The NFL Draft and the class of 2019
It's April. The NFL’s draft season is in full swing just not as we know it.
The draft is one of the most important and popular events in the NFL calendar. It enables teams to be able to build and sustain successful franchises. The annual event celebrates the NFL’s newest class of rookies and is watched by millions on television, online and in person. This year, NFL scouts have forfeited their Avis hired car accounts for video conferences with their personnel teams and draft prospects. We live in unprecedented times. The 2020 draft will be a historic virtual one. The show must go on.
For NFL teams, the draft will be different in terms of how they build their draft boards. Teams are facing the reality of having to put quality draft boards together with some information missing when it comes to physicals of draft prospects, interviews and workouts. We will return to the 2020 NFL draft planning at a later stage. Today I’d like to kick off draft month with a blog focusing on how teams shone with their draft picks in the 2019 season.
Mock game board drawn by Jennifer Kattula
The days of rookies hanging around on the bench and having limited roles, while learning from a veteran player are over. Now teams expect to be able to throw young players in and to get results straight away. The Arizona Cardinals had the number one pick and they drafted Kyler Murray, a quarterback from Oklahoma. Arizona wasted a first rounder on another quarterback, Josh Rosen, in 2018. With college offensive whizz Kliff Kingsbury coming in as head coach, they were determined to move on swiftly from that mistake.
The Cardinals were one of the worst teams in football for two seasons. A series of bold personnel moves and the shrewd hiring of Kingsbury indicates they’re back. They made a nuisance of themselves in the NFC West without winning that many games. Murray, who has lived up to his billing as the guy who can throw and rush, delivered straight away. Overall, they had an excellent recruiting class. They brought in a lot of talent at the major positions and extra wide receivers to take Kingsbury’s much vaunted college Air Raid offense and amp it up for the NFL.
No team better demonstrated instantly hitting on picks as the San Francisco 49ers did with Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel. Bosa’s rookie season production was top notch and he was consistently the best young defensive player in the league. Witness his mauling of numerous offences and you wonder if he can keep up the tempo as the chief cause of havoc in the pocket. Hot on his heels came wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the second round. Head coach Kyle Shanahan deserves a lot of credit for utilizing Samuel’s skillset with creative play designs. Bosa and Samuel were a major factor in their Super Bowl appearance. While the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl will continue to haunt the 49ers, the 2019 draft class will see them contend again soon.
This year's draft is loaded with wide receivers in the first three rounds. In the 2019 draft, two of the best overall receivers came at the end of the second round and in the third. By virtue of staying patient and a bit of luck, the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins landed two impressive receivers in D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin respectively. McLaurin was terrific in another bleak year in Washington, while Metcalf struck up an instant rapport with Russell Wilson.
Each year the NFL draft sees top players slip down the board and savvy head coach and general managers combinations like the Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have made a habit of cashing in on mid round picks over the past decade.
The Green Bay Packers hit on Elgton Jenkins but saw little game time or production from No.12 pick linebacker Rashan Gary. After the success of 2019 free agents signings Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, Gary did not see the snap time you expect for a number one draft pick. An undoubted talent, his athleticism did not translate into production during his college career at Michigan. My wife is a Michigan woman and I’ve watched Gary in Big Ten college football games. For me, the jury is firmly out on the Packers number one pick.
Buoyed by bringing in NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock as general manager, the Oakland Raiders had a decent draft haul, apart from first round defensive end Clelin Ferrell. The Raiders fourth round draft pick, Maxx Crosby, outshone Ferrell, which is a real concern. Running back Josh Jacobs was a revelation and just lost out on the Offensive Rookie of the Year award to Kyler Murray. The Raiders face big question marks at the quarterback position and with their first round defensive end. The challenge gets steeper as they move to a new home in Las Vegas.
The transition from college football to the NFL is daunting and fraught with instances of hyped, talented players not making the grade and overlooked ones defying the odds. There is no substitute for smart personnel decisions and good coaching, which is why some of the teams mentioned appear in good shape for years to come.