With the New England Patriots crowned as Super Bowl LIII champions and the selection order for the 2019 NFL draft now set, a new, fresh look at what might happen in the first round April 25 in Nashville is in order.
Quarterbacks are usually the topic du jour but the cupboard is a bit bare this winter. Desperate teams are still going to take them - with Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins leading the charge at No. 7 overall - but the extraordinary talent this year lies along the defensive line with above average classes at offensive tackle, pass-catcher and defensive backs making up for relatively weak classes at signal-caller, running back and linebacker.
1. Arizona Cardinals - Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
It is the offense, not the defense, that requires fixing in Arizona but the handful of players who warrant No. 1 overall consideration this year all play on that side of the ball. In most divisions, adding an impact edge rusher (like Ohio State's Nick Bosa) might make the most sense but in the run-heavy NFC West, dominating interior defensive linemen are just as critical. With all due respect to his teammate Tua Tagovailoa, "Big Q" was the most dominant player in college football in 2018 and he's just a pup, turning 21 years old in December.
2. San Francisco 49ers - Nick Bosa, OLB/DE, Ohio State
Like the Cardinals a pick earlier, the 49ers will delay any concerns about its offense to take advantage of this year's extraordinary defensive line class. Bosa is the spittin' image of his older brother, Joey, which is to say that he's a future Pro Bowl edge rusher. He's all the more likely to live up to his talent playing opposite a rising star in DeForest Buckner.
3. New York Jets - Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
The Jets will be looking for a new head coach and likely some skill position help for young quarterback Sam Darnold but that isn't going to happen at No. 3 overall. Instead, the front seven streak continues with Oliver, whose undersized frame and disruptive prowess remind me of the Rams' Aaron Donald, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
4. Oakland Raiders - Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
After trading away Kahlil Mack, Jon Gruden and Co. will almost surely dedicate at least one of their three first round picks on impact defensive linemen. Ferrell isn't the quick twitch athlete some want on the edge but he possesses terrific length and strength and plays with excellent technique.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Deionte Thompson, FS, Alabama
The Bucs were horrific against the pass in 2018, surrendering 34 touchdowns (second worst to Oakland) with just nine interceptions. With multiple investments already made at cornerback, adding an instinctive ballhawk at free safety like Thompson might be the best way to solidify Tampa's secondary.
6. New York Giants - Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan
I know that Giants fans are clamoring for a young quarterback but I'm not sure that is in GM Dave Gettleman's DNA to invest in the future with gifted 'hog mollies' on the board. Some scouts believe the 6-5, 280 pound Gary might just be the most gifted player in the entire draft.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars - Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Built to win now, it would surprise no one if the Jaguars opted to add a veteran rather than a rookie quarterback. Until that occurs, however, it is painfully obvious that Jacksonville needs a change at the position. Haskins is mature beyond his years, showing poise and precision from the pocket.
8. Detroit Lions - Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky
With Ziggy Ansah set to enter free agency, the Lions will be looking for edge rushers. Allen possesses the burst and bend upfield to make an immediate impact in this area and possesses the maturity Matt Patricia may be looking to add to his young defense. As has been well documented, Allen considered leaving early for the NFL last season but opted to return, significantly improving his stock as a senior with improved strength, technique and even in coverage.
9. Denver Broncos - Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
Playing in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers and Derek Carr requires a gifted secondary. Murphy only had one dominant starting season at Washington but that was the case for top-drafted cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Marshon Lattimore the past two years, as well. True cover corners are rare. John Elway knows that better than most.
10. Buffalo Bills - Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
Though he certainly had his moments of poor play, as well, Josh Allen lived up to his hype as one of the more gifted young quarterbacks to enter the draft in years, dazzling with his electric arm and athleticism. If the Bills are going to win consistently, however, they'll need to get him some help, including along the line of scrimmage. Williams does not possess elite length and agility but he's savvy, tough and as proven as it gets at the collegiate level.
11. Cincinnati Bengals - Greg Little, OT, Auburn
With four different tackles currently listed as free agents, the always thrifty Bengals may look to the draft for reinforcements, just as they did in the first round a year ago with Billy Price. Don't take his name for it, Little is massive (6-6, 325) with the light feet and length to project as a longtime starting NFL tackle.
12. Green Bay Packers - Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
The Packers inability to run the ball consistently has held them back as much as any defensive shortcomings. While relegated to backup duties throughout much of his career at Alabama, Jacobs is far and away the top runner in this draft class, which could force a team to draft him earlier than they'd like. With two first round picks due to trades may a year ago, GM Brian Gutenkunst continues his aggressive rebuilding of Green Bay's roster with the explosive Jacobs, an immediate Rookie of the Year candidate in this offense.
13. Miami Dolphins - Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
Ryan Tannehill is a functional starting quarterback but he's shown little to suggest he can guide a team to a championship. Jones does not possess the same exciting traits which led to Tannehill earning the eighth overall pick back in 2012 but he is a very savvy passer well prepared for the NFL after working with renowned QB guru David Caldwell.
14. Atlanta Falcons - Andraez "Greedy" Williams, CB, LSU
Injuries to lynchpins Devonta Freeman and Keanu Neal (among others) ruined Atlanta's 2018 season but it does put a club just a few years removed from near Super Bowl glory in position to add an impact player. With his length, fluidity and success against top competition, Williams would seem to be a quality consolation prize.
15. Washington Redskins - Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
The horrific injury suffered by Alex Smith could force the Redskins to strongly consider all available options at quarterback. Murray is certainly not for everyone with his limited size and experience as a starter significant red-flags. He is undeniably gifted, however, and few enjoy making a splash on draft day more than Daniel Snyder.
16. Carolina Panthers - Montez Sweat, DE/OLB, Mississippi State
The Panthers featured just two players who collected as many as a handful sacks a year ago - 31-year-old Mario Addison (9.5) and the since-retired Julius Peppers (five). Long and explosive, Sweat is clearly among the top 15 talents in this draft but comes with character red-flags that could push him down the board slightly.
17. Cleveland Browns - D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi
What is all the more remarkable about Baker Mayfield setting a new rookie record with 27 touchdown passes on the year is that he did it without much consistency at receiver, with the obvious exception of Jarvis Landry. Like former Browns star Josh Gordon, Metcalf is a big-bodied home run threat and potential legitimate No. 1 target.
18. Minnesota Vikings - Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State
After giving the league's richest contract to quarterback Kirk Cousins, you can bet folks in Minnesota are unhappy sitting out of the playoffs. That could lead to all kinds of changes, including on defense where Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson (among others) will be looking for big paydays. Simmons plays with the intensity and physicality Zimmer loves.
19. Tennessee Titans - Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
The Titans exercised the fifth-year option on former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota, all but guaranteeing that he'll be back as the starter in 2019. Mariota has yet to make it through a full NFL season healthy and has not produced 20 touchdowns (passing and rushing combined) either of the past two years. One way or the other, the Titans need greater consistency at quarterback to take the next step and may see Lock as too gifted to allow to slip any further.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers - Taylor Rapp, S, Washington
For all of their splashy talent on the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers lack of consistency in the secondary has been a consistent problem. Rapp isn't going to wow scouts with his size or speed but he is as instinctive and sound a tackler as there is in this draft, playing with the blue-collar mentality that will fit right in.
21. Seattle Seahawks - Nasir Adderley, DB, Delaware
With Earl Thomas likely headed out of town, the Seahawks will be looking to add replacements to the Legion of Whom yet again this offseason. Adderley possesses the range and ball-skills Pete Carroll has preferred at free safety and is gifted enough to potentially handle nickelback duties, as well.
22. Baltimore Ravens - Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, WR, Oklahoma
Every first round has a surprise and the Ravens could deliver it in 2019 in Hollywood fashion. While Baltimore has dedicated millions of free agent dollars and too many draft picks to count to wide receivers, few boast Brown's agility and speed - attributes which make up for his relatively slight frame.
23. Houston Texans - Jachai Polite, OLB, Florida
With former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney a pending unrestricted free agent, the Texans have a big decision to make in the offseason. Should the club elect not to throw the bank at the talented but inconsistent edge rusher, finding a replacement will be a top priority. Polite lacks Clowney's length but his suddenness and flexibility off the edge are first round worthy.
24. Oakland Raiders (from Chicago Bears) - Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
While trading away Mack and Cooper created obvious holes at pass rusher and receiver, the secondary has been a real problem dating back years. Baker does not possess the elite speed of some of this year's other top cornerbacks but he's instinctive, physical and battle-tested.
25. Philadelphia Eagles - Devin White, ILB, LSU
Along with edge rushers and wide receivers, the Eagles face big decisions at linebacker with no less than four at the position set to enter free agency, including standout middle linebacker Jordan Hicks. Rather than pay a premium price to retain him, GM Howie Roseman may opt for a cheaper contract with the versatile and hard-hitting White.
26. Indianapolis Colts - Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
Largely due to the recovery by Andrew Luck and breakout campaigns by rookie Darius Leonard and veteran defensive lineman Marghus Hunt (a pending free agent), the Colts have shown signs of life over the first half of the season. Boosting the playmaking ability along the defensive lineman with Wilkins - a three-time All-American - could have the Colts racing again in 2019.
27. Oakland Raiders (from Dallas Cowboys) - N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
Once the Raiders shipped Amari Cooper out of town it was clear that Jon Gruden and Co. would be looking for a replacement. Gruden's past suggests he'd rather find a veteran pass-catcher but Harry is the type of do-it-all pass-catcher than could excel in this attack. A clean route-runner with underrated agility and speed, Harry reminds me a bit of former Pac-12 star Keenan Allen.
28. Los Angeles Chargers - Dexter Lawrence, NG, Clemson
Brandon Mebane has proven a rock in the middle for the past 12 seasons but the Chargers would be wise to find his replacement in a draft as deep among defensive linemen as this one. Like Mebane, Lawrence won't wow you with his statistics but just try to move him.
29. Kansas City Chiefs - Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State
Part of the reason why Kansas City's defense is so statistically poor is simply because its offense is so effective, routinely jumping out to big leads while opponents are left to rack up yardage (and scores) during "garbage time." Cornerback is, however, a concern in Kansas City. With Tyreek Hill starring on offense, few appreciate speed more than the Chiefs and Sheffield possesses plenty of that.
30. Green Bay Packers (from New Orleans Saints) - Dalton Risner, OL, Kansas State
Given the durability issues that seem to plague Green Bay's offensive line on an annual basis, adding a proven versatile, no-nonsense blocker like Risner makes a lot of sense. Projecting as a plug and play option at right tackle or center, Risner may have been the most consistently impressive player at this year's Senior Bowl.
31. Los Angeles Rams - Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame
Unless they opt to take a discount to remain in town to get another chance at the Lombardi Trophy, the Rams could be facing a mass exodus along the defensive line with Ndamukong Suh, Dante Fowler, Dominique Easley and Ethan Westbrooks all scheduled free agents. As such, don't be surprised if GM Les Snead takes the best available defensive lineman remaining at this spot. Massive, powerful and athletic, Tillery is a top 20 talent who could be a steal at this point in the draft.
32. New England Patriots - T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
Regardless of whether future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski plays next season or not, the Patriots need to draft for the future at tight end. Hockenson is not as big as Gronkowksi but he stands out in every other way, impressing as a seam threat, security blanket and soul-crushing blocker. Another weapon for Tom Brady, just what the now six-time Super Bowl champion needs... to go for a seventh.