This year’s defence-driven draft class may not feature the most exciting group of prospects from a highlight-reel standpoint, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect a few fireworks as teams make their picks in Round 1 of the NFL Draft Thursday night.
This is the first time since 2008 that the Browns won’t have a hand in the evening’s drama. Cleveland owned the first-overall pick last year (Baker Mayfield) and the year before (Myles Garrett) and had a combined five first-round picks in the past two drafts. The Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs join the Browns on the sideline Thursday night with no picks in Round 1. Meanwhile, the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks each have two first-rounders while the Oakland Raiders can really make a splash with three.
With that in mind, here are six figures who could alter the events of Thursday’s first-round action:
Kyler Murray, quarterback, Oklahoma
Murray is one of the most unique prospects we’ve seen in a while. He could have been embarking on a pro baseball career right now after being drafted ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics in 2018, but chose instead to pursue football after his lone season as a starting QB at Oklahoma.
His commitment to football has been questioned, as has his stature. At five-foot-10.1, the 21-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner is shorter than the usual short-guy comparisons like Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Baker Mayfield, and is considered too small in some NFL circles while others believe his mobility, arm strength and bright football mind make him a can’t-miss prospect whose stock has risen steadily over the past few months.
Contributing to that rapid rise up the mock-draft rankings is the fact the team with the first overall pick just so happened to hire a head coach who loves him.
Kliff Kingsbury, who’s known for being a bit of a quarterback whisperer, has basically been recruiting Murray for seven years – he tried to woo him to Texas Tech several years ago and, while he didn’t land the prospect in college, the two formed a very strong relationship.
The timeline goes a little something like this:
1. Kingsbury sings Murray’s praises, telling reporters he’d take the dynamic QB first overall in the NFL if he could.
2. Arizona Cardinals, who drafted Josh Rosen 10th overall last April, clinch first-overall draft pick with their 3-13 season.
3. Cardinals hire the recently fired Kingsbury as head coach, indicating a desire for a system overhaul – and one that doesn’t exactly match Rosen’s pocket-passing skill set.
4. Widespread speculation begins.
If Cardinals brass want to go all-in on Kingsbury’s system, Murray just might be the right man to run it.
And if, after all this, they don’t take him? Well, that’s where things could get really interesting.
Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders head coach
Gruden is a basically a gift to the NFL Draft Ratings Gods.
Just over a year into his second stint with the Raiders, the coach-turned-analyst-turned-coach-again has already made his mark on the Oakland club and it’s still unclear if that’s a good thing. Last off-season, he traded away franchise pass rusher Khalil Mack for a bunch of picks, including a first-rounder this year, and then dealt wide receiver Amari Cooper to Dallas for another first.
That’s three picks in Round 1 – 4, 24, and 27 – which is great if you know how to use them. To help him, the old-school head coach turned to an unconventional source: NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. The analyst-turned-GM has been given specific instructions from Gruden heading into his first draft in an NFL front office:
“Don’t mess it up, dude,” Gruden told Mayock, per ESPN.com. “I took a lot of slings to get you three first-round picks.”
We know they need pass rushers. We know they need pass protection. The run game could use a little help, too. Both Gruden and Mayock have been a little vague on their feelings about quarterback Derek Carr, so they may have their sights set on a quarterback as well. You can see why this team has some intrigue.
On top of their laundry list of needs, Gruden and Mayock reportedly made the controversial decision to clear out their draft room just a week before Draft Day.
Trust issues, an inexperienced GM, an old-school head coach, a bunch of draft currency, and … a surprise in the works? What could possibly go wrong?
D.K. Metcalf, wide receiver, Ole Miss
It took all of 4.33 seconds for Football Twitter to become obsessed with Metcalf, the wide receiver out of Ole Miss whose shirtless photo went viral and had fans drooling over the idea of The Hulk running over opponents on his way to the end zone. We like to compare prospects to current NFLers, but when it comes to Metcalf, he’s incomparable.
But with his impressive combine results and superhero-like measurements – six-foot-three, 228 pounds and a mind-boggling 1.9 body fat percentage – came some doubts about his durability, agility and whether he might actually be too big to meet the demands of being an NFL receiver.
Metcalf has dealt with his share of ailments already, recovering from a serious neck injury suffered in mid-October and dealing with a broken foot earlier in his college career. And his career stats (67 catches, 1,228 yards, 14 TDs in 21 games over three years) aren’t as impressive as those of fellow Rebel A.J. Brown (189 catches, 2,984 yards, 19 TDs in 44 games over the same period of time).
But for teams looking for a raw product with plenty of untapped potential, Metcalf is it. He could also be this year’s cautionary tale for teams that get too excited about combine results and end up with a player who can’t translate them into on-field success (see John Ross with the Bengals). He’s all over the map in mock drafts that are out there, ranging from top-10 material to a late first-rounder. But in a year lacking in offensive flair, all eyes will be on Metcalf Thursday night.
Dave Gettleman, New York Giants general manager
The biggest question in Giants country last April was whether Gettleman would dip into the deep pool of quarterback prospects to select Eli Manning’s successor.
He didn’t, of course, opting for top-rated prospect Saquon Barkley instead – the running back was the best player on the board, and the eventual NFL rookie of the year lived up the hype.
And so the question, like Manning, turns another year older: Will this be the year the Giants get their QB of the future? The timing might be right for the club to draft someone who can learn under Manning (see the Patrick Mahomes/Alex Smith model in Kansas City and Aaron Rodgers/Brett Favre in Green Bay) and the Giants have two opportunities to pick up a gunslinger in Round 1 (they own the sixth and 17th picks). Only, this year’s QB class is widely considered to be a lot weaker than a year ago.
Manning, 38, proved last year that he was still an NFL starter – he threw for 4,299 yards and 21 TDs – and Gettleman said during a press conference last week that he doesn’t feel pressured to draft the next man up just yet if the right fit isn’t there.
“We went into last year thinking that Eli had plenty left, and he proved it,” he told reporters.
If he does indeed follow his best-player-on-the-board strategy, Gettleman won’t be taking a QB – at least not with pick No. 6. This crop of NFL hopefuls is chock-full of promising edge rushers and defensive tackles. But that 17th overall selection? Hmm.
Quinnen Williams, defensive tackle, Alabama
For most of the season, defensive end Nick Bosa has been considered the top-ranked prospect in this draft class. But lately, he’s got some company atop the mock drafts to make things interesting.
Williams stood out at Alabama, a program known for producing strong NFL defenders, leading the Crimson Tide with 18.5 tackles for loss. He’s incredibly versatile, reportedly interviews well, and got a pretty strong endorsement from 49ers GM John Lynch, who’s picking at No. 2.
Mix in a strong showing at the combine, and we could have strong challenger for No. 1 overall on our hands. Cue the intrigue.
Dan Snyder, Washington Redskins owner
Looks like we’ve got a bit of draft drama brewing in Washington.
According to Washington reporter Grant Paulsen, Redskins owner Dan Snyder has “taken over the first round of the draft.” NFL Network insider Mike Garafolo seconded it.
As Paulsen noted, this is familiar territory for fans and doesn’t exactly bring back fond memories. The last time Snyder took control at the draft was in 2012, when the club mortgaged their future to move into position to draft Robert Griffin III.
The Redskins desperately need a long-term answer at quarterback. Alex Smith’s future is unclear, while Case Keenum and Colt McCoy are only under contract one more year and likely aren’t franchise guys anyway.
Washington currently has the 15th-overall pick. That could have them in good position to select Daniel Jones, but it’s unlikely Dwayne Haskins will still be around at that slot. It’s looking like a messy situation that’s unfolding as the clock ticks down to the draft…
What I've heard in last 24 hours:
Redskins moving up for Haskins
Redskins moving up for Jones
Giants moving up for Lock
Giants taking Jones at 17
Titans taking Lock
Bengals taking Haskins
Bengals not taking QB
Lions trade back and take QB
Predicting this draft pic.twitter.com/bN8wJ0CLwN
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 24, 2019