NFL draft 2019 rankings: Why T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant are more valuable than any quarterbacks
Ranking NFL draft prospects regardless of position can be a futile enterprise and one that might seem especially foolhardy not long after all seven rounds have passed by. Yet balancing various needs and assessing the worth of disparate prospects is exactly what general managers will have to do this week starting Thursday, when the first round begins in Nashville, Tennessee.
With that in mind, USA TODAY Sports ranked the top 50 prospects.. Keep in mind this is a reflection of expected value, not draft position:
1. Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: Bosa might not earn the same acclaim former top pass rushers and No. 1 overall picks Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney did, but he's the most promising prospect in his class. His approach is surprisingly advanced for a player of his experience, as he integrates refined hand work and jolting power with his quick first step. Comparisons to older brother Joey, the Chargers' standout and former No. 3 overall pick, are inevitable but apt.
2. Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: The Crimson Tide have produced a litany of first-round defenders during Nick Saban's reign, yet Williams is more than just next in line. The Outland Trophy winner needed only one season as a starter to emerge as college football's most dominant defender. Though he looks the part of a space-eating defensive tackle, Williams vexes offenses by routinely disengaging from blockers or evading their grasp with his abnormal elasticity.
3. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: The three-time All-American is in a class of his own at firing off the snap and snaking into the backfield. Improving his hand usage will be crucial in his push to keep stronger offensive linemen from negating him, but he's difficult to double-team given his aptitude for squeezing through blocks.
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4. Jonah Williams, OT-G, Alabama: The lingering question about whether he has the length to excel at left tackle has obscured Williams' overall value as the best offensive lineman available. A technician determined not to be outsmarted or outworked, Williams handles his duties both in pass protection and run blocking with elevated poise. Even if he moves to guard, he has all the making of a high-end starter.
5. Josh Allen, DE-OLB, Kentucky: Returning for his senior season appears to have paid off for Allen, who might have been a first-round pick last year but instead diversified his set of pass-rush moves while becoming a consensus All-American. He still needs to become less reliant on his pure speed around the corner, but his skill set is in high demand.
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6. T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa: Amid the proliferation of tight ends who primarily operate flexed out wide, Hockenson is somewhat of a blend of old school and new. The Mackey Award winner fights for every pass thrown his way and piles up yards after the catch, but he carries that same aggressive mind-set to his work as a blocker at the line of scrimmage.
7. Brian Burns, DE, Florida State: Flexibility is the hallmark of Burns' game, as he can bend and turn the corner with ease to close in on quarterbacks. Proving that the 21 pounds of bulk he added isn't just for show will be an important step since he's too often pushed around when trying to set the edge or dip inside.
8. Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson: Coaches and general managers who place a premium on locker room leadership will gravitate toward Wilkins, who graduated in two and a half years and was the heartbeat of the Tigers' College Football Playoff title team. A rubbery rusher who easily finds the ball, Wilkins is best aligned for a team that will allow him to get upfield.
9. Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State: Perhaps the most fluid and fleet-footed pass protector this draft class has to offer, Dillard could find himself in high demand given the prevalence of speed rushers in the NFL.
10. Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: After sharing the spotlight with Hockenson on the Hawkeyes, Fant could be in line for a more sizable share of targets in the NFL. Cutting down on drops and bulking up should be the top items on his to-do list, but his combination of size (6-4, 241 pounds) and speed (4.50-second 40-yard dash) should fluster linebackers and safeties trying to keep up in coverage.
11. Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State: If not for a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in February, Simmons would be widely recognized as one of this class' top-tier defensive talents. A possible redshirt year of recovery could push him down draft boards, but a patient team could get a steal if he's able to recapture his explosiveness.
12. Devin White, LB, LSU: Follow the ball, and White likely won't be far behind. The Butkus Award winner can fly from sideline to sideline both in coverage and in pursuit of ball carriers, though reeling back on some of his more aggressive tendencies would give his game a needed sense of control.
13. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: In his first year as a starter, Haskins demonstrated a mastery of the Buckeyes' offense, throwing for a Football Bowl Subdivision-high 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns. Yet the transition to the pros could prove jarring, as learning to make more reads and maintain poise in the pocket will be essential steps for him to take advantage of his impeccable arm strength.
14. Byron Murphy, CB, Washington: Measurements don't tell the full story on Murphy, who is very nearly the complete package in his on-field work despite lacking prototypical height, length and long speed for the position. While he might not be a shutdown corner in the most literal interpretation, he thrives both in yielding little room for receivers to operate and contesting throws in his area.
15. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: There's not really an established precedent by which one can comfortably project Murray, a singular player given his height (5-10), athleticism and dynamic playmaking talent both as a passer and as a runner. Despite the challenges with adjusting to the timing and rhythm of NFL passing games, the Heisman Trophy winner could tilt games by keeping defenses off balance.
16. Devin Bush, LB, Michigan: An uncommonly small build (5-11, 234 pounds) for a linebacker didn't prevent Bush from making his mark in the Big Ten. So long as he can avoid being engulfed by bigger blockers, he could continue to break the mold in the NFL.
17. Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State: The two-time all-Southeastern Conference selection has bolstered his case to be a top 10 pick with strong showings at the Senior Bowl and the combine, where his 4.41-second 40 set a record for defensive linemen. His stock, however, might hinge on teams' assessment of a heart condition that was flagged at the combine.
18. Garrett Bradbury, C, North Carolina State: The former tight end still moves like a much lighter player and sizes up as a staple for a zone-blocking team.
19. D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi: Good luck defending this 6-3, 228-pound target with a 4.33-second 40 and 40 1/2-inch vertical. A Day 1 threat on deep throws, Metcalf will stretch the field and use his body positioning and extended catch radius to haul in passes while learning to become a more complete route runner, which could be difficult given questions about his agility and limited role within Ole Miss' offense.
20. Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: At 5-9 and 166 pounds, Browns has earned comparisons to DeSean Jackson both for his rail-thin build and sublime speed. Throws in high-traffic areas won't be his bag, but he generates a serious spark as a downfield target and run-after-the-catch threat.
21. Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame: Comfortable both pushing back offensive linemen or ripping past them, Tillery has an assortment of ways of breaking into the backfield.
22. Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida: A bulldozer in the run game, Taylor has significant upside as a pass protector if he can learn to keep defenders out of his frame.
23. Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware: The cousin of Hall of Famer Herb Adderley uses his extended range in coverage to handle his single-high safety responsibilities, though he isn't afraid to mix it up in the run game, either.
24. Cody Ford, OT-G, Oklahoma: Surprisingly mobile for a player of his size, Ford will make his mark early on by paving the way for running backs while he works on his pass sets.
25. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson: A solid base end with good length and ample know-how as a pass rusher, Ferrell is a steady edge defender, albeit one who will be hard-pressed to replicate his efficiency in college (50 tackles for loss and 27 sacks in last three years).
26. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: Staying in receivers' hip pockets is no sweat for Williams, though he'll have to find his way as he jostles with players who will get physical with him.
27. Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama: A college workload that included just 120 carries in 2018 is not indicative of Jacobs' talent level. A three-down back who is patient yet powerful, he has the agility to escape second-level defenders, though he might lack the long speed to consistently break away for big gains.
28. Chris Lindstrom, G, Boston College: At his best on the move, Lindstrom could blossom in an outside-zone scheme that prioritizes lateral speed and reaching the second level more than driving defensive tackles backward at the line of scrimmage.
29. Dalton Risner, OT-G, Kansas State: His rigidity and labored movements might necessitate a move inside, but Risner keeps defenders at bay with his acumen and strength.
30. Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan: The former No. 1 overall recruit has the testing profile of a top-10 pick, but he risks leaving that potential unfulfilled if he simply expects to overwhelm his opposition.
31. Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple: Set for another jump in competition after transferring to Temple from Presbyterian in the Football Championship Subdivision, Ya-Sin is on the rise thanks to an in-your-face approach and smooth footwork.
32. A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi: Slot defenders might be in for a surprise if they get lined up against Brown, a big-bodied target who brings an alpha approach to underneath routes.
33. Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State: Still developing a feel for the position having arrived at Michigan State as a wide receiver, Layne projects as a pesky press-man corner with the ball skills to make quarterbacks pay for throwing his way.
34. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida: Put him in the slot and let him go to work, as Gardner-Johnson has a knack for using his closing speed and blitzing prowess to make plays.
35. Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State: He'll have to create separation via his craftiness as a route runner rather than his straight-line speed (4.60-second 40), but Harmon also beats defenders to jump balls with an aggressive and savvy approach.
36. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: Supreme confidence is the fuel that ignites Lock's highlight-reel deep throws and his puzzling turnovers. His erratic accuracy (56.9% completion rate in college) and lapses in both his footwork and mechanics can't carry over to the NFL if he is to establish himself as a consistent starter.
37. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson: A mountain in the middle at 6-4 and 342 pounds, Lawrence commands double teams and pushes the pocket when he's dialed in.
38. Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia: The Thorpe Award winner is one of college football's most accomplished coverage standouts, but his grabby tendencies could get him in trouble.
39. Erik McCoy, C, Texas A&M: A well-rounded and trustworthy fixture, McCoy seldom concedes ground to opposing defensive linemen.
40. Jachai Polite, DE-OLB, Florida: Red flags stemming from his combine performance, including his indignant reaction to team officials who he said criticized him, could serve as an anchor on the stock of an otherwise explosive speed rusher.
41. Taylor Rapp, S, Washington: Rapid recognition skills and sure tackling allow him to operate as a box safety who can cover tight ends despite subpar speed (4.78 40).
42. N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State: Harry operates with a linebacker's mentality, though his easily deciphered routes could make life more difficult for both him and his next quarterback.
43. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford: Jump balls are his calling card and should remain so in the pros, where the red-zone dynamo likely will find it even more difficult to pull away from cornerbacks.
44. Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama: Built like an H-back (6-2, 243 pounds), Smith isn't a traditional in-line tight end but still can make his mark by challenging defenses with his speed both down the seam and on crossers.
45. Juan Thornhill, S, Virginia: The former cornerback is quick to diagnose routes and make plays on the ball, though he's still learning the ins and outs of the position.
46. Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State: A demonstrative leader and thumping presence in the box who sometimes looks out of his element when called on to make a play with the ball in the air, Abram could carve out an important role in three-safety looks that emphasize his physicality.
47. D'Andre Walker, OLB, Georgia: Following in Leonard Floyd's and Lorenzo Carter's footsteps as the Bulldogs' latest pass-rushing standout, Walker gets upfield in a hurry, though he's not as long or elastic as either of his predecessors.
48. Darnell Savage, S, Maryland: The quick-twitch defensive back can shrink throwing windows in the underneath area with his closing speed.
49. Elgton Jenkins, C, Mississippi State: Best fit for a scheme that largely keeps him stationary, Jenkins can serve as an anchor on the interior.
50. Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State: Get the ball in his hands and let him accelerate past defenders (4.33 40), though he'll require time to refine his route running to become a downfield threat.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.