The NFL draft is only a few weeks away, which means it’s time for casual fans to start speaking authoritatively about players they didn’t know or care about until this month. And really, who could blame them?
So if this person I’ve described happens to be you, you’re in luck. Does your team need a strong-armed quarterback? Or a big-play receiver? How about a road-grading run blocker? To help get you into the spirit of draft season, here’s a draft primer of the top prospects available on offense, broken down by the tools that matter most on the field.
So without further ado, here are 15 players who can help your favorite team if another club doesn’t snap them up first.
Most accurate (and best overall playmaker): Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
You already know about Murray’s elusiveness as few first-round quarterbacks of the past 20 years have been harder to tackle. But Murray doesn’t get enough credit for his strong, accurate arm, which he used to dissect teams both on long and short throws. All these tools allow Murray to possess some of the second-reaction playmaking skills that made Patrick Mahomes so effective this past season, and it showed as the 5-foot-10, 206-pounder accounted for an absurd 4,361 passing yards, 1,001 rushing yards and 54 total touchdowns while winning the Heisman Trophy in 2018. He’s the epitome of a player with “juice” and he should excel in today’s wide-open era of offensive football (despite his middling size) and should also go first overall in this year’s draft. Draft projection: Top 5.
Strongest arm: Drew Lock, Missouri
Shoutout to West Virginia’s Will Grier and Boise State’s Brett Rypien, both of whom entered the pre-draft process with questions surrounding their arm strength and ended up touching a position-leading 59 miles per hour while throwing at the NFL scouting combine in February. But when the tape is on, the 6-4, 228-pound Lock (54 mph) has the strongest arm in the draft, and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins (52 mph) isn’t far behind. Funny how that works. Lock’s arm strength is especially evident on deep balls, where he can fire throws down the seams with ease. He has a ton of moxie and is well-liked by his teammates. Lock — who completed 62.9 percent of his throws for 3,498 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2018 — is the type of player some organization will fall in love with and draft in the first round, even though his accuracy needs to improve. Draft projection: Round 1.
Fastest eyes: Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
Haskins, who checks in at 6-3 and 231 pounds, has only one season of starting experience but what a season it was. In 2018, the redshirt junior set Ohio State records by throwing for 4,831 yards, 50 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in 14 starts. He completed a stunning 70 percent of his passes. Some of that is due to the superior gameplans that then-offensive coordinator Ryan Day drew up (as Haskins threw into plenty of open windows), but he gets through his reads quickly — hence, “fastest eyes” — and is confident enough to make big-time throws when it matters. Draft projection: Round 1.
Most powerful back: David Montgomery, Iowa State
The 5-10, 222-pounder regularly ran through defenders, forcing 99 missed tackles, the most in Division 1 according to Pro Football Focus. Montgomery didn’t wow anyone with his physical testing during the pre-draft process but on tape he’s patient, strong and difficult to bring down. He never stops churning his legs. He’ll be a nice fit on an offense that needs a downhill back. He rushed for 1,216 yards and 13 touchdowns on 257 carries. Draft projection: Rounds 3-4.
Best home-run threat: Darrell Henderson, Memphis
Henderson is short but stout at 5-8 and 208 pounds, and his impressive pre-draft physical numbers — he’s one of the best combine testers at his position — is backed up by his outstanding collegiate tape and production. Thanks to his combination of explosion and power, Henderson regularly ran through arm tackles and rushed for 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns on only 214 carries in 2018 — a ridiculous per-carry average of 8.9. His ability to take it the distance is what gives him the edge on Alabama running back Josh Jacobs — another make-you-miss stud — as the most elusive back in the draft. Draft projection: Round 2.
Best receiver: Josh Jacobs, Alabama
Jacobs is well-built (5-10, 220), is an exceptional athlete and his excellent testing numbers will ensure he goes in the top 50. And once you turn on the tape, it’s easy to get excited about his ability as a do-it-all back, especially in the passing game. Although his receiving production was only OK — he caught 20 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns — Jacobs’ ability to slip defenders and make them grasp at air is outstanding. The combination of these skills, and his initial burst and natural hands, will force defenses to account for him on third downs. He also rushed for 640 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Draft projection: Rounds 1-2.
Best third-down back: Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
There’s a lot of competition here as I also considered Florida State’s Jacques Patrick, Michigan’s Karan Higdon, Washington’s Myles Gaskin and FAU’s Devin Singletary. But I want to take a moment to appreciate the ultra-productive Williams, who makes up for his lack of height (5-8) with stoutness (206 pounds) and an uber competitiveness that flashes when he’s running and blocking. Williams rushed for 1,524 yards last season and also caught 27 passes. His ability to catch the ball and compete as a blocker could allow him to help a team immediately. Draft projection: Round 4.
Most explosive: Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Oklahoma
The cousin of Oakland Raiders star Antonio Brown, what “Hollywood” lacks in size (5-9, 166) he makes up for with pure speed and juice. Brown is a home-run threat at all times, either on jet sweeps, deep balls (he can track it with the best of ’em) or short routes. Teams might be scared away by his size and injury history (he just had Lisfranc surgery in January), but his speed and playmaking ability could easily entice someone to take a swing on him in the first round. Hollywood caught 75 balls for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. Draft projection: Top 40.
Best hands: Hunter Renfrow, Clemson
Renfrow isn’t going to wow you with his size (5-10, 184 pounds) or speed (4.59 in the 40-yard dash), but he has a tremendous feel for the position and his natural hands will make him attractive for teams seeking a reliable slot. Renfrow has been a super-productive player for the Tigers the past four seasons, though his stats in 2018 (49 catches, 534 yards, one touchdown) took a dip thanks to the presence of some stud young players on the roster. The NFL stage won’t be too bright for Renfrow — he caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the national championship game a few years ago — and his dependability will make him a quarterback’s best friend rather quickly, provided he’s given an opportunity. Draft projection: Round 6.
Most pro ready: A.J. Brown, Mississippi
For all the love and attention that Mississippi receiver D.K. Metcalf earned through his freaky combine performance, the best receiver on the Rebels’ roster last season was Brown, and it wasn’t even close. The 6-foot, 226-pounder was easily Ole Miss’ most prolific receiver, when he caught 85 passes for 1,320 yards and six touchdowns. Brown did some of his best work in the slot, where he used his physicality to punish smaller defensive backs. Brown is also an effective and very competitive run blocker, and will immediately step in an offense and be the security blanket for some lucky quarterback. Draft projection: Top 40.
Best pass catcher: T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
This is a slam dunk. Hockenson is big (6-5, 251 pounds) and super-athletic, as he ran a 4.7 40-yard dash and boasted an impressive vertical jump (37½ inches) and broad jump (123 inches). Throw in his excellent receiving chops, solid run blocking and production in 2018 (49 catches, 760 yards and six touchdowns), and Hockenson is basically bust-proof. Love him. Draft projection: Round 1.
Best run blocker: Drew Sample, Washington
In an age when tight ends are asked to block less than ever, it’s a genuine surprise if a draft prospect is actually good at it. So God bless Sample, a 6-5, 255-pounder whose hard-nosed style could have worked in 1985, as well. Sample’s size and run-blocking effort makes him an immediate Day 1 contributor as an inline tight end, and he’ll get only better as he gets stronger. Plus, he’s not a bad receiver, either, despite his average statistics (25 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns in 2018). I’d take him in the fourth round and be good with the knowledge I’ll be one of 10 teams or so with a tight end who can actually block somebody. Draft projection: Round 4.
Best pass blocker: Andre Dillard, Washington State
Lord knows Dillard, a four-year starter, got a chance to work on his pass sets at Washington State, which aired it out an average of 52 times per game this season. Do you know how many sacks Dillard surrendered at left tackle last season? One, according to Pro Football Focus. Add that to Dillard’s outstanding athleticism — he was at the top of nearly every crucial physical testing category at the combine — it’s no wonder the 6-5, 315-pounder figures to be a cinch first-round pick. Dillard will need to refine his run blocking, but his long arms (almost 34 inches), smooth feet and plus athleticism aren’t easy to find. Draft projection: Top 20.
Best run blocker: Jawaan Taylor, Florida
Taylor (6-5, 312) is a bit of a throwback — which means I love him. He’s the prototype right tackle that every team used to look for. He’s a strong run blocker who uses his power and size to bury opponents, and he likes to play through the whistle, too. Taylor needs to work on his overall technique, particularly in pass protection, but in general, he has the athleticism to execute different run concepts and plays with swagger, as he loves to punish second-level defenders whenever he can. Draft projection: Top 15.
Most versatile: OT/OG Jonah Williams, Alabama
Williams is projected by many to go in the first round despite his average size (a shade over 6-4 and 302 pounds) and average athleticism/strength. The reason: He’s an unbelievable technician with a ton of experience and versatility. In 2016, Williams started at right tackle for Alabama as a true freshman, and in 2017, he moved over to left tackle and has been there ever since. While his lack of superior athleticism may push him inside, his understanding of how to play the position should make him a rock-solid starter on the interior with the ability to play outside in spurts. Alabama even considered playing him at center, and he has some upside at that position, too, due to his smarts and technique. Draft projection: Round 1.
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