The 2019 NFL Draft was dominated by talk about quarterbacks, as always. Was Kyler Murray tall enough? Did Dwayne Haskins get enough snaps in college? What on earth were the New York Giants thinking?
But this draft was about a lot more than signal-callers. While it may not have had the skill position players that drive so much conversation beyond the QBs, this was one of the deepest defensive drafts in recent memory.
The Jacksonville Jaguars got a steal in Josh Allen, as did the Buffalo Bills in Ed Oliver, but beyond some top-10 surprises, there was a lot of talent to be found later in the first round and into the second and third.
Here are five NFL rookies we will be paying close attention to at the start of the new season.
Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers, No. 10 overall pick
Losing Ryan Shazier in 2017 to a spine injury has been the most devastating loss the Steelers sustained in the last two seasons. In many ways, it cost the Steelers more than being without Le’Veon Bell throughout all of 2018. Pittsburgh’s defense went from seventh in points allowed per game in 2017 (19.3) with Shazier to tied for 16th in 2018 (22.5), but the offense actually gained more total yards (6,453) in 2018 without Bell than it did in 2017 (6,047) with him.
Bush may not be able to immediately fill Shazier’s shoes, but he has the chance to do so. He was a great linebacker at Michigan and received glowing reviews in the draft process. If Pittsburgh wins the AFC North this year, it will be due to them improving their defense more than their offense, and Bush will have a huge say in whether that happens or not.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 3, 2019
Brian Burns, DE/OLB, Carolina Panthers, No. 16 overall pick
The key to the Panthers’ success this season first and foremost is Cam Newton’s health at quarterback. That cannot be overstated. But the undoubted second thing they have to make sure they do is get more of a pass rush. Carolina finished 27th in the NFL last season with 35 sacks. A pass rush will go a long way to improving the team’s defense. Burns looked fantastic for the Panthers in the preseason and pass rushing is what he does. He looks like a very good pick on both talent and need.
Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs, No. 56 overall pick
The Chiefs didn’t need any more weapons this season, but they got one in Hardman. Now, they have a chance to actually improve their receiving corps by giving Hardman some snaps. Sammy Watkins has never quite lived up to his draft status and while Hardman is behind the wideout on the team’s depth chart, he very well could start taking plays away from the veteran.
— NFL (@NFL) August 22, 2019
David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears, No. 73 overall pick
With the Bears’ trade of Jordan Howard, David Montgomery has a chance to be a featured back. Now, this comes with a caveat. When looking at Montgomery, it is easy to say he will get the majority of the carries for Chicago. However, as was the case with Howard last year, his workload is likely to be split with Tarik Cohen, who had 190 touches to Howard’s 276 in 2018. Nevertheless, Montgomery appears highly likely to be given plenty of opportunities.
Chase Winovich, LB, New England Patriots, No. 77 overall pick
The Patriots didn’t really need help on defense, but they got it. Had Winovich not been dealing with an injury in the draft process, he likely would have gone higher, but that’s what happened and he fell to the third round because of it. He already was making plays in preseason and fits perfectly into the Patriots’ scheme. Bill Belichick might have hit another home run here.
— NFL (@NFL) August 21, 2019