Every year, Football Outsiders puts together a list of the NFL's best and brightest young players who have barely played. Eighty percent of the draft-day discussion is about first-round picks, and 10 percent is about the players who should have been first-round picks, but instead went in the second round.
This list is about the others.
Everybody knows that Quinnen Williams and Nick Bosa are good. There's a cottage industry around the idea of hyping every draft's No. 1 quarterback as a potential superstar. But players don't stop being promising just because they don't make waves in their rookie seasons. This is a list of players who have a strong chance to make an impact in the NFL -- either this season or beyond -- despite their lack of draft stock and the fact that they weren't immediate NFL starters. (Our full criteria for who's eligible for this list is at the bottom of this article.)
Previous instances of the list have hyped players such as Geno Atkins, Grady Jarrett, David Johnson, Tyreek Hill and Jamaal Charles before they blew up. Last year's list included Kenny Golladay, Aaron Jones, Larry Ogunjobi, and Chris Godwin.
Most of these lists are heavily dependent on the depth of incoming draft classes. For instance, this year's list doesn't have many wide receivers, because most of the players either played right away or didn't have the requisite talent. Last year's list was packed with wideouts. This year is heavier on the beef, after a 2018 draft class that was quite strong on the defensive line.
(Ages are as of July 23, 2019.)
1. Lorenzo Carter, OLB, New York Giants
Age: 23 | Draft: Third-round pick in 2018
Defensive snaps in 2018: 442
When the Giants snagged Carter in the third round, they were making a bet on tools over production. Carter's 4.50 40-yard dash and explosive results in the vertical- and broad-jump metrics made him someone who fit the NFL mold of a top edge rusher. His results at Georgia? Not so good. Carter had just 14 sacks despite serious playing time in all four seasons with the Bulldogs. Our SackSEER projection system took the middle ground, projecting him for 18.3 sacks in his first five seasons on the basis of the athleticism.
Carter's early returns have been pretty good: four sacks and 16 hurries. He saw a boost in snap counts late in the season as the Giants were playing out the string, after he was mostly used behind Kareem Martin and Connor Barwin. He has been drawing hype all offseason from Giants reporters and coaches and seems zeroed-in on a breakout season.
Carter has a very safe floor compared to a lot of this list. Even if he's never an edge-rushing force, he has coverage skills and uncommon athleticism that will keep him in the NFL. If his physical profile wins out, you can expect production along the lines of another Georgia product: Bears edge rusher Leonard Floyd.
2. Da'Shawn Hand, DL, Detroit Lions
Age: 23 | Draft: Fourth-round pick in 2018
Defensive snaps in 2018: 455
Hand was the consensus No. 1 recruit in his class coming out of high school in 2014 but didn't live up to expectations at Alabama. He had great technique and strength, but he never became the kind of force you'd expect from his tools. Hand paired that résumé with a subpar combine in which he ran a self-destructive 7.98-second 3-cone drill. He fell all the way to the fourth round. The one saving grace was his 34⅜-inch arm length; some NFL teams measure pass-rushers by how much distance they can gain with their arms.
Despite the subpar college career, Hand has become a force for the Lions. He had 14 hurries as a rookie to go along with three sacks and six defeats. (Defeats are defined here.) He played sterling run defense as well. Sometimes pro-level coaching and training can take an underachieving college player and raise him to the next level. Now Hand gets to line up next to Trey Flowers and Damon Harrison for a full season and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
A PFWA all-rookie team selection, Hand sprained his MCL late in the season and that's the only reason he's still eligible for this list. Hand is going to grip-and-rip past Lions opponents for a long time.