With the 2018 NFL Draft now officially in the books, it’s time to hand out grades for each and every team
After one of the most anticipated NFL Drafts in recent memory, and as is custom, it’s time to assign far-too-premature grades for every team!
In case you don’t remember, keep a couple things in mind while reading my draft grades:
- Yes, I hate your team.
- Yes, I hate your team.
Now that we’ve established the ground rules, here’s your look at draft grades for the 2018 NFL Draft, starting with the squads in the AFC East.
Best pick: Harrison Phillips (DT, Stanford)
Questionable pick: Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming)
Sleeper pick: Tremaine Edmunds (LB, Virginia Tech)
General manager Brandon Beane accomplished what he set out to do in the offseason by landing his quarterback in the future in Wyoming gunslinger Josh Allen. He paid a heavy price, shipping both of the Bills’ second-round selections to move up with Tampa Bay in order to select Allen.
I’ve mentioned before that while Allen’s ceiling is as high as nearly any quarterback in this class, he’s still a long-term project. The Bills clearly feel otherwise, but Allen going to Buffalo means he’ll likely be thrown into the fire before he’s truly ready. With UCLA’s Josh Rosen still on the board, Allen will need to prove his inaccuracy issues can be fixed at the NFL level to avoid this pick being a costly bust.
The Bills moved up again in order to select literal teenager, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, for their second first-round pick. Edmunds possesses freaky athleticism and won’t turn 20 until next week, so Buffalo will have plenty of time to mold him into an every-down player at the next level.
The selection of Harrison Phillips in the third round was a great value pick for the Bills and should provide an outstanding run-stuffing presence in the interior of Buffalo’s defensive line.
Best pick: Mike Gesicki (TE, Penn State)
Questionable pick: Durham Smythe (TE, Notre Dame)
Sleeper pick: Kalen Ballage (RB, Arizona State)
The Dolphins were likely surprised at the availability of Alabama standout Minkah Fitzpatrick but were wise to snatch him up with the eleventh overall pick. The club has made it clear that adding talent on the defensive side of the ball was a priority early on, and Fitzpatrick and third-rounder Jerome Baker (OLB, Ohio State) both provide are excellent, athletic playmakers.
Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe is one of the best in-line run blockers among tight ends in this class, but his fourth-round price was a bit steep. The selection of similarly-profiled Washington’s Will Dissly directly before could very well have forced the team to take Smythe earlier than they anticipated.
From a skill position standpoint, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki and Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage are two of the highest-upside players in the draft. Gesicki possesses receiver-like ability in a tight end’s body and should instantly become a favorite target of Ryan Tannehill. Ballage, meanwhile, has one of the best athletic profiles of any running back in this class and could wind up being a huge steal in the fifth round for Adam Gase’s offense.
While he likely won’t be an every-down back, Ballage should be able to line up all over the field, catching the ball out of the backfield and possessing the speed to be a real home-run hitter.
Best pick: Isaiah Wynn (OL, Georgia)
Questionable pick: Sony Michel (RB, Georgia)
Sleeper pick: Duke Dawson (CB, Florida)
The Patriots were one of the most active teams in this draft, moving around the board a number of times in typical New England fashion. With their first pick, the Patriots snatched up outstanding Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn. While most saw Wynn as a guard at the next level due to his height, the Pats appear intent on keeping him at tackle. Nate Solder’s departure in free agency has put finding an answer at tackle a top priority and Bill Belichick is hoping that Wynn is the type of player they can plug and play from Week 1.
Wynn’s college roommate, running back Sony Michel, didn’t have to wait much longer after New England took him with their second first-round selection. While I think Michel is a solid player, I’m not sure he was worthy of a first-round selection in a Patriots offense with a history of having success going running back by committee.
The departure of Malcolm Butler in free agency all but assured that the Patriots would look for depth in their defensive backfield and Florida’s Duke Dawson was an excellent value choice in the third round. Dawson excels at mirroring opposing wide receivers, particularly in the slot, and should be an immediate contributor to the New England secondary.
Best pick: Sam Darnold (QB, USC)
Questionable pick: Trenton Cannon (RB, Virginia St.)
Sleeper pick: Chris Herndon (TE, Miami)
The Jets entered the 2018 NFL Draft looking to find their quarterback of the future and wound up with the player many felt was the best quarterback in the entire class with the third overall pick. Sam Darnold was the big man on campus in Los Angeles and now heads to play under the bright lights in New York City. Darnold had plenty of issues with turning the ball over in his last season with the Trojans, but he’s got the arm talent and savvy to eventually be the best quarterback from this entire class.
Miami tight end Chris Herndon has second-round talent but numerous injuries dropped him to the fourth round, where the Jets were wise to snatch him up. Herndon’s speed and athleticism should make him a reliable target down the middle of the field and create mismatches for opposing linebackers. If Darnold is indeed the starter in Week 1, pairing him with an outside weapon like Herndon will be valuable for the development of both players.
Cornerback Parry Nickerson out of Tulane is an nice secondary addition in the sixth round, and was one of the best ball-hawking players in the FBS in 2017. Running back Trenton Cannon of Virginia State has big upside but was a bit of a surprise in the sixth round, as many expected him to be an undrafted free agent.
Best pick: Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
Questionable pick: Hayden Hurst (TE, South Carolina)
Sleeper pick: Mark Andrews (TE, Oklahoma)
General manager Ozzie Newsome went out with a bang in his final draft at the Ravens’ helm, most notably taking Louisville star and former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson with the final pick in the first round. Jackson was one of the most polarizing quarterback prospects in the entire class, but also possessed the most unique skillset. With long-term future of the human statue that is Joe Flacco up in the air, Newsome was wise to take a developmental prospect as talented as Jackson in the first round.
The Ravens’ other first-round pick, tight end Hayden Hurst, was one of the more head-scratching picks of the entire first round. Hurst will already turn 25 years old by the start of the 2018 season and was an extremely poor value in the first round, as no other prospects from the position were selected until Day 2. Hurst is a solid player, but it’s hard to justify taking a player who will be 30 by the time his rookie contract is up.
Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews is a massive target who the Ravens hope can become a reliable red zone option for Joe Flacco, with Hurst expected to stretch the field vertically. Early on in free agency, Baltimore was linked heavily to Jimmy Graham, and Andrews could be the type of player they hope to fill a similar role.
Best pick: James Washington (WR, Oklahoma State)
Questionable pick: Mason Rudolph (QB, Oklahoma State)
Sleeper pick: Terrell Edmunds (S, Virginia Tech)
The Steelers were part of one of the Draft’s best moments, with linebacker Ryan Shazier walking out to the stage on his own power to announce the club’s first-round selection. That pick, Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds, was surprising at that spot but Edmunds’ athleticism and upside could wind up paying off dividends for Mike Tomlin’s defense.
After trading Martavis Bryant to the Raiders, the Steelers found his replacement in the second round in Oklahoma State standout James Washington. Washington was one of my favorite receivers in the class and he will fit in nicely with a receiving corps that already includes JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. It remains to be seen how the club will resolve the Le’Veon Bell situation, but they will at the very least have plenty of weapons on the outside.
The uncertainty of Ben Roethlisberger’s long-term future left many speculating that the Steelers could look at a quarterback in this draft, and they did so by selecting James Washington’s teammate, Mason Rudolph. While Rudolph has the prototypical size, I’m not sure he’ll wind up being anything more than a backup in the NFL, as he lacks mobility and struggles to throw accurate deep balls. If Roethlisberger ends up retiring sooner than expected, Pittsburgh may be scrambling to find a long-term replacement.
Best pick: Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia)
Questionable pick: Antonio Callaway (WR, Florida)
Sleeper pick: Austin Corbett (OG, Nevada)
After a month of swirling rumors about which quarterback would be tabbed as the next face of the franchise, John Dorsey and the Browns made it official with the selection of Baker Mayfield with the number one overall pick. The Mayfield selection points to the fact that several evaluators in the Browns’ draft room (namely Scot McCloughan) are convinced that Mayfield is the next Brett Favre, both as a player and from a fashion standpoint.
The real surprise came when Cleveland opted for Ohio State standout Denzel Ward over Bradley Chubb, but Ward still represents a good upgrade for the Browns secondary that was in need of a talent infusion. Georgia’s Nick Chubb was an excellent pickup in the second round and should make an immediate impact that also allowed the team to avoid paying the steep top-10 price associated with a player like Saquon Barkley.
The club’s fourth-round selection, Antonio Callaway, could wind up as the best receiver in the class but comes with a 737’s-worth of baggage. From a pure talent standpoint, he’s a steal in the fourth round but his well-documented off-the-field problems could become a problem on a very young team.
With this draft in the books, John Dorsey has overhauled the Browns roster that is highly unlikely to repeat last year’s winless disaster of a season. Now, it’s time to see if they truly spent their draft capital wisely or if they will remain in the AFC North cellar for years to come.
Best pick: Billy Price (OL, Ohio State)
Questionable pick: Malik Jefferson (LB, Texas)
Sleeper pick: Jessie Bates (S, Wake Forest)
The Bengals needed desperately to address their issues on the offensive line early and did so with the selection of Ohio State’s Billy Price with the twenty-first pick in the first round. The team was reportedly enamored with Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow, but after Ragnow went off the board to Detroit in the pick directly before them, Price was the next best option. Price’s shoulder injury pushed him down some draft boards but he was extremely durable in his Buckeye career and has the type of technique and nasty streak that Cincinnati will love.
Safety Jessie Bates had some of the most helium of any prospect in the draft, with some even projecting him as a first-round pick. Bates has outstanding athleticism and should be a great centerfielder in the Bengals’ defensive backfield.
Malik Jefferson is a player who never matched his enormous potential to production on the field, and will need to do a lot to prove he’ll be more than just a special teams contributor in the NFL. Despite his athletic gifts, Jefferson lacks instincts to be an every-down linebacker at the next level but the Bengals are hoping he can be the long-term replacement for Vontaze Burfict.
Mark Walton of Miami is another nice pickup for a Bengals offense that should see another uptick in production from Joe Mixon. If Cincy has done enough to overhaul their offensive line, Walton and Mixon could become one of the best young running back tandems in the league.
Best pick: Ronnie Harrison (S, Alabama)
Questionable pick: Will Richardson (OT, NC State)
Sleeper pick: DJ Chark (WR, LSU)
The Jaguars added to an already-monstrous defensive line with the selection of in-state product Taven Bryan in the first round, something that opposing quarterbacks are likely already having nightmares about. Bryan has enormous upside but needs to prove his flashes on tape can become more consistent at the next level.
The slide of Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison (reportedly due to character concerns) was one of the more surprising developments of Day 2, as some felt he was worthy of being selected in the first round. Harrison loves punishing anybody who comes into the middle of the field with bone-rattling hits and is a Kam Chancellor type of tone-setter in the secondary. With A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey already in the fold, the Jags’ addition of Harrison adds a new layer of swagger to the Sacksonville defense.
Wide receiver DJ Chark is a bit of a one-trick pony, but his ability to take the top off of opposing defenses could open things up underneath for the Jacksonville offense. After the departures of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in free agency, the Jaguars needed to find an answer at wide receiver in a pretty thin class. If Chark is able to develop as a route runner and learn to be more successful against press coverage, he could become a valuable weapon on the outside and in the return game.
Best pick: Rashaan Evans (LB, Alabama)
Questionable pick: Dane Cruikshank (S, Arizona)
Sleeper pick: Harold Landry (EDGE, Boston College)
Linebacker was one of the most pressing needs for the Titans heading into the 2018 Draft and they ensured they landed their top player by trading up to get Alabama’s Rashaan Evans. With Evans likely to be off the board in the next several picks, Tennessee was able to get a player who should make an immediate impact from day one.
Had Harold Landry entered the draft last year, he very well could have been a top-15 pick. After a down 2017 season, however, the Titans were able to land him with the ninth pick in the second round. Landry is a bit undersized but possesses outstanding athleticism and ability to bend the edge that could make him a top pass rushing threat in the NFL. Landry’s length and short-area quickness should help to vault a Titans pass rush that already finished among the top five in the entire league last season.
With only four selections in the draft, the Titans did a good job of maximizing their value, and they’ve made it clear that they intend to build the type of outstanding defense to help Marcus Mariota in Mike Vrabel’s first year as head coach.
Best pick: Justin Reid (S, Stanford)
Questionable pick: Jordan Akins (TE, Central Florida)
Sleeper pick: Keke Coutee (WR, Texas Tech)
Without a pick until the third round as a result of last year’s Deshaun Watson trade, the Texans nabbed a talented safety in Stanford’s Justin Reid. Reid was a player with a lot of helium heading into the draft, with some believing that he would be selected in the late first or early second round.
With a number of talented pass-catching tight ends available, the selection of former baseball player, UCF’s Jordan Akins was a bit of surprise, particularly in the third round. Akins was graded as a Day 3 pick by many and like South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, Akins is one of the draft’s oldest players at 25 years old. While they didn’t pay as much as the Ravens did in the first round, picking him up in the third when he likely would have been available much later is questionable at best.
The Texans love speed on the outside and added more with the selection of local product Keke Coutee in the fourth round. Coutee figures to be a dynamic player in the slot, and reportedly spent a good deal of time with Texans assistant and former Red Raider standout Wes Welker during the draft process. Coutee could be a dynamic weapon on special teams and with Will Fuller and Deandre Hopkins already in the fold, Deshaun Watson will have plenty of downfield threats when he returns from injury next season.
Best pick: Quenton Nelson (OG, Notre Dame)
Questionable pick: Kemoko Turay (EDGE, Rutgers)
Sleeper pick: Darius Leonard (LB, South Carolina State)
The health of Andrew Luck continues to be the biggest factor in the success of the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, but they at least helped his chances of staying healthy with the selection of Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. A number of draft analysts had Nelson as a top-three overall player in the class and the Colts did a great job by snatching him up with the sixth-overall pick.
Nelson’s talent and mean streak will go a long ways towards establishing a new attitude up front for Indianapolis. Many felt Nelson was the surest pick in the draft and the Colts were able to get that sure player at a major position of need.
While Rutger’s Kemoko Turay checks a lot of the boxes that teams covet in an edge rusher, I’m not sure he’s played consistent enough to warrant his high second-round selection. With Harold Landry still on the board with their first two selections in the second round, I think Indianapolis would have done well by going in that direction rather than more of a developmental prospect like Turay.
A number of draft pundits had linked the Colts heavily to Roquan Smith in the draft process, but they were able to get a similar player a round later in South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard. Leonard flashed at the Senior Bowl and has excellent athleticism, with some feeling he could even sneak into the first round.
Best pick: Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State)
Questionable pick: Josey Jewell (LB, Iowa)
Sleeper pick: Courtland Sutton (WR, SMU)
Not many expected Bradley Chubb to be available with the fifth overall pick, but the Broncos jumped on the opportunity to add the NC State star to an already-talented defensive unit. Chubb was my top player in this class and to get him with the fifth overall pick is an absolute steal. Images of Chubb and Von Miller on the outside is already creeping into the nightmares of every quarterback in the AFC West.
In a depleted receiver class, SMU’s Courtland Sutton has perhaps the best upside of any player at the position. His outstanding size and athleticism should make him a reliable target for new Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. Many felt that Sutton would have been a surefire first-round selection had he entered the draft last year, and getting him in the second round is an excellent value for John Elway’s club.
To be honest, it’s hard to pick apart this particular class for Denver, other than not having a true long-term answer at quarterback. Thankfully for Broncos fans, this roster is plenty talented to make a playoff return even with a stopgap quarterback option like Keenum. While Josey Jewell possesses outstanding instincts, I’m not sure if he has the athleticism to be an every-down linebacker in the NFL. But when you come out of a draft having not reached for any prospects, and having a player like Jewell being your “questionable” selection, you know you’ve done well.
Best pick: Mo Hurst (DT, Michigan)
Questionable pick: Brandon Parker (OT, North Carolina A&T)
Sleeper pick: Nick Nelson (CB, Wisconsin)
The Raiders had one of the most confusing drafts in the entire league, choosing to roll the dice mainly on project players in much earlier slots than anticipated.
The first draft under new/old head coach Jon Gruden was one of the most intriguing storylines heading into the draft, but Oakland seemed to come away with more questions than answers. The selection of surprising draft slider Mo Hurst (due to his reported heart issues) has first-round potential at a fifth-round price, but the remaining selections leave a lot to be desired.
PJ Hall had some of the most staggering testing numbers we’ve seen from any defensive line prospect in recent years, but his second-round selection was far earlier than many anticipated. He could develop into a solid player but he could face plenty of growing pains in his jump from the FCS to the NFL.
Offensive tackle Brandon Parker was also a reach with the first pick of the third round as a player with plenty of athletic traits but not much in the way of technique. Another first-round talent Arden Key comes with plenty of baggage, and it remains to be seen how much patience Gruden and his staff will have if those issues flare up again. If anything, Wisconsin’s Nick Nelson will help add talent into a young Raiders secondary.
Best pick: Tremon Smith (CB, Arkansas State)
Questionable pick: Armani Watts (S, Texas A&M)
Sleeper pick: Breeland Speaks (DT, Mississippi)
The Chiefs moved up into the second round to select Breeland Speaks of Mississippi, perhaps much earlier than where many expected him to land. The Chiefs have a good track record at developing projection defensive lineman such as Chris Jones, so they obviously feel that there is enough to work with in Speaks that he was worthy of an early second-round selection.
Safeties came off the board fast and furious in the fourth round, but it’s unclear whether Armani Watts is capable of an every-down starter role at the NFL role. Watts has plenty of athleticism but often misses a lot of tackles and takes poor angles, something that is not ideal for players on the last level of the defense. Tackling instincts are one of the hardest things to correct at the next level, so Watts may have an uphill battle in being able to turn those bad habits around.
After trading Marcus Peters to the Rams earlier in the offseason, it was clear that Kansas City would look to add talent in the secondary. Central Arkansas’ Tremon Smith is a small-school prospect with a lot of upside and could be an excellent value in the sixth round. Smith has great size, ball skills, and does a great job when left on an island with opposing receivers.
Best pick: Derwin James (S, Florida State)
Questionable pick: Scott Quessenberry (OL, UCLA)
Sleeper pick: Uchenna Nwosu (LB, USC)
While many expected Derwin James to land inside the top ten of round one, the Chargers were able to get him at an excellent value with pick seventeen. James has been comped often to Seahawks standout Kam Chancellor, which is just the type of role he could excel in for Gus Bradley’s defense. James is also an undeniable leader in the locker room and should be a great addition to a Chargers defense that continues to get better.
USC’s Uchenna Nwosu is one of the yougnest players in the draft and possesses tremendous upside as an athletic linebacker. Nwosu’s length and athleticism make him an intriguing edge prospect but he’ll need to be more consistent to become a factor at the next level. If everything clicks, Nwosu could be one of the best values from the second round of this draft.
Without any particular standout trait, UCLA’s Scott Quessenberry could be more of a low-end roster player without a true path to any regular starting job in the NFL. The Chargers were bit by the injury bug last season with Forrest Lamp, but the team may have been better served addressing the interior in the third or fourth rounds, rather than waiting for a player like Quessenberry in the fifth round.
Best pick: Dallas Goedert (TE, South Dakota State)
Questionable pick: Avante Maddox (CB, Pitt)
Sleeper pick: Josh Sweat (EDGE, Florida State)
The Eagles jumped up in round two to snag Dallas Goedert…in front of the Dallas Cowboys…in Dallas, Texas. Many felt that Goedert was the only tight end worthy of being selected in round one and to get him right in front of a division rival has to feel good if you’re an Eagles fan. From an on-field standpoint, Goedert is yet another weapon for Carson Wentz and should be a nice replacement for Zach Ertz if the team is unable to sign him to a long-term deal once he hits free agency.
One of the best values for any team in the entire draft was Florida State edge rusher Josh Sweat, whom the Eagles were able to snatch up late in the fourth round. Sweat has freakish athleticism and dropped mainly due to medical concerns, but when healthy has some of the best upside of any defensive prospect in the class. Philadelphia obviously feels comfortable with the status of Sweat’s knee and they very well could find themselves with a 10+ sack prospect down the road.
After Patrick Robinson’s departure in free agency, it was likely that the Eagles addressed the secondary and they did so with in-state product Avante Maddox. Maddox has great speed and was a ballhawk for the Panthers, but doesn’t possess much in the way of size. He’ll need to refine his technique but at the very least could be a contributor on special teams early on in his NFL career.
Best pick: Leighton Vander Esch (LB, Boise State)
Questionable pick: Chris Covington (LB, Indiana)
Sleeper pick: Cedrick Wilson (WR, Boise State)
With many Cowboys fans clamoring for a wide receiver selection early on, the team instead opted for Boise State standout Leighton Vander Esch. Some reports indicated that the Cowboys were so enamored with Vander Esch that they saw him in the mold of Brian Urlacher, and he should make a huge impact for the club from Week 1 of his NFL career. Despite only having one year of production, Vander Esch is the type of player who could anchor the middle of the Cowboys defense for years to come.
The Cowboys picked up their wide receivers later than some expected with the selection of Colorado State’s Michael Gallup in the third round, but another intriguing option is sixth-rounder Cedrick Wilson. Wilson has good size and outstanding speed to take the top off of opposing defenses. He improved in each of his seasons with the Broncos and in addition to his receiving ability, can also contribute on special teams in the return game. In my estimation, picking up talent like Gallup and Wilson in the later rounds was a much better strategy for Dallas than reaching for a player like Calvin Ridley in the first round.
With the reported retirement of Jason Witten looming, the addition of Stanford’s Dalton Schultz is a good, projectable body at tight end, though don’t expect him to get to Witten’s Hall of Fame-caliber production any time soon. Overall, this was a strong draft for Dallas.
Best pick: Will Hernandez (OL, UTEP)
Questionable pick: B.J. Hill (DT, NC State)
Sleeper pick: Kyle Lauletta (QB, Richmond)
While some expected new GM Dave Gettleman to take Bradley Chubb following the departure of Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants instead snatched up Penn State superstar Saquon Barkley. Some have called Barkley a generational talent at running back, and the Giants are hoping his addition to an already-talented offense will help rejuvenate Eli Manning’s career. As much as I love Barkley, the second overall pick is an extremely steep price to pay for the running back position, but Gettleman doesn’t seem to be much of a fan of that advanced-analytics mindset.
Kyle Lauletta of Richmond was one of the best secondary options at quarterback after the first round and New York is hoping that new head coach Pat Shurmur can work his quarterback magic with him going forward. It remains to be seen how much faith the Giants have in Davis Webb, but Lauletta is a nice player who has excellent fourth-round value. Depending on how much Eli has left in the tank, Lauletta or Webb could soon be competing as the Giants’ quarterback of the future.
It’s not often that a team’s entire defensive line gets drafted, but such was the case with NC State this season. The Giants snagged one of those players, B.J. Hill in the third round, but Hill will need to get stronger at the point of attack to prove he belongs as a starter in the NFL. If all goes well, the Giants at the very least can hope he follows the developmental mold of Damon Harrison.
Best pick: Da’Ron Payne (DT, Alabama)
Questionable pick: Geron Christian (OT, Louisville)
Sleeper pick: Derrius Guice (RB, LSU)
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Derrius Guice ended up as the best running back prospect from this entire class, but he certainly didn’t do himself any favors during the draft process. The Redskins were wise to scoop him up late in the second round, but getting into altercations during your job interview (as Guice reportedly did) isn’t a great indication of your future. If Guice is able to hold it together, however, Washington will be more than happy with their Day 2 haul.
It was no secret that Washington needed desperately to improve their run defense and Da’Ron Payne should go a long way towards making that happen. While many linked Washington’s Vita Vea to the team during the draft process, having Vea off the board meant Payne was the next best option. Jay Gruden and company can only hope that Payne lives up to his name in anchoring the middle of the Washington line for years to come.
Project offensive tackles often go off the board much earlier than expected and Geron Christian is no exception. Christian has outstanding size and length but tested poorly and will need to refine his technique before he’s ready to become a starter at the next level.
Best pick: Mike Hughes (CB, UCF)
Questionable pick: Tyler Conklin (TE, Central Michigan)
Sleeper pick: Brian O’Neill (OT, Pitt)
The Vikings entered the draft with needs in the secondary and managed to pick up a player some felt was the most talented cornerback in the class in UCF’s Mike Hughes. Hughes reportedly fell due to character concerns but he should be able to make an immediate impact in an already-talented Minnesota secondary.
Protecting new $84 million man Kirk Cousins figured to be high on the priority list for the Vikings as well, and landing Pitt’s Brian O’Neill late in the second round could be an extremely good value. O’Neill possesses outstanding athleticism for a player of his size and if not for an uneven Senior Bowl performance, he very well could have seen him sneak into the back half of the first round. There’s enough to work with that the Vikings should feel good about his chances going forward.
Tyler Conklin made perhaps more highlight-reel catches than any player in this class but it’s unclear whether he’s recovered enough from a foot injury to be a pass-catching threat at the next level. After testing with a 4.8 40-yard dash, I’m not sure Conklin will be able to create enough separation from opposing defenders to make those circus catches in the NFL.
Best pick: Tyrell Crosby (OG, Oregon)
Questionable pick: Tracy Walker (S, Louisiana-Lafayette)
Sleeper pick: Kerryon Johnson (RB, Auburn)
The Detroit Lions seem intent on breaking their 100-yard rusher streak after using four of their six selections in the 2018 NFL Draft on the offensive line and running back. New head coach Matt Patricia knows that establishing the run will only help the play of Matthew Stafford and he was able to land two of the best interior line prospects in Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow and Oregon’s Tyrell Crosby.
Crosby had one of the most puzzling slides of the entire draft and picking him up in the fifth round could turn out to be a huge late-round steal. Ragnow, meanwhile, was a player who had a ton of helium late in the process and should go a long ways towards helping the Lions establish an inside run game.
To go along with that inside run game, Detroit picked up Auburn standout running back Kerryon Johnson, who was one of the more well-rounded backs in this particularly-deep class. Johnson’s patience at the line of scrimmage and ability to hit the lane when it opens have led some to drop Le’Veon Bell comps and the Lions would be more than thrilled to get similar production with their second-round selection.
Best pick: Jaire Alexander (CB, Louisville)
Questionable pick: Hunter Bradley (LS, Mississippi State)
Sleeper pick: Equanimeous St. Brown (WR, Notre Dame)
It was no secret that the Green Bay Packers were in need of a talent infusion in the defensive backfield and they managed to land two of the top cornerbacks in Louisville’s Jaire Alexander and Iowa’s Joshua Jackson, and picked up a 2019 first-round pick in the process. Paired with last year’s top pick Kevin King, the Packers now possess a wealth of young talent in the secondary that will hopefully solve the club’s recent woes in pass defense.
Wide receiver was another area of need and the Packers landed a trio of projectable talents on the outside. Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown has an incredible size and speed combo and landing him in the sixth round should have every Pack fan doing backflips. Valdes-Scantling and J’Mon Moore are also intriguing prospects who only stand to benefit from being able to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers.
Part of winning the draft is being able to get talented players at positions of need at good value and the Packers managed to do that, adding two outstanding playmakers in the secondary and more weapons for Aaron Rodgers to throw to. This figures to be a make or break year for head coach Mike McCarthy but Green Bay’s draft additions could go a long ways in helping the Packers return to the playoffs.
Best pick: Roquan Smith (LB, Georgia)
Questionable pick: Joel Iylegbuniwe (LB, Western Kentucky)
Sleeper pick: Anthony Miller (WR, Memphis)
Any time that you can land a player that some refer to as a “generational talent” in Roquan Smith, you’re likely to feel pretty good about your selection. With Quenton Nelson going off the board directly in front of them, the Bears made the right decision by opting for the best player available. Smith will be an impact player from day one of his NFL career and will help to rebuild the Bears defense for the long term.
Memphis’ Anthony Miller was one of my favorite receivers in this class and after adding Allen Robinson in free agency, Miller will be another solid weapon on the outside for Mitchell Trubisky. Miller has outstanding hands and route-running ability, reminding me a bit of Seattle Seahawks’ star Doug Baldwin. Part of Trubisky taking a step forward in his development will be the help he has on the outside and Miller is an excellent addition to a Bears offense that continues to improve.
Some felt James Daniels of Iowa was worthy of a first-round pick and adding him to the interior of the line at a second round value was another excellent pickup for Chicago. Daniels has some of the best athleticism from any prospect in the class and could be a nice long-term option at center for new head coach Matt Nagy.
Best pick: DJ Moore (WR, Maryland)
Questionable pick: Jermaine Carter (LB, Maryland)
Sleeper pick: Ian Thomas (TE, Indiana)
Cam Newton’s “thank you” text to head coach Ron Rivera tells you everything you need to know about needing weapons on offense, and DJ Moore should provide that early on in his NFL career. It was a bit surprising that Moore came off the board before Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, but the Panthers feel strongly about his ability to be a playmaker at the next level. Some have comped him to former Terrapins standout Stefon Diggs and while the price was much steeper, Carolina will likely be hoping for similar production.
Ian Thomas was one of my favorite tight end prospects in the class and the Panthers were able to get him for outstanding value with the first selection of the fourth round. Thomas tapered off due to injury last season but played extremely well against Ohio State and the Panthers are likely hoping that game is the type of player they’ll be getting. With continued development, Thomas has the size and ability to be one of the best tight ends to come out of this class.
Linebacker Jermaine Carter was a bit of a surprise in the fifth round, and despite his outstanding collegiate production, I’m not sure his athletic traits will allow those numbers to translate to the next level. If anything, Carter will likely end up as a fringe roster guy who may have been best picked up as an undrafted free agent.
Best pick: Isaiah Oliver (CB, Colorado)
Questionable pick: Calvin Ridley (WR, Alabama)
Sleeper pick: Deadrin Senat (DT, South Florida)
The confusing social media presence of Julio Jones is something to keep an eye on going forward, which makes the selection of a wide receiver in the first round all the more intriguing for the Atlanta Falcons. Ridley is a nice weapon for Matt Ryan, but he doesn’t quite have the same upside as some of the other receivers in this class. Ridley’s age is also a factor, as he will turn 24 by the end of his rookie season.
There were rumors of Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver sneaking into the first round but Dan Quinn was able to get great value by picking up Oliver in the second round. Oliver has the size, length and speed combo that should fit right in to the Atlanta secondary. By all accounts, Oliver is also outstanding competitor and he should have some of the best upside of any defensive back prospect in the class.
The Falcons struck gold with the late-round selection of Grady Jarrett and they could have another gem on their hands in South Florida’s Deadrin Senat. Senat impressed scouts with his performance at the Senior Bowl and has sneaky quickness to go along with his outstanding strength. Adding Senat to an extremely talented front seven should only help Atlanta’s chances of making a deep postseason run next season.
Best pick: Ronald Jones (RB, USC)
Questionable pick: Alex Cappa (OL, Humboldt State)
Sleeper pick: Carlton Davis (CB, Auburn)
After trading down with the Bills from the seventh overall pick, the Bucs were able to pick up a number of talented prospects in the first two rounds that could help them return to the postseason for the first time since 2006. Vita Vea makes for a daunting interior presence alongside Gerald McCoy, while M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis add much-needed talent to the secondary.
Perhaps the best pick of the bunch is USC running back Ronald Jones, who some felt was worthy of first-round consideration. Jones battled injuries during the draft process, resulting in some disappointing testing numbers, but there’s no doubting Jones’ immense talent. If Jones is able to stay healthy, he could have a Kareem Hunt-like impact for the Bucs offense next season.
While Alex Cappa has the outstanding size and menacing demeanor needed to play offensive line at the next level, his selection in the third round felt like a bit of a reach. Cappa is more of a project than plug-and-play player and with players like Wyatt Teller still on the board at the time, Tampa Bay will need Cappa to develop quickly in order to justify their third-round investment.
Best pick: Natrell Jamerson (S, Wisconsin)
Questionable pick: Rick Leonard (OT, Florida State)
Sleeper pick: Tre’Quan Smith (WR, UCF)
The Saints enjoyed the best draft of any team in recent memory in 2017, but their performance in the 2018 campaign feels a bit more uneven. While many expected them to be a favorite landing spot for quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Saints instead traded up for high-upside pass rusher Marcus Davenport. While Davenport at that spot isn’t necessarily a reach, sending a 2019 first-rounder in return for him feels like a steep price. With Drew Brees only on a two-year deal, giving up first-round ammo could be potentially harming when the team looks for his eventual replacement down the road.
Rick Leonard was one of the more surprising picks of the fourth round, as many analysts had him stamped as an undrafted free agent. Leonard has great size and length but he’s still relatively new to the position as a former defensive lineman.
UCF’s Tre’Quan Smith was one of the most underrated wide receivers in this class and he’ll now enjoy the offensive company of Drew Brees and a Sean Payton offense. He has a great catch radius and with Michael Thomas already in the fold and drawing double teams, Smith could be due for one of the best rookie seasons from this class of wide receivers.
Best pick: Joseph Noteboom (OT, TCU)
Questionable pick: John Franklin-Myers (EDGE, Stephen F. Austin)
Sleeper pick: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (EDGE, Oklahoma)
After shipping off their picks in the first and second rounds for Brandin Cooks and Marcus Peters, the Rams approached this draft primarily focused on roster depth and projectable players. They were able to get that in spades, particularly with their first selection, OT Joseph Noteboom. Andrew Whitworth won’t be around for much longer and Noteboom is just the type of athletic, long player that could eventually replace him at left tackle.
Depth on the defensive front seven was also clearly a focus for Les Snead in this draft, as the club invested six selections on the unit in this draft. Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo was one of the best value picks in round five, as some expected him to land as high as round three.
One of the few picks on offense, Tennessee running back John Kelly is a well-rounded runner who could help spell and protect the health of Todd Gurley next season. It remains to be seen how the club handles the upcoming contract extension talks with Gurley, but Kelly at the very least will provide good rotational value and depth behind the workhorse that is Gurley.
The Rams are all in on 2018 and are hoping that this draft class will provide just the right amount of role and situational players to help them reach the top of the NFC next season.
Best pick: Shaquem Griffin (LB, Central Florida)
Questionable pick: Rashaad Penny (RB, San Diego State)
Sleeper pick: Rasheem Green (DL, USC)
You don’t have to be a fan of football, or of sports for that matter, to be inspired by the story of Shaquem Griffin. And perhaps no story was better during this draft than watching the emotion of Griffin as he was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round. Shaquem will now officially get to join and play alongside his brother, donning the same jersey, in the National Football League.
Not all Seahawks fans had such warm hearts at the beginning of the draft, however, starting with the surprise selection of San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny with the club’s first-round choice. While I absolutely love Penny as a prospect, the first-round price was extremely steep and it’s still unclear if Seattle has done enough up front to even stimulate a running game in the first place. The Seahawks are hoping to regain their footing in the ground game next season, but it’ll be tough sledding if Penny doesn’t have any lanes to run through.
Rasheem Green was one of the more intriguing defensive line prospects and figures to play a similar role to the recently-departed Michael Bennett in the Seattle defense. Many felt Green was best served going back to school for another year, but Seattle feels that they can mold Green’s outstanding athletic talent into a disruptive pass rushing force at the next level. I worry about Green’s ability in the run game and at the point of attack, but the Seahawks were able to get a player who may have gone in the first round next year at a third-round cost.
Best pick: Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
Questionable pick: Korey Cunningham (OT, Cincinnati)
Sleeper pick: Chase Edmonds (RB, Fordham)
It was clear heading into the 2018 Draft that the Arizona Cardinals were on the hunt for a franchise quarterback and they found one in UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Rosen, by my account and several others, is the most pro-ready quarterback in the class and could very well wind up as the best when all is said and done. Rosen appears extremely motivated to prove his draft worth in post-draft interviews, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he’s the Cards’ starting quarterback over Sam Bradford by the middle of next season.
Picking up Arizona native Christian Kirk in the second round should provide a valuable weapon out of the slot for Rosen, in addition to being dangerous in the return game. Kirk is one of the most dangerous players after the catch in this entire class and it wouldn’t surprise me if he took multiple kickoffs or punts to the house in his rookie season. If this is Larry Fitzgerald’s final season, the Cards will need to address the receiver position again in 2019 but for now, Kirk is a nice piece for the next several seasons.
It’s hard to nitpick a seventh round pick but I’m not sure whether the Cardinals have done enough to address the offensive line woes they’ve had in recent seasons. Korey Cunningham is a purely developmental prospect but the Cards will need to stay healthy up front to avoid regressing from their 2017 season.
Best pick: Fred Warner (LB, BYU)
Questionable pick: Kentavius Street (DE, NC State)
Sleeper pick: DJ Reed (CB, Kansas State)
While the 49ers are certainly justified in investing picks to keep their new franchise quarterback upright, the selection of Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey in the first round seemed like a bit of a steep price with players like Tremaine Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick still on the board. The situation with Rueben Foster remains unresolved, but the club was at least able to add athletic BYU backer Fred Warner to help fill the gap with the third-round selection.
Kansas State’s DJ Reed is a nice prospect at cornerback and could be a late-round steal in a secondary that has already added former Seahawk Richard Sherman to the fold. Sherman will undoubtedly be a great teacher to every young player in the San Francisco secondary, and perhaps that could elevate the play of the unit as a whole.
Despite being a solid prospect, the selection of Kentavius Street in the fourth round is puzzling as Street is coming off a torn ACL in his Pro Day. Regardless of how much San Francisco loved the player, it’s hard to imagine any team was targeting a pass rusher with a significant knee injury any earlier than the sixth round.