Now that rookies have had their first taste of life in the NFL at the minicamps held over the past two weekends, I’ve had a chance to think about a question that’s probably been on the mind of some fans since the 2019 NFL Draft wrapped up: Which of the newbies is in the best position to kick some butt this season? I can’t think of a better way to answer that question than to do that thing we all love — more rankings, please! So, I’ll take a stab at it with my top 25, ordered based on how well they are set up for success in Year 1.
Top contenders for ROY honors
1) Ed Oliver, DT, Buffalo Bills: The ninth overall pick — he should not have fallen that far — is going to help the underrated Bills defense get the respect it deserves. He will wreck shop from the three-technique position, and defensive guru Sean McDermott is the right guy to get the most out of him. He isn’t exactly Aaron Donald 2.0, but he might not be too far off.
2) Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers: I like everything about the Steelers‘ bold move to trade up for Bush, who offers an intoxicating blend of speed and coverage ability. The 10th overall pick is an ideal fit and leader for this unit. He will post gaudy numbers as an inside ‘backer for Mike Tomlin.
3) Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers: This franchise has invested mightily in its defensive line in recent years, but it still had a huge need for an edge defender. Enter Bosa! Many had him pegged as the best player in the draft. Congrats, Niners, on things working out perfectly for you. It’s not like teams can just focus on taking Bosa away, with DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford on the line with him (although he will have to share the spotlight/production with them).
4) Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals: This is a fascinating experiment, with Murray and Kliff Kingsbury and the Air Raid and all. I’m a bit worried that Arizona’s porous offensive line will be bad for the reigning Heisman winner in the long run, even taking into account his rare ability to create with his legs. But then again, no other rookie has an ideology catered to him like Murray does with the Cards. The collective upside is too powerful a force for me to place him any lower on this list.
5) David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears: We’re riding the Montgomery hype train with colleague/conductor Adam Rank. This former Cyclone breaks tackles with the best of ’em and has one of the league’s better offensive lines in front of him. As long as Matt Nagy is willing to lean on him, he’s going to do work.
Greatness within reach
6) Quinnen Williams, DT, New York Jets: Playing alongside Leonard Williams? Yeah, that’s an ideal situation for any rookie defensive lineman. The production in Year 1 might not be splashy, given his role on defense, and his play strength might not be at an elite level right away, but no one should be surprised if he ends up in the Pro Bowl.
7) Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: We’re down on the Bucs’ defense, given Jason Pierre-Paul’s injury and the uncertainty around Gerald McCoy’s future with the team, but that doesn’t diminish our bullishness about White much. He has the talent to make plays sideline to sideline, a smart coordinator in Todd Bowles and a great running mate in Lavonte David. That’s a good combination.
8) Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders: It’s a good thing Jacobs didn’t lose a lot of tread off his tires at Alabama, because we suspect he’s in for a heavy workload, courtesy of Jon David Gruden. He’s going to be the man in that backfield and is the prototypical every-down back. Now, is that offensive line as improved as some think?
9) Garrett Bradbury, C, Minnesota Vikings: This one is too obvious. Minnesota couldn’t have dreamed up a better fit for the center position in Gary Kubiak’s offense (I don’t care that he’s a little undersized). Purple is going to look good on the Grim Reacher.
10) T.J. Hockenson, TE, Detroit Lions: Yes, we know the recent first-round tight ends (Brandon Pettigrew and Eric Ebron) for the Lions haven’t worked out (at least, while they were in Detroit). Hockenson is different, though. He’s going to be a favorite of Matthew Stafford‘s from Day 1, and he has the all-around game to be a good pal of Kerryon Johnson‘s, too. NFL Network Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah called him the safest prospect in the draft. This will be good, Detroiters.
11) Nasir Adderley, S, Los Angeles Chargers: Sure, he’s making the leap from the FCS ranks and wasn’t the most consistent guy in coverage at Delaware, but he’s also a certified ballhawk. Adderley is going to be fun to watch playing center field in Gus Bradley’s defense. People are already getting Earl Thomas-Kam Chancellor vibes from the pairing of Adderley with Derwin James.
12) Josh Allen, edge, Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars are being a little vague about how they’ll use Allen, but that’s fine, since he can do it all. He and Yannick Ngakoue give Duval County a wicked pass-rushing tandem off the edge, but Allen can drop back into coverage and play the run, too. We suspect he won’t have much trouble carving out a niche.
Big opportunity, big payoff?
13) Brian Burns, DE, Carolina Panthers: GM Marty Hurney had to be ecstatic to watch Burns fall into Carolina’s lap with the 16th pick. There might not have been a more natural team-player fit in Round 1. Now, we’re a little concerned about the attention he’ll get from opposing offenses, given the team’s unimpressive collection of complementary pass rushers, but Ron Rivera’s a sharp defensive mind who should be able to figure out how to unleash his speedy new toy off the edge.
14) D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks: This one is pretty straightforward. Seattle needs someone to step up to replace Doug Baldwin. Metcalf, considered a likely first-rounder for much of the spring, somehow fell all the way to the end of Round 2 (was it stiffness? the neck injury?), when the Seahawks scooped him up. Let’s get him and Russell Wilson together and watch the fireworks downfield.
15) Darnell Savage, S, Green Bay Packers: Similar to Adderley, the table is set for Savage to feast in the secondary as a rookie. He’ll be a ballhawk in center field, using his combination of quickness and instincts to be a thorn in the side of offenses.
16) Chris Lindstrom, OG, Atlanta Falcons: Lindstrom’s teammate and fellow rookie, OT Kaleb McGary, bears mentioning here, as well, but the BC alum gets the nod, since his fit as an NFL right guard is a little better than McGary’s at right tackle. Lindstrom has the athleticism to keep Matt Ryan upright and the scrappiness to move defenders in the run game. He’ll help set the tone in the trenches with C Alex Mack.
17) Dwayne Haskins, QB, Washington Redskins: The prevailing expectation seems to be that Case Keenum will be starting come Week 1. If there is a wait for Haskins’ coronation as QB1, I’m not expecting it to be a long one. Whenever he gets the call, he’ll be stepping into an offense with a strong offensive line and running game (barring a rash of injuries like the team experienced in 2018), and that’s a pretty nice situation for a rookie QB to find himself in, even though the receiving corps leaves much to be desired.
18) Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: It is a crowded backfield in Philly, with Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood vying for snaps. So, what is Sanders doing on this list? Well, he’s the most complete back of the bunch, which should lead to plenty of playing time, and he’ll have one of the league’s best O-lines creating lanes for him. I like the potential here.
19) Jerry Tillery, DT, Los Angeles Chargers: This is a clean fit. The Bolts were set on the edge with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Now they have someone who will push the pocket from the interior. Tillery’s length and power give should make him a force right away, as long as he doesn’t encounter any issues in his return from shoulder surgery.
20) Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos: One guy who figures to be pretty key in how Fant fares as a rookie likes what he’s seeing from the former Hawkeye. Said QB Joe Flacco of Fant after Day 1 of OTAs this week: “I’m excited about it. When you look at him, he’s a really athletic guy. I think he is underrated on the line of scrimmage, in terms of what he can do, and getting his hands on people.” Flacco doesn’t seem like an easy person to excite, but he might have himself a new go-to guy. After all, the Broncos‘ cup does not runneth over at wide receiver.
Don’t sleep on ’em
21) N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots: Here comes the receiver-run portion of this list. Harry is one of the rookies in a situation where we’re a little wary of predicting they will tear it up right off the bat, but we could easily see expectations being exceeded. The last pick in Round 1 will get a shot to use his big frame to replace some of the red-zone production that was lost with Gronk’s retirement. However, we could also see Bill and Tom’s patience being tested if Harry goes through some rookie rough patches.
22) Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: With the uncertainty about Tyreek Hill’s future in the NFL, Hardman is positioned to play a major role in Kansas City’s explosive offense. He has the speed to get open all over the field and offers special teams value, too.
23) Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers: It’s easy to envision the tough Samuel shaking off arm tackles on his way to turning a catch off a screen pass into a long gain, although he can certainly make things happen at every level of the defense. As long as he stays healthy, Deebo and Kyle Shanahan’s offense will go down as a perfect second-round marriage.
24) Montez Sweat, OLB, Washington Redskins: Jay Gruden has already said Sweat’s going to be playing a lot — and that he might be the fastest player on the team. As long as there are no concerning developments around the heart diagnosis that contributed to his slide in the draft (which might have been a misdiagnosis), he should be in position to do damage off the edge while Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne handle the dirty work inside. Remember, this fella is a freak.
25) Greg Gaines, DT, Los Angeles Rams: Yes, this is our draft hipster pick. Gaines was the 134th overall pick this year. I can hear you right now: You’re telling me Marquise Brown or Parris Campbell or Byron Murphy isn’t in a better situation? Oh, and I hate hipsters! Hear me out, though: Gaines has a clear path to the job vacated by Ndamukong Suh, which consists of eating up space playing next to the best defensive player in the game. Gaines is actually a better fit for the job than Suh! This stubby former Husky was born to be a two-down nose tackle, and he couldn’t have asked for a better landing spot.
Follow Dan Parr on Twitter @TheDan_Parr.