2019 NFL Draft: 5 prospects who could be surprise first round picks
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NFL Draft

2019 NFL Draft: 5 prospects who could be surprise first round picks

Every year, draft pundits and fans seem to have a pretty good idea of who teams will take in the first round of the NFL Draft, but on Draft night, there are always plenty of surprises. Here are five players who could sneak into the first round tonight.

5. Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

A fairly mobile passer who put up some very solid numbers at West Virginia, Grier seems to be the fifth-ranked QB prospect this year behind Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, and Daniel Jones. He is likely to be a Day 2 selection, but if a team is high on him, moving back into the first round and getting that extra fifth-year option on his rookie contract could be worth doing.

Pro Football Focus likes Grier a lot, and there are some advanced stats that point to Grier becoming a good player at the next level. He was very accurate under 20 yards, which is a good indicator of NFL success. His arm strength isn’t great, but it’s adequate for most offensive systems. When Grier is forced to move from the pocket, he struggles mightily, which effectively negates what mobility he does have.

Grier is not ready to start as a rookie, but with the proper development, he has the tools to become a solid starter.

Will Grier

If any of the teams towards the top of the draft who need a quarterback pass on one (Giants, Jaguars, Broncos, Bengals, Dolphins, Redskins), Grier would be a trade-up target to watch. Even the New England Patriots could be a landing spot.

4. Lonnie Johnson Jr., CB, Kentucky

Tall cornerbacks are all the rage in the NFL today, which may lead a team to overdraft Johnson. He stands 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash, and jumped 38″ in the vertical.

Physically, he’s exactly what you want in a cornerback. The problem is just that Johnson isn’t very good yet. He is the definition of a developmental prospect. He lacks refinement in nearly every area. His ball skills aren’t close to where they need to be and his instincts are not good. The only thing he is consistent at is being inconsistent.

In spite of all this, a team may feel confident in its ability to develop talent, and may take the risk on Johnson early. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a need at cornerback because of their tendency to draft unrefined athletes. Perhaps they will continue this trend.

Mike Tomlin, Steelers

3. Darnell Savage Jr., S, Maryland

As a player, Savage is very close to a first-round prospect. He is slightly undersized but he is a good tackler, solid in coverage, and has great explosiveness, as he showed at the NFL Combine with a 4.36-second 40-yard dash and a 39.5″ vertical. He is incredibly versatile, able to play deep safety, box safety, and slot corner all well.

His draft projection is around the early-to-mid-second round, but that’s only because of the depth of this safety class. There are a large number of safeties who are in that late-first/early-second range, but Savage may be the most explosive of the bunch, and that could lead him to be a first-round selection.

2. Juan Thornhill, S, Virginia

Another member of the very deep safety class, Thornhill had a great combine, running a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, and jumping an impressive 44″ in the vertical and 141″ in the broad.

Juan Thornhill, NFL Draft

Thornhill is a former cornerback, so his instincts and ball skills at safety are excellent. He has solid size and has great versatility. He could be a very good starter at either safety spot.

Thornhill’s ability to play all over the field will make him a very intriguing player to many teams, as versatility in the secondary is incredibly important with more teams using nickel as their base defense.

1. Dalton Risner, OT, Kansas State

Risner may be the most likely player on this list to be taken in the first round, but he is still a relative unknown. He’s not a great athlete, and could end up moving to guard, but he has been one of the best offensive lineman in college football for the last few seasons, and is a very consistent player, which is what you want out of your tackles.

He is a mean and powerful blocker, who will be an instant road grader when drafted. He could struggle against speed rushers, which may force him to move inside, but even if that does happen, he will be a reliable lineman for his new team. The Raiders, Chargers, and Rams could be good landing spots for him towards the end of the first round.