College Football Underclassmen Who Should Declare for 2019 NFL Draft
As a general rule, go get that money.
While there can be immense value in returning for another year, draft-eligible stars should wave goodbye to college football and enter the 2019 NFL draft. Aiming for a national championship is a commendable goal, but so is being properly paid for one's efforts.
Ohio State's Nick Bosa, Houston's Ed Oliver, Michigan's Rashan Gary, LSU's Greedy Williams, Arizona State's N'Keal Harry and Oklahoma State's Justice Hill are among the prospects who have already decided to forgo their final college seasons. Plenty more should join them.
Dozens of players have reasonable cases to declare, but we're focused on those with first-round potential or those among the best at their positions for April's draft.
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State: In a cycle thin on high-potential quarterbacks, Dwayne Haskins has a great opportunity to capitalize. During his first year as Ohio State's starter, he's showed off excellent vision and a snappy release. While not a runner, he's adept at buying time to extend plays. The draft is always one big crapshoot; several NFL teams would love to gamble on Haskins.
Justin Herbert, Oregon: Throughout much of the season, the biggest NFL draft question has been whether Justin Herbert will declare. We're not here to debate if that will happen—but he should. Herbert's strong arm, superb accuracy and decent mobility form a coveted skill set, and he'd probably be the first quarterback selected if available.
Daniel Jones, Duke: If Jones leaves Duke, get ready to hear about his development under quarterback guru and Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe. Jones has prototypical size at 6'5" and offers an intriguing blend of fundamentals and knowledge. But in a decent QB class, his lack of velocity would be a problem. He should strike now in a subpar cycle.
David Montgomery, Iowa State: After piling up 1,442 yards from scrimmage in 2017, Montgomery fell short of expectations this year. You know, when he collected 1,194 yards and 12 touchdowns. His mix of power (219 lbs) and finesse with his pass-catching ability should capture the attention of NFL teams late in the first round or early in the second.
Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky: While anyone involved with the NFL knows what's coming, Snell hasn't officially declared for the draft. With three straight 1,000-yard seasons at Kentucky, the powerful runner has nothing more to prove at the college level.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: Listed at a seemingly generous 5'10" and 168 pounds, is Hollywood big enough to thrive in the NFL? Those concerns are legitimate for his physicality and blocking. We're not doubting Brown, though. The explosive wideout is known for electrifying speed, yet he's a refined route-runner. His ability to create separation can atone for a slender frame—as long as his left leg injury from the Big 12 title isn't an issue.
Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State: Butler is one of 2018's breakout stars. The 6'6", 219-pound wideout leads the nation with 22.1 yards per catch on 51 receptions. Among players averaging four catches per game, that's the highest mark by nearly 3.5 yards. Butler's propensity for contested catches and his impressive strength—both before and after the catch—will lead a few scouting departments to overlook his average athletic tools.
Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama: "Matchup nightmare" is an overused term, but Smith will receive plenty of such mentions in his draft profile. The junior has amassed 17.1 yards per catch, which is third among tight ends with at least 25 receptions. Smith has plus speed for a tight end and is much-improved as a blocker compared to 2017. In today's spread-focused NFL, Smith is a first-rounder.
Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss: If you don't believe NFL teams will focus on someone with a 6'6", 325-pound frame and flashes of excellence, I don't know what to say. Little's consistency is a work in progress, but his explosiveness and strength are that of a first-round tackle.
Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama: Williams excels on technique. He won't overwhelm a defender on pure strength, but the three-year starter and Outland Trophy finalist is a sound tackle who rarely cedes pressure and regularly wins as a run-blocker.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson: Burst, effort and production are the summary of Ferrell's resume. In three years, he's racked up 48 tackles for loss with 26 sacks and four forced fumbles. Ferrell could be one of three Clemson linemen taken in the first round.
Dre'Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State: Somewhat overshadowed by Ohio State's run of excellent defensive ends, Jones has provided a steady run-stuffing interior presence. This season, though, he's become an all-around force with 8.5 sacks among his 13 tackles for loss.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson: Box-score stats aren't Lawrence's strength; his strength is his strength. That's to be expected from a 6'4", 350-pounder in the middle—as are concerns with his quickness. But it's safe to suggest NFL teams will plug in his power and refine how that energy is distributed.
Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State: Two things are true with Simmons: While the on-field player is a special talent, he's also someone who pleaded no contest to simple assault after punching a woman. Simmons, who has 29 career tackles for loss, will likely be off the board for several teams but high on the chart for others.
Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: One of this season's breakout stars is Williams. After posting 20 total stops in 2017, he's registered 18 in the backfield alone this year (and 66 total). Williams has become a menace to block because of his stunning ability to drive linemen backward once he gains leverage. And that's pretty often.
Devin White, LSU: What can't this guy do? White is a sideline-to-sideline blur who is dangerous as a blitzer. Consecutive 100-tackle years with at least 10 stops for loss reinforce that. White's unique athleticism should make him particularly valuable to NFL teams because there's no situation in which he lacks the tools to produce.
Mack Wilson, Alabama: Wilson plays a classic in-your-face style for a linebacker, earning a reputation as a feared hitter and solid run defender. The junior is considerably more, though. Wilson, who has six career interceptions, is also outstanding in coverage.
Byron Murphy, Washington: The MVP of the Pac-12 Championship Game, Murphy capped UW's march to the league title over Utah with two interceptions—including the decisive pick-six—and a victory-sealing pass breakup. That performance hinted at the redshirt sophomore's excellence, which is predicated on his remarkable ball skills (20 passes broken up, seven interceptions over two years).
Deionte Thompson, Alabama: Great defenders find the ball. Through the SEC title game, Thompson has accumulated 70 tackles with five pass breakups and three forced fumbles. He can do everything on the back end of a defense.