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How the 2019 NFL Draft changes AFC game plans on Sundays

Andre Simone Avatar
May 3, 2019

The draft is like Christmas morning for most suffering NFL fans who’ve watched their team struggle through a long regular season, as they dream of the stars that could come from the college ranks to fix everything.

After the dust settles, everyone has their hopes and dreams tied to the new draftees, reading feverishly through grades and draft recaps, hoping their team nailed every selection.

What really matters, though, is how the draft changes how teams, and the league as a whole, are changing and what those changes will mean when it comes to game planning on Sundays.

Which is why we went back to take a look at the picks that’ll most alter game plans in the AFC, including one such pick that should prove to be revolutionary for the Broncos offense.

Here’s what we found.

Fant alters the math of Denver’s offense

San Francisco 49ers breakout tight end George Kittle, another Iowa Hawkeye, is the easy comparison for Noah Fant, as new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello tries to install a similar offense in Denver. 

For the 49ers, Kittle is used in-line, moved around the formation, flexed in the slot and hidden in the backfield. While Fant could also be used in-line, where he’ll excel is in the slot or hidden away in the backfield. 

Fant is as, if not more, athletic than most wide receivers, which in two-tight-end sets will make him a real weapon against base defenses that simply lack the personnel to cover a big third wideout. When defenses are then forced to take a linebacker out and insert a fifth defensive back, Fant has the size to bully nickel personnel as a run blocker.

The 20th pick of the 2019 draft can also take short passes and turn them into big plays, if moved around similarly to Kittle, and can be a handful as a runner with one less linebacker to tackle him in the open field. 

In 2018, the Broncos became too easy to defend, as teams just put eight men in the box. Fant could change all of that and open up space for Denver’s other weapons in the passing game.  

Battles between Fant and newcomers out West like Tyrann Mathieu in Kansas City, Derwin James in LA and fellow rookie Jonathan Abram in Oakland, will be fascinating to follow over the years.

The Pats don’t need another Gronk, just more receiving talent

Widely viewed as one of the best draft classes in 2019, the New England Patriots nailed their selections in 2019, landing four players ranked in our top-50.

One addition that wasn’t made was at tight end, where the Pats lost Rob Gronkowski in the offseason, and seemed poised to take advantage of a strong crop to get their next Gronk. Instead, the Patriots went after receiver N’Keal Harry at the bottom of round one and then added another running back in Damien Harris in the third.

New England won the Super Bowl last season with a ground-and-pound attack spearheaded by 2018 first-round running back Sony Michel and their beast of a fullback, James Devlin. While Gronk proved to still be a valuable safety blanket for Tom Brady, his impact was felt more as a blocker than in the passing game. With the addition of Austin-Seferian Jenkins, a troubled but talented tight end with size and blocking ability, they should come close to replicating Gronkowski’s 2018 performance.

So while the ground-and-pound Patriots should stay the same, they now have more depth at running back and a much more dynamic outside receiver, which they were sorely missing last year.

Harry isn’t just a big-bodied wideout that defenses will have to respect outside, he’s a weapon as a runner after the catch, a solid red-zone threat, and has shown the ability to play outside or in the slot. By adding Harry to reliable slot receiver Julian Edelman and deep threat Phillip Dorsett, the Patriots running game just became a whole lot harder to defend. 

With all that, while New England might not have doubled down on the strength of their 2018 squad by drafting another tight end, they’ve become much harder to defend in all phases of the game.

Whatever they lost in name recognition with Gronk’s retirement, New England’s gained in valuable targets to spread the ball around and become, once again, one of the most versatile offenses in the NFL.

The Chiefs are all in on NASCAR fronts

Remember how the New York Giants won their two Super Bowls against the Patriots?

It was all built around defensive lines with studs like Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul, all big, physical lineman who could play outside or inside in NASCAR formations. That’s what the Kansas City Chiefs are building under the architect of those defenses, Steve Spagnuolo.

Outside of retaining Chris Jones, the Chiefs have now completely overhauled their defensive front with guys like Frank Clark, Emmanuel Ogbah, and 2019 third-rounder Khalen Saunders, all who can rush outside and are big enough to rush inside when needed.

For a KC offense that dominated the first quarter last year and nursed lots of early leads, having a defense that can get after the passer in NASCAR fronts could be dangerous.

Blocking all those players won’t be easy, either, as there’s lots of speed and deceptive power on a unit that already led the league with 52 sacks last season. Under this scheme, that number could increase this year, a scary proposition.

Watching how Mike Munchak’s unit, made almost exclusively of former offensive tackles with upside in pass protection, performs against this new Chiefs fronts will be one of the more interesting battles to follow in the loaded AFC West.

Lamar got himself some running mates

Most say that the NFL has already figured out Lamar Jackson and the new-look Baltimore Ravens offense after the Los Angeles Chargers shut down the former Heisman winner in last year’s playoffs. 

The Ravens have taken note and added two speedy playmakers that’ll make their offense much harder to defend now. First, Baltimore selected Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown, who possesses blazing speed.

Brown will, of course, be a deep threat that stretches the field but what he brings to this offense goes way beyond that. The man known as “Hollywood,” is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands, simply running jet-sweep fakes will really stress defenses and make Lamar and the running game much more unpredictable.

That’s just too much speed to defend in one backfield, especially when you add running back Justice Hill to the mix, the Oklahoma State star who ran a 4.4. Imagine an RPO with Jackson and Hill running side by side and Brown faking jet sweeps or taking the ball and breaking off big gains, how do you defend that? 

Baltimore also drafted athletic undersized quarterback Trace McSorley, it sounds like they might have a few creative packages with him in the mix as well. 

A classically old-school offensive team over the years, the Ravens look like real trendsetters now, especially when you add the two young tight ends they drafted a year ago to the mix. Their running game promises to be fun to watch for years to come if they can get all that speed on the field at the same time. 

Adding a whole new dimension to the Colts

The Colts offense was pretty damn good a year ago with a premier red-zone threat in Eric Ebron and the always-reliable T.Y. Hilton stretching defenses downfield.

In the offseason, they added a big outside receiver in Devin Funchess, and then went out and drafted former running back converted to receiver Parris Campbell, who can be a devastating weapon east-and-west.

The Colts will have to get creative in how they use their new speedy playmaker with direct handoffs, quick screens, and plenty of crossers that allow him to create yards after the catch, but the potential here is very intriguing.

Indy can now attack all areas of the field, making them instantly harder to defend and if they figure out how to use Campbell, they have a dynamic weapon who could vault their offense to another level.

Like with Fant and Brown, speed kills.


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