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As collegians declare themselves eligible for the 2019 NFL draft, teams start to assemble big boards in hopes of picking up long-term roster building blocks. It’s not always a quarterback, either; offensive skill players and defenders also fall into this category.
Typically, the cornerstones for any team earn recognition as Pro Bowlers, and a select few reach All-Pro levels for multiple years. It’s difficult to expect rookies to achieve those honors. Yet, there’s an expectation for top picks to perform at high levels sooner than later and do so throughout a lengthy career.
Among the prospects within the upcoming draft class, who projects as a foundational roster piece? What roles could these players take on once they reach the professional level? We’ll take a look at incoming rookies at various positions with the ability to translate potential into high production.
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Quarterback Dwayne Haskins only posted one strong year on the collegiate level, but once he declared for the 2019 NFL draft, the Ohio State product landed atop Bleacher Report Matt Miller‘s quarterback rankings.
For those who watched Haskins accumulate 4,831 passing yards, 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions, it’s clear he’s an ascending talent who can push for a starting job as a rookie. For the most part, the 21-year-old has shown solid ball placement and pinpoint accuracy. Haskins didn’t have too many errant passes that went to defenders and completed 70 percent of his attempts.
The former Buckeye isn’t a natural ball-carrier, but he’s mobile and able to avoid an oncoming pass rush if necessary. That aspect of his game makes him an attractive target for teams with shaky offensive lines.
As a signal-caller who protects the football with the ability to make throws in every area of the field, Haskins should have a long career wherever he lands in April. He’s an offensive centerpiece to build around. A quality coaching staff will help him develop consistency as he gains playing experience.
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This draft class doesn’t have a DeAndre Hopkins- or Julio Jones-type of wide receiver, but N’Keal Harry offers a rare size and speed combination that may draw interest in the first round. Regardless of his draft spot, the 6’4″, 216-pound wideout could become an All-Pro in the right situation.
Harry isn’t just a tall wide receiver who can rip the ball away from a defender on a contested catch. He’s able to fight through double coverage and erase some margin for error on poor throws downfield. The Arizona State product could haul in a catch like a Venus’ flytrap when targeted for deep balls.
With an established passer, Harry may push for Pro Bowl invites right away; don’t count on an early All-Pro campaign. If he’s paired with a developing quarterback, the signal-caller would have a viable red-zone threat and pass-catcher accustomed to taking on the opponent’s top cornerback. Either way, he’s a solid building block for the aerial attack.
Over the last two seasons, Harry led Arizona State in receiving yards (2,230) and touchdowns (17).
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Offensive tackle Jonah Williams didn’t have his best showing against Clemson in the CFP National Championship, but one outing doesn’t erase three years of solid blocking on the edge.
Williams has made life a little easier in the pocket for Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa over the years. He’s started every game of his career at Alabama on the right or left side of the front line. At 6’5″, 301 pounds, he’s not the biggest pocket protector, but there’s fluidity in his movements.
The Alabama tackle knows how to use his hands without drawing excessive fouls, which speaks to his technique to compensate for the lack of size. He lists as Miller’s No. 9 overall prospect on the big board.
If Williams comes off the board as the first offensive lineman, a team could have a 10-year starter and a cornerstone piece to the roster. Most importantly, he’ll keep speedy edge-rushers away from the quarterback.
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Defensive lineman Quinnen Williams broke out as a full-time starter during his sophomore year. In November, he burst onto the scene as an effective penetrator, logging a sack in five consecutive contests. The Birmingham, Alabama, native went from a rotational asset in the trenches to a dominant force within a year.
Williams’ redshirt sophomore label may scare some evaluators away because of the physical nature of his position on the interior. While it’s too early to compare him to premier interior tackles such as Geno Atkins or Aaron Donald, Williams is still growing into his body. That’s an astonishing reality for a player who finished the year with eight sacks, 19.5 tackles for a loss and just turned 21 years old in late December.
Today’s NFL doesn’t just focus on pressure off the edge. The ability to shoot through gaps in the middle and flush the quarterback outside or take him down holds value. At the very least, Williams should be able to bring chaos up front in passing situations. As he sharpens his technique, expect him to manhandle big bodies to blow up the run as a consistent disruptor on the defensive line.
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Let’s look past the last name and focus on production. In many draft circles, defensive end Nick Bosa seems like the consensus No. 1 overall pick. Miller has consistently listed him as the top prospect within the class, and for good reason.
On film, Bosa looks like a complete football player. He’s 6’4″, 263 pounds, enabling him to play in varied defensive fronts. The Ohio State product has displayed power, quickness and innate ball-tracking skills when defending against the run.
In 29 contests, Bosa has accumulated 29 tackles for a loss to go along with 17.5 sacks. He’s equipped to battle through initial blocks and seal the edge regardless of the down and distance. Furthermore, the talented defensive end can tackle in the open field and in tight quarters.
If the Arizona Cardinals keep the No. 1 overall pick and choose Bosa, they’d be taking a complete edge-rusher who can spike their sack count and limit production on outside zone runs.
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On one particular snap during the national championship game, defensive end Clelin Ferrell floored Jonah Williams and interfered with the pass play. That’s a slight glimpse of what the Clemson product can do on the football field.
Ferrell didn’t flood the airwaves with highlight-worthy bone-crushing hits every week, but he’s been a consistent piece to Clemson’s vaunted defensive line. In three seasons, the 6’4″, 265-pound lineman has racked up 50.5 tackles for a loss, 27 sacks and finished his collegiate career as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
With spectators worldwide watching the final collegiate football game of the season, Ferrell rose to the occasion as a standout against college football’s gold-standard program in Alabama. As a participant in three title contests, he’s no stranger to big games; the NFL stage won’t eat him alive.
Ferrell may not lead the league in sacks every year, but he’s certainly capable of reaching double-digits in the category. Don’t overlook his ability to clog rushing lanes and bring a winning mentality into the locker room.
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Who’s the quarterback of the defense? It’s an important question to ask because he makes the initial calls and adjustments in a pre-snap chess game with the opposing signal-caller. A defensive unit needs a playmaker who can prepare the group for what’s to come and ensure his teammates are positioned in the right spot.
Devin White lists fourth on Miller’s big board; he could hear his name called before Roquan Smith, last year’s top-drafted off-ball linebacker, who went eighth to the Chicago Bears. The LSU product seeks out the action and puts a stop to opponents’ progress. Like Smith before him, White won the Dick Butkus Award in 2018 as the top collegiate linebacker in the country.
Aggressive, shrewd and instinctive are qualities that come to mind when describing White’s play style. Over the last two years, he logged 256 total tackles, 25.5 resulting in a loss, and 7.5 sacks as a thumper and physical defender. During his junior year, the 20-year-old flashed his awareness with the ball in the air with six pass breakups.
Currently, there’s an emphasis on getting the ball to offensive playmakers in space. White has the tools to combat that concept. As a reliable tackler who’s able to stay on the field for all three downs, he’s an All-Pro talent in the making.
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When evaluating cornerback Greedy Williams, his stature immediately jumps off the screen. He’s a 6’3″, 184-pound cover man, with above-average ball-tracking skills. The redshirt sophomore has notched eight interceptions and 19 pass breakups in two collegiate seasons at LSU.
Bleacher Report’s Connor Rogers has already compared Williams to San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, who’s a three-time All-Pro still at the top of his game at 30 years old. The former Tiger may rack up similar accolades. For now, he’s bound to become a top-15 pick because of his ideal size and production.
Typically, we don’t think about cornerbacks as roster building blocks because quarterbacks can avoid their side of the field. However, the passing game becomes predictable if the signal-caller shies away from a boundary defender. Williams can cut the field of opportunity in half for a defense.
As someone capable of forcing turnovers at a high rate, he’s a prospect to draft, develop and keep around on a second or third contract.