In the sports world the term unicorn has been popularized in the NBA. It’s a title given to genetic freaks who can do just about everything on the court. But it’s not a term that should only be used in the NBA and every year in the NFL Draft there’s a handful of these unicorns. In the NFL, unicorns are athletically gifted players who have rare talents and there are few others like them in the league. There tends to be three or four of these types of players in every NFL Draft. On top of that there’s usually a few potential unicorns who aren’t quite elite prospects, but have the makeup of an NFL unicorn. So who are the unicorns and potential unicorns in the 2019 NFL Draft? Checkout the 2018 NFL Draft’s unicorns here.
An NFL unicorn is rare and usually because they’re such height-weight-speed freaks they end up being top 10 prospects. These are players who are gifted and can be playmakers in the league from day one. They can be franchise cornerstones. These are the 2019 NFL Draft’s unicorns:
Ed Oliver, IDL, Houston
- Ed Oliver isn’t your typical unicorn prospect because as everyone knows he lacks some size. What makes Oliver a unicorn is his freaky athleticism for an interior defensive lineman. He’s in a rare mould despite being undersized because of his elite athleticism, it’s reminiscent of Aaron Donald. At 6-2, 287 pounds Oliver posted a 36” vertical jump, 10’0” broad jump, and 32 bench reps at the NFL Combine. Then, at the Houston Pro Day he clocked a 4.73 40-yard dash, 7.15 3-cone, and 4.22 short shuttle. Those numbers are absurd for an IDL. With his freaky movement skills Oliver could play off-ball linebacker if he needed to, that’s not normal. Plug him at 3-Tech and let him be a play wrecker for 10 years. With his on-field production, freaky athleticism, and dominant short area quickness-leverage combo, it won’t take long for Oliver to be a Pro Bowl type player.
- Pro Comp: Geno Atkins
- My Rank: 3rd
Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State
- There seems to be split opinions on whether or not Brian Burns is a top 10 prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. That’s crazy talk. With his elite athleticism and dominant all-around pass rush ability he’s exactly what NFL teams should want on the edge in today’s game. This is a unicorn. At 6-5, 249 pounds Burns ran a 4.53 40-yard dash, 7.01 3-cone, jumped 36” in the vert and 10’8” in the broad. He’s as explosive as you can hope for on the edge and it translates onto the field. Burns has the most explosive first-step in the class, the best bend in the class, a big motor, and is the best overall speed rusher. With everything in his arsenal he should be a consistent double digit sack producer and those don’t grow on trees. He’s worth a top 10 pick easily.
- Pro Comp: Jevon Kearse
- My Rank: 6th
People will have questions about Brian Burns weight, but I’m not worried. Dude has rare flexibility around the edge. Top 10 player with double digit sack ability. pic.twitter.com/ee1wweXm2w
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) February 26, 2019
DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss
- In a deep wide receiver class one guy is above the rest, DK Metcalf. Just look at this guy and you’ll understand why he’s in the unicorn category. Metcalf is as freaky as it gets from a height-weight-speed perspective. He’s 6-3, 228 pounds runs a 4.33 40-yard dash, put up a 40 ½” vert, 11’2” broad, and 27 reps on the bench. All of those numbers are over the 90th percentile for his position. Haters will point at Metcalf’s poor 3-cone and short shuttle times, but just look at his dominance on the field. He wins with his explosiveness, 50/50 ball ability, and strong hands. This is the type of instant impact playmaker every NFL team wants at their X-WR position. There are few players in the NFL with the size, strength, and athleticism Metcalf has and he’ll be an instant problem for the NFL DBs he towers over.
- Pro Comp: Josh Gordon
- My Rank: 9th
With a potential unicorn in the NFL they have what you look for in a unicorn on paper. They’re first-round type prospects with elite athleticism and potential game-changing ability, but something is holding them back from being a can’t miss unicorn type of player. They’re raw prospects with massively high ceilings, but they need to be developed a lot more than true unicorns. These are the 2019 NFL Draft’s potential unicorns:
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
- There are few quarterbacks to reach relevant success at the size of Kyler Murray on the college level and there’s only one in the NFL. That’s why the Oklahoma Heisman winner is on the verge of being a unicorn. Murray might be the #1 overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals and he’s certainly the most talented QB in the NFL Draft. At just 5-10, 207 pounds Murray is tiny by NFL standards, but he’s physically gifted and could change how the NFL views QB prospects. He’s such a talented athlete he was drafted top 10 in the MLB Draft. With his elite athleticism he can make plays on the run or as a runner while also having all the arm talent needed to be a franchise QB. In the right system Murray can be one of the most dynamic QBs in the league despite his lack of size.
- Pro Comp: Russell Wilson
- My Rank: 12th
The instant electricity Kyler Murray will add to an NFL offense with his elite running ability is just a bonus with the rest of his skill set. Not many QBs in NFL history are as talented a runner as Murray. pic.twitter.com/I3dVh8orFV
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) April 4, 2019
Devin White, LB, LSU
- At this point it seems quite likely that Devin White will be a top 10 pick. He’s a former running back playing linebacker with rare athleticism for the position. At the NFL Combine White ran a 4.42 40-yard dash and vertical jumped 39 ½”, both over the 90th percentile for his position. If White were a cleaner prospect on tape he would be considered a near can’t miss prospect because of his size, explosiveness, and aggressiveness. So what holds him back from unicorn status? He’s just too raw right now. You can tell he’s still learning to play the position with his inconsistent instincts and struggles in coverage. There’s just too many flaws in his game that need to be fixed, but if he can be developed he can quickly become one of the flashiest playmakers at linebacker in the league.
- Pro Comp: Thomas Davis
- My Rank: 18th
Jerry Tillery, IDL, Notre Dame
- Is Jerry Tillery a one year wonder or a future Pro Bowl defensive lineman? That’s a question that comes up a lot with him. He had flashes of dominance in 2018, specifically the Stanford game, after inconsistent and disappointing play in previous seasons at Notre Dame. If the NFL can buy-in to his development, Tillery could become a dominant force. 6-6, 295-pound IDLs who run a 4.93 40, 7.45 3-cone, 4.33 short shuttle, broad 9’6”, and vert 32” do not grow on trees. Tillery is an athletic specimen who plays with impressive power thanks to great leverage. He has the tools to be a disruptive pass rusher in the NFL if he can put it all together every week. In the right system with the right coaching Tillery should be able to unlock that Pro Bowl potential and become a game wrecker.
- Pro Comp: Chris Jones
- My Rank: 19th
Jerry Tillery mugs this dude with an easy rip move and then ends Kyle Shurmur with a strip sack. After his #NFLCombine first-round seems likely. pic.twitter.com/jscqFFVw7c
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) March 6, 2019
Montez Sweat, EDGE, Mississippi State
- There might be no prospect more fit for unicorn status on paper than Montez Sweat. There are pretty much no players in the draft more perfectly described as a height-weight-speed freak than Sweat. At 6-6, 260 pounds he ran a 4.41 40, 7.0 3-cone, 4.29 short shuttle, broad jumped 10’4”, and verted 36.” Putting up those numbers at that size turned him from a mid to late-first-round pick to a potential top 10 pick in the NFL’s eyes. So why is he not under the unicorn status? That freak athleticism doesn’t translate on the field frequently enough. Sweat is a strong player at the point who uses his length well, but he can be too stiff as a pass rusher. The lack of bend holds back his overall ability as a pass rusher. A team will bet on the size and athleticism early and get a good well-rounded edge player.
- Pro Comp: Ziggy Ansah
- My Rank: 23rd
Best rep of the day in OL vs DL was this hesitation bull rush from Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, right through Tytus Howard #SeniorBowl
— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) January 22, 2019
Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan
- Nobody on this list is more overhyped for what they could be than Rashan Gary. It’s been over a year of hype about his athleticism and first-round talk for Gary. The NFL Combine definitely justified the hype around his athleticism. At 6-4, 277 pounds Gary ran a 4.58 40, 4.29 short shuttle, 7.26 3-cone, broad jumped 10’0”, and verted 38.” Those are crazy numbers for a man of his size, but why is he not a unicorn? Well, it just doesn’t come through consistently on tape. Gary is somewhat of an underachiever, disappearing for stretches of games and only making impact plays every so often. He never put it all together for the Wolverines despite the flashes and it’s going to take a lot to make him worth his likely first-round selection. If a coach plays him all over the place to take advantage of the athleticism it will help him reach his potential.
- Pro Comp: Adalius Thomas
- My Rank: 40th
A Horn Short of Unicorn Status
There are great prospects who have All-Pro ability, but aren’t classified as unicorns. They aren’t the genetic freak type that usually makes a unicorn what they are, but they can be elite prospects. Sometimes they don’t have the rare size or athleticism combo to truly make them a unicorn. These players are everything you want on tape and definite top 10 prospects, but they don’t fall into the unicorn category.
Quinnen Williams, IDL, Alabama
- It’s not like Quinnen Williams isn’t an athletic specimen because he is and he’s the best player in the 2019 NFL Draft. He’s just not a true unicorn, but if you’re betting on any player in the draft to reach All-Pro status this is most definitely the guy. Williams is an explosive, well-built, and smart interior defensive lineman who can play just about anywhere on the IDL. With his first-step, elite hand use, leverage/power, quickness, wiggle, and motor he could quickly become one of the best pass rushers on the inside in the NFL. He’s also disruptive as hell vs the run, often killing plays in the backfield or stretching them out. This man is everything you want in a 3-Tech and one of the best interior defensive line prospects in a long time. He should be the favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
- Pro Comp: Gerald McCoy
- My Rank: 1st
Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
- In almost any other draft class Nick Bosa would be the top defensive prospect, but Quinnen Williams is rare. Bosa is closer to 1B than the second overall prospect and there’s no chance he falls out of the top three. What keeps him from being a unicorn? He’s not an elite athlete, although he doesn’t have any athletic questions. So what makes him a top prospect? Bosa has some of the best hand use of any edge prospect from this century. He’s a pass rush artist with an entire arsenal of moves and counter moves. This is something that will instantly translate to the NFL for him, like it did for his brother. On top of that Bosa is a leverage monster who dominates the run game with power and an understanding of how to set the edge. He’ll be a playmaker from day one.
- Pro Comp: Joey Bosa
- My Rank: 2nd
Garrett Bradbury, C, NC State
- It’s tough for a center to ever be classified as a unicorn, but Bradbury does possess rare athleticism for the position. There are few players as equipped to plug-and-play in this draft class as Bradbury. He has the ability to upgrade an entire offensive line from day one thanks to his high-end play and elite football IQ. With his short area quickness and ability to work to the second level of a defense, he’s a dominant run blocker despite not being the most powerful player. His athleticism also translates to the passing game with quick footwork and great bend/balance. What you get with Bradbury is a leader up front who has no holes to his game. Due to position value Bradbury could slip to the mid to late-first-round, but he’s one of the safest picks in the entire draft.
- Pro Comp: Ryan Kalil
- My Rank: 7th
TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa
- Like every other prospect on this final list, TJ Hockenson is a top 10 player, but doesn’t fit the unicorn narrative. Even though he’s not a unicorn Hock is an impressive athlete and one of the best tight end prospects of the century. He will come in and instantly be a factor with his dominance as a run blocker and his on-field attitude. What you get from him in the passing game is a mismatch nightmare. Hock has the athleticism to make plays down the seam, the YAC ability to turn short passes into big gains, and the 50/50 ball talent to make circus catches. He has the tools to be one of the most complete tight ends in the NFL early in his career. Tight ends don’t often go top 10, but Hockenson can be the type that justifies the early pick.
- Pro Comp: George Kittle
- My Rank: 8th
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