- The first round of the NFL draft is in the books, and we graded every selection. While some teams fulfilled clearly defined needs, others made more questionable choices.
So much for mock drafts. It was the first year in recent memory that had a mystery at the No. 1 pick going in, and five likely first-round quarterbacks, including several near the top of the draft. The unexpected was sure to happen because no one quite knew WHAT to expect. Thursday night did not disappoint.
Below is our instant analysis and grades for every first-round pick. How did your team do?
1. Cleveland Browns—QB Baker Mayfield
Those pesky Johnny Manziel comparisons aren’t going away—not until Mayfield wins a few games, at least. The Browns gambled here, passing on multiple quarterbacks with traditional NFL measurables for the one who stands at just six feet. Mayfield doesn’t have the Russell Wilson-type athleticism to prosper in sandlot mode the way he did in college. But what the Browns surely noticed is, while those sandlot plays dazzled fans, Mayfield’s best work actually came when he played on time and within structure. He has a good enough arm and a sharp enough football IQ to run a high-level pro offense. His best chance at success is the Drew Brees route, with his game predicated on precision passing, intellect and, to offset the height issue, pocket movement.
• Baker Mayfield opens up about his critics and those draft comparisons in our latest episode of The Big Interview. You can now watch it anytime, anywhere, on SI TV.
2. New York Giants—RB Saquon Barkley
Forget finding Eli Manning’s replacement at quarterback—whoever that is might not play for another three years. This Giants club two years ago made the postseason. New GM Dave Gettleman was brought in to build on a ready-now team, and a once-in-a-generation running back can help that. The Giants now have the dynamic ballcarrier to redefine what has lately been an atrocious ground game. New head coach Pat Shurmur did a great job in Minnesota marrying his running game and passing game. Barkley can help in both areas, and an erudite QB like Manning can check him in and out of the best plays accordingly.
• How did Saquon Barkley transform into the perfect prospect? SI goes Under the Cover with his coaches, teammates and family to learn more about the draft’s most buzzed about player. You can now watch anytime, anywhere on SI TV.
3. New York Jets—QB Sam Darnold
The Jets traded a boatload to move up and draft a QB, and they didn’t know which QB it’d be. Presumably, they never dreamed it’d be Darnold, whom many thought to be the best all-around quarterback in this draft. Darnold has a unique ability to make plays off-schedule, but it’s always a crapshoot whether that translates to the NFL. As a rhythmic, pocket player (which is where consistent NFL success is found), he’ll need some mechanical polishing, and not just in his throwing motion, which is awkward but not grossly flawed. He’ll also need better weapons around him. The Jets have some important picks ahead of them in Rounds 3-7.
4. Cleveland Browns—CB Denzel Ward
Here’s why Ward to the Browns isn’t as shocking as it seems: Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams believes in disguising coverages and blitzing. That’s much, MUCH easier to do when you have a shutdown corner. The Browns were 0-16 last season, but their roster is of 5-11 quality and their defense didn’t have a glaring weakness. The team could afford to take the best player available here. Assuming they liked N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb (why wouldn’t they?), they’ve tacitly declared two things by drafting Ward: 1. Myles Garrett can really carry a pass rush, and 2. You can manufacture a pass rush via blitzing, as long as you have guys who can cover one-on-one behind the blitz.
5. Denver Broncos—DE Bradley Chubb
When the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, they had DeMarcus Ware lining up opposite Von Miller. They must view Chubb as a near-lock to reach Ware’s caliber because they already had last year’s second-rounder, DeMarcus Walker, as well as 2015 first-rounder Shane Ray, whose fifth-year option was recently picked up. And let’s remember: Shaquil Barrett can also be noisy off the edge. Ray and Miller are uniquely flexible and can effectively rush inside from a standup position. Don’t be surprised if the Broncos put three or four of these men on the field together in obvious passing situations. Instead of trying to get good in many places, the Broncos are shooting to be GREAT in a few.
6. Indianapolis Colts—G Quenton Nelson
Many view Nelson as the best guard prospect since Zack Martin. And true, the Colts aren’t great at guard. (Jack Mewhort is fine on the left side, but the right side has seen a rotation of right tackle type fringe backups such as Joe Haeg and Denzelle Good.) That said … have you seen this defense? Its only true three-down players are safety Malik Hooker and corner Quincy Wilson—and both have played just half a rookie season in the NFL. Every other player, save for maybe edge men Jabaal Sheard and John Simon if we’re being generous, is a situational piece. And with most of the lineup built for Chuck Pagano’s scheme, not new coordinator Matt Eberflus’s, it’s hard to envision many situations where those guys would work. The Colts can block better now, but it won’t matter if their opponents score 40 each week. And while protecting Andrew Luck is obviously important, you do that by scheming more quick-strike throws, not banking so heavily on his blockers.
7. Buffalo Bills—QB Josh Allen
The Bills traded up with the Buccaneers and then rolled the dice. UCLA’s Josh Rosen is the most pro-ready QB in this draft, by far. Allen, however, has the upside. His arm strength might be the best ever (certainly enough to cut through the notorious Buffalo wind), and his mobility is outstanding. That’s the part that gets overlooked. Wyoming called designed runs for Allen, much like Sean McDermott’s former Panthers team did for Cam Newton. Having a QB in your ground game skews the geometry and box count numbers for the defense, and it can be a tremendous offensive advantage. And notably, Allen is a better on-the-move thrower than Newton. Though like Newton, overall, he’s not a consistent ball placer. The Bills hope that can improve, but privately, they’ve almost certainly decided they can live with some bouts of inaccuracy. It’s an intriguing pick, but still a gamble, especially when factoring in the extra picks they gave up.
8. Chicago Bears—LB Roquan Smith
Vic Fangio is one of the game’s smartest, most nuanced schemers, and two things define a Fangio defense: Blurry zone coverages and nickel packages (almost never dime). A team needs great inside linebackers to do this. Zone disguises start at safety—Fangio likes to keep two back deep—but they’re perfected at linebacker, a position where many defenses don’t think to employ subtle disguises. By playing nickel every snap, even if there are four wide receivers on the field, Fangio places tall orders on his linebackers in coverage. When you have the right ones, it can be great (Remember what Fangio did in San Francisco with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman?), and Smith, one of the most dynamic all-around stack linebackers in this draft, should fill this role successfully.
9. San Francisco 49ers—T Mike McGlinchey
Drafting McGlinchey is a bit of a head-scratcher given that the 49ers just gave left tackle Joe Staley a raise for the next two years. Right tackle is just as valuable in today’s NFL, but it’s hard to imagine the Niners not signing Trent Brown (the NFL’s largest man, and a decent athlete) to a long-term deal after this season. Do they believe the nearly 6’ 8” McGlinchey can somehow play guard? Do they believe Brown can? Or do they think Staley is slowing down, which was the belief before he turned in a stellar 2017 season? Adding to the curiosity of this pick is the fact that Kyle Shanahan’s system often makes life easier on pass rushers. It is a zone running-based scheme, however, and those blocks require athleticism along the O-line.
10. Arizona Cardinals—QB Josh Rosen
The Cardinals reportedly decided near draft time that they wouldn’t be trading up for a quarterback, but that was before they knew the most polished QB in this draft would still be available this late in the draft. Rosen was an acute field-reader at UCLA and plays a timing-and-rhythm brand of football, which usually translates well to the pros. It’s one reason he’s known for his ability to throw receivers open. He is a great fit for offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s multifaceted passing game.
11. Miami Dolphins—S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick is arguably the most versatile defender in this draft, and he’s joining defensive coordinator Matt Burke’s somewhat traditional zone scheme. Will the scheme expand? Burke has made great use of veteran Reshad Jones’s unique blitzing ability. Fitzpatrick must be employed in those packages; he dominated as an edge blitzer in college. He can also slide down and cover the slot, presenting an option for replacing No. 3 corner Bobby McCain, whom some in the organization believe is rock-solid and others think doesn’t make enough big plays. Big plays shouldn’t be a concern with Fitzpatrick. It’ll be interesting to see where he operates in base situations as a rookie. Most likely, he’ll be interchangeable in centerfield and the box, like Jones, with whom he’ll pair for the next several years.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers—DT Vita Vea
Tampa Bay must really love the massive defensive tackle, because it didn’t need him. The Bucs fell apart in pass defense last year, thanks to an inept four-man rush and underperforming secondary, but the pass rush was addressed by the trade for ex-Giant Jason Pierre-Paul and signing of ex-Eagle Vinny Curry. Still, it doesn’t hurt to add one more piece. But the secondary? That’s still an issue, particularly at safety. Vea can be a special run defender, and that augments what you get with terrific chase linebackers like Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. But the NFL is a passing league. Being iffy in aerial D and not drafting players who can theoretically help (like, say Derwin James), is dicey.
13. Washington Redskins—DT Da'Ron Payne
Was Payne really the player that Washington wanted, or were there resounding groans across the war room when Tampa Bay took Vita Vea just one spot earlier? Here’s an argument for why Washington’s front office will be telling the truth when it says Payne was its top target all along: he can rush the passer. A pass rush is critical when you play as much zone as Washington, and Payne, with his light feet and some oomph in his movement, should help a run D that ranked 29th in yards per attempt last year. Interestingly, Washington drafted an Alabama interior pass rusher in the first round last year: Jonathan Allen.
14. New Orleans Saints—DE Marcus Davenport
When the Saints traded the No. 27 pick and next year’s first-rounder to move up, many thought they’d take Drew Brees’s successor, Lamar Jackson. But Marcus Davenport’s name was announced. Davenport provides the explosive edge-rushing that was missing opposite All-Pro Cameron Jordan. While the trade seemed like an awfully steep price to pay, the relief of the Saints doing the right thing and building on their improving—but still far from perfect—defense inflates this grade.
15. Oakland Raiders—T Kolton Miller
Peter King called it. The Raiders have a lot of defensive needs, but left tackle Donald Penn is approaching the 18th tee box on his career and Derek Carr’s blind side must be protected, especially given that reincarnated head coach Jon Gruden prefers to put the QB under center, not in shotgun. It’ll be interesting to see if Miller plays on the right side as a rookie. Switching sides as a blocker is very difficult, especially if you’re trying to acclimate to the pro game. Miller did, however, play both sides at UCLA. We grade this pick down just a bit because the Raiders have gigantic needs at linebacker and cornerback, and left plenty of good players on the board.
16. Buffalo Bills—LB Tremaine Edmunds
Sean McDermott’s scheme emphasizes stack linebackers, and the Bills didn’t have any—second-year pros Tanner Vallejo and Matt Milano were the projected starters prior to draft night—but whether Edmunds can become a starter right away remains to be seen. He turns 20 next week and his game is unrefined. McDermott’s linebackers must be able to align in the A-gap, up on the line of scrimmage, and drop from there into coverage. That takes not just athleticism, but acute spatial awareness. Edmunds will have some growing pains, but he’s gifted and will be working with coaches who have groomed talent before.
17. Los Angeles Chargers—S Derwin James
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley learned in Seattle how valuable safeties can be in his Cover-3 scheme. The Chargers have an underrated one in box thumper Jahleel Addae, but that didn’t discourage them from drafting the former Seminole who has drawn comparisons to Sean Taylor. Would they consider playing James in centerfield early on so that Addae can stay in the lineup?
18. Green Bay Packers—CB Jaire Alexander
Some might cite edge rusher as a bigger need, with almost-32-year-old Clay Matthews in a contract year. But new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine never had great edge rushers with the Jets, where he made his bones—he had great cover corners, which he put on islands to enhance his interior pressures and zone blitz disguises. Presumably, that’s how head coach Mike McCarthy wants to play, given that Pettine’s predecessor, Dom Capers, subscribed to a similar philosophy. The Packers appear to have a quality cover corner in Kevin King (though the 2017 second-rounder has played just nine NFL games). The hope now is they have another with Alexander.
19. Dallas Cowboys—LB Leighton Vander Esch
Dallas’s biggest need is wide receiver, and every one of them was still on the board when they picked at No. 19. And yet, the team went with linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, which suggests it believes that Sean Lee—injury prone, 32 years old in July and a contract expiring in 2019—is nearing his end. If they don’t believe that Lee is almost done, this pick makes no sense with Jaylon Smith on the roster. In today’s NFL, where nickel defense is on the field around 60% of the time, you only need two high-quality linebackers. Vander Esch is a classic three-down ‘backer who started only one year in college. Most likely he’ll learn from Lee and then replace him. Good player, but the glaring need at wideout going unaddressed can’t be forgotten.
• Skeet shooting and river rafting were all part of Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch’s upbringing. The NFL prospect introduces SI to the small Idaho mountain town where he was formed. You can now watch anytime, anywhere on SI TV.
20. Detroit Lions—C Frank Ragnow
Picking Ragnow addressed the Lions' weakness at left guard. Graham Glasgow will now move there, supplanting recently signed backup Kenny Wiggins. The Lions wouldn’t draft Ragnow if they didn’t believe he can be a force in the running game, which has been a deficiency the past several years in Detroit.
21. Cincinnati Bengals—C Billy Price
It’s not a sexy pick, especially with Lamar Jackson, a potential replacement for Andy Dalton, on the board. But it’s a grossly necessary pick. The Bengals have had major problems against interior designer pass rush tactics the past two years, and their O-line got no movement in the ground game last season. With every interior O-lineman in the last year or two of his contract, this lineup could be altered at any spot. And it must—Andy Dalton needs a clean pocket. When he doesn’t have one, his flawed footwork leads to the mechanical breakdowns that cause most of his befuddling incompletions and turnovers.
22. Tennessee Titans—LB Rashaan Evans
Tennessee needed a replacement for departed free agent Avery Williamson, who joined the Jets, and while the Titans had free-agent signees Nate Palmer and Will Compton, plus 2017 fifth-round cover linebacker Jayon Brown, three players in one position amounts to a lot of question marks. It’s wiser to find an aggressive attacker who played in a multifaceted scheme at Alabama. A lot will be asked of Evans in Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees’s system. At least he’ll be operating alongside a steady veteran like Wesley Woodyard.
23. New England Patriots—T Isaiah Wynn
The Patriots did the right thing: Instead of finding Tom Brady’s replacement, they found someone to protect him. It was needed; Nate Solder is gone and Antonio Garcia, last year’s third-round pick, missed his rookie season with blood clots. At 6' 3", 313 pounds, many projected Wynn as an NFL guard—a position in which the Patriots are well set with Joe Thuney and especially Shaq Mason (though Mason’s contract is up soon). Playing devil’s advocate, here’s one question: if the Patriots are returning to a quick-strike, horizontal passing game—and trading Brandin Cooks suggests they are—do they really need to spend a first-round pick on a tackle? The nature of the scheme will protect the QB just as much as a blocker would. But having two first-rounders and two second-rounders makes this an easier trigger to pull.
24. Carolina Panthers—WR D.J. Moore
Any team that has Devin Funchess and especially Torrey Smith as projected starters obviously needs help at wide receiver. The question is, what kind of help? With last year’s second-round flex weapon Curtis Samuel plus ex-Viking Jarius Wright, there are answers in the slot. What this team needed was a weapon on the perimeter. Moore isn’t huge (6' 0", 210 pounds), but he plays large. He’s a contested catch artist whom some have described as a potentially more refined version of DeAndre Hopkins. That style should suit a strong-armed risk-taker like Cam Newton.
25. Baltimore Ravens—TE Hayden Hurst
You could say the Ravens’ biggest need was still wide receiver, considering that 2015 first-rounder Breshad Perriman hasn’t developed and newcomers Michael Crabtree and John Brown provide the same type of aerial attack as predecessors Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace. But consider: the 2017 Ravens came to life once they finally committed to being a run-first team. (Unfortunately, it was a tad too late.) They already had two decent blocking tight ends in Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams. Finding a receiving TE would add dimension to their ”two tight end” packages, creating more flexibility for their first- and second-down passing game and opening more of their ground game.
26. Atlanta Falcons—WR Calvin Ridley
This is a clear example of a rich offense getting richer. Ridley is a polished route runner whom some believe has stylistic similarities to Antonio Brown. Atlanta’s scheme is flexible enough to move him around, and obviously, opponents will be game-planning to stop Julio Jones, making Ridley’s life easier. If the rookie can learn the system and the pro game quickly (NFL coverages can look very different than college coverages), he can contribute significantly outside, relegating Mohamed Sanu to purely a slot role. The thought of Matt Ryan with three top-flight wideouts and two big-time running backs (Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman) is terrifying. We can’t quite give this pick an A because Atlanta’s needs along the D-line are drastic. The Falcons must not have been high on Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan.
27. Seattle Seahawks—RB Rashaad Penny
Wait, what? With glaring needs at cornerback and edge rusher, and Iowa corner Josh Jackson and BC edge man Harold Landry still on the board, the Seahawks drafted a running back? (And that running back wasn’t Derrius Guice?) Look, GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll studied all of these prospects infinitely more than we did, and they’re obviously familiar with his team’s needs. And it should be noted that over the years the Seahawks have successfully found lanky press corners in the middle rounds of the draft. They acquired more mid-round capital by trading back in the first round. There’s also a case to be made on the other side of the ball: this team was at its best when the offense ran through Marshawn Lynch. A run-first offense naturally creates more leeway for Russell Wilson’s sandlot style. So we certainly can’t call this pick a blunder. But it’s very surprising the Seahawks didn’t address their D-line or secondary.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers—S Terrell Edmunds
Pittsburgh’s biggest need was inside linebacker, but four were already off the board when the Steelers’ pick arose. Instead they went safety, a position more teams are employing instead of linebacker. Expect this defense to be a dime, not nickel, unit in passing situations, which means Edmunds, Sean Davis and free agent pickup Morgan Burnett all on the field with just one linebacker. The Steelers did this a few years ago when their depth at linebacker was lacking. As far as what Edmunds means long-term, that remains to be seen. Burnett is not yet 30 and is on a financially friendly three-year deal. Davis, whose rookie deal expires after 2019, has not developed as much as hoped, but the coaching staff believes he can become a big-time centerfielder. He’ll likely be playing that spot now that Mike Mitchell is gone.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars—DT Taven Bryan
Does Bryan fill a need? Of course not. But we should know by now not to scold the Jaguars for overloading on defensive talent, because it’s worked out almost perfectly thus far. Bryan is said to be a bit of a project. With Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus, Abry Jones and occasional defensive tackle Calais Campbell (an All-Pro defensive end) on the roster, he can develop initially from the bench. Stylistically, he fits Jacksonville’s gap-attacking 4-3 defense.
30. Minnesota Vikings—CB Mike Hughes
Mike Zimmer has never had a problem with drafting corners in the first round and developing them from the bench for a year or two—just ask Trae Waynes, who now might not be signed long-term. (It was recently reported the Vikings will pick up Waynes’s $9-million fifth year in 2019. That could still happen, but now it’s not mandatory.) Hughes will be asked to play aggressive matchup zone coverage outside in Minnesota’s sturdy two-deep safety scheme.
31. New England Patriots—RB Sony Michel
Another pick, another piece for Tom Brady. The same analysis for the Patriots No. 23 pick (Michel’s teammate Isaiah Wynn) applies here—instead of chasing a replacement for Tom Brady, they tried to find him a weapon. Michel has the traits to of a foundational back. For receiving flex options, James White and Rex Burkhead will still get the nod. Overall, there’s great backfield diversity in New England.
32. Baltimore Ravens—QB Lamar Jackson
Just as everyone was grabbing their coats and heading out the door, the Ravens dropped a bombshell, trading back into the first round to draft Joe Flacco’s eventual replacement. The question is when will that transition take place? Don’t be surprised if it’s sooner than later. Ravens assistant Greg Roman, who has significant say in their ground game designs, had Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco. And new quarterbacks coach James Urban was Michael Vick’s position coach in Philadelphia. Stylistically, Flacco and Jackson are polar opposites, but there are coaches in place to build a scheme for Jackson.