Ranking Every Position in the 2019 NFL Draft

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2019

Ranking Every Position in the 2019 NFL Draft

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Defense comes first when talking about the 2019 NFL draft.

    How could it not? With prospects like Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams headlining the class, it is hard to get around the defensive conversation. This is a deep class for pressure-applying prospects that runs away with best-in-class status. But the evolution of linebackers who can hold up in coverage well and defensive backs who can play multiple positions isn't far behind. 

    Which isn't to say the class lacks offensive firepower, either. The quarterback class is both top-heavy and starting to shape up nicely in the long-term developmental department thanks to the steady performances of guys like Daniel Jones at draft events like the Senior Bowl. While quarterbacks will get all the attention, the real strength on that side of the ball are the weapons and linemen flanking the position.

    Based on top-end talent, apparent depth and overall outlook, this is how every position—minus special teams—ranks in the 2019 class from weakest to strongest.

               

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10. Running Back

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The running back resurgence of late might not make its presence felt this year.

    At least that’s the outlook for now. Over the past few years, it's been easy to tell when a running back class would be superb. Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley were going to make it hard for NFL front offices to decide if they should use a top-50 pick on a supposed devalued position—in fact, they all went in the top 10.

    This year, not so much. But to little surprise, an SEC powerhouse leads the way at the position. Josh Jacobs rumbled for 640 yards and 11 scores last year on a 5.3-yard-per-carry average and made headway in the passing game, so he's top dog.

    After Jacobs, the top-50 falloff is strong. Devin Singletary out of FAU might be the second-best option even if he does check in at 5'9" and 200 pounds after a 1,920-yard effort in 2017 and 1,348 more yards in 2018. His size won't always have him bruising between the tackles, but he's the perfect passing-down rotational piece. 

    Depth of the class, at least, should be strong as usual. Sledgehammers like Damien Harris out of Alabama and Benny Snell from Kentucky should find homes as rotational pieces, and more versatile pieces like David Montgomery from Iowa State will find roles too, if not eventually break out as centerpieces.

    While it isn’t a stacked class this year, teams in need of filling roles in backfields should have good value throughout the draft.

9. Cornerback

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    The premium on cornerbacks in today's NFL hasn't lessened at all, which is what makes the 2019 offering look so shrug-worthy. 

    LSU's Greedy Williams looks like a first-round lock mostly because he's a big (6'3") boundary corner who can press an opponent's top wideout. Georgia's Deandre Baker is right there as well, and as Denzel Ward showed a year ago, the fact that he checks in at under 6'0" isn't much of a talking point. Ditto for Washington's Byron Murphy. 

    There are other corners who could emerge and have a chance to make a name for themselves in the top 100 such as Penn State's Amani Oruwariye and Clemson's Trayvon Mullen. Others could as well, but overall, it doesn't feel as impactful as last year's class that boasted Ward, Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander, among others. 

    Granted, this outlook could evolve as the path to the draft continues. Rock Ya-Sin is already flying up draft boards after a strong Senior Bowl. But with so many talented defenders at other positions, cornerback isn't one to get excited about this year by comparison. 

8. Safety

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The college game continues to adapt, which benefits NFL teams trying to keep pace with and eventually fully counter the offensive trend sweeping the league.

    The safety crop this year is a good example of this.

    Alabama's Deionte Thompson is a first-round contender who looks like he could play in either safety spot interchangeably while following in the footsteps of other Crimson Tide defenders such as Minkah Fitzpatrick and Eddie Jackson.

    Johnathan Abram is another top-50 contender and good example of the versatility needed to thrive in defensive backfields these days. He played both safety spots, corner and some linebacker at Mississippi State.

    Taken as a whole, safety has some impressive depth this year as well, especially with smaller-school prospects like Nasir Adderley out of Delaware zooming up boards after looking good at the Senior Bowl alongside bigger-school prospects.

    While teams will presumably get a shot at priority free agents like Earl Thomas this offseason, the draft isn't a bad way to go based on the upside and value likely available in most rounds.

7. Offensive Line

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    The 2019 offensive line class looks better than usual.

    Offensive line is in a torrid state in the NFL right now as the adjustment period to high-end, scheme-versatile edge-rushers continues. Teams aren't dealing starter-quality tackles or letting them slip to the open market.

    So, good news: The top of draft at tackle looks superb. Maybe not the way the interior offensive line looked last year, but solid nonetheless. Jonah Williams leads the way and could go as high as the top five. The 6'5", 301-pound prospect from Alabama is best in class.

    Not that Ole Miss' Greg Little and Oklahoma's Cody Ford are too far behind. And Florida's Jawaan Taylor has the versatility to play either side, which teams will covet.

    On the interior, NC State center Garrett Bradbury sticks out, especially after winning some individual honors at the Senior Bowl. And guard at least has quality depth, especially with Wisconsin (O-Line U, after all) sending Beau Benzschawel and Michael Deiter to the pros. None seem to stand out like Will Hernandez did a year ago, but its depth should lead to some value picks.

    Given the growing importance of the interior offensive line these days (check No. 1 on this list for reasons why) and the usual premium on edge blockers, it's going to cost teams pricey assets to get prospects who can create stability—but the options are there.

6. Tight End

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    Holly Hart/Associated Press

    It's quietly a good time to need help at tight end.

    Iowa's Noah Fant is the clubhouse leader everyone seems to know right now, which is fair given his resume: a 6'5", 241-pound frame with 18 touchdowns over his past two seasons. His game is so polished it isn't hard to see why someone like Cover 1's Jordan Reid compares him to O.J. Howard, the 19th pick in 2017.

    But Irv Smith Jr. from Alabama isn't far behind, not after showing a well-rounded game with the Crimson Tide. T.J. Hockenson also made a name for himself at Iowa and the tape is making it known, which would explain why he's gone as high as eighth in mock drafts already, such as one from NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah.

    And top-heavy with big-play upside doesn't mean the options fourth and further down the board are bad, either. Like wideout, the position has depth and versatility, with run-blocking a key factor some of the lesser-known names (Stanford's Kaden Smith) do well and a trait teams value.

5. Quarterback

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The fact that one of the top prospects at quarterback this year could still hang up his football cleats and go pick up a bat with MLB says it all.

    Quarterback is simply a mixed bag. Hindsight could say something wildly different, but for now, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and Oklahoma's Kyler Murray seem like the consensus top two. The former put up 50 touchdowns and has the blend of traits pro teams want to groom, and the latter is a bit smaller (5'10" and 195 lbs vs. 6'3" and 220 lbs) but put up 54 total touchdowns and secured a Heisman Trophy while flashing the mobility and playmaking potential of a Baker Mayfield that is becoming more of a necessity across the league.

    Beyond those two, Daniel Jones and Drew Lock look like potential franchise passers if they land in the right spot and with the proper coaches. Will Grier, a wild card of upside if the negative traits are handled well, could also break out.

    As always, it is important to keep in mind the position itself will trump grades. Those in charge of grades aren't the ones making final decisions in draft rooms, and another run on quarterbacks like a year ago (four in the top 10, five in the first round) could unfold again with the above names.

    Quietly, the class has some solid-looking prospects in the depth department, such as Brett Rypien. But that doesn't grab headlines, and no team is drafting a quarterback as a backup in the first three or so rounds, so depth doesn't earn the position as a whole this year a ton of bonus points.

4. Linebacker

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The balance of elite pass-rushing and more traditional inside linebacker prospects at the very top of the class personifies the group as a whole this year.

    When it comes to pass-rushing, few in the class are better than Kentucky's Josh Allen, who looks like a candidate to come off the board in the top five, depending on how the inevitable run at quarterbacks changes the order.

    And from a more traditional standpoint, LSU's Devin White looks like the sideline-to-sideline enforcer most defensive coordinators around the NFL would love to have. Michigan's Devin Bush seems like a candidate to keep seeing his name rise in this area as well.

    But those teams without a premium top pick shouldn't worry too much in either regard. The top 50 also has superb-looking options in both areas. Jachai Polite out of Florida, for example, hurries an offense's clock with regularity. Buffalo's Khalil Hodge is an inside thumper who looks like he could get on the field right away.

    This year might not produce an instant-impact player in the form of Roquan Smith a year ago, but solid depth throughout makes it a solid class and one that looks like it will shake out well over the long term.

3. Wide Receiver

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    This could end up being the best wideout draft class since 2014.

    There, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks were obvious talents ready to take the NFL by storm, and later picks like Jarvis Landry and Davante Adams, to name a few, rounded out the incredible offering.

    This year, the heavyweights are D.K. Metcalf from Ole Miss, a 6'4", 230-pound target who can make big plays all over the field. Ditto for Arizona State's N'Keal Harry, a 6'4", 213-pound target who put up 2,000-plus yards and 17 touchdowns over his last two seasons and has best-in-class potential. While smaller, Deebo Samuel (6'0", 210 lbs) out of South Carolina is one of the scarier quick-release guys to enter the league as of late, at least from a defense's perspective.

    Samuel is one of those guys who will only keep climbing, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller pointed out: "Deebo Samuel dominated Senior Bowl week. He's fast, powerful, agile and caught the ball well all over the field. He might not creep into Round 1 but is one of my favorite players in the class."

    And it doesn't stop there. Marquise Brown out of Oklahoma looks like a DeSean Jackson-esque weapon, and Georgia's Riley Ridley will have some teams eyeballing him as early as the first round thanks to his reliability, from sure hands to route running.

    Keep in mind, those are just the big names, with plenty of quality prospect fits with certain offenses and other factors sure to help others emerge as seasons pass. It's a solid class throughout and one teams can't ignore, even with guys like the aforementioned Jackson perhaps heading to free agency.

    At times, wideout classes lately have disappointed thanks to a mixture of injury, bad fits and the fact that wideout is one of the harder positions to transition to the pro game, as opposed to something more simplistic like running back. But as of now, the 2019 class looks more robust and ready than some of its recent predecessors and ranks quite well among all positions this year.

2. Defensive End

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Needing pressure in 2019 is a given in the NFL—and this class has plenty to offer.

    It starts up front with Bosa, a contender for the top overall selection. The name doesn't have as much to do with his projection, but it doesn't hurt to point out he's got the upside of his brother, Joey. He's the usual No. 1 on most big boards, like Jeremiah's at NFL.com.

    Bosa is just the beginning too. Clelin Ferrell from Clemson is 6'4" and 265 pounds and is up there as a top-20 candidate. As The Athletic's Dane Brugler pointed out, he even got the best of Jonah Williams in the title game.

    Potential to join the big names in the first round remains too, something made apparent by the performance of Montez Sweat from Mississippi State at the Senior Bowl. Depth outside of the well-known thus far makes the edge-defenders who line up with a hand in the dirt one of the better positions, though it gets muddied from a traditional sense thanks to the growing possibility prospects can do that or rush while standing up.

    Part of that blending makes it hard to shove players into one category anymore, which is fitting at a time when defenses continue to run varying fronts and the term "base defense" dies off.

    But other edge disruptors, such as Florida State's Brian Burns, are going to come off the board quickly in the middle rounds. The depth is impressive, though the way teams gobble up pressure creators means it still won't feel like it's that deep.

1. Defensive Tackle

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Remember when guys like Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins were considered rare?

    Maybe there isn't a Donald or Atkins in this class outright, but the college game is starting to spit out interior pass-rushers at a consistent clip as the game evolves and the athletes become more and more impressive almost regardless of size.

    It starts at the very top of the draft class with Quinnen Williams and Ed Oliver. The former out of Alabama is a 6'4", 289-pound disruptor in top-five contention, barring something dramatic. The latter out of Houston isn't as well-known yet necessarily, but he's flirting with top-10 status thanks to many of the same tools and pocket-collapsing capabilities.

    In a normal class for interior disruptors, Rashan Gary (Michigan) might serve as the headliner, which speaks to the rareness of the bunch here.

    And since we are sticking to traditional classifications, it isn't a bad class for well-rounded interior run-stoppers who can apply some pressure, either. The talented big beef includes Jeffery Simmons (Mississippi State), Christian Wilkins (Clemson) and Dexter Lawrence (Clemson) as top-50 candidates. Farther down the board, guys like Dre'Mont Jones (Ohio State) and Jerry Tillery (Notre Dame) could have an impact right out of the gates as well.

    This year the interior defensive line is one of the surefire heavyweights of the class, which hasn't changed from the initial outlook and likely won't for a long time down the road.

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