The 2018 NFL Draft is in the books, and you know what that means: Time to think about the 2019 NFL Draft!
2018 was a banner year for UCF draftees, as a school-record-tying four Knights heard their names called. But waiting in the wings are a number of other players who, if things work out over the next 12 months, could help break that record.
We're breaking this list down into three categories: Seniors who are sure-fire prospects right now, Now-or-Never guys who are seniors who need a big year to merit consideration, and players who would be eligible to enter the draft early (three years after high school graduation), should they choose to declare.
So as we head into the 2018 season, here are the Knights that NFL scouts will be taking a good, long look at.
Sure-Fire NFL Draft Prospects
LB Pat Jasinski
6'1", 220 lbs.
2017: 96 total tackles (45 solo), 7.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery
Outlook: While there are some concerns about his lack of size and speed, Jasinski - Not Shaquem Griffin - led UCF in tackles last year, so he clearly has a nose for the ball. Another year close to triple-digit tackles and a few more turnovers may indeed help him.
LB Titus Davis
6'3", 248 lbs
2017: 12 starts, 58 tackles (31 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one INT.
Outlook: Titus is a mountain of a man, and he proved his worth on the other side of Shaquem Griffin. But with Shaquem gone, he'll have to show he has the speed as well as the size. he's primed to be UCF's most dangerous defensive weapon.
OL Tyler Hudanick
6'5", 304 lbs
2017: One start, eight games played
Outlook: I'm putting Tyler in this category instead of the Now-or-Never Guys because he was definitely in that category before he got hurt last year, and because his size is NFL-ready. If he stays healthy in 2018, he'll get plenty of looks from scouts.
S Tre Neal
6'1", 215 lbs.
2017: 61 total tackles (40 solo), 5 passes defended, 3 interceptions (one TD return), one forced fumble, the most important interception in school history
Outlook: Tre is a prototypical free safety, adept at roaming the secondary and picking off errant passes. But his play in the box may stand out - just watch how he was getting picked on that Memphis play before he, well, got the pick. He'll have to step into even more of a leadership role on the defense this year, but that may give him even more chances to show his talent.
DB Kyle Gibson
5'11", 182 lbs.
2017: 56 tackles (36 solo), eight passes defended, two fumble recoveries, four interceptions.
Outlook: With Mike Hughes gone from the other side, Gibson becomes the shutdown guy. Teams thought they could pick on him last year, and that resulted in his making the All-AAC First Team. As a redshirt senior, he's seen it all and should be a key cog in the secondary for '18.
P Mac Loudermilk
6'1", 234 lbs
2017: 41 punts, 39.5 yards/punt, 19 inside the 20, 23 fair catches.
Outlook: Everybody needs a good punter. Everyone loves a punter with a giant, flaming red beard. And a punter with a flaming red beard who celebrates like this is always #GoodForTheBrand:
OL Wyatt Miller
6'4", 306 lbs.
2017: Started 12 games, all at right tackle
Outlook: Wyatt's got the size, he's got the speed, and he's got the technique. Injuries are a slight concern but as a Second Team All-AAC performer, the scouts should be watching early and often.
RB Taj McGowan
6'1", 210 lbs
2017: 235 yards on 69 carries, plus 8 TDs. Scored in each of the first five games.
Outlook: Taj was a silent workhorse last year (and indeed has been his whole career), especially after the loss of Jawon Hamilton. It's still a crowded backfield, though, and even though he's a bruiser a-la LeGarrette Blount in this offense, he'll have to do even more to stand out from the crowd.
WR Tristan Payton
6', 196 lbs.
2017: 6 games played, 4 tackles as a DB (2 solo)
Outlook: Tristan's tenure at UCF has been rocky. The highly-touted WR recruit was suspended much of last year for failing a drug test before the 2016 Cure Bowl. He came back as a mop-up defensive back in the Austin Peay game and saw limited action. But a good Spring Game performance back on the offensive side of the ball has us wondering if he can help fill the shoes left behind by Tre'Quan Smith.
WR Cam Stewart
6'3", 203 lbs.
2017: 6 catches, 197 yards, one TD.
Outlook: Cam got lost in the shuffle last year after starting 11 games in 2016. But he made the most of his limited opportunities, averaging almost 33 yards a catch. That kind of big pay ability combined with similar size to Jordan Akins (6'3, 237 lbs) make Cam a prime candidate to fill the hole left by Akins as McKenzie Milton's security blanket in the middle of the field.
Possible Early Entries
WR Dredrick Snelson
6', 190 lbs
2017: 42 catches, 656 yards, 7 TDs
Outlook: The speedy Snelson became McKenzie Milton's target du jour down the stretch, catching five of his 9 TDs in the final three games when it mattered most. He benefitted from Tre'Quan Smith siphoning off attention on the other side, but now the secret's out, and he'll be the focus of opposing defensive coaches in 2018. If he can maintain the high level he reached against USF, Memphis, and Auburn, he might duplicate Smith's early path to the NFL.
RB Adrian Killins
5'8", 155 lbs
2017: 112 rushes, 762 yards, 6.8 yards/rush, 10 TDs. 24 catches, 166 yards, one TD.
Outlook: This is a tough one if you're an NFL scout. What is Adrian? Is he a third-down back? Is he a slot guy? We know he can return kicks (25.1 yards/kick return in '16), but that can't be all he can do. Is he a Percy Harvin-style Swiss Army Knife? His diminutive size is a major concern for NFL scouts, and durability is a bit of a worry, considering he did not return kicks very much last year for fear of exposing some nagging injuries. But MY GOD THE SPEED:
I'd want to see him bulk up a bit and stay healthy while maintaining that speed. That might help him break some tackles when he's called upon to run between the tackles. If he can show some more power on top of that speed, well, I'll let TJ LSU Dad take over:
QB McKenzie Milton
5'11", 185 lbs.
2017: 249/360 (69%), 3,795 yards, 35 TDs, 9 INTs. 93 rushes, 497 yards, 7 TDs.
Outlook: Look, the improvement from 2016 to 2017 was obvious - not just from a football perspective (11 percentage points higher, 1800 more yards, 118 more yards per game) but also from a maturity perspective. He's ratcheted up his mobility and his accuracy. He's probably the top returning Heisman candidate quarterback for 2018. But can he make his case to NFL scouts as a 5'11" spread quarterback? I think he can, but it will take some convincing. Improving upon last year's school record-smashing performance will help that. If he lights the world on fire and turns in a Heisman-worthy season, he'd be crazy not to at least give the NFL a sniff.