Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: NFL Teams Talk Top Underclassmen of 2019 Draft

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterDecember 7, 2018

Rashan Gary is one of the top underclassmen who has NFL teams talking.
Rashan Gary is one of the top underclassmen who has NFL teams talking.Associated Press

The January 14 deadline for college underclassmen to apply for admission to the 2019 NFL draft is still over a month away, but that hasn't stopped over 20 players from announcing their plans to leave school early.

The general feeling from NFL sources is that too many players leave school early—a complaint heard every year in my eight drafts working at Bleacher Report. Said one scout, "I wish we could limit it to the top 30 kids. The rest have no business coming out early anyway." Sentiments like these are heard over and over again.

What the overtired scouts don't always take into account is how the strength of this draft depends on underclassmen. Nick Bosa (Ohio State) was the No. 1 player in the class from the first game of the season and will end the year with the same ranking. Fellow underclassmen Quinnen Williams (Alabama), Devin White (LSU), Greedy Williams (LSU) and Ed Oliver (Houston) fill out the top five of most draft rankings.

"Bosa and Oliver were obvious—hell, Oliver declared before last year's draft—but that doesn't cover up some of the bad decisions we'll see. The early announcements we're seeing now are either great players like Bosa and Oliver or kids who probably were going to lose eligibility," one former NFL general manager put it. And that's very possible; some players struggle academically or financially and make the decision to jump to the league earlier than they should.

So which players are making the right decision and which ones aren't? B/R surveyed scouts to get their opinions on various underclassmen:

     

Nick Bosa (EDGE, Ohio State)

"I still say he's better than his brother (Joey). He's so powerful and has excellent hand usage. He's a plug-and-play Pro Bowler." — AFC area scout

"You hear that he might rub some coaches the wrong way because he's pretty blunt and playful, but everyone [at Ohio State] had great things to say about his work ethic and love of the game. That's all that would keep him from being our top player." — AFC scouting director

     

Ed Oliver (DL, Houston)

"He's rare. He might not be Aaron Donald, but he's pretty f--king close. And in the pros he won't be triple-teamed every snap." — NFC area scout

Ed Oliver is a force to be reckoned with on the field and can still get better.
Ed Oliver is a force to be reckoned with on the field and can still get better.Michael Wyke/Associated Press/Associated Press

"He might not have improved a ton in college, but did he need to? Wait until he gets some pro-level coaching. He has a lot of room to improve." — Former NFL defensive lineman/trainer

     

Rashan Gary (DL, Michigan)

"I hate how he was used [at Michigan], but it goes to show just how athletic he is. I think he's a top-five player." — AFC area scout

"If I had to pick one of the top guys to be better in the pros than he was in college, Gary would be my guy." — NFL general manager 

     

Greedy Williams (CB, LSU)

"His size and speed are really impressive. He's a little lean but can get bulked up. I would say he's a top-15 lock." — AFC scouting director

"There are other corners who had better numbers, but his play is lights-out good. The only time he got beat up was against 'Bama, but they tore up everyone." — AFC area scout

     

Brian Burns (EDGE, Florida State)

"Watch this dude go top 15. I love his burst and athleticism." — NFC area scout

"Yeah, he's skinny, but athletes like that who can rush the passer get drafted early. Real early. He made the right call [coming out]." — NFC defensive line coach

     

Noah Fant (TE, Iowa)

"We loved him, but his teammate (T.J. Hockenson) really overshadowed him this year. I don't think he's going to run that well, either. Probably could have gone back to school, worked on his numbers and be a top-15 pick." — AFC area scout

Noah Fant is the likely No. 1 tight end off the board in the 2019 draft.
Noah Fant is the likely No. 1 tight end off the board in the 2019 draft.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press/Associated Press

"He's the best tight end in the class, bar none. Long, athletic, fluid. He's exactly what we look for." — NFC offensive coach

     

Rodney Anderson (RB, Oklahoma)

"Medicals are the key here. He could be the top back drafted or not drafted at all." — NFC area scout

"His tape is good when he was on the field. I like [David] Montgomery a lot more as far as the big backs are concerned." — NFC area scout

            

The Scout's Report

—Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins should get plenty of credit as this season's biggest riser. Haskins started the year with considerable hype from Ohio State coaches and teammates and lived up to that. His play down the stretch against Michigan and Northwestern has scouts buzzing, too. Haskins, if he declares for the 2019 draft class, should be considered the favorite to be QB1 as of today.

—Many in the NFL were surprised when fired Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury opted to take the offensive coordinator job at USC over waiting for an NFL assistant job to open up. Said one high-level executive for an NFC team, "We really thought he'd jump to the NFL right now. I know a lot of his players were trying to talk him into coming to their pro team." 

—Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs have been asking all week on Twitter, so here's the answer: There are no Round 1 running backs in the 2019 class. Damien Harris (Alabama), David Montgomery (Iowa State), Benny Snell Jr. (Kentucky) and Darrell Henderson (Memphis) are all intriguing Day 2 options, but the replacement for Kareem Hunt won't come via the first round. 

—A pair of LSU defenders are exciting scouts the more they dig into their play, athleticism and character. Cornerback Greedy Williams and linebacker Devin White were recently called "two of the safest dudes out there" by an area scout assigned to the school.

—The defensive line class gets a ton of publicity for being great, and it should, but one under-the-radar talent with top-15 skills is Auburn's Derrick Brown.

Derrick Brown's someone who could surprise on draft day.
Derrick Brown's someone who could surprise on draft day.Vasha Hunt/Associated Press/Associated Press

Scouts love his toughness and versatility. My review of his tape showed a limited pass rush skill set—an area coaches are trending away from with two-down run-stuffers—but his movement skills and size (6'5", 325 lbs) do remind me of Da'Ron Payne, who went Round 1 and is playing great for Washington.

—An early favorite to watch at the Senior Bowl: Miami (Florida) defensive tackle Gerald Willis. The former Florida Gator has some off-field issues (he took a leave of absence from Florida and transferred to Miami) but has been amazing this season as a breakout player. A good week in Mobile could put him into the first round.

                                       

The Big Board

It's time to update the big board before a full refresh of the top 50 and positional groups Tuesday. Here's my most recent top 32:

1. Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State

2. Quinnen Williams, DL, Alabama

3. Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky

4. Devin White, LB, LSU

5. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU

6. Ed Oliver, DL, Houston

7. Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan

8. Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson

9. Jeffery Simmons, DL, Mississippi State

10. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama

11. Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama

12. Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

13. Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia

14. Montez Sweat, EDGE, Mississippi State

15. Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State

16. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

17. Jachai Polite, EDGE, Florida

18. Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson

19. Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

20. Dexter Lawrence, DL, Clemson

21. Dre'Mont Jones, DL, Ohio State

23. Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia

24. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama

25. Chase Winovich, EDGE, Michigan

26. Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn

27. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

28. Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida

29. N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

30. Devin Bush, LB, Michigan

31. Oshane Ximines, EDGE, Old Dominion

32. Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama

                                  

#MillerMailbag

Each week throughout the rest of the season and up until the NFL draft, you can send your questions in via Twitter to be answered here.

Drew Lock. The Mizzou quarterback has a huge arm and produced well against SEC competition, but he has to prove he's accurate enough and has the decision-making to succeed in the NFL. This sounds a lot like Josh Allen last season, but Allen went to Mobile and proved he could—and did—adjust his mechanics to improve his accuracy and get the ball out faster. Lock needs a similarly good week.

Free agency will have a huge impact on this, but I would set it right at three. I expect Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones to declare and be drafted in the first round. That leaves room for Justin Herbert (if he declares) or a riser like Lock or Will Grier to move into the top 32 picks.

          

Parting Shots

6. On December 5, the 2019 Reese's Senior Bowl revealed the majority of the rosters for the game. There are still spots being filled, but here are a few names I'm most intrigued to see. 

Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State

Josh Allen, EDGE, Kentucky

Ben Banogu, DE, TCU 

Jaylon Ferguson, EDGE, Louisiana Tech

Andy Isabella, WR, UMass

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

Charles Omenihu, DL, Texas

Dru Samia, OG, Oklahoma 

Gerald Willis III, DL, Miami (Fla.)

Oshane Ximines, EDGE, Old Dominion

Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple

     

5. It's almost NFL draft season for all 32 teams. Here's the current order based on win-loss percentage and strength of schedule.

1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Oakland Raiders
3. New York Jets
4. Arizona Cardinals
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
6. Detroit Lions 
7. Atlanta Falcons
8. New York Giants
9. Buffalo Bills
10. Green Bay Packers
11. Cleveland Browns
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
13. Cincinnati Bengals
14. Miami Dolphins
15. Indianapolis Colts
16. Washington Redskins
17. Carolina Panthers
18. Denver Broncos
19. Philadelphia Eagles 
20. Tennessee Titans
21. Minnesota Vikings
22. Oakland Raiders (from Dallas) 
23. Baltimore Ravens
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
25. Seattle Seahawks
26. Oakland Raiders (from Chicago)
27. Houston Texans
28. Los Angeles Chargers
29. New England Patriots
30. Green Bay Packers (from New Orleans)
31. Kansas City Chiefs
32. Los Angeles Rams

     

4. We're approaching January, so I've added an Underclassman Watch List to the Scouting Notebook. So far, seven underclassmen have declared:

Greedy Williams is heading to the pros early and should hear his name on Day 1.
Greedy Williams is heading to the pros early and should hear his name on Day 1.Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma (Draft Projection: Round 3)

Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State (Draft Projection: First Overall)

A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss (Draft Projection: Round 2)

Keenen Brown, TE, Texas State (Draft Projection: Day 3)

Jordan Brailford, EDGE, Oklahoma State (Draft Projection: Day 3)

Sean Bunting, CB, Central Michigan (Draft Projection: Day 3)

Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State (Draft Projection: Round 1)

Xavier Crawford, CB, Central Michigan (Draft Projection: Day 3)

Jovon Durante, WR, Florida Atlantic (Draft Projection: Day 3)

Noah Fant, TE, Iowa (Draft Projection: Round 1)

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DB, Florida (Draft Projection: Round 3)

Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan (Draft Projection: Round 1)

Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State (Draft Projection: Round 1-2)

N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State (Draft Projection: Round 1-2)

Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State (Draft Projection: Day 3)

D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss (Draft Projection: Round 2)

Ed Oliver, DL, Houston (Draft Projection: Round 1)

Anthony Ratliff-Williams, WR, North Carolina (Draft Projection: Day 3)

Dax Raymond, TE, Utah State (Draft Projection: Day 3)

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn (Draft Projection: Day 3)

Greedy Williams, CB, LSU (Draft Projection: Round 1)

Caleb Wilson, TE, UCLA (Draft Projection: Day 3)

3. Game balls for Week 14 of college football:

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: 34-of-41, 499 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT vs. Northwestern

Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: 25-of-34, 379 yards, 3 TD vs. Texas

Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis: 16 carries, 210 yards, 3 TD vs. UCF

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson: 12 carries, 156 yards, 2 TD vs. Pittsburgh

Collin Johnson, WR, Texas: 8 catches, 177 yards, 1 TD vs. Oklahoma

2. There is only one college football game this weekend, so no list of games to scout. Instead, here is your reminder that the annual Army vs. Navy game is at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday.

This game won't feature many (if any) draft prospects. It won't feature many forward passes, either. But it is one of the most beautiful things this sport has to offer. Young men, dedicated to a love and service of their country, putting on a uniform and battling on the field for 60 minutes.

The game is a throwback, and to some, its lack of passing makes it boring, but if you've never sat down to enjoy the last game of the regular season between the two service academies, give it a try. 

Also: Go Army.

1. Stick to Football is ready for draft season, which means fixing the San Francisco 49ers with a mock draft and free-agency plan. Check out the podcast, 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.

Related

    Gronk Announces Retirement

    NFL logo
    NFL

    Gronk Announces Retirement

    via Bleacher Report

    Top Players to Retire from NFL by Age 30

    NFL logo
    NFL

    Top Players to Retire from NFL by Age 30

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Watch Gronk's Career Highlights 💪🎥

    NFL logo
    NFL

    Watch Gronk's Career Highlights 💪🎥

    NFL Throwback
    via YouTube

    Report: Jeremy Maclin Retires

    Former 1st-round WR announces his retirement after 10 years in the league

    NFL logo
    NFL

    Report: Jeremy Maclin Retires

    Former 1st-round WR announces his retirement after 10 years in the league

    Rob Goldberg
    via Bleacher Report