The last card of the 2018 NFL Draft has been turned in. Some picks were good; others, not so much. Is anyone capable of determining which picks are which at this point, before any rookies have hit a practice field? Of course not, but show me a football media outlet that isn’t attempting to regardless.
We’ll know much better in a few years (three, typically) who truly won and lost the 2018 NFL Draft. For now, I present you with my early guesses, each accompanied by an attempt at rationalizing them.
Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen all went in the top ten picks – the first time four quarterbacks have done so in NFL draft history. If you’d asked me a week ago to break up the cluster of them, I couldn’t have helped you. Few people had anything more than an educated guess as to which order they’d be taken in. If we say (for the moment) that all four prospects were equally valuable, then the Cardinals clearly got theirs at the best price.
The Browns earned the (first overall) pick that became Mayfield the hard way: losing sixteen games. The Jets and Bills paid a combined five second-round picks (four this year: 37th, 49th, 53rd, 56th), as well as their first-round picks (6th and 12th, respectively) to secure Darnold and Allen. The Cards’ offering? Their picks in the first (15th), third (79th), and fifth (152nd) rounds. That humble investment shouldn’t yield a quarterback of the future, yet Rosen found his way to Arizona at 10th overall.
While that pick stands head-and-shoulders above the others, the Cards’ later picks weren’t anything to laugh at. Christian Kirk should immediately help a receiving corps that needs immediate help and figures to replace Larry Fitzgerald as the designated slot weapon when the 34-year-old finally hangs them up. At center, Mason Cole looks like a long-term replacement for A.Q. Shipley, who’ll soon be 32 years old and is entering a contract year. Cole wasn’t a sexy center prospect like Frank Ragnow, Billy Price, or James Daniels, but he outpaced the rest of the pack by a substantial margin.
Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is perhaps best known around the NFL for his work with the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh. Those defensive units, in turn, were perhaps known best by the stack linebackers that allowed them to operate so well: Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Finding qualified linebackers to replicate them would be a daunting task for any team, but that hasn’t stopped Chicago from trying since bringing Fangio onto their staff in 2015.
In eighth-overall pick Roquan Smith, the Bears might’ve found a missing piece. Smith should start immediately on the inside, next to Danny Trevathan, surrounded by a unit that’s better than many realize. Day 2 went similarly well for Chicago – beginning with James Daniels falling to them at 39th overall. In some order, the Bears’ interior offensive line will consist of Daniels, Kyle Long, and Cody Whitehair. However that lineup works out in training camp, it projects to be one of the best units in the NFL.
At the cost of a fourth-round (105th) pick and next year’s second-rounder, the Bears were also able to acquire receiver Anthony Miller at 51st overall. A dynamic slot prospect, Miller joins a skill position group that already got a significant talent infusion earlier this offseason. He’ll share the depth chart with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and former first-round pick Kevin White.
The Bears were widely billed as bounce-back candidates for 2018 if they were able to play the draft right. By the majority of accounts, they did. They’ve now ascended to preseason NFL media darling status, and are early favorites for a worst-to-first playoff run.
Los Angeles Chargers
Positional value aside, was there a greater steal on the draft’s opening night than Derwin James going 17th overall? I can hardly think of one.
James is built like a hybrid/box safety (and was frequently used like one at Florida State) but has the skill set to play anywhere in the secondary. He should immediately slide into the base free safety role vacated by Tre Boston. Second-round pick Uchenna Nwosu figures to slide into the strong-side linebacker position (that defensive coordinator Gus Bradley calls the OTTO). Third-round pick Justin Jones – a run-plugging tackle, likely drafted to replace Brandon Mebane – was the third of four defensive picks to open the Chargers’ draft.
Perhaps the most intriguing pick of the Chargers’ draft was Kyzir White – a steal as a fourth-round pick. Another hybrid/box safety type, White was announced as a linebacker for the Bolts. If he doesn’t compete for Jatavis Brown’s job (which he could), White will at least be an interesting sub-package defender. This isn’t a coaching staff that’s afraid to use movable defensive pieces in big roles (see King, Desmond).
As nice as the defensive talent infusion is for the Chargers, the defense didn’t sink their 2018 playoff hopes – their kicking did. Specifically, their early-season kicking did – it was an issue that seemed resolved by the time the Bolts were eliminated. With this draft, they should be positioned to finally make the playoff push that they’ve teased for so long.
By the end of the draft, the Titans had only submitted four picks. Needless to say, those picks were critically important. By my estimation, they went really well.
At 22nd overall – at the cost of their 25th and 125th overall picks – the Titans secured linebacker Rashaan Evans. Evans not only fills a need for the Titans (replacing the departed Avery Williamson), but the drop from him to the next stack linebacker on the board (Malik Jefferson?) would’ve been substantial. He should be a starter in the middle for Mike Vrabel for the next decade (if the coach lasts).
With another trade upward – giving up the 57th and 89th overall picks – the Titans snatched one of the draft’s greatest steals (sudden injury concerns aside) in Harold Landry at 41st overall. Landry may not be an immediate starter, but edge rushers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are both entering contract years in 2018. This was an area the Titans had to address, and they did well to use a sliding premium player to do so.
At 199th overall, the Titans made another of the draft’s greater value picks in acquiring quarterback Luke Falk. Neat connections to Tom Brady aside (the former’s fandom of the latter, down to following the same diet, being picked in the same slot, etc.), Falk was an excellent pick by that juncture. He could’ve been justifiably drafted much higher, and the Titans know by now that they need dependable insurance for Marcus Mariota (Matt Cassel was dead weight last season). Falk can be, if absolutely nothing else, a reliable backup.
Though admittedly a surprise contender, the Titans are a team that made the divisional round of the playoffs in 2017. They needed a handful of pieces to set themselves up for sustained success, and they found them.
New Orleans Saints
It’s hard to peg ‘losers’ in the NFL draft, truly. Every team usually leaves thinking they won – or at least telling everyone that they did. It’s entirely possible, with any of these ‘losers’, that they’re right and I get burned for pegging them as such. I’m not sold yet that any of these drafts, on the whole, are bad. I’m definitely sold that some moves made in them were ill-advised.
I like Marcus Davenport as a prospect. I understand that the Saints needed an edge rusher, that this class only had a handful of them worthy of a first-round pick, and that Harold Landry’s late-emerging injury concerns pushed Davenport up the board. It’s completely lost on me why New Orleans felt it necessary to trade their 2019 first-round pick to acquire him.
This isn’t about Landry being available at the Saints’ original pick – no one foresaw that happening, that would be unfair. The trade up, in a vacuum, just didn’t seem worth the price. I think Davenport would have to produce immediately as a full-time starter and blue-chip sack artist to be worth that investment. I don’t think a prospect as notably raw as himself can do that as a rookie. He’s welcome to prove me wrong.
If the Saints had the worst-executed trade up in the 2018 NFL draft, then the Raiders had the worst-executed trade down.
Oakland originally possessed the 10th overall pick – reportedly, they were set on taking Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey. With San Francisco swiping him at 9th overall, they decided they’d prefer to trade down. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen was still on the board; that pick should’ve been worth a ransom.
If I credited Arizona earlier for finding a franchise quarterback at a thrift-store price, I have to knock Oakland for what amounts to complete dereliction of duty. They couldn’t do better than recouping the 15th, 79th, and 152nd overall picks for Josh Rosen? Color me skeptical. If they were truly set on taking Kolton Miller in the first round, they could’ve moved several spots further down the board and still accomplished that.
That’s a thought I had following each of their top three picks – Miller, P.J. Hall, and Brandon Parker. Hall is a guy that many on the Full Press staff (including myself) are high on, but 57th overall? It’s true that Oakland badly needed an interior pass-rusher, and that he’s drawn comparisons to Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett, but I don’t know that anyone projected Hall going as high as he did. Parker is a small-school athletic project. He might be the Raiders’ left tackle after Donald Penn, but they still took him curiously high.
I lauded the Titans earlier for making a calculated move up to secure Rashaan Evans – the last available top-shelf linebacker in a class featuring several. Conversely, the Steelers were caught with their pants down at 28th overall. Few teams needed an inside linebacker as badly as Pittsburgh did. Recovery progress from draft night aside, we’re far away from Ryan Shazier being ready to contribute on the field again.
I’m a Blacksburg guy – I like Terrell Edmunds, and I’m proud that the Edmunds brothers made history on Day 1. I can’t imagine that he was the Steelers’ first or second choice for how they wanted that pick spent. It’s like how, two years ago, the Giants leaked their interest in Jack Conklin and Leonard Floyd, and both prospects were taken by teams that leapfrogged them. They were left with no other plan but to take Eli Apple at 10th overall.
Is that an exact parallel? Not remotely, but the principle remains the same. Maybe the Steelers broke the Day 2 defensive back cluster in Edmunds’ favor, and decided he was worth the pick. He’ll have to prove on the field that he was. From a distance, it’s a highly questionable look from a team that usually looks great after Day 1.
Perhaps no Day 1 pick was as openly criticized as the Seahawks’ pick of Rashaad Penny at 27th overall. Penny was the second ball-carrier taken – ahead of Derrius Guice, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Kerryon Johnson, and others. For those who didn’t have Penny ranked ahead of those runners as a prospect, it was at best a head-scratching decision. Certainly when factoring in the Seahawks’ other needs – namely along the offensive line.
For a team that needs offensive linemen as badly as Seattle, 168th overall (Jamarco Jones) was too late to address the position. What about cornerback? The only one they took in this draft was Tre Flowers (146th overall, a safety at Oklahoma State but is listed on the Seahawks’ roster as a corner). Richard Sherman, DeShawn Shead, and Jeremy Lane are no longer with the team. Was finding bodies to replace them not an urgent matter?
The Seahawks had good picks in this draft – Rasheem Green is a higher-ceiling replacement for Michael Bennett, and Shaquem Griffin is a stud in the fifth round for a team willing to find a way to use him. I’m just not sure what they were thinking when they left players at positions of need on the table. Russell Wilson couldn’t drag the 2017 team to the playoffs against all odds – I’m not sure this group is better.
– Andy Hammel is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Bengals and the Division Editor for Full Press AFC North. Follow @Andy_Hammel