2018 NFL Draft First Round Rookie Recap

The NFL’s regular season slate ended yesterday, which means that it is officially one year in the books for the rookie class of 2018. This means it is prime time to review how the year’s NFL Draft first round picks delivered on their respective draft day anticipation in year one. It is always a big gamble on any player that goes on night one, but the early returns for the class of 2018 have seen that faith is rewarded in more places than not.

All in all, it was a very good year for first round rookie impact across the NFL. Several of the five first round quarterbacks lived up to their billing, with Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson instantly becoming two of the must-see performers in the game already. Saquon Barkley emerged as a genuine sensation, while Derwin James, Leighton Vander Esch, Bradley Chubb and Denzel Ward look to be long-time Pro Bowlers in the making.

While one year is far too small of a sample size to decide upon the impact of any sophomore-to-be, it is a fair time to take stock on both their year one impact and subsequent projectability moving forward.

With that, here is a look at the NFL Draft class of 2018, one year in progress.

1. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB

Although he did not start the season under center, Mayfield transformed the woeful Browns instantly once he was handed the reigns in week three. Mayfield threw for a rookie-record 27 touchdowns and led the Browns to as many wins as they had previously totaled in the three years before he arrived. Grade: A+

2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB

The Giants leap at the chance to bring Barkley’s talents to the Big Apple, turning a shoulder on needs of drafting a quarterback of the future. And he did not disappoint, totaling over 2,000 yards from scrimmage on the year. Only Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James had accomplished that as rookies. Grade A+

3. New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB

Darnold had an up-and-down rookie campaign, struggling with a revolving cast surrounding him, injuries and some troubles along the learning curve. However, Darnold did nothing to shake any of the confidence in him being the right choice to lead a turnaround effort for the Jets, posting a pair of 300 yard and three touchdown games, respectively. Grade: B

4. Cleveland Browns: Denzel Ward, CB

While the Browns’ defense continues to be a work in progress, Ward has without a doubt solidified himself as a franchise cornerback. Graded as Pro Football Focus’ #13 overall ranked cornerback, Ward notched three interceptions and 11 passes deflected in route to a Pro Bowl selection. Grade: A+

5. Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, OLB

Chubb immediately proved to be as advertised as natural terror as a pass rusher, providing yet another fearsome blitz presence opposite of Von Miller. Chubb ran up 12 sacks as a rookie and profiles to be among the front-runners for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He figures to be among the elite pass rushers in the league as soon as next fall. Grade: A

6. Indianapolis Colts: Quinton Nelson, G

Nelson played a major part in the startling reversal of fortunes for the Colts’ offensive line. After surrendering 56 sacks a year ago, they lowered that number by nearly 40 in 2018, while also opening far more substantial holes for the running game. The powerful Nelson played a huge part in this for Indy, as he prevented pass rushers from having intimate chats with his quarterback and opening up lanes in the run game. Andrew Luck is probably giving us the "aw shucks" because we didn't give Nelson an A+. Grade: A-

7. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, QB

After avoiding putting him in the mix early on, Allen eventually became the centerpiece of the misfit Buffalo offense. Although he has some development ahead as a passer, Allen showed a knack for extending plays and had the second-most games with a passing and rushing score on the season with four. Grade: B-

8. Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith, ILB

The Bears swarming overall defense was one of the most dangerous units in the league and Smith certainly played his part. While still having some developing to do, Smith’s upside is clear and has already shown tremendous playmaking potential. Grade: B

9. San Francisco Giants: Mike McGlinchey, OT

McGlinchey was an investment designed to help right side of the line immediately, but to really be designated as the heir apparent to Joe Staley eventually. He ended the year as the highest graded offensive lineman on PFF. McGlinchey should certainly be deemed a success in bolstering both the run and pass game for a Niners offense that was often in flux.  Grade: B+

10. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen, QB

Rosen was more down than up most of the year amid a mess of a roster in Phoenix. Offensive line upgrades would certainly help to give a fair assessment of his ability, but he’ll need to be better himself as well. He rarely had success downfield and posted just two multi-touchdown games in 14 starts, while averaging an interception per week and just 55% of completions. Grade: D

11. Miami Dolphins: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB

Fitzpatrick was the top safety selected, with hopes of providing a much need playmaker to the Miami secondary. With one year in the books, the jury is still out on whether he becomes that guy for the Fins. While he totaled 80 tackles, he did little in the way upgrading a Dolphins secondary that finished 22nd completion percentage allowed and 21st in yards per game. Grade: C

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vita Vea, DT

Vea showed an impressive ability to learn on the fly in his rookie year. It helped him overcome a start of looking overmatched against the run to flashing tremendous upside as the year carried on. With a year’s experience under his belt, Vea could be one of the top nose tackles in the league sooner than later if he continues to follow his current trajectory. Grade: B-

13. Washington Redskins: Da’Ron Payne, DT

The Redskins should be nothing but pleased with the first-year returns from the former Alabama big man. He contributed five sacks on the year and over 50 tackles for a Washington defensive line that has continued to win via the draft in recent years. Grade: B

14. New Orleans Saints: Marcus Davenport, DE

The Saints utilized the athletic gifts of Davenport as an edge rushing specialist primarily, a role he thrived in. Davenport contributed 4.5 sacks on the year, as his usage gradually increased. While the hopes going forward will be that he can develop into more every down threat, for 2018 he made an immediate impact for the NFC’s top team. Grade: B

15. Oakland Raiders: Kolton Miller, OT

Despite facing injuries as a regular hurdle, Miller’s play was not particularly inspiring at any point. He showed struggles in standing up in the pass game, being beaten regularly by edge rushers who simply outmaneuvered him in crashing the pocket. The hope of a reset in year two is the best-case scenario. Grade: D

16. Buffalo Bills: Tremaine Edmunds, ILB

Edmunds played the part of the athletically gifted, but technically unsound talent for much of the year. He flashed athletic talent in coverage –and grabbed an interception in Week 17— but missed far too many tackles to be consistently leaned upon on a regular basis. Grade: D+

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James, S

James made himself into the steal of the first round, posting a season that could make him Defensive Rookie of the Year. A gifted playmaker in the secondary, he helped raise the Chargers’ defense to elite levels on the year, setting a rookie-record for pressures in the process. He contributed on every level possible, topping 100 total tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. Grade: A+

18. Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, CB

Although he turned in only one interception on the year, the skills are very clear with Alexander. He could slot in as a dependable corner for years on the outside, with the upside of making a few Pro Bowls as well. The skills are there, now the production needs to follow. Grade: B-

19. Dallas Cowboys: Leighton Vander Esch, OLB

Vander Esch spent much of his rookie year looking like a healthy Sean Lee clone, which is pretty damn good to say the least. He has a natural understanding of where to be on the field, which immediately made a massive difference in turning around the Cowboys’ season on defense. He finished the year inside the top three linebackers on PFF with 140 tackles to his credit. Grade: A+

20. Detroit Lions: Frank Ragnow, G

It was not a thrilling start to the career of Ragnow, he struggled early on get up to speed in lining up at guard as opposed to center. Perhaps the shift will come easier with a year of experience under his belt. Grade: C-

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Billy Price, C

A mulligan could be given to Price, who was haunted by a torn pec injury from the Combine that reoccurred once the season started. But he was never able to get his feet set into the role of moving towards becoming an anchor for the woeful Bengals line. Grade: D

22. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, ILB

After putting some early injuries aside, Evans found his way late. He became one of the Titans most active tacklers throughout the season’s final month and has set himself up to be an important part of Mike Vrabel’s defense in 2019…. health willing of course. Grade: C+

23. New England Patriots: Isaiah Wynn, OT

The big tackle out of Georgia missed the entire season after tearing his Achilles in the preseason. He will however be tossed back into the fray immediately upon return – and likely at left tackle. Grade: F

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

The Panthers have long needed a dynamic pass catching threat that can stretch the field, and Moore looks ready to play the part. He made 55 catches for 788 yards, topping 90 yards in three different contests. Grade: B

25. Baltimore Ravens: Hayden Hurst, TE

Hurst spent much of the year lost in the mix of Ravens tight ends, grabbing only 13 catches on the year. Although he did get into the mix more towards the end of the year, there’s not much from his rookie performance that indicates he’ll be any more prominently featured in year two. Grade: D-

26. Atlanta Falcons: Calvin Ridley, WR

The Falcons again went to the Alabama receiving well and came up with gold. Ridley has already emerged as one of the league’s most dangerous deep threats, with three of his 10 touchdown catches being 50 yards or longer. Grade: B+

27. Seattle Seahawks: Rashaad Penny, RB

Amid a crowded Seahawks backfield, Penny was unable to distinguish himself for much of the year. Despite averaging 4.9 yards per carry and topping 100 yards on 12 carries in Week 12 against the Rams, he only topped 50 yards in one other game. Grade: C+

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Terrell Edmunds, S

Edmunds started in 15 of 16 games and instantly became one of the most active tacklers on the Steelers defense. His 78 tackles were second-most of all Pittsburgh defenders and he looks to have instantly become a long-time fixture in Pittsburgh. Grade: B

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Taven Bryan, DT

Bryan contributed little towards the Jaguars effort in 2018, as they digressed across the board on defense. He struggled to make his presence felt and contributed only one sack and 20 total tackles. Grade: F

30. Minnesota Vikings: Mike Hughes, CB

Hughes’ rookie year was dashed when he tore his ACL after just six games. But when he was able to suit up, he made an impact, picking up an interception, a forced fumble and a recovery. Grade: C+

31. New England Patriots: Sony Michel, RB

Michel was able to distinguish himself amid regularly shifting Patriots backfield, running for 931 yards and six scores. This included four 100 yard games and only one fumble in 209 carries over 13 games. Grade: B+

32. Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson, QB

The Ravens were 4-5 when Jackson took over as starter and finished the season as AFC North champions, with Jackson going 6-1 as starter. While he still has some development ahead as a passer, Jackson is already undeniably one of the most exciting playmakers in the league. Jackson posted 1,201 yards through the air and rushed for another 695, with 11 total touchdowns. Grade: A-

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