5 Risky 2019 NFL Draft Picks
What constitutes a risky pick in the NFL Draft? An elite prospect usually falls into three categories when talking about risk. The first is the statistics not matching the NFL Combine and pro day athleticism measurements. This can be the player who had 5,000 yards receiving in three years of college but ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds. It can also be the receiver who ran a 4.25 40-yard dash but had only 1,000 yards receiving. We expect physically dominant players to put up big numbers and physically inferior players to put average numbers. When those areas do not align, it creates risk.
The second category is injury. In a perfect world, every player would enter the league with a clean bill of health. Sometimes, a player tears an ACL late in the college season and cannot partake in the NFL Combine or his team’s pro day. Sometimes a prospect plays through a condition that will hinder his physical abilities in the NFL. It is hard to stay healthy in the NFL with no injury history, and some careers are already on the downswing before they enter the league due to health.
The third category is personal conduct issues. Character concerns are an issue for NFL teams. Nobody wants to take a player who will risk his eligibility and pose a publicity nightmare.
These factors are difficult for NFL front offices to reconcile. At a certain point, teams have to go with their gut and hope they make the right call. Some players overcome physical limitations, injuries, and character concerns and go on to have a Hall of Fame career. Others squander great talent and never develop into NFL players. The 2019 NFL Draft will have the same dilemmas as always. Here is my list of the riskiest prospects in this year’s class.
1) Kyler Murray (QB – Oklahoma)
Production and athleticism is not an issue for Murray. One of the most exciting college players last year, he threw for 4,361 yards with 42 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a 199.2 QB rating. He also had 140 rushing attempts for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those statistics and Oklahoma’s regular-season record (12-1) led to him winning the Heisman Trophy. He did not run the 40-yard dash, but his athleticism is not in question. Per George Schroeder of USA Today, an Oklahoma Sooners assistant estimated he would’ve recorded a time in the 4.3-second range.
The risks for Murray are his size and ability to throw in an NFL offense. Murray played in Lincoln Riley’s Air Raid system, and while the NFL is adopting more college concepts every year, quarterbacks still have to play under center. He only started for one year in Oklahoma, which means the two-sport star is still a raw talent. Compounding all of that, he is the shortest quarterback (5’10”) measured at the NFL Combine since 2003. Whoever takes Murray is going to be taking a terrific football player, but they will have to adjust their scheme to take advantage of his speed and lack of size by moving him out of the pocket. Time will tell if he will succeed like Russell Wilson, who has proven in Seattle that smaller quarterbacks who rely on mobility to create plays outside the pocket can thrive in the NFL.
2) D.K. Metcalf (WR – Ole Miss)
People loved Metcalf’s breathtaking NFL Combine performance. He checked in at 6’3″ and 228 pounds, which is a pretty good size for an NFL receiver. For a wideout similar in stature, think of Andre Johnson, who measured in at 6’3″ and 226 pounds at the NFL Combine back in 2003. Johnson wowed scouts by running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds and posting a 39.0″ vertical jump. Metcalf was even better, submitting a 4.33-second 40 time and 40.5″ vertical jump. Metcalf also had a 134.0″ broad jump and benched 225 pounds 27 times. To put that in perspective, Rob Gronkowski benched 225 pounds 23 times at his NFL Combine. Metcalf appears to possess a combination of unbelievable speed, size, and strength that could frustrate the NFL for the next decade.
There are two big risks with Metcalf. There are medical issues; he suffered a neck injury that ended his 2018 season. Based on his workouts, it appears he will be fine, but it is always dangerous taking a player in the first round who missed a season in college with a neck injury. The other concern is the lack of production at Ole Miss. In 21 games, he had only 67 receptions, 1,228 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Despite his tremendous athleticism, Metcalf had only four games where he topped 100 receiving yards. He scored multiple touchdowns in the same game only twice.
It makes me wonder how Metcalf could produce so little with such off-the-charts physicality, but that is something front offices must work through in the evaluation process. Size, strength, and speed matter, but so does route running and hands. Although Metcalf is a great athlete, he has not proven he is a great football player. If his athleticism did not allow him to dominate college, it may not translate into him being a great NFL player either.
3) Drew Lock (QB – Missouri)
Unlike Murray, Lock is what teams are looking for in terms of NFL build. He is 6’4″, 228 pounds, and he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds. When he is on, he can put up prolific passing numbers, like the 521 yards and seven touchdown passes he had against Missouri State in 2017. NFL scouts are going to have to weigh that physical build and raw ability with the regression from his junior to senior years. As a junior, he had 3,964 yards passing, 9.5 yards per attempt, 44 touchdowns, 13 picks, and a QB rating of 165.7. His senior year, those numbers fell to 3,498 yards passing, 8.0 yards per attempt, 28 touchdowns, eight picks, and a 147.7 QB rating.
I am troubled by Lock’s production against the SEC versus cupcake teams on the schedule. It is great that he threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns against Tennessee Martin and 398 yards with four touchdowns against Wyoming. However, when he played Georgia, he went 23-of-48 with no touchdowns and one pick. Against Alabama, he was 13-of-26 for 142 yards, one touchdown, and two picks. In fact, he had just 14 TDs and seven interceptions against SEC opponents in the 2018 season. The defenses he plays on Sundays are going to resemble the ones at Georgia and Alabama a lot more than the ones he played at Tennessee Martin and Wyoming.
The raw ability is there, but there are a lot of questions about his body of work against tougher teams on his schedule. There is also concern about his statistical regression. Lock has NFL talent, but he is an incredibly risky player for a first-round pick.
4) Josh Jacobs (RB – Alabama)
Alabama running backs have well-documented struggles in the NFL. Trent Richardson was one of the biggest draft busts over the last 20 years, and poor conditioning led Eddie Lacy out of Green Bay after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2013 and 2014. That does not mean they have all been bad. Mark Ingram tallied 7,605 yards from scrimmage and 55 touchdowns in eight seasons with New Orleans, making two Pro Bowls. Derrick Henry has had mixed success with the Tennessee Titans before emerging as their lead back at the end of the season. Nobody can write off Jacobs because of Richardson and Lacy, nor can they say he will be OK because of Ingram and Henry. Each player makes their own name at the NFL level regardless of how previous players from their college program fared.
What concerns me about taking Jacobs in the first round is that he was never a featured back in college. He had only 251 combined carries in three seasons at Alabama, and he never recorded more than 120 rushes in a season. In 2018, he carried the ball 20 times on only one occasion, and he failed to tally more than 10 handoffs in 11 of 15 games. I understand that Alabama had a committee of running backs, but we are talking about a player who failed to register a 100-yard game as a junior and was often a non-factor.
Pair that with a 4.60-second 40-yard dash time at his pro day, one has to wonder if he has the top-end speed to play at the next level. Plenty of running backs that ran a 4.60-second or slower 40-yard dash made it in the NFL. It only measures long speed rather than acceleration or short burst. Still, we have no idea if Jacobs can handle 15-18 carries for 16 games, and his 40 time did nothing to ease concerns about his athleticism. Jacobs is a talented player, but he carries a ton of risk as a featured back, which is what teams expect out of someone taken in the first round.
5) Noah Fant (TE – Iowa)
Fant has out-of-this-world talent at tight end. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds, posted a 39.5″ vertical jump, 127″ broad jump, and he benched 225 pounds 20 times. Those are unbelievable numbers for a tight end, and at 6’4″ and 249 pounds he has the size and athleticism to be great for the next decade. He could add some versatility to an NFL offense that needs speed and production at the position.
So why was Fant not the best tight end on his own team? And why did he have only 78 receptions for 1,083 yards and 19 touchdowns in 30 games at Iowa? Some of his game logs from last season include one catch for zero yards against Northwestern, one reception for 12 yards against Nebraska, and three catches for 14 yards against Maryland. He also recorded only three receptions for 10 yards and a touchdown against Northern Illinois.
I am not concerned that Fant was behind T.J. Hockenson on the depth chart because Hockenson should also be a first-round selection this year. My bigger worry is all of those games with little to no impact. The main challenge will be improving his route-running ability. I would rather have a tight end who runs a 4.80 40-yard dash and crisp routes over a track star who does not run routes well. Physical ability is great and will cause teams to fall in love with Fant, but he is a risky player who must develop as a route-runner to succeed at the NFL level.