Through the entire 2018 NCAA Football season, we’ll hear plenty of discussion about Stanford and their phenom running back, Bryce Love. Beyond that, Trey Adams from Washington will look to solidify himself as one of the top offensive tackles in the 2019 NFL Draft, and plenty of evaluators will look to Arizona and their quarterback, Khalil Tate, and mark him down as a wide receiver.
Not everything will be perfect for some 2019 NFL Draft prospects. For others, it’ll everything and more. There will be certain players that move up draft boards and, believe it or not, could become the top-ranked players at their position. Before joining Cover 1, I wrote a weekly column titled The Underrated. I wrote about players like Buffalo Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman and had interviews with players like San Francisco 49ers safety Adrian Colbert. It gave me an outlet to talk about players whose talent and upside were evident.
I haven’t interviewed the following players, but these three from the Pac-12 are three players to keep an eye on. I’m not the first evaluator to discover their talent, and I’m not looking for any type of credit, but I want you to keep these players in the back of your mind for the 2018 season.
Jalen Jelks, EDGE from Oregon
This one might be somewhat of a surprise, but Jelks certainly needs to be discussed. He has gotten attention from some evaluators but needs to be more of a household name. Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranks him as the second-highest edge defender for the 2018 season with an 88.6 overall grade. Nick Bosa from Ohio State is ranked ahead of him with a 92.7 overall grade. It is important to keep in mind, though, that that’s for just the Power 5 Conferences.
When watching the tape of Jalen Jelks, it’s apparent that it all starts with his length. He has the length to be productive on the NFL gridiron, standing 6’6 and weighing 252 pounds. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will. You’ll notice how long he is in his three-point stance, but you can tell his lower body needs to get stronger when leveraging. More times than not, he gets pushed around and loses ground. Some of this is because of his timing, but it all circles back to his lower body strength.
Having better timing with his hands, better leverage, and more consistent body control will take him to the next level. But mastering what he’s good at can help, too. Playing below pad level is an area in which he succeeds. Another area is bursting upfield and attacking the backfield. It’s not all perfect from Jelks, and he’s far from Ed Oliver, Rashaan Gary, and Nick Bosa, but he has the tools to become a better edge defender than an interior defensive lineman, where Oregon plays him.
During his junior season, he broke out with 59 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. His senior season should be where he puts it all together to solidify himself in the 2019 NFL Draft discussion. He’ll need to become more consistent with his hands and develop a pass rush plan, but transitioning to more of a consistent role off the edge should help with that.
K.J. Costello, QB from Stanford
The other day, I put together a quarterback piece about the Pac-12 Conference and what it has to offer. I didn’t talk about the following quarterback, K.J. Costello, and for good reason. There’s some work he needs to do, but I want to take a deeper look at his film and his traits. For now, I think K.J. Costello is an underrated quarterback among his Pac-12 rivals. Standing at 6’5 and 217 pounds, there’s plenty to like on film, but there are glaring areas for improvement.
He’s not as far along as Justin Herbert, and his arm isn’t as strong as Manny Wilkins, but he runs the West Coast offense better than anyone in the conference and was productive in his first full season as the Cardinal’s starting quarterback. With over 1500 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions, Costello is conservative with the football in his hands.
While he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes with the football, he’s not perfect. Rushing through pre-snap reads is an area he’ll have to improve. Dissecting defenses before the snap is half the battle, but with time he can get there. Getting better with throws in tight windows is another area for improvement. However, he puts nice touch on the football, his lower body mechanics are controlled, and he shows poise in the pocket.
Many won’t consider him a draft-eligible quarterback, but he’s a redshirt sophomore and graduated high school in 2016, so he’ll have been out of high school for three years after this season. Odds are he’ll be staying another year and we won’t hear his name until the 2020 NFL Draft, but be prepared for Costello and Bryce Love to dominate the Pac-12 and to make their way to a conference championship.
Caleb Wilson, TE from UCLA
The clear-cut favorite at the tight end position in the 2019 NFL Draft will be Noah Fant from Iowa. Rightfully so — he’s an electric tight end that can move all over the field and catch everything. But don’t look past Caleb Wilson from UCLA. I know what you’re thinking, “The Rosen One”, “The Chosen One”, Josh Rosen is no longer the quarterback for the Bruins. But Chip Kelly is the new head coach, and that’s going to go a long way for Wilson’s production.
In Kelly’s first season as the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach (2013), he drafted Zach Ertz out of Stanford and signed James Casey in free agency. Adding two tight ends to a room that already had a talented Brent Celek shows how much he likes to utilize the position. Yes, I know that there was a point during the 2013 season that Kelly and his Eagles ran ’11’ personnel (one running back, three wide receivers and one tight end) on 80% of their plays, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), but the reason behind this was that Kelly likes to run the football, and he expects that his tight ends know all aspects of the game.
Caleb’s father, Chris Wilson, was a 12th-round pick in the 1992 NFL Draft for the Chicago Bears and is currently the defensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Football is in his bloodline, but health will be the biggest concern for him. If he can stay healthy, then he can be everything and more for the Bruins’ offense.
Having Caleb Wilson return from a foot injury will be interesting. Through five games last year, Wilson had 38 receptions for 490 yards and a touchdown. It’s clear that he can catch the football, and former UCLA head coach, Jim Mora, utilized Wilson in a similar fashion to the way Chip Kelly will.
Wilson ran routes from the slot and in a three-point stance off the line of scrimmage. Having his athletic ability and versatility will help him continue to move around the offense, and his hands and route running ability are consistent enough to help him keep the starting role. Meanwhile, he has also shown consistency as an in-line blocker. That will be very important for him in Chip Kelly’s offense, where it’s important to master every aspect of the tight end position.