NFL Draft 2019 – Breakdown by Position
The NFL game has shifted into a more pass happy league designed to protect the quarterbacks and score tons of points for your fantasy football league. With more and more NFL rules changing to benefit the offensive side of the ball and new, innovative head coaches running more wide open/spread offenses, evaluating the quarterback prospects has changed over the years.
Previously, teams were looking for a more prototypical 6’4” or better quarterback that can play under center and win from the pocket with eye manipulation and quickly working through as many as five progressions. While it is still important to evaluate those traits, it is not the end all be all as spread based, one-read quarterbacks have had success early in their careers in recent seasons; and with the right NFL coaching, they can become franchise quarterbacks for an NFL team. Look no further than the 2019 NFL Draft quarterback class as the projected top two signal callers are both one year starters, who play in spread offenses that use the shotgun formation almost exclusively.
Kyler Murray who was coached up by Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma ran an “Air Raid” offense with spread concepts and multiple route combinations that college defenses were unable to contain. Riley’s former quarterback, Baker Mayfield was selected number one overall in last year’s draft and has had early success, setting an NFL record by throwing the most TD passes in a single season by a rookie. Mayfield left some big shoes in his wake but Murray, the 2018-19 Heisman Trophy Winner was up to the task. Murray is an electric dual threat quarterback that can beat you with his arm or his legs. As a passer, Murray’s ball placement stands out the most as he can get the ball into tight windows accurately to his receivers. Next up you have Ohio State’s Phenom, Dwayne Haskins. Usually when you associate an Urban Meyer quarterback with the NFL you get discouraged, but Haskins is a different breed of quarterback that Meyer simply had never coached before. Haskins wins from the pocket and gets the ball out of his hands quickly to a bevy of talented weapons. He’s an intelligent, high IQ quarterback that understands coverages and possesses the requisite pocket presence to elude rushers and deliver strikes down the field. He showed improvement as the season went along and played his best football in the most crucial and clutch moments.
The next quarterback on the board depends on who you ask. Some have Missouri’s Drew Lock and others have Duke’s Daniel Jones as the third rated QB prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft Class. While Lock has immense arm talent, I prefer Jones as his pre-snap awareness, eye manipulation, and ability to get through progressions trumps Lock. The funny thing about these two prospects is that Lock’s strengths are Jones’ weaknesses and Jones’ strengths are Lock’s weaknesses. While Lock has some room to grow with his mechanics and getting through reads, he throws the football with a sharp zip and has an excellent deep ball down the sidelines into tight windows either on the back shoulder of receivers or dropping it into the bucket over a defender’s head. Teams/scouts will fall in love with Lock’s tools which in turn will get him drafted higher than Jones.
After the top four quarterbacks you have prospects like Will Grier (questionable decision making but has starter potential), Ryan Finley (wins from the pocket but locks on his first read too often), Tyree Jackson (big arm, RPO quarterback who needs to develop a changeup and clean up his mechanics), Brett Rypien (comfortable playing under center with high IQ but lacks the desired arm strength and size), and Gardner Minshew (great poise and pocket awareness but was helped out immensely by Washington State’s pass happy offense).
The running back position in the NFL has been devalued because of how backs are being used in a specialized type of way; the amount of money they’re being paid compared to other position groups, and where they’re being drafted over the last couple of seasons. Sure there have been backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, and Christian McCaffrey that were selected in the top 10 in previous NFL drafts but more and more quality running backs (Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt) are hearing their names called on Day Two or later of the draft. In the 2019 NFL Draft I expect to hear maybe one running back’s name called in the first round. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are no running backs selected in round one as the position group is deeper with backs that will become part of running back committees, rather than top heavy with a talent that will carry the full load.
I only view ONE running back in this class that can become a three-down workhorse and his name is David Montgomery. He is my RB1 and it’s due to his ability to run with patience, vision and elusiveness making defenders miss in confine spaces. He may not be a burner but his running style and three-down skill-set makes him the alpha of the class. Other running backs I am a fan of in the class are Josh Jacobs (versatility & intangibles), Devin Singletary (patience, feet, & tackle breaking prowess), Darrell Henderson (if used correctly in a outside zone scheme), Bryce Love (2017 tape), Miles Sanders (three-down skill-set), Trayveon Williams (change of pace back), Rodney Anderson (if he can stay healthy), Dexter Williams (biggest sleeper in the class), Ryquell Armstead (burst and elusiveness), Bruce Anderson (hands out of the backfield), and Ty Johnson (feet & speed).
The 2019 NFL Draft wide receiver class is the most interesting among all position groups. Draft prognosticators are all over the place in terms of their rankings. Some view Hakeem Butler as the best in the class, while others prefer D.K. Metcalf or Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. I admit I am not a fan of Butler’s game due to his sub-par route running, the amount of easy passes dropped, and his lack of separation from defensive backs. Sure, folks will fall in love with his size, top end speed, and tough acrobatic catches he has on tape but I’ve seen so many of those guys come into the NFL and fail because they rely too heavily on their athleticism. I am not saying that Butler will be a bust; I am just saying he has a lot of work to do if he wants to be a starting caliber wide receiver in the NFL. While I am higher on Metcalf than I am Butler, he too needs to improve in many areas if he wants to live up to the hype and potential many see him meeting at the next level. Metcalf’s hands are inconsistent, his route tree is very limited, and he has a checkered injury history. His biggest challenge will be improving his footwork to get in and out of his breaks quicker. I’ve seen big body Julio Jones improve his route running every year as a pro so Metcalf needs to get in the film room and watch the nuances in Jones’ game. Once he gets better at being a complete wide receiver, then the sky is the limit for the physically imposing speed demon. Hollywood Brown is my guy out of those three due to his route running and consistent tape at Oklahoma but he too has red flags with injury and his size. Brown is a weapon and a game changer if used correctly at the next level.
Now let’s get into some of my favs. I am probably higher on Deebo Samuel than most as he plays with a different level of intensity and physicality at the top of his routes. His feet allow him to get open easily and once he catches the ball he is a beast after the catch who runs like a running back. Other receivers I am high on in this class are: A.J Brown (route running, hands, & physicality), N’Keal Harry (50/50 ball go-getter & run after the catch ability), Riley Ridley (route running, dependability, & ball skills), Kelvin Harmon (contested catch ability, hands, & ball skills), and Keelan Doss (biggest sleeper in the class).
The class of the 2019 NFL Draft at the tight end position are a pair of teammates from Iowa, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. Breaking down those two guys gives you a glimpse of the different types of tight ends that are prospering at the next level. You have your prototypical Y or in-line tight end in Hockenson who lines up on the line of scrimmage next to the offensive tackle and can help you in the running game or passing game. Think of guys like Rob Gronkowski or fellow Iowa alum George Kittle. You can keep these guys on the field at all times and not tip your hand as an offensive play-caller or lose anything from a talent standpoint if you want to run or pass the football. Then you have your move tight ends like Fant that have become increasingly coveted as offenses have become more spread-oriented. These guys can split out in the slot position or out wide to create mismatches in space against linebackers that are too slow to keep up or safeties that are too small to defend them. Think of guys like Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz who’ve had monster seasons playing like wide receivers masquerading in a tight end body. Both Hockenson and Fant should hear their names called in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Other intriguing tight end options are Irv Smith Jr who is an effective run blocker that can run precise routes and serve as a security blanket for his quarterback and Jace Sternberger who moves well in space, can track the football effectively deep down the field, and catches the football well in traffic. Last but not least is a guy that I am all over as the biggest sleeper in the class, Caleb Wilson. Turn on the 2017 tape against Texas A&M and you see a guy that flashes the level of skill of a TE1 in this draft class. He gets it done as a run blocker and a pass catcher. Wilson catches the ball through contact and in tight windows, and gives me “good” Jared Cook vibes. But like Cook, he is inconsistent from game-to-game, lacks lateral quickness, and may never be the guy to live up to his upside/potential.
The 2019 offensive line draft class has gotten a bad rep on social media as many assume that there aren’t many top end talents at the position. While it is likely that no offensive lineman will be selected within the Top 5 of the 2019 NFL Draft, the class as a whole is being slept on as it has potential All-Pros and quality plug and play starters throughout.
You have the prospects that many people want to push inside to guard in the NFL but their skill-set suggests tackle like: Jonah Williams, Cody Ford, Chuma Edoga and Max Scharping. Then there are the prospects that are versatile engough to play multiple positions along the offensive line like: Dalton Risner, Erik McCoy, Elgton Jenkins, and Chris Lindstrom. Also there are prospects where there is no doubt what their respective position will be at the next level like: Jawaan Taylor, Garrett Bradbury, and Andre Dillard. And finally the prospects that teams will reach for in the NFL Draft due to their ceiling/potential/tools like: Kaleb McGary, Greg Little, and Yodny Cajuste.
When evaluating offensive line prospects and projecting them to the next level, I believe in technique over talent and polish over potential. We’ve seen many prospects over the years that fail to adjust as they were athletic players who never quite mastered the technical part of the game to become quality, long time NFL starters. With all that said, “My guys” along the offensive line that I am confident will become stalwarts are Williams (highest floor/safest prospect in the class), Bradbury (excellent movement ability for a zone scheme), Taylor (nastiness with great athleticism), Risner (physical run blocker with some of the best hands in the class), McCoy (effective in both the run and passing game), and Dillard (one of the best pass protectors in the class due to his feet and experience).
Interior Defensive Line
One of the strongest position groups in the 2019 NFL Draft Class is the interior defensive line position. There are many talented players that will come off the board in Day 2 and Day 3 of the draft but I want to focus on the Top 5 guys who all have a chance to be taken in the first round. My number one guy and CPGM’s top consensus prospect on our Top 50 Board, Quinnen Williams is yet another Alabama product that will be a dominant force in the trenches. What stands out the most when watching Williams is his ability to play through contact as he anchors effectively working his lower body and upper half in unison on his way into the backfield. If he isn’t a top four pick in the draft then teams overthought it and will pay for passing on him. Next guy up in my rankings and my favorite of the bunch is Ed Oliver. Oliver, one of my draft crushes, was done a disservice at the University of Houston as they lined him up at 0, 1, and 5 technique (positions) in their 3-4 defense. There is no reason why a dynamic/athletic player like Oliver who moves like a linebacker and wins with quickness should be two-gapping instead of firing off and shooting gaps towards the backfield. Whichever NFL team drafts Oliver shouldn’t get cute and just line him up where he belongs, 3-tech.
A pre-draft injury will slide Jeffery Simmons down the draft board and maybe out of the first round altogether but on tape he is a top 10 prospect. Simmons is a man among boys and reminds me of Fletcher Cox of the Philadelphia Eagles. For a big guy, Simmons displays plus agility and has the ability to penetrate through gaps and slash downhill to catch running backs on the edge. His aggressive and physical hands allow him to win with power; when coupled with his agility he showcases his versatility to play nose tackle, 3-technique or 5-technique. The Clemson duo of Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence rounds out my Top 5 interior defensive linemen in this loaded draft class. Wilkins is a solid blue collar prospect that’s versatile enough to play many positions along the defensive line due to his anchor, base, leverage, and quickness; meanwhile Lawrence gets it done in the run game. Lawrence is a BIG, physically imposing defensive tackle that eats up space and stuffs the run. He also has underrated pass rushing chops and should not be treated solely as an early down contributor.
If interior defensive line is the best position group in the 2019 NFL Draft Class, then edge rusher comes in as a close second. While many folks have Nick Bosa as their number one overall prospect in the draft class, Josh Allen’s versatility and what he can bring to a football team cannot be taken lightly. The fight for top edge rusher in the class may just come down to if you’re looking for a traditional 4-3 defensive end or a stand up outside linebacker. Bosa is a technician just like his big brother Joey. He wins with hand usage and motor all the way to the quarterback. Not only is he a very efficient pass rusher but he sets a good edge and does the dirty work in the run game. Bosa is a player you never have to take off the field in any situation as he can dominate on the edge on early downs and create pressure from the interior on passing downs. Allen on the other hand has the versatility to cover like a defensive back or rush the quarterback with his speed on the edge. Yes, he can improve as a run defender and develop more pass rushing techniques but his 31 sacks (17 in 2018) over the last three seasons against SEC competition translates to the next level.
A tier below those two studs you’ll find Brian Burns and Clelin Ferrell who both win with length and an array of pass rushing moves. Ferrell sets a better edge in the run game while Burns has the versatility to drop back in coverage and assist in the passing game. The two biggest enigmas in the class are Montez Sweat who has performed phenomenally throughout the draft process and elevated his draft stock to a potential top 10 selection; and Jachai Polite who has done the exact opposite and may not even get selected in the first two rounds. Personally, I think Polite has the better college tape of the two as his ability to move fluidly with high level body control and change of direction skill are elite. Sweat on the other hand, wins with effort more than technique as a pass rusher. Sweat is the better run defender of the two and has cemented himself as a top 15 draft pick while Polite’s combine and pro-day performances or non-performances coupled with his character concerns have him sliding down the draft boards.
Rashan Gary is another first round lock who I like more as an interior pass rusher. L.J. Collier is one of the biggest sleepers in the class. Jaylon Ferguson has the most sacks ever recorded in college football history but he took advantage of lesser competition and a lack of effort shows up on tape continuously. Chase Winovich is an effort guy that teams will covet due to his grittiness and scheme versatility. I can’t wait to see what Charles Omenihu looks like when he is inputted as a 4-3 defensive end with NFL coaching and some time to develop as he has untapped potential to be a big time player in a couple of years. Then there is Ben Banogu who has been getting some buzz on Draft Twitter but needs to rush with a better plan of attack as he is a raw prospect at the moment.
The linebacker position may have some gems like Khalil Hodge, Terrill Hanks, and Blake Cashman but make no qualms about it; the top two linebacker prospects Devin Bush and Devin White are far superior to the bunch. If I am a team that is in desperate need of an off the ball linebacker then I would reach a bit to get one of those two guys as the depth at the position is not as strong compared to the rest of the position groups in the 2019 NFL Draft. Bush is my LB1 and it’s due to his instincts and ability to decipher, sift through traffic and sniff out the ball carrier. I am not saying White isn’t instinctive but he does it differently as he is a heat-seeking missile that flies to the ball carrier and works best when there is no traffic to get around or through. Also, White at times has an issue breaking down because he is coming too fast and aggressively towards the ball carrier.
All linebackers operate best when their defensive line keeps them free to do what they do but the special linebackers can get it done no matter the circumstances. Both Bush and White are 4.4 40-yard dash guys, super athletic, cover well in the pass game, flies to the football, and can get pressure with timely blitzes up the middle. I believe both players should be selected within the first 15 picks but because of the stigma with selecting an off the ball linebacker early in the draft, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bush falls a little further down into the first round.
After the top two linebackers, many believe the next guy up is Mack Wilson. Although Wilson was a leader for Alabama and possesses fluidity and awareness in pass coverage, his tape was somewhat under-whelming as he just doesn’t make enough plays in the opponent’s backfield due to his sub-par instincts. He is more of a read and react guy than an attacking second level player. Some other guys who will hear their names called on Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft include: Vosean Joseph a quick, twitched-up athletic linebacker that looks and moves more like a safety; Ben Burr-Kirven who has the requisite instincts and football IQ but has limited athleticism. Hanks, who was mentioned above is a multi-faceted linebacker that demonstrates his versatility from play-to-play. Te’Von Coney has good awareness and does a good job of getting off blocks and making a play on the ball carrier. David Long Jr lacks consistency but has potential due to his athleticism and downhill nature to fit in as a weak side linebacker. T.J. Edwards is a competitive, sure tackler with 4 years of experience but may be relegated to a 2-down player at the next level.
Lastly, I want to talk some Khalil Hodge. My colleague CPGM Drew boldly put Hodge as his LB1 in our Top 5 Prospects by Position and at first thought before watching the Buffalo product; I thought Drew was off his rocker. Once I watched the tape I understood his love for Hodge and although I don’t agree with LB1, I will say that Hodge is the biggest sleeper of the class. Hodge’s block shedding stands out the most and his ability to make plays after initial contact. Yes, he was playing against lesser competition but he is one of the better run defenders in the class as he is a tackling machine that doesn’t miss many of them.
The cornerback position is generally my favorite position to evaluate and for this draft class there are many different flavors of corners to consider. You have your man-to-man specialists like Rock Ya-Sin and Joejuan Williams. Ya-Sin is one of my draft crushes due to his physicality, toughness, and man technique. Next are the corners that are more comfortable in zone like Greedy Williams and Byron Murphy. At first I had Williams higher than Murphy among my top 5 cornerback rankings but after further evaluation Murphy is more NFL ready due to his footwork and ability to break on the football. Williams is a guy that is scheme dependent as he is more comfortable in off coverage to turn and run.
Another group which goes undervalued are the nickel corners who line up over slot receivers like Trayvon Mullen and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Mullen improved from a technical standpoint in 2018 and he is a physical corner who loves to get his hands on opposing receivers. Gardner-Johnson is listed as a safety but his best work comes when he is lined up as a nickel back. He is a competitive guy who can scream off the edge on blitzes, finds the football with instincts and ball-skills, and has high level toughness and physicality.
Then you have the prospect who is my CB1 that can do it all, Deandre Baker. After what many are calling a poor combine performance where Baker’s football character and preparedness are in question due to “bad interviews” and average speed testing and drill work, he is falling down the draft board and maybe outside of the first round. On tape however, I saw a guy whose fluidity and movement skills are at the top of the class. He is a scheme versatile corner that can man up and stay in phase in the hip pocket of receivers or use his instincts and anticipation in zone. Baker is not a perfect prospect due to his lack of functional strength and size but he has an understanding of what receivers are trying to do and beats them to their spot before the ball gets there. Other cornerbacks I am a fan of in the class are David Long (physical with instincts), Amani Oruwariye (read and react player with ball skills and instincts), Saivion Smith (ball skills & tackling), and Justin Layne (instincts, length, & intensity).
At the safety position you are either looking for a free safety that can play center field and erase all the mistakes in front of him, an in the box safety that can play close to the line of scrimmage and bang like a linebacker, a cover safety that can come down and guard the slot, or a versatile safety (most preferably) that gives you a combination of at least two of those three attributes.
Nasir Adderley is a versatile safety that can be left up high as a single safety or come down as a corner due to his experience at the cornerback position. He is a new age safety for a passing league that can flip his hips smoothly and break on the football or come downhill and make a sure tackle. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is another versatile guy that played free safety in 2017 before transitioning to nickel corner in 2018. Johnathan Abram is an aggressive safety that flies to the football and delivers knock out hits. He’s more in the mold of that box safety as he is a physical player that will serve well closer to the line of scrimmage. Taylor Rapp is a guy that you want coming downhill rather than backpedaling as he closes to the football quickly with a high motor and is a sure tackler in the open field. Deionte Thompson is one of those free safeties whose strengths are ball skills and covering a lot of ground quickly as he comes downhill. Amani Hooker is an instinctive safety who fights through blocks on his way to the ball carrier. However, he has limitations as he gets further away from the line of scrimmage but is highly effective in short zones.
The two biggest risers are Juan Thornhill and Darnell Savage. Out of the two, Savage is my guy and will surely be among my top 5 safety prospects and top 50 players on the board. Savage is smaller in size ala a Jabrill Peppers and Lamarcus Joyner but he has elements of both those players’ skill-sets in his game. He is a downhill blur that flies to the football at a different speed as his 4.3 40 time shows up on tape. Savage also does a nice job of closing to the football in pass coverage as he consistently undercuts passes for interceptions.