Image Credit: Amal Saeed
Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
For every Josh Rosen, who is a starter from the time they step on campus, there is a Kyler Murray, who is stuck behind another stud player and can only put up a single year of real tape. In other instances, players transfer to get out of these situations, but the transfer rules force them into only getting a single year of true consideration. While this can certainly hurt your draft stock if you only play meaningful downs in one year of college, there are players that show enough in that single year that they are still considered tops in the class. Last year, we all were a little slow to put prospects like Quinnen Williams on our radar because of their inexperience. This week, I’m going to give you my best bets to rise up boards with only a single year in the spotlight.
Jacob Eason, QB, University of Washington
Measurements: 6'6", 228 pounds
Replaces: Jake Browning
There are a few things to look for when trying to identify these types of breakout players. You want these players to be highly recruited out of high school, as that usually indicates a high baseline athleticism and skill. You also want these players to be players stepping into good situations where they are replacing players who saw success at the college level. This will indicate that it wasn’t necessarily the talent holding them back, but instead a commitment to the previous player. Another good indication is if the player is transferring from a bad situation to a good situation.
Jacob Eason might epitomize what we are looking for here. Eason was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school in 2016. In fact, he was the no. 5 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class. Eason originally attended Georgia, where they chose Jake Fromm over Eason when the starting job was up for grabs. Eason wanted to start, so he transferred back to his home state of Washington to take over the reigns from Jake Browning. Many Georgia fans clamored for Eason to start over Fromm, and the minimal tape out there on Eason makes it easy to see why. Eason has exceptional arm talent, the likes of which has never been seen at the University of Washington. While the Huskies have churned out receivers like John Ross and Dante Pettis in recent years, they don’t have a player like that on this year’s version of the roster. If Eason can step in, make plays, and elevate the talent around him, he could move into QB1 conversation. An offensive line led by Trey Adams will give him all of the time he needs to find his receivers. It’s just on him to make the plays.
DeeJay Dallas, RB, University of Miami
5'10", 220 pounds
Replaces: Travis Homer
Dallas was a 4-star prospect in 2017, coming into Miami as an “athlete.” This means that nobody was sure what position to put him at, but his crazy athleticism was enough to teach him whatever position the coaches deemed best. They initially put him at wide receiver, but moved him to running back after he added 30 pounds of muscle after arriving on campus. This reasoning is important, because it wasn’t his talent that forced the move. This means that Dallas has elite athleticism and ability as a receiver. That alone will make him enticing to scouts in the pros. Combine these skills with his good vision and contact balance, and you have a star running back in the making. Travis Homer blocked Dallas from getting too many touches last year, but he will look to make his mark with the increased role in 2019.
Juwan Johnson, WR, University of Oregon
6'3", 230 pounds
Replaces: Dillon Mitchell
Johnson is another transfer, this time from Penn State. A 4-star prospect all the way back in 2015, Johnson may have improved his situation more than any other transfer in college football. At Penn State, he had Trace McSorley at quarterback, who was asked to work out with the cornerbacks at the combine because of his lack of skill throwing the football. At Oregon, Johnson will be catching passes from Justin Herbert, a quarterback who will likely be drafted in the top ten of the 2020 draft. If Johnson can be Herbert’s go-to weapon now that Dillon Mitchell is in the NFL, scouts will overlook his disappointing production with the Nittany Lions.
Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford University
6'6", 240 pounds
Replaces: Kaden Smith
Parkinson might be the easiest choice of them all. A 4-star prospect in 2017, Parkinson was the no. 1 tight end in the class. While Kaden Smith was the starter, Parkinson still saw the field as the second tight end and flashed great potential when he was on the field. Parkinson is strong, athletic, and everything you’ve come to expect from a Stanford tight end. The key for Parkinson will be proving that he can maintain his rate of production with a larger workload. Part of this will include improving his technique and strength as a blocker. Parkinson is already a great receiver, but improving as a blocker will let him stay on the field most every down. The sky is the limit for this one.
Alex Leatherwood, OT, University of Alabama
6'6", 322 pounds
Replaces: Jonah Williams
Ho hum, just another 5-star prospect for Alabama that replaces another 5-star prospect in Jonah Williams. Leatherwood was the no. 4 overall prospect in 2017 and the no. 1 tackle. He has the length and the athleticism to succeed, and he certainly has the pedigree as an Alabama lineman. Alabama is a football factory, and pretty much every position could include someone on the Crimson Tide (more on this later).
Creed Humphrey, IOL, University of Oklahoma
6'4", 325 pounds
Replaces: Ben Powers and Dru Samia (kind of)
A 4-star prospect and the #3 center prospect in 2017, Humphrey started this past year for the Sooners. In fact, he was probably the best lineman for Oklahoma. The issue is that he was not draft-eligible last season, and the other four lineman (Cody Ford, Bobby Evans, Dru Samia, and Ben Powers) were all drafted in the first four rounds of the 2019 draft. Everyone focused on the draft-eligible prospects, but Humphrey was the leader of the line, calling out protections and being the best blocker on the field. Now that the spotlight is all on him, the first round chatter will show up quickly.
Nyles Pinckney, IDL, Clemson University
6'1", 305 pounds
Replaces: Christian Wilkins
It’s hard to find time in a rotation that included two first round defensive tackles, but Clemson’s schedule provided Pinckney with plenty of garbage time minutes in 2018. The thing is, there was very little dropoff between Christian Wilkins and Pinckney when Pinckney was inserted into the lineup. A 4-star defensive tackle in the 2016 class, Pinckney only needs to prove that he has the endurance to maintain his rate of production. It’s one thing to come in fresh in the fourth quarter and dominate sub-par linemen who have had to deal with first-round defensive linemen for three quarters. It’s another to beat them when they’re fresh and game planning specifically for you. I have faith that Pinckney will be just fine.
Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State University
6'4", 265 pounds
Replaces: Shareef Miller
Defensive linemen generally work in rotations, so it’s a bit easier to see who dominated in their limited time and extrapolate that to a bigger role. A 4-star prospect in 2017 and the no. 5 overall defensive end, Gross-Matos had that level of domination you want to see. He would come in fresh in the rotation and obliterate the play. Watch his game against Iowa in 2018 to see what I mean. Every snap he is on the field, you know he is on the field because he will be doing something impressive. I don’t expect him to win at the same rate with a larger role, but that’s only because it’s impossible to win that much as a starter if you’re not Lawrence Taylor. However, now that Shareef Miller is gone, it’s about to get Gross for Penn State.
Patrick Queen, LB, Louisiana State University
6'2", 232 pounds
Replaces: Devin White
A 4-star linebacker in 2017, Queen is looking to be next in the long line of recent LSU standout linebackers. Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: Queen is not Devin White. It’s difficult to be as good as a linebacker that was drafted fifth overall. White had athleticism that was rare and combined that with size and anticipation that led him to easy success. Queen is not as athletic as White. He isn’t as big as White. He doesn’t play with the same anticipation as White. But he’s pretty darn close in each of those facets of the game. There is no shame in being 90 to 95 percent of last year’s best linebacker in the country. That is still a potential first round player.
Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State University
6'1", 185 pounds
Replaces: Kendall Sheffield
Ohio State has become as close as you can get to DB-U over the past few seasons, with tons of talent making waves in the pros at all levels of the secondary. Shaun Wade, the 17th overall prospect and second best cornerback in the 2017 class, looks to be next on that list. Sheffield was decent, but was criticized for relying too much on his speed as his only weapon. Wade will not have that problem. Wade can run, for sure, but he also plays with a technique and physicality that is more Marshon Lattimore than Kendall Sheffield. With a clear path to being the number one corner for the Buckeyes, Wade is hoping to be next in the long line of Ohio State secondary prospects getting drafted in the first round.
Xavier McKinney, S, University of Alabama
6'0", 196 pounds
Replaces: Deionte Thompson
Remember how I said you could put an Alabama player at pretty much every spot on this list? This one was too strong of a bet to leave off. A 4-star safety in 2017, and the no. 6 safety prospect in the class, the tape on McKinney so far makes me wonder how he was only sixth. Deionte Thompson had good athleticism, albeit a little on the thin side, but there were questions about his long-term health and his angles in both coverage and run support that made him slip into the third day of the draft. McKinney doesn’t have those questions. He’s an inch shorter than Thompson but heavier, and it shows. He looks sturdier than Thompson, and certainly plays like it. Where Thompson was hesitant to be physical, McKinney will fly around and make the big hit. Where Thompson would take poor angles to his spot, McKinney is a trigonometric genius on the field. McKinney might actually be everything we hoped Deionte Thompson was, and this year will be his chance to prove it.
You can follow Zach on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great 49ers and Draft analysis!