Zachs Draft Corner: Positions of Depth/What to Watch
Image Credit: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
Not all drafts are created equal. There’s the 1983 draft, which produced Hall of Famers Dan Marino, John Elway, and Jim Kelly, as well as solid starters Ken O’Brien and Tony Eason at the quarterback position. The 2008 draft class gave us Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, and Jamaal Charles for running backs, as well as Felix Jones and Rashard Mendenhall. Meanwhile, the 2007 draft class gave us the likes of JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Drew Stanton, Trent Edwards, Tyler Thigpen, and Matt Moore. Some classes are stacked at certain positions, while others are barren.
It’s always wise to look ahead to the future draft classes to see where the depth is. It can help guide free agency decisions, shape early draft decisions, and can also point you to possible positions where you can find talent late in the draft. I tend to define depth by how many players are getting third round or better grades. The fourth round onwards is usually a crapshoot, but when there is depth at certain positions, those players might be taken later than their grade indicates they should be because people still focus a lot on needs in the first half of the draft. These are the positions where I see the most third round or better talent.
A lot has been said about the amazing edge class. There’s obviously the legendary Nick Bosa (Ohio State), but Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), Brian Burns (Florida State), Jachai Polite (Florida), and Montez Sweat (Mississippi State) are all looking like first round talents. Meanwhile, Zach Allen (Boston College), Josh Allen (Kentucky), Chase Winovich (Michigan), D'Andre Walker (Georgia), Wyatt Ray (Boston College), Oshane Ximines (Old Dominion), Anfernee Jennings (Alabama), Anthony Nelson (Iowa), Ben Banogu (TCU), Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech), and Darrell Taylor (Tennessee) have all received third round or better grades from scouts in the media. If you need a pass rusher, there are plenty to choose from.
The strong class of edge defenders has overshadowed what is also a strong interior defensive line class. The class is not quite as stacked as the defensive ends/outside linebackers, but there is plenty of talent to be had on the interior. Ed Oliver (Houston), Raekwon Davis (Alabama), Quinnen Williams (Alabama), Jeffery Simmons (Mississippi State), Jerry Tillery (Notre Dame), Rashan Gary (Michigan), Rashard Lawrence (LSU), and Dexter Lawrence (Clemson) all could be taken in the first round, while Christian Wilkins (Clemson), Isaiah Buggs (Alabama), Gerald Willis (Miami), Chareles Omenihu (Texas), and Dre'Mont Jones (Ohio State) all could hear their names called before the end of the third round.
Big Wide Receivers
If you need a small, quick receiver, you’re going to be limited to Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) and Marquise Brown (Oklahoma). There are some other receivers who are more of average height (6'0" - 6'2") for the position, such as Anthony Ratliff-Williams (North Carolina), Demarkus Lodge (Ole Miss), and Stanley Morgan Jr. (Nebraska), but still not a ton of options.
However, if you need a receiver who stands taller than 6’2”, the second and third round of the draft will be riddled with them. D.K. Metcalf (Ole Miss) headlines the class, but his draft status is unknown after he suffered a season-ending neck injury. J.J. Arcega Whiteside (Stanford), Kelvin Harmon (North Carolina State), N'Keal Harry (Arizona State), and Collin Johnson (Texas) are all locks to come off the board before the end of the second round, and strong workouts could push one or more of them into the first round. Meanwhile, KeeSean Johnson (Fresno State), A.J. Brown (Ole Miss), Riley Ridley (Georgia), Bryan Edwards (South Carolina), and David Sills V (West Virginia) have each received third round or better grades from various draft pundits. If you need a tall, physical receiver to move the chains and improve your red zone offense, you’re in luck.
For a position that teams typically don't put a ton of importance on near the top of the draft, there is a lot of top-end talent that could work their way into the first two days of the draft. If not, there will be some seriously talented tight ends available on Day 3. Noah Fant (Iowa), Dawson Knox (Ole Miss), and Kaden Smith (Stanford) will all be gone by the time the third round begins. Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri), Irv Smith Jr. (Alabama), T.J. Hockenson (Iowa), Caleb Wilson (UCLA), Jace Sternberger (Texas A&M), and Zach Gentry (Michigan) are all firmly in the Day 2 conversation as well, although workouts and the remainder of the season could separate those who will be drafted early and who will be one of those Day 3 leftovers.
You might hear people saying they are down on this year's running back class. This is likely because there is not a Saquon Barkley or an Ezekiel Elliott in this class. There is not a top-end, offense-defining running back that will be taken in the top ten picks. There may not even be a running back taken in the first round, especially with how the position has been devalued as of late.
Don't confuse that with this not being a deep class. As much as any running back class I can remember, I can see plenty of backs taken in rounds 2 through 5 that could find a role on a professional team getting double-digit touches next year. David Montgomery (Iowa State), Rodney Anderson (NOTE: Although Anderson suffered a season-ending knee injury, Anderson has declared that he will come out for the 2019 NFL draft) (Oklahoma), Damien Harris (Alabama), Justice Hill (Oklahoma State), Miles Sanders (Penn State), Karan Higdon (Michigan), Darrell Henderson (Memphis), Mike Weber (Ohio State), Myles Gaskin (Washington), Travis Homer (Miami), Bryce Love (Stanford), Benny Snell (Kentucky), and Matt Colburn II (Wake Forest) could all be taken in that span of rounds 2 through 5, and could all have successful careers in the NFL.
The sheer amount of college games on at any given time can be completely overwhelming. Every week, in the TV Guide section of my column, I will choose the top two games at any given time slot and outline the various prospects you can watch in those games. That way, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and hit the “Previous Channel” button on your remote to toggle between games chock full of pro prospects. Here is your guide for week ten (all times Eastern).
UPDATE: This week, you’ll see shiny new numbers next to certain teams! You may remember my playoff prediction article where I mentioned that rankings don’t matter anymore until the Playoff Committee comes out with their rankings. Lucky us, the first set of playoff rankings were released on Tuesday, October 30! Now that real rankings that matter have been released, I will put the team’s ranking next to their school name if they made the Committee’s top 25 rankings.
Friday, November 2
University of Pittsburgh at (25) University of Virginia, 7:30 PM, ESPN2
Pitt has been up and down team so far this season. They have played some good teams close in losses (North Carolina and Notre Dame), had a good win against Syracuse, but were absolutely demolished by Central Florida and Penn State. While they aren’t loaded with talent, the Panthers do have some talent to keep an eye on. Dewayne Hendrix (senior defensive end, #8) leads the defense, while Qadree Ollison (senior running back, #30) and Darrin Hall (senior running back, #22) form a mighty thunder (Ollison) and lightning (Hall) tandem.
For Virginia, Juan Thornhill (senior safety, #22) and Bryce Hall (junior cornerback, #34) are the studs of a secondary that has found surprising success as the season has rolled on. These two are the main reason that Virginia is ranked 25th in the country going into this matchup. Olamide Zaccheaus (junior wide receiver, #4) and Evan Butts (junior tight end, 46) are the playmakers on offense, and will hope to put up enough points to get the Cavaliers another victory.
University of Colorado at University of Arizona, 10:30 PM, Fox Sports 1
Colorado has had a surprising start to the season, but has lost three straight and taken themselves out of the conference championship discussion. Evan Worthington (senior strong safety, #6) is unfortunately suffering from a concussion, so his presence in the game is unknown at this time. Drew Lewis (senior linebacker, #20) and Rick Gamboa (senior linebacker, #32) are hoping to make enough noise to get drafted next April, but Colorado is led by their offense. Travon McMillian (senior running back, #34) has had a strong season for the Buffaloes, and while his upside is limited, he still has mid-round value as a reliable back. Steven Montez (junior quarterback, #12) has done enough to lead Colorado to a number of victories. Laviska Shenault (sophomore wide receiver, #2) has been the one stealing the show, though he has missed the last two games with an injury and his status for Friday is up in the air. Juwan Winfree (senior wide receiver, #9) will see an increased target share in Shenault’s absence. McMillian will be running behind Aaron Haigler (junior offensive tackle, #64).
Arizona has also had a very up and down season, losing to UCLA one week and beating Oregon the next. In 2019, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (senior safety, #6) is the only prospect on the Wildcat defense. On offense, J.J. Taylor (sophomore running back, #21) is very small (5'6", 180 pounds), so scouts will have to see if his skill overcomes his size. Khalil Tate (sophomore quarterback, #14) is also healthy after an ankle injury has caused him to miss some games. Tate is one of the most exciting players in the country as a dual threat quarterback, though his actual draft value is still in flux.
Saturday, November 3
University of South Carolina at Ole Miss University, 12:00 PM, SEC Network/ESPN+
Probably not a game for meaningful football as it stands with regards to the college football landscape, but this game has a lot of good prospects at fun-to-watch positions. South Carolina boasts a strong offense, including A.J. Turner (junior running back, #25) and Zack Bailey (senior guard, #78). The real stars of the Gamecock offense are their stud receivers, Deebo Samuel (senior wide receiver, #1) and Bryan Edwards (junior wide receiver, #89). Both of these receivers could be top-10 at their position in April, and are sure to be taken before the end of the second day. While South Carolina doesn’t boast a super strong defense, T.J. Brunson (junior linebacker, #6) Javon Kinlaw (junior defensive tackle, #3), Bryson Allen-Williams (senior linebacker, #4), and Rashad Fenton (senior cornerback, #16) are talented enough to get drafted in 2019.
Ole Miss won’t be doing much to stop South Carolina, but hope to put up more points on their end. Ole Miss is led by a trio of highly skilled pass catchers in A.J. Brown (junior wide receiver, #1), DaMarkus Lodge (senior wide receiver, #5), and Dawson Knox (junior tight end, #9), with the most talented of the bunch, D.K. Metcalf (redshirt sophomore wide receiver, #14), being out for the season with a neck injury. Greg Little (junior tackle, #74), Sean Rawlings (senior interior offensive lineman, #50), and Javon Patterson (senior guard, #79) form three-fifths of one of the best (and funniest) offensive lines in the country. They will look to continue protecting Jordan Ta'amu (senior quarterback, #10), who is quietly having a strong senior season. While Ole Miss doesn’t generally stop many teams on defense, Benito Jones (junior defensive tackle, #95), Ken Webster (senior cornerback, #5), Zedrick Woods (senior safety, #36), and Josiah Coatney (junior defensive tackle, #40) are individual talents that could be late round fliers come April.
(20) Texas A&M University at Auburn University, 12:00 PM, ESPN
Texas A&M might be outperforming their talent at the moment, but coach Jimbo Fisher has the Aggies playing well so far this season. Colton Prater (junior tackle, #76) has the physical profile and the traits to be a top tackle prospect if he can be more consistent, and will have one of his toughest assignments of the season in squaring off against the talented Tigers defense. He will be blocking for Trayveon Williams (junior running back, #5), who is the focal point of the Aggie offense. Daylon Mack (senior defensive tackle, #34) and Kingsley Keke (senior defensive tackle, #8) may not have the off-the-charts athleticism and talent of other defensive lines, but are both strong prospects in their own right who can garner some buzz with a strong finish to their season.
For Auburn, Jarrett Stidham (junior quarterback, #8), Ryan Davis (senior wide receiver, #23), Darius Slayton (junior wide receiver, #81), and Eli Stove (junior wide receiver, #12) have the opportunity to put up some good numbers against a team that is not overly talented on defense. Prince Tega Wanogho (junior tackle, #76) will look to give Stidham enough time to deliver the ball effectively, even though Stidham has had a tough time of doing that thus far this season. Though they are largely a lost breed in today’s NFL, Chandler Cox (senior fullback, #27) is one of the top fullbacks in college football, providing a valuable blocking and receiving weapon out of the backfield. Cox will look to give Kam Martin (junior running back, #9) space to break some big plays. While Dontavius Russell (senior defensive tackle, #95), Andrew Williams (senior defensive tackle, #79), and Derrick Brown (junior defensive tackle, #5) are the true strength of the Auburn defensive line on the interior, Marlon Davidson (junior defensive end, #3) and Nick Coe (redshirt sophomore defensive end, #91) are hoping to get their names on draft boards, and a strong performance against the advanced schemes employed by Jimbo Fisher could do just that. Marlon Davidson, though, is suffering from an ankle injury that leaves him questionable for Saturday, so he may be limited even if he is able to play on Saturday.
(6) University of Georgia at (9) University of Kentucky, 3:30 PM, CBS
A nice matchup here.Georgia rebounded from their loss against LSU with a convincing win over rival Florida. However, their schedule doesn’t get any easier, with the Cinderella story of Kentucky coming up next. Georgia has the advantage in talent, but going on the road in college is always difficult. Quite a bit of their main talent is younger (e.g., next year’s potential QB1, Jake Fromm). Deandre Baker (senior cornerback, #18) and J.R. Reed (junior safety, #20) form a strong tandem on the back end and could each be picked before the end of Day 2. Tyler Clark (junior defensive tackle, #52), Julian Rochester (junior defensive tackle, #5), and Jonathan Ledbetter (senior defensive end, #13) anchor a fierce defensive line, which benefits D'Andre Walker (senior outside linebacker, #15) coming off the edge. Terry Godwin (senior wide receiver, #5), Calvin Ridley’s younger brother Riley (junior wide receiver, #8), and Mecole Hardman (junior wide receiver, #4) provide the firepower on the outside offense, though the Bulldogs may be without Hardman on Saturday. Isaac Nauta (junior tight end, #18) gives Georgia a reliable extra blocker and checkdown option. Elijah Holyfield (junior running back, #13, and son of Evander) and Brian Herrien (junior running back, #35) have done an admirable job replacing the duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Lamont Gaillard (senior center, #53) and Kendall Baker (senior guard, #65) anchor the middle of the Bulldog offensive line.
If anyone said that Kentucky would be ranked 9th in the country after ten weeks of the season, I’d have to ask why they are talking about basketball instead of football. Alas, the Wildcats have proven to be a tough opponent on the football field, and they look to continue their success with what would be a season-defining win over Georgia. Benny Snell (junior running back, #26) is my personal favorite of this running back class, reminding me of Frank Gore whenever he touches the ball. C.J. Conrad (senior tight end, #87) and George Asafo-Adjei (senior tackle, #64), along with Snell, give Kentucky an attitude of toughness on offense that is different than most college football programs nowadays. On defense, Josh Allen (senior defensive end, #41) and Derrick Baity (senior cornerback, #8) are the strongest prospects and will at least be Day 2 picks in 2019. Jordan Jones (senior outside linebacker , #34), Mike Edwards (senior safety , #7), Chris Westry (senior cornerback, #21), Darius West (senior safety, #25), Lionel Johnson (senior cornerback, #6), and Adrian Middleton (senior defensive tackle, #99) are also solid prospects in their own right, and will look to push their way into draft consideration during the final month of the season.
(14) Penn State University at (5) University of Michigan, 3:45 PM, ESPN
Penn State lost quite a bit of talent in the 2018 draft process, but they still keep churning out legitimate players. Miles Sanders (junior running back, #24) has filled in very well for Saquon Barkley, and may be the best draftable running back in the Big Ten. Conner McGovern (junior interior offensive line, #66) and Ryan Bates (junior tackle, #52) anchor a surprisingly strong Penn State offensive line. Juwan Johnson (junior wide receiver, #84) and DeAndre Thompkins (senior wide receiver, #3) are in line to return from injury, strengthening a Penn State offense thatneeds playmakers. Trace McSorley (senior quarterback, #9) has gutted out some tough victories for the Nittany Lions this season, but this test might be the toughest one remaining. Amani Oruwariye (senior cornerback, #21) is a top-five cornerback prospect, while Koa Farmer (senior linebacker, #7), Shareef Miller (junior edge, #48), Kevin Givens (junior defensive tackle, #30), John Reid (junior cornerback, #29), Robert Windsor (junior defensive tackle, #54), and Nick Scott (senior safety, #4) all have the potential to be Day 3-type prospects.
Michigan looks to be finally hitting their stride, which is a dangerous thought for a team with so much talent. A major reason for their success is the improved play of Shea Patterson (junior quarterback, #2), who was very erratic earlier in the season. Karan Higdon (senior running back, #22) has stayed relatively healthy, and the 6’8” Zach Gentry (senior tight end, #83) has been an effective safety blanket and third down weapon for Patterson. Ben Bredeson (junior tackle, #74) is the only 2019 prospect on the offensive line, as Michigan is very young at that position. What makes the Wolverines tick, though, is one of the most talented defenses in the country. Rashan Gary (junior defensive tackle, #3), Devin Bush (junior linebacker, #10), Chase Winovich (senior defensive end, #15), Lavert Hill (junior defensive back, #24), Khaleke Hudson (junior linebacker, #7), David Long (junior cornerback, #22), Bryan Mone (senior defensive tackle, #90), and Tyree Kinnel (senior defensive back, #23) are all locks to be drafted next year, barring any catastrophic injuries. Gary has the most perceived talent of that bunch, but he has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury and looks like he might miss a fourth.
Duke University at University of Miami, 7:00 PM, ESPN2
The quarterback position is pretty limited in this draft class, but Duke’s Daniel Jones (junior quarterback, #17) is starting to open some eyes. While he’s only a junior, given the limited talent in this year’s class and the importance of the quarterback position, he could be working his way into the QB1 conversation. That means, even if he only gets a second or third round grade, he could see himself as a top-five pick in 2019, especially if Justin Herbert and/or Dwayne Haskins return to school. So, New York Giants fans, take a look at your potential Eli Manning replacement. Daniel Helm (senior tight end, #80) is having a strong season as both a pass catcher and a blocker for the Blue Devils, while Joe Giles-Harris (junior linebacker, #44) leads the defense. Mark Gilbert (junior cornerback, #28) was a name to watch in the preseason, but a season-ending hip injury likely ensures his return to school next season.
Miami opened the season with a tough loss to LSU, but rolled over opponents for weeks until an upset loss to Virginia a few weeks ago. Miami has always had a reputation for being talented but undisciplined, and this year seems to reinforce that stereotype. Miami has perhaps the most talented overall defense in the ACC outside of Clemson, and will rely on that to be successful. Led by Joe Jackson (junior defensive end, #99), Jaquan Johnson (senior safety, #4), Shaquille Quarterman (junior linebacker, #55), and Michael Jackson (senior cornerback, #28), this defense will give the Eagles a tough game. Gerald Willis III (senior defensive lineman, #9) has been a huge surprise for the Hurricanes, and has moved all of the way up to the mid-second round in the eyes of some scouts with his strong play. Michael Pinckney (junior linebacker, #56), Sheldrick Redwine (senior safety, #22), and Tito Odenigbo (senior defensive tackle, #94) both could garner late round grades with strong 2018 campaigns. On offense, Travis Homer (junior running back, #24) is an explosive playmaker, and Tyree St. Louis (senior tackle, #78) is working his way up the offensive tackle rankings with his consistent and strong play. Malik Rosier (senior quarterback, #12) was benched in favor of true freshman N’Kosi Perry, all but ending his hopes of turning into a professional quarterback prospect.
(1) University of Alabama at (3) Louisiana State University, 8:00 PM, CBS
The Crimson Tide have perhaps the most talented defense in the country. Deionte Thompson (junior safety, #14), Anfernee Jennings (junior outside linebacker, #33), Raekwon Davis (junior defensive tackle, #99), and Mack Wilson (junior linebacker, #30) all have lived up to the first round chatter they have been receiving thus far. Isaiah Buggs (senior defensive tackle, #49), Terrell Lewis (junior linebacker, #24), and Quinnen Williams (redshirt sophomore defensive end, #92) are all having solid seasons as well, and are starting to garner first round buzz themselves. Saivion Smith (junior cornerback, #4), Shyheim Carter (junior cornerback, #5), and Trevon Diggs (junior cornerback, #7) have come on strong this season in the secondary, and would all be drafted if they decide to enter the 2019 draft. On offense, Jonah Williams (junior tackle, #73), Matt Womack (junior tackle, #77), Ross Pierschbacher (senior guard/center, #71), and Lester Cotton (senior guard, #66) hope to all come off the board before the end of the second round, and should open plenty of running lanes for Damien Harris (senior running back, #34) and Joshua Jacobs (junior running back, #8). Irv Smith, Jr. (junior tight end, #82) has almost matched his 2017 production in the first three games, giving Alabama another weapon to play with. He isn’t draft eligible, but Bovada lists Tua Tagovailoa (sophomore quarterback, #13) as the current Heisman favorite, so he’s worth watching nonetheless.
LSU lost a tough one to Florida two weeks ago, but came back with a vengeance with dominating performances against Georgia and Mississippi State. They have kept themselves in the conversation, but a win against Alabama is necessary if they want to make a push for the playoffs. Greedy Williams (redshirt sophomore cornerback, #29) is CB1 and a potential 49er draftee in the top five overall, Devin White (junior linebacker, #40) is working his way up to LB1, and Rashard Lawrence (junior defensive tackle, #90) has also shown first-round talent. Breiden Fehoko (junior defensive end, #91) and Edwin Alexander (junior nose tackle, #99) are likely mid-round selections, making that defense even stronger. Garrett Brumfield (senior guard, #78) is one of the better guards in the class, and this game should mark his first game back playing, as a knee injury has kept him out since September. Foster Moreau (senior tight end, #18) could be an interesting late round pick. Joe Burrow (junior quarterback, #9), a transfer from Ohio State, is starting to look comfortable, and an improved passing game could be exactly what LSU needs for a playoff push. Nick Brossette (junior running back, #4) stepped up and started off the season strong as Derrius Guice’s replacement, but has recently started to regress a little.
University of California at (8) Washington State University, 9:45 PM, ESPN
Cal was the west-coast surprise of the season, but has come back down to earth with some bad losses (e.g., UCLA). However, a win against a talented Washington team last week showed that the bad losses might have been the fluke rather than the strong wins. Jordan Kunaszyk (senior linebacker, #59) has been very strong in run support, with Jaylinn Hawkins (junior safety, #6) and Ashtyn Davis (junior safety, #27) sealing the back end of the defense and creating turnovers in excess. Addison Ooms (senior interior offensive lineman, #57) is as reliable as they come on offense, and Cal’s best playmaker Vic Wharton III (senior wide receiver, #17) will look to start producing at a level commensurate to his talent. When Cal can’t move the ball, Steven Coutts (senior punter, #37) will step in and try to pin the Arizona offense back deep in their own territory to give Cal’s defense plenty of room to operate.
Washington State normally isn’t a team stocked with talent, but they do have an exciting style of play (Mike Leach is their coach, after all) and are playing way above what their talent says they should. There is no reason this team should be ranked 8th in the country, yet here we are. Andre Dillard (senior tackle, #60) and Jalen Thompson (junior safety, #34) lead their respective sides of the ball, and are each likely to be drafted somewhere on Day 2 or 3, but these are really the only serious 2019 prospects for the Cougars.
You can follow Zach on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great draft coverage!