3 days. 7 Rounds. 254 Picks.
There’s far too many takeaways to unpack from the 2019 NFL Draft but these five teams bolstered their rosters best, found great value in their picks over the weekend, made superb scheme fits, and addressed some of their biggest needs for 2019 and beyond. I present my five most impressive AFC Draft classes (in no particular order).
In his first draft replacing long-time General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta gave 2nd-Year Quarterback Lamar Jackson and newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and ample amount of draft assets. The miniature 1st Round Pick, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, experienced two very productive years at Oklahoma as the last two Heisman winners jitterbug and deep threat. Despite the 5′ 9″ and 166 lb Brown spending the pre-draft process recovering from a Lisfranc injury, the Ravens felt very comfortable selecting the speedster, often compared to DeSean Jackson, to be Lamar Jackson’s deep threat. Offensively in addition to Hollywood, the Ravens added two Scouting Combine All-Stars in running back Justice Hill (1st among RBs in 40 Yard Dash, Broad Jump, and Vertical Jump) and wide receiver Miles Boykin (10th among WRs in 40, 2nd Broad Jump, 1st Vertical Jump, and 5th in wingspan), as well as drafting Brown’s college teammate in guard Ben Powers to learn from Marshall Yanda and possibly start over Alex Lewis at left guard.
Defensively the Ravens drafted Jaylon “Sack Daddy” Ferguson, the NCAA’s All-Time leading sacker with 45 (surpassing Terrell Suggs record), should help fill the pass-rushing void left by Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs in Free Agency. In Day 3, the Ravens added two former 5-Star defenders in interior defensive lineman Daylon Mack, a four-year starter at Texas A&M who dominated during the week of the Senior Bowl, and cornerback Iman Marshal, a four-year starter at USC. Mack will be able to learn from equally massive nose tackle’s Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, while Marshal can be groomed in a loaded cornerback room consisting of Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Tavon Young. The Ravens final draft pick was Penn State leader and quarterback Trace McSorley, already tabbed as the next “Taysom Hill” (yes that’s a sentence), who found the best suitor in the league to allow his quarterback traits to grow and have a chance to thrive behind Jackson and Robert Griffin.
Previous General Manager Ryan Grigson took the Colts roster, during Andrew Luck’s prime, placed it in a brown paper bag, light it on fire, rang the doorbell, and ran away laughing hysterically. I can not give enough credit to the job GM Chris Ballard has done with roster overhaul in the last two years. Ballard found multiple starters in the 2nd Round of the 2018 NFL Draft and may have done the same thing this year.
After dealing out of the first, Ballard had three 2nd Round picks this year (he also received an additional 2nd in 2020 already). With their three picks, the Colts selected Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, Ohio State receiver Parris Campbell, and Texas Christian edge defender Ben Bangou. Ya-Sin is a physical corner, a two-time state wrestler in high school, who shadows well, limits big plays, and will fit in well with the mold of Matt Eberflus’ off-man, zone cover corners. Campbell makes too much sense as a speedy playmaker, scored 12 TDs in 2018, for Andrew Luck to assist Devin Funchess in taking defenses full attention away from T.Y. Hilton. Bangou was more productive than his fellow Horned Frog and 1st Round pick edge defender L.J. Collier, with 34.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks the past two seasons, and he also tested much better in the 40-yard dash, jump tests, and agility tests, and could be a steal by Ballard. Bangou will join Justin Houston, two of last year’s 2nd Round Picks, Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay, as well as veteran Jabaal Sheard attacking the passer from the edge for the Colts.
Ballard continued to address the defense with the undersized and rangy Stanford linebacker Bobby Okereke to compete for reps behind Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker, selecting both Michigan State safety Khari Willis, a smart box safety with a nose for the football behind Clayton Geathers, and USC safety Marvel Tell, a rangy freak of nature athlete who will play behind Malik Hooker, gives this defense scheme versatility and competitive players who can be put in position’s to succeed in three safety sets. Ballard also provided new offensive line coach Chris Strausser a few depth projects in the late rounds with Utah tackle Jackson Barton and Ole Miss center Javon Patterson.
Los Angeles Chargers
The reason to be enamored with the Chargers draft haul isn’t that it’s a particularly deep class, it’s because of the value and fits they were able to address on an already loaded Gus Bradley defense. The knock on the 6’6 1/2″ Jerry Tillery, is his streaky or inconsistent play at Notre Dame and raw potential, this is tough to argue considering his 4-sack performance against Stanford accounted for more than half o this 7 sacks in 2018. Tillery is still a raw prospect, he was third in 2018 with 48 QB pressures among interior defenders, but playing on the inside of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram I have no doubt his on-field production and Draft value will be reminiscent of the Chiefs Chris Jones. Delaware safety Nasir Adderley is the perfect Earl Thomas-like center fielder to be deployed with Derwin James (and Adrian Phillips) in a defense that utilizes many 3 or 4-safety looks. Tillery’s college teammate, linebacker Drue Tranquil, had two productive seasons as a safety in South Bend before playing his best football as a linebacker the past two seasons. Tranquil, a two-time Captain, racked up 171 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks the last two seasons before shining at the Senior Bowl and displaying outstanding athleticism at the Combine. A Chargers defense that was eventually exposed for being short on linebackers in January now returns a healthy (and richer) Denzel Perryman to team up with veteran Thomas Davis who will be a phenomenal leader in the linebacker room for young players like Jatavis Brown, Uchenna Nwosu (rotated between pass rusher and stand up linebacker as a rookie), Kyzir White, and Drue Tranquill.
General Manager Tom Telesco was able to head to the Dakotas to address a few holes offensively. First selecting an East-West Shrine Game and Scouting Combine star, in offensive tackle Trey Pipkins in the 3rd Round from Sioux Falls and then with quarterback Easton Stick from North Dakota State in the 5th Round.
New England Patriots
The Patriots had a massive Gronk spike-sized hole at the tight end position, they failed to address it and still came away big winners from the annual talent lottery that Bill Belichick routinely dominates. Belichick began the day with a league-leading 12 picks, he finished it with 10 selections, but was involved with 26 selections either selected, acquired, or traded.
Bill was wheeling and dealing but sat on their 1st Round pick to select Arizona State receiver N’keal Harry the big-bodied competitive player will go up and get any rebound for Tom Brady and Bill will surely appreciate his ability as a run blocker. Separation on his routes and a top end gear seems to be the only issues for the former 5-star prospect, Harry recorded 213 catches, over 3,000 total yards, and 25 total touchdowns in his three years with Sun Devils and fills an immediate need at pass catcher for the Patriots. In the 2nd Round, the Patriots added the tallest corner (6′ 3 5/8″) in the draft in Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams, who will compete for playing time opposite Stephon Gillmore with Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson, JC Jackson, and Jonathan Jones as he gives the Patriots a body reminiscent of Brandon Browner opposite of Darrelle Revis during their Super Bowl XLIX season. in the 3rd Round, to fill the void left by Trey Flowers, the Patriots got a steal with the highly productive and competitive edge defender Chase Winovich. Winovich had 43 tackles for loss in three starting seasons at Michigan and his never stop motor and ability to defend the edge in the run will remind some of Patriots great Rob Ninkovich. With their second 3rd round pick the Patriots went to Belichick’s buddy Nick Saban’s football factory and selected Alabama running back Damien Harris, a former #1 running back in high school who will compete for carries behind Sony Michel with James White and Rex Burkhead.
Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnechia is one of the most valuable and underrated position coaches in NFL History. Scanrechia recently helped mold Nate Solder and Trent Brown into the highest paid offensive tackles in NFL history in back-to-back Free Agent classes and over the last two decades, the Patriots and Scarnechia have been able to churn out mid-round offensive linemen into above average reliable starters. Scarnechia’s new projects are West Virginia tackle Yodny Cajuste and Arkansas guard Hjalte Froholdt. With left guard Joe Thuney in the last year of his contract and right tackle Marcus Cannon, 31 years old, having minimal guaranteed money left after 2019, it would not be shocking to see Cajust and Froholdt starting in Week 1 of the 2020 Season.
In the later rounds, Belichick made three typical wild Bill moves by drafting a back-up Quarterback and potential Tom Brady successor in a decade or two in Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, an underachieving former 5-star player in Maryland’s Byron Cowart, transferred from Auburn, and a punter in Stanford’s Jacob Bailey (Surprisingly right footed). No one loves reclamation projects and special teams quite like Belichick.
The Raiders have been much, and still, maligned in their first year with Jon Gruden and with three 1st Round picks, thanks to the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades, you would hope the Raiders would do enough to make this article. With the first pick under new General Manager Mike Mayock, the Raiders sent shock waves across the (football) nation with their selection of Clemson edge defender Clelin Ferrell. Many professional and amateur pundits expected the Raiders to select Josh Allen or Ed Oliver but Ferrell fits the bill for the prototype pass rusher and had a dominant three years as a starter along the vaunted Clemson defensive. Ferrel’s ability was on full display in his last college game in the National Championship against Alabama’s Jonah Williams, the first offensive tackle selected in the Draft, when he constantly caused havoc in the backfield and lead to many questioning Williams ability to play tackle at the next level. Ferrell should start right away opposite Arden Key for the Raiders at defensive end.
Mayock’s next two 1st Round picks, a running back and safety, will receive some criticism for not being premiere positions, particularly in the first round. By selecting Alabama running back Josh Jacobs and Mississippi State safety Johnathan Arbam the Raiders have two physical and tone-setting players on each side of the ball for a franchise that much needed those traits. Josh Jacobs will take pressure off of Derek Carr’s shoulders and add a much needed running game that the Raiders have been missing since Marcus Allen. The Raiders last 1200+ yard rusher was Napolean Kaufman in 1997, the team has only selected a running back in Rounds 1-3 three times since selecting Kaufman 18th overall in 1995. Watch any Mississippi State game this past Fall and Abram would make his presence known, a player cut from the same cloth as Keanu Neal, Abram and newly signed Lamarcus Joyner will make wily Raiders fans nostalgic of Jack Tatum and George Atkinson. It’ll be interesting to see what the Raiders do with former 1st Round safety Karl Joseph who earned back his starting spot and played the best ball of his career from Week 11 of last season.
Later in the draft, the Raiders addressed needs at cornerback by taking Clemson’s Trayvon Mullen fun the 2nd Round and Houston’s Isaiah Johnson in the 4th. Mullen and Johnson are both tall (6’1″+) and lengthy corners who should see playing time early and often this season. Also in the 4th, the Raiders found the off the charts edge Defender Maxx Crosby from Eastern Michigan, Crosby will get a chance to hit the ground running in 2018 as the primary back-up to Ferrell and Key. On Day 3, Derek Carr was giving a few potential weapons in LSU tight end Foster Moreau, who performed with his hair on fire in Indianapolis in February but left much to be desired with his time in Baton Rouge, and going back to the Clemson well with cult hero Hunter Renfrow, who was born with ice in his veins.
Honorable Mention: Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tennessee Titans