There’s an element of the draft that makes it ever changing. Just because the NFL may be emphasizing positions like quarterback, pass rusher and offensive tackle doesn’t always mean the upcoming draft class will have the right amount of talent in that area.
Bill Parcells once said “we in the NFL can only take what the college send us.” No matter what your team needs may be for a given year, there’s a chance that the pool you’re selecting from might not be strong in the category you as a general manager desire. It’s an element of the draft that makes it so unpredictable year-to-year. Need versus talent; draft class versus draft value.
Each year there are one or two positions that really stand out just by the timing of the players coming through. In 2014, we saw one of the best wide receiver draft classes of all time roll through with names like Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry. In 2015, we saw running backs like Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Jay Ajayi, Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman. In 2017, we had tight ends O.J. Howard, Evan Engram and David Njoku. And last year we saw Quenton Nelson, Frank Ragnow, Will Hernandez, Billy Price and James Daniels headline one of the best interior offensive line classes in recent history, plus an unprecedented run of five quarterbacks taken in the first round.
So what’s on the radar next? (Sorry for stealing the name, Conor Rogers.)
It’s early, but here are a few positions that look strong heading into the 2019 NFL Draft season.
Interior Defensive Line
Big names: Ed Oliver, Raekwon Davis, Jeffery Simmons
Other names: Possibly Rashan Gary, Rashard Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Dre’Mont Jones, Robert Landers
Holy smokes, you better hope this is the year your favorite NFL team needs an interior defensive lineman, because if they do, they have a gold mine to choose from.
The obvious front man is Houston’s Ed Oliver. Though a little undersized, he’s been whipping up on college football offensive linemen for two straight years with technique, explosives and a motor that won’t quit. SEC West foes Raekwon Davis of Alabama and Jeffery Simmons of Mississippi State don’t have quite the extensive resume Oliver does, but their ceilings as interior run stuffers and as pass rushers are also very high. Davis and Simmons bring more size to their game and are imposing forces with strength and athletic ability. All three are shaping up to get high Round 1 grades.
As for the others, I have Michigan’s Rashan Gary in here because I think he might be suited better as an interior defensive lineman in the NFL. His explosiveness and speed-to-power in a straight line could be deadly. Rashard Lawrence from LSU has some of the fastest and strongest hands in the class, and Clemson’s Christian Wilkins has all-around game that will likely make him a Top 50 guy. Ohio State has two players to boast: Robert Landers and Dre’Mont Jones. Landers is more of a nose tackle-type player who can win with a great get-off on the snap, and Jones loves to best interior offensive linemen with speed and counter directional moves.
All of those guys could be picked in the Top 3 rounds, maybe even all in the Top 2.
Big names: Nick Bosa, Clelin Ferrell, Brian Burns, Montez Sweat
Other names: Anfernee Jennings, Jalen Jelks, possibly Rashan Gary
Likely everyone’s top prospect in this class is going to be Ohio State’s Nick Bosa. The younger Bosa possesses many of the same traits that got his brother, Joey, drafted No. 3 overall in 2016. Clelin Ferrell is likely the highest drafted player from a Clemson line that is going to steal all the headlines this upcoming season. He has the build and ability to play as an all-around 4-3 defensive end. Brian Burns is the big wild card. The size as 6-foot-5 is alluring, but in previous seasons he just didn’t have the weight to be a difference maker. Reports are that he’s up to 245 pounds now, and if that’s the case, look out. Burns has legit pass rush ability as an edge defender in any scheme. Montez Sweat, like Burns, has a longer build at 6-foot-5, but he’s more suited for a 3-4 outside linebacker role. Sweat might not have as high of ceiling as Burns, but it’s still likely first round worthy.
Anfernee Jennings brings that Alabama aggressiveness with him on every pass rush. He’s not as flexible around the edge as some of the guys above him, but he has a well-built frame to stop the run and collapse the pocket in some form at the next level. Jalen Jelks is slept on, to some, as a product of Oregon playing on the west coast, but this 6-foot-5 edge player is making a name for himself in the Pac-12. Finally, Gary is on this list, too, because even though he might be better suited as an interior player, he’ll likely play on the edge for Michigan this season. We’ll see what he can do, and if that’s where he stays as he transitions to the pros.
Big names: D.K. Metcalf, Kelvin Harmon, Ahmmon Richards
Other names: N’Keal Harry, Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Bryan Edwards
I’m not about to say this wide receiver class will rival that of 2014, but it should be a fun one, regardless.
At the top, Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf might have the highest ceiling. He has size, speed and ball skills that, if refined, will make him a Top 20 selection. Kelvin Harmon from N.C. State is the big name coming into the season. He’s gain the nickname “Lil’ Julio” for Julio Jones, and though he’s not as athletic, his big-catch ability will “wow” all the same. Ahmmon Richards from Miami is looking to have a bounce back season after a disappointing sophomore campaign that followed a stellar freshman season. Athletically, Richards is elite. He just needs the catching consistency.
Just because these guys aren’t the “big names” doesn’t mean there’s a big drop off in talent. N’Keal Harry out at Arizona State is a Kelvin Harmon-like receiver for the West Coast. He’s a contested catch machine that teams will love on the outside. South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel might be the next great young slot receiver, as his quick feet, great leaping and catch ability, and his refinement in route running make him a nightmare matchup. His Gamecocks teammate, Bryan Edwards, stands in at 6-foot-2 and showed good flashes of outside receiver ability last season. If he builds off that success we’re talking about a Top 100 player for sure. And finally, the Rebels’ top wide out from a year ago, A.J. Brown, is looking to continue his momentum after a highly-productive year. He’ll be striving to vault himself into that top slot receiver spot for the 2019 NFL Draft.