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The 2018 NFL Draft First-Round Grades

The Browns have their quarterback of the future, the Giants took the best overall player, the Jets’ move up to no. 3 paid off, and Baltimore made the most exciting pick in the round at no. 32

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The 2018 NFL draft is finally underway. Thursday night’s opening round produced a few long-expected player-team pairings, but also included some trades, surprise reaches, and shocking falls. To help you make sense of all the Round 1 chaos, here are our grades for each pick. Let’s break down how well each player fits with his new team and what type of value each club got with its pick.


1. Cleveland Browns: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

This isn’t the first pick that most of us expected during the past few months — but it’s tough to knock the Browns for going with Mayfield here over the longtime favorite, USC’s Sam Darnold. The former Heisman winner was probably the most efficient college quarterback of all time; he performed well under pressure and in the red zone throughout his college career, and while his lack of height (he’s just over 6 feet) remains a concern ,  from a statistical point of view, he stood head and shoulders above all his peers in this year’s QB class, finishing with 119 touchdowns and just 21 picks in his three years at Oklahoma while posting top-tier numbers in just about every metric. In fact, apart from his size, Mayfield checks every other box at the position: He’s got accuracy, poise, the ability to make plays out of structure, and excellent leadership traits.

It may benefit Mayfield to sit for a year behind projected starter Tyrod Taylor so he can learn the intricacies of Cleveland’s playbook and acclimate to the speed of the pro game. But Mayfield is unquestionably talented enough to be the franchise quarterback for whom the Browns have long been searching; there’s no one position more valuable in sports, so it would’ve been malpractice to use this pick on any other position.

Fit: A+
Value: A+

2. New York Giants: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Barkley is the most physically talented player in this draft. He’s a natural playmaker and elite creator who combines balance, agility, vision, rare short-area burst, and home run speed to leave defenders in the dust. More than that, though, he’s a mismatch threat in the passing attack — capable of running routes out of the backfield or splitting out to the wing as a de facto receiver.

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Taking a running back this high in the draft, though, doesn’t provide great financial value — he’ll immediately become one of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL — and because of the relatively short shelf life of running backs and the fact most teams aren’t paying running backs big money in free agency, this pick almost certainly puts a limit on the team’s long-term return. Still, Barkley’s talent is undeniable, and he should be an immediate contributor and will likely go to multiple Pro Bowls early in his career. It’s fun as hell to picture what he’ll be able to do in the same offense as Odell Beckham Jr., last year’s first-rounder Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard.

Fit: A+
Value: C-

3. New York Jets (from Colts): QB Sam Darnold, USC

After months of speculation as to whether the Jets would take Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, or Baker Mayfield, the Jets’ new franchise passer is … Sam Darnold. I love the draft. Darnold has great size (6-foot-3, 221 pounds), a strong arm, solid accuracy — both from the pocket and on the move — and plenty of athleticism. He throws with anticipation and can make plays both from the pocket and from out of structure. He is still raw; the 20-year-old signal-caller was a little too reckless with the football in college (he threw 13 interceptions in 2017), and he’ll need to clean up a few bad habits mechanics-wise before he’s ready to take the field. But he lands in a good situation, where he can sit on the bench behind presumptive starter Josh McCown, acclimate to the speed of the pro game, and immerse himself in Jeremy Bates’s playbook. It may take this pick a year to start paying dividends, but Darnold has the skill set and talent to develop into a Pro Bowl–caliber quarterback in the NFL. Nothing in sports is more valuable.

Fit: A+
Value: A+

4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans): CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State

The Browns gave up a league-worst 102.3 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks in 2017, so a talent — and production — upgrade at cornerback was a clear need. Ward’s the best corner in this draft; a ball hawk (two interceptions and 15 passes defensed last year) who’s sticky in coverage, physical, competitive, and versatile enough to play both on the outside and in the slot. He’s a little undersized at 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, but he makes up for it with elite athleticism, long arms, and an advanced understanding of route concepts that allows him blanket routes at all three levels.

The only question with this pick is whether or not Cleveland is making a mistake in passing on the best pass rusher in this class, Bradley Chubb. But Ward is good enough to take that risk, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him have the same type of year-one impact for Cleveland that former Buckeye Marshon Lattimore had with the Saints last year.

Fit: A+
Value: A

NFL: NFL Draft Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

5. Denver Broncos: DE Bradley Chubb, NC State

Broncos GM John Elway knows better than most the value of a dominant pass rush—the duo of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware helped carried his team to a Super Bowl 50 victory—so grabbing Chubb at this spot should come as no surprise. Chubb posted double-digit sacks in each of the past two seasons for the Wolfpack, and he lived in opposing teams’ backfields last year, finishing second among all defenders in college football in tackles for a loss (26.0). Chubb has experience rushing from both a three-point stance and standing up—so the transition to the Denver defense should pose no problem. Chubb will be a contributor in the team’s pass-rush packages from day one.

Fit: A+
Value: A+

6. Indianapolis Colts (from Jets): OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

This is a no-brainer for the Colts: They pick up the best offensive lineman in the draft and a generational prospect at his position. Nelson’s a day-one starter and potential game-changer for Indianapolis; slot him in at left guard between veteran tackle Anthony Castonzo and 2016 first-round center Ryan Kelly, and Indianapolis should be giving Andrew Luck — assuming he returns to the field in 2018 — the type of protection he’s missed for most of his career.

Guard is not generally considered a premium position in the NFL, so taking one this early may raise some eyebrows, but interior linemen have narrowed the pay gap on the tackle position over the past few years (seven guards average north of $10 million per year — there’s 13 at tackle — and Andrew Norwell just got tackle money with his five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jaguars), and they’re more important than ever with the influx of highly athletic interior pass rushers like Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox. Nelson should be a major boost to the Colts’ passing attack and will open up plenty of lanes for the team’s running backs.

Fit: A+
Value: B+

7. Buffalo Bills (from Buccaneers): QB Josh Allen, Wyoming

This is the biggest boom-or-bust pick in the draft. Allen has all the physical tools that teams look for at quarterback, and he’s tailor-made to play in the cold, windy weather in Buffalo: size (6-foot-5, 237 pounds), a cannon for an arm, top-tier athleticism, and the toughness to stand in the pocket and throw the ball downfield.

But it takes more than just physical traits to play quarterback at the highest level, and Allen’s major lack of accuracy and inability to quickly process what’s going on in front of him are huge red flags. Accuracy rarely improves as quarterbacks make the jump from college to the pros: Windows in which to throw only get smaller and defenses are infinitely faster and more complex. Allen will need to improve his footwork and show he can throw with better accuracy and ball placement if he’s going to succeed as a pro. Allen is a major project for new Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who must devise a scheme that creates well-defined reads and doesn’t ask Allen to do too much on his own. Allen provides plenty of upside, but he comes at a high cost and has more bust potential than any of the other top-tier passers in this class.

Fit: B+
Value: C-

8. Chicago Bears: OLB Roquan Smith, Georgia

Smith is the prototype of the modern linebacker: Sure, he’s a bit undersized (6-foot-1 and 236 pounds), but his range to run sideline to sideline and cover vast swaths of the field in the passing game trumps any concerns over a lack of bulk. As Ringer colleague Mike Lombardi put it on Wednesday’s GM Street podcast, if your middle linebacker is slow, your defense is slow; if he’s fast, your defense is fast. Smith is physical, instinctive, and always around the ball, and gives Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio incredible flexibility to match up with anything an offense can think up.

Off-ball linebackers rarely come off the board inside the top 10, but in a league where tight ends and running backs are used in increasingly creative ways, Smith’s the perfect antidote.

Fit: A+
Value: B

9. San Francisco 49ers: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

The 49ers handed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a five-year, $137.5 million deal in February, so it makes a lot of sense that they’re committed to keeping him upright and throwing the ball downfield by taking a tackle here with their top pick. McGlinchey’s the top tackle in this class, fundamentally sound as a pass protector and physical as a run blocker. San Francisco adds a good, reliable player at a premium position; the 49ers can slot him in opposite Joe Staley at the right tackle spot from day one.

Fit: A+
Value: A

10. Arizona Cardinals (from Raiders): QB Josh Rosen, UCLA

Rosen is the most polished passer in this quarterback class, advanced in his footwork, throwing mechanics, and understanding of coverages. When he’s forced to move off of his spot to throw, things often break down, but when he drops back and throws on time, it’s a thing of beauty. In theory, Rosen should get a chance to sit and learn behind Sam Bradford for a year or two, which gives Arizona the chance to build out some talent on its offensive line and receiver corps. But he’s also the most game-ready passer in this class, which might be important considering Bradford’s history of injuries.

Fit: A
Value: A+

11. Miami Dolphins: S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

NFL: NFL Draft Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

If the Dolphins have any hope of competing with Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC East, they need as many playmakers in the secondary as they can find — and grabbing Fitzpatrick here is a great start. He can play all over Miami’s secondary, in the slot, as a de facto linebacker in certain defensive packages, or even deep as a safety. Fitzpatrick is a big-impact playmaker who could change the complexion of a subpar Dolphins pass defense.

Historically, slot cornerbacks and safeties rarely go this high, but that paradigm is starting to change. Middle-of-the-field defenders of Fitzpatrick’s ilk can run with slot receivers, mismatch-creating tight ends, and running backs in the passing game, and are more important than ever.

Fit: A+
Value: A

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Bills via Bengals): DT Vita Vea, Washington

NFL: NFL Draft Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Vea is virtually immovable against the run, and his ability to eat up blocks and keep the guys behind him clean should to a boon to linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. But to live up to this draft slot, Vea must unlock his potential as a pass rusher. At 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds, the guy can certainly move, but he needs to develop a wider repertoire of pass-rush moves and play with a more consistent motor; if he can, he could be crucial to the team’s ability to get after opposing quarterbacks. He’ll be playing next to Gerald McCoy, so opposing teams will have a tough choice to make in whom to double-team; if Vea can draw single blocks and consistently slice through offensive lines, he could be incredibly productive. Even if he’s double-teamed, he’s going to be opening things up for the pass rushers around him.

Fit: A+
Value: B

13. Washington Redskins: DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

For the second straight year, the Redskins go with a tough, physical, and versatile Crimson Tide lineman with their first pick of the draft. Like Jonathan Allen, Payne is stout against the run, can play all over the defensive front, and offers the physical upside to develop into a disruptive interior pass rusher. But like Vea, Payne — who had just 3.0 sacks in three seasons at Alabama — needs to tap into that potential as a pass rusher for Washington to get the most value from this pick.

Fit: A
Value: B-

14. New Orleans Saints (from Packers): DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA

The Saints have long been searching for someone to pair with premier pass rusher Cameron Jordan, and they may have found him here. Davenport is big, physical, and explosive off the edge. Lined up opposite Jordan, he should be an instant-impact player in New Orleans’s pass-rush packages. He’s raw, but at 6-foot-6 and 264 pounds, he’s got nearly limitless potential with a more refined pass-rush plan. Davenport scored well in Football Outsiders’ SackSEER metric (which considers athleticism and college production), but with the ludicrous amount of draft capital the Saints gave up to make this pick (giving up a fifth-rounder this year and their first-round pick next year), he’s a huge risk.

Fit: A+
Value: C-

15. Oakland Raiders (from Cardinals): OT Kolton Miller, UCLA

NFL: NFL Draft Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Gruden spoke at the combine about his desire to “throw the game back to 1998,” so it’s no big surprise that the Raiders’ first pick of the new Gruden era is a trench player. Miller is an athletic tackle prospect with rare size and elite athleticism: He’s 6-foot-9 and 309 pounds, sports 34-plus-inch arms, tested out in the 99th percentile in athleticism for an offensive lineman per SPARQ, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.95 seconds, and registered a 10-plus-foot broad jump. Unfortunately, Miller didn’t always display that athleticism on the field, at times struggling with speed off the edge, lunging, falling off of blocks, and letting rushers into his frame. Still, he’s likely to start early in his career and has the physical upside to develop into a solid starter.

Fit: B+
Value: B-

16. Buffalo Bills (from Ravens): OLB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

The Bills get one of the most intriguing players in the draft here: Edmunds is a top-tier athlete with outstanding size (6-foot-5, 253 pounds), range, and the versatility to play all three linebacker spots in the Buffalo defense. Hell, he could even line up in subpackages as an edge-rushing threat.

Fit: A+
Value: A-

17. Los Angeles Chargers: S Derwin James, Florida State

I absolutely love this pick. James should bring a Kam Chancellor–style enforcer’s mentality over the middle of the field while boosting the Chargers’ ability to cover running backs, tight ends, and slot receivers in that area. He could even be utilized as a situational pass rusher, both as a blitzer up the middle and a stand-up rusher off the edge. L.A.’s already-talented secondary just got a lot better.

Fit: A+
Value: A+

18. Green Bay Packers (from Seahawks): CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville

Alexander boasts elite speed and quickness — he posted a 4.38-second 40 time with a 6.71-second three cone and a 3.98-second short shuttle at the combine — and has a nose for the ball, with seven interceptions and 15 pass breakups in his college career. This pick makes a ton of sense for Green Bay, which gave up a 102.0 passer rating and 30 passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks last year (both second worst); Alexander has the chance to provide an immediate impact in the slot, and long term should be Tramon Williams’s eventual replacement on the outside. The Packers gave up a lot to move back up after trading out of their original spot, giving Seattle a third-rounder and a sixth-rounder (they got a seventh-rounder back), but they got a versatile day-one contributor.

Fit: A+
Value: B+

19. Dallas Cowboys: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

Vander Esch is an elite athlete—he tested out in the 97th percentile among NFL linebackers at the combine—and has prototypical size (6-foot-4, 256 pounds). Reports came out this week that the Cowboys view him as a Brian Urlacher–style impact player; and while that’s certainly a high bar, Vander Esch does have the potential to develop into a three-down playmaker for Dallas, equally adept against the run or at covering tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

Fit: A
Value: B+

20. Detroit Lions: C Frank Ragnow, Arkansas

Ragnow’s a top-tier athlete (90th percentile per SPARQ) who offers great size (6-foot-5, 312 pounds), fundamental technique, and positional versatility for Detroit. He was Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded center in both 2016 and 2017, grading out as an exceptional pass blocker (allowed just 15 total pressures over the past two seasons) and outstanding run blocker. He’s physical, shows a high football IQ, and could be the finishing touch on what’s shaping up to be a very good Lions offensive line.

Fit: A+
Value: B+

21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Bills): C Billy Price, Ohio State

I could just about write the exact same report for Price as I just did for Ragnow: He’s tough, position-versatile, athletic, and smart. The Bengals badly needed to add some depth to their interior line and they did just that with this pick.

Fit: A+
Value: B+

22. Tennessee Titans (from Ravens via Bills via Chiefs): LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama

This was one of the most obvious team-player pairings produced by the first round. The scouting report on Evans is simple: He’s tough, versatile, and athletic, and fills a major need for Tennessee. He should contribute for the Titans from day one.

Fit: A+
Value: A

23. New England Patriots (from Rams): OL Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

Wynn is as technically sound a lineman as there is in this draft. He gave up just five pressures on 330 pass-blocking snaps at left tackle in 2017, per Pro Football Focus. It will be interesting to see where he plays in the NFL, though: Most see a lack of length (he’s 6-foot-3 with just 33 ⅜ -inch arms) forcing a move to the inside, but because of his quick feet and innate understanding of angles, it wouldn’t too surprising if he ends up at either tackle spot for New England, which is an obvious need. In either case, he’s a good player and a solid value at this spot.

Fit: A
Value: A

24. Carolina Panthers: WR D.J. Moore, Maryland

The Panthers needed to add another playmaking receiver who could help take pressure off of Cam Newton, and they get one here in Moore. He’s a standout on “layup throws” in the short to intermediate zones, making most of his hay on routes like quick slants, curls, digs, and screens. Moore showed elite elusiveness and tackle-breaking ability after the catch in college, and regularly took short passes and turned them into big gains. He’s still raw, and may need a couple of years to refine his route running, but could contribute in a limited role early on.

Fit: A+
Value: B+

25. Baltimore Ravens (from Titans): TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina

This feels like a big reach: Hurst is a high-floor guy who seems likely to develop into a dependable pass-catching option in the Ravens offense, but he isn’t special in any one area, lacks top-tier athleticism, and will be a 25-year-old rookie. Baltimore had too many other needs to invest in a tight end at this spot.

Fit: B
Value: D

26. Atlanta Falcons: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

Ridley’s as game-ready as any receiver in this class: He’s got good hands, runs crisp routes, and can play outside or in the slot, but a worrisome lack of explosive athleticism (he tested very poorly in the vertical and broad jumps at the combine) is a legitimate concern. Still, physicality has never been a part of his game—he’s more of a technician who’s drawn comparisons to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne—and he’s most effective early in his route, creating separation to give his quarterback a target underneath. He should be an excellent addition to the Falcons passing attack and figures to play early in his career.

Fit: A
Value: A

27. Seattle Seahawks (from Packers via Saints): RB Rashaad Penny, San Diego State

Penny does fit Seattle’s type to a T: He’s big (5-foot-11, 220 pounds), physical, and breaks a ton of tackles (he led all draft-eligible backs with 80 forced missed tackles on runs last year, per PFF). That elusiveness and ability to pick up yards after contact should come in handy behind Seattle’s subpar offensive line, but the Seahawks are paying a high premium on the running back position when they have so many other more pressing needs.

Fit: A
Value: C-

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: S Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech

The Steelers are betting on upside here. Edmunds, like his brother Tremaine, is a premier athlete: He ran a 4.47 40 and jumped 41.5 inches in the vert with a 134-inch broad jump. But he’s inconsistent in all the areas that the Steelers desperately need to improve in, and too often took bad angles and missed tackles in the open field.

Fit: B-
Value: C-

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: DT Taven Bryan, Florida

Bryan’s college production was underwhelming (just 5.5 sacks in three seasons), but the Jags likely see him as a raw piece of clay with great length (6-foot-5, 291 pounds) and elite first-step explosiveness. Bryan may need a year or two of seasoning before Jacksonville can rely on him as a regular contributor, but that’s just fine — the Jags already have one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL … at least, right now. Down the line, it’s going to be tough for Jacksonville to hang on to all its high-priced linemen (Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus, and Calais Campbell will count for a combined $41 million against the cap in 2019), which makes this pick important for the team in the long term.

Fit: B+
Value: B+

30. Minnesota Vikings: CB Mike Hughes, UCF

The Vikings have such a deep roster that they could’ve gone in just about any direction here. Taking Hughes makes what’s already a talented secondary even better. Due to legal issues, Hughes left the University of North Carolina for Garden City Community College before eventually ending up at UCF. The athletic defensive back surrendered a measly 35.5 passer rating in coverage with four picks and 11 pass breakups for UCF in 2017.

Fit: A+
Value: A-

31. New England Patriots: RB Sony Michel, Georgia

Michel’s a dynamic weapon on the ground and in the passing game, and should fill in nicely for recently departed free-agent running back Dion Lewis. But with so many needs on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t like the value New England gets by taking a running back this high.

Fit: A
Value: C-

32. Baltimore Ravens (from Eagles): QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

This is the most exciting pick in the round. Jackson excels at throwing between the numbers, can go through his reads, is comfortable making plays from the pocket, and has an extraordinary blend of speed and elusiveness as a runner, whether that’s on designed run plays or scrambles. The former Heisman winner needs to iron out his accuracy, and he may need to tweak his mechanics to throw from a wider, more balanced base — and he landed in a good place to do that in Baltimore, where he’ll sit behind starter Joe Flacco for a year or two before taking the field. After reaching for Hurst earlier in the night, the Ravens get a potential franchise quarterback and future superstar at no. 32 — and they didn’t have to break the bank to move up and grab him (giving up a second-rounder this year and one next year while swapping spots with the Eagles in the fourth round).

Fit: A
Value: A