NFL Draft 2018 Results: The Biggest Steals, Reaches & Surprises from Day 1
After months of speculation, we have finally made it through the first day of the 2018 NFL draft. Players like defensive lineman Maurice Hurst, pass-rusher Harold Landry and running back Derrius Guice are still on the board, but the top-end talent has mostly been picked up.
Before we turn our focus to Day 2 of the draft and the 68 players who will be selected Friday, let's reflect on Day 1. There were no Twitter extortion schemes this year, but there were jaw-dropping selections, with players going off the board at either much higher or much lower spots than were projected in mock drafts.
Day 1 of the draft sets the tone not only for the rest of the week, but also for the next four-plus years in the NFL. With predraft expectations and grounded reality in mind, we will recap the good, the bad and the shocking of the NFL's lifeblood: the first round.
Steal: Arizona Trading Up to No. 10 for Josh Rosen
After Carson Palmer's retirement this offseason, the Arizona Cardinals had one of the biggest holes at quarterback of any team in the league. Sam Bradford, who has never made the Pro Bowl in an era when every quarterback makes a Pro Bowl, went into Thursday as the team's starting passer. Mike Glennon, who has thrown six touchdown passes in the past three seasons, was slated as the primary backup.
Despite signing both of those quarterbacks this offseason, the Cardinals still needed to find the guy to lead them back into relevancy in the competitive NFC West. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen was talked about as a potential franchise-changing passer for the past three college football seasons. In his time as a Bruin, despite playing just 30 games for the team, he threw for 9,340 yards and 59 touchdowns.
In January, he was the betting favorite to be the first overall pick in the draft. Somehow, without a single game being played in the meantime and combine drills not having a significant sway on a quarterback's draft stock, Rosen fell to the 10th overall pick.
Arizona, picking 15th overall before the trade, only had to give up the 79th overall pick and the 152nd overall pick in this year's draft to flip a mid-first-rounder for someone many regarded as the best player in the class.
A faceless team now has an identity and hopefully a franchise quarterback.
Steal: Derwin James Slipping to the Chargers at No. 17
Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley plays a heavy Cover 3 style of defense, which in today's nickel-heavy NFL stresses the value of safeties.
In that single-high defense, one safety has to lock down the middle of the field (think Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas) while the other has to wear the hat of both a slot cornerback and a strong-side outside linebacker (think Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor).
For that reason, there are few places where Florida State safety Derwin James could have landed where he could be more effective than Los Angeles. James was frequently mocked as high as seventh overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he fell 10 picks lower. The Bucs even passed on him twice, once for an option to trade back and once for the selection of Washington nose tackle Vita Vea.
James, an All-American and two-time All-ACC safety, should see immediate playing time. Tre Boston, who spent one year with the Chargers, played 1,041 snaps for the squad last season—99 percent of defensive reps, according to Pro Football Reference.
It's late April, long after the first and second waves of free agency, but the 25-year-old Boston is still on the market. James, who made 186 total tackles in just 26 college games, will find plenty of playing time this season.
Steal: Baltimore Trading Up to No. 32 for Lamar Jackson
To secure the rights to his fifth-year option and presumably to jump teams who may have drafted him, the Baltimore Ravens traded up to the 32nd overall pick for Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Somehow, the Ravens only had to trade their second- and fourth-round picks this year and a second-round pick in 2019 to move up 20 spots, from No. 52 to No. 32.
If you keep track of college football, you probably know Jackson's story. He played quarterback for former Atlanta Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino, who also groomed fellow 32nd overall pick Teddy Bridgewater a few years earlier. In three years under Petrino, Jackson threw for 9,043 yards and 69 touchdowns while also rushing for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns.
To put that into perspective, Jackson rushed for 3,172 yards and 39 touchdowns over the past two years, while Michael Vick only rushed for 1,299 yards and 17 touchdowns in his entire college career. On top of being an efficient passer, Jackson is a generational talent as a dual-threat quarterback to the extent that he dwarfs even Vick's statistics.
According to Spotrac, Baltimore still has $28.8 million in dead cap that is leveraged on starting quarterback Joe Flacco's deal, so it's unlikely Jackson is a Week 1 starter for the Ravens. With that said, the team can "June 1" his contract next season, meaning they can split his dead cap to just an $8 million number in 2019 and an $8 million number in 2020 after he's cut. It's within reason to think Jackson could win the job midseason or next offseason, leading to Flacco's release.
Reach: Saquon Barkley Going 2nd Overall
Saquon Barkley might well be the best running back in this draft class, but taking a running back high in the draft in this day and age is not rooted in logic. According to Pro Football Reference, only four NFL teams had running games that gave them positive expected points last year. You need to be in the top eight in the NFL at running the football to even be above average in terms of overall offense.
If the New York Giants wanted to take this elite running offense approach, they should have re-signed Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh, two of their former offensive linemen who signed contracts worth a combined $92.5 million this offseason.
Instead of addressing a more premier position like pass-rusher, New York instead chose to spend the second overall pick on Barkley. Mind you, this was after the Indianapolis Colts made a predraft trade with the New York Jets to secure three second-round picks for moving back to the sixth overall pick from the third overall slot.
There's no reason why the Giants couldn't have accepted that same trade, using four high picks to address their quarterback and offensive line issues, instead of bundling that opportunity cost into a running back. The Penn State back's 1,195 yards and eight touchdowns through the air in his college career do reflect well on his ability to influence the passing game, but this pick still makes more sense in the context of the 1970s NFL than the 2010s NFL.
Reach: Buffalo Trading Up to No. 7 for Josh Allen
In April, SB Nation's Bill Connelly presented a study that claimed quarterback prospects almost never post better efficiency statistics in their first four years in the NFL than they did in college. This seems simple to understand. If you can't do it against college defenses and cornerbacks who are going to go pro in something other than sports, you probably aren't going to be much better against world-class athletes.
This is the problem we run into with Josh Allen of Wyoming, whom the Buffalo Bills selected seventh overall. Allen had a 6.9 AY/A in 2017 against competition that was predominantly made up of Group of Five teams.
AY/A is adjusted yards per attempt, calculated as yards per attempt with the value of a touchdown being plus-20 yards and the value of an interception being minus-45 yards. A 6.9 AY/A is exactly what former Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor posted last season against NFL competition.
From Connelly's perspective, Taylor's 2017 should be viewed as Allen's peak between now and 2021. Taylor was traded to Cleveland in March for a third-round pick. Buffalo traded a first-round and two second-round picks to move up to seventh overall to select Allen. Try to solve that puzzle.
Reach: Washington Taking Da'Ron Payne 13th
After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded from seventh overall to 12th overall and selected nose tackle Vita Vea, the Washington Redskins made one of the more interesting selections of the draft: Alabama defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne.
Washington has needed defensive line help since Chris Baker left in free agency a few years ago, but it was the player, not the position, that is in question.
There couldn't be a bigger difference between prospects than Payne and Jonathan Allen, the Redskins' 2017 first-round pick and Payne's former teammate at Alabama. Payne is more likely to play on either side of a guard than either side of a tackle, which is Allen's speciality. Allen posted 28 sacks and 44.5 tackles for a loss in his college career, while Payne only recorded three sacks and five tackles for a loss.
For a draftable prospect, Payne has been quiet in terms of production. For a first-round defensive lineman, his statistics are virtually unheard of. He opened the season with a hot start against Florida State and stuck the landing against Georgia in the national championship, but there were long stretches between those games when he was invisible.
He's a high-risk, high-reward defensive tackle—the type of player who is usually drafted on Day 2, not in the first half of the first round.
Surprise: Cleveland Taking Denzel Ward at No. 4
The NFL draft started out chalk. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield went first overall after rumors swirled early Thursday morning he was going to be the pick. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley went second overall, a popular pick for months. USC quarterback Sam Darnold went third overall, and we always knew the New York Jets were going to take a quarterback.
The draft started in earnest with the fourth overall pick: Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward. After Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley were drafted as first-round picks last year, Ward replaced their lost reps with an All-American season in his lone year as a full-time starter. Without as many reps under his belt as other cornerback prospects, Ward still managed to record 24 pass deflections during his Buckeye career.
In one year, Ward went from a backup to the highest-drafted cornerback since Charles Woodson, the fourth overall player in the 1998 draft. At the time of Woodson's selection, Ward was not yet one year old. Whenever a cornerback goes in the first four picks of the draft, it should be surprising.
Surprise: Seattle Drafting Rashaad Penny 27th Overall
There are 11 mock drafts on NFL.com's mock draft central page. Not a single one of them had San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny as a first-round pick, a general reflection of mock drafts across the board.
This draft has been talked about for months, and Penny's name never came up as a first-rounder until the Seattle Seahawks took him with the 27th pick after trading back from the 18th pick.
Penny's 38 career rushing touchdowns, including 23 last season, likely meshed well with a staff that saw its running backs collectively carry the ball 17 times for minus-11 yards and zero touchdowns inside the 10 last season. Seattle couldn't get the ball in the end zone through the ground last year. The question now relates to whether that problem is solved.
Was their red-zone failure because of their ragtag group of offensive linemen, or was it because of their running back stable? With an unconventional pick, the Seahawks voted that their best option to solve the issue was with an addition to their backfield. This is particularly significant considering the fact Seattle general manager John Schneider hasn't selected a non-lineman in the first round since 2010.
Surprise: Pittsburgh Drafting the 'Other' Edmunds Brother at No. 28
While Tremaine Edmunds was the higher-drafted Edmunds on Thursday after being selected 16th overall by the Buffalo Bills, the selection of his brother Terrell Edmunds made more of a splash.
According to NFL Draft Scout, Terrell was a projected third-round pick. On NFL Media's Mike Mayock's board, he was the 73rd overall player. On Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's board, he was the 11th-ranked safety.
Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers took him at the end of the first round, with Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier announcing the pick. Sean Davis, a 2016 second-round pick, has famously been a matchup problem for the team over the past two years. Hopefully Edmunds can match up well with premier tight ends, one of Pittsburgh's biggest flaws, in the near future.
In his three years at Virginia Tech before both he and his brother declared early for the draft, Edmunds posted 14 pass deflections, six interceptions and 8.5 tackles for a loss. With the offseason release of safety Mike Mitchell, who played 679 defensive snaps last season, Edmunds has a clear route to an immediate starting safety role in Pittsburgh.