NFL Scouts' Takes: Biggest Risers in the 2019 Draft Class
Every college football season, we see players enter the scouting process who weren't on draft lists over the summer. Even the scouting services most NFL teams use to help prepare for the upcoming draft class before the college football season will miss a few.
The players listed below weren't all missed by scouts—some are underclassmen who popped onto the radar after winning starting jobs over the summer—but they've all seen their stock rise considerably through great play and exceptional NFL-caliber traits.
The job of scouting this class is far from done, though, and each player could still sink his stock with an off-field incident, injury or poor testing time. One bad interview with a general manager at the combine or poor effort at the Senior Bowl could change everything. The bet is that the character, wiring and work ethic of the following players are all high-level enough to prevent letdowns and allow them to ride their rising stock into the first round come draft night.
Kyler Murray, Quarterback, Oklahoma
Scout's Quote: "I don't know how you evaluate someone that height and that build, but he's electric. I don't think he's as accurate or as smart as Baker [Mayfield], but he could absolutely go first overall."
Kyler Murray went from competing with Austin Kendall for the starting quarterback job in August to winning the Heisman Trophy in December. Now he's considered one of the best quarterback prospects in the 2019 draft class…if he sticks with football.
Murray, who was a top-10 pick by the Oakland A's in the 2018 MLB draft, has options. That could mean he reports to spring training in mid-February, or he could participate in the NFL Scouting Combine later that month and signal his intention to make professional football his job.
There will be wide ranges of evaluations on Murray given his stature, but there is a general excitement for him to get under the NFL's microscope should he choose a pigskin over a bat.
Dwayne Haskins, Quarterback, Ohio State
Scout's Quote: "Kyler Murray entering the draft kind of stole his thunder, but he'll get back into the top-five talk. I bet someone trades into the first four picks to get him. He's NFL-ready."
Another first-year starter, this time at Ohio State, Dwayne Haskins checks all the boxes for a future NFL starter. He's big, strong-armed, poised in the pocket and has the accuracy to all levels to attack the field in any offensive scheme.
Haskins doesn't have the mobility of Kyler Murray or the experience of Daniel Jones (Duke) or Drew Lock (Missouri), but he finished his college career with exceptional showings against Michigan, Northwestern and Washington while taking on some of the best defenses in the country.
Haskins' ceiling is high, and while he might not be ready to start in the NFL from Day 1, he's gone from first-time starter to sure-fire first-rounder in the course of a season.
Josh Jacobs, Running Back, Alabama
Scout's Quote: "The biggest question is height. He looks pretty short, but he's incredibly powerful and quick. Catches the ball well. If you're going to take a running back in the first [round], it would be him."
When the 2018 college football season started, there were no running backs considered first-round prospects. The closest thing to a first-rounder was Alabama's Damien Harris. Then Josh Jacobs got on the field for Alabama and it all changed.
The 5'10", 215-pound Jacobs dominated SEC defenses in his junior season en route to becoming a legitimate first-rounder. He's No. 9 overall on my most recent board and was the No. 5 pick in Daniel Jeremiah's first mock draft.
Jacobs' ascent from third on the Alabama depth chart behind Damien Harris and Najee Harris to a potential top-10 pick makes him this season's biggest riser.
Mecole Hardman, Wide Receiver, Georgia
Scout's Quote: "He can move! I don't know that his 40 time will be amazing, but he's super agile and can cut on a dime. Plus his acceleration is amazing. Bet you he goes Round 2."
The Georgia junior wide receiver entered the 2019 NFL draft class and has scouts excited. The feedback received during NFLPA Collegiate Bowl practices was that Hardman received a Day 2 grade from the NFL draft advisory board. One scout I spoke to believes that is low in a draft "full of big, slow receivers."
Hardman is an electric playmaker on offense with the ability to make an impact running the ball, catching it or working as a return man. As every team looks for its version of Tyreek Hill, Hardman will be in demand.
Quinnen Williams, Defensive Lineman, Alabama
Scout's Quote: "For a redshirt sophomore, he's a powerful player with a high football IQ. Everyone there loves the kid. He's a no-brainer as a 3-technique. Top-five pick."
The NFL is shifting into a league that values interior pressure to get after the quarterback. That lines up perfectly with the rise of Quinnen Williams this season.
A first-year starter at Alabama in 2018, Williams quickly overshadowed his more well-known defensive line counterparts Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs to earn a reputation as a legitimate top-five player in the upcoming class. At 6'4" and 295 pounds, Williams has the perfect build to play as an interior rusher but is athletic enough to move around to find the best matchup on the line.
Williams might not be Aaron Donald, but those watching his film might be reminded of Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh as prospects.
T.J. Hockenson, Tight End, Iowa
Scout's Quote: "He's the best tight end in the class. Better than his teammate [Noah Fant] as a three-down player. He's a real tight end. Powerful, fast, good hands, great blocker. I'd draft him top-15 in this class."
The Mackey Award for the best tight end in college football went to a player few outside Iowa City knew when the season began. T.J. Hockenson became a household name soon after the opening kickoff.
Sharing targets with another first-round talent in Noah Fant, Hockenson still became recognized as a unique talent and dominant player in the Hawkeyes offense. He's versatile enough to move around the formation while showing excellent ability as a blocker.
His 49 catches in 2018 might not sound like a lot, but Hockenson showed excellent feel and hands to earn those receptions and his six touchdowns. It's a statement about his overall game that with only 49 catches he was still named the best tight end in football.
Nasir Adderley, Safety, Delaware
Scout's Quote: "He's a little undersized and might get knocked for that, but he's a top-tier athlete who can really run. He has ball skills. Flexible positionally since he's played some nickel. I think he goes top-50."
A commonality among the previous players on this list is that all play at major schools. Delaware senior Nasir Adderley has been hidden behind the Taylor Rapps and Deionte Thompsons of the college world until recently, but those who break down the film are seeing an explosive athlete with serious coverage skills and range.
Senior Bowl week is big for Adderley as he competes against the best quarterbacks and pass-catchers in the country. He can show that coming from a small school won't slow him down and that he's more than "just" an athlete.
Don't be surprised if Adderley comes out of the Senior Bowl with a Round 1 grade.
Deionte Thompson, Safety, Alabama
Scout's Quote: "He's just so skinny, and Clemson beat him up in the title game. Still a first-rounder because of this safety class and he has really good range. But probably late first."
There is a running theme of first-year starters in this class who rose through the ranks to become stud prospects. Alabama's Deionte Thompson is another who took his first major snaps in 2018 and now looks like a first-rounder.
As mentioned, Thompson's build may get him knocked behind Taylor Rapp (Washington) or Johnathan Abram (Mississippi State), but he's the best coverage safety in this class. Many teams favor a two-deep safety look and crave deep coverage help, and Thompson is the best fit for them.
Thompson needs a strong combine to lock into Round 1 on my board after the struggles shown in the Clemson game. The fact that he played with a loaded defense in front of him might have shielded Thompson from plays the other top safeties had to handle alone.