NFL Draft Prospects Who've Flown Up Boards This Offseason
In every NFL draft cycle, a handful of players rise up boards as we inch closer to the final weekend in April. The media often ignores these players during the first few months of the draft process, but their stock heats up as they dominate predraft proceedings.
Let's look at a handful of names that have increased their draft stock in recent weeks.
Hakeem Butler, Wide Receiver, Iowa State
For most of the draft process, Mississippi's D.K. Metcalf has been considered the top receiver prospect in the class. However, another player has gained steam in the WR1 discussion. Iowa State's Hakeem Butler garnered attention after running a 4.48 40-yard dash at 6'5", 227 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Much like Metcalf, Butler's best trait is his ability to win down the field. While he doesn't have the same elite speed, Butler was significantly more productive in 2018. He caught 60 passes for 1,318 yards, averaging 22 yards per reception. Only UAB's Xavier Ubosi and Missouri's Emanuel Hall averaged more yards per catch.
Given Butler's size, speed and ability to make plays down the field, it wouldn't be a surprise if he snuck into the first round. He's a physical cross between A.J. Green and Plaxico Burress, and players of that stature don't come around often.
Maxx Crosby, Edge-Rusher, Eastern Michigan
Finding pass-rushers, specifically edge-rushers, after the first round can be tricky. The NFL does a good job of identifying the top talent at the position, but it can be difficult to weigh athleticism, production and traits in lower-tier prospects.
But it is possible to find quality edge-rushers after the top 32 picks. One player who will likely have teams intrigued is Eastern Michigan's Maxx Crosby.
Over the last two years, Crosby has dominated his opponents, tallying 35.5 tackles for a loss and 18.5 sacks in 24 games. While the lower level of competition is a concern, he's been productive against bigger schools such as Kentucky and Purdue.
But it's not just his production that has people talking. It's his athleticism as well. At the combine, Crosby measured in at nearly 6'5", 255 pounds and ran a 4.66 40-yard dash. According to 3sigmaathlete.com, Crosby tested in the 90th percentile of all edge-rushers since 2014. In this class alone, he tested out as a better athlete than either Nick Bosa or Josh Allen.
Crosby has the production, size and athleticism that NFL teams crave on the edge. Given all of his traits, don't be surprised if he is selected on Day 2 of the draft despite coming from a small school.
Darnell Savage, Safety, Maryland
After a relatively quiet 2018, the safety market exploded in free agency this offseason. While it wasn't surprising to see elite safeties get top-end money (Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, etc.), it was shocking that mid-level guys got paid as well.
For teams that missed out on the safety market in free agency, the 2019 draft class has a lot of talent at the position. One player whose stock has risen significantly this offseason is Maryland's Darnell Savage.
Savage stole the show at the NFL combine, running a 4.36 40-yard dash and posting a 39.5-inch vertical. In an NFL that is all about versatility and coverage ability, Savage is a perfect fit. He's a former cornerback who can play either safety position as well as cover in the slot. He is a reliable tackler who shows the range to be a free safety in the NFL but also the physicality to play in the box if needed.
Savage could put together a career like Tyrann Mathieu or Lamarcus Joyner. No safety has dominated the predraft process more this year.
Foster Moreau, Tight End, LSU
By all accounts, this is a fantastic tight end class. It wouldn't be shocking if two tight ends were selected inside the top 20 and up to six among the top 100 picks. Because of the depth at the position, there will be value available on Day 3. LSU's Foster Moreau is among the players who could be selected after the top 100 picks and go on to start in the NFL.
Moreau wasn't used much as a receiver at LSU, catching just 52 passes in his college career. But his blocking ability and athleticism have the scouting world intrigued. At the combine, Moreau put on a show for NFL teams, jumping 36.5 inches in the vertical leap and 121 inches in the broad jump.
According to 3sigmaathlete.com, Moreau tested just below the 90th percentile, finishing behind only Noah Fant from Iowa. His athleticism alone is worth drafting on Day 3; not many players of his size (6'4", 253 pounds) and speed are entering the league.
For teams in search of the next George Kittle (uber-athletic, underused tight ends in college), Moreau isn't a bad player to bet on. He can help in the run game and on special teams as he continues to develop as a receiver. Considering how athletic he is, it won't be surprising if he's selected on Day 2.
Will Grier, Quarterback, West Virginia
Without fail, a quarterback rises late in every draft process. Over the last few years, players like Davis Webb, Cody Kessler and Jacoby Brissett have climbed their way into the top 100. This year's quarterback who could find himself selected on Day 2 is West Virginia's Will Grier.
Unlike some of the previous names mentioned, Grier was dominant in college. In his senior season at West Virginia, Grier threw 37 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. He averaged 9.7 yards per attempt, the fourth-highest rate in college football. He also finished third in adjusted yards per attempt (10.7) and passer rating (175.5).
At the NFL combine, Grier posted the highest ball velocity (59 mph), according to Ourlads.
There's not much to dislike about Grier as he has a strong arm and is accurate. Some teams may be concerned that he played in an Air Raid offense, but we're seeing more of those concepts in the NFL. Considering Grier's experience, accuracy and ball velocity, he could be drafted early on Day 2.
Ben Banogu, Edge-Rusher, TCU
TCU's Ben Banogu flew way under the radar early in the predraft process. While teammate L.J. Collier has many fans in the draft community, Banogu may turn out to be the more productive NFL player.
Over the last two seasons, Banogu has tallied 34.5 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks in 27 games. Tackle-for-loss production is one of the best ways to predict future success in the NFL. However, he also has the athleticism to match his on-field play. According to 3sigmaathlete.com, Banogu tested out as the most athletic edge-rusher in the class, dominating nearly every combine drill.
While he may be slightly undersized (6'3", 250 pounds), Banogu has all the traits you want to see from an elite edge-rusher. Given his excellent predraft process, he could find himself picked in the first few rounds, potentially ahead of Collier. Expect Banogu's stock to continue to rise as we approach the draft.
Parris Campbell, Wide Receiver, Ohio State
Ohio State's Parris Campbell is one of the more fascinating wide receivers in the 2019 NFL draft. Campbell caught a total of 53 passes for 705 yards in his first two seasons with the Buckeyes, doing his best work on handoffs and jet sweeps. He was strictly a part-time player who struggled to find a permanent role in the offense.
However, once quarterback Dwayne Haskins took the reins in 2018, Campbell took off. In his senior season, he caught 90 passes for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories. He went on to dominate the combine, testing in the 99.8 percentile, according to 3sigmaathlete.com. Campbell ran a 4.31 40-yard dash, had a 135-inch broad jump and posted a 40-inch vertical.
While most of his routes came within a few yards of the line of scrimmage, his potential ceiling is intriguing. That could get him drafted in the first round, especially when you consider his overall athleticism and speed. In fact, it's not unrealistic that he could be the first receiver drafted. He is one of the best receivers after the catch to enter the league in a long time and should be able to contribute right away.