Like I do every year a few days before the regular season kicks off, I put together my predictions for all the major NFL awards, picked every single one of the 256 games on the schedule and all the playoff matchups leading up to Super Bowl LIV. There is nothing tougher to predict than NFL games and nothing represents that better than the fact that every year half the teams that made the postseason the prior season will miss out the following year. While there are obvious favorites for the a few of the awards which I could not ignore, I also went off the radar with some names and I have seven new teams making the playoffs compared to last year.
A lot has been made about the value of preseason and there are teams who largely keep their starters out of for the most part, but every year there are guys who stand out when they finally get a chance to prove themselves on the field and they deserve to get their props. So this list doesn’t include any actual star players and in a lot of cases not even starters at this point. You won’t hear me talk about Patrick Mahomes looking nearly flawless in limited action or how a star pass rusher beat up some kind of third-string tackle. Usually I like to give guys credit who play the less-heralded positions, but with how many young quarterbacks have made an impression on me, they had to be the main topic of this article. Of course you have to take some performances with a grain of salt because we haven’t seen any game-planning or schemes being utilized, but what you can evaluate is physical ability, energy and play-making ability. So here are some of the guys who have stood out to me:
After talking about the top offensive players at each position a couple of days ago, we now switch to the defensive side of the ball. So we are looking at the best edge rushers (meaning 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers primarily), interior defensive linemen (everything from nose tackle to 5-technique), off-ball linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties. Some of these guys are hybrid players, so I judged them according to where they line up primarily and what their best spot is. Once again, my criteria for which I judge them is their tape from their collegiate career so far, including the potential I see for them heading into this season, and I evaluate them as college players instead of NFL prospects, where they might fall a little lower because they don’t have pro measurements or athleticism necessarily.
After talking about the most intriguing questions heading into the 2019 college football season, which is right in front of us, I now want to present my five best players at each position. This list is mostly based on where I would rank them right now, but also partially me projecting where they will stack up mid-season. So with some of these established players I really rank them as of right now, but with others I have to consider the talent and what I think they will develop into this year. To do so, I watched plenty of tape on all the top performers from last season (and who stood out to me in limited action) and tried to break them down as individual players. So I did not want to take their team or supporting cast into context and simply judge them based on their ability. Therefore you might not see some of the more common names or guys with the best statistics where you would find them on most lists out there. And to avoid confusion, this is a ranking of them as college players – not simply draft prospects. Today we start things off with the offensive side of the ball.
Less than two weeks away from the NCAA season opener with the ACC’s Miami and SEC’s Florida making early cases for who is the top team in the Sunshine State, I wanted to give a little preview of the upcoming five months or so. To do that, I came up with my top ten storylines ahead of the upcoming college football season. While a lot of people may think this could be a two- or three-team race once again, several things are completely unpredictable and these are the themes that I will be following closely as the year goes along.
With training camp in full swing for all 32 teams and just a week away from the Hall of Fame game between the Falcons and Broncos, I wanted to take a look at the biggest position battles going on for every team throughout practice and a lot of times most of the preseason. Some of these may be very close two-man races for a specific spot, others include several candidates looking to crack the starting lineup. Some of them may be sexier when it comes to quarterbacks, while others are about offensive guards putting in the work up front. However you want to turn it, these are what I think the toughest battles going on right now and only competition will determine the winners.
With most teams a little more than a week away from starting training camps, I wanted to look at the second- or third-year players, who I think will make the biggest jumps in 2019. Obviously I did not want to name Pro Bowlers or guys with All-Pro nominations and no Rookie of the Year candidates on either side of the ball. I also didn’t include players, who already recorded 1000 yards rushing or receiving, double-digit touchdowns, sacks or similar statistics. Moreover, to avoid repeating myself, you won’t find the names of any players that made my list already last year – such as Dalvin Cook, Chris Godwin and Malik Hooker – and neither did I put down anybody that I think already pretty much broke out, even if they numbers don’t quite show that – guys like Corey Davis, O.J. Howard, Carl Lawson, Jayon Brown and Jaire Alexander come to mind. My final criteria was that the players needed to have seen the field already, which ruled out guys like Derrius Guice and Isaiah Wynn, who I had rated as first-round prospects but missed their rookie years. So with the criteria set and making clear what is necessary for a player to actually break out, here is my list: