Biggest Questions Still Surrounding Top 2019 NFL Draft Prospects
The 2019 NFL draft is a month away, but some lingering questions still surround this year's top prospects.
The first few weeks of free agency have come and gone, which leaves teams with a better idea of the positions they'll target more heavily during the draft. However, prospects must still go through an entire month of pro days and team workouts while scouts dig through their backgrounds to find any potential red flags.
Some questions will likely be answered in the coming weeks, but a handful can't be overlooked right now. Examples include injury history and potential attitude questions, or simply how a specific player's draft stock might trend before the draft arrives.
We'll focus on this year's top prospects, which includes anyone in the top 50 of Matt Miller's most recent big board for Bleacher Report.
Will Nick Bosa's Injury History Keep Him from Going No. 1 Overall?
As the younger brother of Pro Bowler and former Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa, Ohio State star Nick Bosa enters draft season with expectations that couldn't rise any higher.
However, his history of serious injuries might impact his chance to go No. 1 overall.
Three games into his junior year, Bosa suffered a core muscle injury that cut his Ohio State tenure short as he focused on rehabbing and preparing for the NFL draft. Prior to joining the Buckeyes, he also experienced a season-ending ACL tear as a high school senior.
Injury expert Will Carroll tweeted at the beginning of March that one team has placed a medical flag on Bosa, which means others could have followed suit. That won't really matter if the team in question isn't making a selection in the top few picks, but it could make the proceedings much more interesting if it is.
Just months after Bosa seemed to be cementing himself as the consensus No. 1 pick, his injury history—and the emergence of a certain Heisman-winning quarterback—allows some to wonder how far he could slide if the Arizona Cardinals don't take him first overall.
Did Jachai Polite's Combine Kill His First-Round Chances?
Former Florida star Jachai Polite headed into the NFL Scouting Combine as one of the premier edge-rushers in this year's draft class. Unfortunately, the experience couldn't have gone much worse for him, and his chances of coming off the board in the first round are starting to fade away.
Just a few months after he completed an impressive season for the Gators with 11 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles, Polite showed up to the combine looking significantly more sluggish. His 40-yard dash (4.84 seconds) was disappointing, especially considering his physical measurements aren't ideal for an NFL-caliber edge-rusher.
To make matters worse, he didn't seem to handle his team interviews well, as Steven Ruiz highlighted for USA Today: "Polite's interviews with the media were even more concerning than his on-field work. He specifically called out several teams for grilling him during interviews, which is actually pretty standard during these combine meetings."
That's not a good look for a guy trying to get a job in the NFL.
Given his talent and collegiate production, Polite should still be drafted fairly early. But all these negatives at the combine could depress his draft stock.
Which Iowa Tight End Has the Higher Ceiling?
The Iowa Hawkeyes have historically produced many NFL tight ends, including Dallas Clark and George Kittle. This year will be no exception.
Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson have made plenty of noise as two of the top tight end prospects. However, they have distinctly different skill sets, leading many to wonder who has the higher ceiling.
Both players tested well at the combine, but Fant's measurables jumped off of the page. That's not surprising since he was a multi-sport athlete in high school. Per MockDraftable's database of combine results, he tested in at least the 91st percentile among tight ends in the 60-yard shuttle, three-cone drill, broad jump, vertical jump and 40-yard dash.
Fant's athleticism makes him a dangerous player in open space and gives him the ability to stretch the field both horizontally and vertically in the passing game. While he's far from a finished product as a run-blocker, he should thrive in a spread-out offense looking for a playmaker in the middle of the field.
Hockenson doesn't have the same size and length, but his draft stock has continued to rise after he produced a dominant season's worth of film with the Hawkeyes. He's a polished route-runner and excellent run-blocker with plenty of competitive toughness. That skill set gives him a chance to become one of the best all-around tight ends in the league.
Picking who will have the better career is tough, and the answer may depend on which one falls into the right situation. Given the way NFL offenses are evolving, Fant has superstar potential, even if Hockenson could wind up the better all-around player.
Is Josh Jacobs (Or Any Running Back) Worth a Top Pick?
This year's running back class isn't as strong as previous ones, and Alabama's Josh Jacobs has begun to stand out as the position's top player.
Jacobs had a strong year with the Crimson Tide while sharing the backfield with Damien Harris and Najee Harris, but his explosive plays in the College Football Playoff helped him stand out even more. According to Pro Football Focus analyst Mike Renner, he led all of college football last season by gaining a first down or scoring a touchdown on 41 percent of his carries.
Though he doesn't possess top-tier explosiveness, he's a near-complete prospect in all other facets of the game. He does a great job making people miss, can fight through contact for extra yards and is a dangerous threat as a receiver out of the backfield.
But this isn't just about Jacobs.
Given the continued emergence of the by-committee approach, the value of running backs around the league has continued to shrink. The question now revolves around the efficacy of taking a ball-carrier in the first round rather than Jacob's status as an NFL-caliber back.
The New York Giants selected Saquon Barkley at No. 2 overall in 2018 and received some criticism for the decision. While the Penn State product had a great year, the Giants offense didn't take the league by storm while featuring its flashy new running back.
Jacobs probably won't go No. 2 in the draft. It's still worth monitoring how early in the draft a team is willing to select a top running back.
Will Jeffery Simmons Be Ready for Week 1?
The NFL draft process is fairly routine for a lot of prospects. For former Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, that hasn't been true.
During a February workout, Simmons went down with a torn ACL that forced him to undergo surgery before the pre-draft process started to take off.
Simmons was preparing for his pro day, but he was not invited to the NFL combine because of a 2016 arrest for punching a woman while he was in high school. He pleaded no-contest to simple assault and was found guilty of malicious mischief in the case.
Both those situations have likely hurt Simmons' draft stock. But at least in regard to the injury, teams must also figure out how quickly the incoming rookie will be healthy enough to play at the next level.
The rehabilitation timeline is different for every player, but a full recovery in under seven months would be necessary if Simmons is to play in Week 1. That's a difficult task, especially for a rookie who will need to dive into the playbook and get a feel for playing against the top level of competition.
It won't be easy, but Simmons should be hard at work trying to get 100 percent healthy for his first NFL season.
How Is Hakeem Butler Not Getting More Attention?
The Iowa State Cyclones have two big-time playmakers entering the NFL draft this year—David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler.
The latter is flying too far beneath the radar.
Sure, Butler is ranked among the top 50 in Matt Miller's latest big board. But he should be considered a candidate for top-ranked-receiver status in this year's draft class. This past season, the 6'5" wideout averaged an absurd 22 yards per reception while racking up 60 catches for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns.
Physically, Butler is one of the most impressive receiver prospects we've ever seen. Mockdraftable has him in at least the 95th percentile of all wideouts in height, weight, wingspan, arm length and hand size. His highlight reel showcases some of the most eye-popping broken tackles and contested catches you'll see from a prospect. Additionally, he's been taking lessons from future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson.
If all that doesn't scream first-round pick, nothing else will.
This is a stacked class of wide receivers, but Butler's playing style and competitive toughness deserve more attention than he's been getting.
Will D.K. Metcalf's Impressive Combine Translate into a Bright NFL Future?
After the dust settled in Indianapolis, no one had generated more buzz at the combine than former Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf.
Metcalf suffered a season-ending neck injury in October, but he looked healthy as he blew everyone away with some of his testing numbers. Measuring in at 6'3" and 228 pounds, he ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.33 seconds, tallied 27 reps on the bench press and posted a vertical jump of 40.5 inches. Pictures of Metcalf nearly broke the internet, as if his performances hadn't already amazed enough.
However, concerns still exist, and they may prevent him from living up to the hype at the next level.
One of the bigger critiques is the limited route tree he ran in college. Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus noted that 71 percent of Metcalf's yards came on just two routes—the go route and the hitch—during his final two collegiate seasons. Others are concerned about Metcalf's limited overall production in college. He hauled in just 65 receptions over the past two seasons, while teammate A.J. Brown had 160 catches over that same span.
Still, given his incredible size and athleticism for the position, Metcalf remains a likely first-round pick. Fans of whichever team lands him will understandably be fired up to see what he can do.
Is There Any Chance Kyler Murray Plays Baseball?
After months of constant debate and speculation, quarterback Kyler Murray officially announced he was entering the NFL draft instead of playing baseball with the Oakland Athletics. Even though he continues to shoot down any rumors to the contrary, the whispers are still very much there.
Earlier this month, Ken Rosenthal from The Athletic reported that the A's are still holding out hope the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will change his mind once again: "The A's, though, still believe the Heisman Trophy winner has no choice but to say he is all-in on the NFL; otherwise, he might compromise his draft position. They also know they can offer more money than any NFL team, even if Murray is the No. 1 pick in the football draft."
Murray's camp will likely continue to confirm that the former Sooners quarterback is committed to playing football. But this is a question that won't go away.
Pros and cons exist for either decision, but few have a chance to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL. Despite his smaller stature, Murray's college tape screams first-round prospect thanks to his effortless arm talent and ball placement.
A lot could change over the next month, and the A's are apparently still hoping for a miracle.