The NFL Draft theater in Arlington, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
There’s more to the NFL Draft than meets the eye. Superficially it means all 32 teams across the league have a chance to reload and restock on talent, adding players to positions where they see fit in order to strengthen a weakness.
But in the dead of the offseason, the draft represents hope for many fanbases, especially when you consider the Browns held a parade for their 0-16 season in 2017.
But anyway, here’s my breakdown of each of the first 32 picks.
1. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
From walk-on at Texas Tech, to Heisman Trophy winner, and now, the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Everyone knew the Browns were going to take a quarterback here, but the real question was “which one?” Mayfield is a bit of a surprise despite being the most accomplished in the QB pool. He’s a bit undersized and has had his fair share of off-the-field issues, but he’s a winner and one heck of a competitor. He’s also a good dual-threat player with his legs (a little reminiscent of Johnny Manziel with a better arm). Mayfield can go in and learn behind Tyrod Taylor until he’s ready, but Cleveland may be hoping it doesn’t take the experienced passer long to acclimate.
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Barkley is widely considered the best prospect in this draft, and is unquestionably a freak athlete, which is truthfully an understatement. Barkley can do it all on offense and special teams. Not only is he a dangerous, quick rusher, but he’s an excellent pass catcher and pass blocker. And don’t forget about his success in the return game. The Giants have long lacked a run game, and although they could have easily gone quarterback here and no one would have questioned them, they chose a player who is an immediate contributor. Oh, and the Giants added former Patriots LT Nate Solder this offseason to beef up the offensive line, which is a recipe for immediate success.
3. New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The Jets should feel fortunate Darnold survived until the third pick. The USC product got into some bad habits in his second full season with the Trojans, which led to more interceptions, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a star in the NFL. Perhaps the passer with the most upside, Darnold will have a solid mentor in Josh McCown. He has a natural ability to progress through his reads and stay calm in the pocket, allowing him to make bigtime throws. The Jets moved up to the third spot in a trade with the Colts, and hope to have found their franchise quarterback.
4. Cleveland Browns: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward is undoubtedly the best corner in this draft, but the pick itself is a bit surprising given the availability of DE Bradley Chubb, who could have paired well with last year’s first-overall pick Myles Garrett. It’s not a bad pick by any means, especially considering Cleveland lost Jason McCourty this offseason to the Patriots, leaving a vacancy in their secondary. The Browns just have a history of missing on defensive backs in the first round (looking at you, Justin Gilbert), but the big-play ability and versatility of Ward is a pretty sure thing. He can cover just about any receiver and is known for delivering punishing hits.
5. Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Boy, do the Broncos know how to pick the pass rushers. It’s a scary thought picturing Chubb AND Von Miller coming at you if you’re a quarterback. Chubb brings an intense physicality to the defensive line and a blueprint of how to get through an offensive line. He has the perfect build for an edge rusher (6-foot-4, 269 pounds with 34-inch arms) and an athleticism that allows him to remain part of the play even when the ball gets behind him. He’s a cerebral player as well.
6. Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
This pick is for Andrew Luck. The Colts finished last season ranked 30th in scoring offense in the NFL while the injured QB sat for the duration of the campaign. So, in order to keep him upright when he is healthy and on the field, fortifying the offensive line is the best way to do that. Nelson is the best offensive line prospect in this year’s class, and he’ll fit right in up front on Day 1.
7. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The Bills swapped picks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (with some added incentive for the Bucs) so they could snag their quarterback of the future. He feels like a perfect fit for Buffalo, where it gets exceptionally cold early in the season and weather plays a major factor for a decent portion of the schedule. Allen is anything but a refined product and comes with serious questions about his accuracy and character, but he reminds me a bit of Carson Wentz – a big QB with a big arm that’s very mobile for his size and comes from a small school. Oh, and they shared a college coach in Craig Bohl. With some work, Allen has the potential to be a great NFL passer with plus athletic ability and excellent vision. Eventually a combination of Allen and LeSean McCoy could be a lethal combination. The Bills’ addition of A.J. McCarron this offseason also means Allen doesn’t have to play right away.
8. Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
This pick has the feel of Chicago wanting to get back to the days of hard-nosed defense. Smith is an active linebacker who can drop into coverage, stop the run and rush the passer. He’s a bit undersized for the position, but that didn’t stop him at Georgia from leading his defense to the National Championship this past season and earning the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
McGlinchey is the second Notre Dame offensive lineman off the board in the first nine picks, and this pick was made with Jimmy Garoppolo in mind. The Niners needs to protect their newly-minted franchise signal caller, and this is a great foundation piece. San Fran has spent plenty of draft capital in the past on defense, and after landing his quarterback midway through last season, Kyle Shanahan now has to build from the trenches outward.
10. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
This is the first time four quarterbacks have gone in the top 10 in the modern draft era, which really isn’t surprising considering the talent available. Rosen fell a bit presumably because there were some questions about his commitment to football, but after three quarterbacks went in the top seven picks, the Cardinals swapped with the Raiders to get their guy. Arizona signed the oft-injured Sam Bradford and underwhelming Mike Glennon this offseason, but the assumption is Rosen will take the reins as soon as he’s ready. Rosen started 30 games in three years at UCLA, is quick to make decisions in the pocket and has great touch on his passes. He’s an excellent decision maker and should thrive at the next level with some time to learn.
11. Miami Dolphins: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
Maybe it’s me, but this ffeels a little late to hear Alabama for the first time. Fitzpatrick had an impressive career with the Crimson Tide, culminating with the Jim Thorpe Award this past season for the nation’s best defensive back. The Dolphins could use all the help they can get on defense, especially after losing lineman Ndamukong Suh to free agency. Fitzpatrick is a do-everything safety who can likely start right away for Miami.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Tevita Tuliakiono Tuipuloto Mosese Va’hae Faletau Vea, if we’re being specific. The Bucs are clearly loading up to stop the run and rush the passer, but with some of their other offseason additions at the same position, this pick is a little surprising. Vea is a beast of a run stopper up front, who is athletic for a big man, but with Derwin James sitting on the board and the Bucs needing an impact secondary player in the worst way, this one is a head-scratcher.
13. Washington Redskins: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Payne represents the second defensive tackle from Alabama the Redskins have taken in as many years. In an NFC East division where quarterbacks rule, Washington is loading up on guys who can disrupt the pocket and break down an offensive line. Payne is exceptionally athletic for a tackle and can stay with a play even if it gets past him. He reads the run well and possesses an arsenal of moves to shake off offensive linemen. Although Jonathan Allen is already there, Payne should be an impact player right away.
14. New Orleans Saints: Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio
The Saints needed a pass rusher, there’s no questioning that. But giving up what they did in order to swap places with Green Bay is puzzling to say the least. Davenport is a highlight-making machine on the edge, and he can read a play as it develops as well as any in this draft. He’ll be an impact player for the Saints right away, which is absolutely their plan considering what they gave up to get him.
15. Oakland Raiders: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
This guy is huge. Like, 6-foot-9, 310-pound huge. Miller’s name was mentioned further back in the first round but it’s not surprising at all his name was called a little sooner in the middle part of Thursday’s round. Miller could wind up starting at left tackle for the Raiders very soon, but will most likely see some time at right tackle as well early on.
16. Buffalo Bills: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
The Bills moved up yet again, this time to grab the linebacker Edmunds from Virginia Tech. Edmunds has blazing speed, outstanding size and a football lineage like no other. His father, Ferrell, was a two-time pro-bowl tight end, and his brother should come off the board within the next day. He’s adept at attacking the ball and chasing down any opposing player. He’ll fit in seamlessly in Buffalo.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James, S, Florida State
The slide ends for the coveted Seminoles prospect. James is the living embodiment of versatility with his ability to cover receivers and tight ends, chase down running backs and get to the quarterback to disrupt throws. He could have been a top-10 pick (and probably should have been), so the Chargers should consider this a steal.
18. Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
The Packers traded Damarious Randall to the Browns this offseason to land backup quarterback DeShone Kizer, so Green Bay has a need in the secondary. Alexander might even be underrated after playing for an underachieving Louisville squad, though some of his fall can be attributed to missing time with leg and hand injuries this past season. He still managed to record 19 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups for the Cardinals, and will bring extreme athleticism and excellent cover skills to Green Bay’s defensive backfield.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
This guy is one fascinating player. He came from the middle-of-nowhere Idaho, and used to play eight-man football just five years ago. He was a three-sport athlete in high school and a standout at Boise State, where he let his versatility shine. The Cowboys could have used a wide receiver after letting Dez Bryant go this offseason, but Dallas has lacked a charismatic and effective defense for a couple of years, and Vander Esch will help remedy that.
20. Detroit Lions: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
Defensive guru Matt Patricia is at the helm for the Lions now, so in a way it makes sense for the new regime to focus on building the offense from the inside out. Matt Stafford is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, so the 30-year-old signal caller could use all the protection he can get.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Billy Price, C, Ohio State
Back-to-back center picks in this first round. The Bengals lost backup quarterback A.J. McCarron this offseason, so the health of regular starter Andy Dalton will be of the utmost importance in 2018. Price is still recovering from a surgically repaired left shoulder, but should be good to go by training camp.
22. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
This feels like the perfect pick for new coach Mike Vrabel, who gets an on-the-rise linebacker talent to plug into the rebuilding Tennessee defense. Evans’ strength is his speed and ability to get around the edge, so he’ll fit best in a 3-4 defensive front and in blitz packages. He should be able to push for a starting role right away, and will likely impress Vrabel quickly.
23. New England Patriots: Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
No Lamar Jackson just yet. The Patriots filled a much more pressing need with this pick, especially after the loss of Nate Solder this offseason. Wynn is a guard who has the ability to play tackle as well, which Bill Belichick likes in his players up front. The Patriots also hold the 31st pick, but felt strongly enough about Wynn to take him here.
24. Carolina Panthers: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Moore is athletic, versatile and productive. The Panthers have a need at receiver. It’s the perfect marriage. Moore had four different quarterbacks at Maryland, and still managed to maintain a healthy stat line. He possesses 4.42 40 time and can shake coverage as well as any receiver in this class. And since the Panthers ditched Kelvin Benjamin less than a year ago, an additional pass catcher is exactly what Cam Newton needs.
25. Baltimore Ravens: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Hurst wasn’t the consensus top tight end in this draft, but he has quite the story. He’s a minor league baseball player who flamed out and decided to give college football one more try. Hurst has a massive body (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and prides himself on excellent blocking skills and above-average catching ability. The Ravens could easily use Hurst as a safety blanket for Joe Flacco on third downs. He should carve out a nice role in Baltimore.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Falcons selected a top receiving prospect from Alabama? That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s not entirely fair to compare Ridley with current Falcons star Julio Jones, but Ridley does possess excellent speed and a refined route-running ability that could really give Atlanta a dangerous second option. This high-powered offense certainly got better with this selection.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Rashaad Penny, LB, San Diego State
It’s no secret the Seahawks have struggled to find a go-to running back option who can also stay healthy over the past few years, but this feels like a bit of a reach here. Penny didn’t get much of a shot as the bell-cow back at SDSU because Donnel Pumphrey monopolized much of the work until the 2017 season. He has the ability to be a volume ball carrier in the NFL, but analysts noted his lack of explosiveness and straight-line speed. Hopefully the Seahawks have broken the backfield curse here.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Terrell Edmunds, S, Virginia Tech
The second Edmunds brother from Virginia Tech is off the board. While not as big or as quick as his brother (now in Buffalo), Terrell is an active defensive back with a natural ability to find the ball on the field. While he’s a natural defensive back, Terrell also specializes at the line of scrimmage. It’s the first time in draft history two brothers were both taken in the first round.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
The most expensive defensive line in the league just got better, but that also means Bryan will have to carve out a role at a very contentious position in Jacksonville. Bryan has tons of upside as a bull rusher up the middle, but tended to disappear at times for the Gators. If he can bring his consistency up, he’ll be a force there for years to come.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
The good news for the Vikings is that Hughes, according to analysts and scouts, has as much upside at the corner position as any player in this draft. The bad news: he also has a laundry list of off-the-field issues that plagued his college career, which began at UNC and ultimately led him to community college and then UCF. But if he stays on the right path, Hughes will give the Vikings the reward that was worth the risk.
31. New England Patriots: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Talk about a breakout star in college this past season. Michel all but stole the starting running back gig from Nick Chubb in 2017 and thrived, averaging more than seven yards per carry and helped lead his Bulldogs to the national title game. The Patriots lost Dion Lewis this offseason to Tennessee, which means Michel could carry the load on first and second down and cede to James White and/or Rex Burkhead on third down. Belichick covets versatility, and Michel’s speed and above-average hands could make him a star.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The wait is finally over for the former Heisman winner. Philadelphia traded their first rounder to Baltimore, who clearly has its eyes on the future. Joe Flacco’s career with the Ravens is, in all likelihood, on the clock. Jackson has the tools to be a multi-dimensional star under center in the league, and lands in a spot with coaches who have worked with stars like Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, so he’s in good hands. It will be a learning process for Jackson, who largely worked outside the pocket and rarely took snaps under center, but he seems determined to succeed and prove those who doubted him until the No. 32 pick wrong.