After sharing the five NFL draft classes that elicited my biggest mehs — including one that was among the most impressive from Greg Gabriel's vantage point — it's time to spread some rainbows and sunshine.
Before I do, I want to make clear that it's Greg's vantage point that I rely most heavily on each draft season, when my main job is editor and I watch as much tape as possible, but obviously not in Greg's stratosphere. So in putting together this list, one of the most important factors is which teams seemingly maximized draft value, and I couldn't do it without Greg's exhaustive work. I hope you enjoy — and receive as much help from — it as I know I do.
Here are the five 2019 draft classes (in draft order) that I think are a cut above the rest:
Don't look now but John Elway just might have his fastball back. After last year's massive draft haul, his encore began by trading the 10th pick (Devin Bush) to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Nos. 20 (Noah Fant), 52 (parlayed into Drew Lock) and a 2020 third-rounder. Fantastic work to get the draft's No. 2 tight end. Joe Flacco and Lock — one of the draft's three most talented signal callers — will love throwing it to him, and Denver gets another cherry next year on top.
Immediately before drafting Lock, whom the Broncos secured by moving up 10 spots in exchange for the 125th and 182nd selections, they landed a nasty plug-and-play guard with positional flex in Dalton Risner, Elway's other Senior Bowl crush. With his next two picks, DT Dre'Mont Jones (71) and EDGE Justin Hollins (156), he found a dangerous interior penetrator — especially flanked by Von and Chubb — and athletic developmental edge rusher with juice to help restock the cupboard after Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray departed.
Our only real question: How does Vic Fangio feel about potentially passing on his next Sam Mills or Roquan Smith? If Elway finally hits in his long QB quest with the immensely talented Lock, our hunch is just fine. And we also suspect Fant will be a star working with new OC Rich Scangarello, who comes to Denver from San Francisco, where Fant's Hawkeye teammate George Kittle became a star in Year 2.
We've already explained this weekend on multiple occasions why the heist for Josh Rosen easily could go down as the smartest decision by any team in the 2019 NFL draft. We're also extremely high on Christian Wilkins, a culture-changer and potentially dominant interior force whose arrow pass-rush arrow points up, like his value relative to his draft slot. We admittedly weren't blown away by the rest of the class, but it won't matter if the first two players become the faces of the franchise's new era. Moreover, they'll likely produce one — if not two — desperately needed starters up front from third-rounder Michael Deiter and Isaiah Prince (Round 6). Prince must play to his second-round potential, but I like it that these guys arrive from big programs that have churned out plenty of producers.
New OC Chad O'Shea, like Josh McDaniels, will use his backs in specialty roles so we understand the late-Day 3 back-to-back with Chandler Cox and Myles Gaskin. And fifth-round LB Andrew Van Ginkel isn't someone we know well, but he has size and athleticism, and Miami for too long struggled to find answers at linebacker. If nothing else, he'll provide insurance behind promising youngsters Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan.
This is not a typo. After all the hullabaloo regarding Daniel Snyder reportedly holding the Draft Room hostage in Round 1, Washington absolutely crushed Thursday. Our top-rated QB Dwayne Haskins fell to 15 before the bold move back into Round 1 for another faller with elite upside in EDGE Montez Sweat. Washington parted with a second-rounder next season, so, misguided or not, the hope has to be its at least in the latter part of Round 2. Of course, Washington better have more than hope to go off that the long and lightning-fast Sweat's heart condition won't limit his double-digit sack potential and, far more importantly, quality of life.
The headliners are good enough, but Washington wasn't done adding playmakers with the game-breaking Terry McLaurin (No. 76), an ascending talent with 4.35 wheels, and big-bodied brawler Kelvin Harmon at No. 206 overall in Round 6 — three later than we projected. Between Josh Doctson busting and Jamison Crowder bolting for New York, this was a WR corps in major need of rebuilding. No one should be happier than Haskins, whose wish to be reunited with one of his Buckeye playmakers was granted.
We're also big fans of seventh-round small-school sleeper CB Jimmy Moreland and underrated fifth-round C Ross Pierschbacher. Fellow fifth-rounder Bryce Love seems poised for a rookie redshirt — on the heels of Derrius Guice's in 2018 — but we won't bet against him.
New England Patriots
N'Keal Harry was my favorite pick of a strange Round 1, where Bill Belichick made Harry his first first-round receiver in 19 years on the job. It says here Harry contributes — and contributes meaningfully — in his rookie season.
Next, Belichick made a big move up in Round 2, bypassing fellow Patriots disciples in search of long, press corners in Houston and Miami, for Vanderbilt's Joejuan Williams. He fits perfectly in New England, like fourth-rounder Damien Harris, a smart insurance policy for Sony Michel, with knee surgery in Michel's first offseason. Flanking Harris in Round 3 were underrated Michigan EDGE rusher Chase Winovich — another perfect Patriot — and OT Yodny Cajuste, like Harris a smart insurance policy for an injured first-rounder last year (Isaiah Wynn) with traits to become a future blind-side protector.
New England picked up a 2020 fourth-rounder from Chicago by moving down 14 spots to pick up Harris, and also added Danish-born OG Hjalte Froholdte and Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham — one of the draft's best pure throwers — to compete behind the GOAT and ... well, you just never know.
Add in Round 5 specialist pick on P Jacob Bailey — he's right-footed! — and the blend of talent, long-range upside and intrigue in this Belichick haul is outstanding.
If Trysten Hill, a first-round talent with Day 3-UDFA baggage, doesn't epitomize a second-round Cowboys selection, I don't know what does. He is an explosive game wrecker inside, where Dallas has questions after David Irving's retirement and Tyrone Crawford's alleged involvement in a bar brawl that has him under NFL investigation; and Rod Marinelli just might make him a star.
We love the value on Dallas' back-to-back Miami Hurricane selections in Round 5 — long press CB Michael Jackson and blue-collar edge rusher Joe Jackson — and it's hard not to think that explosive triple threat Tony Pollard and speedy, late-blooming Buckeye Michael Weber might not be part of the Ezekiel Elliott replacement plan as he enters Year 4.
Jalen Jelks fits Marinelli's D-line profile as a seventh-round flier, and third-rounder Connor McGovern might compete with last year's second-rounder, Connor Williams, while also insuring All Pro Travis Frederick, who sat out last season to fight Guillain Syndrome.
Finally, like the Bears, the Cowboys already have seen an immense return on their investment in Amari Cooper in exchange for the 27th overall pick, which the Oakland Raiders spent on S Johnathan Abram. Remember, Cooper was the fourth overall pick, who flashed top-8 WR ability upon arriving last fall. Clearly, a draft that only included two first-round wideouts — none earlier than Marquise Brown at No. 25 — lacked any of Cooper's ilk.