Monday Morning Draft is back! This is a column that delves into the past weekend’s action from an NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.
By Charlie Campbell.
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Race for the No. 1 Pick:
San Francisco 49ers:
Thanks to the Raiders beating the Steelers, the 49ers maintained their spot for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft despite beating Denver. In the preseason, the 49ers were a trendy prediction to win the NFC West after the winning streak they had to close out the 2017 season. Those high hopes came crashing down in late September when starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending injury.
If San Francisco lands the first-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, it would make sense for the team to trade down if it can get good value on a package of picks. If the organization sticks at No. 1, Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa would make sense given the roster’s need for an edge rusher. Solomon Thomas has been a massive disappointment. While he is solid run defender, Thomas is completely ineffective as a pass-rusher. Bosa could form a nice pass-rush tandem with DeForest Buckner.
A week after a surprising win over the Packers, Arizona’s hopes of landing the No. 1-overall pick were dealt a big boost with the 49ers and Raiders both winning this Sunday. That puts all three teams tied at 3-10.
Since the Cardinals took Josh Rosen to be the new franchise quarterback last year, they should look to trade down and get a package of picks to jump start the rebuild, if they somehow land the top pick. If the team is stuck at No. 1 overall, it would make sense to take Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. WalterFootball.com was first to report that Williams was being projected as a high first-round pick by NFL teams and he is in the running to be the best prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft with Ohio State edge rusher Nick Bosa. Robert Nkemdiche has been a massive disappointment, and Arizona needs a difference-maker at the point of attack. The Cardinals should look to replace general manager Steve Keim, too, as his selections have led to Arizona having one of the worst rosters in the NFL.
The Raiders played really well and showed no quit under Jon Gruden as they beat the first place Pittsburgh Steelers with a late fourth-quarter victory. Oakland, Arizona and San Francisco are tied at three wins a piece. However, it would be ideal for the Silver and Black to end up with a top-two pick.
Having a top-two choice would be great for the Raiders, as that would assure them of one of the elite defensive line prospects in either Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams or Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa. WalterFootball.com was first to report that Williams was being projected as a high first-round pick by NFL teams, and he would be a great addition for Oakland. Bosa would be a different type of good thing, giving the Raiders a bookend edge rusher to go with Arden Key.
While the national media has fallen all over themselves criticizing Jon Gruden, the Raiders are actually making a lot of astute moves. If they would have re-signed Khalil Mack, they would have been cap-strapped for years to come, and the Eagles are the only team with a $100 million defender that has won a Super Bowl. The other teams have not had that kind of success after putting so many resources into one non-quarterback.
Jon Gruden has improved Derek Carr from how Carr was playing in 2017, and the team is doing that without wide receiver talent. While Amari Cooper has a good skill set, he was inconsistent and an underachiever. Getting a first-round pick for him rather than paying him a big contract was another wise decision by Gruden. Over the next couple of offseasons, the Raiders need to improve their edge rush, linebackers, secondary, wide receivers and running backs. The organization will have five first-round picks over the next two drafts and plenty of free agent dollars to try to get that done.
Oakland is in rebuilding mode, and that was made clear with the Mack and Cooper trades. If the Raiders get their picks right and use their money wisely, they could be really good in a couple of years, just in time for them to kick off in Las Vegas. In my mock 2019 NFL Draft, I have the Raiders stocking their defense with their three first-round picks, as they should be in position to land some good young talent to build around.
Let’s Play Matchmaker:
This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with teams that have a dire need at the position.
Tennessee Titans: Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State
The Titans need more weapons for Marcus Mariota and some players with big-play potential. Tennessee does not have a wide receiver who consistently stretches the field and forces teams to protect the deep part of the field. Adding a speed receiver to go with Corey Davis would make a lot of sense for the Titans. Campbell could be a consideration for the Titans’ first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Campbell has played well for Ohio State in 2018, coming up with some clutch plays and scores to lead the Buckeyes. The senior has 79 receptions for 992 yards with 11 touchdowns on the year. In his career, he has averaged 12 yards per rush for 288 yards with three touchdowns. Sources from multiple teams told me over a year ago that Campbell possessed big-time ability and that they thought he would break out in 2017 if Ohio State would commit to getting him the ball. The passing limitations of J.T. Barrett held back Campbell and Ohio State’s other wideouts prior to 2018. Those sources also think Campbell has serious receiver talent for the NFL. The 6-foot, 205-pounder is well put together with the explosive speed to take any catch the distance. Teams’ preseason data had Campbell running the 40 in 4.35 seconds. He would be a nice fit in the Titans’ offense.
Cleveland Browns: Devin White, LB, LSU
The Browns were able to get an impressive home win over the Panthers, as Baker Mayfield and Cleveland offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens ripped up the Carolina defense. The Panthers moved the ball well, too, due to the Browns’ defense struggling somewhat, especially in middle of the field. Christian McCaffrey gave them problems, along with rookie receiving tight end Ian Thomas. Cleveland could use more linebacker talent to defend the middle of the field. In the middle of the first round, White could be a great fit for the Browns.
The 6-foot-1, 255-pound White is a big inside linebacker who possesses excellent instincts. He has good athleticism with the ability to cover in the passing game while also being a stout run defender. White is a tough tackler who is always around the ball and brings leadership skills to his team.
In 2018, White has 115 tackles with 12 for a loss, five passes broken up, three sacks and two forced fumbles. He totaled 133 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three passes broken up and one interception in 2017. Team sources say that if he had been draft eligible he would have graded out similarly to Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds or Georgia’s Roquan Smith. White would be a great addition to the Raiders.
Indianapolis Colts: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
The Colts kept their playoff hopes alive by going to Houston and ending the Texans’ winning streak. Indianapolis outplayed Houston earlier this season in an overtime loss that should have been a tie if it weren’t for a coaching blunder by head coach Frank Reich. Andrew Luck has ripped up the Texans’ defense twice this year, and the difference in the rematch was the improved play from the Colts’ defense, which did just enough to help Luck. Indianapolis needs to continue to build the talent on its defense, because Deshaun Watson almost led Houston back. However with what Luck has done to Houston, the Texans are praying they don’t have to play Luck in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The Colts could use an interior pass-rusher to go with their edge defenders. With Indianapolis changing to a 4-3, the team could use a fast three-technique tackle, for which Wilkins would be a perfect fit. He is a good athlete who has played well for the past three years and possesses the size and versatility to play a variety of techniques up front. As a senior, Wilkins is up to 45 tackles with 13.5 for a loss, five sacks and a forced fumble. In the late teens or early 20s, Wilkins could be a good addition for Indianapolis.
Green Bay Packers: Montez Sweat, DE/OLB, Mississippi State
The Packers pulled out a win at home against Atlanta, but their defense had major problems containing Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. The lack of edge rush as been a problem for years, and that was apparent again on Sunday. Even if Clay Matthews remains with the Packers in 2019 and beyond, they need to add more pass-rushers across from him. Addressing the pass rush is Green Bay’s most pressing need to fill in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Over the past couple of seasons, Sweat has been the most consistent sack producer in the SEC. He is up to 51 tackles, 13.5 for a loss and 11 sacks entering his bowl game. The 6-foot-6, 240-pounder has speed and length off the edge with natural feel as a pass-rusher. He turned in some superb games this year. Sweat could stand to get stronger and fill out his frame, but he is an adept quarterback hunter who would be a great fit in the Packers’ 3-4 defense.
Oakland Raiders: Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
Oakland pulled off a shocking upset of the Steelers, and the team has clearly not quit on Jon Gruden. The Raiders did a nice job of defending Antonio Brown, but they struggled with JuJu Smith-Schuster. Oakland’s pass coverage has been problematic all season, and the team clearly needs more talent at cornerback. Williams could provide a starting outside corner to go with Gareon Conley or Nick Nelson. That group would have the potential to develop into a good trio.
On the season, Williams has two interceptions, 32 tackles and nine passes broken up. He had some problems against Alabama and Georgia that illustrate his lack of elite speed, which means he is more of a mid- to late first-round pick. Williams broke out in 2017 with six interceptions, 11 passes broken up and 38 tackles. He showed good instincts, an ability to break on the ball, and impressive ball skills. In the 2019 NFL Draft, Williams could be a fit with one of the Raiders’ first-round picks from the Bears or Cowboys.
New Orleans Saints: Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri
Aside from Michael Thomas, Sean Payton has been frustrated with his receivers, and that led to New Orleans signing the likes of Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall. The Saints also could use more receiving production from their tight ends. In the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, New Orleans could target an upgrade at wide receiver or tight end.
Okwuegbunam is one of the most dangerous mismatch weapons in college football even though Missouri does not always utilize him. When the Tigers do, he produces big plays for them via his speed to get down the seam or by using his the size to wall off defenders and make catches over them when they are able to keep him from getting separation. This season, he has 43 receptions for 466 yards with six touchdowns. In 2017, he totaled 11 touchdowns on only 29 catches for 415 yards. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder could be a great addition to the New Orleans offense with their second-round pick.
New York Jets: N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
The Jets need to get multiple wide receivers to upgrade their weapons for Sam Darnold. On Sunday, Running back Elijah McGuire was their second leading receiver to Robby Anderson (4-76-1). New York needs multiple wideouts, but the organization should not reach on one in the first round because there is not a receiver worthy of going in the top 10 this year. The Jets would have better value by taking an edge rusher or offensive tackle in the first round and then grabbing a wide receiver in the third round.
Some in the media have Harry as a top-10 pick, but I’ve spoken with teams that have given him second-day grades. Recently in the Hot Press, one scout told us how they were dropping Harry’s grade from the second to the third round. The 6-foot-4, 213-pound Harry is a big receiver with mismatch size, but he does not have the speed or fluid movement skills of a first-round pick. In the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Harry could be a consideration as a No. 2 receiver for Darnold to work with in the long run.
Team Draft Report:
In this section, we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2019 NFL Draft.
New England Patriots:
Nobody knows how long the Patriots will have the historic combination of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but Brady says that he will play until he sucks, and he is clearly not close to that status. With the future Hall of Famer still playing at a high level, New England will be in the Super Bowl mix every year until he does have a significant decline in play. Thus, the Patriots are in win-now mode every year, and hitting on their draft picks with immediate contributors is important for New England to surround Brady with the supporting cast he needs to win another Lombardy Trophy.
The Patriots do not have a lot of needs on their roster, but they have a variety of directions they can go on both sides of the ball. In my latest mock 2019 NFL Draft, I have the Patriots taking Iowa tight end Noah Fant. New England could use a tight end to pair with Rob Gronkowski, and Fant could also serve as the future replacement for Gronkowski when he retires or is moved to another team. Fant could be a nice value for the Patriots’ first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. If they wait until Day 2, a receiving tight end who might be a nice fit would be UCLA’s Caleb Wilson.
Another position New England could target in the first or second round is wide receiver. Either Ole Miss’ A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf would be nice values for the Patriots’ first-round pick, but both could easily be off the board. Ohio State’s Parris Campbell is an explosive receiver with size and versatility, but he has issues with his hands, so he might now work for Bill Belichick. Some second-day options to consider would include Stanford’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, N.C. State’s Kelvin Harmon, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel, Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown and Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry. Harry has received some high first-round media projections, but team sources don’t hold him in that regard. Recently in the Hot Press, one source told us how they were dropping Harry’s grade from the second to the third round. Harry could be a nice fit for one of New England’s second-round picks.
Defensively, the Patriots could use some long-term answers at edge rusher. Adrian Clayborn is not a long-term signing, and they have other veterans who are nearing free agency. A good option late in the first round would be Boston College’s Zach Allen. He has a Patriots style to him with versatility in terms of the techniques he can play and is a well-rounded defender. Some other good second-day candidates would include Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson, Florida State’s Brian Burns and Old Dominion’s Oshane Ximenes.
Of course, one of the harsh realities that nobody in New England wants to face is Brady feeling his age and having a rapid decline. It has happened to other Hall of Famers, and eventually it will happen to Brady, because football is a young man’s game. The Patriots won’t be picking high enough for the first round quarterbacks of the 2019 class, and with Brady returning, that wouldn’t make sense for supporting him in win-now mode. New England, however, has three picks on Day 2, so taking a young backup quarterback could make sense. Th organization’s options could include Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, and West Virginia’s Will Grier. Of those, I think Thorson would be a great fit in New England. He is an accurate passer who possesses good size and athleticism. He also has the most starts in Big 10 history and is very intelligent, so he could pick up the Patriots’ offense faster than others. Thorson also is a team leader and high-character individual. I think he would be a perfect fit as a backup to Brady and potential future starter when Brady retires.
A dream draft class for the Patriots’ picks on the first two days of the 2019 NFL Draft could look something like this:
Round 1: Iowa tight end Noah Fant
Round 2: South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel
Round 2: Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson
Round 3: Miami defensive end Joe Jackson
The Buffalo Bills are a well-coached team that has managed to stay competitive and play well despite lacking talent while undergoing a rebuild. A year ago, the Bills broke their streak of missing out on the playoffs, but just weeks after playing in the postseason, their team was broken up under a new franchise retool. Buffalo then used lots of resources to acquire quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Now, the Bills have to bring in more young talent around them. With the number needs on the roster, it is going to take a couple of good drafts and free agency signing periods to get Buffalo back in playoff contention.
Offensively, the Bills need a lot to go around Allen. The offensive line has holes; the wide receivers lack talent; and running back LeSean McCoy will probably leave town before long. In my latest mock 2019 NFL Draft, I have the Bills taking Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown. He is a physical wideout who has good hands and run-after-the-catch skills. Brown could become a No. 1 receiver for Allen.
If the Bills wait until the second day of the 2019 NFL Draft, they could consider wide receivers like Stanford’s J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, N.C. State’s Kelvin Harmon, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel, Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown and Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry. A superb fit among those options could be Brown, as the lightning fast wideout could be a great weapon to pair with Josh Allen’s cannon for a right arm.
If Buffalo takes a receiver on Day 2, the organization could use the first round to address the offensive line with a tackle like Florida’s Jawaan Taylor or Ole Miss’ Greg Little. That would allow the Bills to have a bookend to go with Dion Dawkins, or move Dawkins to guard or right tackle. Buffalo also could use help on the interior after the retirements of Eric Wood and Richie Incognito. Some good fits on the second day who can play guard or center include Mississippi State’s Elgton Jenkins, Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy and N.C. State’s Garrett Bradberry.
The Bills also have needs on defense, and this is a strong draft of talent on the defensive line. Defense, however, is already the strength of the team, which has so much riding on Josh Allen. Buffalo desperately needs him to pan out, so building up the offense around him is the more pressing priority.
A dream draft class for the Bills’ picks on the first two days of the 2019 NFL Draft could look something like this:
Round 1: Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor
Round 2: Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown
Round 3: N.C. State center Garrett Bradberry
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