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#pounditSunday, January 24, 2021

10 college players already improving their NFL Draft stock

Justin Herbert

The 2019 NFL Draft is still eight long months away, but it’s never too early to start evaluating some of the potential prospects and how early they might go.

Through four weeks of the season, several players have stood out, unknowns have shined, and new faces have entered the discussion. Let’s take a look at 10 college players who are already boosting their NFL Draft stock.

10. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford (senior)

Bryce Love could have declared for the NFL Draft a year a go and would likely have been suiting up for a pro team on Sunday. Instead, Love returned to Stanford for his senior season to finish his degree in biology. It was an obvious risk, but one Love chose to make. And in his first game the of the season, Love was statistically sacked by San Diego State, who stacked the box and held the Cardinal running back to just 29 yards on 18 carries. But he has since rebounded with solid games against USC (136 yards, 1 TD) and Oregon (89 yards, 1 TD). Perhaps above all else, he’s showed scouts that his pass protection has improved, which was a red flag just 12 months ago.

9. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri (senior)

Considered an outside Heisman Trophy candidate, Drew Lock entered the 2018 season needing to take a step up against SEC competition. His struggles against Georgia didn’t really help his case, but overall on the season, Lock has shown dramatic improvement in his accuracy and decision-making, and still has plenty of opportunities to shine against big schools. So far this season, Lock is completing nearly 63 percent of his passes for 1,283 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. So long as he keeps that up, he’ll likely cement a first-round grade for himself.

8. Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma (junior)

Marquise Brown was held catch-less in an overtime victory against Army, but given that the Black Knights limited Oklahoma to just 15 total minutes of possession and focused heavily on stopping Brown, the performance wasn’t as poor as it might have otherwise seemed. Still, even with the poor game in tow, Brown has hauled in 19 receptions for 412 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. He’s averaging nearly 22 yards per catch, showing scouts he’s a big-play threat who is capable of changing games if he finds more consistency. If Brown keeps up at this pace and declares for the 2019 NFL Draft, there will undoubtedly be a lot of interest in him.

7. Devin White, LB, LSU (junior)

Devin White erupted onto the scene as a sophomore — his first season as a starter — and immediately people began to see the potential. He finished the season with an SEC-leading 133 tackles and was named first-team All-SEC. In 2018, expectations were that White would be a potential All-American and, thus far, he has not disappointed. One of the country’s fastest linebacker, the junior has recorded 38 tackles (22 solo), one sack, one forced fumble and three passes defensed through four games. He is skyrocketing up draft boards and shows no signs of slowing down.

6. Wyatt Ray, Edge, Boston College (senior)

Edge rushers come at a premium at the NFL level, so Wyatt Ray’s hot start to the 2018 has understandably opened some eyes. The senior is currently tied for the FBS lead in sacks (5.5) to go along with 18 tackles (10 solo, 6.5 for a loss) and one pass defensed. Above all else, with Harold Landry now playing for the Titans, Ray hasn’t had to compete with another high-end talent for national spotlight and as a standalone, has proven the ability to impact each game. So long as he can continue playing well, he may ultimately be viewed as one of the premiere edge rushers in the 2019 NFL Draft.

5. D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss (redshirt sophomore)

D.K. Metcalf has never put up huge numbers, but at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he was a potential force entering the season and a player scouts already had their eye on. And so far this season, Metcalf has failed to disappoint, hauling in 18 receptions for 368 yards and four touchdowns — all numbers that put him on pace to set career marks across the board. Those numbers also include a huge 75-yard touchdown — the only Ole Miss touchdown of the game — in a crushing loss against Alabama. So long as Metcalf stays healthy, he’ll continue rapidly climbing the prospect rankings.

4. Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis (junior)

Darrell Henderson is closer to topping this list than he is to falling further down on it. Perhaps the biggest sleeper at running back, Henderson sports good field vision, quick feet, swift decision-making and a high football IQ. A year after averaging a bloated 8.9 yards per carry, he’s now averaging an even more impressive 12.2 yards per carry. In fact, through four games, Henderson is already nearing career highs in almost every category, having gained 709 yards on 58 carries with eight touchdowns. Henderson could become one of the most sought-after running back prospects in the country.

3. Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama (junior)

Cover 3 safeties with lightning fast speed and the ability to come downhill and attack the run with solid tackling skills is an extreme rarity in football. And while Thompson still has a lot of improvements to make, he’s begun to separate himself from other free safeties around college football, and is routinely the fastest player on the field. In four games this season, Thompson has recorded 19 tackles (14 solo), four passes defensed and two interceptions. And one of those picks came in a 62-7 route of Ole Miss.

2. Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky (junior)

Benny Snell is not short on confidence. Some might even consider it ego, but so long as the Kentucky running back continues to back up the chatter, there’s really nothing anyone else can say. And after declaring himself the best running back in college football, Snell has gone out and proved it … so far. The extremely violent runner has gained 540 yards on the ground to go along with seven touchdowns through four games, and is on pace to shatter every single personal record he’s set. If he can find a way to improve his pass catching out of the backfield, scouts will be drooling over him come the 2019 NFL Draft.

1. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon (junior)

There are several talented quarterback prospects who could declare for the 2019 NFL Draft, and Justin Herbert tops the pack. Of course, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any room for improvement. In fact, entering the 2018 season, many experts had Herbert as the No. 3 or No. 4 quarterback, but with 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year so far, the perception has changed. As Herbert nears career marks across the board, scouts are beginning to take more notice. And while Oregon may have lost the game, Herbert’s performance against Stanford (78.8%, 381 total yards and one touchdown) really opened some eyes.

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