The 2019 NFL Draft has been labeled a "meat and potatoes" draft by executives, scouts and coaches around the NFL. Evaluators believe this class is loaded with trench players (offensive and defensive linemen) while also including a few marquee playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Although the class lacks some sizzle at the top of the charts, the NFL scouting community believes there are a ton of players carrying Day 2 grades (meaning they should be drafted in the second or third rounds) that will emerge as solid starters and key contributors for their respective teams.
The quarterbacks in this year's class didn't receive the fanfare that accompanied last year's crew, but that doesn't mean Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, Missouri's Drew Lock and Duke's Daniel Jones won't blossom into long-term starters. In fact, Murray and Haskins showed the kind of dynamic ability in their one year starting at college that could lead to superstardom at the NFL level.
At running back, the 2019 class features a number of RB1 candidates with strong resumes and diverse skills. Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris (both of Alabama) and David Montgomery (Iowa State) could thrive as Day 1 starters or fill key roles as rotational players. Injuries have kept Oklahoma's Rodney Anderson and Stanford's Bryce Love out of the conversation, but their impressive performances as collegians shouldn't be discounted as evaluators look for potential gems on Day 3.
The pass catcher group might be short on first-round wide receivers, but the tight end position could be well-represented on Day 1 of the draft. T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant (both of Iowa) are impressive prospects as the top "Y" and "flex" prospects, respectively. Each flashes dominant role-player potential, and teams could build significant parts of their offense around their talents. Irv Smith Jr. (Alabama) will also attract a lot of interest, but the sleeper of the class could be Jace Sternberger (Texas A&M) as a vertical playmaker at the position.
Teams looking for solid offensive line play will find the 2019 class loaded with blue-collar players. Florida's Jawaan Taylor, Washington State's Andre Dillard and Alabama's Jonah Williams are plug-and-play starters with the potential to earn Pro Bowl accolades early in their careers. N.C. State's Garrett Bradbury and Mississippi State's Elgton Jenkins are celebrated interior blockers with the size, athleticism and intelligence to thrive as traffic cops in the middle of an offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, the frontline talent available in this year's class has defensive coordinators salivating at the possibilities. Nick Bosa (Ohio State), Josh Allen (Kentucky), Rashan Gary (Michigan) and Montez Sweat (Mississippi State) headline a class that features blue-chip talents throughout the draft. Brian Burns (Florida State) and Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) are a notch below the aforementioned crew, but some evaluators view the speed rushers as impact playmakers with the potential to ignite a pass rush with their explosive games.
Alabama's Quinnen Williams, Houston's Ed Oliver and Clemson's Christian Wilkins are rugged interior defenders with the run-stopping skills and pass-rush ability to create havoc between the tackles. Although Oliver's ascension up the charts has raised eyebrows in some circles based on his inconsistent play during his final season, a peek at his freshman and sophomore tape reveals a difference maker at the position. Mississippi State's Jeffery Simmons was in the running to be considered the best defender in the draft prior to tearing an ACL in February. (Simmons also was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine because of a 2016 arrest following a physical altercation with a woman.) When healthy, the dynamic defensive tackle is a disruptive force capable of taking over the game as a run stopper/pass rusher.
Devin White (LSU) and Devin Bush (Michigan) are the Tier 1 prospects in the linebacker class. White is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker with exceptional instincts and leadership skills. Bush is an athletic freak with the speed, quickness and burst to create big plays on blitzes or in coverage as a designated playmaker.
The collection of defensive backs in the 2019 class has a ton of potential, but only a few stand out as locks at their respective positions. Safety Johnathan Abram is at the top of the list as a tackling machine with an enforcer's mentality. He crushes running backs in the hole while also displaying the instincts and awareness to wipe out pass catchers venturing between the hashes. Byron Murphy (Washington) is a versatile technician with a rock-solid game and should be a standout CB1 in any system. Greedy Williams (LSU) is arguably the most talented DB in the draft. He has the potential to be a premier lockdown cover corner if he displays more toughness on the perimeter.
As I've done the past couple of years, I've grouped this year's crop of draft prospects into tiers, sorting them into All-Pros, Pro Bowlers and Red Stars below:
These are the elite prospects in the class. They should rank among the top five players at their respective positions in two to three years. They are ordered according to how they grade out in my book.
These prospects are regarded as difference makers based solely on their talent. They should make immediate contributions as rookies and rank among the top 10 at their position within two to three years. They are ordered according to how they grade out in my book.
1) Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
2) Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
3) Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida
4) Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
5) Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
6) Garrett Bradbury, C, N.C. State
7) Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma
8) Montez Sweat, Edge, Mississippi State
9) Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State
10) Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
11) Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
12) Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State
13) Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
14) Elgton Jenkins, C, Mississippi State
15) Rashan Gary, Edge, Michigan
16) Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
17) Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
18) Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
RED STAR PLAYERS
On the "Move the Sticks" podcast, Daniel Jeremiah and I have previously discussed how scouts will stand on the table for guys they believe will outperform their draft status. In the scouting world, these players are called "red star" guys because they are destined to make their mark in the league, regardless of where they are drafted. After surveying the 2019 class for players with the right skills and intangibles to perform better than their draft grades, here are my five red-star prospects to watch:
1) Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss:The No. 1 offensive line recruit in the class of players coming out of high school in 2016 is as talented as they come at the position. Little is a dancing bear on the edge with the balance, body control and athleticism to shadow box with elite pass rushers. Measuring 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds with long arms, he relies a little too much on his athleticism, but a little more attention to detail on his technique and finish could make him a Pro Bowl-caliber player early in his career. If Little gets quality coaching from a detail-oriented position coach, he could be Jason Peters 2.0 as a pro.
2) Taylor Rapp, S, Washington: Scouts would be wise not to let the stopwatch negatively impact their evaluation of Rapp. The 6-foot, 208-pounder is an instinctive playmaker with the versatility, instincts and toughness to deliver splash plays as a box defender or deep-middle player in an aggressive defense. Rapp's combination of ball-hawking skills and blitzing ability is reminiscent of Harrison Smith and Eric Weddle, which will make him a coaches' dream as a hybrid safety.
3) Darnell Savage, S, Maryland: It is hard to find "ASAP" players at the safety position with the speed, athleticism, instincts and thump to be effective run defenders and center fielders, but Savage is the total package. The 5-foot-11, 198-pounder is a rare find at the position as a hard-hitting safety with A-plus cover skills in man or zone coverage. Savage's slot cover skills, in particular, will make him a hot commodity for defensive coordinators looking for a Malcolm Jenkins type to add to the secondary.
4) Jalen Hurd, WR, Baylor: Every offensive coach in the league would love to have at least one player in the lineup with the capacity to align anywhere on the field as a perimeter playmaker. Hurd is not only capable of playing running back or wide receiver (he ran for 1,285 yards at Tennessee in 2015 and racked up 946 receiving yards at Baylor last season), but he is a dynamic weapon with the size (6-foot-5, 226 pounds), athleticism and ball skills to create mismatches in space. As a jumbo-sized Cordarrelle Patterson type with polished receiving skills and a hard-nosed running style, Hurd is an intriguing weapon to feature in a creative offense that exposes and exploits favorable matchups.
5) Jaylon Ferguson, Edge, Louisiana Tech: The FBS all-time sack leader (45) didn't wow scouts with his athleticism during pre-draft workouts, but his game tape is loaded with impressive examples of his pass-rushing prowess. Ferguson is a dynamic power rusher with outstanding hand skills and a non-stop motor. He repeatedly outworks blockers on the edge to win late in downs, which is a testament to his effort and energy as a pass rusher. Although critics will harp on his pedestrian time in the 40-yard dash (4.82 seconds) at his pro day (he did not work out at the combine, as he was disinvited after a background check turned up a conviction of simple battery when he was a freshman), the coaches who value proven production and skilled technicians will covet Ferguson's playmaking ability as an edge rusher.