What’s the saying in baseball? A team can’t win the league in April but can definitely lose it?
Well, the same can’t necessarily be said as far as NFL Draft prospects go, but the thought can still somewhat ring true. Preseason prospect hype can jumpstart the prospectus of a player. It can also diminish the appeal of a player who falls short of the pedestal he was once put on.
Six weeks into the college football season, many names have continued to live up to the hype or begun to create some, as others have begun to make a dramatic fall. Though only halfway through the season, the verdict is developing regarding the status of potential 2019 NFL Draft prospects.
Josh Allen, Kentucky EDGE
Check out last week’s piece with a full breakdown of Allen’s 2018 progress.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford WR
Returning as the team’s leading receiver from 2017, Arcega-Whiteside was poised for a breakout season in another year with quarterback KJ Costello. The two have already linked up for eight touchdowns in the first six games (actually, he had eight in the first five and did not catch a touchdown versus Utah).
Arcega-Whiteside has improved drastically in his route running ability. Leaning on his quickness and subtle movements at the top of his routes, the junior could trip up some Sunday corners already. Arcega-Whiteside has proven his leaping ability and continues to put his body to test, coming down with six red zone touchdowns this season.
This isn’t even a route, it’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside legitimately just posting up in the end zone.— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) September 23, 2018
Has a couple TDs like this already his season pic.twitter.com/fphLawWiME
Exploiting the nuances of the position and dominating across the board, Arcega-Whiteside has the potential and intrigue to jump a year early to the league as a possible top 75 pick.
Brian Burns, Florida State DE
Grooming a pass rusher starts with athleticism, aggressiveness, length, and intelligence (feel free to add your own). A budding star at the position, Burns has inherited all those traits plus the flexibility and toolkit to continue to gain first-round intrigue.
From earlier this season: “Burns wins with a quick burst off the snap, then lets his athleticism go to work. He uses his 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage, showing the ability to gain extension and then working his legs to put the tackle on skates. He works a motorcycle bend off the edge, showcasing his flexibility and creativity as a pass rusher.
Jachai Polite, Florida EDGE
Read last week’s piece focusing on Polite’s intrigue as a draft prospect.
Irv Smith, Alabama TE
Slipping into the mold of former Alabama standout OJ Howard, Smith has burst onto the scene for the Crimson Tide this season. Smith showcased his receiving ability versus Arkansas last weekend with two catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.
A smooth athlete with plenty of power behind his pads, Smith proves each week he is a matchup nightmare in the receiving game but is also a terror when run blocking. Smith’s dedication in the run game is key for the Alabama offense, as he is used as a chess piece in their blocking scheme.
Nick Saban on Irv Smith Jr.: “We knew Irv was a really good athlete when we recruited him. … I think he’s gotten better, better and better since he got here.”— TideSports.com (@TideSports) October 8, 2018
Smith packs a punch in the run game, finishing with power and starting with technique. A sound blocker with even weight distribution, Smith’s receiving ability is only a plus to what has already been a well-tuned prospect on the blocking end. The 2019 tight end group is strong, but Smith’s ascension as a pass catcher moves his name up the list each week.
Quinnen Williams, Alabama DL
It’s easy to look over Alabama prospects year to year due to multiple bodies to focus on. Williams may have fallen victim to that statement entering the season.
One of the top traits to look for when evaluating interior defensive linemen is the capability of rushing the passer. Though Williams has only notched one sack on the season, he has produced six pressures and continues to move the passer’s pocket with instant penetration. Williams has a go-to arm over move that consistently fools interior offensive linemen, which quickly shows his pass-rushing capabilities.
The term anchor is loosely used in the draft community, yet Williams is almost literally an anchor in the interior. He is rarely fazed by initial contact; his balance is exceptional. Working a leg drive with appropriate pad level, his prowess is nearly unmatched with any counter. Showing attractive pass rushing ability and brute strength in the trenches, Williams is currently showing the tools it takes to crack into first round conversations.
Brian Lewerke, Michigan State QB
Lewerke came into the season with high hopes of cracking the top five among draft-eligible quarterbacks. With an average start to the season against an inferior Utah State team, Lewerke hasn’t proven much, if anything, since.
“Even though there has been poor play from the Spartans’ offensive weapons and their run game has been disastrous, Brian Lewerke hasn’t been much better,” Cover1.net’s NFL Draft analyst Russell Brown said. “He’s shown his athletic ability and mobility by extending plays beyond the pocket and operating in the open field. There’s been no issues with check downs or hitting back shoulder throws but overall, his timing has been off on a variety of throws.”
“A lot of his misses are from rushing through progressions, staring down receivers and not scanning the field and misplacing passes in tight windows or in the middle of the field. The potential is there, but he hasn’t reached it yet. Lewerke has had every chance to stand out and he has, but only in a bad way. It’s time for him to take the tops off of defenses and pick apart defenses one drive at a time. He’s still got the second half of the season, so this will be pivotal in regards to his draft stock.”
Bryce Love, Stanford RB
Coming into the season, spectators drooled over Love’s 2017 production: 2,118 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. His open field awareness and ability to create plays out of nothing when pressure is added is impeccable.
Fallacies are common when it comes to running backs, especially regarding a height-weight threshold. Many organizations will not sniff a quarterback with an undesirable hand size or a defensive end that is under 6-foot-2. Though the theory has been disproved multiple times, concerns are still rife.
Love, listed at 5-foot-10 and 202 pounds, received plenty of negative buzz regarding his smaller frame compared to his contemporaries. Though operating in more of a traditional between-the-tackles running game, Love’s durability was called into question because of his size and workload over the years. Missing two of six games because of injury doesn’t help his cause.
The team captain is currently dealing with an ankle injury, and it’s unsure when he will return. To add insult to injury, Love’s yards per rush average has dropped from 8.05 to 4.30 this season.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn QB
One of the hottest prospects among the draft community and NFL organizations coming into the season, Stidham was talked about as a first-round talent. After an impressive start to the season versus a talented Washington defense, Stidham has fallen well below the gauge of an NFL prospect.
Carrying over an issue from last season, Stidham’s pocket presence continues to take a hit. He’s shown the athleticism to escape pressure and make plays with his feet, but his overall awareness and pocket presence are lacking. The redshirt junior graduate has created a trend of collapsing under pressure by either taking a sack or making foolish decisions with the football.
Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast is powered by @ThriveFantasy. Join @_ChristianPage and I for an excellent episode of the show!— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) October 10, 2018
-Jarrett Stidham isn’t right
-Josh Allen & Jachai Polite have to be on your radars.
-Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons https://t.co/FjnyVxJ3p7
Stidham (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) has yet to find any rhythm this season. Last season, the Auburn offense thrived on explosive plays as Stidham connected on 36 passes that exceeded 25 yards. This season, he is on track to hit only 20 of said passes. Whether it’s crumbling under pressure, missing layups, or failing to recognize a certain coverage, Stidham is nowhere near ready to take the giant leap to the league.