Mock drafts are like noses, everyone has one.
Jan 24, 2019; Mobile, AL, USA; North offensive tackle Dalton Risner of Kansas State (71) blocks against North defensive end L.J. Collier of TCU (91) during the North squad 2019 Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
The same 25 or so names pop up in everyone’s forecast of the 2019 NFL Draft, with only slight variations to the order. Projecting the “surprise” players who sneak into the top 32 picks is the real art to the profession.
That task could be especially challenging this year with little consensus at the top of each position. Poll a few NFL scouts and analysts to name the top quarterback, wide receiver, offensive tackle, cornerback or safety in this class and you are likely to get different answers – which is fairly uncommon this late in the process.
That should result in a suspense-filled first round.
In the same way that a hot-shooting 12 seed can blow up your March Madness bracket, these are the five players destined to wreck mock drafts.
5. L.J. Collier, DE, TCU, 6-2 1/4, 283, 4.91
Players drafted in the first round typically dominated in college. Collier didn’t even start until his fifth year with the Horned Frogs, when he registered more tackles (43, including 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks) than in his previous three seasons combined (38 tackles) after redshirting his first year on campus.
The late-blooming Collier nevertheless was invited to the Senior Bowl, where his disproportionately long arms (34”), raw power and junkyard dog mentality made him a standout. He is a much more well-rounded defender than his 11 career starts suggest, showing an impressive array of pass rush moves and a commitment to run defense that should get him on the field early and often in the NFL.
If the anticipated early run of edge rushers comes to fruition, Collier could sneak into the late portion of the first round – perhaps as a plug-and-play replacement for Trey Flowers in New England.
4. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida, 5-10 7/8, 210, 4.48
Most draft enthusiasts know by now that the Class of 2019 offers an extraordinary bounty of defensive linemen, but the safety position isn’t far behind in terms of star power and depth. Though he is not included in many first-round projections from the media, Gardner-Johnson’s raw athleticism, versatility and penchant for turning turnovers (nine INTs in three seasons) into points (three TDs) very much has the attention of NFL teams.
Given his hyphenated name, it is perhaps appropriate that Gardner-Johnson played a slash role for the Gators, seeing action as a single-high free safety, in-the-box striker and nickel cornerback over his career. He led Florida in special teams tackles (eight) as a true freshman and punctuated that year by being named MVP of the team’s bowl game – joining Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith as the only first-year players at Florida to earn that distinction.
3. Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State, 5-11 7/8, 205, 4.31
One could argue that Campbell is the most under-appreciated receiver in this class. While the media blustered over the 40-yard dash time by Ole Miss workout warrior D.K. Metcalf and the straight-line speed shown by Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown as a vertical threat last season, Campbell, a two-time team captain, proved lightning fast on the field and in workouts.
Campbell led the Buckeyes in catches (88), receiving yards (1,062) and touchdowns (12) in a breakout 2018 campaign alongside two other receivers (Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon) who also will be drafted this week. He wasn’t asked to run complicated routes in Ohio State’s scheme, serving a Percy Harvin-like role on shallow crossers and jet-sweeps in Urban Meyer’s offense.
The traits and work ethic are there to suggest that Campbell’s route-tree will grow more branches and his production will only further bloom in the NFL.
2. Kaleb McGary, OT, Washington, 6-7 1/8, 317, 5.05
The massive and country-strong McGary is as battle-tested as any offensive tackle in this class. He started the past four years at right tackle for Washington before turning critics into believers at the Senior Bowl, Combine and well-attended pro day with his rare athleticism.
One of the biggest blockers in the class, McGary quietly wowed in workouts, generating top 10 performances among offensive linemen in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump (33.5”), broad jump (9’3”), 3-cone (7.66) and short shuttle (4.58) at the Combine. He then out-shined media darling and projected top 20 pick Andre Dillard (Washington State) in their respective pro day workouts – both of which I attended. That may not surprise Pac-12 observers, as the conference’s defensive linemen voted McGary the best blocker in the league with the Morris Trophy.
1. Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State, 6-3, 305, 4.90 (estimated)
Simmons is likely facing a medical “redshirt” in his first NFL season after tearing his ACL during pre-combine workouts, so it is easy to see why he could slip out of the first round despite possessing top 10 talent. His projection is further clouded due to a disturbing 2016 video of Simmons repeatedly striking a woman on the ground.
Of course, in the talent-tops-all world of the NFL, the tape that matters most is what Simmons did at Mississippi State – not the family dispute caught on video prior to his joining the Bulldogs or the injury, from which he is expected to make a full recovery.
If a team is willing to invest in Simmons on Day Two, it might make more sense (and cents) to draft the three-time SEC honoree in the first round, given the fifth-year option provided in the NFL’s rookie contracts for players drafted in the opening frame.
—Rob Rang, Field Level Media