SportsPulse: Our draft guru Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz tells you the five guys you need to know ahead of April's draft that shined at the combine and could become instant stars in the NFL. USA TODAY
INDIANAPOLIS — The annual NFL scouting combine has come and gone, once again shedding further light on how April's draft is likely to stack up.
As always, there were significant surprises in Indy — both good and bad — but the dominant story, as expected, was the scrutiny surrounded Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner didn't throw a ball or a run a 40 but showing up to have his height and weight clarified was more than enough to make him the star of the week ... and perhaps the catalyst to shake the 2019 draft up entirely.
For Iowa fans, the combine greatly improved the draft stock of former Hawkeyes Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. The tight ends are now projected to be top 10 picks, moving up from the end of the first round in the mock draft before the combine.
1. Cardinals — Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: By most accounts, the Heisman Trophy winner "won" the annual scouting combine without breaking a sweat (or even taking off his sweats) by merely measuring 5-10, 207 pounds. New Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury is obviously enamored of the thought of deploying Murray in his offense, and GM Steve Keim opened the door on his current quarterback's footing by saying, "Is Josh Rosen our quarterback? Yeah. He is right now, for sure." Rosen remains an excellent prospect — and potentially excellent trade bait for the rebuilding Cardinals (NFL Network reported Tuesday he's already on the trade block) — but lacks the upside of the dynamic Murray, who has a better arm and is in a different universe athletically. And why make Kingsbury begin "adapting" (his word) the offense to Rosen if Murray could be a plug-and-play solution? All the buzz coming out of Indy suggests the Cards are ready to make a quarterback switch. If not, they've begun building a billowing smokescreen around the value of their No. 1 pick.
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2. 49ers — Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: Still likely the highest-graded prospect on many draft boards, he looked smooth in his first public workout since a core muscle injury ruined his final season with the Buckeyes. Bosa's combine numbers were actually slightly better than those of his brother Joey, the third overall pick three years ago and now a Pro Bowler for the Chargers. Nick Bosa could give the Niners a top-shelf outside-inside pass rush combo if teamed with DT DeForest Buckner.
3. Jets — Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: Given they have no second-round pick, the NYJ could be open for business here. However they've also benefited in recent years when highly regarded talents like DL Leonard Williams, S Jamal Adams and QB Sam Darnold "fell" into their laps. That could be the case again if Quinnen Williams is sitting there at No. 3. He wouldn't necessarily solve the franchise's decades-long search for an elite pass rusher, but Williams and Willams could create so much chaos in the trenches that average edge players could really thrive under new coordinator Gregg Williams.
4. Raiders — Josh Allen, OLB/DE, Kentucky: Oakland coach Jon Gruden has offered some interesting views on pass rushers over the past six months. At the combine, he touted "production" as a trait he values, and Allen has shown oodles of that with 31 sacks over the past three seasons, including 17 last year (or four more than the Raiders generated collectively). At 6-5 and 262 pounds, Allen even projects as a bigger player than departed Khalil Mack and the kind of height/weight/speed prospect new GM Mike Mayock adores.
5. Buccaneers — Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: This is a tricky spot, especially with free agency yet to play out. For now, Tampa Bay's needs don't square well with the draft's premier prospects. New coach Bruce Arians, however, is adamant about finding a can't-miss blue chipper with a selection this high. If Oliver can truly gallop in as close to the second coming of two-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald, the Bucs shouldn't pass on the 6-2, 287-pounder — often miscast as a nose tackle in college — despite the resources GM Jason Licht has already poured into his defensive line.
6. Giants — Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: They can't pass on the opportunity to enlist Eli Manning's successor for a second straight year, right? GM Dave Gettleman might even need to consider a slight push up the board given teams like the Jets and Bucs could be motivated to move out of the top five. Haskins was highly productive in his lone season as the Buckeyes' starter with a Big Ten-record 50 TD passes, but he could definitely benefit from a redshirt year sitting behind Manning.
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7. Jaguars — Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: There's definitely a cart before the horse rationale here, but with new OC John DeFilippo (Philly's QB coach two years ago) on staff and all signs pointing to the eventual arrival of Nick Foles, Jacksonville will definitely need to add juice to its stable of pass catchers. Fresh off running a 4.5 40 at the combine, Fant could become the Jags' version of Zach Ertz, assuming elements of Philadelphia's offense become implemented here.
8. Lions — Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan: Getting a prized Wolverine would be nice from a local angle. Getting a scheme-diverse freak of an athlete for Matt Patricia and player who could prove an upgrade over DE Ziggy Ansah if Detroit can synchronize the talent and production just makes sense.
9. Bills — T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa: How to help QB Josh Allen and RB LeSean McCoy in one fell swoop? Take a multi-faceted tight end who can produce big catches and big blocks with regularity.
10. Broncos — Devin White, ILB, LSU: Could they go quarterback again? Maybe, but 10th seems awfully rich given who's on the board and who's about to be on the roster (Joe Flacco). Why not give defensive-minded head coach Vic Fangio a weapon given the expected divorce from ILB Brandon Marshall.
11. Bengals — Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State: The offensive line was a major culprit in Cincinnati's second-half demise last year. Dillard would also allow Cordy Glenn to switch to the right side, where he's likely better suited.
12. Packers — Montez Sweat, DE/OLB, Mississippi State: One of the combine's stars after blazing a 4.41 40-yard dash at 6-6 and 260 pounds (a modern event record for a defensive lineman), a player with 22½ sacks over the past two seasons would be an obvious boon to Green Bay's pass rush.
13. Dolphins — Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: With Ryan Tannehill seemingly on the way out, Miami will need a young quarterback to build around amid its latest reboot.
14. Falcons — Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson: Grady Jarrett is sticking around, but adding another star from Death Valley makes sense given Wilkins' intelligence, ability to create pressure and give Atlanta's front needed depth.
15. Redskins — Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama: Be interesting to see what they do at quarterback during Alex Smith's recovery — Rosen seems like a more sensible alternative than drafting one of the remaining passers — but improving the protection up front will help whomever's throwing the ball. Washington loves Tide alums, and Williams could be an option at guard or tackle.
16. Panthers — Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia: Carolina has long relied on its front seven to protect its secondary, but it's time for reinforcements — especially in such a pass-heavy division and given this team's struggles with sub packages.
17. Browns — Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State: He struck a woman while in high school and pleaded no contest to simple assault but was apparently a model citizen in Starkville. Last month, Simmons tore his ACL. He might be a top-five pick with a clean résumé, but his value here could be too tantalizing for GM John Dorsey — famous/infamous for acquiring gifted players with checkered pasts.
18. Vikings — Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida: Coach Mike Zimmer wants to run the ball and establish a tougher identity. Taylor fits those priorities. His acquisition would likely mean last year's second rounder, Brian O'Neill, would move to left tackle while Riley Reiff kicks inside.
19. Titans — Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: The quicksilver cousin of Antonio Brown would be a better game-breaking complement to Tennessee WR Corey Davis than one of this draft's bigger wideouts.
20. Steelers — Devin Bush, ILB, Michigan: All of their recent drama on the offensive side — yes, Kevin Colbert, drama — has overshadowed the ongoing need for a defensive playmaker in the middle of the field post-Ryan Shazier.
21. Seahawks — Byron Murphy, CB, Washington: At 5-11 and a newly rocked-up 190 pounds, he still doesn't fit Seattle's corner prototype. But this overhauled secondary could still use more help.
22. Ravens — Brian Burns, OLB/DE, Florida State: OLBs Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith are both unsigned. Restocking the defense currently looms as a bigger priority than a receiver for Lamar Jackson.
23. Texans — Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma: Houston allowed the most sacks in the league (62), and its running backs barely topped 4 yards per carry for the season.
24. Raiders (from Bears) — Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: Oakland needs more beyond CB Gareon Conley in coverage, particularly in a division where the ball's in the air so often.
25. Eagles — Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama: A violent runner who also catches the ball well, he'd be a boon to a 28th-ranked running game that produced 91 yards total in Philly's two playoff games last season.
26. Colts — D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi: He was built (built himself?) to shine at the combine, but Metcalf's eye-popping physical attributes didn't amount to much college production. But his 4.3 speed and massive frame (6-3, 228) might make him an ideal foil to T.Y. Hilton.
27. Raiders (from Cowboys) — A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi: Metcalf's teammate in Oxford, Brown put up far more impressive numbers (160 catches, more than 2,500 yards over the past two years) for the Rebels and could fill the void in Oakland left by the Amari Cooper trade.
28. Chargers — Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson: A virtual human roadblock, the Bolts could use his girth between DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram with DTs Brandon Mebane and Corey Liuget poised to move on.
29. Chiefs — Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson: With Kansas City switching to a four-man front and franchised pass rusher Dee Ford being peddled, according to multiple reports, more pass rushers will be needed for new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's signature NASCAR packages.
30. Packers (from Saints) — Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama: Incumbent Jimmy Graham doesn't appear to have much tread left, and Smith should develop into a more complete tight end at any rate.
31. Rams — Garrett Bradbury, C, North Carolina State: With C John Sullivan on the way out of town and LG Rodger Saffold possibly following, the NFC champs might suddenly have two holes on the O-line.
32. Patriots — Jerry Tillery, DL, Notre Dame: He's long (6-6, 295), talented and smart. Sounds like a Patriot to me, especially with DL Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown all set to go free.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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