The 2019 NFL offseason had no shortage of big moves. Odell Beckham Jr. became a Brown. Earl Thomas left behind the Seahawks’ once-fearsome defense for the Ravens’ currently fearsome one. The Cardinals drafted a first-round quarterback and then, less than 24 hours later, traded another one away.
Those ripple wave transactions will help shift the balance of power across the league, but it may be the signings, draft picks, and unheralded trades that help decide Super Bowl winners in the years to come. This spring has been another typically busy round of roster filling that elevates journeymen, late-round draft picks, and undrafted free agents to hero status from a handful of fortunate teams.
So which undervalued players could be the linchpin of a postseason run? Here are the non-headlining moves — the Day 3 picks and budget signings — who should create major value for their teams in 2019.
Drafted WRs Hakeem Butler (fourth round) and KeeSean Johnson (sixth)
With Larry Fitzgerald entering his 16th NFL season, first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury absolutely needed playmakers to take pressure off rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and one-time Pro Bowl tailback David Johnson. Rookies Butler and Johnson — selected after second-round playmaker Andy Isabella — fit the bill. Butler is a 6’5 physical specimen who can torch defenders downfield, while KeeSean Johnson was an uber-productive target for a 12-win Fresno State team in 2018.
More importantly, both fit perfectly into Kingsbury’s Air Raid scheme.
Drafted RB Qadree Ollison (fifth round)
Ollison is the latest in a fine line of skill players who stand out for a once-proud Pitt program that slowly devolved into an ouroboros of mediocrity. The 225-pound back averaged more than six yards per carry as a senior and could slide directly into some of the carries vacated when Tevin Coleman signed with the 49ers.
Re-signed QB Robert Griffin III (two years, $4 million)
Lamar Jackson averaged 17 carries per start as a rookie, so making sure the Ravens have a veteran backup was a priority this spring. Who better than the man who lived the cautionary tale of what taking unnecessary abuse can do to a budding young mobile quarterback? RGIII has already served as a valuable mentor for Jackson, and now he’ll serve the same role for the next two years while making less than one-ninth what Joe Flacco will.
Signed CB Kevin Johnson (one year, $3 million)
Johnson never lived up to his first-round status with the Texans thanks to injuries, so he had to take a low-cost prove-it deal with the Bills instead. He’ll have the chance to shine while filling a position of moderate need in Buffalo — who sneakily had one of the league’s top defenses in 2018.
Signed WR Chris Hogan (one year, $1.45 million)
It’s probably not a great sign the receiver-starved Patriots didn’t re-sign Hogan, but Cam Newton badly needs targets. The 30-year-old Hogan led the league in yards per catch in 2016 and averaged more than 15 yards per reception in 2018. He and Torrey Smith will help occupy safeties in Charlotte.
Signed S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (one year, $3 million)
Clinton-Dix’s star has faded considerably, but he’s still the player who once held the Packers’ unraveling secondary together like a stretched piece of duct tape. He’ll have the chance to replace Adrian Amos’ box safety production at a fraction of the cost.
Drafted DT Renell Wren (fourth round)
Wren was one of college football’s most athletic defensive tackles. The less said about Cincinnati’s free agent signings, the better.
Signed TE Demetrius Harris (two years, $6 million)
With Harris and David Njoku, Baker Mayfield will have his pick of hulking athletic targets to stretch defenses up the seam. Given Mayfield’s penchant for connecting with his tight ends, Harris could be in store for a breakout year.
Signed DT Christian Covington (one year, $2.5 million)
Covington was effective in a rotational role over four years with the Texans. At 25 years old, he’s young and versatile enough to make a splash transitioning from Houston’s 3-4 defense to a larger role in Dallas’s 4-3.
Drafted LB Justin Hollins (fifth round)
General manager John Elway was more into big splashes this offseason, so there weren’t many small moves in Denver. But hey, the whole Drew Lock situation worked out pretty well!
Signed RB C.J. Anderson (one year, $1.5 million)
If you’re looking for a veteran to spell a versatile young back who was once an SEC star, Anderson — a 1,000-yard rusher in 2017 — is your guy. He was a masterful Todd Gurley replacement in spurts for the Rams last year, and now he’ll serve the same role for Kerryon Johnson.
Green Bay Packers
Drafted DL Kingsley Keke (fifth round)
The Packers gave Kenny Clark a high-upside stand-in with Keke, an athletic run stopper with a penchant for getting around blocks and into the backfield. He’s valuable insurance if Clark prices himself out of re-signing in Green Bay after 2020.
Signed S Jahleel Addae (one year, $1.1 million)
Houston gets a battle-tested veteran to play behind or alongside Justin Reid. Addae’s ability to handle duties in the slot should add some extra versatility to a secondary that’s long on raw talent but also features some weird fits by combining players like Reid, Aaron Colvin, a 35-year-old Johnathan Joseph, and whatever Bradley Roby can provide.
Signed RB Spencer Ware (one year, $1.3 million)
He’s averaged 4.6 yards per carry for his career as a change-of-pace back, and Ware’s such a good checkdown option Alex Smith dialed him up for more than 30 receiving yards per game in 2016. Patrick Mahomes didn’t need him as much, but Andrew Luck might.
Signed WR Chris Conley (two years, $4.6 million)
Conley will be counted on to bring some of his spread offense skill to Nick Foles’ passing attack. Foles needs all the viable red zone threats he can get, and at 6’3 Conley gives the Jacksonville receiving corps another big target alongside DJ Chark.
Drafted RB Darwin Thompson (sixth round)
Thompson runs like he’s been shot out of a cannon and was an advanced stats darling. He’s going to feast in the Chiefs’ murder-you-to-death offense.
Drafted DT Cortez Broughton (seventh round)
The Chargers needed defensive line depth with Brandon Mebane now 34 years old, Darius Philon gone, and Corey Liuget’s future not yet decided. Broughton is a stout gap-shooter who had 18.5 tackles for loss as a senior at Cincinnati.
Drafted OT David Edwards (fifth round)
Andrew Whitworth remains effective at left tackle, but he flirted with retirement this offseason and is 37 years old. Adding a member of Wisconsin’s assembly line of NFL blocking talent is a low-risk insurance policy for the aging blindside protector.
Drafted LB Andrew Van Ginkel (fifth round)
Van Ginkel has done nothing but exceed expectations after going from a redshirt year at South Dakota to all-conference honors at Wisconsin. Now he joins a rebuilding team with a need at linebacker and a head coach who made his bones in New England thanks in part to his ability to turn discarded and castoff players into NFL contributors.
Drafted G Dru Samia (fourth round)
Samia’s an aggressive run blocker who can clear a path for Dalvin Cook to reach his potential. More importantly, he’s a stable enough pocket protector to slide into the starting lineup should Josh Kline or Pat Elflein disappoint in 2019.
New England Patriots
Signed DT Mike Pennel (two years, $5 million)
Signing Pennel means the Patriots no longer have to risk running at him in the two games they play each year against the Jets. The former New York starter will instantly improve New England’s D-line rotation between the tackles. His run-stopping prowess is badly needed.
Signed RB Latavius Murray (four years, $14.4 million)
New Orleans saves about $1.4 million annually by rolling with Murray rather than Mark Ingram as the thunder to Alvin Kamara’s lightning in the backfield. The 230-pound former Vikings and Raiders back has scored 26 touchdowns over his last three seasons.
Drafted CB Julian Love (fourth round)
Trailing in the water behind the iceberg that was the Daniel Jones pick was Love, an ultra-productive Notre Dame cornerback whose game should translate well in a needy New York secondary. If Landon Collins’ experience is any indication, whatever gains Love makes with the Giants will serve him well when he signs a mega-deal somewhere else in 2023.
New York Jets
Signed RB Ty Montgomery (one year, $895,000)
New York has the option to back up Le’Veon Bell with the poor man’s version of himself, a versatile dual-threat runner who was once instrumental to the Packers’ offensive flexibility. Mistakes doomed his tenure in Green Bay and he didn’t have much to offer the Ravens, but the former college wideout is only 26 and remains a useful tool who can bail out Sam Darnold in checkdown situations.
Drafted DE Maxx Crosby (fourth round)
The league’s most toothless pass rush got a little more bite by adding Crosby, who had 18.5 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons at Eastern Michigan. He’ll slide right into a young defensive end rotation that’s full of potential (but could also implode in an amazing display of Jon Gruden schadenfreude).
Signed S Andrew Sendejo (one year, $1.3 million)
Is the soon-to-be 32-year-old Sendejo washed up after missing 11 games last season? The Eagles didn’t have to pay much to find out. If he can return to form, Philadelphia picked up a heady veteran to anchor its secondary at a bargain price.
Drafted DE/OLB Sutton Smith (sixth round)
Smith is extremely small for an NFL pass rusher (6’0, 232 pounds), but he was the nation’s most disruptive player over his last two seasons at Northern Illinois. He’s a gamble, but even a fraction of that production would give Pittsburgh a valuable counterbalance to T.J. Watt’s edge rush.
San Francisco 49ers
Signed CB Jason Verrett (one year, $3.6 million)
This was possibly the most boom-or-bust signing of 2019. If the Niners can keep Verrett healthy, they get a borderline All-Pro at cornerback. If not, they write off $3 million.
Signed G Mike Iupati (one year, $2.75 million)
Seattle’s embattled offensive line got some modest improvements in 2019, and that includes the 32-year-old Iupati. He remains a dynamic run blocker when healthy, and that could clear the path for an even bigger year from Chris Carson.
Drafted WR Scott Miller (sixth round)
Tampa is in need of a slot receiver who can take some pressure from Mike Evans’ shoulders after losing Adam Humphries this spring. Enter Miller, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch at Bowling Green as a senior and led the Falcons in most receiving categories in each of the past three years.
Signed DT Brent Urban (one year, $1.25 million)
Tennessee didn’t have to spend much to acquire one of the anchors of a potent Baltimore defense. Urban is a lane-clogging presence who should add extra power to the Titans’ already solid run defense.
Drafted WR Kelvin Harmon (sixth round)
Washington made a bevy of Day 3 picks, but none may be as impactful as Harmon. The NC State standout (more than 2,200 total receiving yards his last two seasons) could take on a significant role for a franchise with more questions than answers at wide receiver in 2019.