Which SEC draft pick will have the best rookie season in NFL?
The SEC had 64 players drafted, including 9 in the first round and 13 more in the second.
Odds are favorable that one of the early-round selections will have the best rookie season. But it’s not a given. There were a few all-SEC players chosen in the latter rounds, also.
So which SEC draft pick will have the best rookie season in 2019? That’s something we’ve been discussing since the draft ended.
Connor O’Gara: Josh Allen
I thought that Allen was the best fit of any SEC player in the draft to go to Jacksonville. After the Dante Fowler trade last year, Allen is going to be put in plenty of spots to succeed in that talented defense. He’s actually more versatile than Fowler because of his skills in coverage. That’s going to make the 4-year Kentucky star an immediate impact guy who can play every down.
I’m on record saying I think we’ll look back on this draft 5 years from now and wonder why Allen wasn’t picked No. 1 overall. Given how durable he’s been — he was never hurt at Kentucky — what kind of work ethic he has, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the Defensive Rookie of the Year in the NFL. That guy is ready to play and become a star from the jump.
And I’m not sure how much this matters, but in a locker room with a lot of egos, I think Allen is the perfect Tom Coughlin guy.
— Connor O’Gara is a senior national columnist at SDS.
Michael Bratton: Devin White
This is an easy one, Devin White is going to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in Tampa Bay.
It won’t take long for the most outstanding linebacker in the nation last season to cement his place in the starting lineup for the Bucs this summer and once he does, he’s going to hold that spot for the next decade. White is the perfect combination of size, speed, strength and intelligence necessary to excel as a defender in the NFL as he can line up and physically match whatever the offense throws at him. He is a true three-down linebacker.
In addition to his physical attributes and potential, he’s going to play for the NFL coach most similar to Ed Orgeron in Bruce Arians. In an odd way, I expect that to help translate to the next level as White will be going from one players’ coach to another and won’t have to adjust to a new style of leadership from his program’s leader.
If you thought there was a love affair between Coach O and White, just wait and see how head over heels Arians falls for his new linebacker once the season starts and White emerges as the new face of the Bucs’ defense.
— Michael Bratton is a news editor at SDS.
Rick Stavig: Josh Jacobs
I’m going with Jacobs, picked 24th overall by the Oakland Raiders. Now, I’m not necessarily saying he’s going to have the best career among the SEC rookies in this class, I just believe he’ll have the best rookie season, certainly from a production standpoint.
Remember, the Raiders went into the draft looking for a feature back with Marshawn Lynch retiring. Jacobs, a 6-0, 220-pound clone of a younger Marshawn Lynch and a guy almost unanimously considered the best RB prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft, is all but guaranteed the starting role.
Also remember, he’s going to get plenty of carries in Jon Gruden’s offense. Last year, the starting tailback in the Raiders offense received 60% of the carries on the season, and that number was 62% when Lynch was healthy. And, don’t forget the last time Gruden had a dynamic rookie tailback picked in the first round – in 2005 Cadillac Williams had 73% of the carries in the games he started that year (14).
Perhaps Gruden plans on adopting a more modern approach to divvying up carries this year, but so far, he hasn’t shown much of a proclivity toward adopting any methodology dating past the late 90s and early 2000s. Fortunately for Jacobs, he still has plenty of tread left on the tires, because I think he’ll have more carries as a rookie than he did throughout his entire college career (251), and given his natural talent level, I expect him to put up impressive numbers with such a workload.
— Rick Stavig covers NFL scouting for SDS.
Adam Spencer: Quinnen Williams
If this question was “Which SEC draft pick will have the best NFL career?” I’d probably go with Drew Lock. Yes, I’m a Mizzou homer, but he landed in a fantastic situation in Denver. However, he probably won’t play in 2019, barring an injury to starting QB Joe Flacco, so I’ll have to look elsewhere.
It’s tempting to try to overthink this, but I’m going to keep it simple with New York Jets DT Quinnen Williams. It’s a bit easier for interior defensive linemen to adapt to the NFL, as pass rushers typically need a bit of time to adjust to the speed of the game.
Williams, on the other hand, has the strength and size to be a Day 1 starter for the Jets. Lining up next to Leonard Williams will only help the former Alabama star, so I expect big things from him this fall. Don’t be surprised if he takes home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
— Adam Spencer covers Missouri and news for SDS.
Chris Marler: Mecole Hardman
For me this feels like a no-brainer between Greedy Williams and Mecole Hardman. However, I’m gonna take Hardman, who will have every opportunity to come in right away and take Tyreek Hill’s place in the best offense in the NFL.
It’s a perfect fit since Hardman and Hill are similar in size, speed, and tools.
Hardman’s 4.33 40 is only .04 seconds slower than Hill’s, and he’s a similar threat in the return game after averaging 20.1 yards per punt return last season.
People knock Hardman’s production because he only had 35 catches for 543 yards last year, but the more important stat is that 1 out of every 5 of those catches was a TD. Dating to the January 2018 national title game, half of Hardman’s 8 receiving TDs were for 54 yards or more.
— Chris Marler is co-host of The SDS Podcast.
Chris Wright: Josh Jacobs
I’ll tell you what, man, I’ll be shocked if Jacobs doesn’t exceed 1,000 total yards as a rookie.
There’s nobody in his way and his running/receiving skills make him an ultimate weapon in Jon Gruden’s offense. After Marshawn Lynch was injured, the Raiders plugged in Doug Martin last season, and he was OK. Now they’re both gone. Jacobs actually is wearing Martin’s old number, 28. He’ll get his touches, too.
Two other factors shed light on why I am so optimistic about Jacobs’ pro debut. Primarily, I love his ability. I also like the direction the NFL is going. Back in vogue, these first-round running backs are being asked, immediately, to carry the offense.
Consider how much the first running back off the board has dominated recently as a rookie:
- Todd Gurley ran for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs as a rookie in 2015.
- Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL with 322 carries and 1,631 yards as a rookie in 2016. He ran for 15 TDs. He added 32 catches for 363 yards and another score.
- Leonard Fournette had 300+ touches for 1,300 yards and 10 TDs as a rookie in 2017.
- Saquon Barkley accounted for more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 15 TDs as a rookie last year.
Jacobs is merely going to add to that 4-year run.