By Collin Giuliani
The 2019 NFL Draft was nothing short of a spectacle in Nashville. From the start of the draft with the Arizona Cardinals taking Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, to the end of the draft with the Arizona Cardinals taking UCLA tight end Caleb Wilson, over 500,000 people filled the streets of Broadway to watch the draft unfold. With the 2019 NFL Draft in the books, here are the winners and losers from the first two nights of the draft.
Best Pick: Quinnen Williams (NY Jets, DL, Alabama, R1- P3)
After Kyler Murray and Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa went with the first two picks, the Jets arguably picked up the best player in the draft with their selection by taking Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. The 6’3”, 303-pound lineman was nothing short of spectacular in his final season at Alabama, where he recorded 19.5 tackles for a loss, was named the John Outland Trophy winner (an award given annually to the best interior defensive lineman in college football), and finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman; Williams was the only defensive player to finish inside the top 10 of Heisman voting. Williams’ excellent burst off the line of scrimmage should bode nicely at the next level, and pairing him on the defensive line with Leonard Williams, who has recorded 85 quarterback hits in his four seasons with the Jets, gives New York a feared defensive line.
Worst Pick: Daniel Jones (NY Giants, QB, Duke, R1- P6)
It’s no secret that the Giants have had a peculiar offseason so far. The Giants started off the new league year by trading away Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns and then gave Golden Tate, a soon-to-be 31-year old receiver, a four-year deal worth over $9 million per year. They let Landon Collins, a safety who has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons, leave in free agency to join division rival Washington. But perhaps no move that they made this offseason was more baffling than the selection of Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. Drafting Eli Manning’s successor is a smart move; the Giants have won just eight games under Manning over the past two seasons, and Manning, who is 37 years old, was sacked a career-high 47 times last year. But selecting Jones to be that successor, when every other quarterback besides Kyler Murray was still on the board, seems to be a mistake. He averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt last season, had trouble with holding onto the football (fumbles were a major issue for Jones at Duke, where he fumbled 19 times in 36 games), and had significant accuracy issues, completing less than 60 percent of his passes over his Duke career. Passing on Dwayne Haskins, a Heisman finalist out of Ohio State who threw 50 touchdowns in 2018 and plays like a prototypical pocket passer, for a project QB in Daniel Jones, could be a mistake that the Giants regret for years to come.
Panthers Pick: Brian Burns (DE, Florida State, R1-P16)
One of Carolina’s major weaknesses last season was their inability to get to the quarterback. The Panthers finished the 2018 season with just 35 sacks, which was the worst total in the entire NFC. Only two players on the Panthers recorded four or more sacks in 2018; one of them (Mario Addison) will be 32 this season, and the other ( Julius Peppers) announced his retirement earlier in the year. In a division with some of the best quarterbacks in football, including Saints quarterback and future Hall of Fame player Drew Brees, and Falcons quarterback and 2016 MVP Matt Ryan, it was critical entering the draft that the Panthers upgraded at pass rusher. On paper, it looks as though the Panthers did just that by acquiring Burns. Burns finished second in the ACC last season with 10 sacks, and over the past two seasons, has forced six fumbles. His speed off the line of scrimmage is as good as any defensive end in this draft, and even though he had some struggles against the run this season with the Seminoles, he should be, at worst, a productive pass rusher in obvious passing situations as a rookie.
Best Pick: Greedy Williams (Cleveland, CB, LSU, R2-P46)
Last season, the Cleveland Browns had one of the best pass defenses in all of football. Cleveland finished fifth best in the NFL in opposing passer rating (83.4), tied for third-best in passing touchdowns allowed alongside the Baltimore Ravens (21), seventh best in the NFL in opposing completion percentage (62.8 percent), and tied for fifth in interceptions alongside the Denver Broncos (17). A great pass defense, which was headlined by the sensational play of former Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, just got even better when Greedy Williams unexpectedly slipped to the middle of the second round. Williams is not a good tackler, and his effort in that department can be lacking at times. However, when it comes to shutting opposing wide receivers down, nobody in this draft class does it better than Williams. After leading the SEC in interceptions in 2017 with six, few quarterbacks dared to throw the ball his way in 2018; against Ole Miss, he made wide receiver DK Metcalf look almost “undraftable,” completely blanketing him the entire way through. Cleveland’s already had an exciting offseason after acquiring Beckham Jr. and halfback Kareem Hunt to bolster the offense; adding Greedy Williams to the mix only strengthens what was already very strong defense.
Worst Pick: Mecole Hardman (Kansas City, WR, Georgia, R2-P56)
It was essential that the Chiefs took a wide receiver early in the draft. After some disturbing tapes came out against Tyreek Hill, it’s highly likely that the three-time Pro Bowler played his last snap as a Chief, and quite possibly, his last snap in the NFL for a long time. Chris Conley left the Chiefs in free agency to join the Jacksonville Jaguars; this means that of the top three receivers on the Chiefs last year, two of them are now no longer there. While the thought process of getting a receiver was smart, choosing Mecole Hardman seems like a massive reach, especially with Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega- Whiteside, Massachusetts receiver Andy Isabella (who seems like the ideal slot receiver), and Notre Dame receiver Miles Boykin still on the board. Hardman is fast, as he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but offered very little receiving value while at Georgia. His hands were inconsistent, his cuts are not as polished as other receivers in this class, and the production was not there, as Hardman recorded just 60 receptions over his collegiate career, with two or fewer receptions in seven of his final eight games; outside of a 103-yard game against South Carolina early in the season, Hardman did not have a single game in 2018 with 70 or more receiving yards.
Panthers Pick: Greg Little (OT, Ole Miss, R2-P37)
At the top of the second round, a run on offensive tackles occurred; four of the first nine picks of the second round were tackles. The Panthers were not only part of that by taking Ole Miss tackle Greg Little, but they ended up picking one of the best tackles in this draft class. Carolina had a hole at tackle that needed to be filled after losing Chris Clark in free agency, and being unsure of how Daryl Williams, who only has one year left on his contract, would be able to bounce back from missing almost all of last season due to knee surgery. Little allowed next to no pressure from the outside, and could be a valuable starter for years to come for the Panthers on the offensive line to pair alongside Taylor Moton, who had a strong sophomore season for Carolina.
Best Pick: Darrell Henderson (LA Rams, HB, Memphis, R3-P70)
While three-time Pro Bowler Todd Gurley has been amazing for the Rams since getting drafted by the team in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Rams do have some question marks at the halfback position. After suffering a knee injury, reports came out that Gurley may have long-term arthritis in his left knee, which, if accurate, may cause him to lose production. The Rams were fine at half-back when Gurley was hurt last season, but only because CJ Anderson stepped in and stunned the football world with 299 rushing yards in just two games. However, now that Anderson is on the Lions, the Rams had a need to address. Darrell Henderson can be a great option for the Rams as their primary halfback behind Gurley, and aside from Josh Jacobs of Alabama, might be the best halfback in this draft class. Henderson finished the 2018 season at Memphis with 1,909 rushing yards on 8.9 yards per carrying and 25 touchdowns from scrimmage and even placed inside the top 10 in Heisman voting. Once Henderson hits the open field, he has the best second-level speed of any halfback in the class; he will always win any and every footrace he gets involved in. Henderson should replace the role that CJ Anderson left behind last year, and should help the Rams, who scored the second most points in football last season, continue to be near the top of the league in offensive production.
Worst Pick: Bobby Okereke (Indianapolis, LB, Stanford, R3-P89)
Arguably the most important trait for a linebacker to have is to know where the ball is and to know which angle to take to get there. Okereke struggled with play recognition while at Stanford, as on run-pass-option plays, he bit far too many times and guessed wrong as to who had the ball, leaving him to be out of position more often than not.
Panthers Pick: Will Grier (QB, West Virginia, R3-P100)
Cam Newton has had some difficulties staying healthy lately, as he has missed some time in three of the last five seasons; while Newton should be ready to go for week one of the 2019 season, he did undergo surgery at the end of last season for his shoulder. It’s critical for the Panthers to have a quality option as a backup, and Will Grier can be that option. Grier finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2018 and finished the season completing 67 percent of his passes while throwing for 37 touchdowns. While Grier does not have the world’s greatest arm strength, he is accurate and hits virtually all of his throws when inside the pocket. To get him in the late third round when many thought he would go in round two is an incredible value. Ideally, Grier never sees the field for the Panthers, as Cam Newton stays healthy and plays at a high level. However, if Newton goes down or has to miss some time, Grier is not a terrible option to have as a backup, especially when compared to Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke.