When the dawn rose on April 26, every NFL team that possessed a first-round likely would have self-applied a grade of A with their initial choices in the 2019 NFL draft.
But A’s don’t always stick.
We went back and graded each of the first-round selections from eight months ago and slapped a rookie-year grade on each. Granted, these are only first-year grades and don’t reflect a player’s long-term potential. Some of these C’s could become A’s quickly in 2020.
Here’s a look at how the top 32 draft picks’ rookie seasons were graded:
It’s hard not to be impressed with what Murray did to liven up one of the NFL’s worst offenses from 2018. Murray took too many sacks (a league-high 48), but he has made strides through the second half of the season, hasn’t lost a fumble and is ahead of where Lamar Jackson was as a rookie passer in 2018.
Although his sack and big-play production slowed in the second half of the season, Bosa’s advanced hand work, aggressive nature and finishing ability were ready-made for the NFL, even after a preseason injury cost him a lot of developmental time. He’s going to be an All-Pro in time.
After a slow start, Williams flashed the ability commensurate with the No. 3 pick in the draft and quieted some of the early “bust” talk. He played the majority of snaps on defense and made more impact plays. He is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential after turning 22 in December.
Thrust into the starting lineup immediately, Ferrell looked lost early. Over time, especially as fellow rookie Maxx Crosby emerged opposite him, Ferrell grew more comfortable and effective. He might never be a star, but Ferrell has the look of a solid player once he learns a little more refinement (seven penalties, tied for third-most among all defensive ends).
Missed tackles and a few lapses in coverage remain areas where White can clean up his game a little. But anyone who has watched the Bucs knows that he’s going to be the heartbeat of this defense for the next several years. He took over games as a run-stopper and blitzer after missing three early games with injury and was named the Rookie of the Month for November. He’s a star in the making.
6. Daniel Jones, QB New York Giants — C+
Jones is a really tricky study. He had some monster games against bad defenses (combined 13 TD passes against the Lions, Jets and Redskins) and some poor performances against better units. He took 38 sacks in his 12 starts, fumbled a league-worst 18 times (losing 11) and tossed 12 interceptions. But he also handled the New York spotlight, provided a clear upgrade from Eli Manning and gave hope to the franchise. He’s no finished product by any means, but Jones has answered some of his critics.
As a part-time rusher, Allen really has made a difference for the Jaguars — even as the team has gone south. The list of rookie pass rushers to notch 20 QB hits, 10 sacks and multiple forced fumbles since 2006 is a short one: Aldon Smith, Von Miller, Bradley Chubb and Allen. What he must do to take his game to the next level is to become a better run defender, add versatility to his game and handle a slightly bigger workload. The future is very bright.
8. T.J. Hockenson, TE Detroit Lions — C-
Following a six-catch, 131-yard, one-TD debut at Arizona in Week 1, it appeared that Hockenson was on his way to one of the better receiving seasons by a rookie tight end. But following a litany of injuries — a concussion, plus a balky shoulder and a season-ending ankle injury — Hockenson’s rookie year went down the tubes. Lions fans are disappointed to date, but better health could allow Hockenson to be a breakout player in Year 2 with better luck.
9. Ed Oliver, DT Buffalo Bills — B-
Oliver lost his starting job around midseason, and it might have been the best thing for him. Since then, he has made the most of his snaps and shown more disruption and consistency. Oliver’s stats (five sacks, 24 tackles, one forced fumble) are fairly modest, but watch his performances down the stretch against the Cowboys and Patriots and it’s easy to see why no one should be down on Oliver to this point.
Bush has been a starter since Week 1 but was picked on early in the season in coverage, looked lost at times and had some defensive responsibilities taken from him. Bush would later play some good ball down the stretch, leading the team in tackles and logging two interceptions, one forced fumble and four fumble recoveries (one returned for a TD). His arrow is pointing up on a good Steelers defense.
11. Jonah Williams, OL Cincinnati Bengals — INC
Williams landed on injured reserve with a torn labrum back in August and didn’t play a snap this season. He was eligible to practice at season’s end, but the Bengals didn’t activate him and will give him the offseason to get ready for 2020.
12. Rashan Gary, EDGE Green Bay Packers — D+
The low grade comes from his meager production in Year 1. It’s too soon to write off Gary as a contributor. Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith just have been that good as the starting edge rushers, so there has been no need to thrust Gary into a bigger role. He has been on the field for about a dozen snaps a game, mostly as a pass rusher. Gary showed more effectiveness in a limited role down the stretch.
Wilkins looked overwhelmed early on, but he settled into a groove later in the season. The Dolphins likely expect more from him in 2020, but there at least was some tangible uptick in his play. The biggest question is whether Wilkins ever will be more than a marginal interior pass rusher. His season highlight was catching a touchdown pass against the Bengals in Week 16.
14. Chris Lindstrom, OG Atlanta Falcons — C-
Lindstrom suffered a broken bone in his foot in the Falcons’ Week 1 loss to the Vikings and didn’t return until Week 14. Starting at right guard down the stretch, Lindstrom looked to be more effective as a run blocker than as a pass protector. It’s notable that the overall play of the offensive line appeared better down the stretch. He’ll be expected to be an anchor for the group in 2020.
After barely treading water early on, Haskins settled in fairly well before missing his final game with injury. Four of Haskins’ seven interceptions came in his first two games, both relief appearances in losses. He took better care of the ball and showed improved command of the offense in his seven starts, especially the final two in which he started connecting on more downfield passes.
16. Brian Burns, EDGE Carolina Panthers — B-
You can draw a clear line in Burns’ season: before his wrist surgery and after it. Prior to having the bye-week procedure, Burns logged sacks in five straight games in Weeks 2-6 and had a 56-yard fumble return for a touchdown. He wasn’t the same in the second half of the season, seeing reduced snaps and logging eight tackles, three sacks and five QB hits in his final 10 games.
Lawrence stepped in as a more-than-ample replacement for Damon “Snacks” Harrison, becoming the team’s best interior run-stopper up front. After being kept on a relative pitch count at Clemson (around 30 snaps per game his final two college seasons), Lawrence showed he could handle a bigger load, playing around 45 snaps per game in a longer season without missing a game. He might never be a pass rusher, but Lawrence is a solid player.
Certain games (such as the Packers in Week 16) gave Bradbury fits, as he had some eye-sore efforts as a pass blocker. The overall product wasn’t bad, though, as Bradbury has helped key a resurgent run game and appears the perfect fit as a zone-blocking force. Still, there’s ample room for improvement for this smart, driven player.
Simmons was one of our five highest-graded prospects overall last season, and he fell only because his rookie season was interrupted by a knee injury. Yet even without the benefit of training camp, preseason or the first six games of the regular season, Simmons stepped right in and made his presence felt on a defense that was good vs. the run, very good on third downs and 12th in points allowed. Just wait until 2020, when Simmons will fully unleash his talent.
20. Noah Fant, TE Denver Broncos — B-
After a relatively quiet first half of the season, Fant broke out with a big game against the Browns in Week 9 and finished the year strong. His connection with Drew Lock, Fant’s third QB of the season, was clear; they seem to have a great rapport. Fant quietly finished with the sixth-most receiving yards by a rookie tight end in the past 20 years. And drops, which were an issue at Iowa, were not a problem in Fant’s rookie season outside of a two-drop game against the Chiefs.
Savage started every game he played this season, missing two with an ankle injury. He was rock-solid on the back end paired with vet Adrian Amos. Although there were some missed tackles that Savage must clean up, he was very solid in coverage — even with only two interceptions and two passes defended. Savage was a surprise as the first defensive back selected during the 2019 NFL draft, but he has lived up to the expectations.
Dillard played in 15 games and started four (three at left tackle, one at right tackle). What the Eagles found is that he’s not a right tackle, as Dillard struggled in his experiment out of need there. Even with an uneven performance as a rookie, Dillard still figures to be the replacement in waiting for Jason Peters, who could retire after the playoffs. Dillard’s development will be a big story of the offseason.
We panned the Howard pick at the time, not in that we didn’t like the player but that he looked like a project more worthy of second- or third-round status. The good news for the Texans is that Howard resembled the part at right tackle, flashing strong potential despite playing through a partially torn MCL. The injury landed him on IR and ended his season after eight games. Head coach Bill O’Brien admitted that Howard remains a work in progress for 2020 but added that “there’s a lot to build on.”
24. Josh Jacobs, RB Oakland Raiders — A-
His rookie season was marred by having to miss three of the final four games with a shoulder injury. Jacobs changed the dynamic of the Raiders’ offense with 1,150 rushing yards, seven TDs and 4.8 yards per carry. He’s extremely tough and physical as a runner and could be special if he can stay healthy. Through eight games, he was nearly on pace for a 1,500-yard rushing season.
25. Marquise Brown, WR Baltimore Ravens — B-
From his four-catch, 147-yard, two-TD debut (on only 14 offensive snaps), it was clear that Brown possesses special, game-changing talent. However, Brown was slowed in the preseason by a foot injury, hindered by an ankle injury for most of the season, and dealt with various other ailments (hip, thigh, illness) down the stretch. He played in 14 games and grabbed seven TDs, although more than 25 percent of his receiving yards came in Week 1.
The Redskins traded up to this spot to take Sweat, and they ended up getting a 16-game starter in Year 1. Sweat was above average against the run, is still developing as a pass rusher and needs work in coverage based on the limited sample size of times he was asked to drop back. But it’s hard to pan this pick if you look deeper than the surface statistics (50 tackles, seven sacks) and realize that Sweat is still raw, technique-wise, and was asked to rush from a different side of the field than he did in college.
27. Johnathan Abram, S Oakland Raiders — INC
In an incredibly tough blow, Abram’s season ended after a mere 48 snaps in the opener against the Denver Broncos. He delivered a shot on the Broncos’ DaeSean Hamilton, which caused Abram to suffer a torn rotator cuff. Head coach Jon Gruden said the team would consider 2019 a “redshirt season.” It’s clear Abram figures heavily in their long-term plans.
Tillery played in all 16 games, starting two, and put up meager production: two sacks and 17 tackles. More likely was expected of him in Year 1 to help boost a defensive interior that hadn’t been taking pressure off of the Chargers’ talented pass rushers outside. Head coach Anthony Lynn praised Tillery’s effort in early December and indicated his impact was bigger than his numbers. Still, the Chargers often took him out on obvious passing situations, which indicates he needs to make strides in this department.
Collier was a late bloomer in college, and it appears as if he’ll have to follow that model to finding success in the NFL. There were high hopes for him in Year 1, although many other teams felt the Seahawks reached on the pick. And following an ankle injury in camp, his early development time was sapped. That led to an 11-game, 152-snap, two-tackle season as a deep reserve. That’s right: two tackles. Collier will be expected to change that significantly in 2020.
30. DeAndre Baker, CB New York Giants — C-
It was a humbling trial by fire for Baker, who won a starting job in September but failed to record an interception, committed 10 penalties and was beaten for eight TD passes, per Pro Football Focus. The 30,000-foot view of Baker’s rookie season wasn’t pretty. The good news is that he made tangible strides down the stretch that earned praise. Baker’s consistency is a big worry, but look no further than the Week 15 performance against Miami’s DeVante Parker for an indication of the kind of corner he can become.
31. Kaleb McGary, OT Atlanta Falcons — D+
The king-sized rookie earned the starting right tackle job (especially because there were no better options) and remained in the lineup throughout the year, working through his issues during a trying first season. According to PFF, McGary led the NFL among all offensive linemen in sacks allowed with 13. That’s the bad — and frankly, his effect in the run game needs work as well. He played well in the Week 14 win over the Panthers and earned some praise from the staff for how he progressed late.
Harry didn’t make his season debut until Week 11, when the Patriots activated him from injured reserve (ankle) and plugged him right into an offense desperate for playmakers. Harry’s statistics in his seven games (five starts) were paltry: 12 catches for 105 yards (an 8.8-yard average), along with five rushes for 49 yards. But he scored two touchdowns and was robbed of a third, and Harry was moderately effective considering he played only 79 offensive snaps. There’s little reason to think he’s a bust yet.
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