There are some NFL teams that were destined to be intriguing in 2019 regardless of what they did in the draft. The Cardinals, Browns, Patriots and Dolphins obviously come to mind, and the Giants only got that much more interesting with Daniel Jones at No. 6.
Sure, every team made themselves better via the league’s annual player selection meeting (that’s the official name for the draft, by the way). But only a select few teams got better and more intriguing with their picks.
Take it away.
It’s possible no team had a bigger need going into this year’s draft than the Texans at offensive line. So with two of their first three picks—all in the first 55 picks of the draft—Houston addressed its need to protect Deshaun Watson. Alabama State’s Tytus Howard was first off the board and he’ll probably start at left or right tackle in Week 1. With the 55th pick, the Texans nabbed Max Scharping, who is probably best suited at tackle but can slide inside to guard if/when necessary. Watson was sacked 62 times last season, fifth-most in NFL history and the most in the league in more than a decade. Addressing that position immediately in the draft should help lower Watson’s 10.9% sack rate. And after letting Kevin Johnson walk in free agency, the Texans got big corner Lonnie Johnson Jr. with the pick before Scharping to find his roll in a reworked secondary.
The Panthers were in the top-six in the league in sacks in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Last year, they dropped to 27th. Edge rusher was a huge need for this team as they transition into more 3-4 looks, and GM Marty Hurney grabbed a long, rangy and athletic rusher in Brian Burns with their No. 16 pick. He followed that up by addressing Carolina’s second-greatest need at offensive tackle, trading up in the second (and probably spending a bit more than he should have) on Mississippi tackle Greg Little to protect Cam Newton’s blindside. And speaking of Newton, with cautious optimism surrounding his surgically repaired throwing shoulder, the Panthers drafted their first QB since Newton with the 100th overall pick in Will Grier. Add in the Panthers getting another hybrid player in Christian Miller and a running back in Jordan Scarlett that should end the continued four-year look at Cameron Artis-Payne and the Panthers may be back in the playoffs in 2019.
GM Brandon Beane followed up a fantastic free agency period (John Brown, Cole Beasley, Mitch Morse, Ty Nsekhe, Tyler Kroft, Frank Gore and Kevin Johnson) with what seems like a great draft. Beane stayed at No. 9 and let the board come to him. He was rewarded with blue-chip talent Ed Oliver at an obvious position of need. Then he traded up in the second round to get guard Cody Ford, an Oklahoma player they had a first-round grade on. The Bills already seemed set at running back but still got Devin Singletary in the third round. They also doubled-up at tight end in this year’s draft. No one’s saying they’re going to compete for the AFC East crown with the Patriots still kicking, but Beane has put together one of the best Bills’s rosters in recent memory.
The Vikings were a big flop last season thanks mostly to all their good players not playing that well in 2018. Kirk Cousins continued to fail in primetime but he also got no favors from what was one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL (no one could top the Cardinals, though). So with their first pick, the Vikings got the best center in the draft in N.C. State’s Garrett Bradberry, who will surely replace Pat Elflein and kick him out to guard. There are rumors the Vikings could part ways with Kyle Rudolph, so with their second-round pick they got Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. And Alex Mattison provides a strong rushing option along with Dalvin Cook. The Vikings had 12 picks but seven of those came in the final two rounds. Their success will come down to Cousins playing up to his contract, but there will be fewer excuses in 2019.
Chris Ballard is absolutely crushing it during the draft. He hit a home run last year with Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard, and he was wise enough to trade early with the Jets to get their second-round pick for this year. Then he slid out of this year’s first round to get three second rounders, where folks mostly agree was where the juice in this draft resided. He got a first-round corner in Rock Ya-Sin, a good fit at defensive end in Ben Banogu and a steal in Parris Campbell with 59th overall pick. In all, the Colts had 10 picks this year, and Ballard is building this team in a smart way. Only five players this year will be making more than $10 million and the Colts still have plenty of room to spare with the salary cap should they need anything this offseason. This time last year Andrew Luck still hadn’t thrown a regulation-sized football and today the Colts could very well be reasonably considered to compete with the Patriots and Chiefs for the AFC crown.