Every player who makes the jump from college to the NFL faces a steep learning curve, especially those tasked with learning new schemes, techniques, or positions. In every draft, though, a handful of lucky prospects land in near-ideal situations with teams whose schemes and philosophies perfectly match or accentuate their skill set. For these players, that learning curve is a little less precipitous―and the path to a major role is a little more clear. With that in mind, here’s nine of my favorite team-and-player fits from the early rounds of the 2019 NFL draft.
QB Kyler Murray, Cardinals
Murray isn’t landing in an offense with an elite supporting cast. It may take a year or two (or more) for the Cardinals to build a strong offensive line, and while the team did select three receivers (Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, and KeeSean Johnson) in this draft, they still need to add playmaking targets. But the diminutive former Sooner did get matched up with an innovative offensive mind in Kliff Kingsbury: The first-time NFL head coach wasn’t hired to be yet another traditional, conservative play-calling retread, and is almost certainly not going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole when it comes to Murray’s unique skill set. Kingsbury is, I believe, going to run a wide-open passing game that draws heavily on up-tempo looks, spread formations, aggressive deep passing, and plenty of option-based plays. In other words, the type of offense that Murray ran at Oklahoma en route to his Heisman Trophy.
Kingsbury’s offenses at Texas Tech were never shy about attacking downfield; Since 2014, his teams racked up a college football–high 534 explosive passing plays (those gaining 15-plus yards), generated on 10.0 percent of plays, the fourth-highest rate in the nation, per Pro Football Focus. While Murray’s lack of height (he measured in at 5-foot-10 at the combine) makes him an NFL outlier at quarterback, he’s got the skill set to thrive in the type of vertical offense Kingsbury is sure to deploy in Arizona. Murray mixes the ability to avoid pressure and buy time in the pocket with a fearless attitude, good decision-making, and, perhaps most important, a strong, accurate arm.
Murray finished second among 111 qualifying FBS quarterbacks in on-target percentage (71.8) of passes of 15-plus air yards in 2018, and finished first in completion percentage (56.3) on those throws, per Sports Info Solutions. I can’t wait to see what he does when unleashed in Kingsbury’s scheme.
DE Nick Bosa, 49ers
The Niners’ decision to pick Bosa at no. 2 was the biggest no-brainer in the draft. The former Buckeye is a perfect fit for the team’s scheme: He’s a prototypical 4-3 end with power, explosiveness, and a well-developed repertoire of moves that should make him a force off the edge from the get-go. Picture Nick in almost exactly the same role his brother Joey plays for the Chargers: As an every-down disruptor who’s dynamic when rushing the passer and dominant when setting the edge against the run.
The younger Bosa is compact and well built, and explodes forward when rushing out of three- and four-point stances. He should have a role in just about any subpackage look defensive coordinator Robert Saleh can think up. Whether he’s deployed from the strongside edge, the LEO spot, or even from the inside on obvious passing downs, Bosa will find San Francisco to be an ideal landing spot. Bosa should also benefit from rushing alongside an elite interior penetrator in DeForest Buckner and a dynamic edge rusher in Dee Ford.
TE T.J. Hockenson, Lions
Head coach Matt Patricia and Co. seem to be trying to build an offense in the image of the Patriots, and Hockenson was the closest thing in the draft to the type of dual-threat player Rob Gronkowski was. Hockenson doesn’t have Gronk’s size, but he’s a road-grading blocker in the run game and mismatch receiver in the passing attack. That should make him the perfect fit for a team who, above all else, wants to become as flexible as Bill Belichick’s New England offenses. Detroit fired offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter after last season and hired former Seahawks play caller Darrell Bevell with the vision of taking a opponent-specific game plan into every matchup.
“We need to do a better job of going into each week looking at the opponent and say, ‘How are we going to beat this team?’” GM Bob Quinn said after firing Cooter. “If they have a great run defense and a poor pass defense, maybe we throw it 45 times; and vice versa.”
Of course, having players versatile enough to excel in both phases of the offense is the key to that strategy, and Hockenson should fit that bill: Whether the Lions want to go run-heavy or throw it all over the yard, the former Iowa standout can be an every-down fixture. He’s a dominant run blocker who looks to bury the player in front of him, and he is extremely athletic and reliable as a pass catcher downfield. Hockenson’s skill set helps give Bevell the play-calling flexibility he needs for Detroit to start to build that type of chameleon offense.
DT Ed Oliver, Bills
Oliver is an extraordinary athlete with superhuman explosiveness and agility, but his lack of size and length (he measured in at 6-foot-2 and 287 pounds with 31¾ inch arms at the combine) makes him, in my mind, a bit dependent on schemes and alignment at the next level. That’s why I was glad to see him land in the Bills’ attacking 4-3 defense, where he can line up at the three-technique spot (on the outside shoulder of opposing guards) and shoot gaps.
That wasn’t always what he was asked to do at Houston. Oliver did see snaps at three-tech in college, which should make his transition to the pros a smooth one, but, per PFF, he logged 548 pass-rush snaps at the nose tackle position during the past three years, by far the most among players in the draft class (and more than all of his pass-rushing snaps from any other alignments combined).
The nose tackle role is more commonly reserved for run-plugging, two-gap linemen with 20 or 30 more pounds on their frame than Oliver, so a permanent move to three-technique could help him blossom. He was certainly no slouch at Houston (he racked up 13.5 sacks and 53 tackles for a loss in three years), but he’s a great example of a player who could end up being better in the pros.
OG Chris Lindstrom, Falcons
I didn’t love the overall value the Falcons got with Lindstrom, as using the 14th overall pick on my 44th-ranked player felt a little bit rich. But there’s no denying his near-perfect fit for the Falcons’ outside zone–heavy run game: Lindstrom is one of the premier athletes at the guard spot in this class—he tested out in the 96th percentile in SPARQ among NFL offensive linemen at the combine—and his quick feet and ability to keep his balance will be crucial for the types of blocks he’s asked to make in Atlanta. This wasn’t a super sexy pick, but Lindstrom brings toughness, reliability, versatility, and most importantly, elite athleticism to the team’s offensive line.
OC Garrett Bradbury, Vikings
The Vikings’ decision-making during the past six months reflects their desire to run the ball. The team fired pass-heavy play caller John DeFilippo in December, replaced him with Kevin Stefanski, and then added run-game guru and offensive assistant Gary Kubiak during the offseason before taking Bradbury with their first pick in the draft.
The Bradbury pick makes perfect sense, both from a philosophical and schematic point of view: The winner of the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center is the perfect fit for Kubiak’s wide zone–centric scheme. Bradbury is a tough, physical, and highly athletic interior lineman with the anchor to hold up against the pass rush and the mobility to be a major difference-maker in the run game. Bradbury has quick feet, an innate understanding of leverage, and the rare ability to consistently reach and seal opposing nose tackles and play-side linemen. That skill, which prevents interior penetration early in the run and frees up the guards to move downfield and block defenders, could be the key to unlocking the team’s entire ground game.
TE Noah Fant, Broncos
The Broncos hired former 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello as their new offensive coordinator to help get more out of the team’s stable of signal-callers and to bring a Kyle Shanahan–styled scheme to Denver. That means, in basic terms, lots of running, lots of play-action, lots of formational diversity, and, if 2018 is any indication, lots of mismatch-creating at the tight end position. George Kittle was the star of Shanahan’s system last year, and set a new record for receiving yards by a tight end (1,377) while leading all players in yards after the catch (881).
No one should expect Kittle-level production from Fant, but he does bring a versatile skill set that could make him an early factor in both the run and pass game. With physicality as a blocker, receiving chops, and all-around athletic prowess, Fant looks poised to play the valuable Kittle-lite role of all-around playmaker in Scangarello’s new scheme.
It doesn’t hurt either that presumptive starter Joe Flacco has leaned heavily on tight ends in the passing attack during the past three years. Fant looks like a perfect fit for the system Denver is trying to implement in 2019.
OT Jawaan Taylor, Jaguars
Taylor was a popular mock draft choice for the Jaguars with the team’s first pick at no. 7 overall. But because of late-developing reports of a knee issue (which Taylor denies), Jacksonville landed the talented offensive lineman with its second-rounder instead. That’s incredible value for one of the top tackles in this class, and the former Florida standout is a perfect need and scheme fit for the smash-mouth, run-heavy Jaguars.
Taylor is a glass eater who plays with the aggressiveness and power needed to move defenders off their spot and create holes for the team’s running backs. He ranked third in the FBS in positively graded run-block percentage (15.91 percent) in 2018, while registering the fourth-best run-blocking grade (83.4). He has a massive frame, light feet, and can create plenty of torque with his upper half, which he uses to ragdoll opponents and throw them out of the play. He’s perfectly suited, both physically and by playing style, to line up and lead the charge as a road-grading right tackle in Jacksonville’s scheme.
RB Darrell Henderson, Rams
This pick created more questions than answers when it comes to the long-term health of Todd Gurley’s knee. But whether he’s a lead back or complementary piece in the L.A. offense, Henderson brings the ideal skill set to excel in Sean McVay’s wide-zone, play-action, and screen-play-heavy offense. As a runner, he pairs a one-cut-and-go style behind the line of scrimmage with the ability to make defenders miss at the second level.
And in the air attack, Henderson has soft hands and a natural feel for spacing that makes him dangerous on play-action and in the screen game.
Henderson can create on his own and has home run hitting speed. Drop him into the Rams’ offensive system, which creates big holes for its runners through the use of misdirection and play-action, and the results could be scary.