(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
The NFL Draft was just over a week ago and it was a success. Personally, that was the most of the Draft I have ever watched in my life. I am sure that is how it was with most people. Draft ratings were way up from the previous years. It makes sense and I know, there was nothing else to watch. However, it was fun and refreshing to talk about sports again. It was a nice break and preview for the hopeful future. So yes, the draft was a success even if that meant looking at Roger Goodell’s face for three days straight.
We all know the big names. Burrow, Chase Young, Tua, and many others were constantly talked about, after their respective selections. The hype around Burrow still does not seem to wear off, even after a week. Now that Andy Dalton has been released from the Bengals, we will only hear Joe Burrow’s name even more. This draft was more than just these spotlight guys. So that got me thinking. Who might be the future studs of the NFL that you might have never heard of?
C.J. Henderson, Cornerback, University of Florida
I know what you are thinking. Why this guy? He was drafted in the top 10 and has proved in college that he is an absolute baller. However, Henderson was in the shadows in the top 10. Of course, the top 10 talk was dominated by three quarterbacks and Chase Young. Even linebacker, Isaiah Simmons was big in the headlights. Henderson is my forgotten first round pick. Maybe it was because there was another CB taken ahead of him, being Jeff Okudah. Let me tell you why C.J. Henderson should be getting more love.
First of all, Henderson can absolutely fly. Something that is essential when you want to be and NFL cornerback. Henderson demonstrated that he can stick with absolute anyone. He had the tough task of guarding Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, two of LSU’s star receivers. Henderson’s speed shows that he can stick with elite receivers. The fact that Henderson also runs a 4.39 is not too bad either.
Secondly, Henderson’s zone coverage is second to none. You may wonder, yeah but how do you measure effective zone coverage. Just listen to Henderson’s numbers. He constantly would match up against offenses that absolutely torch you. LSU, Georgia, and Auburn just to name a few. He gave up under 20 catches in over 300 coverage attempts in 2018.
This kid is next level. He checks every box. He is a solid tackler and stands over six foot. He is quick and has great awareness. The Jacksonville Jaguars needed someone to replace Jalen Ramsey. Lo and behold, here he is. The future for the Jags could be promising, because Henderson has the potential to bloom into a superstar.
(Chet White/ UK Athletics)
Lynn Bowden Jr., Wide Receiver, University of Kentucky
Was this being biased towards the Cats since I am a Kentucky man myself? Maybe. Lynn Bowden Jr. is an absolute steal. He is listed as a Wide Receiver but is so much more than that. He lined up as quarterback for the Cats more than half of the season. A quarterback in high school, Bowden had to grab the reigns when Kentucky was hit with an injury plague at quarterback last season. Bowden did not disappoint.
After switching to quarterback last year, Bowden knew he was going to have to run the ball a lot. He did not just run on teams. He ran all over them. By the end of the year, Bowden was the SEC rushing leader. He ran for 1,468 yards all season and 1,370 of those yards were when he was quarterback. Defenses knew a run play was coming, but that hardly ever stopped him. There may be concern when people look at his mere 403 passing yards over eight games. His job in the NFL will not be a quarterback one, so the passing yards really are not a concern.
Before being switched to quarterback last year, Bowden was a solid receiver. His deep ball threat was spot on, including a decisive one at Florida two years ago that ended nearly a 40-year losing streak against the Gators. He can even return kicks, as he showed in the 2019 Citrus Bowl versus Penn State. This will be more of his role for the Raiders.
Expect him more to mirror Taysom Hill’s qualities in New Orleans. Who knows what John Gruden has in mind for Bowden next season? Kick returner, wildcat quarterback, or even just a slot receiver. His 14 touchdowns in only eight games should be seen as something very promising. Watch out for him in Las Vegas next year. Lynn Bowden Jr. everyone, remember the name.
(Nelson Chenault/ USA Today Sports)
Antonio Gibson, Running Back, University of Memphis
Now this is a player that you had probably never heard of before the draft. Nevertheless, he led his Memphis Tigers to a very impressive 12-2 season. He is listed as a running back, but Gibson actually had more receiving yards last year. Similar to Bowden, Gibson was a 3rd round pick who is just as versatile. Gibson had four rushing touchdowns and eight receiving touchdowns throughout the year. He proved to be one of the main threats in a Memphis offense that loved to put up points.
Gibson will more than likely adopt more of a running back role in the NFL. However, his versatility is what makes him so impressive. If you do not trust me just ask Ron Rivera. The first-year coach of the Redskins said, “He's a little bit bigger than Christian, but he's got a skill set like Christian… This is a very versatile, young football player that we really think is going to be a guy that can get on the field for us early and contribute.”
Christian? That would be Christian McCaffrey, who has just taken the league by storm. Last year McCaffrey cemented his status by making it to his first Pro Bowl and was responsible for more than 40% of his team’s yards. This is quite the comparison from Ron Rivera, who drafted McCaffrey in 2017. Quite the honor for Gibson, even though he has not played one NFL snap. What Rivera sees in Gibson is real. The new Redskins boss believes Gibson can come and immediately be a playmaker both in the backfield and as a pass catcher.
McCaffrey showed just how valuable he is by flashing his pass catching abilities just as well as his speed in the backfield. If Gibson can master this trait as well, the Redskins will have a fun weapon. The Redskins have a hectic situation at running back. Adrian Peterson seems to be the man for now, but Derrius Guice is finally healthy again and there is also Bryce Love who could play last year due to injuries. Gibson’s ability to get out of the chaos and play some wide receiver will be beneficial to the Rivera’s rebuilding offense.
Fantasy football expert, Matthew Berry thinks Gibson will be a key fantasy addition next year just because he can do everything. Good Griefs writer, LA Rice loves Gibson and thinks highly of him as well. If these guys like Gibson, you already know he is the real deal.
(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
Cole McDonald, Quarterback, University of Hawaii
223 names came before him, but McDonald heard his name called as pick 224 in the seventh round. He was the first quarterback selected in the seventh round, and surprisingly three others went after him. Why do I think McDonald might have a bright future?
This kid can throw the football in great fashion. Last year he threw for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. His old offense at Hawaii was heavily focused on big play passes and that might be a reason why his interceptions went up last year. Another reason I really like McDonald is that he is mobile. Mobile might be an understatement. McDonald ran the fastest 40 time at the NFL combine. A 4.58 is nothing to be ashamed of, which might have some people wondering why he was not taken higher.
GM’s may not trust his consistency yet, and the growing interception rate does not help him. However, being picked by the Titans was very promising for McDonald. Marcus Mariota was benched this season and he signed with the Raiders in late March. Ryan Tannehill is still the starting QB and demonstrated why he should have the job. They made a great playoff run with him last season, so kudos to him. Tannehill had not been particularly successful in the league prior to last year. He does not have loads of experience and that may be worrying in the future. I can’t be the only one thinking that last year may have been a smidge lucky for Tannehill.
This is perfect for McDonald. The Titans backup right now is who? Logan Woodside? Strong development by McDonald could have him climbing depth charts and positioning him right behind Tannehill. McDonald has the big arm ability and explosiveness on the ground. Tannehill is 31, and while that is not old, this league is switching to young quarterbacks at an alarming rate. The Titans would be foolish to not give Cole McDonald some chances this season. Tannehill can’t be the answer forever.