9. Cardinals - Stanford OT Walker Little
From the Cardinal to the Cardinals. I struggle with Little. An elite five-star recruit who was a top-10 overall prospect in his class, Little played heavy snaps early in his career for a school known for developing linemen (over 1,100 his first two years on campus). But he was part of a unit that regressed badly in 2018 -- and he's not free from culpability for that.
What Little has done in college is show great promise as a pass-blocker -- even as his run-blocking left Bryce Love a bit cold last fall. Little posted a decent-but-not-great 70.2 overall PFF grade last season. But that was with a strong 84.7 pass-blocking grade lifting up poor work in the running game. In pass pro, Little was lit up by Notre Dame and struggled against Oregon, but was otherwise close to flawless.
He needs to keep bulking up and working on his core strength, but the pass-pro chops alone make him extremely appealing to the NFL. And to Kliff Kingsbury and his beleaguered offensive line in particular.
I’ll leave you with a vid of Little taking on Epenesa in January 2017, the winter before their true freshman seasons. You’re gonna be seeing those two go at it plenty in the NFL. (And maybe the 2019 Rose Bowl?!).
10. Jaguars - Clemson WR Tee Higgins
Tee Higgins disappointed me earlier in his career after arriving on campus with a ludicrous amount of hype. But we must always keep context in mind when we talk about football players. This is a team sport, and every individual’s performance is in a multitude of ways tied to the performances of the coaches, play-callers and teammates around them.
Higgins, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder with a classic NFL WR1 build and game, didn’t post a PFF game grade of 70.0 or more in any of Clemson’s first five games last year after posting a 74.9 grade as a true freshman.
But accuracy-cursed QB Kelly Bryant started in 2017 and also in the first four games of 2018. Bryant was benched at that time and immediately left the program to facilitate the retention of a redshirt that'd allow him to transfer as a grad at season's end (he's now a fifth-year senior at Missouri). And then true freshman prodigy Trevor Lawrence got injured in his first start, the fifth game of last season (versus Syracuse, forcing Clemson to come-from-behind with their QB3).
From there on out, with Lawrence fully installed and healthy, Higgins was graded over 70.0 in nine of Clemson's last 10 games, over 75.0 in seven of 10, and 78.0 in five of 10.
Translation: Get this guy a quarterback who can get him the ball, and get out of his way. I think we're gonna see The Jump from Higgins in 2019, with a full season to work with Lawrence, the carve-it-in-stone 2021 1.1, who'll no doubt be taking a developmental leap forward himself.
(Side note: Clemson's offense is going to be beyond ridiculous this fall. WR Justyn Ross is also an assassin, and Travis Etienne is this class' RB1 heading into the year. Get your popcorn ready for Bama-Clemson IV in January.).
11. Bills - Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb
I really liked Buffalo’s draft. But because of the way the board fell, they were unable to address their glaring need at receiver. I assume the organization was well aware of the fact that if they deferred the need to 2020, they’d be well-positioned to land a stud with their first-round pick — the 2020 receiver class is far superior to the 2019 one.
Lamb would give the Bills a worthy WR1 who’d allow the Zay Jones/John Brown/Clay Beasley troika to slot into their natural secondary and tertiary roles. I think Lamb’s a better prospect than Hollywood Brown.
Lamb’s hands are just stupid. The athleticism is a given. What gives this kid such a high ceiling is his skill on top of those gifts. In terms of body control, downfield tracking and hands made of glue, this kid is a SportsCenter Top-10 catch waiting to happen.
One thing to keep an eye on: Lamb had the pleasure of working with Heisman winners and 1.1 NFL picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray the past two years. This time around, he’ll work with Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, whose arm rarely impressed in Tuscaloosa. If nothing else, Lamb should get plenty of opportunities for the circus catches he’s become known for.
12. Panthers - Florida CB CJ Henderson
Let’s start here: Henderson is frighteningly fast.
He’s also very sticky in coverage. On 36 targets last year, Henderson allowed only 50% completions and less than 7.0 YPA while picking off two balls. He posted an 81.8 PFF coverage grade.
He has more utility than that, though. Henderson has shown to be extremely disruptive on the blitz. His PFF pressure grade of 94.1 in 2018 was out-of-this-world (with obvious sample size caveats).
I’m including this clip for entertainment purposes. Crazy play.
13. Seahawks - Washington OT Trey Adams
The Seahawks tapped the local school for LB Ben Burr-Kirven last month. Reuniting him with Adams would be a heckuva nice present for Russell Wilson. Seattle has eschewed its offensive line issues with too many premium picks. This would be a nice time to address it with a player who could anchor the blind side for the next decade.
I was happy that Adams elected to return to Washington for a final year. He’s absolutely a first-round talent, but Adams’ 2017 was wrecked by a torn ACL, and his 2018 was haunted by a serious back injury that kept him out of the starting lineup until the Pac-12 title game.
This is an aggressive slot for Adams. It supposes that he’ll stay healthy in 2019 and dominate on the field. I’m pretty confident about the latter item. We’ll see about the former.
14. Jets - Virginia CB Bryce Hall
In terms of pure coverage, Hall was one of the best corners in college football last year and objectively superior to Henderson. His 91.2 overall PFF grade and his 91.4 coverage grade were both elite.
Hall allowed only 1.06 yards per coverage snap while breaking up 18 balls (two INTS), ultimately forcing an incompletion on 31.6% of his snaps. That’s not incompletions — those are incompletions Hall actively had a part in creating. Hall led the FBS in breakups. He forced almost as many incompletions as Jarrett Stidham (I kid, Pats fans!).
He's a long, well-built corner who’s also very fluid. And because he’s coached by Bronco Mendenhall, you already know Hall’s knows how to play the game. Especially for a guy who came to Virginia as a receiver. Love the physical package, love the ball skills and love the production. I want to see Hall cut down on guessing with the ball in the air and I want to see him improve his tackling technique.
Outside of that, I’m standing by for his 40 time and the rest of his athletic profile. But man is this an intriguing package. He’s on the short list of guys who could be CB1 in April. Had Hall declared for this past draft, I think he’d have had a real good chance of being the first corner off the board.
15. Lions - Penn State EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos
Gross-Matos is probably destined to be slightly overlooked heading into next year’s draft, as he’d a stud EDGE who happens to play in a conference boasting AJ Epenesa and Chase Young.
Gross-Matos served notice to the nation with a four TFL performance against Epenesa’s Iowa Hawkeyes in a nail-biting last-second win in the fall. In addition to production, YGM’s evaluation is made easier by his obvious athleticism and relentlessness.
He’s posted a confirmed 4.52 forty on campus (confirmed by Penn State anyway, lol). Nittany Lions DL coach Sean Spencer has alluded to YGM’s “sky-high” potential: "It's not just that he makes plays — it's his approach. His approach is full-speed go, all the time. What you guys see on game film and what that guy does in practice is the exact same thing."
16. Titans - LSU CB Kristian Fulton
Tennessee could also use a LB, making Isaiah Simmons an attractive option. But if Fulton takes another step forward this fall, he can’t fall much further than 1.16.
Fulton was better than Greedy Williams last year. He gave up only 17 completions, and he doesn’t come with similar tackling concerns. And that was his first year of action: Fulton was suspended for his freshman year for tampering with a urine sample (a situation that will be looked into by the NFL, obviously).
Fulton is a former five-star recruit and top-25 overall prospect who’s learned behind and beside guys like Greedy, Kevin Toliver, Tre'Davious White and Donte Jackson. Watching him in the same secondary as Grant Delpit on the college gridiron is #FootballPorn.
17. Ravens - Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
A new-age linebacker/safety hybrid, Simmons is an extremely intriguing prospect. If you follow my work as a college football writer/handicapper, you may recall that Simmons was the guy on the Clemson defense that I said was the biggest key heading into the title game against Alabama. I was all over him in the prop market heading into that game, as was my friend Adam Burke of Bang the Book Radio.
The reason was simple: Simmons’ diverse skillset and supreme athleticism made him the chess piece that Clemson would need to defend Alabama’s high-octane spread attack, which drowns defenses that don't have a few defenders who are skilled in space. Simmons is very, very skilled in space.
Simmons shined in the upset win over the Crimson Tide with nine tackles, one of which was a TFL. He contributed more than that, though, helping to slow down Alabama’s aerial attack in coverage. Dabo is going to use him as a trump card this fall, putting Simmons in as many high-leverage situations on the field as he can handle. Expect him to excel.
18. Texans - Alabama CB Trevon Diggs
The Texans are probably going to be shopping for OL and CB help in next year’s draft as well.
Diggs is something of a mystery box. The brother of Vikings WR Stefan Diggs (and also Vikings camp body WR Mar’Sean Diggs, a UAB product) Trevon is a high-end elite who came to college as a ballyhooed high-four-star athlete. He hasn’t always dominated on the field, and his 2018 season was cut in half by injury.
To go in the first-round in the spring, he’ll need to stay healthy and consistent throughout the 2018 season.
19. Falcons - Auburn DL Derrick Brown
If you’re thinking “Brown’s too low, Thor!”, I’m with you. But in mock drafts — and in particular too-early mock drafts, when you have no information from teams to go on — you just make isolated decisions for every team and see where the chips land. In this exercise, Mr. Brown falls to No. 19.
And what a coup that would be for the Falcons, who want a young interior stud to put next to Grady Jarrett. Brown would more than fit the bill. He was elite for Auburn last year — 90.4 PFF grade, 34 stops, 17 hurries — and was also a standout as a sophomore in 2017.
20. Vikings - Iowa T Alaric Jackson
When the media talks about Iowa tackles, Tristan Wirfs is the guy spoken about. Don’t forget about Jackson, who struggled against Penn State and Yatur-Matos in a wonky rain-soaked game but was otherwise superb in 2018.
Jackson is a long, athletic tackle whose calling card is pass pro. Iowa’s pro-style offense is going to give evaluators plenty of conventional looks from which to assess Jackson. Assuming another developmental gain in 2019, they’re going to like what they see. Jackson actually finished with a higher PFF grade at LT last year than Wirfs had at RT.
Jackson has already started 24 games over two active seasons. He was a Freshman All-American and Academic All-Big-10 selection as a freshman, and was named a Second-Team All-Big 10 tackle after last season. Jackson does well with power, and he has the necessary athleticism to deal with twitch.
Next step is to perfect his footwork, get better at recognizing exotic pass rushes and try to swap 10 more pounds of belly fat for 10 pounds of muscle. If he does those three things, the top-20 is certainly in play in the spring.