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Way-too-early preview of the 2019 NFL Draft

It’s never to early to start preparing for next year. Let’s look at what the 2019 NFL Draft class will have in store come next April.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami
Clelin Ferrell possibly could have been the Bears’ first-round pick this season if he hadn’t decided to stay at Clemson for another year.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, you’re burned out from all of the discussion about this year’s draft Now’s the perfect time to get a head start on next year’s class! Open your mouths, everyone, it’s time for some way-too-early 2019 draft content! You know you love it.

The 2018 NFL Draft concluded one week ago today, so it’s only logical to prepare for the 2019 class now. And boy howdy, it appears to be a pretty good class.

The Chicago Bears will likely have significantly less needs next offseason than they did heading into this offseason. Although their exact success has yet to be determined, the future seems to be bright for the Windy City’s beloved footballers. They’re far from a perfect team, though, so they will likely require one more offseason to revamp their roster before they can truly become a playoff threat.

While a lot will change between now and April of 2019 - Arden Key, Malik Jefferson, and Tarvarus McFadden were seen as first-round prospects this time a year ago - it’s fun to try and guess which collegiate stars will be on the radars of NFL teams before the regular season begins. Here are some things you should know about the 2019 class.

The front seven talent is stacked

Does your team suck? Does your team need defensive linemen? You’ll be in luck in next year’s draft, where there are seemingly endless amounts of talented prospects to choose from.

Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver would have graded as a top-five player on my board in this year’s draft had he been eligible to declare. He’s an athletic freak of nature who has a sky-high ceiling as a player who can dominate against the run and can rush the passer. He can do better at plugging up holes against the run, but he does almost everything else well, and at a high level, too.

Where Michigan edge rusher Rashan Gary will play in the NFL will be an interesting discussion, as he has the size of a 3-4 end (6’5”, 281 pounds) but the athleticism and the pass-rushing prowess of an edge rusher. He’s explosive off the snap, has good bend and has a polished assortment of pass-rushing moves in his arsenal. Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa - brother of Los Angeles Chargers star Joey Bosa - has the potential to every bit as good as his Pro Bowl brother, if not even better. The young Bosa is incredibly polished in terms of his hand usage and ability to shed blocks, and he’s a very good athlete, as well.

Clemson’s defensive line has the potential to field four first-round picks next year. That’s how talented they are up front. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins is an athletic and powerful lineman who excels at getting inside hands on his offensive lineman and shedding blocks. Fellow defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence is more mountain than man, as he’s currently listed at 6’5” and 340 pounds. He’s a force to be reckoned with against the run who is also a good athlete for his size. Off the edge, the Tigers have Clelin Ferrell, who likely would have been a first-round pick had he declared for the draft this year. He’s a polished pass rusher who is good at shedding blocks and plugging holes in the run game. Ferrell is joined by Austin Bryant, who also might have been a first-round pick this year. While he isn’t as polished as his three aforementioned teammates, he’s an explosive rusher who looks like a natural in space.

All of these players could end up going in the first round, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the class yet. Ohio State’s Dre’Mont Jones has the athleticism to go in Round 1 if he improves against the run. Alabama defensive tackle Raekwon Davis is a player that I’m looking forward to breaking down in the near future, as I’ve seen him going in the first round in many mock drafts. Marlon Davidson from Auburn, Joe Jackson from Michigan, Zach Allen from Boston College, and Josh Allen from Kentucky are all players who have been predicted to go in the first round next April. This bodes especially well for the Bears, as they will have a chance to address the edge rusher position, which is their biggest need on paper heading into the 2018 season.

There’s no clear top quarterback

The Bears don’t need a quarterback, but let’s talk about signal-callers anyway, because why not?

At this time last year, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen figured to be guarantees to be first-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, which they were. The year before that, Deshaun Watson was a virtual lock. This year, though, there doesn’t seem to be that “can’t-miss” prospect at the quarterback position. That makes for a much more exciting fight for the top spot.

One of the more popular names at the position right now is Oregon’s Justin Herbert. The 6’6”, 225-pound quarterback is a big, accurate, and athletic quarterback with a strong arm. He locks in on his target way too often - as is the case with most quarterbacks in a spread offense at the collegiate level - which causes some bad decisions, but he has the potential to develop into a starter in the NFL.

Drew Lock from Missouri is essentially the Josh Allen of this year’s class. He’s big, he’s a solid athlete, and he has a cannon of an arm. I’d be willing to say, though, that Lock’s ball placement is overall better than Allen’s, especially on short and intermediate routes. Lock’s flaw, though, is his decision making. He forces way too many throws, regardless of whether or not the receiver is actually open. If he can learn how to go beyond his first read and improve at finding the open man, his ceiling is one of the highest in the class.

If you’re looking for a sleeper prospect, I’d recommend checking out North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick. Stick, who has one of the coolest names I’ve ever seen for an NFL Draft prospect, backed up Philadelphia Eagles star Carson Wentz in 2016, which makes for a good story. He’s an athletic player who can escape pressure, pick up extra yards with his feet, and throw on the run very well. He throws a lot of very catchable passes, and he’s often unfazed by pressure, which there was plenty of when the Bison played James Madison in the FCS Championship this year. He has a fairly strong arm, too, but his most impressive trait is his accuracy. Stick also has some experience directly under center, and he has shown the ability to make throws past his first read, although he also has some issues with forcing throws. A lot can change between now and the 2019 draft, but he’s currently my No. 1 quarterback with a mid-first round grade.

There are a handful of other signal-callers who could rise up draft boards with a good 2018 campaign. Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham and North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley likely would have been picked in between Rounds 3 and 5 in this year’s draft, so they will look to take advantage of their extra year of college and boost their stock a bit. Michigan transfer Shea Patterson, who played at Ole Miss in his first two seasons, is an undersized quarterback whose decision making is a bit questionable at times, but he is an electric athlete who has shown flashes of accuracy. Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, Duke’s Daniel Jones, West Virginia’s Will Grier, and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald are all more names to keep an eye on heading into the 2018 season.

Offensive tackles reign supreme

This year’s draft class didn’t have any franchise offensive tackles. Mike McGlinchey is a good prospect, but one could argue that he wasn’t worth the No. 9 overall pick that the San Francisco 49ers used on him. Kolton Miller is also a solid player with upside, but he was also arguably a reach when the Oakland Raiders picked him with the 15th pick. The 2019 class, though, seems to have a handful of talented tackles.

Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams is a lengthy and athletic lineman who has an effective kick slide and is good at maintaining leverage on his opponents. He can advance to the second level well, and his technique is very good in pass protection. He has also developed a reputation for being a film junkie, which shows up on tape, as he seems to have a good sense of his assignments. He can struggle against edge rushers with polished hand usage, and he may need to bulk up to add some more girth to his frame (he’s 6’5” and 301 pounds), but he has the potential to be a first-round pick.

Washington’s Trey Adams and Clemson’s Mitch Hyatt were my fourth and seventh-ranked tackle prospects in this year’s class before they decided to stay in college, respectively. Adams is a long and athletic tackle who has good technique and quick enough feet to keep up with speedy edge rushers. Hyatt is also a good athlete who is good at maintaining a squared and balanced frame and can be a difference maker as a pass blocker and as a run blocker. Both prospects will likely need to bulk up a little bit for the pros, but they could end up being first-round picks next April.

Wisconsin has two very good offensive tackles on both sides of the line in left tackle Michael Dieter and right tackle David Edwards, both of whom I’m looking forward to digging into some more when the summer rolls around. Greg Little out of Ole Miss could be another potential first-round selection.

The top-end talent in this class is a good thing for the Bears, as right tackle Bobby Massie is slated to hit free agency after the 2018 season. If they want to find a replacement early on in the draft, then they’ll definitely have the chance to do so.