Could four quarterbacks be off the board by the middle of the first round? Who will be the teams to trade up for one of them? Will the Cardinals take Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick? There are still plenty of unknowns with the 2019 NFL Draft just a few days away.
We’ll have to wait until Thursday to find out the answers, but in the meantime we’re predicting the five biggest surprises over draft weekend.
As for the actual draft, you’ll be able to stream our live coverage right here on CBS Sports HQ (or download the CBS Sports app for free on any mobile or connected TV device) breaking down all the picks and everything you need to know during draft weekend.
1. The Raiders aren’t taking a quarterback
Oakland has four of the first 35 picks and while coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have reiterated their support for Derek Carr — “We love what he brings to the table, but like every other position, we’re going to do all of our due diligence,” Mayock said earlier this month — there’s also the very real possibility they target a quarterback. Because even though Carr set career highs in completion percentage (68.9), yards (4,049) and yards per attempt (7.3), he also ranked 22nd in value per play among all QBs, according to Football Outsiders, and the Raiders’ passing game was middle of the road.
There’s also, from Carr’s perspective, the looming specter of Kyler Murray. It’s hard to imagine that the Cardinals don’t draft Murray, but the Raiders certainly have the draft capital to move up and get him if Gruden is emboldened to do so. And things get really interesting if the Cardinals pass on Murray altogether (again, we can’t envision the circumstances where that happens) and he’s available at No. 4, when the Raiders will be on the clock. But the Las Vegas Journal-Review‘s Michael Gehlken reported this week that Oakland won’t use any of its first-rounders on Carr’s successor.
“Behind the scenes, the option has appeared remote at best. Today, the outcome would be considered a shocking pivot if it develops.” Gehlken wrote Monday.
And this makes sense; Carr averages $22.5 million a season but the Raiders can move on from him with little cost after the 2020 season. If Gruden decides during the 2019 season that Carr is not the long-term answer, the team can target one of the quarterback’s in next year’s loaded class (Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jake Fromm, Shea Patterson) when they’ll have two first-round picks. In the meantime, the Raiders can address their many other needs, starting with trying to replace Khalil Mack. It’s why we have them taking Rashan Gary, the athletic super freak out of Michigan, in our latest mock draft. And even if you don’t like the Gary-to-Oakland selection, this class is stacked with edge rushers — Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Brian Burns, Montez Sweat and Clelin Ferrell could all be off the board by the middle of the round.
Then, with the 24th and 27th picks the Raiders could bolster the secondary (we have them taking Greedy Williams, the most athletic cornerback in this class) and tight end (in a recurring them, Oakland grabs Noah Fant, the most athletic player at his position, who would step in for Jared Cook and his 68 catches from a season ago). Carr gets another weapon at the top of Round 2 as well; we have the Raiders taking Josh Jacobs, the best running back in this class, at No. 35.
Put another way: Sure, Oakland could take a QB, but a four-win team armed with picks and with bigger needs elsewhere on the roster would be wise to, you know, address those needs first. Maybe this is the year that the Raiders do the right thing.
2. Daniel Jones will be a top-15 pick
We like Daniel Jones. We don’t love him though, which is why we think he’s a second-round talent. But quarterbacks are overdrafted every year and 2019 won’t be any different. This is what happens when demand outstrips supply and it’s why Jones won’t be on the board after the middle of Round 1. As it stands, some combination of Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock will be drafted before Jones, the Duke standout who is a “David Cutcliffe Guy,” which means he’s technically sound to the point that he’s regularly compared to the Mannings. For us, he’s a more athletic version of Eli but he doesn’t enter the draft with the glowing scouting reports both Mannings enjoyed in 1998 and 2004. For Jones, the issues are his consistency and decision making, and at Duke was that a function of playing behind a suspect offensive line and with receivers who weren’t very good — or is that just who he is?
There have been rumblings all the way back to the Senior Bowl that the Giants were enamored with Jones and for good reason — again, the Cutcliffe connection. There are also reports that they’ll target a much-needed edge rusher with the first of their two first-rounders (New York has the No. 6 and No. 17 picks); they need an offense tackle (we have them taking Jawaan Taylor in our latest mock draft) and a wide receiver too (you may recall that they traded Odell Beckham). But here’s the problem with not taking a quarterback first: Jones could be gone by No. 17 because the Redskins, who have the 15th selection, are in more desperate need of a quarterback than any of the 31 other teams (and that includes the Dolphins). Washington traded for Case Keenum this offseason and have Colt McCoy to back him up. A year ago, they traded for Alex Smith, who suffered a gruesome leg injury late last season and it’s unclear when he’ll be healthy enough to begin his comeback.
Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is our No. 1 quarterback in this class and the Giants shouldn’t overthink it. Just take him at No. 6 and get a pass rusher or offensive tackle at No. 17. But the team reportedly doesn’t love Haskins and Jones seems more likely to end up in New York — if Washington doesn’t grab him first.
3. Drew Lock will go before Dwayne Haskins
We like Lock. We like Haskins a lot. But we’re not a general manager for an NFL team looking for its next franchise quarterback. As it stands, the Cardinals, Giants, Broncos, Bengals, Dolphins and Redskins are in the market for a QB and as we’ve previously discussed, Kyler Murray is linked to Arizona and Daniel Jones appears to be the favorite to land in New York. Next up: Denver, with the 10th pick, is reportedly enamored with Lock. More specifically, general manager John Elway is quite fond of Lock, dating back to the fall, continuing through the Senior Bowl and right up to the draft next week.
So if the Giants don’t take Haskins at No. 6 — and another team doesn’t trade up to get him — there’s the very real possibility that he could remain on the board when the Broncos go on the clock. It should come as no surprise that Denver met privately with Lock, but the team did the same with Haskins too. Perhaps this is all part of the pre-draft subterfuge, but if given the choice, we think Elway is leaning towards Lock.
4. D.K. Metcalf won’t be a top-20 pick
Metcalf will be remembered for two things on draft night: Blazing that 4.33 40 time at the combine … and this pre-combine pic that went viral:
But is he more than a muscle-bound sprinter? The short answer is yes, without question. But NFL teams don’t have a lot to go on and in general they’re a conservative lot when it comes to investing top-15 picks on a player without much experience, not to mention one who has battled injuries during his college career.
The good: Metcalf is a huge downfield target with an enormous catch radius, and he eats up cushion against cornerbacks. And despite poor shuttle and 3-cone times at the combine, he routinely shows the ability to put the foot in the ground and get and out of breaks. He’s good at creating separation with shoulder fakes and blazing speed. He also displays soft hands when hauling in long arcing throws, can high-point the ball on fade routes and has strong hands to fight off physical cornerbacks for the ball.
The bad: Drops are a concern — are those concentration-related or indicative of a bigger issue? Metcalf also has struggled with injuries — he played in just two games in 2016 and seven last season. Then there are the poor 3-cone and shuttle times at the combine.
Compare that with the draft board and the earliest Metcalf could go off the board is No. 9 to Buffalo. But that feels too rich — plus, the Bills addressed the position in free agency with John Brown and Cole Beasley. The Dolphins could target a wide receiver at No. 13 but that would mean neglecting bigger needs — quarterback, offensive line and pass rusher chief among them. The Redskins really need to upgrade the wideout position but like the Dolphins, they don’t have a quarterback. If the Giants are going pass rusher with the No. 6 pick, we can’t imagine they’d take a wideout at No. 17, even though Odell Beckham is now in Cleveland; Eli Manning is 38 and hasn’t played well in several seasons. The next most likely candidate to take Metcalf: The Titans at No. 19, who have needs at pass rusher, cornerback and tight end. And while it’s certainly possible Tennessee drafts a wide receiver early, the team took 6-foot-2 deep threat Corey Davis fifth overall in 2017.
We’ve had Metcalf landing with the Ravens in recent mock drafts and it’s a good fit; Baltimore is a run-first offense but that can change as Lamar Jackson continues to grow and with the addition of a legit deep threat — and Metcalf qualifies for that more than any other pass catcher in this draft.
5. The Steelers will take a tight end at No. 20
The Steelers haven’t taken an offensive player in the first round since 2012, when they drafted guard David DeCastro 24th overall. With needs at linebacker, pass rusher and cornerback, that probably shouldn’t change in 2019. But there’s a very real chance it does; after selecting Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Artie Burns, T.J. Watt and Terrell Edmunds from 2013-2018, an offensive player could finally go off the board first.
There are a few ways this can happen. First, linebackers Devin White and Devin Bush are gone (and they almost certainly will be, probably by pick No. 12). Second, there needs to be a run on edge defenders; Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Montez Sweat, Brian Burns and Rashan Gary could be long gone by No. 20. Third, the Steelers pass on a cornerback — Greedy Williams and Byron Murphy could both be available — and possibly even an edge rusher like Clelin Ferrell. And most importantly: Quarterback-needy teams need to go after Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock and Daniel Jones in such a way that the two best tight ends — Iowa teammates Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson — fall to Pittsburgh.
If Bush somehow is still available at No. 20 the Steelers are taking him. But even if Burns or Murphy are there, the team could prefer a tight end and here’s why:
Vance McDonald is a beast but Pittsburgh lost Antonio Brown and they’re going to have to find new ways to make up for that lost productivity. The good news is that this wide receivers class is deep (so is the tight ends class, incidentally) so the Steelers could draft, say, Hockenson at No. 20, fill some defensive needs in Round 2 and with one of their third-round picks, and then target a wideout with their other third-rounder. Plus, if we’ve learned anything about the Steelers’ draft strategy it’s that they’re terrible at successfully finding cornerbacks in Round 1 and are damn near infallible at landing receivers in later rounds. Also: the last tight end they took in the first round? Heath Miller back in 2005 and he turned out OK.