A draft of top young players from NFL conference finalists

Former NFL scout Matt Williamson writes about the league from X’s and O’s and talent evaluation perspectives.

For this exercise, my aim was to build a team with a dozen players from the four conference championship rosters. Quarterbacks were excluded — everyone would pick Kansas City’s transcendent Patrick Mahomes first. How fun is that? Because RBs are generally devalued in the game, I didn’t select Derrick Henry, the Titans’ Human Bulldozer. My aim was to draft players who would help me win now and  long term. So youth and upside were paramount. I am on the clock in 3 … 2 … 1 … go!

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Nick Bosa, 49ers, DE (Age: 22)

Why he’s my guy: Instant superstar

An edge rusher who has proven to be an excellent player in just his first NFL season? Yup! Sign me up! Edge players usually don’t hit their prime until their third or fourth season in the league, but Bosa (9 sacks) is well ahead of the curve. It’s frightening to think how disruptive he will be as he matures. Bosa is a safe bet to be among the NFL’s top defensive players for a decade. There is zero risk taking Bosa first overall.

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2. George Kittle, 49ers, TE (Age: 26)

Why he’s my guy: A most worthy successor to Gronk

The NFL’s best tight end is a massive mismatch in the passing game. Kittle (6-4 and 250 pounds) runs tight, powerful routes, has great hands and ball skills, and then really excels after the catch (85 catches, 1,053 yards in 2019). Kittle is a nasty runner with the football and has outlandish speed (4.52 in 40 at Combine) with his huge strides. But Kittle also is the best blocking tight end in the game among those at this position who are active as receivers. He is capable in pass protection but is often dominant as a run blocker. 

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

3. Chris Jones, Chiefs, DT (Age: 25)

Why he’s my guy: Mr. Disruption

 Jones, who missed the divisional-round win over Houston with a calf strain, is an amazing physical specimen (6-foot-6, 310 pounds). He’s powerful and explosive from head to toe. He has long arms to jolt and manhandle opponents. He can really run (5.03 in 40-yard dash at Combine). And Jones, who had nine sacks this season, shows a burst to the ball carrier of a much smaller man. He’s set to hit free agency, but there is no way Kansas City will allow him to walk. 

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4. Tyreek Hill, Chiefs, WR (Age: 25)

Why he’s my guy: Absolute burner

Hill is the most terrifying offensive player in the league. There isn’t anyone faster or more explosive on the field (860 yards receiving, 7 TDs in 2019). Of course, he is a premier deep threat and opens up a ton of room for the running game and underneath routes, but Hill can also carry the ball and greatly influence a defense pre-snap with Jet motion and whatnot. 

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

5. Kevin Byard, Titans, Safety (Age: 26)

Why’s he’s my guy: He’s an eraser

Derwin James (Chargers), Minkah Fitzpatrick (Steelers) and Jamaal Adams (Jets) are flashier and more gifted than Byard, but there isn’t a better safety in football. Perhaps his under-the-radar status is because he played at Middle Tennessee State. With only one other back-seven defender selected, Byard, who had five picks this season, must be the quarterback of my defense. He has no glaring weakness. 

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

6. Mike McGlinchey, 49ers, OT (Age: 25)

Why he’s my guy: Building block

Is McGlinchey a great player? No, but he is an above-average right tackle and plays a premium position. McGlinchey also has a ton of attributes. For one, he’s massive (6-8 and 310), a plus for protecting Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s also nimble, especially in San Francisco’s outside zone running game. 

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

7. DeForest Buckner, 49ers, DL (Age: 25)

Why he’s my guy: Another disruptor

Because they are such impressive physical specimens, I want Buckner (6-7, 290 pounds) and Jones to be the first guys off the bus when we get to the stadium. Intimidation factor! Both are highly effective in all facets of defensive line play. They are going to line up all over the line of scrimmage and feast on the opponents’ weak links. What is amazing is that Buckner’s best football might still be ahead of him. Against the Vikings in the divisional round, he and Bosa led the six-sack effort against Kirk Cousins.  

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8. Jaire Alexander, Packers, CB (Age: 22)

Why he’s my guy: Lockdown ability

Alexander has a nasty playing demeanor that rubs off on his teammates. He’s a great player now; just wait until he gets more experience. Not only is Alexander feisty and aggressive, but he can play press coverage, off coverage or zone. His versatility is useful, but with the pass-rush this squad will generate, we plan on putting Alexander right in the face of our opponent’s top receiver in man coverage snap after snap.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

9. Jeffrey Simmons, Titans, DT (Age: 22)

Why he’s my guy: Huge — and I mean huge — upside

You may have noticed that this is my fourth defensive linemen. Needless to say, controlling the line of scrimmage is a top priority. Simmons, a 6-foot-4, 301-pounder from Mississippi State, fell in the 2019 Draft (19th overall pick) because he wasn’t healthy (knee). But his college tape and measurables indicated he’s as good as Bosa. Yes, you read that right. Simmons, who played in only nine regular-season games, isn’t yet a full-time player. It won’t be long, though, before he is. At this time next season, he could be one of the top defensive tackles in the league. 

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10. A.J. Brown, Titans, WR (Age: 22)

Why he’s my guy: Leaping ability

Starting in Week 1, it was clear Brown (52 catches, 1,051 yards, 8 TDs) was special. I love his size (6-foot and 226 pounds), strength and speed (4.49 in 40-yard dash at Combine). But he also has a very balanced gate and outstanding body control. Brown will become an even better route runner and improve getting off the jam. He’s already one of the better after-the-catch receivers in the league and will always win way more than his share of jump balls. Brown, a second-round pick, and Simmons, a first-rounder, made the Titans 2019 Draft terrific.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

11. David Bakhtiari, Packers, OT (Age: 28)

Why he’s my guy: Stability

Although he has an advanced “football age,” I wasn’t leaving this exercise without a high-quality pair of offensive tackles, and with his experience, Bakhtiari would be an outstanding influence on McGlinchey. Bakhtiari is very much in the conversation as the best backside pass protector over the last several seasons. I plan on throwing the ball a lot, and my quarterback needs the blindside security that Bakhtiari provides.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

12. Davante Adams, Packers, WR (Age: 27)

Why he’s my guy: Consistently great

In the divisional-round win over Seattle, Adams looked like the best player on the field (eight catches, 160 yards, 2 TDs). He is a great technician, and his run-after-the catch skills have improved. The Packers’ offense would be lost without Adams, who led the team in receiving (83 catches, 997 yards) by 34 catches. It doesn’t matter who my running back is — sorry, Derrick Henry — if I line up Kittle at tight end, Hill outside the numbers and either Brown or Adams in the slot.

Honorable mention (Alphabetical): Jurrell Casey (Titans DE), Frank Clark (Chiefs DE), Kenny Clark (Packers NT), Dee Ford (49ers DE), Derrick Henry (Titans RB), Travis Kelce (Chiefs TE), Harold Landry (Titans OLB), Taylor Lewan (Titans OT), Tyrann Mathieu (Chiefs safety), Mitchell Schwartz (Chiefs OT), Za’Darius Smith (Packers OLB), Fred Warner (49ers LB).

Matt Williamson is a former director of football operations at the University of Akron and ex-scout for the Cleveland Browns. After his time in the NFL, he was a football analyst for ESPN for 10 years. He is host of the “Locked On NFL Podcast.” This season marks his 19th full-time season in the football business.

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