Settle in, folks. I’ll be here to accompany you through the 2018 NFL Draft’s first day of selections. Here you’ll find my pick-by-pick analysis as we progress through the night.
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1. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB. Oklahoma
- Few players available have worked harder to prove deserving of this selection than the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. Ultra-competitive, passionate and possesses the ability to galvanize a group of men from a leadership standpoint – he did it at two different schools. Despite being the draft’s most polished passer aside from Josh Rosen, he’s entering the ideal scenario where he won’t be relied upon to save the franchise from the outset. I expect him to handle the pressures of being the No. 1 overall pick comfortably.
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB. Penn State
- The Bronx-native returns to his home state. Barkley is the best running back prospect I’ve evaluated since Adrian Peterson came out of Oklahoma in 2007. Ultimately, I feel as though this was the Giants’ best opportunity to acquire Eli’s eventual successor, but by adding a workhorse with a once-in-a-generation skill-set you relieve a lot of the pressure on the quarterback position. Despite the lack of positional value, the Giants may have just selected the best player in the 2018 NFL Draft.
3. New York Jets (f/IND): Sam Darnold, QB. USC
- Fortuitously, Gang Green lands what could very well be the quarterback with the highest upside in the class at No. 3 overall. Considering the tremendous ball security problems exhibited throughout the 2017 season, it may be best to ease him into a starting role when ready – though he’ll likely play from day one. Having said that, you just need to flip on the 2017 Rose Bowl game vs. Penn State for a glimpse at how special Sam Darnold can be. If that’s the player the Jets are getting, this has the potential to be a special moment for the franchise.
4. Cleveland Browns (f/HOU): Denzel Ward, CB. Ohio State
- The organization has continued to revamp its secondary with a terrific local product. Though Bradley Chubb may have been the sexier option, this fills a more pressing concern. Ward has zero limitations from a talent perspective, he’ll play physical coverage with longer receivers, can line up in a variety of spots on the field and will hit you in run defense. All-encompassing upgrade on the boundary, as Cleveland has addressed both sides of the ball early on.
5. Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, DE. NC State
- Supreme value, even as a top 5 selection. Bradley Chubb is a complete defensive end who can set a physical edge + can bend and win against a variety of edge-blocking profiles. It’s a frightening proposition to think about how opposition will fare trying to block edge bookends of Chubb and Von Miller. The supposed quarterback interest was a smokescreen all along, as expected, but don’t rule out the team selecting one later.
6. Indianapolis Colts (f/NYJ): Quenton Nelson, OG. Notre Dame
- Having seen Bradley Chubb come off the board one pick earlier, this is still a satisfying scenario for general manager Chris Ballard and the Colts. If Andrew Luck is genuinely close to a return and to remain healthy, this is a fantastic pillar to add to an offensive line in desperate need of stability. Quenton Nelson is the best offensive linemen in the draft and right up there with Saquon Barkley as the safest selection(s) in the draft.
7. Buffalo Bills (f/TB): Josh Allen, QB. Wyoming
- Though I meet this pick with considerable skepticism based on deep film study, there isn’t a more tantalizing physical composition at the quarterback position in this draft class. At minimum, Josh Allen requires a year of grooming before he’s ready to be relied upon, but gives the Bills a piece to build around moving forward. If he can overcome happy-feet in the pocket and lean on his unparalleled box of tools than the ceiling can be untraceable.
8. Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith, LB. Georgia
- Simply too much value to pass up on at this point. He’ll immediately become the beating heart of the Bears’ defense and provides them with something that hasn’t been present since Brian Urlacher retired. Roquan is a rangy, volume playmaker. I’ve only given a higher pre-draft grade to two 4-3 linebackers – those being Patrick Willis and Luke Kuechly. The Midway gets a special player here.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Mike McGlinchey, OT. Notre Dame
- Immediate right tackle, long-term left tackle. The draft’s best edge protector goes to a team that has exhibited tenacious intent to provide Jimmy Garoppolo with a legitimate offensive line for many years to come. John Lynch has prioritized trench play since taking reigns in the bay and this follows suit. Don’t forget – Joe Staley turns 34 in August.
10. Arizona Cardinals (f/OAK): Josh Rosen, QB. UCLA
- In order to acquire the pick, the Cards conceded a 3rd (79 overall) and 5th round pick (159 overall) as well as No. 15. All things considered, that’s tremendous value for what I consider to be the draft’s best quarterback. After failing to acquire Pat Mahomes in 2017, Arizona manages to maneuver for an advanced, pretty pocket-passer who is likely far from displaying his best performances. Rosen struggled in-part due to sub-par pass protection throughout his collegiate career. While that will continue to be a problem for the time being in Arizona, the organization is paying Sam Bradford a lot of money to be the stop-gap in 2018 as Rosen acclimates to the pro game. A dream scenario for all involved.
11. Miami Dolphins: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB. Alabama
- Whether it’s at safety or corner, the Dolphins sorely needed reinforcements in the secondary. Never a genuine first round quarterback team after locking themselves into $16.7 million guaranteed with Ryan Tannehill this offseason. Xavien Howard flashed tremendous upside in 2017, but more is needed on the back end in Miami. Minkah is a well-versed, plug and play defender who helps right away.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (f/BUF): Vita Vea, DT. Washington
- Not a selection most would’ve predicted, pre-draft. Vea will command a lot of attention, freeing up space for Gerald McCoy, as well as new edge additions Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry on a rebuilt defensive line. He’s a brutishly powerful interior presence with unheralded three-down potential in the Haloti Ngata mold. This pick suggests the Buccaneers believe a much-improved defensive line will have a residual effect on their sub-par secondary.
13. Washington Redskins: Da’Ron Payne, DT. Alabama
- The Skins’ re-unite Payne with college teammates Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson in the process. Payne is an excellent athlete for the position and possesses a high level of untapped pass rushing ability. Team badly needed to beef up in the defensive trench and though they may have prioritized Vita Vea, this is an equally ideal solution.
14. New Orleans Saints (f/GB): Marcus Davenport, DE. UTSA
- Saints deal a 5th round pick and a 2019 1st round selection to slide up for a physically imposing edge with length and strength. They needed to concede a premium asset to make the move, as Davenport wasn’t going to last much longer. Gives a rapidly rebuilt ‘Nollins defense yet another premier piece to build around moving forward. Shades of Chandler Jones from a physical composition standpoint.
15. Oakland Raiders (f/ARI): Kolton Miller, OT. UCLA
- The organization struggled to protect Derek Carr in 2017 and his efficiency petered out over the course of the season as a result. Miller is a workout warrior in the Nate Solder mold, and while he requires a lot of polish he is without physical limitation and projects as a long-term blindside protecter. Oakland acquires a 3rd round pick (No. 79 overall) and 5th round pick (No. 159 overall) in the trade down.
16. Buffalo Bills (f/BAL): Tremaine Edmunds, LB. Virginia Tech
- Like Josh Allen, this is a pick predicated primarily on upside, but to land Edmunds here is absurd value as I had him going eight picks earlier. Edmunds is a specimen and as such his skill-set allows for his career development be directed in multiple paths as either an interior linebacker or edge rusher. Best player available.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James, S. Florida State
- Dream scenario for the Chargers is realized. After adding Mike Pouncey via free agency the primary area of concern immediately shifted to safety and the team gets probably the best natural safety in the class. Derwin is a big-bodied playmaker with range, ball-skills and all of the desired confident of a Florida State defensive back.
18. Green Bay Packers (f/SEA): Jaire Alexander, CB. Lousiville
- The organization tipped its hand when it failed in its attempt to sign Bears corner Kyle Fuller to an offer sheet worth $14-million average per year, so this was always going to be a corner. Though Alexander would’ve been good enough value at No. 14, rookie general manager Brian Gutekunst moved down temporarily and added a 1st round pick in 2019 before landing his man. Alexander is Jason Verrett 2.0 – a complete corner who likely comes off the board considerably earlier if he were a little bigger. My top corner available.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Leighton Vander Esch, LB. Boise State
- The correct choice despite wide receiver being a comparably glaring area of concern. Though Dez Bryant is gone, the organization hadn’t had production from him in three years anyway, but when impactful linebacker Sean Lee – who has never played 16 games in an NFL season – is out, the defense has, at times, become an oil spill. Vander Esch combines with Jaylon Smith to give the ‘Boys a more positive outlook at the position moving forward.
20. Detroit Lions: Frank Ragnow, C. Arkansas
- The club has invested a lot in re-shaping its offensive line in recent years and this pick continues the trend. Ragnow is a sneaky athlete, but the true appeal comes in the fact that he’s an experienced leader with an immediately translatable pro-game. He’ll help Matthew Stafford from day one and should stabilize a key position for the long haul in Detroit. In truth, I expected this to be a running back, but I may like this scenario a little better if they can land one on day two.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Billy Price, OG/C. Ohio State
- After seeing what was likely their preference come off the board one pick earlier, they land a nice consolation prize with the in-state product. Whether it’s as a center or guard – both of which required an upgrade – Cincy will get day one value from this choice. Price has overcome a pectoral injury suffered in the pre-draft and will be ready for camp.
22. Tennessee Titans (f/BAL): Rashaan Evans, ILB. Alabama
- Titans were worried about Rashaan Evans not making it past the Patriots at No. 23, and you can’t blame them. Explosive at the POA, he’s a blitz-savvy interior linebacker who can run and cover on third down. Evans’ aggressive style will be a welcomed addition to a Tennessee linebacking core slated to be rather listless heading into 2018.
23. New England Patriots: Isaiah Wynn, OG. Georgia
- With no true left tackles left on the board, the Pats add a fleet-footed people-mover at guard to help keep Brady clean moving forward – and hey, maybe they believe in what remains at offensive tackle. In a pinch, he can step in at tackle if needed. Ultimately, the Super Bowl best-exemplified the Patriots’ need for an upgrade along its offensive line.
24. Carolina Panthers: D.J. Moore, WR. Maryland
- The buzz around him being the first receiver off the board comes good. Despite safety needs, the proposition of adding yet another weapon for Cam & Co. proves too great. Moore is a twitchy playmaker with deceptive physical skills and the ability to win in 50-50 situations. He’s a field-stretcher.
25. Baltimore Ravens (f/TEN): Hayden Hurst, TE. South Carolina
- Not the caliber of athlete either Gesicki or Goedert is, but he’s the most complete tight end in the draft and projects to be a day one contributor on a team in desperate need of ‘something’ at the position. Various draft picks have failed to contribute, but Hurst – who will be 25 when the 2018 season begins – should stabilize the position. After two trade downs from No. 16 overall, this is far better value.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Calvin Ridley, WR. Alabama
- Supreme value at this stage of the round. Another twitchy field-stretcher who can be a passing-game workhorse, going to a ready-made offensive setup with a polished quarterback in Matt Ryan. Shades of young Reggie Wayne, Ridley could pose one of the most fearsome receiving trios in the league with Mo Sanu and fellow Crimson Tide alum Julio Jones.
27. Seattle Seahawks (f/GB): Rashaad Penny, RB. San Diego State
- Shocker! A very impressive player with a wealth of upside, but to be taken in front of a handful of other rushers will turn some heads. Having said that, Penny’s a burly-bodied production machine with freight train getaway speed. Explosive threat who regularly broke long runs and was capable in short-yardage or goal-line situations.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Terrell Edmunds, S. Virginia Tech
- Quietly ascending safety with a big body and frame, loves to step into the box and lay the body. H/W/S defender who will be an ideal matchup for a lot of the modern big-slot tight ends present in the league. Terrell joins younger brother Tremaine on night one, as the two become the first brothers in NFL Draft history selected in the first round. Both deserve it.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Taven Bryan, DT. Florida
- A rich defense gets richer with a major value at the bottom of the first round. Though not the largest need, the Jags don’t necessarily have many areas in need of improvement. Bryan is scratching the surface of his upside and may have left Florida a year prematurely, but he’ll be placed into a rotation where he’ll be able to grow behind established players like Marcell Dareus and Malik Jackson. It’s an exciting addition for an already elite defense.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Mike Hughes, CB. UCF
- More phenomenal value at the bottom of round one, as Minnesota gains additional flexibility in coverage matchups. Hughes steps into the roster spot of departed veteran Terence Newman to combine with Rhodes, Waynes and Mackensie Alexander for an interesting blending of sizes, lengths and physicalities in a division featuring the likes of Rodgers + Stafford.
31. New England Patriots: Sony Michel, RB. Georgia
- Home run threat in space with minimal mileage, Michel took reigns at Georgia after Nick Chubb’s injury and never looked back. Assuming he’s over ball security issues than he’ll provide New England’s offense with a fantastic Dion Lewis replacement.
32. Baltimore Ravens (f/PHI): Lamar Jackson, QB. Louisville
- Philadelphia may have been targeting Sony Michel with this pick, but the organization was fully expected to entertain a trade out regardless. Lamar Jackson is a unique playmaker who will require patience and commitment from the coaching staff. To pull off this trade the Ravens shipped a 2nd round pick (No. 52 overall), 4th round pick (No. 125 overall) and – most notably – a 2019 2nd round pick to the Eagles for No. 32 overall and 4th round pick (No. 132 overall). Getting their man here in round one ensures the Ravens of a fifth-year option on Jackson’s rookie deal, as well. Ozzie goes out of his last first round as general manager with fireworks.