Most of the focus on any particular draft class is placed on the first-round picks, and for good reason. First-rounders embody hope for franchises desperate for foundational players, but with the success rate hovering around 50% for players selected in the top 32, it’s worth looking at some second- and third-round picks from the 2019 NFL draft who could make their mark this season.
ESPN draft legend Mel Kiper made his picks for the players who were drafted on Day 2 who he thinks will be big-time contributors.
He starts with Jaguars tackle Jawaan Taylor, who slid from a potential top-10 pick all the way into the second round. Injury concerns (knee) were the primary factor for his fall, but with a starter’s grade entering draft weekend, there’s no doubt he’ll be in contention to line up with Jacksonville’s first-teamers in Week 1.
Taylor started 33 games at Florida at right tackle, and Jacksonville has a gaping hole at right tackle. Taylor can be a plug-and-play starter there, and he was a steal at the top of Round 2.
Browns cornerback Greedy Williams, like Taylor, was considered a first-round prospect throughout the 2019 NFL draft process and was graded by some analysts as the top cornerback available. But his pre-draft process didn’t go well — he refused to take any team visits — and questions about his toughness as a tackler pushed him to a Cleveland team that just seems to be in the right place at the right time lately. Williams has a chance to start opening weekend alongside Denzel Ward to form one of the more intriguing and naturally talented cornerback duos in the NFL.
There was a lot of talk about what Williams didn’t do at LSU in 2018, and it was centered around his unwillingness to tackle. But what Williams did do was lock down pass-catchers; opposing quarterbacks completed just 33.8 percent of their passes against him, which ranked first in the FBS.
Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown was the first of the Ole Miss pass-catchers off the board (his teammate DK Metcalf went later in Round 2 to the Seahawks) and will give Tennesse QB Marcus Mariota the kind of big and physical intermediate target the offense has been missing in recent years. And while it usually takes receivers a few seasons to really develop into the player they’ll ultimately be, Brown has a chance to contribute as much as any rookie skill player in 2019.
While former No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis has shown flashes of his high ceiling, he has been inconsistent. Brown, who had 2,572 total receiving yards in the SEC over the past two seasons, could contribute as a rookie, as the Titans will use the season to evaluate quarterback Marcus Mariota in a make-or-break year
Another skill player with a huge opportunity to contribute in 2019 is running back David Montgomery, who was selected by the Bears with the 73rd pick. Chicago traded up for him, in fact, which is indicative of the role they expect him to play in the offense. The Bears traded Jordan Howard to the Eagles this offseason because of their desire for a more well-rounded running back who can be as equally effective as a receiver as he is a runner, and Montgomery fits the bill. He’s been compared to Kareem Hunt, who Matt Nagy coached to the rushing title in 2017.
Likely to be a dark-horse candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Montgomery is a great fit for a Bears backfield that lost both Jordan Howard and Benny Cunningham this offseason.
Last but not least is Steelers cornerback Justin Layne, who’s still learning the position after converting from wide receiver at Michigan State. His ideal physical makeup (6-2, 192 pounds), good movement skills and above-average athleticism will help him challenge for a lot of reps immediately in his rookie season. Don’t rule him out as a potential starter, either.