Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. Today’s installment explores a loaded group of high-impact youngsters …
In the scouting business, the conventional wisdom is that it takes three full seasons to make a solid assessment on a draft pick. With 40-plus NFL games on the résumé to study, evaluators have enough data to determine if the player is a blue-chipper, solid starter, complementary piece or something lesser. Although environment, scheme fit and injuries undoubtedly factor in, the best players in a draft class should be vying for all-star accolades by the end of Year 3.
Well, we now have three seasons of service for players chosen in the 2019 NFL Draft. And frankly, I’m pretty blown away by the talent and depth of the class. This group features a collection of pass rushers, pass catchers and playmakers who have made their mark on the league in swift fashion.
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Looking back at my pre-draft prospect tiering from that year, I feel validated for hyping up Nick Bosa, Jeffery Simmons, Devin White, Josh Allen and T.J. Hockenson, all of whom have made at least one Pro Bowl. Then again, I clearly misevaluated a handful of players who have underperformed to date (SEE: Garrett Bradbury, Andre Dillard and Devin Bush).
With that in mind, this felt like a perfect time to pop in some tape and assess the updated hierarchy of this player crop. Knowing how much the social media world loves lists, I set out to rank the top 15 players from the Class of 2019, based on NFL performances to date.
Before we get to the actual rankings, though, I wanted to spotlight my toughest omissions.
- Marquise Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals
- C.J. Gardner-Johnson, DB, New Orleans Saints
- Dre Greenlaw, LB, San Francisco 49ers
- Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Dexter Lawrence, DT, New York Giants
- Erik McCoy, C, New Orleans Saints
- Ed Oliver, DT, Buffalo Bills
- Montez Sweat, DE, Washington Commanders
- Christian Wilkins, DT, Miami Dolphins
- Quinnen Williams, DT, New York Jets
Tough cuts there. It’s just such a loaded group. Alright, let’s get to the good stuff!
DRAFTED: Round 5, No. 149 overall
Routinely overlooked due to his underwhelming physical prowess, Renfrow just cashed in with a two-year, $32 million extension. As a crafty route runner with impeccable timing and a full bag of tricks, Renfrow has emerged as arguably the best pure slot receiver in football, having just posted a receiving line of 103/1,038/9 in 2021. He could be even more prolific in 2022. With Josh McDaniels installing a creative system that should take full advantage of the one-on-one matchups Renfrow will face playing alongside Davante Adams and Darren Waller, the Pro Bowler could hit the jackpot as the Raiders’ designated chain mover in the passing game.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 7 overall
Don’t let the Jaguars’ struggles diminish the solid play from Allen, who has logged 20.5 sacks and 48 QB hits in his first 40 NFL games. This is a high-motor defender with the speed, quickness and burst to wreak havoc off the edges. Although the constant turnover and changing schemes in Jacksonville have prevented the disruptive defender from truly settling in at the NFL level, offensive coaches around the league are well aware of his playmaking potential as an athletic edge rusher.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 8 overall
Hockenson has 128 catches and 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons, but he is just scratching the surface of his All-Pro potential. As a rock-solid playmaker with strong hands and polished route-running skills, the Iowa product is a classic chain mover as an old-school tight end. With the 2020 Pro Bowler also displaying impressive blocking skills at the point of attack, he has a chance to eventually cement himself as the prototypical “Y” that traditionalists covet in a pro-style offense.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 12 overall
Credit Packers scouts and coaches for betting on raw traits and supreme athleticism here. Gary entered the NFL as something of a project coming out of Michigan, lacking polish and production. But the former five-star recruit has emerged as a highly disruptive defender in the Packers’ attack-style defense, adding various tools to his toolbox to become a more dynamic playmaker on the edge. After recording just two sacks in Year 1, he posted five QB takedowns in 2020 and 9.5 in 2021. As the designated disruptor in Joe Barry’s defense, Gary could log double-digit sacks as soon as this coming season.
DRAFTED: Round 3, No. 76 overall
The speedy pass catcher is a big-play machine on the perimeter, with 3,090 receiving yards over his first three seasons. McLaurin blows past defenders on an assortment of vertical routes, but he also displays the balance, body control and agility to thrive as a possession receiver when needed. The evolution of this third-round steal’s game has enabled him to excel on the perimeter despite a revolving door at quarterback in Washington.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 16 overall
The speed-rushing phenom has mastered the art of beating offensive tackles with first-step quickness and acceleration, tallying 25.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in 48 games. From his exceptional snap-count anticipation to his subtle dip-and-rip maneuver, Burns is a fastball pitcher with a heater that few batters can handle. If given more opportunities to rush the passer with his team nursing a lead, he will start stacking up double-digit sack seasons as a disruptive force off of the edge.
DRAFTED: Round 2, No. 44 overall
The versatile blocker has been an underrated rock for a team that has collected back-to-back No. 1 seeds in the NFC. Jenkins has rare five-position versatility, with starts at center, guard and tackle on his pro résumé. Considering he has been able to play multiple positions while also performing at an all-star level, the Packers’ handyman has certainly outplayed his draft position.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 5 overall
The tackling machine has been the centerpiece of a Buccaneers defense that has overwhelmed opponents with an array of blitzes. White’s sideline-to-sideline range and his big-hit mentality have helped Todd Bowles create a unit that leads to sleepless nights for offensive coordinators and quarterbacks around the league. With White averaging 120 tackles per season while also flashing A+ skills as a second-level sack specialist, the Bucs have built a scheme around a unicorn in the middle of their defense.
DRAFTED: Round 2, No. 64 overall
The big-bodied receiver has quickly emerged as a potent playmaker on the perimeter. A super-sized pass catcher with world-class speed, Metcalf has scored 29 touchdowns on an assortment of big plays, underscoring the unique challenge of defending him. If opponents give the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder free access down the sideline, he will win the track meet against overmatched defenders without the size or speed to challenge him on 50-50 balls. Against press coverage, Metcalf bullies defensive backs at the line before dispatching them with a push or pull that leaves him wide open running across the field.
DRAFTED: Round 4, No. 106 overall
The explosive, hustle-hard pass rusher wears opponents out on the edge with his relentlessness. Crosby outworks and outlasts his competitors on one-on-one rushes while flashing an impressive array of moves that could make him a perennial double-digit sack artist. With No. 98 now teaming up with Chandler Jones to give the Raiders a dynamic tandem in a pass-happy division, I expect to see Crosby’s numbers and impact surge going forward.
DRAFTED: Round 2, No. 51 overall (by the Tennessee Titans)
While money was clearly a factor, it’s still hard to understand why the Titans decided to part ways with Brown on draft day after he’d emerged as a bona fide star on the perimeter. As a rugged playmaker with strong hands and A+ running skills, the 6-1, 226-pounder can win on vertical routes or dazzle as a catch-and-run specialist. After posting 1,000-yard seasons in two of his first three years in the league — while averaging 16.2 yards per reception — Brown is widely viewed as a top-10 receiver.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 19 overall
It’s difficult to find interior defenders with A+ run-stopping skills and pass-rush ability. That’s why the Titans made the Mississippi State product a first-round selection even though he had suffered an ACL tear during pre-draft training, causing him to miss the first seven games of his rookie season. Simmons was well worth the wait, as he’s been a destructive force at the point of attack. The 6-4, 305-pounder is a freak athlete with a nasty attitude and violent hands to complement a polished game. With the football world paying close attention to the Titans as perennial contenders, the word is out on Simmons, who earned his first Pro Bowl nod last season.
DRAFTED: Round 2, No. 36 overall
The 49ers’ top offensive weapon is a throwback. Samuel has carved out a unique niche as a wing back with explosive ability as a runner/receiver in San Francisco’s electric offense. Although he has requested a trade from the Niners and didn’t participate in voluntary OTAs, Samuel did report to mandatory minicamp this week. It is hard to imagine the team parting ways with a player who performs like a top five receiver and running back.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 2 overall
The talented technician’s polished maneuvers flummox opponents on the edges. After suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 of the 2020 campaign, Bosa returned in 2021 and promptly racked up 15.5 sacks (fourth-most in the league). He is a nightmare to block on passing downs due to his non-stop motor and giant toolbox. With few pass rushers possessing such a fruitful mix of instincts, skill and savvy, it is time to give Bosa his flowers as one of the elite sack artists in the game today.
DRAFTED: Round 1, No. 1 overall
Do not let the offseason drama surrounding the former No. 1 overall pick dim his light as a superstar. Murray has been better than advertised as a franchise player, and his desire to get the bag is sensible, given his impact as the Cardinals’ QB1. The two-time Pro Bowl selectee has improved his completion percentage and passer rating over the past two seasons while tossing at least 20 touchdown passes in all three pro campaigns. In addition, he has tormented opponents with his roadrunner-like playmaking skills outside the pocket on designed QB runs and impromptu scrambles. Although critics have pointed to Murray’s body language as a possible concern, it is hard to put out a list of elite talents at quarterback without placing him near the top of the board.
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