2018 NFL Draft: Round 1 Skill Position Recap
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Oh, baby. What. A. Night.
Round 1 of the NFL draft has come and gone. I pre-partied the event in a way that would make Ron Swanson proud. (I ate lots of food.) If you ever have the chance to attend the draft, do it. There’s nothing quite like repeatedly booing Roger Goodell in person for hours. It’s exhilarating.
As a former NFL player, Geoff Schwartz will tell you that there are important positions besides quarterback, such as offensive tackle, edge rusher, cornerback, off-ball linebacker, and safety. He’s absolutely right.
But I don’t care.
Here’s a breakdown of the skill-position players selected in Round 1, ordered by draft position.
1.01, Cleveland Browns: QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
Redshirt Senior | 6’1″ and 215 Pounds | Born April 14, 1995 (Age: 22)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.84 sec | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: 7.0 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.28 sec | vertical: 29 in | broad: 111 in
Mayfield enjoyed massive line movement on Thursday as numerous reports broke that he would be the No. 1 pick, and that turned out to be true. Even though Browns head coach Hue Jackson famously has a (rather arbitrary) 6’2″ height threshold for quarterbacks, general manager John Dorsey drafted just the third passer in the last 50 years to enter the league with a first-round pick and sub-6’2″ height. You probably know who the first two guys are.
- Michael Vick (2001, 1.01)
- Johnny Manziel (2014, 1.22)
Even though Mayfield is similar to Manziel in a myriad of superficial ways, the two players probably shouldn’t be compared. I first wrote this sentence in December:
If all that mattered in prospect evaluation were college production, the 2017 Heisman winner would easily be the No. 1 pick.
Ironically, Mayfield (I believe) is the most analytics-friendly quarterback in the 2018 class. If Sashi Brown were still running the Browns, he might have chosen Mayfield. Instead, an old-school football lifer selected him.
OU’s passing attack in 2017 ranked first in both Passing S&P+ and success rate (Football Study Hall). Mayfield is the only player in the 14-year history of ESPN’s Total QBR metric with two seasons above 90.0. A four-year starter, Mayfield in his three final seasons had an absurdly elite mark of 11.9 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) — and he improved each season, posting a 6.3 AY/A as a freshman, 10.4 as a sophomore, and 12.3 and 12.9 as a junior and senior. With a 96.2 overall grade, Mayfield was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 offensive college football player in 2017, ranking first with an 82.6% adjusted completion rate, 134.8 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards, and 105.3 passer rating under pressure.
Although Tyrod Taylor is likely to open the 2018 season as the starter, it’s possible that Mayfield could overtake him. Blessed with a good supporting cast in wide receivers Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, and Corey Coleman, tight end David Njoku, and pass-catching running back Duke Johnson, the surprise No. 1 pick could find NFL success as early as his rookie year.
For more, see Mayfield’s player profile.
1.02, New York Giants: RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State)
Junior | 6’0″ and 233 Pounds | Born February 7, 1997 (Age: 21)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.40 sec | bench reps: 29 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: 4.24 sec | vertical: 41 in | broad: DNP
Getting on Barkley at +450 to the Giants at No. 2 was a big win for me. Hopefully it was for you too.
The Giants need an eventual successor to quarterback Eli Manning, but they went with Barkley instead of a quarterback because of the immediate impact he can make. I think it’s unwise to draft a running back this high and also to pass on a potential franchise quarterback, but the Giants believed differently.
It’s not hard to find productive running backs later in the draft, but Barkley as a prospect is no less impressive than the backs selected with top-10 picks in the past few years.
- Leonard Fournette (2017, 1.04)
- Christian McCaffrey (2017, 1.08)
- Ezekiel Elliott (2016, 1.04)
- Todd Gurley (2015, 1.10)
In fact, Barkley is more impressive than all of them: He’s a better receiver than Fournette and bigger than McCaffrey. Unlike Zeke, he produced as a freshman. Unlike Gurley, he’s not entering the NFL fresh off an ACL tear. And based on his combine performance, he’s the best athlete of the group. With his age, physical profile, and production, Barkley is the best running back prospect of the past decade.
He seems highly likely to have NFL success right away and is the no-doubt No. 1 pick in dynasty rookie drafts.
For more, see Barkley’s player profile.
1.03, New York Jets: QB Sam Darnold (Southern California)
Redshirt Sophomore | 6’3″ and 221 Pounds | Born June 5, 1997 (Age: 20)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.85 sec | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: 6.96 | 20-yard shuttle: 4.4 sec | vertical: 26.5 in | broad: 105 in
The Jets traded with the Colts so they could draft a quarterback, and although they didn’t get Mayfield, who was reportedly their preferred target, they get a nice consolation prize in Darnold.
After sitting out his first year on campus, Darnold was a star for USC in 2016, completing 67.2% of his passes for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He regressed in 2017, completing ‘just’ 63.1% of his passes for 4,143 yards and 26 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Although he dropped to 8.5 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) from 9.0, his 2017 mark was still solid, and a 0.5 AY/A drop isn’t all that drastic. On the whole, the USC passing offense was still a top unit last year. Per Football Study Hall, in 2016 the Trojans were fourth in Passing S&P+ (135.0) and fifth in passing success rate (51.2%). In 2017 they were 11th (123.9) and 10th (47.3%): Darnold was a little less consistent and dynamic last year than he was the year prior, but he was still good — especially for a young second-year Power Five starter. At a minimum, he has pro-level arm talent and good mobility, averaging 2.3 yards per carry (including sacks) for his career. In a quarterback class loaded with underclassmen who declared early, Darnold is the best.
The youngest quarterbacking prospect in NFL history, Darnold could open the season on the bench behind journeyman Josh McCown, but he eventually will get his shot: He has the profile of a decade-long starter.
For more, see Darnold’s player profile.
1.07, Buffalo Bills: QB Josh Allen (Wyoming)
Redshirt Junior | 6’5″ and 237 Pounds | Born May 21, 1996 (Age: 21)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.75 sec | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: 6.9 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.4 sec | vertical: 33.5 in | broad: 119 in
The Bills wanted their heir to Jim Kelly‘s long-vacant throne, and they traded up (again) to make sure they got him. Ironically, one of Allen’s closest player comps as a prospect is former Bills quarterback J.P. Losman, which isn’t an auspicious omen. The forgotten first-round quarterback of the 2004 class, Losman — like Allen — was a highly inaccurate college passer (57.8% career completion rate). In the NFL, he completed just 59.2% of his attempts.
Some draft analysts say that Allen is comparable as a non-major conference prospect to Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz. That might be true, but the available data doesn’t support that stance: Allen has great size, but not every big quarterback from a middling program becomes an NFL starter. Exhibit A: Paxton Lynch. While Allen has the body of a prototypical passer, he doesn’t have the accuracy. In his three collegiate seasons as a starter (from first to last), Roethlisberger completed 63.3%, 63.3%, and 69.1% of his passes. In his two starting seasons, Wentz had 63.7% and 62.5% completion rates. Allen, though, had rates of 49.0%, 56.0%, and 56.3% — and his first season was at Reedley Community College. Think about that: Allen didn’t complete even 50.0% of his passes at junior college.
In a special edition of the Daily Fantasy Flex, Matt Waldman said that Allen is a mannequin: He might look the part, but he’s not real.
Of all the rookie quarterbacks, he’s the one who seems most likely to start right away, given that he has only A.J. McCarron ahead of him on the depth chart, but Allen is also perhaps the one first-round quarterback who could most use time as a backup to develop. His progress is unlikely to be aided by what might be the league’s worst starting wide receiver unit in Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, and Jeremy Kerley.
For more, see Allen’s player profile.
1.10, Arizona Cardinals: QB Josh Rosen (California-Los Angeles)
Junior | 6’4″ and 226 Pounds | Born February 10, 1997 (Age: 21)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.92 sec | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: 7.09 | 20-yard shuttle: 4.28 sec | vertical: 31 in | broad: 111 in
Even though they signed veterans Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon this offseason, the Cardinals decided to address the quarterback position in the draft by trading up five spots. As it turns out, they grabbed a guy who has the chance of developing into the top passer in the draft. Rosen’s fall down the board was likely due to his ‘attitude’ — he reportedly rubs many NFL decision-makers the wrong way with his ‘millennial’ desire to understand and contribute to the world — but Rosen in January was a -120 favorite to be the first quarterback selected.
As a high-schooler Rosen was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country, and at UCLA he opened his first season as the team’s starting quarterback. For a true freshman in a Power Five conference, Rosen was outstanding, completing 60.0% of his passes for 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns. As a sophomore he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury that limited him to six games, but as a junior he had a solid if unspectacular campaign, completing 62.5% of his passes and setting several other career-high marks: 3,717 yards passing, 26 touchdowns, and 8.4 adjusted yards per attempt. Before the 2017-18 bowl season, he was No. 3 in NFL Media’s college quarterback rankings.
Although the Cardinals don’t have many notable offensive playmakers for Rosen to rely on, he should be strongly supported in the ground game and short passing game by running back David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Rosen will get the benefit of learning on the sideline behind Bradford, and over the past decade offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has gotten the best from a variety of quarterbacks: Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers. Rosen is unlikely to do much in 2018, but he is set up to have a good career.
For more, see Rosen’s player profile.
1.24, Carolina Panthers: WR D.J. Moore (Maryland)
Junior | 6’0″ and 210 Pounds | Born April 14, 1997 (Age: 20)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.42 sec | bench reps: 15 | 3-cone: 6.95 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.07 sec | vertical: 39.5 in | broad: 132 in
This is one I got right in my final mock draft. Moore fills a need, and he shot up draft boards after his combine performance. The Panthers have little depth behind Devin Funchess, who himself is still relatively unproven and entering the final year of his contract.
Moore started almost every game he played at Maryland, and as a true freshman he emerged as the team’s No. 2 wideout with 25 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns. As a sophomore he seized more control of the receiving game and led the team with 637 yards and six touchdowns, good for a 27.7% and 40% market share of Maryland’s receiving yards and touchdowns. In his final season — despite having four different quarterbacks throw passes — Moore earned Big Ten Receiver of the Year honors thanks to his conference-leading 80 receptions, which he turned into 1,033 yards, eight touchdowns, and an unreal market share of 53.7% and 53.3% of the Terrapins’ receiving yardage and scores. He even added 61 yards and a touchdown on six rush attempts. Moore is the first Maryland player since Torrey Smith in 2010 to have a 1,000-yard receiving campaign. With his physical profile and production, Moore is very much a Leonte Carroo-esque prospect with perhaps the potential to develop into an early-career Hakeem Nicks.
For more, see Moore’s player profile.
1.25, Baltimore Ravens: TE Hayden Hurst (South Carolina)
Junior | 6’4″ and 250 Pounds | Born August 24, 1993 (Age: 24)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.67 sec | bench: DNP | 3-cone: 7.19 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.37 sec | vertical: 31.5 in | broad: 120 in
This pick surprised me, as I dismissed Hurst’s first-round hype entirely. The Ravens were sharp in trading back twice (from No. 16 to No. 22 to No. 25), and if there’s one guy who should be able to scout the tight end position it’s theoretically Hall-of-Fame tight end and Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, but this pick looks like a massive reach given that Hurst is the first player at his position off the board. At least, though, Hurst fills a need.
But there are three issues with Hurst. First, he’s old, and he plays a physically demanding position that normally takes players at least a couple of years to master at the NFL level. By the time he fully learns the game, he might be too old to be more than a good (but not great) contributor. Second, he’s more of a move tight end than an inline player, and he’s not much of a blocker, which will limit his ability to be a an every-down player early in his career. Third, he wasn’t much of a scorer in college, with just three receiving touchdowns in three years.
An All-SEC first-teamer last year, Hurst probably has the size and ability to develop into a red-zone threat and three-down player, but his upside as a future NFL producer is likely capped. At least, given the barrenness of the Ravens depth chart at the position, Hurst has a reasonable chance of contributing some as a rookie.
For more, see Hurst’s player profile.
1.26, Atlanta Falcons: WR Calvin Ridley (Alabama)
Junior | 6’0″ and 189 Pounds | Born December 20, 1994 (Age: 23)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.43 sec | bench reps: 15 | 3-cone: 6.88 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.41 sec | vertical: 31 in | broad: 110 in
I don’t like this pick, but I also (amazingly) don’t hate it. Ridley was overrated entering the evaluation process, and he underperformed at Alabama, but he fits well with wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu in Atlanta. Behind Jones, Ridley will have the ability à la Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis to develop as a No. 2 receiver with eventual No. 1 upside. Given that Ridley is more suited to the role of a No. 2 receiver anyway, he’s in an ideal spot. It’s probably not a wise allocation of resources to select a supplementary receiver with a first-rounder, but given that Ridley was seemingly destined to go off the board in this draft range anyway the pick makes a certain amount of sense.
As a prospect, Ridley was more of a ‘player’ than a ‘producer.’ Even though Ridley just finished his true junior season, he’s already 23 years old, which is ancient for someone only three years out of high school. Even so, Ridley (despite his subpar combine) is considered by many to be the best receiver in the class. Given that he entered college as a five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 1 high school wide receiver, he has been considered a first-rounder for a while — but Ridley looks unlike a lot of successful Day 1 selections from previous seasons. Over the last 25 years there have been only three first-round wide receivers to turn 24 as rookies and weigh less than 200 pounds (in other words, to be old and small). This limited cohort performed well in the NFL, but its members were also way more productive in college than Ridley, who in 2017 had 63 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games.
- Marvin Harrison (1996, 1.19): 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games as a senior
- Joey Galloway (1995, 1.08): 1,004 yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games as a junior
- O.J. McDuffie (1993, 1.25): 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games as a senior
Ridley’s age, size, and athleticism on their own probably aren’t as negative as people make them out to be — but his lack of production at his age, size, and athleticism is troubling. Even so, given that he will be playing in a prolific offense without needing to worry about the defensive attention normally given to a No. 1 receiver, Ridley could have a respectable rookie campaign.
For more, see Ridley’s player profile.
1.27, Seattle Seahawks: RB Rashaad Penny (San Diego State)
Senior | 5’11″ and 220 Pounds | Born February 2, 1996 (Age: 22)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.46 sec | bench reps: 13 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 32.5 in | broad: 120 in
Entering the draft Penny was the No. 2 running back in my rankings, but I never expected him to be the second back off the board.
I think the Seahawks used too much draft capital to acquire him: He almost certainly would have been available on Day 2. So I don’t love the pick in that regard, and I think the Seahawks had bigger needs than running back, but I’m still fully on board the Penny train.
One of the stars of the Senior Bowl, Penny has the body to handle a full workload. Also, he amazingly has a versatile skill set: He’s not only a capable receiver with 34 receptions since 2016, but he’s also an elite return man with seven kick return touchdowns and one punt return score since 2015. For a guy of his size to have the elusiveness and long speed to break that many returns for touchdowns is unreal. To put this in perspective: The last college running back of Penny’s size to have rushing, receiving, and kick and punt return touchdowns in the same season was Penn State dominator Larry Johnson (2001).
Although Penny served as a backup for the first three years of college, he forced his way into a timeshare as a junior, rushing for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns and averaging 4.8 yards after contact per attempt. As a senior Penny was an absolute wrecker, rushing for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns, leading all draft-eligible backs with 80 missed tackles forced and an elusive rating of 128.6 (Pro Football Focus). In total, over his two final seasons Penny averaged 134.3 scrimmage yards and 1.63 all-purpose touchdowns per game. Given his age, physical profile, production, and versatility, Penny has the capacity to be a featured back in the NFL. As a big-bodied multi-talented athletic non-Power Five runner, Penny has some Kareem Hunt — or maybe even David Johnson — potential as a prospect.
As noted by Emory Hunt on a special backfield-focused edition of The Daily Fantasy Flex, Penny is one of the top backs in the draft.
For more, see Penny’s player profile.
1.31, New England Patriots: RB Sony Michel (Georgia)
Senior | 5’11″ and 214 Pounds | Born February 17, 1995 (Age: 22)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.54 sec | bench reps: 22 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: 4.21 sec | vertical: DNP | broad: DNP
If a poker player had a winning hand and had bet in such a way that he had a chance to win not just the hand but also the tournament with that hand — and then he inexplicably decided to fold, his failure to capitalize at that high-leverage moment would make that hand the worst one of the tournament, right?
That’s what happened with the Patriots at pick No. 31.
The Patriots had the opportunity to win the draft with this pick by selecting Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. They didn’t reach. They let the draft come to them, and the draft gifted them the unique and skilled Jackson — and then they blew it by selecting a committee back.
As a prospect, Michel was similar to Vereen as a prospect in size, athleticism, college usage and production, and draft position. You might not like the comparison because of Vereen’s relative failure to live up to the pick used to acquire him — but that’s the point! — and 2018 Michel is very much similar to 2011 Vereen. And that shouldn’t be surprising, given that the same team drafted them.
It’s entirely possible that Michel could become a great NFL player. That’s not what makes this pick bad. What makes it bad is that the Patriots drafted Michel when they needed a quarterback of the future and a worthy candidate was there for the taking. It also doesn’t help that Michel’s odds of having NFL success (in a team-agnostic context) aren’t appreciably greater than the odds belonging to the five running backs likely to be drafted next.
Nevertheless, I admit that Michel is talented. He has good size, and in comparison to his former running mate in Nick Chubb he has more receiving production (64 receptions vs. 31 for Chubb), less collegiate wear and tear (590 carries vs. 758), more explosiveness (7.2 highlight yards per opportunity vs. 5.7), and a cleaner medical history. With Kenyan Drake we’ve recently seen an SEC change-of-pace back selected with a top-100 pick have NFL success as a starter. It helps a lot that he’s a strong pass protector. Throughout his career, he allowed just one sack on 150 total pass-blocking snaps (Pro Football Focus).
With his skill set, Michel could be a three-down NFL back. But does anyone actually expect the Patriots — with Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, and Jeremy Hill already on the roster — to use Michel as a true lead back? One of those players will be cut or traded to make room for Michel, but I also expect that he will be used this year very much as Dion Lewis was last year. That’s not too exciting — and definitely not worth a first-round pick.
For more, see Michel’s player profile.
1.32, Baltimore Ravens: QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
Junior | 6’2″ and 216 Pounds | Born January 7, 1997 (Age: 21)
Combine numbers: 40-yard: DNP | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: DNP | broad: DNP
Newsome doesn’t have Bill Belichick’s ability to game-plan and strategize — and that’s why he’s not a head coach — but as a GM and evaluator of talent Ozzie is one of the best in the league. Once the Pats passed on Jackson, the Ravens traded up to No. 32 to capitalize. This was a great move. By drafting Jackson with the last pick in Round 1 (instead of, say, the first pick in Round 2), the Ravens have the rights to Jackson for an additional season thanks to the fifth-year option. They basically extended Jackson’s NFL developmental window by an extra year.
Even though I would’ve loved to see Jackson developed by Belichick behind Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Baltimore might be the best possible spot for Jackson. He will have the benefit of developing on the bench for at least year (maybe more) behind Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, and — more importantly — the Ravens have already displayed the ability to develop a player similar to (and not as good as) Jackson into an NFL starter with Tyrod Taylor, whom the team drafted in the sixth round in 2011 and groomed for four years on the bench. Like Tyrod, Jackson will need time to learn, because he is raw, but he’s also an intensely talented player.
In 2016 Jackson won the Heisman at the age of 19, becoming the youngest player in history to win the award. Precocious for a prospect, Jackson is perhaps the Deshaun Watson of this year’s class: A highly productive and athletic dual-threat Davey O’Brien-winning Atlantic Coast Conference three-year starter who, despite having difference-making talent and decent size, fell in the draft.
The question with Jackson is whether his style of play will translate to the NFL. Whereas Watson completed 67.4% of his career pass attempts and had ‘only’ 1,934 yards rushing, Jackson has a completion rate of just 57.0% and rushed for 4,132 yards. Watson is a passing quarterback who can run; Jackson is a running quarterback who is still learning to pass. In that sense, as a prospect he is less similar to Watson than he is to Michael Vick (56.0% completion rate in college). Vick retired from the NFL with a subpar 56.2% completion rate, but he was a six-time QB1 in fantasy and 61-51-1 as a starter. If not for his mid-career prison-induced setback, Vick might have been a truly transformational NFL player. Even if Jackson fails to develop into a league-average passer, he could have a productive career as a quarterback.
The moment Jackson becomes a starter, he will likely be no worse than a low-end QB1 because of his Konami Code rushing upside — even if he ends up making starts as a rookie.
For more, see Jackson’s player profile.
Pictured above: Lamar Jackson selected No. 32 overall by the Ravens