The coaches and general managers of the players listed below will never publicly admit what I’m about to tell you is true but it is. Instead they’ll feed you lines about how the only expectation is for them to come in and compete. While true, the amount of pressure on these six rookies is greater than that of their contemporaries.
I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft.
Let’s crack this thing open.
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals didn’t move on from its top-10 quarterback from a season ago and select Murray No. 1 overall for him to not be the guy from Day One, especially with Brett Hundley as the only other rosterable quarterback in the mix for Arizona.
Arizona is taking a risky course forward, one they must commit to after being one and done with Steve Wilks and Josh Rosen. Kliff Kingsbury was hired as head coach after a disappointing run at Texas Tech - his alma mater - where he produced a 35-40 overall record, never finished better than fifth in the Big Twelve and had a losing record in four of six seasons. Murray is a one-year college starter in the zero percentile for height when it comes to NFL quarterbacks.
I understand Arizona’s decision to draft Murray and I am excited about his potential. There is a very natural and dynamic playmaking skill set present in Murray that is perfect for Kingsbury and the trends of today’s NFL. The pressure of being the top pick is already enough, but that escalates given the context of Murray’s situation.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Oakland Raiders
Remember that time Jon Gruden traded away Khalil Mack and later said good pass rushers where hard to find? Welcome to the NFL, Clelin!
The No. 4 overall selection, Ferrell being picked that high in the Draft came as a surprise to many. He’s a safe pick. A sturdy run defender, Ferrell has good power at the point of attack, size and extension skills. He should be a productive pass rusher but he’s absent of dynamic burst and flexibility, bringing into question his true ceiling. As a top-five pick, he’s expected to live in the backfield and consistently harass the quarterback. While I graded him as a first round talent, I’m not certain that is the type of player he will consistently become.
The combination of being such a high selection, the Raiders barren edge rusher situation and replacing Mack puts substantial pressure on Ferrell as a rookie.
Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offense hasn’t been the problem in Tampa Bay and with Bruce Arians now the head coach, it will continue not to be. The same cannot be said for the defense where a lack of coaching, talent and leadership has crippled the Bucs’ success in recent years. Using six of its eight 2019 draft picks on defensive prospects, Tampa Bay got real serious about fixing that side of the football.
White is the highest-drafted true off-ball linebacker since Seattle took Aaron Curry No. 4 overall in 2009. While the NFL has become more amenable to selecting linebackers in the first-round, No. 5 overall is still very high and so are the expectations that come with it.
While I have little doubt that White can be a superstar defensive playmaker, he needs to quickly become that while serving as a true field general for Tampa Bay. How fast the Bucs can turn things around defensively is directly linked to how quickly White adapts to life in the NFL.
Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
I miss watching Ryan Shazier play football and Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t been the same without him on it. His speed, range, ability in space and instincts simply haven’t been replaced since his very unfortunate injury. Trading up from pick No. 20 to No. 10 to land him, Bush is being counted on to fill that Shazier role.
While I am excited for what Bush can become in the NFL, he needs to escalate his acclimation to the league in order to maximize what is left in the (seemingly) open window to compete with Ben Roethlisberger.
His skill set is perfect for today’s game but his role in solidifying Pittsburgh’s defense after they traded up to get him, replacing Shazier and seizing Pittsburgh’s window to compete in what could be a fragile season for Mike Tomlin certainly mounts the pressure.
Greg Little, OT, Carolina Panthers
Although it matters, set aside my doubts in Little as a legitimate starting left tackle in the NFL (for now). This Panthers team enters a critical year for head coach Ron Rivera to not only prove to new owner Dave Tepper that he can win, but do so consistently. Having never recorded consecutive winning seasons in franchise history, Panthers’ fans are tired of the “every other year” trend.
The Panthers are going as far as Cam Newton can take them and Newton is going as far as his offensive line holds up. Little was brought in to help solidify Carolina’s offensive line and he’ll need to do so quickly.
Back to my concerns about Little. Most of my concerns with Little stem from balance and body control which is often difficult for offensive linemen to overcome in the NFL. While it’s good for linemen to set a wide base, Little’s borders on too wide at times and inhibits his ability to redirect and anchor. His weight gets too far forward, leading to folding at the waist and over-extending. His body control on the move disappoints and his overall consistency to play with proper bend leaves much to be desired. I like Little’s foot quickness, but his inconsistent balance robs himself of mobility. I like his natural power but playing with poor leverage steals functional strength.
I don’t see an NFL-ready left tackle in Little but that’s exactly what Carolina needs him to be. Their franchise quarterback and head coach are counting on it.
Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Perhaps it's a touch aggressive to include the No. 56 overall selection in this conversation, but this is a unique scenario. I highly doubt if the Tyreek Hill situation wasn’t what it is, Hardman isn’t a thought for Kansas City in the second round. I’m hesitant to use the phrase “replacing Hill” when it comes to Hardman joining the team but let’s not pretend like he isn’t tasked with filling a similar role.
While some doubted the value of Hardman’s selection, I am probably one of the biggest fans of this pick for Kansas City. Hardman has legit speed that is maximized by his exceptional ball tracking skills. He carries speed to and through the catch point, taking full advantage of his 4.3 speed.
I’m optimistic, but stepping in for the electric, dynamic and highly productive Hill is no small task. With a host of defensive improvements this offseason, the Chiefs have no appetite for a step back offensively and are expected to contend. Hardman producing is critical for KC’s offense to continue the dominance we witnessed in 2018.