NFL Draft 2018: Round 1 Grades for Every Pick

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterApril 26, 2018

NFL Draft 2018: Round 1 Grades for Every Pick

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    For a team that drafts well, the future doesn't have to be five years away. It could practically be the day after tomorrow.

    Two years ago, the Rams and Eagles used the first two picks in the NFL draft on Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, a pair of talented-but-flawed quarterbacks not too different from Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and the others at the top of this year's class. Now the Rams have erased years of 7-9 punchlines to become one of the most dynamic, dangerous teams in the NFL. The Eagles? Well, they're just the reigning world champions.

    The Browns and Jets could be a few smart decisions away from changing the course of history. The Giants and Broncos may be one or two shrewd moves from a quick return to the top. Every team had a chance to write Chapter 1 of their Super Bowl success story Thursday.

    Pick-by-pick analysis of the 2018 draft's first round is here. Take a look at the grades and check back tomorrow for Day 2.

1. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

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    Deadly Accurate Quarterback Comparison: Healthy Jim McMahon, Evil Mirror Universe Drew Brees.

    The following people think Baker Mayfield is just another Johnny Manziel:

    ·         Your bartender.

    ·         That guy on Facebook you don't remember friending.

    ·         Your brother-in-law (the one who bought a Nathan Peterman Bills jersey last October).

    ·         Several regional NFL columnists (generally older ones trying too hard to sound edgy).

    The following people see no meaningful similarity between Mayfield and Manziel:

    ·         Baker Mayfield.

    ·         Johnny Manziel.

    ·         Anyone involved in the NFL who I have ever spoken to.

    ·         Anyone who watches film carefully.

    ·         Anyone who rejects lazy false equivalencies.

    Browns fans can be forgiven for having some Manziel-related anxiety. But Mayfield is not that guy. He has an arrest for public intoxication on his record along with a history of on-field obnoxiousness, but a few isolated incidents only form a narrative, not evidence of a real problem. On the field, Mayfield possesses one of the best NCAA stat lines ever, a Heisman Trophy and gorgeous game film that shows him smoothly operating an offense, as opposed to generating playground highlights like Manziel.

    Instead of worrying about Mayfield being Manziel, Browns fans should consider Mayfield the quarterback they thought they were getting in Manziel.

    Now it's up to general manager John Dorsey, head coach Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Mayfield to coexist and thrive, even though MMQB's Robert Klemko and others speculated that the Browns GM didn't trust Jackson with the knowledge that he was drafting Mayfield until the last minute. That suggests Jackson may not be 100 percent on board with the selection, which could lead to all sorts of Game of Thrones madness in the weeks to come.

    That's something to worry about later. But a little edginess might actually help Mayfield if the Browns once again lapse into soap opera mode.

    Grade: B    

2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

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    This is the best running back class in years! To help keep things straight and minimize the jargon, Bleacher Report proudly presents our first installment of our Field Guide to the 2018 Running Backs!

    Athleticism: Outstanding. Like, Avengers-franchise worthy.

    Every-down rushing: Very good, though with a tendency to rely too much on the highlight stick when he cannot find running room.

    Open-field rushing: Excellent, because of all the combo moves on said highlight stick.

    Receiving value: Excellent. Saquon Barkley has soft hands and is deadly on wheel routes.

    Pass protection: Not terrible, though Barkley often doesn’t pick up the right blitzer until it’s too late.

    Contrary opinion from a “source” having an anxiety attack: Barkley is secretly Trent Richardson 2.0. He lacks vision and will become tentative after a few 21-44-1 stat lines (those were his numbers against Ohio State last year) at the NFL level. This is a one-way ticket to Bust City; population: overdrafted running backs!

    Bottom line: Barkley will make the Giants better immediately, take pressure off Eli Manning and help the work-in-progress offensive line find itself. But while Barkley is more of a Todd Gurley than a Richardson, it’s important to note that Pat Shurmur coached Richardson to a grinding 3.6-yard-per-carry season in 2012, and that Gurley proved in 2016 that even a great running back can only do so much when the system around him goes kablooey. If Manning’s play continues to slip, the line doesn’t jell or the defense doesn’t rebound quickly, the Giants will wish they went in a different direction with this pick.

    The Giants could have addressed harder-to-fill needs here. It’s hard to quibble with the selection of a player as good (and exciting) as Barkley. But quibbling is what draft grades are all about.

    Grade: B-minus

3. New York Jets (via Indianapolis): Sam Darnold, QB, USC

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Deadly Accurate Quarterback Projection: Less exciting Matt Ryan.

    Oh look, Sam Darnold wasn’t selected first overall. That’s mildly surprising, because Darnold is the cleanest quarterback prospect on the draft board, if not the best quarterback at any one thing.

    Darnold is not a hyper-talented long-range project like Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson. He lacks the edgy Josh Rosen-Baker Mayfield personality traits that could rattle around like the bottlecap in the garbage disposal when coaches find themselves on the hot seat. Darnold is the luxury sedan of quarterback prospects: The commercials claim you will “stand out from the crowd” by selecting him, but you’ll have a hard time picking him out from the others in the supermarket parking lot.

    Luxury sedans are wonderful, of course, especially if you have been driving old 1980s hatchbacks for years. Darnold checks all the boxes as a quarterback of the future, and there is nothing coaches, scouts and execs like more than checking all of their little boxes. Darnold should grow into a very good quarterback and could become a great one, but there is nothing about him that will get an NFL decision-maker fired for this selection, which is the best attribute any NFL prospect can enter the draft with.

    The Jets played the predraft market incredibly well in the offseason. (There’s a sentence I never thought I would type.) They traded second-round picks to leapfrog over the Broncos and the Browns’ potential trading partners for the fourth pick, then gambled correctly that the chips would fall a certain way with the first two selections. A new Jets era that should have begun three years ago is finally beginning. There’s much more work to be done, but at least the team finally acquired the piece it should have started with.

    Grade: A

4. Cleveland Browns (via Houston): Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Strengths: Man coverage skills, tackling/toughness for his size.

    Weaknesses: Size.

    Denzel Ward is very similar to Broncos cornerback Chris Harris. He is a little undersized but makes up for it with a physical style. Ward is best in man coverage but has good eyes in zone and reacts quickly to pattern combinations.

    Ward played outside in college but projects as a starter who will slide to the slot or move around to avoid 6’4” receivers in the NFL. He’s not suited to cover Julio Jones, but no cornerback in this class has a better chance of covering Antonio Brown.

    Stat Fact: Ward allowed a completion rate of just 32.8 percent on passes to his receivers in 2017, according to Sports Info Solutions.

    Whenever the Browns pick for the rest of the first three rounds, we’ll turn to our Hot Take Team of conflicting Browns experts for instant analysis. Take it away, guys:

    OLD SKOOL FOOTBALL GUY: You can’t argue with this pick, can you, Math Geek? It fills a need at an important position. And defense wins championships.

    MONEYBALL EXTREMIST: We prefer that you not use the phrase “defense wins championships.” It’s a microaggression against those who respect the fact that defense is important but don’t believe it exclusively wins championships. Also, the politically correct term is not “Math Geek,” but either “Sabermetrician” or “Dungeon Master.”

    OLD SKOOL: Just tell the people whether you like the pick or not, Nerdlinger.

    MONEYBALL: Yeah, it rocks. But it feels like a little reach here, with so much top-tier talent on the board.

    Grade: A-minus

5. Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, NC State

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    Strengths: Athleticism, variety of moves, hand usage.

    Weaknesses: Minor mid-game stamina and run defense concerns.

    Bradley Chubb has about a 97 percent chance of becoming a dangerous, productive NFL edge-rusher, barring major injury or the sweet release of a meteor collision/alien invasion. But what about those other three percentage points?

    • Towel snatching could become a big controversy that swallows his career, with the same angry sports-talk ranters who hate dabbing acting like Chubb sold expired milk to orphanages when he dares besmirch the dignity of AJ McCarron, the commissioner getting his ascot in a rumple about it, and so on. Then again, Aqib Talib is making out OK. (1 percent chance of failure.)
    • The analytics could strike Chubb, whose Football Outsiders SackSEER projection is below the Von Miller/Myles Garrett types and among late bloomers like Dion Jordan and Dante Fowler. On the other hand, Joey Bosa was down among those guys too. (1 percent chance of failure.)
    • Chubb could turn out to be a product of the great Wolfpack defensive line which also featured B.J. Hill, Justin Jones, Kentavius Street and junior Darian Roseboro. That's a little like saying Earl Thomas is a product of the Legion of Boom. Watch the tape: Chubb is much more likely to work through a double-team to apply pressure than to be forgotten about because the opponent is worried about his teammates. (1 percent chance of failure.)

    The only real "concern" with Chubb is his potential to be a boom-and-bust sack specialist who will mix three-sack games with long disappearances, because he is not a great run defender and can wear down when he gets stymied for a few series. The Broncos will take the three-sack games to the bank and worry about the rest later; Chubb and Miller are going to be a terrifying combination.

    The only problem with this pick is pretty obvious: The Broncos still need an entire offense, and some incredible offensive weapons are on the board. So let's balance an A-plus player with some D-minus planning in the grade.

    Grade: C 

6. Indianapolis Colts (via New York Jets): Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Strengths: Raw power, run blocking, pass protection, attitude/tenaciousness.

    Weaknesses: Er, his arms are a little short, maybe?

    Guard has arguably the least valuable position on the field since the NFL became a pass-oriented league in 1978. But that may be changing, as Quenton Nelson himself noted at the combine.

    "You have guys that are dominating the NFL right now in Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, that have just been working on interior guys, and you need guys to stop them," Nelson said. "You talk to quarterbacks, and they say if a D-end gets on the edge, that's fine, they can step up in the pocket and they can throw. That's what I give: a pocket to step up in. And I think I also help the offense establish the run through my nastiness, and establishing the run also opens up the passing game."

    The closest comparison to Nelson is not Zach Martin or Larry Allen, or even legendary Patriots guard John "Hog" Hannah. It's Juggernaut, the Marvel Comics character who is as strong as the Hulk but less random. Like Juggernaut, nothing stops Nelson, so he can obliterate anything in his path when run-blocking. And yes, Andrew Luck will be able to step up in the pocket, knowing there's a nigh-invulnerable force of nature protecting him. (We're assuming Luck will someday throw a real football again, because assuming anything else leads almost immediately to gibbering madness.)

    Juggernaut's only real weaknesses is telepathy; Professor X is his stepbrother, you see, and(50,000 words of comic-book continuity deleted. You can thank us later. –Eds). Nelson's only real weakness is a perception that his position lacks value. But he's an instant upgrade for the Colts line, making this a great pick.

    Grade: A   

7. Buffalo Bills (via Tampa Bay): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Deadly Accurate (LOL) Quarterback Comparison: Donovan McJakelocker.

    Bleacher Report proudly presents Every Josh Allen Argument Ever, a one-act play.

    VOICE OF REASON: Josh Allen has real accuracy issues.

    DRAFTNIK GONE UTTERLY INSANE: You are just saying that because of his 56.2 percent completion rate. That’s just a stat. Stats are for losers. You’re a loser. NERRRRD.

    REASON: Allen’s completion rate is terrible. But I also watched his game film. He misses receivers by a mile, on both long and short throws.

    DRAFTNIK: You don’t know what you are looking at. You didn’t take into account how bad his receivers were. You don’t appreciate football on as many levels as I do.

    REASON: Yes, he suffered from some dropped passes and misjudged balls in the air. But his accuracy was poor in 2016, when he had a better supporting cast. And Wyoming doesn’t face many great defenses, either. He only completed 50 percent of his passes against winning teams last year, with four touchdowns and five interceptions.

    DRAFTNIK: But his arm is amazing! And he is a high-character guy! All the NFL insiders love him! Who are you to question NFL insiders, stat boy?

    REASON: NFL insiders consistently and reliably overrate tall, strong-armed, plus-character quarterbacks, because NFL insiders think they can fix everything else. Allen may be the perfect example of the type of quarterback who is always drafted too high.

    DRAFTNIK: Look! I made a GIF of one of Allen’s bombs. Here’s another! And this pass is incomplete, but only because his receiver wasn’t fast enough to catch up to his rocket arm. I’m starting a 283-tweet thread of GIFs that will prove Allen is Brett Favre.

    REASON: Allen has the tools to improve if he spends a year getting some top-notch quarterback coaching, like Patrick Mahomes did. And maybe he becomes a Donovan McNabb type who completes enough 60-yard bombs to make you forget that he misses five-yard passes by 10 yards. But it takes a ton of effort to explain away all of the bad throws on Allen’s tape and stat sheet. Tools should yield results, especially at the mid-major level. When they don’t, it’s wise to admit there’s an extreme level of risk associated with that quarterback instead of making excuses and rationalizations and going gaga over his arm.

    DRAFTNIK: Oh, so you hate this pick, then. Here comes the hot take from someone who will say anything for clicks.

    REASON: The Bills have a weak supporting cast: a thin receiving corps, an offensive line in transition because of retirements. They have a quarterback-of-the-present, AJ McCarron, who is a short-term solution at best. And they just traded some of the draft capital they need to improve to acquire Allen. And offensive coordinator Brian Daboll doesn’t have a track record of accomplishing much of anything. The bust potential with this selection is frighteningly high. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have just defined their era, for better or worse.

    Grade: C-minus

8. Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

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    Strengths: Everything associated with being an in-space linebacker.

    Weaknesses: He’s an in-space linebacker.

    The Bears draft a linebacker, and suddenly all feels right in the world.

    Roquan Smith wins this year’s Most Distracting Prospect Award, given to the player who upstages other players on their own tape cut-ups. Try to focus on some SEC offensive prospect so you can break his game down, and whammo! There’s Smith blitzing like a missile, or breaking up a pass in the middle of the field, or evading blockers and meeting the running back at the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-short. He steals the scene from the star every time he shows up. He’s like all of the characters except Black Panther in Black Panther.

    Smith is also one of the safest selections in this draft. Calling a selection "safe" is almost a backhanded compliment, because teams are supposed to be bold and daring and find players with a five percent chance of becoming Lawrence Taylor instead of just getting the experienced, productive, obvious choice. Smith is almost guaranteed to become a productive starter, probably as a rookie, and will probably develop into a perennial Pro Bowler.

    Of course, Smith plays a position where talent is plentiful and the difference between an All-Pro and a serviceable starter doesn’t have that much impact on the win-loss column. But overthinking the economics of the draft is a great way to leave gaping holes in the middle of your depth chart. Chicago just got a three-down linebacker with big-play capability who should be a high-level starter for the next decade. Look for Smith to soon start upstaging some of the guys drafted ahead of him on their own highlight reels. This is a fine selection for the sleeper team that no one is talking about.

    Grade: A     

9. San Francisco 49ers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Having hoisted the Lombardi Trophy last year, the 49ers…oh wait, that didn't happen.

    Having won 11 games and established themselves as…hmm, that didn't happen either.

    Wait, the 49ers still kinda stink? Wow. It turns out winning a trade with the Patriots isn't the same as winning a Super Bowl. The Jimmy Garoppolo hype last season overshadowed just how weak the roster around him still was and how much work the Niners must do in this draft. It starts with making sure Garoppolo has the protection he needs to achieve his preternatural potential.

    Now, this year's tackle class is…unspectacular. To help you get a sense of what you are in for, Bleacher Report proudly presents a Good, Bad and Terrifying breakdown of this year's tackles.

    Good: Mike McGlinchey is Matt Ryan's cousin. He has a winning, likable personality, like Jason Kelce without the "unhinged Batman villain" vibe. He's also a punishing run-blocker with fine technique who did a swell job cleaning up the devastation left in teammate Quenton Nelson's wake. And unlike tackles who played in wide-open offenses, he can line up in a three-point stance without looking like a middle-aged fat guy at his first yoga class.

    Bad: McGlinchey doesn't fit the left tackle prototype. Top edge-rushers are going to win against him.

    Terrifying: There is nothing terrifying about McGlinchey, which may make him the best tackle prospect in this class. He won't make unexpected mistakes, and coaches know he'll need help against Von Miller types.

    So the 49ers get a sturdy pass protector. It's not a bad pick. But there is still a ton of work to be done.

    Grade: B-plus   

10. Arizona Cardinals (via Oakland): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Deadly Accurate Quarterback Comparison: Millennial Jay Cutler, Joey Harrington.

    Josh Rosen’s biggest problem is that he is overprepared.

    The NFL’s sewing circle of like-minded insiders just doesn’t like Rosen. And they want all of us to know it. You couldn’t get a beer during the combine without a hostess asking, “Would you like to see our snack menu, and did you know that Josh Rosen’s teammates REALLY hate him?”

    The distaste self-proclaimed Real Football Guys have for Rosen was broadcast 24/7 this draft season on the Rumors and Scuttlebutt Network, with tales about politics, angry teammates and hot tubs deployed as proxy arguments for he’s just not our kind of guy.

    Rosen is an extremely qualified franchise quarterback prospect, physically and mentally, but he rubs the NFL hivemind the wrong way. The problem for Rosen and the Cardinals is that the hivemind is persistent and consistent, and it makes sure its prophecies are self-fulfilled. If the Real Football Guys decide some tall kid with good hair deserves 75 chances, the tall kid with good hair gets 75 chances. If someone else “doesn’t fit the culture,” he had better perform like Randy Moss right away.

    So Rosen must be undeniably successful as quickly as possible. Otherwise, he will be othered by the hivemind and find second chances hard to come by while less-gifted quarterbacks who act more like the eager young second lieutenants in old war movies get opportunities instead.

    That’s just how the NFL works, and challenging it makes you even more of an outsider.

    Arizona may be Rosen’s best landing spot: a quiet media market, an organization that doesn’t get sucked into histrionics, a new coach who won’t be on the hot seat anytime soon and a depth chart full of tall guys with good hair that will be easily climbed once Sam Bradford gets injured (Labor Day) and Mike Glennon generates his 15th turnover (Columbus Day). In three years, we may be wondering what other teams were thinking when they let Rosen fall to the Cardinals. Let’s hope so. Because the NFL hivemind could always use another kick in its complacency.

    Grade: A    

11. Miami Dolphins: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

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    Strengths: Blitzing, big-play capability, awareness, leadership.

    Weaknesses: Outside man coverage.

    Most modern NFL offensive tactics are designed to isolate and attack the nickelback.

    Teams place speedsters like Tyreek Hill and big, athletic Rob Gronkowski types in the slot specifically so they can create mismatches against the nickelback. They build formations and personnel groupings to purposely place the nickelback in a bind.

    The RPO is the NFL’s darling strategy right now—your know-it-all friends like to explain the play’s design; your know-even-more friends like to say that it’s all just play action with a fancy name—because the Eagles used run-pass options to win the Super Bowl. In its most basic form, the RPO attacks the nickelback by forcing him to guess run or pass and then does the opposite.

    Nickelback has been a starting position in the NFL for years and is one of the most critical positions on the field. But because teams use the same depth charts that they have mimeographed since the 1970s, nickelbacks are still thought of as role players or niche fillers. That outdated thinking even extends to the draft, where great nickel defenders like Minkah Fitzpatrick are still met with, Gosh, I’m just not sure if he is a safety or a cornerback.

    Fitzpatrick is the best nickelback prospect in NFL history. (Tyrann Mathieu had character concerns and was also used on offense, confusing his draft profile.) He’s exactly the defender teams need to counter the RPO and mix-and-match tactics in the slot, because his ability to attack the backfield will make offenses account for him, rather than vice-versa. He also has excellent play-recognition skills and the quickness to regroup after play-fakes. While no one human can cover both Tyreek and Gronk in the slot, Fitzpatrick has the size and speed to move outside or to deep safety so a quicker defender can slide to the nickel. Fitzpatrick never has to leave the field on defense.

    Fitzpatrick is a cross between the Honey Badger and Malcolm Jenkins. He’s the vanguard of a new type of defender that the NFL needs more of. He should have been drafted higher. The Dolphins, despite ostensibly being strong at “safety,”  will be happy he fell to them.

    That’s right: The Dolphins did something right. We’re as shocked as you are.

    Grade: A 

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (via Buffalo): Vita Vea, DL, Washington

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    Strengths: Massiveness, athleticism for someone who possesses such massiveness.

    Weaknesses: Leverage, pass-rush creativity.

    First of all: smart move by the Bucs to trade down. Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson and Bradley Chubb, the three players who could help them the most, were off the board. The Bucs got some later value by doing little more than letting the quarterback-starving cut in front of them.

    Vita Vea began his high school career as a 260-pound Wildcat quarterback. Think about that for a moment: a 260-pound high school freshman playing quarterback. If I was a parent in the bleachers and saw Vea running straight downhill into a group of 15-year-olds, I would pull my kid straight off the field and sign him up for the cross-country team.

    Vea remained a two-way player for his entire prep career, rushing for 578 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior and, as this video indicates, sidestepping almost as many would-be tacklers as he obliterated.

    Vea is an athletically rare human, both bigger and more nimble than even the typical top defensive tackle prospect. Bill Parcells' old Planet Theory dictates that you don't quibble about little details on the scouting report when a player like Vea comes along, because too few of them exist. So don't worry about the fact that Vea starts playing too upright when he's worn down from facing 40 straight double-teams, because the Bucs should provide him with more rest and more line support than the Huskies did, and NFL conditioning will also help keep him fresh.

    Maybe the Bucs can even let Vea play a little running back, like the good old days. Because heaven knows they need the help there, too.

    Grade: A    

13. Washington: Da'Ron Payne, DL, Alabama

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Strengths: Athleticism, preparedness, effort.

    Weaknesses: Pass-rush technique.

    Washington allowed 134.1 rushing yards per game last season, the worst total in the NFL. Teams crammed the ball down its gullet, particularly in the second half of the season. Injuries were part of the problem, but injuries were part of every problem in Washington: The whole roster needs to get deeper, not just healthier.

    Da’Ron Payne is a standard-issue Crimson Tide interior lineman, which is to say he’s awesome: a natural 310-pounder with surprising athleticism, a tenacious work ethic, proper leverage technique and a small-but-useful arsenal of pass-rush surprises. Payne is more likely to hurry or spill the quarterback from the pocket than to sack him, but he’ll be a high-impact run defender who can stay on the field and cause congestion on third downs.

    Payne is a fine player and a good fit, but it feels like Washington just sat tight here and let a bunch of higher-impact defenders get taken before this.

    Grade: B

14. New Orleans Saints (via Green Bay): Marcus Davenport, DL, UTSA

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Strengths: Athleticism, upside.

    Weaknesses: Technique, level-of-competition concerns.

    Bleacher Report profiled Marcus Davenport earlier in April. The short version: athletic marvel and late bloomer; obliterated blockers at the mid-major level; looked lost at the start of Senior Bowl practices but caused sacks and turnovers in the game; mild-mannered “Silent Storm” personality off the field.

    One thing to point out about Davenport’s level of competition is that UTSA plays in Conference USA, which may not be the conference it was 15 years ago, but it ain’t the Division VI East Prairie Nowhere Conference, either. The offensive linemen Davenport tossed around like bags of flour were FBS athletes. So the ramp-up to NFL competition won’t be as extreme as it’s made out to be, though he’s still fundamentally very raw.

    A good comp for Davenport is Ziggy Ansah, who was also insanely athletic but raw (and mellow of disposition) coming out of college.

    The Saints clearly think they are one player away from the Super Bowl. But is Davenport that player? New Orleans just gave up a first-round pick next year to get a project pass-rusher, albeit a good one. For a team counting on a 39-year-old quarterback to lead it to glory in a tight window, that’s a steep price for a player who may not pay immediate dividends.

    Grade: C

15. Oakland Raiders (via Arizona): Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Fuller House. The Roseanne reboot. The all-new X-Files. And now Gruden Trek: The Next Generation.

    Jon Gruden’s 2002 Super Bowl success was so long ago that we thought superhero movies were lame and CGI effects were awesome. The Simpsons were still relevant, and no one blinked at the show’s racial stereotypes. Most of us still used dial-up modems and watched low-def televisions; our cellphones still had buttons on the front of them and were not smart. Gruden was a wizard in the days when Jeff Fisher and Mike Martz were among his toughest rivals. It was a different era. And Gruden, with his Old Boy Network Dream Team coaching staff and analytics are for nerds rhetoric, is strangely eager to take us back to it.

    At least Gruden realized 35-year-old tackle Donald Penn is a little too old-school for even his old-school plan. And he was wise to trade down for some extra value instead of reaching too quickly for Miller.

    Because this year’s tackle class is…unspectacular, Bleacher Report proudly presents a Good, Bad and Terrifying breakdown of Miller:

    Good: Miller is tall, long-armed and quick. He has sound footwork, slides well in pass protection and can be a factor on the second level.

    Bad: Miller absorbs more contact from defenders than he dishes out. His technique is inconsistent, though inexperience at left tackle (he moved there in 2017) could be a factor.

    Terrifying: Prolonged exposure to Josh Rosen may have turned him into an uninspired clump of sod. That’s what I heard from the anonymous scout who earholed me during last call at The Royal Scam in Mobile, Alabama, anyway.

    Bottom Line: Miller is your typical toolsy left tackle prospect. The athleticism is there, but the tendency to get rocked by initial contact is worrying. The Raiders addressed a need, but they may not have gotten the type of throwback dude Gruden really craves.

    Grade: C 

16. Buffalo Bills (via Baltimore): Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Strengths: Athleticism, range, upside.

    Weaknesses: Instincts, pass coverage.

    If you tried to make an inside linebacker version of Jadeveon Clowney, you might end up with Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds is blessedly athletic, with a powerful base and arms that look like he borrowed them from a 6’7” power forward. He’s aggressive when attacking the ball or playing perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, and Edmunds has the potential to be a three-down defender who plays in space on early downs and rushes the edge on 3rd-and-long.

    But Edmunds loses track of receivers in coverage and gets caught staring into the backfield on play action, making him a frustrating player to watch in pass coverage, and he will sometimes overrun holes and cutback lanes in run defense. He’s raw, and he’ll be a liability if forced to play a major role right away.

    Edmunds doesn’t even turn 20 until May 2, making him one of the youngest players in draft history. Young prospects prompt conflicting opinions from NFL types:

    SCOUTING DEPARTMENT: He’s still growing! His upside is off the charts!

    COACHING STAFF: We aren’t running a developmental academy. He had better be able to help right away. All of us could be fired by the time this kid reaches his potential.

    FRONT OFFICE: We don’t pay first-round prices for long-range projects at any position but quarterback. If he needs two years to develop, let some other team develop him. Then we’ll sign him in free agency.

    So Edmunds could be a cross between Bobby Wagner and Justin Houston by 2020. Or he could hit the free-agent market before his 23rd birthday because the Bills didn’t deal well with his growing pains or he was lost in the shuffle.

    Sean McDermott loves him some linebackers, so Edmunds is in a good spot. But the Bills have so many needs on offense that selecting Edmunds—just minutes after investing the future in Josh Allen—is downright reckless.

    Grade: C 

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James, S, Florida State

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    Strengths: Explosiveness, range, playmaking ability.

    Weaknesses: Polish.

    The Chargers allowed 18 runs of 20-plus yards and six runs of 40-plus yards last season, both the highest totals in the NFL (the Jets also allowed six 40-plus-yard runs). Safety was a pressing need entering the draft, and Derwin James is an excellent value here.

    He has Kam Chancellor potential. He has tremendous open-field speed and range, reads plays quickly, attacks downhill with authority and hits hard enough to dislodge the ball. He excels in deep zone coverage but is tough enough for run defense and can be a weapon when blitzing off the edge.

    Most of James’ flaws are minor and technical: He takes some bad angles to the ball (and will miss tackles when he comes in at the wrong trajectory) and can get turned around in man coverage. Once they iron out the wrinkles, the Chargers should have a Pro Bowler.

    Grade: A

18. Green Bay Packers (via Seattle): Jaire Alexander, CB, Lousiville

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Strengths: Speed, instincts, return value.

    Weaknesses: Physicality.

    Meet the new Packers!

    Head coach Mike McCarthy and his Pamphlet O' Plays aren't new. There's a new offensive coordinator, but he's actually old offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.

    But Ted Thompson is no longer GM! Except…he's still involved in the organization, guarding the Jedi Texts on some island in Lake Michigan or something. And the front office is run by his disciples; the ones who didn't flee to Cleveland during the power struggle, anyway.

    Aaron Rodgers is still around, too, which is good news! Except he is getting a little impatient about earning some of that sweet, sweet Kirk Cousins cash. And he's still expected to take on the whole NFL with a laser sword, or something.

    Wow, the new Packers are a little like the new Star Wars films: mostly predictable but unpredictable in ways that don't necessarily make them better. Maybe this draft will chart a new course for the organization. Or maybe it's just gonna keep flying until Rodgers runs out of fuel.

    Case in point: The new Packers just traded up to fill a need. They ranked last in the NFL at covering No. 1 wide receivers in 2017, according to Football Outsiders. But they selected an undersized cornerback with some injury concerns.

    Jaire Alexander missed a chunk of last season with a sprained knee. Opponents wouldn't go near his receivers when he was available—he allowed just five completions, according to Sports Info Solutions—and he burned a 4.38-second 40 at the combine.

    Alexander was not nearly as effective in 2016, with six touchdowns allowed, most of them in the red zone. He's not a bump-and-run enforcer or mauling tackler. But mix speed, experience returning punts and good eyes in zone coverage, and the Packers are at least getting a player who can play several roles right away.

    Grade: B   

19. Dallas Cowboys: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Strengths: Size, athleticism, upside, instincts.

    Weaknesses: Experience.

    Leighton Vander Esch's parents painted his name, uniform number and some Boise State logos on the side of a full-sized transit bus and drove from Idaho to Las Vegas to see their son play in a bowl game last year.

    It was a fun way to demonstrate parental pride, but the color scheme was rather subdued. If one of my kids were playing in a bowl game, I'd paint him riding a unicorn and slaying frost giants with a vorpal sword while racing down the freeway. It would look like six different Rush album covers threw up on the side of that bus. Because I am that proud a parent.

    (Actually, my sons prefer it when I don't attend their athletic events and didn't even want to be mentioned in this write-up. Joke's on them.)


    Vander Esch combines many of the strengths—and a few of the minor weaknesses—of top linebacker prospects Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds. He's almost as athletic as Edmunds, and he is as effective at knifing through the line of scrimmage to make tackles or hurry throws as Smith. But Vander Esch was just a one-year starter at Boise State, and it shows when he is late to diagnose pass patterns, has a hard time disengaging from blockers or fails to protect his legs from cut blocks.

    Vander Esch is an old-fashioned inside linebacker with just enough range to stay on the field on third downs. But the Cowboys are so needy at so many other positions that this is a luxury selection. Jerry Jones, as he so often does, drafted a guy with a lot of buzz instead of drafting the player the Cowboys really need.

    At least the famous Cowboys bus and the Vander Esch bus can park side-by-side at team headquarters. Maybe they can even have bus races? The busses will be much quicker and faster than the Cowboys' current batch of wide receivers.

    Grade: C-minus

20. Detroit Lions: Frank Ragnow, OL, Arkansas

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    Danny Johnston/Associated Press

    Strengths: Size, power, experience.

    Weaknesses: Leverage, injury concerns.

    The Lions offensive line ranked last in the NFL in adjusted line yards, according to Football Outsiders. Their running back play was terrible, but often there was simply nowhere for them to run.

    Frank Ragnow missed much of the 2017 season with an ankle injury. He could not participate in the Senior Bowl and only lifted at the combine, but he was a full participant at Arkansas' pro day. Ragnow is a big mauler with pretty good balance and awareness. He adjusts to blitzes well, peels off to engage linebackers and finishes his blocks with hostility. Ragnow lets some defenders get low on him, negating his power, and may have trouble against quick, cagey interior defenders. But assuming his bill of health is clean, Ragnow is a likely starter and a potential steal.

    This is a solid pick, though with Harold Landry and others on the board (including a pair of centers who may be as good or better than Ragnow), it may not have been the Lions' best selection.

    Grade: B    

21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo): Billy Price, OL, Ohio State

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    Strengths: Experience, technique, size.

    Weaknesses: Elite athletic attributes.

    A center run? Why not?

    Three years ago, when the Bengals were building a dynasty they thought would lose first-round playoff games until the sun went supernova, they tried to address their long-range needs at tackle by selecting Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher with their first two picks. Alas, both players turned out to be reaches, but the Bengals not only ignored the warning signs while both players failed to develop, but the rest of their offensive line also deteriorated from neglect while they waited for the tackles to come around.

    It eventually got so bad that they were forced to trade a first-round pick they acquired from the Chiefs for Cordy Glenn and turned to the Giants—the Giants!—for help from Bobby Hart at right tackle. But the interior line remained a shell of its former self.

    Billy Price is everything an NFL team wants from a center. He started 55 consecutive games at center or guard for the Buckeyes, so he has both ideal experience and a clean health history. He’s a high-effort, high-intensity player who should excel at making adjustments and calls. He’s a solid run defender and capable pass protector, and he can get the job done on second-level blocks and when moving laterally on stretch runs.

    Price isn’t a Travis Frederick-level prospect, but teams rarely look for centers of that caliber unless they fall into their laps. Price is a safer selection than Frank Ragnow (selected with the last pick by the Lions), and he’ll provide a quick upgrade for a team looking to get back to the first round of the playoffs again.

    Grade: B-plus

22. Tennessee Titans (from Buff Via KC and Bal): Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Strengths: Size, athletic potential, fundamentals.

    Weaknesses: Experience.

    The Titans ranked dead last in the NFL at covering opposing running backs on passing plays, according to Football Outsiders. That’s not a stat you want to finish at the bottom of the league in when you are trying to overtake the Patriots. (You shouldn’t rank last in anything if you are serious about overtaking the Patriots, but you get the idea.) The Titans need help in the middle of their defense.

    Crimson Tide Defender Fatigue has set in for Alabama draft prospects. (You know it’s bad when Ozzie Newsome keeps trading down so other teams can draft Tide defenders instead of him!) A projected NFL starter like Rashaan Evans would get rave reviews if he came out of most other programs. But as an Alabama linebacker, he is: a) compared to C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower and the on-field Reuben Foster, and doesn’t always measure up to our memories of them; and b) downgraded for playing on a defense full of other top prospects, which means everyone benefits from everyone else’s presence but only the absolute top-tier players really stand out.

    Evans was stuck behind Foster until last year. He displayed all the usual Nick Saban linebacker traits when he finally reached the field, including fluidity, the ability to handle complex assignments and willingness to do the little things. But as a one-year starter on a superhero team, Evans didn’t have to flash his sideline-to-sideline range or big-play capability very often, and all of his little mistakes (he still gets flat-footed by play action and misdirection) get magnified because we expect the Tide defense to consist of 11 psychics.

    Evans is a notch below the Roquan Smith-level linebacker prospects in this year’s class, but he could easily develop to be as good as Mosley. Oh, there we go comparing Alabama defenders again. Excellence really can get wearying.

    Trading up for Evans feels like a little bit of a reach, but the Titans have plenty of young talent from past drafts that needs to be developed, so spending a little capital to get the player Mike Vrabel really wants won’t cripple them.

    Grade: B-plus

23. New England Patriots (via L.A. Rams): Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia

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    Strengths: Run blocking, athleticism, orneriness.

    Weaknesses: Height.

    (An excerpt from the upcoming book The Decline of Western Civilization: The Patriots Years, by Professor Otto T. Overreactor):

    "The Patriots were spiraling into chaos. They were outsmarted in the Super Bowl. Tom Brady was dropping hints about retirement. Rob Gronkowski's future was uncertain. Even Bill Belichick's brilliance was beginning to fail him! But armed with an emergency reserve of extra picks, Belichick made a last-ditch effort to preserve Earth's mightiest dynasty!

    As madness descended on both Patriots headquarters and the TB12 facility, Belichick found himself losing track of the kind of details that never escaped him in his glory years. Overcome by Super Bowl remorse, the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo and the strained relationships with Brady and Robert Kraft, Belichick let left tackle Nate Solder slip away in free agency, then began searching for a replacement among a thin talent pool at the position. Weary from the drama, he settled on a dubious fit for both his need and his scheme."

    Isaiah Wynn won a Best Supporting Actor award for his outstanding work on both the Sony Michel and Nick Chubb highlight reels. He was the mauling tackle who paved the way for the Georgia running game, but at 6'3", Wynn lacks ideal left tackle height. He worked out as a guard—a position he handled well early in his Bulldogs career—during Senior Bowl week, devastating just about every defender he faced in pit drills.

    Wynn has the quickness to excel as a pass protector, particularly on the interior, and Patriots coaches will love the way he finishes his blocks. This is a safe, minimal-risk, instant-upgrade selection. But it is strangely un-Patriots-like.

    Grade: B-minus      

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

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Strengths: Concentration, catch radius, toughness in traffic.

    Weaknesses: Initial quickness.

    Norv Turner is not a great offensive coordinator, but he's great at being an NFL offensive coordinator. His specialty is pounding pegs of all shapes into the Aikman/Emmitt/Irvin-shaped holes he drilled in the early 1990s. Turner's offenses are rarely terrible but only really good when laden with Hall of Famers who could call their own plays and still win. He believes his job is to stay within the safe middle of the herd so he can earn his next job, and his arrival in Carolina is further proof that he's not wrong.

    Turner needs wide receivers to turn the Panthers from a Cam Newton offense (inconsistent but fun!) into a Turner offense (Turnerish!) Frankly, Newton has never had a full complement of weapons. Teaming Moore with fellow Maryland alum Torrey Smith and Devin Funchess will upgrade the Panthers offense, no matter how drab the scheme.

    D.J. Moore was a late riser on the draft board. He played in a Terrapins offense that didn't throw the ball much and suffered from some scattershot quarterbacking. When not run-blocking—he's OK at that—Moore specialized in tracking down deep passes, snatching end-zone 50-50 balls and catching lots of shallow crosses in the middle of rush-hour traffic. He ran a 4.42 40 with good shuttles at 210 pounds at the combine, indicating that he can be more than just a possession receiver.

    All of this year's receiver prospects come with a big knock. Moore's is that he doesn't have a lot of tricky releases off the line of scrimmage and rarely gets himself open. Too many of his catches, whether on deep jump balls or comebacks, are contested. Moore will have to learn the craft of getting open at the NFL level.

    The workout results suggest there's plenty of untapped potential there. Maybe Turner (who, kidding aside, works well with receivers) and Newton can help him find it.

    Grade: B-plus    

25. Baltimore Ravens (via Tennessee): Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

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    Strengths: Hands, short-pass catching ability, versatility.

    Weaknesses: Age, blocking.

    Since 2013, the Ravens have used 17 draft picks in the first three rounds to select:

    • 10 players along the defensive front seven
    • Three defensive backs
    • Two tight ends
    • One offensive tackle
    • One permanently injured wide receiver (Breshad Perriman).

    In other words, the Ravens are the way they are by design. They want you to cringe in disgust at their victories and lapse into a boredom coma during their losses. They enjoy success but hate joy.

    Now they are once again selecting a tight end. And they made the wrong choice.

    Hayden Hurst spent two seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system coming out of high school, batting .245 (and slugging .245) as a rookie-league first baseman before returning to college and walking on at South Carolina. He eventually became a soft-handed move tight end who worked underneath zones well, catching 100 career passes from all over the formation.

    Hurst was the top tight end on many draft boards, but he comes with a host of yellow flags. He turns 25 before the start of the season, possesses minimal seam-stretching big-play ability and blocks like someone whose first choice was a non-contact sport. He projects as a Trey Burton type, and while Burton is a useful contributor and swell guy, he’s a) only two years older than Hurst but is an established NFL veteran; and b) the type of player good teams develop out of late-round or undrafted talent.

    We’ll give the Ravens bonuses on their grade for trading down twice and for not just drafting another defensive tackle. They’ll need all the extra credit they can get.

    Grade: C-minus

26. Atlanta Falcons: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Strengths: Quickness, speed, big-play potential.

    Weaknesses: Size, productivity.

    (Note: The following is either insightful against-the-grain analysis or classic draftnik analysis paralysis. It’s often hard to spot the difference.)

    Calvin Ridley averaged just 12.4 yards per reception in his career and caught just 19 touchdown passes in three seasons, five of them last year. Those are low figures for someone touted as a DeSean Jackson-like home-run threat.

    The Crimson Tide didn’t throw the ball that often in the Jalen Hurts era, and Hurts wasn’t on the field for his pinpoint deep accuracy, so the low touchdown rate and yards per attempt can be partially explained by circumstances. But Ridley’s dossier is full of other little question marks. Ridley dropped eight passes last season, according to Stats and Info Solutions. His 4.43 Combine forty and other drills were great, but not jaw-dropping for a 189-pounder who will need every millisecond of speed to thrive in the NFL.

    Ridley’s a joy to watch in the open field and has the sudden acceleration to eat up a cushion or glide away from a defender.

    The Falcons have not selected a wide receiver in the first three rounds since they traded up for Julio Jones in 2011. Depth behind Jones and Mohamed Sanu is an issue with Taylor Gabriel gone. The last thing the Falcons need is a reason to make Steve Sarkisian even more predictable. Ridley may not be a great wide receiver. But he’s almost guaranteed to be a good one, and with Jones occupying the defense’s attention and Matt Ryan getting him the ball, he’s going to be a blast to watch.

    Grade: A-minus

27. Seattle Seahawks: Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

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    This is the best running back class in years! To help keep things straight and minimize the jargon, Bleacher Report proudly presents another installment of our Field Guide to the 2018 Running Backs!

    Athleticism: Excellent. Rashaad Penny has an ideal size-speed package.

    Every-down running: Excellent. Penny is a workhorse who ended his career with five straight 200-yard games. He follows his blocks, runs with patience and doesn't go down easily.

    Open-field running: Excellent. Penny was a highlight machine for the Aztecs, particularly late in 2017. He lacks the extra gear of a top NFL playmaker, but Penny always seems to find his way to the second level.

    Receiving value: Fair. Penny has soft hands and some receiving experience. He's also a dangerous return man.

    Pass protection: Fair. The effort and aptitude are there, but Penny can get blown back into the quarterback by pass-rushers.

    Contrary opinion from a "source" having an anxiety attack: Oh goodie, we got the mid-major wonder who played behind Donnel Pumphrey, that 97-pound twig who got hurt the moment he arrived in Eagles camp last year.

    Bottom Line: Penny may not be the human highlight reel for the Seahawks that he was for the Aztecs, but he's a high-effort runner coaches are going to want to give carries to.

    Still, this selection is…inscrutable. Many experts assumed the Seahawks would seek reinforcements for what's left of the Legion of Boom, but they drafted heavily in the secondary last year. Offensive line is always a sinkhole, but the Seahawks decided years ago that they were going to pretend not to notice. Penny feels like a luxury for a team that entered the draft with just one pick among the top 100 and is clearly doing some renovations, if not a rebuild. And there may be better running backs on the board. Sorry, Penny: Don't take this grade personally. It's not you, it's them.

    Grade: D-plus    

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Terrell Edmunds, S, Virginia Tech

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Strengths: Athleticism, upside.

    Weaknesses: Technique.

    Terrell Edmunds is the older brother of Tremaine Edmunds (drafted earlier by the Bills) and the son of former Dolphins and Seahawks tight end Ferrell Edmunds. Like his brother, Edmunds is an exceptional all-around athlete: a natural 220-pounder with long arms who can fly around the field. Also like his brother, Edmunds is fundamentally raw and lacks top play-recognition instincts. But Tremaine is bigger and a year younger, and he plays a position where he can fly around banging bodies until his instincts develop, so he’s a top prospect, while his brother projects as a special teamer at the start of his career.

    The Steelers have drafted four defensive backs in the first three rounds since 2015 but have had rotten luck. Artie Burns has become a good starter, but Sean Davis cannot find a position, Senquez Golson is now in Oakland and Cameron Sutton played just one game last year. Terrell Edmunds could become a playmaker if his instincts develop, but the Steelers are taking on another project at a position where their need is immediate, and he would have been a better value as a middle-round pick.

    Grade: C

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Taven Bryan, DL, Florida

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    Strengths: Athleticism, quickness.

    Weaknesses: Readiness.

    Taven Bryan drew J.J. Watt comparisons at Florida, which is pushing things a wee bit. (In fairness, the comparisons were more popular among broadcasters spicing up the play-by-play than anyone in the scouting community.) He's an athletic, raw defender with two signature traits: a first-step get-off that rivals that of Michigan's Maurice Hurst and the ability to get skinny when penetrating the line of scrimmage.

    Everything else is hustle and projection: Bryan doesn't find the ball well on misdirection, he lacks a plan when blockers latch on, and he can be steered away from the quarterback because he doesn't control his momentum once he blasts through the line. Bryan's combine results were yummy, but his collegiate production (5.5 career sacks and just 30 solo tackles in three years, one as a starter) are low, even by the standards of interior linemen.

    Bryan won't generate many sacks for the Jaguars, either. There won't be anyone left to sack once Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson and others get their fill. Seriously, this is a terrifying defensive line. The Jaguars may end up winning games by 13-10 final scores, but they are going to win a bunch of them.

    Grade: B-plus    

30. Minnesota Vikings: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Strengths: Quickness, ball skills, return ability.

    Weaknesses: Size, character concerns.

    Apparently, the end of the first round is all about great defensive teams getting better on defense while ignoring their offensive issues. First, the Jaguars added a defensive tackle to cut the time opposing quarterbacks have to throw from 0.0004 to 0.0003 seconds. Now the Vikings—whose offensive line is really spotty—are setting themselves up with even more secondary depth.

    Mike Hughes is a tough, alert underneath defender who gets a quick break on the ball. He’s dynamic with the football in his hands. He lacks ideal size but compensates with toughness and quick feet.

    Hughes transferred from North Carolina to a JUCO to Central Florida amid a sexual assault allegation, which only became public one week before the draft. No charges were filed, and Hughes has been forthright with teams. He was suspended for an unrelated incident in 2015.

    Assuming Hughes has put character concerns behind him, he’s a potential starter as an underneath defender and could be a weapon on punt returns. Not a bad pick for the Vikings, but they may end up regretting it the first time Kirk Cousins gets hurried into an interception.

    Grade: C-plus

31. New England Patriots: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

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    This is the best running back class in years! To help keep things straight and minimize the jargon, Bleacher Report proudly presents another installment of our Field Guide to the 2018 Running Backs!

    Athleticism: Very good. Sony Michel arrived at the combine bigger than anticipated (220 pounds), if just a few milliseconds slower and less agile.

    Every-down rushing: Very good. Teammate Nick Chubb did most of the grinding at Georgia, but Michel gets low and drives through holes.

    Open-field rushing: Excellent. Michel combines moves with a nasty finish once he reaches the second level.

    Receiving value: Very good. Michel has lots of third-down experience, though he isn't as crisp a pass-catcher as teams might like.

    Pass protection: Very good. Michel is the best and most experienced pass-blocker among the top backs in this class, which is a big deal when predicting his rookie playing time.

    Contrary opinion from a "source" having an anxiety attack: We just drafted the second-best back for a team with a great offensive line and a "third-down back" with nine catches last year! Maybe we should just set our picks on fire instead!

    Bottom Line: (An excerpt from the upcoming book The Decline of Western Civilization: The Patriots Years, by Professor Otto T. Overreactor):

    "In those dark days after the Super Bowl, Belichick abandoned his values. He had typically found running backs in late rounds or by scouring the veteran free-agent market. But desperation led him to select a running back in the first round for the first time since Laurence Maroney in 2006. Michel fit the Patriots' system, but what of the team's critical needs elsewhere? What of the depth of the draft class? Whatever happened to plucking someone from the Bills or Jets practice squad and using that back to humiliate his AFC East foes?

    Belichick was clearly grasping at straws. Luckily, the Bills had anointed Josh Allen their quarterback-of-the-future earlier, so he knew he had some breathing room."

    Grade: C    

32. Baltimore Ravens (via Philadelphia) Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

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    Deadly Accurate Quarterback Comparison: Marcus Mariota

    Wow. Ozzie Newsome's final first-round pick will chart a new course for the future of the franchise. Just wow.

    There's no big mystery about Lamar Jackson's scouting profile. He's the most gifted quarterback in this class. His college production speaks for itself. He suffers from glaring accuracy lapses which sometimes lead to protracted slumps, but his mechanical issues are easy to spot on film (his feet and body get really wonky when he's missing targets) and should be correctable.

    Contrary to much draft prattle, Jackson operated effectively from the pocket and consistently identified second and sometimes third reads. The Louisville offense he ran was no more gimmicky than any other modern college offense. Jackson was responsible for mastering complex terminology and making pre- and post-snap decisions. He's roughly as “NFL ready,” from a mental standpoint, as the typical first-round quarterback prospect.

    Just about every aspect of modern culture now drips with inflammatory racial semiotics, for reasons we probably shouldn't get into when trying to assign draft grades. Quarterback scouting has always had an oily layer of racial stereotyping right on its surface. Jackson was the lone high-profile African American quarterback in this class, so all of the toxicity was funneled directly onto him. He became a repository of idiotic takes, often by people who should know better. It became impossible over the last two months to drill down and just talk about Jackson as a quarterback without reaction to someone's overreaction to a reaction. We all got a little dumber, and Jackson bore the brunt of it.

    Hopefully, this selection ends all of that. Jackson will get every opportunity to be the quarterback of the future for the Ravens. It should not take him long to overtake the fading, lumbering Joe Flacco. Baltimore is among the league's most stable, patient franchises, so Jackson is unlikely to get sucked into any unnecessary drama.

    The Ravens waited until the end of the first round to get a potential franchise quarterback, acquiring a player they like (Hayden Hurst), even if we don't, along the way. Excellent, excellent work.

    And it was great to see Jackson handle himself with so much grace as the draft wore on without his being selected, and to finally hear his name called. The racially charged maelstrom surrounding Jackson's arrival in the NFL has been wearying to both read and write about. Imagine how it must have been for him.

    Grade: A-plus    

    NEXT UP: No. 33 Cleveland Browns (Round 2 tomorrow)


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