All the rumors. All the whispers. All the ceaseless wondering. It’s all a thing of the past now that Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books.
As we expected, the first round was an emotional roller coaster for fans, the prospects and all the teams involved. It took many twists and turns, dealing one surprise after another. Though, not surprisingly, quarterbacks flew off the board early, with four going in the top 10.
These were the biggest winners and losers from the action Thursday night in Arlington, Texas.
Winner: The Browns didn’t get paralysis by overanalysis on Baker Mayfield
Based on college tape, along with standard and advanced statistics, Mayfield was far and away the best quarterback coming out of college this spring. Yet prior to the draft, for weeks and weeks on end, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold were hailed as the guys the Cleveland Browns were locked into with the first pick of the draft. And to an extent that made sense. After all, both of those young men are more what you’d consider prototypical NFL franchise passers, and Allen has a veritable Howitzer for an arm. The Browns could have easily convinced themselves to pick either of them.
Yet when it was time to make the call, Mayfield was the first player off the board. And he absolutely is worthy of this pick, which triggered some pretty cool reactions by fans. He’s the ultimate competitor who has a knack for getting the most out of his teammates and comes through with flying colors when the pressure is on. Mayfield also has the confidence to transform what’s been an organization in Cleveland that has been bereft of true leadership, and honest to goodness pure talent, for decades.
Loser: Giants chose short-term gains over long-term stability
It’s easy to understand why the New York Giants chose to go with Saquon Barkley at No. 2 overall. Depending on who you ask, he’s either the best all-around player or the second-best player in this draft behind Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson. And he is more than just a running back, possessing the ability to make game-changing plays on special teams and in the passing game.
Still, I don’t like this pick for New York when Sam Darnold was still on the board. Running backs have such short shelf lives in the NFL, get injured more than players at any other position and darn good ones can be found (especially in this year’s draft) in the latter rounds. Maybe the Giants really think Davis Webb is Eli Manning’s heir apparent. But let’s be honest, if you put him next to Darnold you’d take the USC passer 10 times out of 10 if you eliminate outside factors. So what the Giants did here is chose a short-term potential bonanza of offensive firepower, rather than secure a long-term successor for Manning.
Winner: Jets learn it’s better to be lucky than good
Throughout the pre-draft process it’s been assumed that Sam Darnold would be long gone by the time the New York Jets picked at No. 3 overall. Either the Browns or Giants were expected to take the USC quarterback. That’s why the Mayfield-to-New York rumors were running so hot the past month or so leading up to Thursday’s first round.
Well, obviously that didn’t happen. And now the Jets are in great shape, getting a highly confident young man who can learn behind Josh McCown, and likely Teddy Bridgewater, for at least a year before being thrown to the wolves in the NFL. Darnold might have benefited from staying at USC for one more season due to developmental issues he still needs to sort out. But now he’s landed in a perfect situation, and so have the Jets.
Loser: Bills trade up … for Josh Allen
It wasn’t surprising in the least that the Buffalo Bills traded up for a quarterback. They ended up getting a pretty reasonable deal, swapping the No. 12 pick for Tampa Bay’s No. 7 and giving up two second-round picks. That’s great. But then they did it. They chose Wyoming’s Josh Allen, leaving Josh Rosen — the best pure passer in this draft — still sitting there in the green room.
Allen was the riskiest quarterback in this draft. He has serious issues diagnosing what opposing defenses are doing before the snap. He makes awful decisions on the run. He is unbelievably inaccurate at times, and his accuracy issues go all the way back to high school. Now he’s stepping into a situation in Buffalo where they don’t have an offensive line, and he only has career backup AJ McCarron to look to for any guidance. I’m not saying this pick can’t work out in the long run. But I am saying there is a much better chance of this become a spectacular failure in the coming years.
Winner: Broncos now have the league’s scariest pass-rushing duo
Because the Browns surprisingly took cornerback Denzel Ward out of Ohio State, the best pass rusher in the draft fell right into the lap of John Elway. Many disparaged Cleveland’s decision, but I don’t hate it. Cornerback is a premium position in the league, the Browns took Myles Garrett at the top of the draft last year and also have Emmanuel Ogbah. But going back to Denver, adding Chubb to the lineup, where he’ll now start opposite the great Von Miller, is just an unbelievable way to immediately boost your chances of winning a lot of games.
Just look at what happened when the Los Angeles Chargers teamed Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up. As good as they are together, Miller and Chubb could be even more dynamic. Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, before the draft, was strongly against his team drafting a passer early. Instead, he said he and his teammates needed another instant impact player, already having Case Keenum under center, and now they have one to be sure. Opposing quarterbacks better have their heads on a swivel, because Chubb and Miller are going to be off-the-charts amazing.
Loser: 49ers reach for Mike McGlinchey
The San Francisco 49ers have two starting tackles on their roster in the recently extended Joe Staley and Trent Brown. Both are very good at what they do. It’s understandable that they’d be very proactive in addressing protection for their big investment, Jimmy Garoppolo. But taking McGlinchey out of Notre Dame at No. 9 just doesn’t feel great to me.
San Francisco could have traded down and still addressed the offensive line. Josh Rosen was still on the board, and you have to believe that John Lynch was getting some serious phone calls about this pick. If addressing the offensive line was a key for the 49ers, then they could have still done it after garnering more draft capital in a trade. I’m just not a huge fan of this move, even though McGlinchey is a very solid player who could potentially step into the startling lineup from Day 1 as a guard or tackle, if Brown ends up being traded.
Winner: Josh Rosen falls right into Arizona’s lap
Even going back a few years when Carson Palmer was quarterbacking for Arizona, the Cardinals have neglected this position in the draft. Coming in at No. 15 overall this year, it seemed highly unlikely that they’d end up having a top passer fall into their laps, but that’s exactly what happened. Josh Rosen was passed up by Cleveland, both New York teams and then once again by Buffalo. So when the Oakland Raiders were up at No. 10, Arizona general manager Steve Keim made the bold move to trade up and got his man.
Sitting here watching it play out, I still cannot believe that a fantasy I wrote about a few months back actually became reality. And I’d be shocked if the Cardinals didn’t feel exactly the same way. Now Rosen can come into a situation where Sam Bradford is the starter out of the gate and ease into the NFL with a very talented group of offensive players who’ll one day be his to guide. It’s absolutely a perfect fit.
Loser: Saints gave up way too much trading up for non-QB
When the New Orleans Saints pulled off a huge trade with the Green Bay Packers that cost them a ton of draft capital to move up from 27 to 14, everyone assumed it was for a quarterback. Everyone was expecting it to be Lamar Jackson, which would have set off some incredible reactions in a positive way. Well actually…
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge Marcus Davenport fan. But to give up what the Saints gave up and not draft the future successor to Drew Brees was just folly, and the overwhelming majority seems to agree on this point.
Davenport has the physical tools to become a star, but this draft pick is all about projection and potential, rather than anything else. We highlighted Davenport as one of the riskiest draft picks this year, simply because he wasn’t able to produce at a high level, even going up against lower-level competition in Conference USA.
Winner: Derwin James joins incredibly talented young D
It’s a shame that Derwin James fell this far in the draft. He’s a tremendous talent who was beloved by most folks who cover the draft for a living. Yet due to decisions by forces outside his control, James fell all the way down to No. 17, where the Los Angeles Chargers were only too happy to claim him.
This Florida State product now joins a defense in Los Angeles that is going to scare the living daylights out of every offense it faces. The Chargers were already darn good on the defensive side of the ball. They have two of the best pass rushers in the league in Bosa and Ingram, have a top cornerback in Casey Hayward and have some darn good linebackers, too. James can add to that group up front in certain sets as a sort of tweener — he hits like a linebacker and is dynamic behind the line of scrimmage. He’s also very good on the back end and will be a perfect fit with this defense.
Loser: Raiders eschew defense for … Kolton Miller?
Derwin James. Tremaine Edmunds. Leighton Vander Esche. Taven Bryan. All four of these guys were on the board when Oakland picked and could have stepped in from Day 1 to bolster what’s been a truly abysmal defense the past couple of seasons. In particular, not taking either James or Edmunds here is just mind boggling, especially when you consider the Raiders ended up taking Kolton Miller out of UCLA.
Miller has great physical attributes. He’s very athletic. He’s very tall, at 6-foot-9. He’s also extremely raw, plays far too upright and will get bull rushed into Derek Carr by defensive ends with power. He’s a player who is being drafted high due to his potential, rather than any real proven production. It was, quite simply, a baffling pick. The Raiders could have done better and improved their roster for immediate success.
Winner: Smooth operating from new Packers GM
After trading down with the Saints, rookie Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst moved back up to No. 18 and drafted cornerback Jaire Alexander out of Louisville. In the move back up, they ended up giving the Seattle Seahawks a third-round pick, gained a seventh-round pick and swapped first-round picks. On top of the 2019 first-round pick the Packers got out of the trade with the Saints, they essentially gave up a third and gained a first to move down four spots total.
Not only was this some incredible draft manipulation by Gutekunst, and he also landed one of the best defensive players this year. Alexander is going to be a star, and he’ll fit in perfectly to the scheme new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is implementing in Green Bay. The Packers couldn’t have done any better, and it sure looks like the team made the right move replacing Ted Thompson with Gutekunst after last season.
Loser: ‘Top’ wide receivers not valued highly this year
One of the things we knew about this draft class is that it wasn’t loaded with elite receiving talent. There are some really strong prospects out there, but this draft class lacked a true No. 1 guy — a player who, from Day 1, could come in and dominate like you expect a top receiver to do. Still, most mock drafts had Calvin Ridley and/or Courtland Sutton going in the teens. Yet when it was all said and done Thursday night, it wasn’t until the Carolina Panthers selected D.J. Moore No. 24 overall (tremendous pick for this organization) that a receiver finally fell off the board.
This marked the first draft since 2010 that a receiver had not been drafted in the top 20, per NFL Research. Clearly, NFL teams were not enamored with the top receivers this year. When we look back in a few years, it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of value pops up from players who were drafted later on in the proceedings.
Winner: Interior offensive linemen go on a run
While the receivers in this year’s class failed to catch the eye of teams picking early, the same cannot be said for interior offensive linemen. Not surprisingly, Quenton Nelson out of Notre Dame went very early, picked up by the Indianapolis Colts at No. 6 overall. That was a tremendously smart move for the Colts, who need to keep Andrew Luck healthy in coming years. Then later on, the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals took consecutive centers, selecting Frank Ragnow out of Arkansas and Billy Price out of Ohio State, respectively. A few picks later, the New England Patriots used their first of two first-round picks to select Isaiah Wynn out of Georgia. Guards and centers aren’t sexy picks in the first round. But this year’s class featured some really good ones, and teams gobbled them up.
Loser: Seahawks shockingly select Rashaad Penny
With the likes of Sony Michel, Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb and Ronald Jones all still on the board, the Seattle Seahawks stunned the crowd at AT&T Stadium (and people all over social media) by selecting Rashaad Penny out of San Diego State. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think Penny has a chance to be a highly effective running back in the NFL. But we’re talking about a player who had a Day 2 value by just about everyone out there. Furthermore, Seattle has a terrible offensive line, and Penny is going to get hammered early and often playing behind it.
Also, one of the things Penny does very well is return kickoffs, but in the NFL these days kickoff returns are close to becoming extinct. The Seahawks would have been better served to provide Russell Wilson with more protection up front, or taken a guy like Harold Landry to bolster their pass rush, which lost some big-time players.
Winner: Patriots land Dion Lewis’ replacement for half the cost
The New England Patriots couldn’t afford to keep running back Dion Lewis around this year. As it was, Lewis ended up inking a four-year deal with Tennessee worth up to $19.8 million. When it was time for the Patriots to pick at No. 31 overall on Thursday night, much to their delight Georgia running back Sony Michel was conveniently still on the board.
Michel is an explosive playmaker and can do a lot of the same things Lewis did for New England last year. He’s going to be a dynamic player for Tom Brady and Co. with Josh McDaniels calling plays. And the best part is that he’s going to cost the Patriots just over $9.6 million the next four years, per Spotrac. That’s half what Lewis got on his deal, and in the end Michel could be a much better long-term option anyway.
Bonus Winner: Lamar Jackson is a first-round quarterback
It was pretty surprising when the Baltimore Ravens eschewed drafting Jackson with the No. 25 overall pick, opting instead to select tight end Hayden Hurst out of South Carolina. But they made up for it by trading back up into the first round and taking Jackson with the final pick of the round.
Jackson absolutely deserved to be selected in Round 1. He’s a dynamic quarterback who has the potential to be a franchise-altering player for a long, long time if he can stay healthy. And the best part is that he is going into a situation where he’s not under any pressure to start right away. Joe Flacco is the man right now in Baltimore, at least for the time being. When Jackson is ready, he’ll usher Baltimore into a new era.