2019 NFL Draft
The 10 biggest takeaways from a wild NFL Draft
Enough with all the draft grades — what teams won and lost, and what did we really learn from Draft Day 2019?
The 2019 NFL Draft is in the books, and it was quite a party down in Nashville. Kyler Murray was the number one pick as expected, and defensive studs Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams went right after that. None of that surprised anyone, but just about everything from pick #4 on down was a plot twist in a weird, top-light but middle-rich draft.
The Giants and Raiders each came away with three first-round picks and a chance to remake their franchise. Five teams took a big swing on a franchise quarterback, but at hugely varying costs. And some of the draft’s biggest winners did their damage before the clock even started Thursday night.
Let’s take a look around the league at the 10 biggest takeaways from NFL Draft Weekend 2019 …
1. The draft’s most certain winners were the Bears and the Browns.
The draft is always going to be a giant guessing game. Some teams are better guessing than others. Some players are more worth betting on. But there are no sure things. How many times has a sure-thing franchise QB lived up to billing since Peyton Manning? Any?
How many sure picks are there in any draft? Five or ten? Nothing in the NFL Draft is certain. Khalil Mack and Odell Beckham Jr., on the other hand? They’re certain.
Outside of the league’s quarterbacks, Mack and OBJ are two of the ten most valuable players in the league. Mack is the league’s premier pass rusher. Beckham might be its best pass catcher. Only Randy Moss was a more productive receiver his first three seasons — and even that is close.
If Mack and OBJ were available in this draft, they would’ve gone #1 and #2, with any scout or analyst arguing otherwise getting an immediate pink slip. Teams would’ve mortgaged every pick in their drafts to move up for them, a la Ricky Williams. Instead, Mack cost the Bears a measly first-round pick and a handful of lower picks. Beckham cost the Browns a first, a third, and a couple players.
Trading draft picks for veterans remains the biggest inefficiency in the NFL Draft. It’s trading certain value for question marks and dreams. Some teams just prefer to dream.
An astute reader might ask about the Dallas Cowboys or the Kansas City Chiefs here. The Boys traded for Amari Cooper and made a playoff push, and the Chiefs just snagged Frank Clark to shore up their D-line. But Cooper isn’t half the receiver OBJ is, and Clark cost a lot of capital and comes with a checkered history to a team that really didn’t need more of that. Those trades aren’t necessarily bad; they just don’t win the draft all on their own.
Chicago and Cleveland have Khalil Mack and Odell Beckham. Oakland and New York have Josh Jacobs and Dexter Lawrence. Guess which side wins.
2. The Giants and Raiders are still drafting like it’s last century.
Everything you read about the 2019 draft said it looked like a top-light draft with a deep cadre of mid-round picks but not a ton of star talent. So leave it to the Raiders and Giants to go all-in with three first rounders each in a misaligned attempt to remake their franchises at the worst time possible.
The Giants took a quarterback with the #6 pick. Regardless of what you think about the player selected, that itself is already questionable. New York picked again 11 slots later and could’ve gotten a QB then — probably even the guy they picked at 6. They also went all-in last year’s draft on a final push with Eli Manning, spending a premium pick on a position with the NFL’s shortest shelf life in Saquon Barkley, then turned around 12 months later and traded away their best player and used their top asset on a player they can’t play with Eli. So much for having a plan.
That it was Daniel Jones is all the more laughable. Daniel Jones is closer to a 6th rounder than a 6th overall pick. Jones is something like the 10th best quarterback available the last two drafts, behind Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Dwayne Haskins, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Drew Lock, and Josh Rosen a second time. The Giants had top-6 picks in back-to-back drafts and sunk their future into the 10th best quarterback available. How is that even possible?
New York added Dexter Lawrence and Deandre Baker to their draft haul… wait, those are all still first-round picks? Yes, the Giants traded OBJ for a two-down run-stuffing DT, then gave up three picks in rebuilding mode to move up for a cornerback with six or seven quality CBs that would’ve been available at their pick seven spots later. That is gross mismanagement of draft assets.
Speaking of gross, the Oakland Raiders! The Raiders made the first shock pick of the draft, taking Clelin Ferrell at #4. Ferrell wasn’t even a top-10 pick on most boards. Oakland could’ve had pass rusher Josh Allen or star tackle Ed Oliver, one of the stud Devin linebackers, or a quarterback of their choosing. Better yet, they could’ve traded down, even at a below-market deal. Drop from 4 to 9 for a third? It’s not a great deal, but a third rounder is better than nothing and you probably get Ferrell anyway.
The Raiders had two more firsts. They used one on the only running back taken in the top 50 picks, cuz when in doubt, rebuilding teams should always use a top asset on the league’s most-fungible, shortest-shelf-life position. How many years until the Raiders are relevant again? Cuz when they are, Josh Jacobs probably won’t be playing for them anymore.
The Raiders and Giants were the story of the 2019 NFL Draft. Both teams had the chance to remake their franchise after ugly years as the laughingstocks of the NFL. Both had three first-round picks. They came away with Ferrell, Jacobs, Jones, Lawrence, Baker, and Jonathan Abram. Does that look like a franchise reset to you? Looks to me like we should start planning our 2020 mock drafts with the Giants and Raiders in the top five.
3. In a deep, beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder draft, teams that sat on their picks and waited were big winners.
The Raiders and Giants exhibited a gross misunderstanding of draft value. Maybe Clelin Ferrell and Daniel Jones really are top-6 players! It’s possible. That doesn’t make them top-6 picks if you can get them 10 or 15 spots later.
Say someone promised you last season Patrick Mahomes would throw 50 TDs. Should you have taken him with your first fantasy pick? Of course not! Why take Mahomes in the first when you could scoop him up safely in the eighth and use your top pick on another extremely valuable player you can’t get later? If 12-year-olds playing fantasy on their iPhone know how to value draft assets properly, how do the professionals not get this?
Some of them do, of course. For some teams, Clelin Ferrell and Daniel Jones are reaches. For others, they’re are dream-makers. The Jaguars had one of the league’s most dominant defenses ever a year ago and just just stumbled into Josh Allen with the #7 pick to blow up their pass rush. The Bills got 13 All-Pro years out of stud DT Kyle Williams, then woke up to Ed Oliver falling into their laps as the perfect replacement. Absolute dream scenarios — but neither could’ve happened without Ferrell and Jones taking up valuable top-6 spots.
The Bills thought about trading up for Ed Oliver, then tried to move up again for OT Cody Ford. They didn’t find a suitable deal for either trade-up, sat on their picks, and ended up getting both players anyway. The Jaguars were shocked to get Allen at #7 and had strongly considered OT Jawaan Taylor. Instead Taylor slid and the Jaguars got him anyway a full 28 picks later, reminiscent of 2016 when every mock draft had the Jags taking Jalen Ramsey or Myles Jack at #5 and they somehow ended up getting both.
Everyone thought Washington might give up half its drft picks to move up into the top-5 for Dwayne Haskins. Instead they stayed at #15 and saw him fall right into their laps. Haskins as a top-5 pick was questionable, especially at the cost of a heap of picks. Haskins as a mid-first roll of the dice makes a lot of sense. Because Washington didn’t give up picks to move up for a QB, they had extra stock to play with and ended up using some of it later to jump up for DE Montez Sweat, a potential top-10 pick that slid.
Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Washington all thought about moving up, didn’t find the right deal, didn’t overpay, and got their guys anyway, and they were each rewarded with a second valuable pick because of it.
And while we’re here, I’m with Ashley Hufford. The Washington Haskins, it is:
4. Teams that traded down early and often won the weekend.
This was a top-light draft without many superstars, but it was also packed with lots of delicious mid-rounders. Think of a Double Stuff Oreo with extra thin cookies. The Raiders and Giants invested everything into that tiny chocolate wafer; other teams dove down into the delicious, gooey middle.
The Seahawks started the draft with four picks. They finished with 11. What started as the #21 pick turned, after a slew of trades, into safety Marquise Blair (#47), receiver DK Metcalf (#64), plus picks at 120, 131, 143, and 204. John Schneider is a madman. The Rams turned the #31 pick into 61, 79, 101, and 167. The Vikings traded down four times from the same third-round pick, swapping #81 for 102, 159, 191, 193, and 217.
These teams understood something fundamentally important about the draft: it’s almost always better to get more bites at the apple. Which team is the draft standard for trading down? It’s the New England Patriots, the team that played in 9 of the last 18 Super Bowls. How have they done it? By consistently stockpiling picks and turning them into the deepest roster in the NFL. Not many 6th-rounders turn into Tom Brady, but you still need to have a bunch of late-round darts to throw at targets and see what sticks.
This isn’t the NBA, where top-5 picks reign supreme. In the NBA, one superstar is the difference between 30 and 50 wins. Not so in the NFL where outside quarterback, teams win with depth and all-around talent. By the end of the second round, there’s not much star upside left, so teams are filling out their rosters and taking fliers on guys they hope can do a job.
The Seahawks, Rams, and Vikings multiplied the number of fliers they got to take. One of Seattle’s picks, DK Metcalf, was a presumed top-10 pick after the Combine. Instead he fell into their laps at 64 and could be a long-term Doug Baldwin replacement. The Vikings used some of the picks they accrued on highly-regarded OG Dru Samia, then took a late swing on mammoth Elon OT Oli Udoh. Minnesota failed in 2018 because its offensive line stunk. It’s possible they just used the 2019 draft to upgrade four starting OL spots long term. Of course Metcalf and Samia could bust. If they do, Minnesota and Seattle have more lottery tickets to fall back on. If a genie grants you only three wishes, you always wish for more wishes. The Vikings and Seahawks got more wishes.
5. The Broncos trading down too and ended up with a possible franchise quarterback at a bargain price.
The Broncos are another team that traded down, dropping from #10 to #20 and picking up second- and third-round picks. A lot of people thought Denver should’ve stayed at 10 and taken a franchise quarterback. Instead they drafted potential stud receiving TE Noah Fant 10 picks later, used the extra second on OL Dalton Risner, then got a shot at a QB anyway with Drew Lock at #42.
Drew Lock at 10 is an all-in, likely-poor-outcome decision. In the second round with lower cost and less emotional investment, and after already adding two offensive difference makers, Lock is a great swing to take. Trade down, take a low-cost shot on Lock, and if he doesn’t work out, try again in a year or two. It’s just #43 after all — no big deal.
Well, unless you’re Joe Flacco and your teams just drafted a highly-regarded quarterback in back-to-back drafts after promising you the job. Then it’s kind of a big deal, I suppose. Poor Flacco.
6. The Dolphins made a very smart, low-cost bet on Josh Rosen.
It’s baffling that no one was willing to give up more than the #62 pick for a player everyone thought was a top-10 franchise QB one year ago.
What makes Rosen worse now? Do his results this year on one of the worst offenses in league history with a miserable OL and a constantly-changing coaching staff really carry much weight? Did we already forget how bad Jared Goff, Mitch Trubisky, and Carson Wentz looked their rookie seasons? Rosen might be bad. He might be good. There’s no way to know yet.
Now the Dolphins get to find out for the measly cost of a #62 pick. In fact, Rosen cost so little that Miami had the audacity to scoff at the thought of trading the #48 pick for Rosen. Instead they traded down with New Orleans, picked up an additional second next year, then gave up the leftover second rounder for Rosen.
It’s an almost no-lose scenario for Miami. Rosen costs $6 million over the next three years. Worst-case scenario, he’s a cheap backup for a team in rebuilding mode. How did teams like the Chargers, Steelers, and Patriots not feel it was worth their pick at the end of the second to grab a cheap backup with the upside of replacing your franchise QB at almost no cost?
If Josh Rosen simply sat out last season, he would’ve been the second or third quarterback off the board in 2019, a likely top-10 pick. Instead the Dolphins got him for a late second rounder. And if Rosen turns into a pumpkin, Miami can just use that extra second from New Orleans to take a shot on another QB next year.
7. The Saints continue to chase after the wind by endlessly mortgaging their future.
For the third straight season, the New Orleans Saints traded away a future first- or second-round pick. Two years ago, the Saints gave up a future 2nd for a third-rounder they used on Alvin Kamara. That obviously worked out. Last year, they gave up a future 1st for DE Marcus Davenport. Davenport had 26 tackles all season and no sacks in the playoffs. Oops.
Thanks to Davenport, the Saints first pick this year was #62. Like they do every year, New Orleans fell in love with one player they just had to have and mortgaged their future to get him, trading away a future 2nd to move up for a center. Erik McCoy was the Saints’ only pick in the top-100. Last year, Davenport was their only pick in the top-90.
You know how we said smart teams are trading down, stockpiling picks and taking a bunch of bites at the apple? The Saints see one shiny apple at the top of the tree and give up everything they own to get it every year. And at some point, that’s going to come back to haunt them.
Like the Giants and Raiders, the Saints brass apparently thinks they’re the smartest guy in the room. Turns out that’s a good way to look really dumb.
8. Some teams are just much better at this draft stuff than others.
Last year, the Indianapolis Colts turned their franchise around with an outstanding draft, adding Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, and a bunch of other talent. This year the Colts top many Draft Grade articles once again.
The Colts grabbed Rock Ya-Sin at the top of the second, a potential top corner with a pick they got in the Sam Darnold trade-down last year. They traded #26 for a 2nd, a 5th, and another future second-round pick in 2020. With that pick they added LB Ben Banogu, and a few spots later they picked up WR Parris Campbell, a favorite sleeper for many. That’s how you move around and play a draft board, filling team needs. Chris Ballard has figured this thing out.
The Chargers have figured it out, too. Last year the Chargers went all-in on athleticism and upside on defense. It worked out pretty well with Derwin James, an immediate Pro Bowler and defensive nightmare as a rookie. In the second, they added LB Uchenna Nwosu, whose forced fumble on Lamar Jackson won the Chargers a playoff game. This year, the Chargers went the same route. They swung up on athletic upside again, grabbing Notre Dame DT Jerry Tillery in the first, then Delaware S Nasir Adderley in the second. Adderley and James could terrorize offenses for the next decade as a safety tandem. That’s what happens when you have a clear plan and stick with it.
Some teams just aren’t as good at the draft. The Packers continue to pass on any offensive help whatsoever for Aaron Rodgers in his waning years. Green Bay gambled on inconsistent DE Rashan Gary at #12, then used its bonus first rounder on another reach in S Darnell Savage. The Packers have now used eight consecutive first-round picks on defenders. Their defense still stinks, and the offense is in shambles around Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers had my single favorite draft in 2019 — and I’m a Vikings fan.
9. It’s no longer about Best Player Available. With schemes and systems so complex, it’s now about the Best Team Fit.
“Best Player Available” is catchy, but it’s no longer good enough. Teams are finally starting to catch onto another thing New England has done well for two decades — evaluating players differently than other teams, identifying guys that fit their system rather than just blindly taking talent and upside.
Devin Bush would’ve been a good pick for many teams, but there might not be a better fit than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bush is a Ryan Shazier clone, and the Steelers haven’t been the same without Shazier’s elite combination of speed, fluidity, and cover skills. Bush will slot into those needs and make an impact immediately. Don’t be surprised if he contends for a Pro Bowl spot as a rookie.
Teams did a particularly good job taking wide receivers that fit their team to a a tee. The Seahawks love speedy receivers that stretch the field on go routes, so they drafted DK Metcalf, whose only skill is exactly that. The Steelers lost Antonio Brown so they drafted Toledo WR Diontae Johnson, the best route runner in the draft. The Chiefs will likely move on from Tyreek Hill, so they grabbed Georgia’s Mecole Hardman, a versatile speedster that stretches defenses and returns kicks. The Ravens will feature a running attack under Lamar Jackson, so they needed a receiver that can take the top off of defenses and make his own plays on a few touches a game. Enter Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, a DeSean Jackson clone.
I didn’t love any of these WRs going into the draft. I like them all a lot more on their new teams. Talent isn’t everything, and these guys all found their best fit possible as the head into the league.
10. The Cardinals and Ravens are finally exciting. Are they good, too?
Hollywood Brown is going to make one or two monster highlight plays a game for the Ravens. Baltimore also added WR Miles Boykin a couple rounds later, and they’ve turned the franchise over from Flacco to Lamar Jackson. For years, Ravens fans have had to watch an ugly, grinding offense and hope their defense alone could win games. Now they finally have a flashy offense.
The Cardinals are all in on Kliff Klingsbury’s air raid. A year after using the #10 pick on Josh Rosen, they jettisoned him and used the #1 pick on Kyler Murray. The jury’s still out on whether Murray is really Baker Mayfield with Russell Wilson’s athleticism, but he’ll be fun to watch. Arizona found him plenty of weapons, adding the speedy Andy Isabella with the Rosen pick, then using the top Day 3 pick on Iowa State WR Hakeem Butler. Add in last year’s second-round pick Christian Kirk, and the Cards have made their plan clear — they’re going to open things up, spread it out, and pass, pass, pass. Will it work? That remains to be seen.
For all the Arizona passing weapons, they still don’t have an offensive line. And Baltimore’s offense is fun but one-dimensional and struggled to adapt in the Ravens’ biggest games down the stretch. These fan bases finally have a fun offense to get excited about. Now we’ll see if they’re any good.