It’s rare for an NFL player to truly earn the tag of being a better player in the pros than they were in their college career. Most guys are drafted because they were so good during their college careers, but some are late bloomers, drafted on traits/potential, or never live up to what they could be in college. 2019 Pro Bowl players like Alvin Kamara, Danielle Hunter, and George Kittle were never thought of as stars in college, but have reached their potential in the pros. A lot of players who are drafted were one of the best players on their team, all-conference types, or even better than that, but some never reach these high levels. These are 10 NFL draft picks that have the ability to be better players in the NFL than they were in college.
Darnell Savage, S, Green Bay Packers
- It’s hard to justify putting a first-round pick on the “better in the pros” list, but Darnell Savage was a late riser who can be an NFL game changer. Savage was a three-year starter at Maryland, but his accolades only included making second-team All-Big Ten as a senior. The Packers took him 21st overall and he feels like the missing piece for their young talented secondary. Savage is an elite athlete who plays like a bullet, just non-stop energy. Along with his athleticism comes his physicality and versatility. For Packers DC Mike Pettine, he’s getting a leader in the secondary who can lineup as a single-high, two-deep, nickel, or dime linebacker. He’s got the movement skills and athleticism to be a star in coverage and the mentality and aggressiveness to put together highlight reel hits. In the NFL he can make Pro Bowls. Savage is the Packers Swiss Army knife.
Pro Comparison: Bob Sanders
DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks
- A big surprise of the 2019 NFL Draft was the fall of DK Metcalf to the end of the second-round. He was considered the top WR in the draft by many due to his physical traits. It’s not everyday you see a 6-3, 228-pound WR running a 4.33 with a 40.5” vert and 11’2” broad. Concerns about route running, injury history, and college production caused his fall, but the Seahawks are getting a star. Metcalf only caught 67 balls for 1,228 yards and 14 TDs in 21 games at Ole Miss, buy he’s got the ability to put that up in a single season in the NFL. Metcalf is the ideal “better in the pros” pick because of his tools and the QB he’ll be playing with in Russell Wilson. With size, explosiveness, ability to win with his release, and his contested catch dominance, Metcalf can be a Pro Bowler.
Pro Comparison: Josh Gordon
Will Harris, S, Detroit Lions
- There was more draft hype over Boston College’s other safety, Lukas Denis, despite Will Harris being the better prospect and the leader of the teams secondary. He finds himself in a perfect situation in Detroit and should see the field early and often. After three seasons as a starter at BC, a strong Senior Bowl week, and one of the best NFL Combines among safeties, Harris landed as a Day 2 pick. His combination of size, range, and physicality will allow him to play either safety spot for the Lions. It won’t be long until he’s their starting free safety next to Quandre Diggs. Harris has similar length, fluidity, and versatility to another former BC safety who plays for the Rams, John Johnson. In Matt Patricia’s Patriots-like system, Harris can play the single-high role, lineup as an overhang player, or matchup down low with tight ends. It’s an ideal fit.
Pro Comparison: Bradley McDougald
Nate Davis, OG, Tennessee Titans
- After being a four-year starter at right guard and right tackle for some bad Charlotte teams, Nate Davis put himself on the map at the Senior Bowl. Despite playing with a frog stance, Titans OL coach Keith Carter will need to clean it up, Davis was impressive in Mobile and should compete to start in the NFL right away. With his mauling playing style and strength at the point of attack, Davis is going to instantly be a physical run blocker for the Titans. He’s a finisher through every snap and will make defenders earn their playing time. Other than the stance issue, there are some athleticism questions, but on an O-line like Tennessee’s he’s a great fit. It’s more likely than not that Davis will earn the starting right guard spot as a rookie and help improve the Titans rushing attack.
Pro Comparison: Ben Grubbs
Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington
- With a rotation of WRs going six deep at Ohio State, Terry McLaurin never had the opportunity to put up big numbers. In two seasons as a partial starter he put up 64 receptions for 1,137 yards and 17 TDs while also being one of the best special teams players in the country. Now in Washington with college QB Dwayne Haskins, McLaurin has a chance to immediately become the go-to guy on a team lacking one. With his crisp route running and explosive downfield speed, McLaurin can win underneath or in the deep passing game. It helps that he can play X, Z, or slot. He also provides Haskins with familiarity and an already built-in chemistry, putting him in a better spot than every other rookie WR. He might not be the classic NFL WR1, but he has the tools to be a top-end WR2 option for a decade.
Pro Comparison: Nate Burleson
Ohio State's Terry McLaurin has big burners. His stock is shooting up after the #SeniorBowl. Looks like a Day 2 lock with his size, athleticism, and route running. pic.twitter.com/oBC2TZJNDv
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) January 28, 2019
Kahale Warring, TE, Houston Texans
- It’s classic for most college football teams to do a poor job using their tight ends. So when a team does have an NFL talent at the position a lot of the time they won’t have big production. Kahale Warring was the most gifted player on San Diego State and should be the Texans starting tight end soon, but he only put up 637 yards and 8 TDs in college. As the potential TE1 with the Texans it won’t be long before he’s putting those numbers up in a single season. Pairing him as the in-line TE with last years’ rookie TE Jordan Thomas, gives the Texans a very Patriots-like TE duo. Warring has the size, contested catch ability, and strong hands to be a weapon down the seam and in the red zone for Deshaun Watson. His physicality in the run game will also get him snaps early.
Pro Comparison: Todd Heap
This TE class is ridiculous. Add Kahale Warring to the list of dudes with loads of potential. Top 10 TE in this class. Day 3 guy with tons of upside. pic.twitter.com/svyix5JFcZ
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) February 23, 2019
Dawson Knox, TE, Buffalo Bills
- Just like Warring, Dawson Knox ability was not taken advantage of frequently enough in college. The former walk-on/high school QB started for two seasons at Ole Miss, but only put up 605 yards and never scored a TD. In the NFL he’s going to be putting up far more production as Josh Allen’s safety blanket. Knox has the athleticism to be a field stretcher at tight end and create mismatches with safeties or linebackers. His flexibility is underrated and allows him to go up or down for off-target balls, exactly the type of guy Allen needs. With few options at tight end in Buffalo, Knox has a good chance to earn the TE1 job by Week 1 and his willingness as a blocker will definitely help his case. The size and athleticism are ideal and he’s still relatively raw as he learns the positon, Knox has a high ceiling.
Pro Comparison: Greg Olsen
Ole Miss TE Dawson Knox might not be the most technically refined blocker, but he’s all effort. Back-to-back plays he finishes the defender in the dirt. pic.twitter.com/cjKvhsdgfN
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) March 21, 2019
Maxx Crosby, EDGE, Oakland Raiders
- There are impressive small school college players who put up big numbers, but never get the attention they deserve, that’s Maxx Crosby. In three years at Eastern Michigan he racked up an impressive 41 TFLs and 20 sacks, but in the NFL he’s got a shot to be a long-term starter and potentially a high-end player. Crosby has the length and explosiveness the NFL covets in pass rushers and does a good job using his hands to win. With NFL coaching he can become a more consistent rusher as he learns to incorporate counter moves. He’ll also get a boost from adding weight to his frame to become a stronger edge setter in the run game. All the tools/physical traits are there for Crosby to develop into a Pro Bowl type of player, he just needs NFL coaching and time to develop.
Pro Comparison: Aaron Schobel
Eastern Michigan’s Maxx Crosby is one of my favorite players in the draft. Little swipe move to beat the right tackle and an easy sack. pic.twitter.com/Xj7XyO1FzS
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) March 12, 2019
Sheldrick Redwine, DB, Cleveland Browns
- The U might not be back, but they’re still producing NFL talent and one of those talents has slid under the radar for too long. Sheldrick Redwine, like Will Harris, wasn’t the most hyped safety on his own team, that was Jaquan Johnson, but he was the best one. In two years as a starter at Miami, Redwine played everything from single-high to dime linebacker and was their chess piece. Now with the Browns, his versatility will serve him well as he competes for time at strong safety and nickel. Both positions are unknowns in Cleveland and Redwine’s fluidity, physicality, and ball skills could earn him a starting spot early in his career. Is he going to be a Pro Bowl player? Probably not, but Redwine has the tools to start all over the Browns secondary for years. Pairing him with Damarious Randall gives their safety core big versatility.
Pro Comparison: Damarious Randall
Armon Watts, IDL, Minnesota Vikings
- After only one healthy year as a starter at Arkansas, Armon Watts landed in an ideal situation with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota. Watts isn’t going to wow anybody with his athleticism or pass rushing, but he’s going to be a force in the run game. He does a great job playing with leverage and strong hands to shed blocks. He’s a bit of a tweener in terms of if he’s a 3-Tech or a 1-Tech, lacking some athleticism for 3T and strength for 1T, but he’s versatile enough to play all over the D-line. The Vikings can use him early as a rotational player and as he adds strength and becomes better at holding the point of attack he could be the eventual replacement for Linval Joseph at 1T. Watts has the motor, length, and tools to become a starter with some time under Zimmer.
Pro Comparison: Ty Warren
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