Coming off another horribly boring Patriots Super Bowl victory, the NFL is getting a nice jolt of young talent from the 2019 NFL draft. The recent graduations class of college stars made their mark at the scholastic ranks and are ready to prove they’re worth their paycheck. Below are five rookies who I believe will have the most impactful seasons.
5. Jonathan Abram
The first-round talent out of Mississippi State wasn’t on my radar until he emerged as a star on HBO’s Hard Knocks, where his magnetic positivity, wide smiles, and constant charisma kept the bleak Raiders training camp somewhat playful. Abram is a big-bodied safety who hits gaps with a firecracker spark and misses very few tackles. Aside from the lovable personality, Abram is one of the most filled-out rookies at his position. At 6’0 and 215 pounds, Abram isn’t a giant, but he’s a stout run-stopping safety with pass covering versatility. Abram will be a key cog for Oakland’s defense as a rookie–his role and snap count are going to be higher than most rookies. Add in the fact that Abram plays with a refreshing physicality and happy energy and that’s a player you’d want on the field as much as possible. I sense a bright future from a very high character kid who hits HARD.
4. Deebo Samuel
This clip is the first play of the Kentucky vs. South Carolina game in 2017. It was the third game of the season and Deebo already had returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Kentucky (my team) had to go AT South Carolina and face Deebo in prime time. And on the very first play of the game, Deebo Samuel took that regular slant route 70 yards for a touchdown. He got hurt later on and missed the rest of the season, but that small morsel of Samuel footage was all I needed: He is a special athlete. Probably the most unstoppable wide receiver I’ve seen in person over the two seasons aside from Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden–and Rondale Moore went to my rival high school!
Deebo is a short greasy fast stallion on the football field. He’ll be an electric slot receiver/all-purpose player from moment one in the NFL. Just look at the 49ers depth chart at receiver. Here are their starters: Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Richie James, William Kemper and Kendrick Bourne (one of those is the name of my dentist and I’ll bet you didn’t even notice). With a recovering Garoppolo, San Fran will probably focus on a shorter passing game early in the season, and screen passes to Deebo Samuel is the filet mignon of that menu.
3. Ed Oliver
This dude is a wide receiver/tight end athleticism crossbred with Hakeem Olajuwon’s footwork who lines up across from your favorite team’s center. Ed Oliver is the closest thing resembling Aaron Donald, and I profiled his boggling unstoppability a few weeks ago. A little undersized, yes, but fast, slippery, explosive, and relentless. Oliver gets off the line faster than Usain Bolt launches off the blocks during the 100-meter dash, he spins like an Olympic figure skater, he tracks down quarterbacks like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, and he can even drop into pass coverage. Ed Oliver is an elite pass rusher and multi-positional front-seven phoenix. Eddie is gonna set offensive lines on fire.
2. Josh Allen
Josh is my guy. He went to MY school and he is going to dominate YOUR favorite football league. Josh went six picks later than he should have (7th overall). Disrespect. Here’s why everyone made a mistake passing on Allen and why he’ll terrorize quarterbacks for the next decade:
He’s a tank. A greasy fast 245-pound Kentuckian tank. Allen came to Lexington five years ago as a stick figure linebacker and lowly two-star recruit. Four years later, Allen was the best player in college football. Heisman, shcmeisman. Josh Allen earned every Defensive Player of the Year honor possible, accumulated a million sacks, and was the single most forceful pass rusher in the country. Off the edge, there is nobody faster than Allen. Usually, he can just beat his man around the corner and smack the quarterback. Or, if stopped on the edge, Allen can rip through a double team or spin inside, putting himself in prime position to stop the play.
All of the intricacies of his pass-rushing game are nice but the most memorable thing about Allen was his ability to raise his game in the most important moments. I remember last season–Jesus, I’m getting chills just writing this–Kentucky hosted 14th ranked Mississippi State and was undefeated at the time. Leading 21-7 in the fourth quarter, MSU had a huge third-down coming up, stadium Parkinsons at full force! Josh Allen’s face pops up on the Jumbotron and he says “STAND UP BBN!” Allen, who’s already lined up on the actual field, stands up and waves his arms, “get up, get up!” He re-settles into his position, ball snaps, Allen fires off the line, around the edge and takes down Nick Fitzgerald. Wowwww. How many athletes in the world can have their face on the TV, tell the fans to get up, and then make the most important sack of the season? I’m your Jordan Belfort. I got Josh Allen penny-stock back in 2015. I’m open for business 🙂
1. Kyler Murray
I could not stop writing about good Kyler Murray was at football last year. It blew my mind that he wouldn’t go number one in the draft (that was the consensus last October). Murray was a black, faster, more athletic version of Baker Mayfield without being sacked by the Police on camera for public intoxication. A 5’10 dual-threat lightning bolt quarterback paired with a fired Texas Tech head coach/offensive guru (maybe?). That’s at least exciting. So much so that I drafted Kyler onto my fantasy team. Look, he can run and he can pass. By my analysis, he appears to be a better-passing/worse-running Lamar Jackson. He can thread the needle through swarming bodies on the scramble and throw 80-yard bombs out of the pocket. Throw him behind a midget offensive line and the Cards should pose the most unique and (again, maybe) exciting offense in the league.