The 2019 NFL Draft is inching closer by the day, and the hype machine is working overtime for some players who seem to be talked about non-stop on television and social media.
On the flip side of that are the players who could end up being just as good but are flying well under the radar.
That’s who we’re focusing on here.
Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, Notre Dame
In a year that features so many incredibly talented defensive linemen, it’s not surprising that some of them are flying under the radar. Tillery is one of them who is doing just that, despite the fact he might just be the best pass-rushing defensive tackle and/or 3-4 defensive end in the 2019 NFL Draft class.
Last year for Notre Dame, he tallied 30 tackles, including 10 for a loss, and eight sacks. He possesses incredible strength and isn’t just a one-trick pony attacking the quarterback. Likely to be a late-first or early-second round pick, he could end up being a huge steal.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, wide receiver, Stanford
With all the hype guys like D.K. Metcalf, N’Keal Harry and Hakeem Butler have gotten, Arcega-Whiteside has largely been ignored by the national media. Yet don’t sleep on this former Cardinal star.
Arcega-Whiteside is a big target (6-foot-2 and 225 pounds) who can absolutely fly. He averaged 16.4 yards per catch at Stanford, catching 28 touchdowns on 135 total receptions (one touchdown per every five catches). He’ll be a red-zone threat at the next level and could end up being an incredible bargain if he slips into the second round.
Justin Layne, cornerback, Michigan State
Now here’s a guy that most casual fans probably have never even heard mentioned as a top cornerback in the 2019 NFL Draft. Yet Layne has been getting attention by those who cover the draft for a living and has a chance to become a dynamic NFL corner in short order.
Measuring in at 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, Layne had a good combine and showed he is faster than many thought with a 4.5-second 40 time. He’s a press-man specialist who is adept at using his length and physicality to get receivers off their game. He’ll be highly coveted by teams that employ man coverage on the corners.
Chris Lindstrom, offensive guard, Boston College
Guards, in general, fly well under the national radar unless you’re talking about a generational talent like Quenton Nelson, who was absolutely dominant as a rookie for the Indianapolis Colts last season after being selected sixth overall.
There’s nobody in this year’s class to compare to Nelson. Yet Lindstrom comes close. An absolute mauler, the Boston College product moves well in space, has outstanding size (6-foot-4 and 304 pounds) and brings the nasty to every single snap he takes.
A.J. Brown, wide receiver, Ole Miss
As we mentioned discussing Arcega-Whiteside, Brown is currently being overshadowed by other receivers in discussions about who’ll be the best receiver out of the 2019 NFL Draft class. Yet just looking at his body of work, combined with his physique, and it’s clear that Metcalf’s teammate at Ole Miss is going to be an outstanding pro.
Brown has plenty of size, at 6-foot and 226 pounds. He also has plenty of speed (4.49 second 40). He’s dynamic in the intermediate pass game, as his abilities after the catch combine beautifully with his rock-solid route-running skills. And while he’s not a burner, Brown will make plenty of plays downfield as well. Additionally, teams will love his willingness to block on running plays — he’s perhaps the best all-around receiver in the draft.
Oshane Ximines, EDGE, Old Dominion
Coming from a small school, Ximines brings an NFL-caliber game and has been playing like a top prospect ever since he stepped foot on campus for the Monarchs. A four-year star at Old Dominion, he racked up 32.5 sacks, 51 tackles for a loss and 11 forced fumbles during his college career. Better yet, he improved each year.
At 6-foot-3 and 253-pounds, Ximenes projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker who can make an immediate impact for an NFL team as a situational pass rusher. His potential to become a full-time starter will have teams thinking about a late first-round selection.
Darrell Henderson, running back, Memphis
After the past few of years produced elite running backs who were drafted at the top of Round 1, this year’s class feels like a big letdown. Most of the chatter out there right now revolves around Alabama’s Josh Jacobs and David Montgomery out of Iowa State. Yet the best of the bunch might just be Henderson, who is going to end up being an incredible steal.
A 5-foot-8, 208-pound bowling ball who has 4.49-second 40 speed, Henderson is incredibly explosive. Last year, he ripped off 1,909 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on only 214 carries for an average of 8.9 yards per carry. Henderson is also very good after the catch and could become a three-down terror at the next level.
Ben Burr-Kirven, linebacker, Washington
With the likes of Devin White and Devin Bush taking all the glory ahead of the draft, Burr-Kirven is practically invisible on the national landscape. Yet this former Huskies star has all the tools to become an elite cover linebacker at the NFL level.
An undersized player at 6-foot and 230 pounds, Burr-Kirvin has outstanding instincts in the pass game. He is also an effective blitzer who will be dynamic if he is drafted to a team that features a strong defensive front that allows him to run to the ball.
Rock Ya-Sin, cornerback, Temple
Another press-man specialist, Ya-Sin brings intense physicality to every single snap. He’s going to get up in the face of opposing receivers and does a good job staying in front of them after initial contact, utilizing his length extremely well.
He shined against top competition during the week of the Senior Bowl and was one of the top performers during the actual game. He’s not an elite athlete like Greedy Williams, yet Ya-Sin’s ability to cover, along with his aggressive nature, makes him an intriguing player who should be highly coveted in the top half of Round 2.
Will Grier, quarterback, West Virginia
There are supposedly four “top” quarterbacks in the 2019 NFL Draft class. Grier is never mentioned among them. After the way he played the past two years at West Virginia, that’s somewhat baffling.
A player who possesses plenty of size, accuracy, and arm strength to succeed at the next level (more on all that here), Grier has the potential to be the best quarterback in this year’s class.