The 2019 NFL Draft has come to a close and the 200,000 plus attendees have vacated historic downtown Nashville. Fans of each of the 32 franchises now have a clearer picture as to what level of success their team will experience next season. Some came away overly optimistic, while others left frustrated and scratching their heads. The same can be said of players involved when it comes to their own future. All in all, it was an intriguing draft. Here are some take-aways from the latest installment of the NFL Draft.
The Cards Made Good Choices, but Didn’t Address a Glaring Need: After making their initial high-profile selection of Kyler Murray, the Cardinals had an opportunity to address their biggest problem, offensive line help. They were in prime position to do so with the unexpected descent of both Jawaan Taylor and Cody Ford. Instead, they drafted CB Byron Murphy out of Washington. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an excellent player and they needed secondary help. It was very surprising that Murphy was available. However, they had the absolute worst offensive line in the NFL last season. They had multiple differing lineups throughout the 2018 campaign. I believe I read it was in the neighborhood of 10 plus. With that in mind, an offensive lineman wasn’t drafted until the 6th round when they selected Lamont Gaillard from Georgia. With the last pick of the draft, the Cardinals selected OL Joshua Miles from Morgan State. Let that sink in. They didn’t address the need until the 6th and 7throunds. Are you kidding me? Yes, some great players fell their way: Andy Isabella, Zach Allen, Hakeem Butler, and Deionte Thompson. That’s all well and good, but if they can’t protect Murray, he’s being set up for public execution. So, if he has a bad year, does that mean he will be shipped out in favor of the “flavor of the week” top QB prospect in next year’s draft?
The Bucking Broncos: Let’s face it. Heading into the draft, the Broncos faithful were beginning to question the credibility of the esteemed John Elway. Since the departure of Peyton Manning, his replacements were at best average. That is putting it mildly. The latest experiment featured Case Keenum. It failed miserably. So, one final plea for a lead signal caller was made, and Joe Flacco was on the receiving end. However, who would be the heir apparent? Would it be from this draft class and would a mistake be made if it was? Since we’re being honest, this quarterback class was not very sexy. So, the fan base was very nervous going in. Many speculated that Denver would select a QB with their first pick and it more than likely would be Drew Locke from Missouri. However, that wasn’t the case, at least not yet. With the first pick, they selected Noah Fant, TE, Iowa. The former Hawkeye gives them something they haven’t had in quite some time; a dynamic offensive weapon who can stretch the field. He’s a receiver in the body of a TE. Opposing defenses will have to account for him on every down. With the next pick, it was the “do-everything” OL Dalton Risner from Kansas State. He can play any position on the line, and they may need him to. Risner is a very strong and consistent player. Also, he did something not many did this past season. He held Montez Sweat in check when squaring off against him in the season opener. This was a major need. Kudos for this selection. The Cardinals should have adopted the same way of thinking. Things seem to be falling their way. It just so happens, Drew Locke was available and he was selected with their next pick. Don’t get too excited. He’s not starting Week 1. Locke is the QB of the future. He will be able to sit behind Flacco and get the needed development learning from a solid veteran. That couldn’t have worked out better. With the next two picks, they made a statement for their defense by picking up DT Dre’Mont Jones from Ohio State and LB Justin Hollins from Oregon. Von Miller needed help. Now, he has it. Hollins is a versatile player who can drop back into coverage or come off the edge. Jones is a ferocious competitor who makes both backs and QBs wish they played another sport. Plus, he’s incredibly quick and athletic. To finish things up, the Broncos took Juwaan Winfrey, WR, Colorado. Some are complaining because they moved up to attain him, mainly because of his stats. With Winfrey, it goes beyond stats. It’s more about his intangibles. He can produce, but what impressed the Broncos the most is his ability to be an incredible blocker. What we and other teams should take away from them is how to masterfully work a draft board. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what they did. Fans should be applauding their decision makers in this draft.
When It’s No Longer Brady’s Bunch: I’m going claim a victory here. In my last article, “NFL Draft Dark Horses, Who’s Worth Riding?”, I suggested that a certain player would be a good fit with the Patriots to learn under Tom Brady. With that would come the distinct honor of replacing him once his story comes to a close. In the 4th round at pick No. 133, the New England Patriots selected Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn. Before anyone gets too excited or bent out of shape, I’m not anointing him as Brady’s successor. At this point, it’s a “wait-and-see” situation. Jarrett is a good touch passer, throws a catchable ball, has good field vision, can throw on the run, and has the ability to extend plays with his feet. In 2017, he completed 67% of his passes for 3,158 yards and 18 touchdowns. Oh, and he happened to beat both Georgia and Alabama, the eventual finalists for the national championship game. However, in 2018, fans would see his production drop. He completed 61% of his passes for 2,794 yards and 18 touchdowns. Before fans start clamoring for a redo, hold your horses. Auburn lost a lot to graduation and the NFL. Plus, let’s call it like it is, Gus Malzahn didn’t know what he was doing; especially when it came to getting the most out of his quarterback. Stidham is a great leader and a winner. After all, you don’t beat Alabama and Georgia on accident. Those points coupled by the opportunity to be groomed by the GOAT, give Patriots fans some relief when comes to life after Brady.
No Ozzie, No Problem: The saying around Baltimore has always been “In Ozzie We Trust”. Long time general manager and NFL Legend, Ozzie Newsome, has rode off into the sunset. In his place is Eric DeCosta. Ravens fans grew nervous and maybe down right frightened with several offseason departures under DeCosta’s watch including Pro Bowl LB CJ Mosley, legend and Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, and Eric Weddle. Let’s not forget, he dealt QB Flacco to the Broncos as well. If you ask me, that move was a little premature, but I didn’t get a vote. Sure, acquisitions such as Pro Bowl S Earl Thomas and RB Mark Ingram helped ease some anxiety amongst fans. However, before the mobs formed to run DeCosta out of town, they waited to see the outcome of this year’s draft. Apparently, the new GM channeled Ozzie Newsome because the selections were stellar from top to bottom. To kick things off, Baltimore selected speedster Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, WR, Oklahoma. While he’s not the big bodied receiver some were hoping for, Brown has the ability to get to the next level, attracting deep safety help every time. This will also create opportunities for others and simple coverage looks for Lamar Jackson. He possesses uncanny speed and quickness guaranteed to scare defenses for years to come. As I mentioned earlier, the Ravens lost DE Za’Darius Smith. On the very next pick, they more than accounted for that by selecting NCAA sack record holder Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Louisiana Tech. If you’re wondering what that number is, it’s 45 sacks. In 2018 alone, he tallied 17.5. He’s very versatile and can play multiple spots. Ferguson is stout against the run, shows great leverage, possesses strong hands, and has great play recognition. With the 93rd pick overall in round 3, the Ravens picked up their big bodied pass catcher with Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame. This young man knows how to use his big frame to out-position himself against defensive backs. He knows how to win the battle “above the rim” and snatch away any ball. Add to that, Boykin is an instinctive catcher across the middle. Baltimore’s next selection was Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State. With this pick, they may have found the next “Alvin Kamara” to pair with Mark Ingram. Hill had a tremendous NFL Combine and greatly increased his draft stock. He runs with aggressiveness and can slash through gaps. Justice is very elusive, with the ability to put heads up tacklers in a bind due to great lateral quickness. He has great acceleration out of cuts, can find open room, possesses great balance with the ability to reset his feet in and out of traffic, and is solid in pass protection. The remaining picks went as follows: OG Ben Powers, CB Iman Marshall, DT Daylon Mack, and the “Hero of Happy Valley” QB Trace McSorley. Those were solid selections that satisfied team needs. While GM Eric DeCosta may have been on somewhat of a “hot seat” with fans to start his regime, it appears that he has atoned for his transgressions for the time being.
Buggs the Steal of the Draft: When is the last time than any of us saw the sack leader from the University of Alabama drop to the sixth round at pick No. 192 of the NFL Draft? It just doesn’t happen. However, for Crimson Tide DL Isaiah Buggs, it became an absurd reality. He was the final of 10 former Alabama players selected in this draft. A lot of experts and myself were shocked that selections were made round after round and none of them included Buggs. Analyst Jim Weber had this to say on Twitter, “I find it hard to believe there were 191 players in the draft better than this dude(Buggs)”. In his final season, he accumulated 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, 51 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. That sack total was greater than that of his high-profile teammate Quinnen Williams. He was a lead contributor on a defensive line that averaged 3 sacks per game. Isaiah Buggs is a player who brings an unquenchable fire every play. He ignites energy throughout not only his defense, but his entire team. Up front, he’s an absolute brute who is hard to move off the ball. Running backs were obliterated by this beast repeatedly. I think they may still have nightmares of Buggs 10 years down the road. This is a guy who went head to head every day with top draft pick LT Jonah Williams in practice and held his ground impressively. Former Alabama DL coach, Karl Dunbar, who is now with Steelers knew what he had in his former pupil. With his seal of approval, it was a “no-brainer” for the Steelers decision makers. So, they selected the pass rusher who plays with an angry burst. Film and draft analyst Nick Farabaugh had this to say about the former Alabama DL, “How in the world did Isaiah Buggs last until the sixth round? Explosive guy with good hand usage. Steelers got a dang steal.” I couldn’t agree more.
The curtain on the NFL Draft has been drawn. Now, we all anxiously await to see how these gifted athletes will perform with their newly assigned teams. The speculations and grades have been issued. We shall see how “dead-on” or completely wrong each of us were. It should be fun to watch and I can’t wait to see how it all pans out.
I am a 2003 graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in Exercise Science. While at the Capstone, I served as a student assistant with the head strength and conditioning coach of the Crimson Tide football team. I have competed in both powerlifting and bodybuilding for several years. In addition, I have served athletes and people through the arena of personal training. Jesus is my Lord and Savior. I am a passionate fan of Alabama, but do not make other fan bases miserable because of it. College football has my heart first, but I cover all areas of sports. Follow me on Twitter: @justinriley7!