This is the second installment of a position-by-position preview of the 2019 NFL draft. Today: Wide receivers.
Wide receiver not only offers some of the better talent in the NFL draft, but it also has good depth.
Although teams lately have avoided investing first-round picks in the position while finding stars – such as Stefon Diggs of Minnesota and Michael Thomas of New Orleans – later on, they’ll be tempted to grab some of this draft’s exceptional pass-catchers early.
As many as five receivers could be selected in the first round or early in the second. Among the projected elite are D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown of Ole Miss, N’Keal Harry of Arizona State, Marquise Brown of Oklahoma and Kelvin Harmon of North Carolina State. It is reminiscent of 2015, when six receivers were chosen in Round One.
“This is a markedly better and deeper group than last year’s class,” NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote on NFL.com. In 2018, only two receivers were first-round choices: Maryland’s D.J. Moore and Alabama’s Calvin Ridley.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones said “there’s no pressure” in his contract negotiations with the NFL team.
Although Jones has two seasons remaining on a five-year, $71,256,045 contract extension, the Falcons pledged to work out a new deal with the former Foley High School and Alabama standout in 2019.
“My agent is in the process of them talking about it,” Jones said in providing ESPN’s Vaughn McClure with an update on the negotiations. “It hasn’t came to me. I’m good. I’m comfortable with how everybody’s doing it. There’s no pressure on my end, and none on their end. If they’re going to get it done, we’ll get it done.”
The average annual value of Jones’ contract — $14,251,209 — now ranks 11th among NFL wide receivers. Odell Beckham Jr. of the Cleveland Browns tops that rating at $18 million. Between Beckham and Jones are the Oakland Raiders’ Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, Los Angeles Rams’ Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins, Kansas City Chiefs’ Sammy Watkins, Browns’ Jarvis Landry, Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green, Green Bay Packers’ Davante Adams and Minnesota Vikings’ Stefon Diggs.
Jones’ current contract calls for a base salary of $9.6 million in 2019 and $11.426 million in 2020.
Jones has led the NFC in receiving yardage in each of the past five seasons. He’s earned Pro Bowl selection annually and made first-team All-Pro twice during that span.
Walter Cherepinsky, Walter Football: Devin White, LB, LSU
Why: The Lions have one of the worst linebacking corps in the NFL. They can’t cover anyone over the middle of the field. They need to add a player who can become the leader of their defensive unit at the position. If they do so, perhaps they’ll finally be able to compete with some of the top teams in their division.
Devin White was extremely productive this past season, logging 133 tackles. A projected running back, White is still learning the position, which is crazy considering how great he was in 2017.
Cherepinsky’s full mock
Maurice Moton, Bleacher Report: Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
Why: The Detroit Lions break the ice at cornerback with Greedy Williams. In a division with Aaron Rodgers throwing to Davante Adams and Kirk Cousins throwing to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, general manager Bob Quinn must strengthen his secondary.
Cornerback Darius Slay performed at All-Pro and Pro Bowl levels over the last two seasons, but 2017 second-rounder Teez Tabor has yet to develop into a consistent starter. The front office released Nevin Lawson, who opened games with the first unit since 2015.
Greedy Williams and Slay could become one of the NFL’s top cornerback tandems in the near future. We’re already familiar with the veteran’s work, recording 11 interceptions over the previous two campaigns. At 6’2″, the incoming rookie comes into the league with ideal length. Assuming he adds bulk to his 185-pound frame, the All-American cornerback should be able to handle all upper-echelon wideouts.
Williams picked off eight passes in two seasons at LSU. He ran 4.37 40-yard dash time but didn’t stand out during the position drills at the Combine. He also cut his workouts short because of cramps in his calves. Don’t allow his underwhelming workouts negate what he’s shown on tape. The cover man knows how to sniff out a route and won’t allow big plays over the top.
Draft, develop and re-sign. That has been the Vikings philosophy under Spielman and it’s worked well (Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer have notched 48 wins in five seasons together). That philosophy has allowed the Vikings to maintain a core of players that includes Anthony Barr, Stefon Diggs, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Rhodes, Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith and Adam Thielen, among others. Because the Vikings draft and develop as well as they do, they don’t have to get into the free agent market and the trade market very often to try and splash. While this philosophy has not yet propelled the Vikings to a Super Bowl win, it does have the Vikings in position to compete annually for a division title.
Without question, this is the position group that Vikings fans are thinking about most this offseason. Yes, this is a group that will be expected to improve in 2019. But let’s also remember that it’s a group with a solid foundation. Riley Reiff has been a solid free agent signing and has position flexibility, which will help the Vikings be flexible in this year’s draft. And then Pat Elflein and Brian O’Neill have been solid draft picks the past two years. So in those three, the Vikings have a solid foundation and now they’re in the process of putting together a group of players who can compete for two vacant starting spots and as well as important depth spots, such as swing tackle and backup center.
This will be a true position battle this spring and summer at TCO Performance Center. And it’s fair to assume to competition will be robust and plentiful. Chad Beebe, Laquon Treadwell and Brandon Zylstra are three names to watch in terms of returning players. There is still time to sign a free agent or two before the offseason program begins. And then there’s the draft and undrafted free agency, as well. This position battle is wide open and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds as well as how many receivers the Vikings decide to keep heading into the regular season.