5 Safe 2019 NFL Draft Picks
What constitutes a safe pick in the NFL? There are usually three categories that an elite prospect falls into when talking about being a safe player. The first is the statistics match the NFL Combine and pro day athleticism measurements. What you like to see is a player that dominated both the football field and the NFL Combine. When you see a running back post a 4.35-second, 40-yard dash, it is reassuring to see that he also had 2,000 yards rushing on the season. Nothing confirms a solid NFL Combine like good tape of the college player dominating his competition.
The second category is lack of injury. In a perfect world, every player would enter the league with a clean bill of health. While every player is a play away from his career ending, a prospect with a clean bill of health that has no injury history will make NFL GMs feel much better about making the pick.
The third category is personal conduct issues. Teams do not need players that volunteer at the local homeless shelter or make a difference in their community through constant acts of good will and charitable giving, but it is nice to take a player where you do not have to worry about past substance abuse, probation officers, or other issues.
Even the safest players in the NFL Draft can end up being bad picks in a few years, but GMs will feel a lot better about taking a player that does not cause them unneeded drama in the evaluation process. Here is my list of the safest prospects in this NFL draft class.
1) Josh Allen (DE/OLB – Kentucky): I know fantasy owners care more about the offensive side of the ball, but this draft is loaded with elite defensive prospects and Allen is exactly what teams are looking for in a top-10 pick. He is a great prospect that has both a solid NFL Combine performance with huge college numbers to back that up. Allen played 42 games at Kentucky and he recorded 121 solo tackles, 99 assists, 42.0 tackles for a loss and 31.5 sacks. This is what Pro Football Focus had to say about his senior year: “The highest-graded edge defender in the country, Allen was unstoppable on the pass-rush this season. Highlighted by his national-best 93.5 pass-rush grade, Allen brought in 51 total pressures that included 14 sacks, nine QB hits and an additional 28 hurries. Rounding out his game, he dropped into coverage on 141 snaps and allowed just 130 yards on 19 targets without allowing a touchdown.”
Allen has the size to be an edge rusher in the league at 6’5″ and 262 pounds. His NFL Combine performance was so good that he was in the 81st percentile in SPARQ score. That athleticism measure is due to a 4.63 40-yard dash and 28 bench press reps; that combination is amazing for a man his size. Allen is what an NFL GM is looking for in the NFL Draft. He is a player that was extremely productive on the field, consistently dominated his competition and he showed up at the NFL Combine and showed elite physical ability. There is no reason that he should not be a starter in his rookie year and he seems destined for stardom.
2) T.J. Hockenson (TE – I0wa): Hockenson is a player that should be a safe prospect for NFL teams. He has a good frame at 6’5″ and 251 lbs. He ran a 4.70 40-yard dash and posted a 37.5″ vertical jump with a 123.0″ broad jump. I am not sure he is going to become the next Rob Gronkowski, but he is a very good player that has the physical ability to be a solid tight end for many years.
He also was a very good football player. He played only two seasons at Iowa, but posted 73 receptions for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns on a team that only throws the ball about 30 times per game. He was the John Mackey Award Winner in 2018 and he is both a receiver and a blocker. He also was able to hold off TE Noah Fant, who will also be selected in this NFL Draft. Hockenson may not end up being an All-Pro player, but he is a guy that should have a 10-year career if he stays healthy and be a starting tight end that has value for an NFL offense.
3) A.J. Brown (WR – Ole Miss): Brown had very good production at Ole Miss. The last two years, he posted 75 receptions for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns and 85 receptions for 1,320 yards and six touchdowns. He is not the tallest receiver in the draft class, but at 6’1″ and 225 lbs., he has the size to be a good red zone threat and he showed well at the NFL Combine with a 4.49 second 40-yard dash, 19 bench reps, a 36.5″ vertical jump, and a 120″ broad jump.
Brown is arguably the most complete receiver in this draft class and he will be ready to contribute immediately. This receiver class is not as strong as previous classes, but Brown is still a terrific player that would have been a great prospect in any NFL Draft. He played both the outside and the slot receiver positions in college, so he should be able to play wherever an NFL team needs him to play in 2019. He has the ability to make plays in the open field from the slot, but also has the ability to be a deep threat. He probably needs to be a little stronger so that he can survive press coverage, but he has time to grow into his body and a guy with both his NFL Combine numbers and NCAA production is a safe prospect.
4) Devin White (LB – LSU): There are just not enough offensive players to dominate this list and White is one of the best athletes in this class at any position. That has been the story of his football career, he was one of the most complete players coming out of high school. He was a star running back with 5,031 rushing yards and 81 touchdowns and he also had 192 tackles at North Webster (Louisiana) High School. He made the transition to linebacker at LSU and he emerged as a 2018 Consensus All-America and the Dick Butkus Award Winner. That is amazing considering he has only been playing the linebacker position full-time for a couple years.
Then you look at his combine numbers and it is easy to understand why this guy is such a terrific player that transitioned to the position so easily. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds, he benched 225 pounds 22 times, he posted a 39.5-inch vertical jump, and his 20-yard shuttle was in 4.17 seconds. He seems to have the perfect blend of rare physical gifts that cannot be taught with the work ethic and determination to learn new positions and be the best at his position. I think he is among the safest players in this class. He should be a dominant outside linebacker for the next decade.
5) Marquise Brown (WR – Oklahoma): This may be a debatable pick and I am sure there are smart people that could make the argument that he is a risky player in this class. A lot of people will talk about how Brown is too short to be a safe prospect. I am not really sure that is the case; Brown has a famous first cousin that is a star NFL receiver in Antonio Brown.
Antonio Brown is only 5’10” and 181 lbs., yet he has made seven Pro Bowls and four All-Pro First Teams. Marquise Brown is a little smaller at 5’9″ and 166 lbs., but he could add some weight once he enters the league. He has been battling the too small label his entire life. No college program would give him a scholarship and he ended up playing at College of the Canyons in 2016. That would not last long. He dominated that small school’s schedule before he ended up at Oklahoma for the 2017 and 2018 seasons and did the same thing in the Big 12.
The NFL has changed in the last 10 years and teams are looking for explosive players that can make plays in the open field from the slot receiver position. Think about what 5’10” and 185 lb. WR Tyreek Hill has done for the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense. Marquise Brown is never going to be the player that NFL teams throw the fade route to near the goal line. Brown played only two years at Oklahoma, but posted 132 receptions for 2,413 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He probably would have run the 40-yard dash in 4.30 seconds had he not had to sit out drills at the NFL Combine and the Oklahoma pro day with a foot injury. That foot injury is not serious and it should be fine come June or July. You cannot teach that speed and explosion, and in the right system with the right head coach and quarterback, he could terrorize NFL defenses. Even if he does not develop into a star receiver, his ability in the open field could make him a dangerous returner or situational player in the right system, and he has the physical gifts to develop into a star player.