On the eve of the 2019 NFL Draft, every potential selection has been picked apart by draftniks and NFL front offices alike. Team executives and fans have stumped for the ceilings of their favorites, while skeptics have argued against their floors. Everyone has an opinion on this year’s draft class, which undoubtedly is filled with talent.
Precisely what kind of impact 10 of 2019’s most heralded draftees can make is, in our eyes, quite clear. Some of them have skill sets that harken back to an older time. Others offer something the league has yet to see. As such, we decided to group them into two categories: instigators and innovators.
The instigators of this group are the kinds of players who are going to make life for coordinators and game planners a nightmare next season. They’re going to be beasts to contain the second they step onto the field. They’re going to blow up blockers, blow by defenders, and possess the potential to be devastating players. Overlook them at your own discretion because the teams that pass over these players are probably going to regret it.
On the other hand, we have the innovators of the group. These are the kinds of players who could change how we view a position. Think Mike Vick or Deion Sanders. Those guys made the NFL rethink what a QB and CB could be, even should be. The innovators we highlighted in this draft class have the kind of talent that geeks out football junkies—you know, the ones who spend their days scheming up crazy formations and coverages that perfectly complement the players’ superlative skills. A decade or two from now, their imprints could be all over the game.
So now that you know what we’re getting at here, our draft experts from Yahoo! Sports broke down the five instigators and five innovators from the 2019 class everyone is talking about ahead of Thursday’s NFL Draft.
Instigator: quinnen williams, DT, ALABAMA
A year ago, Williams was just another talented player fighting for playing time in a deep well of Alabama defenders. Now he might be the most talented player—regardless of position—in the entire 2019 NFL Draft.
Flip on the tape (any of them from the 2018 season, really) and you’ll see a disruptive force in the middle of the Crimson Tide defense. No matter what offenses tried to do to stop him, it was mostly fruitless. Even in Bama’s title-game loss to Clemson, Williams was one of the few clear bright points.
Most teams try to rush the passer from the outside in, whether it’s college football or the NFL. But Williams has the ability to get to quarterbacks and take down runners from the interior, which is more difficult than the shorter path would make you think. Even if you clog things up in front of him, Williams always seems to find a way to wreck your blocking scheme.
If the Jets pass on Williams with the third pick overall, the Raiders, at four, should send them thank-you cards for the next decade. And if Oakland should somehow pass on him, well, then, some team below that is going to get an absolute steal.
Instigator: Devin White, LB, LSU
A high school star at running back, White brings a fascinating approach to the linebacker position—and he’s perhaps the best at what he does in this year’s draft class. An attacking, ferocious, and infectious tackler, White will make his presence felt quickly in the NFL—and yet in time he could be even better. He might be relatively new to the position and still harnessing his instincts, but White has a style and a talent base that’s hard to find in the game.
Watch him blow up ball carriers head on and it’s easy to see the instigator in him. That’s how he totaled a stunning 256 tackles the past two seasons for the Tigers, including a whopping 26 behind the line of scrimmage. He also excels as a blitzer, can be effective covering backs and tight ends, and has the take-on strength—and fearlessness—to hold up in the muck against 300-pound-plus linemen.
White might still be developing in coverage, but it’s easy to see how he could fit in the modern NFL as a three-down linebacker. He’s been rumored to go as early as the fifth to the Buccaneers, and we can’t see him falling past the three-pick run from Nos. 10-12—the Broncos, Bengals, and Packers. Each of those teams could use a run-and-hit terror like White.
instigator: A.J. BROWN, WR, OLE MISS
Highly recruited to play football and baseball out of high school, Brown was signed by the San Diego Padres in the summer of 2016. The outfielder trained and played with the Arizona League Padres, but his love of football won out.
An efficient and dependable receiver, Brown is fearless across the middle of the field. His sticky mitts, solid route technique, and high football IQ make him a reliable chain mover who excels as a weapon in the short to intermediate passing game. While Brown’s measurables don’t jump off the page—he’s not a burner, or particularly explosive, or mind-bendingly agile—he remains the most pro-ready receiver in this year’s draft.
Similar to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Brown is a smart and physical player whose game oozes poise and polish. He projects to be a solid No. 2 WR at the next level and figures to be a valuable security blanket for his quarterback. Any number of teams—from Washington to San Francisco—would be #blessed to have him.
instigator: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
The football gods giveth and taketh away…and giveth again. This feels especially poetic when examining T.J. Hockeson’s entry into the NFL. How fitting that on the heels of Gronk’s retirement, a fantastically gifted two-way tight end would be waiting in the wings.
A modern-day Y, or blocking TE, Hockenson has the quicks to beat linebackers (4.7) and the size to test safeties (6’5”, 251 pounds). And as a physical player with an advanced blocking technique, the 21-year-old Iowa native additionally dominates as a pass-catcher. He’s a knowledgeable route runner who can track and high point the ball while gaining extra yards after the catch.
Finding holes in Hock’s game is hard, but nitpickers are likely to point out his lack of high-end deep speed and suggest that he needs to add bulk to his near-perfect frame. But that negative doesn’t belong on this party bus. The truth is that Hockenson is the most pro-ready TE in the 2019 class. His metrics don’t jump off the page, but his versatility more than makes up for his not-quite-elite athleticism.
He’d be the cherry on Nick Foles’ $88 million sundae, but we’re not sure Jacksonville will spend their first-round pick (No. 7) on a tight end. Instead, keep an eye on what the Patriots do. They are looking for the next gen, after all.
instigator: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
The brother of Joey Bosa, the third overall pick in 2016, might end up being drafted higher—and there’s a good argument over which player might actually be the best in the family. That’s quite the statement considering both their father and uncle were also first-round picks, back in the 1980s.
Nick might only have been a starter for parts of two seasons, but he seemed to make at least one big play each time he was out there. Wild as it sounds, there was actually dark-horse Heisman Trophy talk about Bosa entering the 2018 season, coming off a 2017 campaign in which he was named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. And he got off to a great start in his first three games—racking up 15 tackles (six of them for losses), four sacks, and a forced fumble—before he shut it down after suffering a core muscle injury.
We’re putting Bosa into the instigator category for his ability to disrupt consistently and heat up the edges with his combination of power, quickness, and ability to finish. He’d make a great addition to a talented 49ers D-line that already features three first-rounders—or four, if you count veteran addition Dee Ford. If that group can’t torment quarterbacks for 60 minutes, there’s something wrong.
innovator: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
A dual sport standout, Murray was selected by the Oakland A’s as the ninth overall pick in the 2018 Major League Baseball amateur draft. Rather than pocket nearly $20 million and not get pummeled by men 100 pounds heavier than him, the Heisman Trophy winner decided to give the whole football thing a shot. It might work out, too, as he’s expected to be the first player off the board this week.
Much of Murray’s upside lies in the unknown. After all, he’s only started 17 games over his three-year college career (one at Texas A&M and two at Oklahoma). When given the go-ahead, however, Murray has produced. In fact, in 2018 he became the second QB in FBS history (since Deshaun Watson in 2015) to throw for 4,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards.
There’s no denying the 21-year-old’s athleticism. He plays like there’s an electrical current pulsing through his veins. Despite his lack of prototypical size (5’10” and 205 pounds-ish), Murray is an incredible improvisational artist who has the ability to make something out of nothing. With the build and tenacity of a terrier, Murray evades pressure with stunning mobility and can advance the ball (with touch!) while on the move. In fact, there are times he looks like C.J. Spiller playing quarterback.
Due in large part to comments made by new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona is the internet’s predicted landing spot for Murray. Personally, however, we’d like to see him in Cincinnati (which means he’d either have to fall to 11th or the Bengals would have to trade up), with new head coach Zach Taylor. He may not have immediate success, but Murray’s unique talents and the burn-it-all-down state of the franchise are a perfect match.
INNOVATOR: Ed Oliver, DL, Houston
Not many defenders match Oliver’s dimensions (6’2”, 280 pounds) and insane athleticism, and how his NFL squad unleashes him will be bound only by a defensive coordinator’s imagination. In college, Oliver was the most touted recruit in the Cougars’ history, spurning all the blue-blood programs to stay close to home. And in his very first college game, he absolutely wrecked the Oklahoma Sooners—quarterbacked by Baker Mayfield—in 2016, setting expectations sky-high.
It got to the point where, like Nick Bosa, there was tangible Heisman talk surrounding Oliver as perhaps the best player in college football last season. Oliver failed to meet those absurd expectations, and he was shackled in a defensive scheme that routinely kept him hemmed in mostly at nose tackle, seldom able to unleash his rare array of athletic gifts.
But in the NFL, we expect Oliver—who likely is too light to thrive head-up against a center for 60 minutes—to be moved around quite a bit. Line him up at base end. Put him shaded on a guard’s shoulder to attack the gaps. Stand him up, even. Drop him into short coverage. That’s how athletic and nimble Oliver is on his feet.
That’s the appeal of this unique specimen, and in time he could be a chess piece for an attacking defense. We think his floor might be the Atlanta Falcons, who own the 14th overall pick, but we also could see him going as high as the sixth pick to the Giants or perhaps No. 9 to Buffalo.
INNOVATOR: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss
Metcalf gets it, as the NFL bloodlines in his family run deep. From his father (OG Terrence Metcalf) to his uncle (RB Terry Metcalf), to his grandfather (return specialist Eric Metcalf), the 21-year-old has been groomed for this very moment. While there’s no denying the receiver’s raw athleticism, his lack of polish has draftnicks split on the prospect’s professional potential.
Repping #SwoleMiss, it’s clear that Metcalf’s physical gifts make him a special prospect. With awesome size (6-foot-3 and 228 pounds) and deep speed (4.33), the 21-year-old is a 99th percentile SPARQ athlete that has the tools to become an absolute beast at the position. Throw in his explosiveness (in-and-out of breaks) and his strong hands (useful for fighting off DBs and pulling down high/wild throws), and you’ve got one heck of a red zone weapon.
Yet there’s legitimate concern about the Rebel’s durability, as he’s suffered two season ending injuries (a broken foot in 2016 and a neck injury in 2018). More troubling, however, is Metcalf’s lack of polish and versatility. His route tree is limited, and his agility is Tom Brady-esque. Additionally, he has trouble working back to the ball and doesn’t consistently win contested catches.
Simply put, Metcalf is a lightning rod player. One has to either believe in his ceiling (Josh Gordon) or fear his floor (Kevin White).
INNOVATOR: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
From his story to his running style, Jacobs embodies the spirit of a fighter. He is, hands down, the best running back in this year’s class and has ALL the tools necessary to become a premier player at the next level.
In possession of a sturdy and compact build (5’10” and 220 pounds), Jacobs is a hard-to-take-down power-runner of the one-cut variety. While the Oklahoma native has the speed and explosiveness to get to the edge, he also has the patience to let blocks develop, and the vision to spot holes. What sets Jacobs’ running style apart, however, is his confident decisiveness. Whether he’s juking defenders out of their shoes or breaking free of their embrace, he is willing himself forward and finishing.
Additionally, Jacobs continues to attack at all levels of the field via his receiving ability. Not only does he have soft hands, but he can run routes and track the ball, working as a checkdown option for his QB. As if that weren’t enough, he offers extra value on special teams as a returner.
So what doesn’t he have? Well, some purists might take issue with the fact that he was never Alabama’s featured back, instead working behind Damien Harris. But that might be a silver lining, as it’s helped to preserve the 21-year-old’s body. Admittedly, Jacobs lacks long speed and his testing numbers don’t jump off the page (though his film certainly does).
Ultimately, Jacobs’ aggressive running style and constant all-out effort could make him vulnerable to injury...but the extra yards he gains and the thrill that watching him play provides only figure to increase his stock. He’s an ideal fit for (and has a solid shot of landing in) Oakland or Indianapolis.
INNOVATOR: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
We might be a bit liberal in our definition of “innovator” here, but Bush brings a fascinating combination of skills that are surprisingly sparse in today’s game. For one, he’s undersized for the inside linebacker position at 5’11”, and yet he packs a lot of punch into his 234-pound frame. But amazingly, for how rocked-up Bush is, he also moves exceptionally well. This is a man who ran a scalding 4.43-second 40-yard dash and flashed some real quickness and explosion in his other testing drills at the NFL scouting combine.
Bush might still be a work in progress in zone coverage—as in, the Wolverines barely played it – so there’s still some projection to his game. But he showed enough range, speed, instincts and change-of-direction skills to convince scouts he can master it in time.
There’s also appeal in his game in that he can likely handle multiple linebacker positions and enter the NFL as a tone-setting starter for a defense in need of a little more juice. The same teams looking at Devin White likely are doing extensive work on Bush, and after one is drafted, the other soon could follow. We especially like his fit with the Packers and Bengals, but the Broncos and new head coach Vic Fangio could use Bush in a similar fashion to how Fangio unleashed 2018 rookie standout Roquan Smith with the Chicago Bears.