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The 2018 NFL Draft Awards

Honoring the good, bad, and baffling from the last three days in Dallas, from Baker Mayfield’s Cleveland coronation to Bill Belichick’s mad-scientist experimenting and more

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It’s been a long three days: A bevy of trades have gone down, 256 picks have come and gone, and the action-packed 2018 NFL draft is in the books. Now it’s time to take stock of what the hell just happened—who won, who lost, and which picks left us collectively scratching our heads. In an effort to make sense of it all, I’ve compiled a list of awards to celebrate the good, bad, and deeply weird from what transpired in Dallas. Let’s dive right in.

The They’re Finally, Actually, Quite Possibly Turning Their Franchise Around Award: Cleveland Browns

Let me start by saying this: The draft is a crapshoot and no one really knows how any given prospect will react to fame and develop as a pro. And yes, I am profoundly aware that I’m giving this award to the Browns. But it’s hard not to view this weekend as the potential turning point for a long-suffering franchise, because Cleveland took its veritable treasure chest of draft capital and turned it into what could be the nucleus of, well, a good team.

In the first round, new Browns general manager John Dorsey grabbed playmakers at two of the most important positions in the game. With the first overall pick, he took Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, an incredibly efficient and accurate passer, innate playmaker, and natural leader who has the makings of a future star. Then, with the fourth pick, Dorsey nabbed Ohio State defensive back Denzel Ward, adding a potential shutdown corner to a secondary that needs one.

In the second round, the Browns grabbed Nevada offensive lineman Austin Corbett (no. 33 overall), who could solve the team’s vacancy at left tackle or add interior depth up front, and Georgia running back Nick Chubb (no. 35), who should bring a no-nonsense, physical, downhill running style to the ground game. Cleveland later proceeded to add Miami defensive end Chad Thomas (no. 67), who has the ability to feature into the team’s pass rush rotation, and Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway (no. 105). Callaway failed a drug test at the combine and dropped down draft boards due to character concerns, but is a dynamic pass catcher who could emerge as a nice playmaker out of the slot.

The Browns may still be a year or two away from a breakout, but they’ve amassed a stockpile of talent via free agency, trades, and the draft over the past few years. With a defensive group headlined by pass rushers Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Jamie Collins, and defensive backs Briean Boddy-Calhoun, E.J. Gaines, T.J. Carrie, Damarious Randall, and Jabrill Peppers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cleveland make a leap forward on that side of the ball this fall. And Mayfield will be dropped into an offense that boasts a solid offensive line and a wealth of skill-position talent including Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon, David Njoku, Callaway, Duke Johnson, Carlos Hyde, and Chubb.

With the obvious caveat that this is the Browns, I’m cautiously optimistic about this team’s future.

The Defensive Stacks on Stacks on Stacks Award: Los Angeles Chargers

Coming into this weekend, the Chargers already had the foundation for what could be one of the NFL’s best defenses in 2018. That unit featured a dominant pass-rushing duo (Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa) and a top-tier secondary led by Casey Hayward, Jason Verrett, Desmond King, Jahleel Addae, and Adrian Phillips. Then L.A.’s brass decided to build strength on strength by taking defenders with its first four picks of the draft.

The Chargers landed one of the biggest steals of the first round by grabbing Florida State safety Derwin James at no. 17 overall. A do-it-all enforcer who roams the middle of the field, he should make an immediate impact both in stopping the run (one of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2017) and serving as a sticky coverage defender against slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs. James has a rare and unquantifiable Kam Chancellor–esque vibe and has barely scratched the surface of his potential.

In the second round, L.A. took USC outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, one of the most productive edge players in the class and a guy who should feature into the team’s pass-rush rotation in 2018. In the third and fourth rounds, it grabbed NC State defensive tackle Justin Jones—a run-defense fortifier in the middle of the line—and West Virginia safety Kyzir White—a big, physical safety who should bring intensity to certain subpackages. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley suddenly has a ton of new toys.

The Well, They’re Certainly Doing It Their Way Award: Seattle Seahawks

As the league trends toward pass-dominant, spread-offense football, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll seems intent on taking his team in the other direction. He fired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable this offseason, replacing them with Brian Schottenheimer and Mike Solari, respectively. Both have been tasked with recapturing the essence of Seattle’s offensive identity: smashmouth football.

In free agency, the Seahawks let Jimmy Graham go and replaced him with a blocking tight end (Ed Dickson). They re-signed running back Mike Davis, and instead of pursuing big-ticket receivers who could bolster the passing attack, they devoted their cap space to stabilizing the trenches, adding an offensive lineman (D.J. Fluker) who specializes in run blocking but has struggled in pass protection.

The team’s 2018 draft followed the same narrative. With its first-round pick, Seattle took San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, a move that most analysts considered a reach. The elusive tackle-breaker rushed for 2,248 yards in his final season on campus, led all draft-eligible backs with 80 forced missed tackles on the year (per Pro Football Focus), and should get a heavy dose of carries right out the gate. In the fourth round, Seattle reached again (at least according to expert consensus), this time to take throwback tight end Will Dissly. And in the fifth, the Seahawks nabbed Ohio State offensive lineman Jamarco Jones, another blocker who could reinforce the rushing attack.

Taken as a whole, it’s clear that the top 2018 priority for Carroll and Co. is to build a balanced offense—or at least one that doesn’t force quarterback Russell Wilson to be the team’s leading rusher again this fall. Oh, and by the way, the Seahawks did some things for their defense, too.

The Feel-Good Pick Who Can Also Ball Out Award: Shaquem Griffin, Seahawks

Also known as the “I’m not crying; you’re crying” award:

The Seahawks have never been shy about searching for players with grit, and they used the 141st pick to take someone who’s the personification of that trait: linebacker Shaquem Griffin. The former UCF superstar lost his left hand at age 4 as the result of a prenatal condition called amniotic band syndrome and has never let that slow him down. He won the 2016 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year award his first season as a starter for the Knights, then followed that up by taking home all-conference honors again in 2017. Playing all over the defense, Griffin collected 33.5 tackles for loss, including 18.5 sacks, over the past two years, demonstrating a mix of range, instincts, physicality, and elite athleticism.

Griffin was initially left off the 2018 combine invite list, but blew the doors off Lucas Oil Stadium as a late addition to the docket, pumping out 20 reps on the bench press and running the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds—the fastest time for a linebacker prospect since 2003. He’s the first player to be drafted into the NFL with one hand, but he’s so much more than that: This guy can play. Seattle plans to utilize him as a run-and-chase weakside linebacker, and he has the versatility to work as a subpackage safety as well.

The How to Revamp Your Offense in One Draft Award: Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have spent the majority of this offseason as the NFC West’s forgotten franchise, overshadowed by the Seahawks’ turmoil and constant player turnover, the Rams’ relentless wheeling and dealing, and the 49ers’ signing and subsequent parading around of our new football overlord, Jimmy Garoppolo. Meanwhile, plenty has happened in Arizona: Head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer retired, fan favorite Tyrann Mathieu went to the Texans, and Sam Bradford was signed in free agency to serve as a temporary Band-Aid under center. All in all, it hasn’t been easy to get excited about this team over the past few months.

That all changed over the weekend. The Cards traded up to the no. 10 spot in the draft to take UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen. In doing so, Arizona not only landed a precision passer to build the offense around, but they also administered an injection of adrenaline to its fanbase. Rosen is the most polished and game-ready signal-caller in the 2018 class and should compete with Bradford for the starting job from day one.

The team wasn’t done addressing its talent-deficient offense there. With its second pick (no. 47), it grabbed Texas A&M’s electric pass catcher and return man Christian Kirk. The 5-foot-11, 201-pound dynamo is tough, reliable, and explosive after the catch—and should take pressure off Larry Fitzgerald in the passing attack come fall. Later in the draft, the Cardinals bolstered their offensive line by taking Michigan center Mason Cole (no. 97) and added depth to their backfield by selecting Fordham running back Chase Edmonds (no. 134). Things are pointing up for an Arizona offense that came into the offseason with few long-term prospects.

The Taking the Guy Who Fits Your Prototype 40 Picks Too Early Award: Terrell Edmunds, Steelers

After missing out on Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, their reported first-round target, the Steelers used the 28th overall pick to fill another position of need. Yet the player they took was a surprise: Pittsburgh went for Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds, the older brother of fellow 2018 draft prospect Tremaine Edmunds and a defensive back known for lacking coverage instincts and taking poor angles to the ball. As such, Terrell came into this weekend ranked 105th on Arif Hasan’s consensus big board, which aggregates 48 different evaluators’ pre-draft rankings.

Of course, the former Hokie possesses the type of speed and explosiveness you can’t teach—he ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash and put up a 41.5-inch vertical leap at the combine—and fits the mold of a highly athletic defensive back that Pittsburgh covets. Like Steelers picks Artie Burns and Sean Davis before him, Edmunds is raw, but he offers immense upside if he can iron out the deficiencies in his game.

The Taking the Guy Who Fits Your Prototype at a Tremendous Value Award: James Washington, Steelers

For everyone worried that the Steelers reached for Edmunds in the first round, take solace in knowing that they got excellent value one round later. Pittsburgh picked up yet another talented receiver by choosing Oklahoma State’s James Washington with the 60th overall pick. The 5-foot-11, 213-pounder caught 226 passes for 39 touchdowns over his four-year college career and slots perfectly into the now-vacated deep-threat role that Martavis Bryant—who was just traded to the Raiders—once served.

Washington has excellent speed and tracks the ball well. He should complement Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster and work his way into the Steelers’ downfield attack early in his career.

The Trade Like You’re Playing Madden Dynasty Mode Award: New England Patriots

Just one of the Patriots’ nine draft selections this year—the no. 31 overall pick, which was used on Georgia running back Sony Michel—was originally held by New England. I’d love to tell you exactly how the Pats orchestrated moving around the draft board at virtually every turn, but frankly I’m tired, and Bill Belichick’s mad-scientist experimenting gets pretty complicated.

I’ll say this: Prior to the draft, the team’s original draft war chest (made up of eight picks: two firsts, two seconds, a third, two sixths, and a seventh) was a mishmash of native selections (three) and those acquired from nine separate trades (five). Never satisfied, Belichick then traded another eight times (a new team record!) over the three-day event, picking up an extra selection this year to go with second- and third-round picks in 2019. By the time the dust settled, the Patriots had picked twice in the first round, once in the second, once in the fifth, twice in the sixth, and three times in the seventh. Just like Belichick drew it up.

The Fine, We’ll Pick Lamar Jackson but Only If We Can Load Up on Tight Ends Award: Baltimore Ravens

When I asked Ringer colleague and (somewhat passionate) Ravens fan Mallory Rubin what she thought of her team’s draft haul, she said: “The Lamar Jackson pick is so good I honestly don’t care about anything else.”

I think that sums things up nicely. Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome’s final draft before retirement sent Ravens fans on a roller coaster of emotions. First, he first traded out of the no. 16 spot—passing up the chance to take prospects like Jackson and Derwin James. Then, he settled upon South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst at no. 25. That was eyebrow-raising for a few reasons: Tight end is historically a weak value pick in the first round; Hurst isn’t special in any one area; and the Gamecocks product will be a 25-year-old rookie this fall. Perhaps most inexplicable: Why would Newsome risk such an enormous gamble when he was aiming to select Jackson all along?

Anyway, everything worked out fine—the Ravens secured one of the most exciting players in the draft and the potential future face of their franchise by trading the Eagles for the 32nd pick and grabbing their man. They then resumed targeting the position they clearly prioritized most: Newsome took Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews at no. 86.