Ok. If you’re familiar with College Football then you will likely know who each of the following 5 picks are. In fact you are likely to know what position they play, who they played for, and where they were projected to come out of the draft. Advanced warning — yes some of these picks were drafted in the 2nd round, and for those players I am going to argue their draft stock(s) should have been a lot higher. However, once the regular season starts, there could be a lot of head scratching around the league, with several coaches and GM’s asking themselves ‘just how did we let this guy slip?’. Let me explain……
Andy Isabella (WR, Arizona Cardinals)
Yes the former UMass product did indeed go to the Arizona Cardinals with the 62nd overall pick, and was rated as the no. 1 wide receiver in all of college football by Pro Football Focus prior to the 2019 NFL Draft. But if we’re being honest how many ‘reputable’ reporters, former executives and players had Andy Isabella go that high? We certainly didn’t. But if you judge a player simply by his combine/pro day performance then you aren’t paying attention. Put simply this kid had a monster senior season, compiling 102 receptions, 1,698 receiving yards, and 13 TD’s (albeit playing against weakened opposition that one would expect of an independent school). Nevertheless, despite the lack of college competition, the aforementioned Cardinals are a perfect fit. If first year Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s ‘Air Raid’/RPO heavy offence is to work it will require dynamic pass catchers who have elite speed. More importantly, Kyler Murray will need a security blanket when the going gets tough — because it will. Yet with Larry Fitzgerald entering his 16th season, you can bet on Isabella being his man.
Josh Oliver (TE, Jacksonville Jaguars)
2019 proved to be one of the strongest TE draft classes in recent memory. Former Iowa Hawkeye teammates T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were taken in the first round, and both Irv Smith Jr. and Drew Sample in the second. Yet of those previously mentioned TE’s, who can impact both the run and pass games respectively? Of course Hockenson immediately springs to mind (he is widely viewed as the heir to Rob Gronkowski’s ‘unicorn’ crown), but the others are a little more difficult to judge. For example, both Fant and Smith Jr. could very well be viewed as heavier, big bodied WR’s. Others, like Sample, could be viewed as pure blocking TE’s. However, like Hockenson, Josh Oliver has shown flashes of being able to do both — and do both well. The 6’5″/250Ibs former San Jose State TE has the size, just enough speed, and catching ability to be viewed as a serious red zone option. Although his run blocking is not as strong as his pass catching ability at this point in his young career, Oliver played linebacker at high school, knows how to hit, and has demonstrated a willingness to learn. Thus, providing his skill set is utilised correctly, and he is consistently moved along the line of scrimmage, he could very well become Nick Foles go to receiver — like Zach Ertz was for him in Philly.
Jaylon Ferguson (DE, Baltimore Ravens)
Just how did Jaylon Ferguson slip to the 3rd round? Yes his weight has been a concern at times, and he lacks an inside pressure game for now, but boy can he set the edge. In his 4 year college career he amassed 45 sacks (including 17.5 as a senior), making him the all team sack leader in NCAA FBS history. Yes the level of competition could be called into question, but outside of a QB orchestrating an offence, those tasked with chasing and harassing said player position can arguably have the most impact for a franchise, and he’s going to the RAVENS. A defensive behemoth for the best part of 20 years, those in Baltimore know defence wins championships. Yet despite being ranked 1st in both pass yards allowed and total defence in 2018, the departures of veteran leaders Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley should indicate just how high the Ravens are on their rookie DE. Expect him to be used almost exclusively in several defensive packages in the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season whilst he acclimatises to pro football — before being unleashed on the league in the run up to the 2019 NFL Playoffs.
Damien Harris (RB, New England Patriots)
Confession time. Pre-draft I had 3 RB’s ahead of Damien Harris (Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders and Bryce Love). Of course, me ranking said players higher than Harris is not a reflection of a perceived lack of ability on Harris’s part, because this young man is a stud. After all, you don’t play for Nick Saban for 4 years; best your former Alabama teammate (Josh Jacobs) in almost every major rushing category in each of your 3 seasons together, and become a 2x CFP National Champion, without having immense talent. Yet with the exception of Trent Richardson being taken 3rd overall in 2012 (which in itself was a disaster), teams have rarely overpaid for RB’s. However, this all changed when Todd Gurley came along in 2015. As a direct result of his success, RB’s are now viewed as viable commodities once again — paving the way for Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley to be drafted as high as 4th and 2nd respectively. Subsequently, Harris should be viewed as a steal at 87, especially when you consider the same franchise drafted another RB with their 31st pick last season (Sony Michel). Yes Super Bowl winner Michel should progress after enjoying a stellar rookie season, but he does have a history of knee injuries dating back to college. For this reason, and because the Patriots offence has been rebuilt to protect Tom Brady, Harris will likely see plenty of action in his first year. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised to see Harris sit for the first 3-4 weeks, then announce himself by having a 120+ yard, 3 TD regular season game.
Kingsley Keke (DT/DE, Green Bay Packers)
Ok. I admit it. I didn’t know a whole lot about this former four-star recruit before the draft. Selected by the Green Bay Packers with the 150th pick, Kingsley Keke could very well be the defensive steal of 2019. During his senior year at Texas A&M Kingsley would drop 20 pounds in his bid to transition from DT to DE, and the results were impressive — producing 51 stops, whilst sacking the QB 7 times in what is an ultra competitive SEC. Nevertheless, size (6’3″/288Ibs), ability, and college production are not the only reasons why I placed Keke in my list of ‘under the radar’ draft picks. Team fit is often disregarded when predicting a players level of success in the pros, and despite Green Bay traditionally having a relatively poor track record recruiting defensive talent, they do appear to be getting it together in recent years. Outside of Mike Daniels, Keke joins fellow 2019 draft pick Rashan Gary in what is now an incredibly young defensive line. Yet if adding both Keke and Gary to a team that totalled 44 sacks in 2018 sounds like overkill — it isn’t. In reality, the vast majority of these sacks came from linebacker blitz combinations, designed to mask the lack of a traditional pass rush. Its another reason why the secondary predominantly lined up in press-man coverage — to stop huge chunk plays. Said deficiency severely limited Mike Pettine’s play-calls throughout 2018, as he rarely got to switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in game. With Gary likely to garner a ton of attention from opposing offensive coordinators, and with the hope of Darnell Savage shoring up the middle of the field, Keke could excel at being the ‘closer’ for the green and gold. J