The grades may imply otherwise, but every team made at least one good move in the 2019 NFL Draft. Some of them are straightforward like taking a great player in the first round. Some of them are more complicated.
In an effort to hand out at least one A+ per team, here is the best move by each one in this year’s draft:
Giving Kyler Murray the targets he needs. Committing to Murray would have been a really bad idea if Arizona didn’t give him receivers to work with besides 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk going into his second year. The Cardinals not only added three wide receivers, they added ones — most notably, Hakeem Butler and Andy Isabella — who perfectly fit the offense they’ll run.
Most deep receiving yards in the draft class:— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) April 30, 2019
Hakeem Butler 721
Andy Isabella 705
Sticking to a plan. Everyone said the Falcons should have taken a defensive tackle early in the draft. Instead, they took two offensive linemen in Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. Why? Because Matt Ryan was sacked 42 times last season. The value of both players can be argued. The reasoning less so.
Continuing to zag while everyone else zigs. It seems like a lot of teams are trying to catch up to what the Rams are doing in the passing game. The Ravens, however, are devoted to athletic quarterback Lamar Jackson and the run game. And what stops teams from loading up the box to stop the run? Speedy receivers who can get deep like first-pick Marquise Brown and third-round pick Miles Boykin.
Finding the perfect match. It’s easy to point at a team’s first-round pick as its best draft choice, but that’s the case for Buffalo. In second-year defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, the Bills have someone who can play the nose and clog things up. Ed Oliver, taken at No. 9, is the ideal pairing next to him as a penetrating three-technique.
Insurance for Cam Newton. You can argue the value of a quarterback with the No. 100 pick when you have a 29-year-old franchise quarterback like Cam Newton. But with him coming off a shoulder injury, the Panthers needed a quality backup and got one in Will Grier. And no, he’s not there to take Newton’s job.
Finding UDFA roster talent. After having no picks in the first two rounds, and just five picks overall, the Bears got to work after the draft. Undrafted signings like wide receiver Emanuel Hall and tight end Dax Raymond should seriously push for a roster spot.
Getting Geno Atkins a running mate. The veteran defensive tackle has been Cincinnati’s best player for almost his entire career. But he can sometimes be neutralized by double teams. Getting Renell Wren in the fourth round gives the Bengals a good young defensive tackle who can play next to Atkins.
Not trading a 2020 first-round pick. It could have been easy for the Browns to trade a 2020 first-round pick to get into Round 1 of the draft this year. Instead, they waited and landed cornerback Greedy Williams in the second round. Don’t forget, he was connected to Cleveland in the first round before the Browns traded their pick as part of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade.
Depth along the offensive line. The Cowboys seem to be at their best when the offensive line is playing at a high level. But when some injuries popped up last season, the line struggled. Taking Connor McGovern in the third round gives Dallas an insurance policy on the interior of their offensive line.
Waiting on Drew Lock. John Elway and the Broncos could have taken quarterback Drew Lock in the first round and it would have surprised no one. Instead, the team waited until the 42nd overall pick. This is the smart play on a flawed quarterback rather than drafting him in the top 10.
Going safe. The Lions could have gambled on a player on defense with the No. 8 pick. Instead, they took Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson. Expectations will be high for a tight end drafted in the top 10, but Hockenson is the kind of safety valve Matthew Stafford has never had.
Finally, a tight end. Jimmy Graham is 32 and only had two touchdowns last season. The Packers needed a tight end badly and got a good one in Jace Sternberger with their fourth pick.
Hitting needs. The draft is about talent, but it’s also about teams filling roster holes. That’s what the Texans did with their first three picks, taking two offensive tackles (Tytus Howard and Max Scharping) and a cornerback (Lonnie Johnson).
Getting a 2020 second-round pick. In what some considered an average draft, the Colts punted on the first round, trading their pick to Washington for two second-round picks. General manager Chris Ballard has become the master of accumulating good draft capital. Indianapolis had three second-round picks this year and four in 2018.
Drafting Josh Allen at No. 7. Some of the best moves are the easiest. Everyone expected Allen to be taken in the top four. He joins a pass rush group that includes Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. That’s dangerous.
Adding more to the secondary. The Chiefs struggled last season on defense because the secondary play was abysmal. After signing safety Tyrann Mathieu in free agency, they smartly drafted Virginia’s Juan Thornhill late in the second round.
Stacking a loaded defense. After taking defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and safety Nasir Adderley, this defense is spilling over with talent:
Updated #Chargers defense:— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 27, 2019
RE: Melvin Ingram
LE: Joey Bosa
NT: Brandon Mebane
3T: Jerry Tillery
MLB: Denzel Perryman
WLB: Thomas Davis
SLB: Uchenna Nwosu
LCB: Casey Hayward
RCB: Trevor Williams
SCB: Desmond King
FS: Nasir Adderley
SS: Derwin James
Los Angeles Rams
Getting roster protection. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib are free agents after this season. If the Rams can’t retain both, they should be fine after landing Michigan cornerback David Long in the third round.
Making a low-cost risk. Miami got obscenely good value in the Josh Rosen trade. His contract is already cheap. But the Dolphins safeguarded the deal by acquiring a 2020 second-round pick from their move down from No. 48 to No. 62. If Rosen struggles, the Dolphins can take a quarterback next year and still have a pick similar to the one they gave up for him.
Committing to the run. The Vikings took players on offense with their first four picks. That included offensive linemen Garrett Bradbury and Dru Samia, tight end Irv Smith Jr., and running back Alexander Mattison. After being a middling passing offense early last season, head coach Mike Zimmer strong-armed Minnesota into being a running team and this draft solidifies the philosophy.
Getting an eventual high pick for Jarrett Stidham. You know this is going to happen. Just accept it.
Replacing Max Unger. It was critical that the Saints replaced their retired center early in this draft. In Erik McCoy, the Saints traded up to get a rookie starter who will help their offense continue to play at a high level.
Stealing a starting nickel cornerback on Day 3. Most thought Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love would have been picked on Day 2 of the draft. The Giants got him at No. 108, and he could press for the starting job as New York’s slot cornerback.
Taking a blocking tight end. That’s right. Taking a blocking tight end was actually a smart pick. Getting Trevon Wesco in the fourth round gives the Jets a tight end who can block, taking the burden off blossoming starter Chris Herndon.
Getting tougher. What was Oakland’s identity before the draft? They didn’t really have one. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell isn’t a finesse speed player. He’s a grinder who can stuff the run just as well as he can get to the quarterback. Running back Josh Jacobs runs hard. Johnathan Abram is the hardest-hitting safety in the draft. Defensive end Maxx Crosby is hustle and determination. Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow is stereotypical high-effort grit in the slot. General manager Mike Mayock drafted types over traits, and that’s what the Raiders needed.
Getting Carson Wentz a jump-ball target. Arguably no wide receiver in the draft is better at high-pointing contested catches than JJ Arcega-Whiteside. He gives the Eagles something Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson can’t do, and that Alshon Jeffery won’t be able to do for much longer.
Getting Joe Haden’s apprentice. The veteran cornerback only has a year left on his contract, but he has an understudy in third-round pick Justin Layne. The Cleveland native watched Haden playing for the Browns and will soak up advice from Haden like a sponge.
Getting more wide receiver talent. Other than 2018 second-round pick Dante Pettis, the 49ers were lacking in wide receivers. It could be overlooked because head coach Kyle Shanahan can scheme success for lesser players. But now that he has Pettis, Deebo Samuel, and gadget weapon Jalen Hurd, watch out.
Turning pick No. 21 into six players. Seahawks general manager John Schneider is a master trader in the draft. He maneuvered around multiple times to turn pick No. 21 into safety Marquise Blair (No. 47 overall), wide receiver D.K. Metcalf (No. 64), wide receiver Gary Jennings (No. 120), safety Ugo Amadi (No. 132), linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (No. 142) and running back Travis Homer (No. 204).
When you have a quarterback who is about to average about $33 million per season for the next three years, it’s imperative to have a lot of cheap options to build the roster.
Taking Devin White at No. 5. Tampa Bay’s defense needs a foundation player. Vita Vea, drafted in the first round in 2018, is a solid player. But the Buccaneers needed a player they can build the defense round. That’s what White, the draft’s top linebacker, gives them.
Getting top-five talent at No. 19. Maybe Jeffery Simmons doesn’t play this year. But he’ll be fully healthy in 2020 and the Titans will have a defensive tackle who can change games.
Stealing a franchise quarterback. Washington was stuck in the middle of the first round in need of a quarterback. Without having to move up, Dwayne Haskins fell into the team’s hands, and Washington won the first round.