- Lamar Jackson to the Jets, Leighton Vander Esch to the Bucs, Josh Rosen to the ... Jaguars? If the NFL’s coaches and GMs could re-do the 2018 draft today—knowing all of the drama that will unfold—what might the first round look like?
When 20% of the top 20 players taken in a given draft make the Pro Bowl in their first year, it’s hard to look back and point out many regrets for teams. This could end up being a foundational class for a lot of moribund franchises, but we’re always exploring how things could have gone a little differently. Imagine a world where coaches and general managers know how their 2018 season went, but can go back and alter their draft picks—the NFL’s equivalent of an astral projection.
Here, with perfect 20-20 hindsight, is a re-draft of the first round of the 2018 draft (Andy Benoit’s grades of the actual 2018 first round can be found here). All comments and suggestions can be directed toward noted draft guru and resident futurist Gary Gramling at @GGramling_SI.
1. Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
(ACTUAL PICK: MAYFIELD)
This pick is still a no-brainer. Cleveland took a bold swing at the top of a class loaded with traditional pocket passers, and it paid off—Mayfield has shown the most promise by a rookie quarterback in rebooted franchise history.
2. Giants: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
(ACTUAL PICK: RB SAQUON BARKLEY)
No, this is not Dave Gettleman’s mock draft. The weird part about this pick is that a year ago, the Giants took the best rookie in the class—a pick that makes sense if you believe that your quarterback has as much left in his career as, say, Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger. Maybe Eli Manning had some historically bad offensive lines last season, and maybe we’ll all look foolish this year. But I’m curious if, knowing how the last season worked out, and how the Odell Beckham Jr. relationship would bottom out, and the scramble it took to patch up the roster in free agency for one last push, it wouldn’t have been easier to have Darnold a year ago and find a running back in 2019. Again, that’s if you were given this insane power to redo this draft knowing everything that would happen.
3. Jets: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
(ACTUAL PICK: DARNOLD)
Hear me out: You’re Todd Bowles, Sam Darnold is off the board, you have a platoon of capable running backs, a coaching staff who likes to run the football and a good defense. Installing something similar to what the Ravens did for Jackson a year ago would have made this team fascinating. Three of the Jets’ four wins this past season came when they put up 100 or more yards on the ground. And… it’s not all about the running game with Jackson. He’s a big-game quarterback who got better every week last year. He can create moments with his arm that other players in the league simply can’t.
4. Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
(ACTUAL PICK: CB DENZEL WARD)
Realize that taking Barkley here costs the Browns one of the best cover corners in football—arguably the best corner in the draft this year—in Ward, but a Barkley and Mayfield pairing is too good to pass up here. Obviously, John Dorsey had his eye on the running back position as evidenced by the actual Nick Chubb pick in the second. This is a tempting upgrade.
5. Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
(ACTUAL PICK: DE BRADLEY CHUBB)
Knowing the long slog with Case Keenum under center and the quick dumping of Vance Joseph ahead, does Elway pass on a big-armed quarterback a second time? Allen certainly showed promise in Buffalo during his first season but has a long way to go (and needs more help up front). Would the Broncos rather be going into this season with Joe Flacco, or a raw but talented quarterback who theoretically got to sit for a few games the year before?
6. Colts: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
(ACTUAL PICK: G QUENTON NELSON)
The Colts did just fine with their original pick as well, and Nelson is one of the best guards in football already. That being said, Ward would have been hard to pass up at six given Indianapolis’s current slate of corners led by Kenny Moore.
7. Buccaneers: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
(ACTUAL PICK: BILLS TRADED UP, DRAFTED QB JOSH ALLEN)
The Bills decide to not trade here with their guy off the board, and instead beat the 2019 Dolphins to the bottom with a quick tank. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay takes the opportunity to snag a linebacker that secures the middle of their defense for the next 10 years.
8. Bears: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
(ACTUAL PICK: LB ROQUAN SMITH)
The Bears are doing backflips in their facility with this pick. The most pro-ready offensive lineman in five years tumbles to them, giving them a decade of Pro Bowls to pair with Kyle Long. Also, Dwayne Johnson is president.
9. 49ers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
(ACTUAL PICK: MCGLINCHEY)
This pick still makes sense here. McGlinchey is another increasingly rare rookie from a translatable offense who can handle the rigors of the position early—one could argue that he had a top-five season at the position.
10. Raiders: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, NC State
(ACTUAL PICK: CARDINALS TRADED UP, DRAFTED QB JOSH ROSEN)
Hey look, a pass rusher! Now Oakland doesn’t have to spend a ton of the draft capital they earned for Khalil Mack on trying to replace … Khalil Mack. Chubb had a promising rookie year and gets them part of the way there.
11. Dolphins: Derwin James, S, Florida State
(ACTUAL PICK: S MINKAH FITZPATRICK)
James continues a great stretch of NFL-ready safeties, following in the footsteps of Jamal Adams in New York. Dolphins need a lot of help but stick to the safety position here.
12. Bills: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
(ACTUAL PICK: BUCCANEERS TRADED DOWN, DRAFTED DT VITA VEA)
Buffalo basically decides to reverse course, and set the table for the quarterback first, instead of drafting their future and building the roster around him. Moore’s rookie season—55 catches, 788 yards and two touchdowns—is better than the stats show, and he’s a breath of fresh air amid a receiving corps led by Zay Jones and Kelvin Benjamin.
13. Washington: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
(ACTUAL PICK: DT DA’RON PAYNE)
A massively productive first season gives Washington a boost at a time when their receiving corps consist of: Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder in a contract year, Paul Richardson and Brian Quick. Regardless of who was playing quarterback, a WR2 showing promise is welcome in that offense.
14. Packers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
(ACTUAL PICK: SAINTS TRADED UP, DRAFTED DE MARCUS DAVENPORT)
Again, this isn’t a reflection of Smith having a bad rookie season—he was great. While it’s not precisely the haunting edge defender Mike Pettine’s defense needed, Smith can play in any system and cover almost anyone. He’s valuable anywhere.
15. Cardinals: Jaire Alexander, DB, Louisville
(ACTUAL PICK: RAIDERS TRADED DOWN, DRAFTED OT KOLTON MILLER)
Armed with the space-age knowledge that their one-year partnership with Steve Wilks would sink them to the bottom of the NFL in a prime spot for a QB anyway, Arizona tries to bolster their secondary and take a little stress off Patrick Peterson.
16. Jaguars (*TRADE* with Ravens): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
(ACTUAL PICK: BILLS DRAFTED LB TREMAINE EDMUNDS)
The in-house competition for Blake Bortles gives Jacksonville the chance to keep 2018 from going off the rails. It also gives Rosen a place to learn with a good offensive line and a dominant run game.
17. Chargers: Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina
(ACTUAL PICK: S DERWIN JAMES)
Gus Bradley goes from one phenomenal talent (James) to another (Leonard). Leonard’s first NFL season produced two picks, eight passes defensed, four forced fumbles, 12 tackles for loss, eight QB hits, seven sacks and 163 total tackles.
18. Seahawks: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
(ACTUAL PICK: PACKERS TRADED UP, DRAFTED ALEXANDER)
His first season was good—not great—but I think most of us are in agreement that the ceiling is tremendously high. Seattle loves to run the football, and Hernandez is their best long-term bet here.
19. Cowboys: Marcus Davenport, DE, University of Texas-San Antonio
(ACTUAL PICK: VANDER ESCH)
Jerry Jones takes another shot at making his pass rush devious. Davenport had a solid rookie season, racking up 4.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, six tackles for loss, and he was one of Pro Football Focus’ best run defenders off the edge.
20. Lions: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
(ACTUAL PICK: C FRANK RAGNOW)
Thought about putting Da’Shawn Hand, the Lions’ fourth-round pick, here. I think if teams knew how well he’d translate, they’d snag him at the top of the draft (playing next to Damon Harrison helps).
21. Bengals: Braden Smith, G, Auburn
(ACTUAL PICK: C BILLY PRICE)
Both players are upgrades on an offensive line that struggles.
22. Bills: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
(ACTUAL PICK: BUFFALO TRADED TO BALTIMORE WHO TRADED TO TENNESSEE WHO DRAFTED LB RASHAAN EVANS)
This was not one bit a reflection of Vea’s season a year ago, when he racked up four QB hits, three sacks and four tackles for loss over eight starts. He would fit in perfectly with Buffalo’s rugged defensive front.
23. Patriots: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
(ACTUAL PICK: OT ISAIAH WYNN)
With the rest of the league clued in to how he can wreck a game, New England has to make their move at running back a little earlier.
24. Panthers: Daron Payne, DT, Alabama
(ACTUAL PICK: WR D.J. MOORE)
The Panthers would be doing backflips if he was available this late in the draft, but this version of the future is weird, and sometimes good things happen. Another score for a team that always seems to find themselves at a position of strength on the defensive line.
25. Giants (*TRADE* with Titans): Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
(ACTUAL PICK: RAVENS DRAFTED TE HAYDEN HURST)
Dave Gettleman’s parallel universe has now been calibrated. A running back with star potential, nabbed before the Le’Veon Bell-less Steelers, and soon-to-be Tevin Coleman-less Falcons get on the clock.
26. Falcons: James Daniels, C, Iowa
(ACTUAL PICK: WR CALVIN RIDLEY)
The Bears moved him to guard and had success. The Falcons could do the same and bolster the unit around Alex Mack and Jake Matthews.
27. Saints: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
(ACTUAL PICK: SEAHAWKS TRADED DOWN WITH SAINTS, DRAFTED RB RASHAAD PENNY)
What do you get the team that (almost) had everything a year ago? New Orleans’ late-season flirtation with Dez Bryant suggested the desire for just one more weapon to make this passing game truly insane. This helps.
28. Steelers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
(ACTUAL PICK: S TERRELL EDMUNDS)
Athletic enough to fit somewhere inside for the Steelers? While his first season was, as one Bills writer put it, “topsy-turvy” a year ago, a good linebacker, inside or outside, is hard to pass up.
29. Ravens (*TRADE with Jaguars*): Terrell Edmunds, S, Virginia Tech
(ACTUAL PICK: JAGUARS DRAFTED DT TAVEN BRYAN)
Just because everyone was interested in preserving the fun footnote of 2018, where, for the first time a pair of brothers were taken in the first round. We’ll do you one better, and have them go back-to-back. Edmunds can play situationally behind Eric Weddle and fill the void when he moves on the following year.
30. Vikings: Mike Hughes, DB, UCF
(ACTUAL PICK: HUGHES)
Another player who didn’t get a shot to prove whether he’d rise or fall. Hughes was lost for the season after just six games, in which he had one pick and three pass breakups. Corners were in short supply in the early rounds.
31. Patriots: Isaiah Wynn, T, Georgia
(ACTUAL PICK: MICHEL)
I think the fact that he was promising enough in camp for New England to let Trenton Brown go without a fight (it would be very un-Patriot like to make Brown the highest paid tackle in the NFL), earns him a chance to stay in the first round despite the season-ending injury.
32. Eagles: Phillip Lindsay, RB, Colorado
(ACTUAL PICK: RAVENS TRADED UP, DRAFTED QB LAMAR JACKSON)
Yeah, I know, I know. The Eagles don’t take running backs in the first round. This guy is special, though, and saves them some trouble down the line shifting backups and assets around just to get by.
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