Ranking the Top 10 Juniors for the 2019 College Football Season
Now that standout players routinely declare for the NFL draft as early as possible, most of college football's best players are in their junior year of eligibility.
Tua Tagovailoa, last season's Heisman Trophy runner-up, highlights an exceptional crowd of juniors for the 2019 campaign.
Tagovailoa is one of three quarterbacks in our top 10, which also includes two running backs, two wide receivers and two pass-rushers. One defensive back completes the group.
Both 2019 projection and long-term outlook are highlighted, but past production shaped the rankings.
10. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State WR
2018 Results: Tylan Wallace emerged as a big-play force for Oklahoma State. His 1,491 receiving yards ranked second nationally, and he scored 12 touchdowns on 86 catches. Wallace was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award and second-team AP All-American.
2019 Projection: The Pokes need a quarterback; Dru Brown and Spencer Sanders are the leading contenders in that battle. Given the returning talent at receiver with Dillon Stoner and Landon Wolf, Wallace doesn't need to shoulder a heavy burden out of necessity. But there's no doubt the new QB will be looking his way often.
Long-Term Outlook: Listed at 6'0" and 185 pounds, Wallace isn't a particularly imposing wideout. However, he might be the most gifted downfield threat in the 2020 draft class because of an impressive ability to track the football and catch it at its highest point. Wallace is a likely Day 2 pick with first-round upside.
9. A.J. Epenesa, Iowa DE
2018 Results: After a quiet freshman year, A.J. Epenesa morphed into a menace last season. He collected 16.5 tackles for loss with 10.5 sacks, which tied for the ninth-most in the country. Epenesa totaled 37 stops and returned a fumble for a touchdown, too.
2019 Projection: Iowa will lean heavily on the defensive end. Two key departures, Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse, combined for 23 takedowns in the backfield last year. Epenesa can't replace their contributions himself, but his presence will demand extra attention and create favorable chances for teammates, too.
Long-Term Outlook: Despite an excellent sophomore year, 2019 will be Epenesa's first season as a full-time starter. An expanded role should allow the 6'5", 277-pounder to have a greater impact and show he's worthy of a top-10 pick. Even if he falls short of that upside, Epenesa is probably entering his final year at Iowa.
8. Sam Ehlinger, Texas QB
2018 Results: How did 2018 end? "We're baaa-aaack." So, yeah, it went well for Sam Ehlinger. He guided the program to its first 10-win season in nine years, throwing for 3,296 yards and 25 touchdowns to only five interceptions. Ehlinger also bulldozed his way to 16 scores on the ground, tallying 482 rushing yards.
2019 Projection: Texas lost leading wideout Lil'Jordan Humphrey and must retool its offensive line, so Ehlinger's efficiency may slip. He can rely on Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay, but Ehlinger's upside―and the team's, for that matter―is dependent on touted recent signings such as Brennan Eagles, Joshua Moore and Bru McCoy becoming weekly contributors.
Long-Term Outlook: Although he's NFL-eligible after the 2019 season, the early expectation is Ehlinger will remain at Texas. It's possible his status rises, but right now, Ehlinger is more likely to become a four-year college superstar than a coveted pro prospect.
7. Chase Young, Ohio State DE
2018 Results: Storylines involving Urban Meyer, Nick Bosa and Dwayne Haskins all kept Chase Young out of the national conversation. He certainly was impactful enough to be included. Young notched a team-high 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
2019 Projection: Ohio State prefers to constantly rotate its defensive linemen, but Young won't be on the sideline often. The explosive edge-rusher has a reasonable chance to break Vernon Gholston's single-season team sack record of 14.
Long-Term Outlook: Barring an unexpected issue, Young will be a first-round selection in 2020. He dealt with ankle injuries last season, and those surely inhibited his production. If Young is anywhere near his potential this year, he'll be the subject of top-five talk.
6. Jake Fromm, Georgia QB
2018 Results: Georgia finished 11-3, and all 11 victories featured a margin of 14-plus points. Totaling 2,749 yards and 30 touchdowns through the air with a 67.3 completion percentage is excellent as it is, but it's even better when considering Jake Fromm attempted a fourth-quarter pass in just seven games.
2019 Projection: The Bulldogs are seeking a third straight SEC East title, and Fromm will guide them to it. While the offense is retooling at receiver beyond Jeremiah Holloman, it has an experienced blocking unit and terrific group of running backs. Georgia can thrive if Fromm, who has tossed just 13 interceptions in 597 attempts, continues to avoid big mistakes.
Long-Term Outlook: Though a potential top-five choice in the draft, he could be a divisive prospect. Some analysts will be underwhelmed by his performance in big games (unless that changes this year). Others will see a highly efficient, reliable quarterback. Either way, expect 2019 to be Fromm's last season in Athens.
5. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama WR
2018 Results: Jerry Jeudy went from a backup role in 2017 to winning the Biletnikoff Award and securing first-team AP All-America honors last year. He racked up 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns on 68 catches, averaging 19.3 yards per reception.
2019 Projection: Things are great when having too many terrific teammates is a problem. He put up elite numbers last season anyway, but playing alongside Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith puts a cap on Jeudy's ceiling. You know, like, a meager 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Long-Term Outlook: Speed isn't the only reason Jeudy is a game-breaking target; he's a clinical route-runner. He consistently showed off that asset as a prospect, and it's translated to the SEC. Pro teams will covet Jeudy's ability to create space for himself and prioritize him as a first-round option.
4. Grant Delpit, LSU S
2018 Results: As a freshman, Grant Delpit made a significant impact. But last season, he was a playmaker. The first-team AP All-America choice had 74 tackles with 9.5 for loss and five sacks, adding five interceptions, nine pass breakups and one forced fumble.
2019 Projection: LSU is expected to have one of the SEC's best defenses, and Delpit's range is a major reason why. He's a highly effective blitzer and disrupts passing lanes with exceptional awareness. Delpit should be an All-American again.
Long-Term Outlook: The future is bright for Delpit. In all likelihood, the safety will declare for the 2020 NFL draft and be considered a top prospect at the position. For us, it's more a matter of how high a first-rounder Delpit will be than whether he's a Day 1 pick.
3. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin RB
2018 Results: Jonathan Taylor racked up 1,977 rushing yards in his debut season at Wisconsin but only improved in 2018. He crossed the 100-yard barrier in 12 of 13 games and cracked the 200-yard mark five times. Taylor led the nation with 2,194 yards on the ground, also scoring 16 touchdowns.
2019 Projection: Although the Badgers lost three All-Big Ten linemen, the return of center Tyler Biadasz should steady a unit that always reloads. Taylor's efficiency will probably drop, but UW's reliance on the run means he's still a weekly 100-yard threat.
Long-Term Outlook: Taylor is heading into the season with 622 career touches, and he's probably due for 250 more in 2019. Since the NFL (understandably) tends to cycle through running backs, Taylor should chase the payday as soon as possible. He needs to correct a fumbling issue―10 lost in two seasons―but otherwise should be an early-round pick.
2. Travis Etienne, Clemson RB
2018 Results: While helping Clemson win a national championship, Travis Etienne scampered for 1,658 yards with a remarkable 8.1 yards per carry that ranked seventh in the country. He totaled 26 touchdowns, was a second-team AP All-America selection and finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting.
2019 Projection: Clemson is revamping the blocking unit, but Etienne will remain exceptionally productive for a combination of reasons. Defenses can't stack the box because QB Trevor Lawrence would obliterate them. And with elite speed, Etienne can turn the smallest crease into a massive gain. If healthy, he's an All-ACC shoo-in.
Long-Term Outlook: Unless Clemson flames out in unanticipated fashion, Etienne will have nothing left to prove. He'll enter the 2020 NFL draft as a top running back―no later than a Day 2 selection, most likely―with fewer than 600 career touches and spectacular speed. Those are two huge positives.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama QB
2018 Results: After emerging as the hero in the 2017 national championship win, Tua Tagovailoa joined the starting lineup last season. The left-hander picked apart defenses for Alabama records of 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He won the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards.
2019 Projection: Tagovailoa should return to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He's throwing to the aforementioned quartet of Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs and DeVonta Smith. The amount and level of skill-position talent in Tuscaloosa is, quite frankly, absurd.
Long-Term Outlook: Entering 2019, Tagovailoa is competing with Oregon's Justin Herbert and Jake Fromm for the label of top QB prospect. Others―such as Washington's Jacob Eason―could join that race, but those three are widely projected as early first-round picks right now.