The 2018 NFL scouting combine is kicking off in Indianapolis, so what better time to look ahead to the event in ... 2019.
By now, your head is filled with information about the upcoming draft prospects. You know who needs to run what, lift what and say what this week in the so-called underwear Olympics. But which players will we be talking about at this time next year? Here's a hint: Brush up on your defensive linemen. They will dominate the combine (and the draft).
Let's take a look at the key characters who should be in the spotlight at the 2019 combine.
The freak: Houston DT Ed Oliver
Most college stars need three seasons to mature into NFL prospects. Oliver might have needed one. He was an unusual player coming into college -- a five-star prospect who chose to stay home at Houston -- and has so far matched or even exceeded expectations. Last season, he became the first sophomore to win the prestigious Outland Trophy and could be a fringe candidate for the Heisman as a junior. NFL teams can't wait to draft Oliver, and he should be the main event at the 2019 combine.
Defensive tackle is always a position to watch for the draft, but particularly at next year's combine. Prospects like Oliver, Lawrence and Davis simply don't come around very often. Lawrence checks in at 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds but with only 18 percent body fat. He enters his third year on a Clemson defensive line loaded with future pros. Davis emerged during Alabama's national title run and, like Oliver, has a uniquely long, lean but powerful frame at 6-foot-7 and 306 pounds.
Don't forget the defensive ends, as several returning players project extremely well for the 2019 draft. Bosa is the son of a former first-round pick (John) and the younger brother of a 2016 first-rounder (Joey). Nick appears ready to continue the tradition after a strong sophomore season for the Buckeyes. Clemson's Christian Wilkins surprised many by returning to Clemson for his senior year, and his draft evaluation will be fascinating as a 3-4 end with the potential to play inside. His teammates Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant combined for 18 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss in 2017. Gary, the nation's No. 1 recruit in the 2016 class, should have a big junior season before most likely entering the draft. TCU's Ben Banogu is another name to watch for next year's combine after he recorded 8.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles last season.
The 2018 quarterback class is one of the deepest in recent years, but several others will enter the spotlight at the 2019 combine. Finley opted to stay at NC State after a 3,500-yard passing season. If he follows it up with a mostly new supporting cast, his draft stock should rise. Grier finally returned to action last fall and delivered for a dynamic West Virginia offense that returns mostly intact. NFL teams seem increasingly comfortable with quarterbacks from systems like the one in which Grier plays at WVU, but he will have to perform well at the combine. Lock had a huge 2017 season under coordinator Josh Heupel, passing for 3,964 yards and 44 touchdowns. How he fares under new coordinator Derek Dooley, who comes to Mizzou from the NFL, will be telling.
The Pac-12 supplied two underclassmen quarterbacks (UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold) who are dominating the pre-draft season. Oregon's Herbert could be the next if he chooses to skip his senior season. Several Pac-12 defensive coordinators said Herbert has the size, arm strength and athleticism to succeed at the NFL level. Stidham technically will be a fourth-year junior this fall, but many expect him to enter the draft. If he builds on what he showed during most of SEC play last season, he should be one of the top prospects at the 2019 combine.
Both Fitzgerald and Thorson entered the 2017 season on the radar for NFL scouts. Both had good moments and both suffered gruesome injuries late in the year. Fitzgerald, who has 2,359 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons, dislocated his ankle in the Egg Bowl. Whether he returns to full dual-threat strength is in doubt. Thorson tore his ACL in Northwestern's bowl game and is questionable to return for the start of the season. Even if both recover well, their health and performance will be under a microscope at the combine.
QB spotlight (FCS): North Dakota State's Easton Stick
Remember the freshman who took over for an injured Carson Wentz, went 8-0 as a starter and led North Dakota State to a fifth consecutive FCS national title in 2015? You'll be hearing a lot about him entering his senior season with the Bison. Stick has passed for 5,941 yards and 60 touchdowns in his first three seasons while continuing to develop as a rushing threat. There will be the inevitable Wentz comparisons at the 2019 combine, but perhaps because of Wentz's NFL success, Stick's path will be a little easier.
The undersized QB: Penn State's Trace McSorley
No scouting combine is complete without incessant debate over the height of a wildly successful college quarterback. This year, it's Baker Mayfield. Next year, McSorley will be the one grilled about his actual height (he's listed at 6-foot but few believe he is) and whether he could see over an NFL line of scrimmage. McSorley went from big-play maestro in 2016 to pinpoint passer last season. He will finish as the most decorated passer in Penn State history. But all that production won't stop all the questions at the combine. Another vertically challenged but talented quarterback to watch is Florida State's Deondre Francois, who returns this fall from injury and could enter the draft after a good year under Willie Taggart.
Adams seemed set to be a first-round selection in the 2018 before tearing his ACL against Arizona State in October. His recovery will be closely monitored, right up until draft day in 2019. He returns to protect quarterback Jake Browning's blind side for the fourth consecutive season after earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors and second-team All-America honors in 2016. Little came to Ole Miss as ESPN's No. 2 player in the 2016 recruiting class and has performed well. A second-team All-SEC selection last fall, Little will be on the NFL radar entering what should be his final season with the Rebels.
The exhausted ball carrier: Stanford RB Bryce Love
Other than short quarterbacks, potentially overused running backs bear the brunt of combine scrutiny more than anyone else. It will be Love's turn in 2019 after he opted to return to Stanford for his senior season. Love logged 263 carries as a junior, and while so many of those went for big gains that he set numerous records, he also was banged up by the end of the season. His durability will be a hot topic at next year's combine. So will his 40 time, which could challenge for a record.
The wide receiver conversation for the 2019 class probably starts with Brown, who set a single-season team record with 1,252 yards last season and tied the team mark with 11 touchdowns. Another strong season in Phil Longo's offense should propel Brown to the draft. The MAC has produced several dynamic wideout prospects and Buffalo's Johnson could be next after he had 1,356 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns in 2017. Other possible wideouts to watch at the 2019 combine include West Virginia's Sills, who led the nation with 18 touchdown receptions last season, Miami's Ahmmon Richards, Texas' Collin Johnson and Ohio State's Parris Campbell.
A familiar name: Kentucky LB Josh Allen
Yes, a Josh Allen could create combine buzz for the second straight year in 2019. The Kentucky linebacker is back for his final season after leading the Wildcats in sacks (7) and tackles for loss (9.5) as a junior. Allen needs to sustain a full season of production after dropping off a bit in the second half last fall. Kentucky should have its best defense under Mark Stoops, and if Allen can follow the path of Bud Dupree, he'll be a coveted name at the 2019 combine.
Getting greedy: LSU CB Andraez "Greedy" Williams
Defensive back draft classes are typically filled with underclassmen, and the group will take shape during the course of the 2018 season. But if Williams follows up a breakout redshirt freshman season, he could be in Indianapolis for next year's combine. "Greedy" recorded six interceptions, five more than any of his teammates, and led LSU with 17 passes defended. LSU defensive backs have historically shined at the combine, and Williams could be the next in line.
Form a line: Clemson (defense) and Wisconsin (offense)
The upshot of Clemson's defensive line and Wisconsin's offensive line returning intact will be felt during the 2018 season, and certainly at the 2019 combine. Clemson should produce at least two and up to four first-round picks with Lawrence, Wilkins, Bryant and Ferrell all eligible for the draft. Wisconsin offensive linemen Michael Deiter, Beau Benzschawel and David Edwards all could be among the top 2019 prospects at their respective positions.