First-round draft picks bring the promise that an organization has found a new core piece to the roster to help shore up an area of concern.
While players develop differently and there is variance within the timetable that a first-round pick will produce, an injury that costs a rookie all or most of their season is not ideal.
That’s the unfortunate case with all six of these 2019 first-rounders whose respective teams will be looking for a return on their investment this season.
Chris Lindstrom, G, Atlanta Falcons
Chris Lindstrom became a Day 1 starter at right guard for the Falcons after Atlanta invested pick No. 14 to obtain his services. Unfortunately, Lindstrom broke his foot in Week 1 and missed 11 games. He did return to the lineup in Week 14 and finished 2019 with a total of five starts.
Lindstrom played extremely well when he was healthy and the experience he gained in 2019 will be of value as he enters his sophomore year — a season that could prove to be a make or break year for coach Dan Quinn. Lindstrom will play a critical role in creating space for running back Todd Gurley to work and making sure Matt Ryan has the time needed to keep the passing game on the schedule. Lindstrom and fellow 2019 first-round pick Kaleb McGary were brought in to shore up the right side of the offensive line, and Atlanta is counting on that happening in 2020.
Jeffery Simmons, DL, Tennessee Titans
Jeffery Simmons miraculously played in nine games as a rookie with seven starts just eight months after tearing his ACL during pre-draft training. He recorded a sack in his NFL debut and it didn’t take long for Simmons to show why the Titans invested a top-20 pick on him despite the injury.
Simmons’ upside prompted the organization to give away longtime standout Jurrell Casey for a measly return of a seventh-round pick to clear his salary off the books. Tennesse’s defense was a big part of its winning formula last season after an AFC runner-up finish. Simmons becoming a game-wrecker upfront for the defense will be critical in the Titans getting back to a deep postseason run.
Johnathan Abram, S, Las Vegas Raiders
Johnathan Abram was known for his physical style of play and willingness to put his body on the line to make impact hits but that quickly got the best of him after he tore his rotator cuff and labrum in his shoulder in Week 1 of his rookie season, forcing him to miss the remainder of the year.
The Raiders made considerable investments on the defensive side of the football this offseason via free agency —adding Maliek Collins, Carl Nassib, Nick Kwiatkoski, Cory Littleton, Prince Amukamara and Damarious Randall — in addition to selecting cornerback Damon Arnette in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. A healthy Abram in 2020 is yet another “addition” in what should be a much-improved unit compared to last season.
In an AFC West that features dynamic tight ends like Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry and Noah Fant, Abrams' skill set is needed at safety for Las Vegas to match up. His ability to attack downhill and serve as a tone-setter can help change the identity of the defense.
Jonah Williams, OT, Cincinnati Bengals
Jonah Williams was a stalwart for Alabama but wasn’t able to help the Bengals in 2019 after they made him the No. 11 pick in the draft. Williams missed his entire rookie season because of a torn labrum in his shoulder.
Cincinnati’s season of disappointment landed them the top pick in the 2020 draft, bringing Joe Burrow to the organization to be the franchise savior. While Burrow’s arrival brings plenty of promise that he can be an upper-echelon quarterback in the NFL, protecting him will be critical and Williams is scheduled to be his blindside protector. For a Bengals offensive line littered with question marks, they need Williams to find his stride quickly and anchor the left tackle position.
N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
An ankle injury sidelined N’Keal Harry for the first nine games of his rookie season, leaving the Patriots’ offense without a much-needed outside presence for the passing game. Harry did return to catch 12 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns across seven games, but he was far from producing to his potential.
With Jarrett Stidham set to be the starting quarterback in New England, Harry’s size and physical style of play are capable of filling a critical role for the offense that is likely to feature a heavy dose of running the football and timing passes.
Harry was limited as a rookie but the Patriots are counting on him moving forward.
Tytus Howard, OT, Houston Texans
Unless there is a trade that lands the Texans a first-round pick, Tytus Howard will be Houston’s only first-round selection made from 2018 until the 2022 draft. While Howard showed the promise to be a starter at right tackle as a rookie, his season was limited to just eight games due to a knee injury.
With very little in the way of promising depth at offensive tackle on the Texans’ roster, Howard is being relied upon to lock down the right tackle spot opposite of Laremy Tunsil and continue changing the narrative about bad offensive line play in front of Deshaun Watson.