Written by Ryan Lippert
With the NFL playoffs currently in session and heading into the divisional round this weekend, I have started to take a look back at what was a very entertaining 2019 regular season. The 2019 NFL season was blessed with an extremely talented draft class. Earlier this week, I highlighted my top rookies on the offensive side of the ball. While there were multiple playmakers on the offensive side of the ball in this class, I have a feeling that this defensive rookie class is going to be even more special. With that being said, here is who made my 2019 All-Rookie Team from this talent-rich defensive class.
Defensive Tackles: Ed Oliver (Buffalo Bills), Dexter Lawrence (New York Giants)
Coming into the 2019 NFL Draft, defensive tackle Ed Oliver out of Houston was one of my favorite prospects at any position. In his rookie year, Oliver showed us why he was one of the most intriguing prospects in this class. The first round pick was disruptive against the run for the Bills, finishing with 43 tackles and five tackles for loss. He also showed some pass rush ability as he finished the season with five sacks. I expect Oliver to be one of the faces of this Buffalo defense for many years to come.
Lawrence was a player that I wasn’t as high on in the draft process but definitely exceeded my expectations by a lot in his rookie season. The first round pick out of Clemson started in all 16 games as a rookie and became the run stopping defensive tackle that the Giants desperately needed. He finished his rookie campaign with 38 tackles and three tackles for loss along with 2.5 sacks.
Preseason Picks: Oliver, Quinnen Williams (New York Jets)
Honorable Mention: Jerry Tillery (Los Angeles Chargers), Khalen Saunders (Kansas City Chiefs)
Defensive Ends: Nick Bosa (San Francisco 49ers), Maxx Crosby (Oakland Raiders)
As the second overall pick in the draft, Nick Bosa was thought by many analysts to be the top overall prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. While expectations were already set high, Bosa has exceeded them so far. Bosa has displayed his freak athleticism off the edge for the 49ers and is a huge reason why their defense has been so dominant this season. He finished the regular season with 47 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and nine sacks. Bosa also showed the ability to defend the pass with two pass deflections and one interception which he returned for a touchdown. These numbers have him as the frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year as well as having his name in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion at some points this season.
Crosby is a player that came in with very little hype but truly burst onto the scene and made a name for himself as a rookie. The fourth round pick came in and earned himself a starting spot on this Raiders defense, starting in 10 of their 16 games, including starting the last nine. Crosby proved to be a force off the edge as a pass rusher, finishing the season with ten sacks. He also finished with 46 tackles and 16 tackles for loss. I truly believe that Crosby is going to be special for this Raiders defense as he continues to grow as a player.
Preseason Picks: Bosa, Clelin Ferrell (Oakland Raiders)
Honorable Mention: Ferrell, Jeffery Simmons (Tennessee Titans)
Outside Linebackers: Josh Allen (Jacksonville Jaguars), Brian Burns (Carolina Panthers)
As a Kentucky fan, I witnessed firsthand how special Josh Allen was in college. With that being said, I was very surprised when he dropped to the Jaguars at the seventh pick. Jacksonville should feel extremely lucky that this happened as Allen was incredible in his rookie season. He is listed on most websites as a defensive end but he played in more of a standup outside linebacker role off the edge for the Jaguars. Allen finished the season with 10.5 sacks which was first among all rookies. He also finished with 44 tackles, eleven tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. With these numbers, Allen deserves to be right in the discussion along with Bosa for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Going into the 2019 NFL Draft, I was not sold at all on Brian Burns. However, he has definitely proved me wrong and turned me into a believer so far. The 16th overall pick started in five games for the Panthers but played a key role in all 16 games. Burns was impressive when his name was called, finishing with 23 tackles, five tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks. He also had one forced fumble and a fumble recovery which he returned for a touchdown. It will be interesting to see how Burns’ role grows in this talented Panthers linebacker core.
Preseason Picks: Allen, Montez Sweat (Washington Redskins)
Honorable Mention: Sweat, Bobby Okereke (Indianapolis Colts)
Inside Linebackers: Devin Bush Jr. (Pittsburgh Steelers), Devin White (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Just as I predicted at the beginning of the season, this was the year of the Devins as far as rookie inside linebackers are concerned. Devin Bush Jr. was my second ranked linebacker in this draft class behind White but actually out performed him this season. Bush showed why the Steelers traded up to the tenth overall pick to draft him as he has become the athletic inside linebacker that they have been looking for. He finished his rookie season with 109 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and one sack. Bush also showed the ability to create turnovers as he finished with two interceptions, four pass deflections, one forced fumble, and four fumble recoveries, returning one fumble for a touchdown. I expect Bush to be one of the key faces of this talented, new-look Steelers defense for many years to come.
While White didn’t have as good of a rookie season as Bush, he still had a solid rookie campaign. The fifth overall pick out of LSU became one of the leaders of this Tampa Bay defense, starting in all 13 games that he played in (missed three due to injury). White finished his rookie season with 91 tackles, four tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. He also came away with one interception, three pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries, returning two of those fumbles for touchdowns. I fully expect White to live up to his potential as a Pro Bowl caliber linebacker in the very near future.
Preseason Picks: Bush, White
Honorable Mention: Germaine Pratt (Cincinnati Bengals), Troy Reeder (Los Angeles Rams)
Cornerbacks: Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The 2019 NFL season wasn’t a great one for rookie cornerbacks from a production standpoint. However, I have to pick two for the purposes of this All-Rookie Team and they surprisingly both come from the same secondary. Sean Murphy-Bunting was an intriguing small school prospect out of Central Michigan and was selected in the second round by Tampa Bay. Bunting had a solid rookie season, starting in 10 of the 16 games he played in. He finished the season with eight pass deflections and three interceptions, returning one interception for a touchdown. Bunting also showed some ability to provide run support, finishing with 43 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, and a forced fumble.
Bunting’s teammate, Jamel Dean, proved to be another solid draft pick for the Buccaneers’ secondary. Drafted in the third round out of Auburn, Dean started in three of the 13 games that he played in as a rookie. He finished his rookie campaign with 17 pass deflections and two interceptions. Dean also finished with 21 tackles and one tackle for loss. The future should be very bright for this young Tampa Bay secondary if these two corners can continue to improve their game.
Preseason Picks: Greedy Williams (Cleveland Browns), Rock Ya-Sin (Indianapolis Colts)
Honorable Mention: Nik Needham (Miami Dolphins), Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (New Orleans Saints)
Safeties: Juan Thornhill (Kansas City Chiefs), Taylor Rapp (Los Angeles Rams)
Juan Thornhill was a player that had an impressive college career at Virginia but surprisingly fell to the bottom of the second round in the 2019 NFL Draft. Thornhill went on to prove the teams that passed on him wrong and became one of the steals of the draft for the Chiefs. He started in all 16 games in the regular season and finished with five pass deflections and three interceptions, returning one interception for a tackle. Thornhill also provided support against the run, finishing with 57 tackles. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they will be without Thornhill in the playoffs as he was placed on Injured Reserve with an ACL injury. Hopefully Thornhill can return next season fully healthy and continue to grow into a top level safety in the league.
Taylor Rapp is a player that I was very high on in the draft process but I didn’t know how much success he would have as a rookie due to a crowded Rams secondary. However, the second round pick out of Washington got his chance following an injury to John Johnson. Rapp started in 10 of the 15 games he played in (missed one game due to injury) as a rookie. He finished with eight pass deflections and two interceptions, returning one interception for a touchdown. Rapp was also a force against the run, finishing with 99 tackles and three tackles for loss. It will be interesting to see what kind of role Rapp plays for the Rams next season if Johnson is able to return.
Preseason Picks: Nasir Adderley (Los Angeles Chargers), Johnathan Abram (Oakland Raiders)
Honorable Mention: Darnell Savage (Green Bay Packers), Jalen Thompson (Arizona Cardinals)