The 2018 NFL season was defined by transition periods for a large number of NFL franchises. While there is always turnover happening throughout the league, there seemed to be a little extra last season. The main cause of this was the quarterback carousel, as three second-year quarterbacks (Patrick Mahomes, DeShaun Watson, and Mitchell Trubisky) took over as full-time starters. On top of that, a whopping five rookie quarterbacks ended the season starting for their respective franchises (Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson).
Those five rookies are all slated to be their franchises starting quarterback next season. Unless, of course, new Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury decides to take a quarterback with the number 1 overall pick.
Going based on the assumption that those five quarterbacks will be long-term starters, their franchises now need to surround them with talent. That means pass protecting offensive lineman and quality receiving options will be at a premium for the Browns, Jets, Cardinals, Bills and Ravens.
I’m here to play the “Matchmaker” game between these second-year quarterbacks and wide receivers in the 2019 NFL Draft. Evaluating receiver talent is something that the NFL can struggle with, but a lot of those issues can occur because of scheme fit, role and player development. With that in mind, I set out to find receivers that fit the depth chart, offensive scheme and meshed well with the skill set of each quarterback.
Baker Mayfield - N’Keal Harry (Pick 49)
Cleveland has some intriguing options at the wide receiver position, but lack a true playmaker. Jarvis Landry offers a possession presence and young Antonio Callaway has potential, while tight end David Njoku is just starting to scratch his surface. Besides Njoku, however, Cleveland doesn’t have much size or athleticism among their pass catchers. Enter N’Keal Harry.
Harry fills a need and could very well be available in the middle of the second round, allowing Cleveland to look elsewhere with their first pick. While Harry doesn’t generate much separation as a route runner, who better to pair him with than a quarterback who throws with accuracy and touch?
Sam Darnold - Anthony Johnson (Pick 106)
The Jets draft will be an interesting one, as they have the 3rd overall selection but don’t pick again until pick 68. They’ll be a candidate to trade down in order to acquire more picks, as they have multiple needs throughout the roster. While they need an upgrade to the wide receiver position, they’re actually not in too bad of a spot talent-wise. Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson are a solid duo, and rookies Deontay Burnett and tight end Chris Herndon IV both have potential. The issues are that Enunwa has battled injuries and Anderson has been in legal trouble, making the position outlook a bit muddy.
Jermaine Kearse is a free agent, and the Jets liked the versatile skill set that he brought to the offense. Anthony Johnson is a natural replacement for Kearse, with similarities in their size and play-style. Johnson is a likely mid-round pick, which will entice the Jets if they’re unable to acquire additional selections.
Josh Allen - Kelvin Harmon (Pick 40)
Buffalo’s wide receiver core needs work, so much so that the position might be one that they target at pick number 9. Zay Jones and Robert Foster make up an solid young pair, but Buffalo needs to add size to their wide receiver room. While Josh Allen showed promise in his rookie season, there were still flashes of the inaccuracies that were present on his college tape.
Kelvin Harmon is an accuracy-fixer of a receiver, with an expanded catch radius and the strength to win through contact. He’s not going to blow the doors off of anyone athletically, but he has refinement in his route running that creates consistent throwing windows. This type of wide receiver pairs with Allen’s skill set and the Bills current depth chart.
Josh Rosen - Antoine Wesley (Pick 65)
Arizona drafted exciting slot receiver Christian Kirk to pair with Josh Rosen last year. Kirk exceeded expectations as a rookie before a season ending injury, but will be ready for 2019. Future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald will be back as well. With those two in the fold, the slot options are strong in Arizona, but they need help on the outside.
Antoine Wesley was a breakout star in 2018, operating as the boundary receiver in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense at Texas Tech. With knowledge of the system, a rapport with the head coach and the ability to fill a position of need, expect Wesley to be on the Cardinals radar on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.
Lamar Jackson - Mecole Hardman (Pick 86)
Baltimore is near desperation mode when it comes to the wide receiver position. They’ve cut Michael Crabtree and John Brown is a free agent, leaving Willie Snead and a bunch of question marks. While their tight end position is unquestionably deep enough, they need pass-catching talent in a big way.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson showed adeptness as a thrower as a rookie, but can still struggle with anticipation. He fails to deliver timing passes with consistency, and prefers to throw into wide windows or improvise. For him to take the next step as a passer, Baltimore will need to replace the speed and route running ability that John brown provided.
Mecole Hardman possesses all of these qualities, and ripped off numerous big play touchdowns at Georgia. The electric slot receiver will be an option for a lot of teams on Day 2 of the NFL Draft, especially after logging a 4.33s 40 yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.