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It’s the time of year in the NFL when truly nothing anyone says should be believed. There are smokescreens, misdirections, flat out lies and even probably some truth — it’s just that you wouldn’t know it if you heard it. And maybe it wasn’t meant to be truth, it just ended up that way in the end.
It’s a mess. A glorious, tangled, sticky, liable-to-combust mess. The kind you get when you have competing teams within a $15 billion a year industry selecting their next set of (cost-controlled) workers.
But I studied the 2019 NFL Draft prospects and combed through coach and general manager press conferences so I could glean some answers and offer you my boldest predictions and hottest takes for this year’s draft class…
I’ll admit, it’s not looking good for Josh Rosen. All signs point to the Cardinals moving on from their 2018 first-round pick, but if it were going to happen, it would’ve happened by now.
Two reasons: (1) Arizona would’ve wanted to get a deal done with Murray before draft night if they had already made the decision to draft him, and (2) if Rosen were available for a second- or third-round pick, as has been reported, some team — the Redskins, Patriots, Dolphins, etc. — would have jumped at the opportunity to add a top-10 prospect (and his super cheap rookie contract) for a Day 2 pick.
The “system fit” thing, which has fueled much of the Murray/Cardinals speculation, is a little overblown. While Kliff Kingsbury does prefer a quarterback who can be used as an option threat, Rosen is perfect for the Air Raid system, which puts a premium on quarterbacks who process things quickly and deliver accurate passes on time. The Air Raid has never required mobility at the quarterback position.
And if Kingsbury were looking for a quarterback to use in the option game, I’m not sure Murray is the best choice. Not because he isn’t an electrifying runner — he is — but because of size concerns. After investing so much in Murray, would the Cardinals really want to expose an undersized quarterback to more hits than he has to take? I would think not.
This is, by far, the boldest take on this list and the one I’m most confident in making. I don’t think Minshew will be a high-level starter, but he has the kind of tools NFL teams look for in a backup/low-level starting quarterback.
He operates within the system, and he goes through his progressions in a flash. That’ll be enough to convince a coach to keep him on the roster. But Minshew is more than a system guy. He’s crafty. More than any quarterback in the 2019 class, he’ll use his eyes and various fakes to open up throwing lanes.
Minshew also has a reputation as an adaptable leader, having played for three different schools to glowing reviews from coaches and teammates. Guys like that carve out long NFL careers.
Guys like Drew Lock do not. He’s got a fantastic arm, but he’s a mess in the pocket. He’ll fade back rather than step up, and he never seems to get his feet under him before making a throw. Lock should be viewed as little more than a developmental prospect, but, if he’s taken in the first, he’ll be rushed into the starting lineup and flame out before the end of his rookie deal.
I didn’t get to Long’s tape until a few weeks before the draft, but after watching it, I’m confused as to how he’s not getting more hype.
Long played for Don Brown at Michigan, where he had to be well versed in nuanced zone coverages. But his specialty is man coverage, where he just sticks to receivers. You often hear about defensive backs “running the route for the receiver.” Well, Long does that as well as any player in this class … and as well as any corner I’ve seen in my time studying film.
It’s looking like Long will have to wait until Day 2 to hear his name called, but he should be a first-round pick. He’ll fit in any system and can play outside or in the slot. You don’t typically find that kind of talent after the first night.
D.K. Metcalf is going in the top-15. There is no doubt about that. And Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown is far too talented to drop out of the first round. The rest of the receiver prospects who’ve been mocked in the first round have just enough red flags that teams could be scared off. Let’s run through them…
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
He’d be my pick to be the third receiver off the board but no team will be excited about using a first-round pick on a possession receiver who’d work best in the slot.
N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
The highlight-reel catches are great, but Harry has trouble winning off the line and doesn’t create a lot of separation at the top of his routes. Getting open is important.
Parris Campbell, Ohio State
I don’t get the first-round hype with Campbell. Sure, he’s an explosive runner with the ball in his hands, but there’s a reason Ohio State had him running drag routes all game long. He’s more of a gadget player in the mold of Tavon Austin.
Hakeem Butler, Iowa State
Butler drops the ball a lot and struggles to get open. Other than that, he’s a great prospect. I wouldn’t be surprised if he falls to the third round.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford
Now, I think Arcega-Whiteside SHOULD go in the first round, but I don’t think NFL teams will see it the same way. He’s a big-bodied receiver who can win off the line and dominates at the catch point. The concern is that he doesn’t have enough speed to win on the outside, and that will lead to his slide.
The 2019 running back class is … underwhelming.
Alabama’s Josh Jacobs, who is expected to be the first back taken, will be a good player but he has no special traits as a runner. He’ll be that running back you take in the second round of your fantasy draft, but you’ll never be excited he’s on your roster.
My favorite back in the class is Darrell Henderson, who is guaranteed to be that fantasy darling who starts out as an unknown but ends up going fairly high in drafts because he’s everybody’s “sleeper.”
He’s an explosive runner who just glides through the open field.
I’ve seen comparisons to Jamaal Charles and Kareem Hunt. I’ll offer up another: Alvin Kamara. Henderson isn’t the receiving threat Kamara is for the Saints — though he can catch the ball — but the two have a similar running style in that it’s awfully difficult to get a clean shot on them and knock them off balance.