2019 NFL Draft: Five biggest instant impact rookies based on talent, fit and situation
Kyler Murray, Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams are obvious, but here are five others who could make a huge impact
Which first-round picks from the 2019 NFL Draft are truly in "instant impact" situations?
Sure, every team believes its Round 1 pick will be a Rookie of the Year candidate at the end of the season. In actuality, some rookies simply find themselves in more advantageous situations than others based on the roster makeup of their respective new team.
Based on talent, fit, and situation, these are the five biggest instant impact rookies from this draft class. Kyler Murray was left off on purpose. Listing him would've represented the low-hanging fruit. The same goes for Nick Bosa and Quinnen Williams.
Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Raiders
Not counting Boston College's Zach Allen, who's a hybrid more than anything else, this is how I ranked the edge rusher position in the 2019 NFL Draft: Nick Bosa. Montez Sweat. Ferrell. And the latter was ranked No. 17 overall.
Considering those rankings, you're probably not surprised I was among the few who liked the Raiders going Ferrell at No. 4 overall. Purely based on the rankings, Sweat would've been the highest-ranked prospect at that position on my board when Oakland went on the clock, but who knows if the Raiders' medical staff saw his heart condition as a red flag? Sure, Ferrell at No. 4 was technically early. Yet Oakland had a gigantic need on the outside of its defensive line and there was no guarantee he'd be there at No. 24.
Ferrell is in prime position to be hugely impactful to the Raiders in 2018 because of the club's well-documented pass-rush problems. I tracked defensive pressure rates last season to get a good sense of truly how productive each team's pass rush was, instead of solely looking at sack figures. The Raiders not only finished with the fewest amount of sacks in football, with 13, but the second-lowest number was a whopping 30. Jon Gruden's club had the league's lowest pressure rate. The Raiders pressured the opposing quarterback on 23.3% of drop backs they faced. The Lions had the second-lowest pressure rate at 29.0%.
Arden Key, Oakland's 2018 third-round selection, will likely open as the team's "top" pass rusher. Ferrell has a higher motor, better hand use, and more strength to push offensive tackles backward. While I don't expect Ferrell to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, his size, length, power, and ascending pass-rushing ability will likely keep him on the field for 60-70% of the snaps -- Key played 62.6% as a rookie -- and his well-rounded game will lead to him loading the stat sheet. Oh, and my pre-draft comparison for Ferrell was Chandler Jones.
Devin White, LB, Buccaneers
Before the aftershock of Ferrell at No. 4 subsided, White to the Bucs was one of the most obvious prospect-team pairings in the entire first round mainly due to the free-agent departure of Kwon Alexander, an athletic but vastly inconsistent linebacker.
Lavonte David is and has always been a stud at the weak-side spot. He's needed a reliable running mate for a while now and gets that with White, a ferocious, athletic, ridiculously fast second-level defender who did a marvelous job cleaning up tackling issues that popped on film in 2017. Also, he was much more comfortable in coverage in his final year at LSU than he was the season before.
In 2018, the Buccaneers had Football Outsiders' second-worst run defense DVOA, and David had two times the amount of tackles (120) of the linebacker with the second-most on the team (60, Adarius Taylor). There'll be plenty of opportunity for White to fly across the football field to make plays against the run. While he's not the most efficient blocker-shedder, the former LSU star often beats blockers to the ball and can lay the lumber. My pre-draft comparison for him was Myles Jack.
White doubled his pass breakup total from three as a sophomore to six as junior. He can strike quickly on underneath throws after sinking in zone and proved capable of turning and running with backs and tight ends alike in 2018. He'll have to be key cog to Tampa's pass defense in a division with tight ends like Austin Hooper, Jared Cook, and Greg Olsen.
Ed Oliver, DT, Bills
This is the best combination of value and fit in the entire first round. Buffalo was active in free agency, yet entered the draft with a gaping hole at the play-making three technique defensive tackle spot vacated by the retired Kyle Williams.
Oliver was born to play three technique. He's an athletic marvel, the most electric mover we've seen at defensive tackle since Aaron Donald joined the league in 2014. Oliver was able to overcome playing predominately at the nose tackle spot at 6-foot-1 and 280-plus pounds -- basically coaching malfeasance -- to amass 53 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in his three seasons at Houston.
With an open gap staring him in the face when he looks up from his three-point stance on the outside shoulder of the guard -- or at the one-technique outside the center -- Oliver's elite first step and sustained speed will allow him to create consistent havoc. And in 2018, Oliver flashed more pass-rushing moves than in his first two years with the Cougars. The run-stopping prowess has been there since his true freshman season in 2016.
The Bills actually finished sixth in defensive pressure rate in 2018 at 37.1%. But outside of Kyle Williams and a sprinkling of pass-rush production from Jordan Phillips and Harrison Phillips, most of Buffalo's pressure was created by Jerry Hughes on the outside.
Oliver is in prime position to be "freed" on the inside with the Phillips duo and the massive Star Lotulelei eating double teams. The No. 9 overall pick in this draft will be the definition of "instant impact" on Buffalo's deep defensive line, both against the run and the pass. My pre-draft comparison for him was John Randle.
Noah Fant, TE, Broncos
In 2016 and 2017 combined, Joe Flacco's final two years as the 16-game starter in Baltimore, tight ends accounted for 24.8% of the team targets and 25.5% of the team receptions. In his Super Bowl winning season of 2012, an even more sizable 28.1% of the Ravens' team targets went to tight ends.
Last year in Denver, just 18.5% of team receptions and 19.1% of the targets were tight end targets. The Broncos understood their new quarterback would want to get the tight ends more involved in the offense, so they drafted one of the top two tights in this class in Fant.
While he doesn't necessarily play to his measured athleticism -- 4.50 in the 40, 39-inch vertical, 6.81 three-cone -- Fant is a big receiver with some blocking chops. You want him accelerating down the seam. He's the definition of a matchup nightmare with that type of speed at 6-4 and 249 pounds.
It won't be surprising if Fant takes a considerable bite out of the target shares of Jeff Heuerman and Jake Butt on Sundays and is utilized in the intermediate and deep portions of the field with Flacco under center. My pre-draft comparison for him was O.J. Howard.
Jerry Tillery, DT, Chargers
Tillery is a nearly 6-7, 295 pound interior wrecking ball who just so happens to be a superb athlete for the position and regularly deploys heavy hands to guards and centers on his way to the football.
He was my No. 4 defensive tackle -- behind Oliver, Quinnen Williams, and Jeffery Simmons -- and No. 7 overall prospect in the entire class. Because he's so stellar athletically and has long, active hands, his height isn't an issue in the leverage battle very often. Why? Offensive linemen can't get their hands into his chest and keep them there.
And he lands with a team in Los Angeles that desperately needs push up the middle, with their two bookend edge rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa drawing significant attention every week.
Corey Liuget is gone. Brandon Mebane is in the twilight of his career and has been a reliable block-eater at nose tackle. Justin Jones, the team's third-round pick in 2018 who plays defensive tackle, appeared on just 28.9% of the defensive snaps in 2018 and registered a half sack. Tillery is bound to eat immediately in Los Angeles. My pre-draft comparison for him was Chris Jones.
Pick Six Newsletter
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Of course, quarterbacks are highlighted, but a few defenders and a running back also made the...
These late-round picks provided historically awesome value to the teams that drafted them
We loved these players as 2018 prospects, and now they've got the opportunity for a big 20...
It's never to early to look ahead to the 2020 class
Our super-early look at the 2020 NFL Draft features plenty of prospects to put on your watchlist...
These prospects were picked on Day 3 but have the talent and opportunity to surprise in Year...