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2019 NFL Draft: Drafting the next Jerry Hughes

It’s a deep class at edge rusher, especially at the top

Branch Rickey coined the following saying regarding baseball, although it is just as applicable to the sport of football: “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.” Preparing to move on from a player, even if he’s playing well, is something all general managers should be prepared to do. Careers don’t last long, especially in football. While Jerry Hughes is an effective pass-rushing threat for the Buffalo Bills, he’ll be 31 years old next season and hasn’t had a double-digit sack campaign since 2014. With the team looking to get younger and preparing for the future with Josh Allen, is Hughes really in their plans?

If the Bills do move on from the long-time starter at defensive end, the team might best be served procuring some young, hungry talent in the draft. Currently, the 2019 Draft is loaded with talented pass rushers and defensive ends. Knowing the value teams place at the position, as many as five of the players listed below could end up as first-round picks.

Tier I

Nick Bosa (Ohio State)
Josh Allen (Kentucky)
Clelin Ferrell (Clemson)

Nick Bosa is more athletic that his brother Joey, something he’ll prove at the combine in March. Importantly, he’s just as polished as Joey was when he came out for the draft. Allen appears to be athletic enough to handle multiple defensive roles, but he’s proven so effective as a pass rusher that coaches would be crazy to try to deploy him anywhere else. Although he isn’t as much of a natural bender as the names listed before him, Ferrell is big enough and good enough with his hands to the point where that lack of flexibility doesn’t matter too much.

Tier II

Jachai Polite (Florida)
Brian Burns (Florida State)
Montez Sweat (Mississippi State)
Oshane Ximines (Old Dominion)
Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech)

The anti-Clelin Ferrell, Polite can bend the edge and is exceedingly flexible, but he doesn’t possess elite length or height. A bit on the light side, Burns needs to add more weight in the NFL. Assuming that he does, his upside may be similar to Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter. These next few players were all Senior Bowl attendees, but all three didn’t really light the world on fire down in Mobile. Sweat is a battle-tested, country-strong bull rusher that can beat you multiple ways. Quick off the snap and in possession of a relentless motor, you have to love Ximines’s effort on every play. This might be a low ranking for a player that set the NCAA sack record, but Ferguson just isn’t an exciting athlete.

Tier III

Charles Omenihu (Texas)
Joe Jackson (Miami-Florida)
Zach Allen (Boston College)
Ben Banogu (TCU)

Omenihu is raw, but as an experienced senior at 6’6” and 275 pounds, he’ll get looks as a developmental option. Jackson also brings ideal size and strength as a run defender to the table, but it’s fair to question if he can actually be an effective threat as a pass rusher. Boston College’s Zach Allen is similar, in that he’s a tweener between a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive end, and will likely find himself moved inside in obvious pass rushing situations. Banogu is an undersized pass rusher with burst, so perhaps a move to outside linebacker or SAM linebacker may be what’s best for his long term prospects.