Teams That Improved the Most Through the 2019 NFL Draft
All teams improve during the NFL draft. It is the league's premier talent-acquiring event.
However, all improvement is not created equally.
A marginal draft can have little to no effect in the short term and be damaging long term. A successful draft can turn an average team into a good one and a good team into a great one. A historically great draft can turn any team into a contender overnight. Levels of improvement are directly correlated with the amount of talent required.
Here are the teams that improved the most during the 2019 NFL draft.
As is the case every year, the team possessing the first overall pick had the greatest potential for improvement through the draft. But following through on that potential is the difference between a massive upgrade and another year picking in the top five, and the Arizona Cardinals took advantage.
It all started with Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray, who could give the Cardinals a Russell Wilson-like jolt to the franchise at quarterback. He will drive the most potential improvement for Arizona in 2019 and beyond.
After the first pick, the Cardinals added loads of talent. GM Steve Keim picked two potential starters in the secondary (cornerback Byron Murphy, safety Deionte Thompson); three new, uniquely dynamic pass-catchers for Murray (Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, KeeSean Johnson); two tough, physical defensive linemen (Zach Allen, Michael Dogbe); and two valuable depth pieces along the offensive line (Lamont Gaillard, Joshua Miles).
Not only did the Cardinals get better and more dynamic at quarterback, but they are deeper and tougher along both lines and more talented in the passing game on offense and defense. That's a recipe for major improvement.
It will be easy to go through the Oakland Raiders' picks individually and find things not to like. But it will be nearly impossible to argue the Raiders didn't get a lot better over the draft.
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock used their impressive capital to lay a new foundation.
The picks, in order: Clelin Ferrell, Josh Jacobs, Johnathan Abrams, Trayvon Mullen, Maxx Crosby, Isaiah Johnson, Foster Moreau, Hunter Renfrow and Quinton Bell. There isn't a sexy pick in the bunch, but they are all good, tough football players who will contribute early and help reset the culture before the franchise departs for Las Vegas.
Will the Raiders get "A" grades for all their picks? Probably not. But the class appears to be far greater than the sum of its parts. A team that lacked in so many areas in 2018 now looks far more capable of competing week to week in 2019.
The Buffalo Bills earned all the high grades they're receiving for their draft class. It's a high-impact group of players that could help produce instant improvement on both sides of the ball.
Ed Oliver is a dominant interior disruptor who had no business being available at No. 9. He's going to make a ton of plays along their defensive front. Cody Ford was widely considered a first-round talent and should be a plug-and-play offensive lineman wherever the Bills need him up front. Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox provide athleticism and playmaking ability at running back and tight end, respectively.
The Bills could have stopped their draft right there and still been a winner. It's possible Oliver and Ford will singlehandedly drive the most improvement in 2019, because there's still a lot of value in being able to pressure the opponent's quarterback and protect your own.
Los Angeles Chargers
How does a team that won 12 games last season improve significantly during the draft? By making great picks at positions in need of improvement.
The Los Angeles Chargers needed a disruptive interior presence to play between Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and they found a potentially great one in Jerry Tillery. The Notre Dame product could be a dominant inside rusher with all the single-teams he'll be facing every week.
The Chargers also needed to find a running mate for safety Derwin James. Amazingly, Nasir Adderley—a former cornerback with pure free safety skills—fell to them at No. 60. He's a perfect match to start next to James, who does a little bit of everything and needs the freedom to roam near the line of scrimmage.
The Chargers also added depth at offensive tackle with Trey Pipkins and linebacker with Drue Tranquill before taking Easton Stick, one of the most intriguing quarterbacks in the draft. He could be a fun player to groom behind Philip Rivers, who is 37.
Improvement here is relative. Is Dwayne Haskins going to be better than Alex Smith (injured) as a rookie? Probably not. Is Montez Sweat going to be better than Preston Smith (now with the Green Bay Packers) as a rookie? Maybe, but probably not.
The Washington Redskins might not be markedly improved over last season. But did they improve in a major way between the start of the draft Thursday night to the finish Saturday? Absolutely.
Haskins and Sweat give the Redskins a chance to hit home runs on a quarterback and edge-rusher in the first round. Acquiring young cornerstones at those two positions can be franchise-altering.
The Redskins also got a speedster receiver (Terry McLaurin), a high-upside running back (Bryce Love) and two potential future starters along the offensive line (Wes Martin, Ross Pierschbacher). And they got a highly athletic linebacker (Cole Holcomb), a productive college receiver (Kelvin Harmon) and a talented small-school cornerback (Jimmy Moreland).
This is an intriguing class, and it could be the cornerstone of future winning seasons in Washington.
The Tennessee Titans' draft is going to be an easy one to love. Not only did they get a first-round bargain in Jeffery Simmons, one of the most disruptive and talented defensive players in the class, but they also snagged A.J. Brown, a polished and NFL-ready receiver, late in the second round.
Throw in Nate Davis, a future starter at guard, and Amani Hooker, a do-it-all defensive back from Iowa, plus edge-rusher D'Andre Walker and linebacker David Long, and the Titans might have found five or six starting-caliber players in one draft class.
Impact won't be lacking from this group, even if the Titans do have to wait for Simmons to return from a torn ACL. At least two or three rookie starters are possible in 2019.
The Carolina Panthers pumped up their pass rush, added a likely starter at offensive tackle and still managed to find time to pick a rock-solid backup for quarterback Cam Newton, who is coming off a concerning shoulder injury in 2018.
Let's start with the pass rush. Florida State's Brian Burns is a serious athlete who consistently pressured the quarterback at the college level, and that profile doesn't often bust. Christian Miller wasn't featured at Alabama but has an NFL-ready skill set for the edge. Together, they could drastically improve the Panthers' ability to get after the passer.
Greg Little of Ole Miss provides one solution at offensive tackle. He didn't test well at the combine, but he was a dominant pass blocker at left tackle in the SEC and looks so much more nimble and athletic on tape than his numbers. He could be a long-time starter.
Last but not least is Will Grier, who might be a discount version of Baker Mayfield. They are stylistically similar. The Panthers were presented with an opportunity to take a quarterback with starting-level talent, and they didn't hesitate. Kudos to them. That pick could pay off in a big way if Newton deals with injuries in the coming years.
San Francisco 49ers
Few teams are going to get more out of their first two picks than the San Francisco 49ers. Nick Bosa figures to be an annual candidate to crack double-digit sacks, and Deebo Samuel is going to catch a ton of passes from Jimmy Garoppolo in Kyle Shanahan's offense.
The two could help revitalize both sides of the ball in San Francisco.
Bosa is joining an edge-rushing group that already added Dee Ford this offseason. Those two should eclipse 20 combined sacks and drastically increase the 49ers' ability to rush the passer, which was a major weakness in 2018.
Samuel adds toughness and versatility to the offense. He can do it all, and Shanahan is clever enough to find the right ways to get him the ball. The return of Garoppolo should mean the quick passing game is revived, and Samuel thrives at getting open and creating yards after the catch in the short-to-intermediate areas.
The Denver Broncos did a terrific job of restocking the offense with three picks in the first 42 selections. A team once built on defense now has the young talent to catch up in a hurry on offense.
Tight end Noah Fant will give the Broncos a dangerous receiving threat who can line up inline or split out into the slot. His size (6'5", 241 lbs) and athleticism will make him a matchup problem all over the field.
Getting Dalton Risner and Drew Lock back-to-back in the second round checks off needs along the offensive line and at quarterback, where the Broncos now have a strong-armed, high-upside player to groom behind Joe Flacco.
Fant and Risner will likely provide instant impact as starters on offense, even if tight end and offensive line can be tough positions on rookies. In a year or two, Fant, Risner and Lock could be the foundational pieces of the offense.