The NFL draft is strange in its ability to wedge itself into our psyche and make us miss it when it’s gone. Maybe that’s another brilliant construct in the league’s schedule. We’re still weeks away from meaningful practices, which creates an opportunity for fan bases that believe their favorite team didn’t address a glaring need this offseason to panic relentlessly.
In that spirit, we take a look at the 2019 draft class. Did your team miss out on the quarterback sweepstakes? Did they whiff on a pass rusher? Do they still need a left tackle? Here’s what might be available during draft weekend next year.
Ryan Finley, N.C. State: Listed at 6' 4", 210 pounds on the spring football roster, the fifth-year senior started last season on a tear; he didn’t throw a pick until the eighth game of the year. This past draft season, when discussing QBs who didn’t have notable mobility, one of the points I heard multiple times was the ability to throw from multiple release points. Finley has this fun, dart-tossing release but also has the traditional, picturesque throwing motion. I think if his timing improves, and he rids his tape of the occasional Blake Bortles screwball, the Wolfpack will have another NFL-caliber starter to boast.
Drew Lock, Missouri: He could be this year’s Josh Allen, where scouts drool over Lock’s gorgeous delivery and cannon arm, but wonder about how everything else falls into place. Lock gets rid of the ball quickly and completes tough throws under pressure, and while he peppers those brilliant moments with some maddening, high-risk throws into coverage, he’ll be on a pedestal for 2018.
Shea Patterson, Michigan: He could be the best quarterback Jim Harbaugh has had at Michigan. The Ole Miss transfer lacks ideal side (listed at 6' 2", 203 pounds), which is close to 2018 No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. While I’ve seen comparisons between Patterson and Johnny Manziel, I think Mayfield is a closer connection. Both have significant functional mobility (think a super-charged Alex Smith), though Mayfield’s accuracy put him over the top this season. If Mayfield has success as a rookie, it could put teams more at ease when it comes to shorter, more athletic quarterbacks, like Patterson, moving forward.
Will Grier, West Virginia: Grier has a massive arm, and teams will be attracted to his mobility, which will allow coordinators to install some different run pass-options and zone-read concepts to diversify the run game. Outside of Finley, most of the top FBS quarterbacks in the 2019 draft will have an option component to their game, which is a sign of the times. Could it be that NFL teams waiting too long to alter their approach will miss out on some quality quarterbacks?
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn: Listed a 6' 3", 214 pounds, Stidham needs to become better as an anticipatory thrower and has to iron things out under relentless pressure, but he has the stage and the competition to separate himself quickly. He completed 66.5% of his passes last year, with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Other names to watch: A torn ACL last bowl season makes 2018 a complicated year for Clayton Thorson, Northwestern’s 6' 4", 225-pound senior … Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson, a 6' 7", 245-pound junior, is probably a year away. Still, that size and speed is not going to go unchecked by scouts ... North Dakota State’s Easton Stick sneaks into the NFL measurables comfort zone (6' 2", 225 pounds) and won the FCS title game MVP last year. He also threw for 2,466 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions (plus 663 rushing yards) at Carson Wentz’s place, where scouts now take up permanent residence … North Carolina A&T’s Lamar Raynard is a multi-year starter, has an impressive frame (6' 4", 200 pounds), and threw for 2,932 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season.
The offensive playmakers
Bryce Love, Running Back, Stanford: Love has the compact build (5' 10", 196 pounds) for the NFL, and is coming off a season with 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Cardinal. But as the scouting tandem of Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah noted, he needs to improve his pass blocking. From a draft perspective, this will be a big season for the boring stuff (footwork in passing plays, aggression vs. larger blitzing defenders) for the NCAA’s second-leading rusher last year.
A.J. Brown, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss: The highlight among traditional wide receivers, Brown was so much fun to watch in 2017 with Patterson as his quarterback. The 6' 1", 225-pound wideout has perfect size and fights cornerbacks for jump balls. A quick slant can turn into an 80-yard touchdown at almost any time.
Parris Campbell, Wide Receiver, Ohio State: The highlight among next-gen flex backs. Every NFL team will have a Campbell (or Christian McCaffrey, or Jerick McKinnon, or young Percy Harvin) by 2020. He’s a threat on jet sweeps and, at least from my point of view, has something to work with on the route-running front.
The hog mollies
Trey Adams, Washington: Despite a torn ACL last October, the 6' 8", 330-pound behemoth might be one of the few sure things in 2019. As the Seattle Times pointed out, Adams was the only true freshman to start on the offensive line for Chris Petersen… ever. While I’ve seen his lateral movement be problematic at times, he’s a mountain of a man and a dominant future NFL tackle.
Jonah Williams, Alabama: ESPN’s Mel Kiper tapped Williams and Greg Little from Ole Miss as top 10 picks in the 2019 draft (God help us all). I thought Williams’ tape against a vicious Clemson offensive line was more than formidable, and is as close to NFL competition as he’ll get until the real thing. He’s got the perfect mix of tactical patience and straight up mauler, which is exactly what a good offensive lineman needs.
Greg Little, Ole Miss: It’s been fun watching 2019 prospects because you can re-watch 2017 games with a different perspective. Here’s Little vs. Alabama. It was noticeable how some of his second-level blocking was solely responsible for some of the Rebels’ best offensive plays that night. It seems to me that Little will be one of those combine warrior tackles, unless his play speed is deceiving.
The pass rushers
Ed Oliver, Defensive Tackle, Houston: At 6' 3" and almost 300 pounds, you want to see someone with Oliver’s hype dominate an American Athletic Conference conference schedule and, oh boy, watch him against the Naval Academy and Arizona last year. He reminds me a bit of Sheldon Richardson in the final Rex Ryan years in that Oliver can play just about anywhere on defense and has the athleticism to drop into coverage or play a convincing rover lineman in a psycho front.
Rashan Gary, EDGE, Michigan: A cool thing about watching Gary: He is such a creative player. Against Wisconsin last year he not only excelled at the standard EDGE responsibilities, but he’s lining up in ways and angles I’ve never seen before, approaching different speed rushes almost like a punt or field goal block.
Nick Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State: A few different draft analysts said that Bosa is a more unhinged and athletic version of his brother, which I kind of agree with. Against USC, during the portions of the game when Bosa is standing as an EDGE rusher, I got a Clay Matthews vibe on his outside attacks. There’s a terrifying fluidity to some of his combat moves. There’s an obvious advantage to having a slightly older brother that is already dominating NFL competition and we’ll see if Bosa maximizes his opportunity.
Anyone from Clemson: It’s way, way too early for this, but I’ve seen a few 2019 mock drafts with four Clemson defensive linemen being taken in the first round. That would be insanity, and I think part of the appreciation for this unit is the way they all function off Dexter Lawrence in the middle. I did a double-take at this Adam Rittenberg stat from ESPN: Lawrence is 340 pounds (6' 4") “but with only 18 percent body fat.”
The Ball Hawks
Greedy Williams, Cornerback, LSU: Just some noticeably veteran instincts in such a young player. You can see different points in the same game when Williams is starting to bait quarterbacks into throwing the same advantageous route again. His change of direction ability is just scary.
Lukas Denis, Safety, Boston College: There’s a lot of tape on Denis playing well against some of college football’s premiere competition, and he tied for the FBS lead in interceptions last season. He’s seasoned and his anticipatory skills make him a force within BC’s defense, where he was also their second-leading tackler in 2017.
DeAndre Baker, Cornerback, Georgia: How about this for a stat, via Pro Football Focus: Baker was in coverage 372 times last season and did not allow a single touchdown pass. That’s in the SEC, by the way.
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