One of the things NFL Draft prognosticators typically harp on is a player’s “floor” or the player’s “ceiling.” What’s the player’s maximum potential? If this player never improves, how bad are they going to be? Are they a safe prospect?
Here are the comparables for the Buffalo Bills’ 2019 NFL Draft class. How do you like their NFL chances?
Floor: Grady Jarrett
Ceiling: Geno Atkins
Bell curve middle: Jurrell Casey
In high school, Oliver was an athletic freak, a five-star recruit. In college, Oliver demonstrated outstanding disruption, though his sack production wasn’t able to measure up to his lofty standards. At worst, he seems like he could match the career of Atlanta Falcons tackle Grady Jarrett. Through four seasons, Jarrett has yet to make a Pro Bowl, but the former fifth-round pick has accumulated 14 sacks and 31 TFLs as a vital piece of Atlanta’s defense. What about his ceiling? While Oliver’s had his style linked with John Randle, it doesn’t seem fair to talk about a rookie in the same breath as a Hall-of-Famer. Geno Atkins, a two-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler, is a more realistic ceiling for Oliver’s mayhem.
Somewhere in the middle of that group is Tennessee’s Jurrell Casey. Overlooked at the start of his career, Casey’s been the best player on the Titans defense for the past several years. He’s made four Pro Bowls (all in the past four seasons), and is good for roughly six sacks and ten TFLs per season. The bar is high for Oliver, because from his athleticism to his college production and scheme fit, every indicator suggests he could be a star.
Floor: Ebon Britton
Ceiling: Mitchell Schwartz
Bell curve middle: Langston Walker
Ford’s versatility should allow him to recover better than most if the initial plan of “play him at tackle” doesn’t pan out. For a similar career path to cover his worst case, take Ebon Britton. The former Jacksonville Jaguars second-round pick started at right tackle, but eventually moved to guard after two seasons. He appeared in 60 games, starting 34, over a six-year career. On average, Ford should hope to have a career like Langston Walker. He appeared in 120 games, starting 82. Walker primarily played right tackle, but filled in at guard and left tackle as his teams requested. At his best, Walker earned a lucrative contract.
At best, Ford wouldn’t say no to a career like Mitchell Schwartz. For the past seven seasons, Schwartz has started every game at right tackle, and he earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2018.
Floor: Joe McKnight
Ceiling: Devonta Freeman
Bell curve middle: Jerious Norwood
Third-round running backs have better career odds than most, especially with the recent devaluing of the position. Better and better talents last into the middle of the draft, now. While his combo of small size and limited athleticism doesn’t inspire confidence on paper, Singletary has a template for a successful career. At best, he could follow the track of Devonta Freeman. Freeman became the starter in year two with his effective vision, made two Pro Bowls, and only injuries have limited him through his career so far. Many running backs don’t work out, so at the worst Singletary could end up like Joe McKnight. A reserve runner and specialist, McKnight played four seasons in the league between 2010 and 2014.
The target line for Singletary to meet draft expectations would be a career like Jerious Norwood’s. The 5’11” 209-lb back finished his career with nearly 500 touches and 3000 yards from scrimmage. For three seasons, he was a dependable number-two back for the Falcons.
Floor: Travis Beckum
Ceiling: Chris Cooley
Bell curve middle: Jordan Cameron
Career prospects aren’t so rosy for mid-round tight ends (or, really, tight ends in general). There were 87 drafted in the third or fourth round since 2000, and Tony Moeaki nearly cracked the top 25. Scott Chandler nearly made the top ten. With that perspective, let’s consider Knox, a great athlete with a short resume.
At worst, Knox might end up like Travis Beckum. Just for fun, go back and read the glowing pre-draft reviews of Beckum from our website. He would play four seasons as a reserve, with 26 career catches. The middle we might hope for could be Jordan Cameron. It took a few seasons, but he became a Pro Bowler with an 80-917-7 receiving slash. Head injuries kept him from ever reaching that ceiling again, and he retired after six seasons.
In the best case, Knox might develop into a career like Chris Cooley’s. He broke into the league as a goal-line receiving threat, and became one of the league’s better tight ends for most of a nine-year career that included two Pro Bowl appearances.
Floor: Sean Porter
Ceiling: Nigel Bradham
Bell curve middle: Tank Carder
By the fifth round, expectations should be adjusted, as most players will barely see the field during their NFL careers. An average linebacker drafted at this point will be a special-teams reserve with a couple career starts, though standouts do exist. At best, Joseph could play like Nigel Bradham. The athletic former Bills pick earned a starting role as a rookie and became a tackling machine for the Philadelphia Eagles. At worst, he basically doesn’t pan out, like Sean Porter, the undersized Texas linebacker who appeared in three games and spent most of his five-year career on practice squads.
Somewhere in the middle, Joseph should aim to beat Tank Carder. Carder latched on with the Cleveland Browns as a special-teams leader. He played five seasons in Cleveland before injuries ended his NFL journey.
Floor: Ahmad Black
Ceiling: Matt Bowen
Bell curve middle: John Wendling
There have been hundreds of defensive backs drafted in the late rounds since 2000, but more than half of them never started a game. It also gets challenging to define a “ceiling” for these players. In Johnson’s case, he’s a typical high-floor, low-ceiling prospect because of his size and speed limitations (and his excellent intangibles). On paper, the best case would be Matt Bowen, who played seven seasons for several teams. Bowen played in 77 games, started 30, and collected four interceptions and three forced fumbles during his NFL career. At worst, hope for something like Ahmad Black. The 5’9” 183-lb defensive back appeared in 24 games with three starts in his three NFL seasons. In terms of late-round safeties, that’s actually a better-than-average career outcome.
Move to the middle and you get Wendling, who played seven seasons as a reserve safety and special-teams captain. He only started four games, but appeared in 110 and recorded 147 combined tackles during his career.
Floor: Joe Kruger
Ceiling: Bobby McCray
Bell curve middle: Michael Buchanan
The seventh round is a great time to bet on potential, and the 6’6” 253-lb Johnson fits that criteria. He’s a hard worker, and he’ll need that to defeat history. Out of 74 seventh-round defensive ends drafted since 2000, 17 (23%) never appeared in a game. Joe Kruger is one of those, a 6’6” 269-lb defensive end who spent three years on practice squads but never landed on the active roster. Best case? A career like Bobby McCray. If Johnson reaches his ceiling, he could play like McCray, who played in 94 games (37 starts) over seven seasons. He would finish his career with 29.5 sacks and 42 TFLs.
On average, Johnson’s career will likely pan out close to 6’6” 255-lb Michael Buchanan. He appeared in 15 games in his rookie season, notching two sacks. In year two, he went to injured reserve after three games. He bounced around the waiver wire after that, and never reached the active roster again.
Floor: Rob Blanchflower
Ceiling: Jim Dray
Bell curve middle: Dan Gronkowski
The list of seventh-round tight ends this century is a wasteland. Most of the best players I found were actually long snappers. Half the list never started a game, and 29% never appeared in one. The best player (Eric Johnson) was a 6’0” 210-lb converted safety who was a tight end and wideout hybrid.
Sweeney’s another high-floor, low-ceiling prospect. Will his floor be high enough to make the roster, though? At best, hope for a Jim Dray-like career. Dray appeared in 94 games, starting 38, and his best season saw a 26/215/2 receiving slash. He was primarily useful as a blocking tight end. At worst, UMass’s Rob Blanchflower is one of those tight ends who never played in a game. He lasted two and a half seasons in the NFL’s development system.
An average case for Sweeney might be Dan Gronkowski. In three seasons with multiple teams, Gronkowski appeared in 21 games, starting five. He caught nine passes for 69 yards over his career, representing his family well. After a couple more seasons on the fringes of the league, his career ended.