Back in January, Kyler Murray earning the top spot in the 2019 NFL Draft looked like a long shot. But as the calendar flipped over to spring and workouts and measurements came and went, the Arizona Cardinals looked more and more like the likely landing spot for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
Murray is now the most popular pick at No. 1 overall as draft experts turn their powers of prediction toward April’s main event. Right now, 87 percent of mock drafts have the Oklahoma product usurping Nick Bosa’s as the Cardinals and first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury drop hint after hint that Murray could be their guy.
So what happens if he is? Murray’s selection at the top of next month’s draft wouldn’t just impact the Cardinals, it would affect the plans of every team looking for a franchise passer in 2019. It would also push Josh Rosen out of his position as Arizona’s budding young starting quarterback and onto the trading block.
Here’s how that could look, given what we know about teams’ draft needs and current assets so far.
1. The Cardinals get their quarterback of the future (for the second straight year)
The only known outcome in this exercise. Kingsbury cashes in his football crush for a shot at a football relationship, and Murray gets to begin his NFL career in front of a rebuilding offensive line that added J.R. Sweezy and Max Garcia in free agency while trading for Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert. That’ll give him a much safer landing zone than Rosen had, as his OL depth chart had the structural integrity of a balsa wood treehouse.
A reminder of who was playing offensive line in front of Josh Rosen over the second half of last season (100 snaps or more): pic.twitter.com/59fJi27MYc— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) March 4, 2019
That makes Rosen Kingsbury’s top trade asset, though his value isn’t as high as it was when Arizona selected him early in the first round of last year’s draft. He’ll be an inexpensive prospect for whomever wants to pick him up — a factor the Cardinals are even bragging about on their website.
2. The Giants acquire Rosen for the 37th overall pick and a Day 3 selection
New York is in need of an exit strategy in Eli Manning’s 15th season as a pro. Their last four quarterback selections — Rhett Bomar, Ryan Nassib, Davis Webb, and Kyle Lauletta — have failed to turn up a franchise quarterback.
With Murray going No. 1 overall and no one quite sure what Jon Gruden’s Raiders are going to do (at the 2019 NFL Draft or otherwise), the Giants mitigate their risk by buying low on last year’s 10th overall pick. This allows a rebuilding team to focus on its other areas of weakness rather than reach for a flawed prospect like Daniel Jones — whom New York reportedly loves, but may not meet the demand needed to be a top-10 (or even top-30) pick.
It’s not a crazy scenario. Reports from the league’s annual meeting in Phoenix suggest the Giants have been kicking the tires on a Rosen trade and assuming Murray will be the top overall pick in April.
Even though they showed up at Ohio State’s pro day and had dinner with former Buckeye Dwayne Haskins, some reports emerging during the NFL’s lying season suggest the Giants aren’t super interested in Haskins, the other top-rated quarterback in this year’s crop. With two first-round picks, the club could work to fill the holes at pass rusher and wide receiver that the Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon trades created.
The Cardinals would be looking to recoup a first-round pick for Rosen, but that may be difficult after his trying rookie season. Landing an early second-rounder in a solid draft wouldn’t be a bad consolation price and would likely give Arizona the opportunity to draft a solid offensive lineman or pass-rushing prospect to further the team’s rebuild.
3. The Raiders stand pat at No. 4 overall, despite overtures from the Dolphins
Murray rising to the No. 1 spot means the Raiders are guaranteed a shot at one of 2019’s top three defensive stars.
Gruden will get to snap up the last man standing between Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Kentucky’s Josh Allen, and Alabama’s Quinnen Williams — all of whom were considered potential No. 1-overall picks before Murray’s ascent.
None of this winds up mattering, however. Mark Davis proves he’s his father’s son after hearing reports of Montez Sweat’s record-setting combine performance (a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at 6’6 and 260 pounds!) and drafts the Mississippi State defensive end to fill the Khalil Mack-shaped hole in Oakland’s lineup.
Or, if he really wants to prove he’s Al Davis’ son, he could use the No. 4 pick to land Ole Miss wideout D.K. Metcalf, who ran an absurd 4.33-second 40 at 228 pounds at this year’s combine. Oakland has already restocked its receiving corps by adding Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams this spring, but there’s still room to add a player with RV size and Ferrari speed in the Raiders’ lineup.
4. The Buccaneers get an elite defensive talent at No. 5
Tampa Bay could use some offensive line help up front, even after re-signing left tackle Donovan Smith to a three-year extension. Florida’s Jawaan Taylor is rising up mock drafts and could stay on the peninsula with the Bucs. While he’d certainly help, the temptation of a top-three defensive talent at No. 5 would be too much to overcome for a roster with deficiencies across its depth chart. Adding a dynamic young pass rusher would also make Gerald McCoy’s eventual offboarding — he was a cut candidate in 2019 and is due $12.5 million in 2020 — a little easier.
5. The Giants get defensive help from the second, very good level of draft talent
This could be LSU’s Devin White, Michigan’s Rashan Gary or Devin Bush, Houston’s Ed Oliver, or Clemson’s Clelin Farrell or Dexter Lawrence. New York’s defense was as bad as you’d expect from a five-win team, but there were some bright spots that suggest a dynamic rookie talent could be the spark that ignites a turnaround.
The club could also upgrade its embattled offensive line by taking a player like Taylor or Alabama’s Jonah Williams, but given Nate Solder’s improved play late in 2018 and the acquisition of Kevin Zeitler, blocking help isn’t quite the glaring flaw it once was in New York.
6. The Jaguars trade back with the Dolphins, who select Dwayne Haskins with the seventh-overall selection
New York’s decision to rehabilitate Rosen works to Jacksonville’s benefit. The Jags’ No. 7 pick is a prime spot to grab a potent quarterback prospect in Haskins. They don’t need a passer in 2019 after signing Nick Foles for more than $50 million guaranteed, but they do need skill players throughout a rehabilitating offense. With that in mind, Jacksonville drops from No. 7 to No. 13 while picking up the Dolphins’ second-round pick (No. 48 overall) in the process.
The Broncos could also use a young franchise quarterback going forward, but the 6’3 Haskins doesn’t exactly fill general manager John Elway’s need for tall pocket passers. The move is a slight overpay for Miami according to the draft pick value chart, but it’s worth it to give new head coach Brian Flores a building block for a team that just signed 36-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick to serve as its starting quarterback.
It also means Miami’s tank is still on, but now the desired outcome isn’t a 2020 quarterback like Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa or Jake Fromm. Instead, Flores and the Dolphins can choose the best player available after this fall’s rebuilding season (or trade back to pick up more draft assets) instead of angling for a top-tier QB next year.
7. The Broncos select Missouri’s Drew Lock with the 10th pick of the draft
This was originally where I had Elway making the most of his opportunity to draft a 6’5 passer with noticeable flaws and selecting Duke’s Daniel Jones, but Lock’s first-round stock has been holding steady after a decent combine performance, whereas Jones’ Day 1 hopes have been moving in the opposite direction. Lock will have the chance to follow in Lamar Jackson’s footsteps and steal a starting job from an underwhelming Joe Flacco midway through his rookie season.
8. The Jaguars select one of the Iowa tight ends at No. 13
Jacksonville hasn’t had a threatening tight end presence since that one season Marcedes Lewis completely ruined your fantasy season (700 yards, 10 touchdowns in 2010). Here, the Jags pick up either Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson to give Foles some much needed aerial support.
9. Washington opts not to select Daniel Jones at No. 15 and drafts Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown instead
Washington needs a quarterback and receiving help. It decides to ride with Case Keenum and Colt McCoy in 2019 and hope Alex Smith can return to the field in 2020 rather than gamble on Jones. Brown, the Sooners’ burner who didn’t work out at this year’s combine due to injury, is the deep threat Dan Snyder’s been searching for since DeSean Jackson left town — Washington averaged just 9.7 yards per completion, 28th-best in the league, last fall.
10. The Giants think very, very hard about selecting Jones at No. 17 — but select some extra defensive help instead
New York gets its opportunity to select Dave Brown 2.0 with the pick it acquired from the Browns for Odell Beckham Jr., leading to at least a little buyer’s remorse after the Rosen trade — though general manager Dave Gettleman would never admit it. With Golden Tate on board and some of the draft’s top targets already taken, the Giants defer their wideout needs to the later rounds and add another defensive stalwart in a draft full of them.
This pick depends on the team’s selection at No. 7. If the Giants draft LSU linebacker White or Michigan’s Bush early or decides to pick up some blocking help, their second choice could be the best remaining player from Clemson’s triumvirate of first-round linemen — the Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell group. If they go with a defensive lineman first, secondary help from Greedy Williams or Byron Murphy could be the choice. Either way, the Giants can turn a wretched 2017-19 span into three strong prospects.
Getting Rosen and two first-round players in a draft loaded with impact defenders would be a solid start for New York’s latest shot at a rebuild. Some unpredictable dominoes will have to fall in the Giants’ favor to get there, but Kingsbury’s infatuation with Murray means the club could walk away from the 2019 NFL Draft with two top-20 selections and one of 2018’s top-10 picks. That might not be enough to turn New York into a contender again — but at least it’ll give the Giants a viable exit plan after Manning’s inevitable retirement (or release).