For NFL draft scouts and decision makers, grading a college prospect based on a single play is probably not a great idea. That said, sometimes one snap is all you need to get a pretty vivid picture of the type of player that prospect can be—one play that illustrates his talent, athleticism, and skill set as a future pro. With that in mind, I saved you hundreds of hours of research time and picked out one play that best explains the potential of a handful of the most exciting players in the 2019 NFL draft.
Bosa is the complete package as a rusher, bringing prototypical size (6-foot-4, 266 pounds) with excellent first-step explosiveness; strong, active hands; and very good bend to turn the corner and get into the pocket. He showed off all those traits and more on this play against Wisconsin from back in 2017. Lined up in a three-point stance on the defensive right side, Bosa got a great jump at the snap, deftly eluded the tight end’s chip-block attempt, and discarded the left tackle, swatting away his hands before turning the corner to bring down the quarterback.
That rush encapsulates the type of problem Bosa is going to be for offensive coordinators at the next level: Wisconsin tried to help out with a tight end, but the former Buckeye star barely batted an eye at the double team; Bosa slid past the first blocker without breaking stride, and three steps later he was all alone on the edge with a free lane to the quarterback. He then showed lateral agility and turbo-charged acceleration to finish and get the sack.
Metcalf is a polarizing prospect. Some look at the 6-foot-3, 228-pound receiver’s 4.33-second 40-yard-dash time and see an elite deep threat at the next level. Others look at the former Ole Miss standout’s atrocious agility testing times (including a 7.38-second three-cone drill and a 4.5-second short shuttle) and see a guy who will struggle to separate on everything except go-routes up the sideline. Both conclusions could end up being true—but for me, Metcalf’s absolute floor will be that of a dangerous home run hitter.
We saw that on the first play of scrimmage in Ole Miss’s matchup with Alabama last season. Lined up across from cornerback Saivion Smith, Metcalf jabbed left, forcing Smith to turn his hips, then came back to his right before hitting the afterburners down the field. Using his explosive acceleration, Metcalf quickly separated downfield. Ole Miss signal-caller Jordan Ta’amu saw his wide-open receiver and lofted up an inaccurate pass downfield, but Metcalf bailed his quarterback out. Reaching up with go-go gadget arms, the big receiver stretched out to pull the pass in and kept his balance at a full sprint. From there, he simply out-raced Smith to the pylon.
That play is a good representation of the enticing skill set that Metcalf could bring to an NFL offense. He’ll have to develop a more well-rounded repertoire of routes to fulfill his elite potential as a no. 1, but the team that picks him will be getting, at worst, an elite downfield threat that defenses have to account for snap in and snap out.
The big question for Burns in his transition to the NFL is his weight. After playing somewhere in the 230-pound range at Florida State, the versatile pass-rusher bulked up to 249 pounds for the NFL combine. Assuming he can keep that weight on, Burns makes for an intriguing prospect, because he has a trio of traits that you just can’t teach: length (he’s 6-foot-5 with 33⅞-inch arms), explosiveness, and extraordinary flexibility and bend. Those attributes showed up on this play against Virginia Tech last year. Rushing from a two-point stance off the offensive left side, Burns pushed upfield and immediately got the left tackle onto his heels. From there, the former Seminole spun back to the inside, put his left foot in the ground, and exploded into the pocket, sending the Hokie quarterback scrambling for his life. Burns bent back to his right and chased the signal-caller down, diving at his feet to make the sack.
Burns’s sack is a perfect illustration of the smooth-yet-explosive athleticism that the springy pass-rusher brings to the table. He’s still raw, but you don’t see his combination of speed and flexibility all that often. It gives him immense upside on the edge in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.
The play I picked out for Oliver isn’t too different from Burns’s sack above, but comes from the interior instead of the edge. Like Burns, Oliver (who measured in at 6-foot-2, 287 pounds at the combine) is going to have to prove that a lack of size isn’t going to hold him back in the NFL. But he possesses a rare mix of explosiveness and agility that could make him a very dangerous and disruptive all-around defender at the next level. In this play against Memphis, Oliver lines up across from the center; at the snap, he exploded to his right before spinning around and back to his left to get upfield. The center, knocked off balance by the sheer speed of the spin move, had no chance to recover, and Oliver quickly brought down the quarterback.
Oliver may lack the size that you’d typically see from an NFL interior rusher, but he makes up for it with extraordinary athleticism—he’s got an electric first step and a low center of gravity that helps him shoot from gap to gap and change direction on a dime.
Marquise Brown is fast. He’s, like, really fast. He’s fast out of his stance. He’s fast while eating up a defensive back’s cushion. And he’s fast at running away from defenders at the third level. Take this play against Oklahoma State, where Brown, running a simple deep crosser from the slot, beats cornerback Tanner McCalister in a foot race to the end zone. It doesn’t even look fair. When going up against Brown, defenses need help over the top for their help over the top.
Brown’s tape is littered with deep bombs like this, but his speed shows up on more than just deep routes. He’s dangerous after the catch and is tough to handle on screen plays. After undergoing Lisfranc surgery, the former Sooner will have to prove he hasn’t lost any of that rare, blazing speed. If he hasn’t, don’t be surprised when he’s running past defensive backs very early in his career.
Williams has quickness, power, length, and top-tier anticipation as a pass rusher. He always seems to know where the ball is going or how the offensive line is blocking before the snap, and then uses his athleticism to beat the other team to the punch. For me, though, one of Williams’s skills stands out above all the rest: his hand usage. Williams not only understands how to swipe, club, or swim move past opponents, but has an innate feel for when to strike with his hands. He times his hand strikes for the exact moment offensive linemen are reaching out, and therefore frequently leaves opponents lunging forward.
This play against Texas A&M is a good example: The Aggies’ offensive line slides left at the snap, which leaves guard Keaton Sutherland matched up with Williams. Right as Sutherland looks to engage, Williams swipes away at his opponent’s arms, pulls him off-balance, and swims over the top, quickly getting into the backfield to force a panicked quarterback Kellen Mond into throwing an interception.
Williams isn’t an elite athlete, but he reminds me of Michael Bennett in his ability to win with his hands. He’s slippery, and opposing linemen consistently struggle to latch on to him because he’s such a natural at batting their hands away while moving upfield.
For Butler, let’s just go right to the play:
On this catch-and-run touchdown against Oklahoma, Iowa State’s 2018 breakout star showed off a few of the physical traits that make him the top pass-catcher in this class in some analysts’ eyes. Lined up in the slot, Butler showed explosiveness off the line, and quickly got behind the linebacker to find a soft spot in the zone and give his quarterback a big target. After reeling in the catch, he spun, discarding a would-be tackler, then hit the NOS boosters to get back up to full speed. He spun again to shake another two defenders before rumbling into the end zone for a score—and he did all this at 6-foot-5, 227 pounds. There just aren’t many players that size who can move like Butler, and on that play, he showed that he has speed, agility, flexibility, and body control. Butler will have to prove that he can separate against bigger, faster cornerbacks at the NFL level, but he is a player with the physical skill set to become a star.
I was tempted to go with one of Jacobs’s many bruising, smashmouth runs from 2018, but I think this play below is a little more apt because it highlights one aspect of his skill set that could set him apart in the NFL: his pass-catching chops. Jacobs was lined up in a two-back set against Auburn, then ran a vertical route up the seam; he initially looked back over his right shoulder for the pass, but when he saw that the ball was drifting to the left, he quickly turned and looked back over his other shoulder to reel in the pass. That’s not an easy thing for a full-time receiver to do, let alone a running back, and Jacobs looked completely comfortable doing it. Oh, and after making the catch, his beastliness as a runner showed up, too: he shook two drag-down tacklers, juked a third out of his socks, then waltzed into the end zone.
Jacobs isn’t the same caliber of athlete as Saquon Barkley. But he’s tough, physical, has some short-area juice, and perhaps most important, is dangerous as a pass-catcher. That gives him the chance to become an every-down player in the NFL early in his career.
Fant is easily the top athlete in the tight end class and projects best to the NFL as a mismatch creator who can line up all over the formation. On this play against Indiana, the former Hawkeye lined up in the right slot: At the snap, he quickly ate up the defensive back’s cushion before breaking to the outside and getting vertical in his route. At that point—about five yards in—it was all over; the Hoosiers defender had no shot at closing ground.
Fant has tight end size with receiver speed and will be a tough matchup for even the league’s better safeties and linebackers. Let him run routes from the in-line position, from the slot, or flexed all the way out on the sideline. He’s dangerous in all three scenarios.
Henderson was gifted plenty of wide-open running lanes at Memphis en route to an 8.9 yards per carry average through the past two seasons. But the explosive home run hitter created plenty of yards for himself, too, by utilizing turbo-boosted acceleration, contact balance, and natural vision to weave through traffic and find daylight. He showed all of that on this run against UConn.
He is an undersized but compact speedster and isn’t likely directly run over many defenders, but he’s a slasher of the highest order who likely fits best in a shotgun-oriented run system.