2019 NFL Draft: Late-Round Picks Who Could Be Day 1 Starters
The three-day marathon that was the 2019 NFL draft is now in the rear view. Every team bolstered its roster through the selection process, and every team—on paper—is better than it was on Wednesday.
While the players who will make their respective teams immediately better were largely selected on Thursday and Friday, players selected on Day 3 of the draft shouldn't be overlooked. Last year, Antonio Callaway, Chris Herndon, Phillip Lindsay and Tre Flowers all became starters in the first half of the season. All were drafted on Day 3 or not drafted at all.
Inevitably, some late-round picks are going to start from Week 1 in 2019. Here, you'll find some who not only have the talent to start right away, but also enter situations conducive to becoming early starters.
Hakeem Butler, WR, Arizona Cardinals (103rd Overall)
The Arizona Cardinals are no longer hurting for receiving talent. Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk return, along with versatile running back David Johnson. Arizona added speedy UMass receiver Andy Isabella in the second round and then grabbed Iowa State's Hakeem Butler at the top of the fourth.
It's Butler, not Isabella, who has the best chance of becoming a Week 1 starter.
Isabella is a more polished pass-catcher, but Butler has archetypal outside receiver traits. He measured in at 6'5" and 227 pounds at the combine and then ran a 4.48-second 40. He's a big play waiting to happen, as evidenced by his 1,318 yards and 22.0 yards-per-reception average in 2018.
While Butler needs to expand his route tree, he's an immediate threat on the outside, which will completely open up the offense for new quarterback Kyler Murray and Co.
The big question, of course, is whether Butler can push Kirk or Fitzgerald out of a starting role. Given his rare combination of size and speed, it's possible. He's a work in progress, but the upside is tremendous.
"Butler is an intriguing height/weight/speed receiver who will straight-up Randy Moss some defensive backs, but his concentration drops and body catches are hard to ignore," Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller wrote.
If Butler can add some polish in camp this summer, the rest of the NFC West should be on notice.
Justice Hill, RB, Baltimore Ravens (113th Overall)
This may not seem like an obvious choice because the Baltimore Ravens added Mark Ingram II in free agency. However, Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill could find himself handling the early-down work in Baltimore's backfield. Here's why.
The Ravens are trying to field speed on offense. Hill has it. Though he's a bit undersized at 5'10" and 198 pounds, he also has legit 4.4 speed. He's shifty, savvy and capable in pass protection. Just imagine the headaches opposing defenses could have on 1st-and-10 with Hill, Marquise Brown and Lamar Jackson on the field.
That's a ton of collective speed. Someone is probably going to burn you—it's just a question of who.
Starting Hill would allow the Ravens to then swap in Ingram on third downs and obvious running situations, much like the New Orleans Saints did with Ingram when pairing him with Alvin Kamara.
Hill has also shown that he is capable of carrying a heavy load—he had 299 touches and 1,657 yards from scrimmage in 2017. Hill could handle 15-20 touches a game from Week 1.
Foster Moreau, TE, Oakland Raiders (137th Overall)
While fourth-round pick Foster Moreau is more of a blocking tight end than a receiving option, he does possess the size and speed (6'4", 253 lbs, 4.66s 40) to create mismatches in the passing game. The LSU product caught 22 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns in 2018.
As a rookie, Moreau can be even more productive in the Oakland Raiders' passing game based on volume alone. Derek Carr completed 381 passes in 2018. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow completed 219.
This isn't the only reason Moreau can be an immediate starter, though. Moreau can help spring the power-running game that should take shape with rookie running back Josh Jacobs now in the fold.
"He's tough enough to battle at the point of attack but at his best when he's a lead blocker on iso, wham blocks and outside zone with his ability to locate and land on second-level targets," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote of Moreau.
Perhaps most importantly, the Raiders don't have much at the position after parting with Jared Cook in free agency. Lee Smith, Luke Willson and Derek Carrier combined for just 30 receptions last season.
Deionte Thompson, S, Arizona Cardinals (139th Overall)
Butler isn't the only late-round addition who could start for the Cardinals in Week 1. Former Alabama safety Deionte Thompson has all the physical tools to be an immediate difference-maker at free safety. In fact, his slide into Day 3 was rather surprising—and likely because of a degenerative knee condition, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
Thompson, though, doesn't believe the knee will be an issue.
"It just came about today," Thompson said Saturday, per Kevin Zimmerman of ArizonaSports.com. "I heard the information like everybody else did. I'm not too worried about it."
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Thompson as his third-best safety in this class and called him the "most promising free safety prospect."
If Thompson can beat out veteran D.J. Swearinger, he'll start on the back end of Arizona's defense right away.
Mack Wilson, LB, Cleveland Browns (155th Overall)
Another former Alabama defender who might start right away is new Cleveland Browns linebacker Mack Wilson. Though Wilson fell into the fifth round, he has all the traits to be a reliable player at the second level of a defense.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Wilson third among linebackers in this class, only behind eventual first-rounders Devin White and Devin Bush.
"He's a high-floor, low-ceiling player, but he should be a long-term NFL starter," Miller wrote.
Talent isn't the only reason, though, that Wilson could go from Round 5 to the starting 22 in a matter of months. The Browns needed depth at linebacker even before releasing former Pro Bowler Jamie Collins. Jeff Schudel of the News-Herald and Morning-Journal has hinted that 2017 Pro Bowler Joe Schobert could be out sooner than later, too.
The Browns did grab linebacker Sione Takitaki in Round 3, which could obscure the path to a starting job for Wilson. However, Wilson's ability to cover could get him on the field right away.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson saw the most targets among SEC linebacker prospects in 2018 yet allowed the fifth-lowest quarterback rating among them.
In a pass-driven league, that's big.
Armon Watts, DT, Minnesota Vikings (190th Overall)
Mack Wilson joins a Browns defense that now includes defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Richardson played for the Minnesota Vikings last season, and his free-agent departure leaves a sizable hole in the middle of the defensive front.
This is where rookie sixth-round pick Armon Watts comes into play.
Watts is a mammoth (6'5", 300 lbs) interior lineman who only emerged as a starter this past season. This means he is still a bit unproven, but it also means he could be only scratching the surface of his pro potential. If this second statement is indeed accurate, the Vikings could have a gem on their hands.
Watts proved that he can be a disruptive defender in 2018, amassing 49 total tackles and seven sacks for the Arkansas Razorbacks. For what it's worth, Richardson only had six sacks in his two years playing for Missouri.
The Vikings will likely allow Watts to compete with offseason acquisition (and former Vikings starter) Shamar Stephen for the starting tackle spot next to Linval Joseph. It wouldn't come as a shock to see the rookie win the competition based on his upside alone.