turn your head in the 2018 college football season, but look at what Noah Fant is doing as the best prospect at his position in this class: 19 catches, 196 yards and five touchdowns. 19 catches, five touchdowns. Let that sink in.
Fant, who's listed at 6'5" and 241 pounds, is an athletic playmaker. If he wasn't in an offense that trends so much toward the running game, Fant would have a statistical presence to match the other top receivers in the class, but the Hawkeyes know whom to rely on in the red zone.
With 11 touchdowns on just 30 catches in 2017 as well, Fant has proved to be the best-red zone threat in the nation.
2019 NFL draft projection: Top 20
Offensive Tackles: Jonah Williams, Alabama, and David Edwards, Wisconsin
There aren't many stats to explain the impact of offensive tackles, but turn on the games every Saturday and you'll see these two players affecting them in big ways.
On the left side, Jonah Williams has been the most consistent and impactful offensive tackle in college football. He might not have ideal size for every NFL team (6'5", 305 lbs), but his technique is flawless with knee bend, a quick punch and strong hands.
Wisconsin's running game is powered by right tackle David Edwards. He's an athletic 6'7" and 315 pounds with the reach and strength to move the defensive line. He's also showing himself to be a first-round-caliber draft pick in the passing game with quick enough feet to cut off the edge like a young Mitchell Schwartz.
2019 NFL draft projection: Top 10 (Williams), Round 1 (Edwards)
IOL: Elgton Jenkins (MSU), Michael Jordan (Ohio State), Dalton Risner (K-State)
These big boys in the middle of the offensive line are making major impacts on Saturdays and should be future studs for Sundays.
Mississippi State's Elgton Jenkins projects best at center for the NFL but has shown the versatility to fill in all over the line. With Nick Fitzgerald setting an SEC rushing yards record for quarterbacks and running back Kylin Hill going off this season, it's easy to see Jenkins' impact.
Ohio State's Michael Jordan has played both guard and center for the Buckeyes and should be looked at as the catalyst for a consistent running game that powers everything they do offensively. Jordan is having an All-American-type season anchoring the middle of the line.
Dalton Risner is another versatile interior offensive lineman with the size and tools that point to a career at guard in the NFL. Even with Kansas State in the midst of a down year, you can see Risner impacting the game as a run-blocker with a nasty streak every Saturday.
2019 NFL draft projections: Round 1 (Jenkins), Top 75 (Jordan) and Day 3 (Risner)
Defensive Line: Jerry Tillery (Notre Dame), Isaiah Buggs (Alabama)
No Ed Oliver? No Dexter Lawrence?
This isn't about who the best NFL draft prospects are expected to be. It's about the players making the most impact. For the defensive line, that's Jerry Tillery and Isaiah Buggs.
Tillery has gone off multiple times this season, including a four-sack performance against Stanford in a major rivalry game. As the Fighting Irish continue to roll through a surprising undefeated season, it's the defense that has spearheaded it. Tillery, on a stacked defense, has been Notre Dame's best player.
Alabama is always loaded on defense—it's just what we expect. As a draft prospect, most would point to Raekwon Davis as the higher-ranked player, but from an impact standpoint, Isaiah Buggs deserves the nod. He leads the Crimson Tide with six sacks, and his ability to split blockers has NFL scouts taking notice.
2019 NFL draft projections: Round 1 (Tillery) and Round 1 (Buggs)
Edge-Rushers: Oshane Ximines (Old Dominion), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson)
There are plenty of edge-rushers making an impact, which means choosing just two is difficult. One of the hardest things about evaluating college pass-rushers is getting past looking at just the stats since many players will have one big week but disappear for stretches of time—something you can't see on an end-of-season stat sheet. These two players have been consistently frustrating offenses.
Small-school stud Oshane Ximines has been featured as a standout name to know in NFL draft circles, but his impact as a college football player deserves mention too. Ximines flashed in an upset win over Virginia Tech but has also been solid all season with 7.5 sacks, including at least one in five straight games.
Clemson's Clelin Ferrell is on a stacked defensive line that might have three first-rounders next season, but he somehow finds a way to stand out even in a crowded rotation. With six sacks on the season, Ferrell has the numbers of an All-American combined with the athletic tools of a future first-rounder.
2019 NFL draft projections: Round 1 (Ximines) and Top 15 (Ferrell)
Linebackers: Josh Allen (Kentucky), Khalil Hodge (Buffalo), Kenneth Murray (OU)
The three players highlighted have all dominated statistically while also showing out on the field every Saturday from an impact standpoint. Not all are highly touted draft prospects, but it's impossible to watch the 2019 class without seeing them stand out on tape.
Kenneth Murray has amassed 74 tackles in five games this season; including a ridiculous 55 tackles in the last three games. Of those, 28 came in a hard-fought win over Army in which Murray was the driving force behind holding the Black Knights to 4.3 yards per carry—though they did rush for 339 yards.
Khalil Hodge isn't Khalil Mack, but he's another top-tier defender from Buffalo who is making the kind of plays that get small-school talents identified by scouts. He has 74 tackles on the season and is a lock to amass 100 tackles for the third straight season.
Look at Kentucky's defense, and you'll see Josh Allen making plays all over the field. He's one of the most productive pass-rushers in the nation with six sacks and is also making his presence known against the run with 37 tackles. Athleticism and instincts make Allen one of the most fun players in the country to watch.
2019 NFL draft projections: Day 3 (Murray), Day 2 (Hodge) and Round 1 (Allen)
Cornerbacks: Julian Love (Notre Dame) and Byron Murphy (Washington)
It's generally agreed that LSU's Greedy Williams is the best cornerback prospect in college football while also having the best nickname ever for a defensive back. He's good, but teams are able to throw away from him to limit his impact. Taking Williams off the list because of that, who are the other cornerbacks flashing every weekend?
Notre Dame's Julian Love has already notched 11 pass breakups and is showing up as a stout run defender on the edge. He has the size (5'11", 193 lbs) and ball skills (five career INTs) that teams fall for, too. He's quickly becoming one of the more exciting corners to watch because of his three-down skill set.
At Washington, Byron Murphy continues to fly under the radar as a junior. He's broken up nine passes this year and has impressed with quickness and instincts to hang with any receiver in the Pac-12. His tools already have scouts talking about him as a potential top-50 selection.
2019 NFL draft projection: Round 2 (Love) and Round 1 (Murphy)
Safeties: Deionte Thompson (Alabama) and Johnathan Abram (Mississippi State)
LSU stud Grant Delpit and Texas standout Caden Sterns are unfortunately not draft-eligible, so they don't make the list, but which safeties are showing out every week?
Alabama has another first-round-caliber safety, but Deionte Thompson is more like former Ohio State free safety Malik Hooker than he is your prototypical Crimson Tide banger. Thompson has range, instincts and speed to be a plug-and-play center fielder in the NFL. Thompson is already cemented as the best safety prospect in the 2019 class.
Mississippi State has a hitter in Johnathan Abram who's also proving to be a solid cover man as more of a true strong safety prospect. Abram has notched 43 tackles, one interception and two pass breakups this season while also being ejected for a targeting foul against UMass. Abram is a throwback safety that you don't want to take your eyes off of when watching the Bulldogs.
2019 NFL draft projection: Top 20 (Thompson) and Day 2 (Abram)