Matt Miller's Early 2019 NFL Draft All-Sleeper Team
If you're a fan of college football or the NFL draft, you know about Nick Bosa and Ed Oliver. You've heard of Devin White and Deionte Thompson. You've probably even looked at offensive linemen like Jonah Williams and Greg Little.
Generally speaking, by mid-November, most serious football fans know a lot of names for the upcoming draft. My job is to open your eyes to some under-the-radar prospects you might be sleeping on.
There's a good chance you've heard of a few players listed here depending on which college team you root for and where in the country you're located. There also might be a chance you're just getting into draft season and that every name is new. Either is OK; both groups are welcome.
In a 2019 draft class that NFL evaluators don't think of as overly strong, it's important for scouting departments to mine the country for sleeper prospects. Here are mine.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.
Quarterback: Daniel Jones, Duke
A 2-star recruit out of high school according to 247Sports, the 6'5" and 220-pound Daniel Jones has the tools to elevate his name to the top of quarterback lists if he decides to leave school for the 2019 draft.
Jones, who school sources say is on track to graduate early and could be a participant in the upcoming Senior Bowl if he does choose to leave Duke, has been impressive this season as he's showed off his accuracy and athleticism in a diverse offensive scheme. Playing under well-renowned head coach David Cutcliffe only boosts Jones' stock for pro evaluators.
In a year with serious uncertainty surrounding Justin Herbert (Oregon), Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) and other top quarterbacks, Jones is a name to start getting familiar with if your favorite NFL team needs a passer. With a strong predraft process, Jones has a shot to be the first quarterback selected.
Best NFL Fits: Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins
Running Back: Karan Higdon, Michigan
You can attribute the turnaround of the University of Michigan football team—after its slow start and the loss to Notre Dame—to quarterback Shea Patterson's growing familiarity with head coach Jim Harbaugh's offense, but you can also point to the emergence of Karan Higdon as the go-to running back.
Since the Week 1 loss, Higdon has rushed for over 100 yards in every contest except one: a 42-7 win over Rutgers in Week 11. With over 1,000 yards on the ground this season to go with 10 touchdowns, Higdon has become one of the most explosive and reliable backs in the country. NFL evaluators will definitely take notice.
He is 5'10" and 202 pounds, so there will be some concerns about his size. He may not be seen as an every-down player, but he has the vision and outside running ability to contribute as a complementary back. A strong Senior Bowl showing (if he's invited) could boost his stock if he can show off a developed skill set as a pass-catcher.
Best NFL Fits: Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders
Wide Receiver: Andy Isabella, UMass
Andy Isabella is one of my favorite players in the 2019 draft class.
The senior from UMass leads the nation in receiving yards (1,698) and has played well against the best competition in the country. When lining up against the Georgia Bulldogs, he went off for 15 catches, 219 yards and two touchdowns, which should eliminate any talk that he runs up stats against weaker competition.
With excellent speed that scouts estimate is in the low 4.3s in the 40-yard dash, the 5'10", 190-pound Isabella isn't just a possession receiver. He has legitimate deep speed and has the jacked body type to run through press coverage and handle physical cornerbacks.
In a year that's not especially great at wide receiver, Isabella could become a fan and scouting favorite.
Best NFL Fits: San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers
Tight End: Josh Oliver, San Jose State
The upcoming draft class is expected to be loaded with tight end prospects who could set a record for most selected in the first round. That is dependent upon the declarations of several top underclassmen such as Noah Fant (Iowa), Irv Smith Jr. (Alabama) and T.J. Hockenson (Iowa), but the overall look at the group is very exciting.
It's easy to forget about the seniors when so much of the focus goes to the underclassmen, but don't sleep on San Jose State's Josh Oliver.
A big target at 6'5" and 250 pounds, Oliver has shown the athleticism needed to become a vertical seam target and red-zone option. He has the speed to take linebackers and safeties down the field and has shown the agility and explosion to be a threat over the top or when attacking the ball in the air.
In the NFL, Oliver projects best in an offense that doesn't ask the tight end to stay in-line and block but will let him move around the formation and find the best matchups.
Best NFL Fits: New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins
Offensive Line: Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi State
When talking about offensive linemen, most people want to focus on the tackle spots since they are generally the most important of the five starters. In this year's draft class, don't be afraid to look inside at Mississippi State's Elgton Jenkins.
Jenkins, a 6'4" and 310-pound versatile interior player, has the tools to be a first-rounder when late April gets here. He's powerful, smart and has the agility to execute down blocks on defensive tackles or reach linebackers at the second level. A two-year starter at center, Jenkins has also played left tackle, left guard and right tackle while twice being named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
That's a makeup NFL scouts will fall in love with.
Without a great left tackle prospect or top-tier guard like Quenton Nelson last year, Jenkins could rise to the top of many offensive line lists.
Best NFL Fits: Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans
Defensive Line: Terry Beckner Jr., Missouri
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock steals most of the attention for the Tigers, but senior defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. is a talented player who greatly benefited from returning to Columbia for another season.
A 6'4", 305-pounder at just 21 years old, Beckner is the type of 3-technique pass-rusher NFL teams are looking for. He's also athletic enough to move around a defensive line and potentially play as a 5-technique in a 3-4 base scheme. His burst, power and instincts as a defensive tackle prospect have caused scouts to sing his praises all season long.
Throughout his senior season, Beckner has been a wrecking ball while drawing the attention of most offensive lines. He's generated 9.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks while playing better all-around football and showing an improved ability against the run.
Best NFL Fits: Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys
Edge-Rusher: Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion
The best small-school player in the 2019 draft is one you may have heard of. We profiled him here in mid-September as the best pass-rushing prospect not getting major publicity. Since then, Oshane Ximines has continued to play well and see his draft stock rise.
With 11.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss on the season, Ximines has certainly caught the eye of every NFL team. For that reason, he might not qualify as a sleeper, but until he's widely regarded as a first-round pick, it's worth mentioning him as often as possible as an underappreciated prospect in this deep class of pass-rushers.
Ximines still has to prove his ability against better competition—and he'll get that chance at the Senior Bowl, which he has already accepted an invite to. If he shines there like he has throughout his career, we'll be looking at a top-25 player and an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker prospect.
Best NFL Fits: San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs
Linebacker: Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State
If you're in the market for a versatile three-down linebacker who has the speed to play in coverage and the instincts to stop the run on the inside, then you'll want to get in on New Mexico State's Terrill Hanks.
The Aggies senior has been all over the field in the last two seasons. This year, he already has 89 tackles, seven tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble in eight games. He's the type of all-over-the-field defensive chesspiece coordinators are looking for as teams move to more nickel and dime packages.
With experience in space playing coverage and with the ability to play near the line of scrimmage, Hanks has the tools to be the type of Day 3 pick who eventually becomes a key contributor or starter on an NFL defense.
Best NFL Fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans
Cornerback: Alijah Holder, Stanford
Having size and length at cornerback is still one of the first things NFL evaluators look for. Another is toughness. Stanford's Alijah Holder has all three and is well-coached. He's coming out of a system, led by defensive backs coach Duane Akina, that prepares players for the pros.
Holder's biggest question marks will be a lack of ball skills due to his two career interceptions, but teams valuing length and an ability to play at the line of scrimmage will like his 6'2" frame and long arms. And while he doesn't have a long list of interceptions on his resume, Holder does have eight passes defensed this season, which points to his timing and reach.
He isn't a first-round cornerback or a small-school sleeper, but he's a potential Day 2 player with the instincts and readiness to make a big contribution early in his pro career.
Best NFL Fits: Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams
Safety: Jaquan Johnson, Miami
We can measure a lot of things when evaluating a player. Height, weight, hand size, arm length. You can even measure strength and speed. You can get a number for flexibility and agility. You cannot, though, get a number for how hard someone plays or how much heart he has. That's what's important to remember with Miami Hurricanes safety Jaquan Johnson.
At 5'11" and 195 pounds, Johnson doesn't have ideal measurables, but he has ideal NFL character and work ethic. Coaches at Miami rave about Johnson as a leader and competitor. That's the type of attitude that can jump a player up boards. And Johnson could do so in a safety class that's weak in the middle rounds.
With Johnson's solid play and athleticism, his ability to impact a locker room or meeting room will be his calling card.
Best NFL Fits: Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys