Even in a QB-driven league, no one is mistaking the 2019 NFL draft for something different than it is: A meat-and-potatoes lot with the potential to reshape the league's trenches for years to come.
The rich crop of incoming defensive linemen and edge blockers and protectors will be the talk of Indianapolis this week when the scouting combine begins Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium. NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah said as much in kicking off his Monday teleconference previewing the annual event.
"When I look at this draft, kind of big picture, to me it's all about the big guys," Jeremiah said. "Premier talent at the defensive line position, inside, outside, it's outstanding and it carries deep into the draft.
"Offensive line-wise, while there's not a premier guy, somebody that's a top-five pick, I think it's a really, really good group."
Of course, there's one "little guy," Oklahoma Heisman winner Kyler Murray, whose weigh-in is as anticipated as any in recent combine memory. Just how short and slight is Murray, the dual-sport star who reaffirmed last week his commitment to football after being selected No. 9 overall by the Oakland A's last year? He's expected to check in well below 0510. And his weight might be the even greater mystery.
"That's what people are going to want to see; how tall is he, how big is he?" Jeremiah said. "... If he played at 195, 198, 200, I have no idea, but if he shows up and he's over 200 pounds and carries it well, that helps with some of the durability [concerns]."
That will leave NFL decision makers in a league where there's never been a first-round quarterback who measured below 0600 to mull whether Murray or prototypical pocket-passing Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State should be the first quarterback selected.
Or Duke's Daniel Jones. Or Mizzou's Drew Lock.
OK, perhaps the quarterbacks still grab many of the headlines, but let's look at these two storylines and a handful of others likely to dominate the NFL news cycle throughout the week:
Big Men on Campus
PFW has a combined 12 defensive tackles and edge rushers meriting first-round consideration ... and at other sites, that number will be even higher. Most will agree Nick Bosa (little brother of Pro Bowler and former No. 4 overall pick Joey) is the best of the edge rushers and early leader in the clubhouse to be the first overall player selected. But Kentucky's Josh Allen, Michigan's Rashan Gary, Mississippi State's Montez Sweat and Clemson's Clelin Ferrell could all jockey for top-10 billing.
Inside, Quinnen Williams of Alabama could rival Bosa and Allen as the best overall defender in the draft. But a host of fellow interior disruptors, led by Houston's Ed Oliver and the Clemson combo of Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, will attempt to prove that they can make an Aaron Donald-like mark in a league where an inside push has never been more critical.
And on the opposite side of the ball, there could be a run on blockers that extends from the early-to-middle-part of the first round all the way into early on Day 3, according to Jeremiah. You probably know names like Alabama's Jonah Williams, Ole Miss' Greg Little and Oklahoma's Cody Ford. It might also be time to familarize with Washington State's Andre Dillard, Washington's Caleb McGary and Kansas State's Dalton Risner, among others.
Murray and Haskins might be polar opposites stylistically but spent almost the exact same amount of time on the field as one-year full-time starters in 2018. All they did there was account for 54 touchdowns each and finish Nos. 1 and 3 in Heisman voting, respectively.
Haskins' evaluation might be easier, or at least sans the baseball and size factors, but there are still teams that'll be extra anxious to get him in front of the whiteboard after he entered last season with 57 career attempts. He has all the prototypical tools; the question now is what he'll do to adjust in the NFL, where the defenses are more complex and adaptable and everything happens faster.
Don't sleep on the importance of Murray's hand size, which NFL officials quietly hope comfortably clears the 9-inch mark, where top pick Jared Goff was three years ago in one of the bigger stories in Indy. Many of those same teams will then look forward to picking Murray's brain to test his football knowledge — and passion — coming from Lincoln Riley's Air-Raid offense, even if we're seeing more and more in today's NFL to bridge the experience gap and get cost-control passers producing earlier.
Lock and Jones are also in the Round-1 conversation and brimming with experience yet still in need of polishing. The consensus at the Senior Bowl was that Lock fared better than Jones, who, like uber-talented Tyree Jackson of Buffalo, might have some work to do to elevate his stock.
Who is not working out?
Mississippi State DT Jeffery Simmons and Louisiana Tech EDGE Jaylon Ferguson — both first-round talents in the eyes of many evaluators — aren't permitted to work out or interview in Indy but will be in attendance for the medical tests. The NFL initially barred Simmons and Colorado WR Preston Williams from the event and rescinded Ferguson's invite because of a 2016 rule prohibiting players who had committed past violent crimes.
However, new this year, the NFL has changed that policy to allow them solely to undergo health evaluations. That should play well with scouts who weren't relishing having to make extra school trips or waste top-30 visits to obtain information that's supposed to be universally dispersed in Indy. And it's of particular importance for Simmons, who tore his ACL during a workout last month.
Joining those three on the list of prospects who will see doctors but won't work out because of injuries are three additional first-round prospects — Alabama S Deionte Thompson (wrist), Oklahoma WR Marquise Brown (LisFranc surgery), Florida OT Jawaan Taylor (hamstring) — and Stanford RB Bryce Love (ACL).
Could the next Jaylon Smith or Myles Jack, players who went from injured second-round discounts to first-rate NFL difference makers, be among this crew? Maybe. What we can say for sure is that there will be an unusual number of talented spectators.
Who's jumping out of the gym?
Ed Oliver is expected not only to participate but be one of the week's big workout winners. Will it be enough to make teams drafting in the early part of Round 1 look past his uneven tape? We also expect Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson to post dominant testing numbers, not unlike his former fellow Hawkeye tight end, 49ers All Pro George Kittle.
Hockenson, though, comes with far fewer questions than Oliver. "He's the safest player in the draft," Jeremiah said of Hockenson, who could be joined in Round 1 by Noah Fant, which would mark the first time in the NFL's modern era that two tight ends are selected from the same school within the first 32 picks.
"I can find you tight ends in every round in this draft," Jeremiah said. "It's a really, really good group."
And speaking of teammates, how fast will Penn State's Miles Sanders run? It won't be Saquon Barkley fast, but our No. 1-rated back has a chance to help himself, especially with Alabama's Josh Jacobs reportedly expected to sit out with a groin injury. A few other backs who might make eyes pop, particularly with their 40 times, are Florida Atlantic's Devin Singletary and Memphis' Darrell Henderson.
As always, the 40-yard dash will carry particular importance for the wideouts and corners. A few of the former who could use fast times to cement their premium-round stock: Arizona State's N'Keal Harry, Buffalo's Anthony Johnson and South Carolina's Deebo Samuel. The cover men whose 40 times loom especially large include Miami's Michael Jackson, Vanderbilt's Joejuan Williams and Notre Dame's Julian Love.
Oliver, Hockenson and Harry at least figure to be early picks. The bigger intrigue will be in finding the surprise superfreaks — think the Leighton Vander Eschs and Obi Melifonwus of the world — and then seeing whether their tape matches up with their rare athleticism.
Heart of the Deal
The halls of Lucas Oil Stadium and restaurants and hotels in Indy this week will be pulsating with agents putting out early feelers for their free-agent clients and team officials beginning to kick the tires on available targets. The franchise-tag deadline isn't until a week from Tuesday, so we should also hear more on the likely tag candidates, including edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford and Frank Clark and placekickers Stephen Gostkowski and Robbie Gould, the group whose status will have a profound impact on free agency.
The market for disgruntled Steelers Le'Veon Bell (free agency) and Antonio Brown (trade) should also heat up, and don't be stunned when trade rumblings involving the Giants' star tandem of Odell Beckham and Landon Collins grow louder. Nick Foles, Emmanuel Sanders, Justin Houston, Duke Johnson and Xavien Howard are other big names whose potential moves could be plotted this week.
Finally, the Arizona Cardinals, owners of the top pick but also the No. 10 overall pick a year ago, Josh Rosen, will be open for business. The Titans-Rams, Browns-Eagles, Colts-Jets QB-driven swaps weren't announced until well after the combine over the past few years, but surely those teams began laying the groundwork in Indy.