Who Will Be the No. 1 Overall Pick in the 2018 NFL Draft?
At FantasyLabs, Ian Hartitz and I have been pumping out a lot of draft-focused content, such as mock drafts and positional rankings. This week hundreds of NFL draft hopefuls will gather in Indianapolis for the combine, and Ian will release a series of articles for those of us who want to bet on how the draft prospects will perform.
Most of the available props are based on the physical tests the players undergo: 40-yard dash times, vertical jumps, bench press repetitions, etc. One prop, however, is tangential to the combine: Who will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft?
Although this prop doesn’t technically have anything to do with the combine, the odds will almost certainly be impacted by what happens over the next few days and specifically how players fare in their interviews, athletic drills, and maybe even the Wonderlic test.
Here are the odds as of writing (Monday, Feb. 26, 10 pm ET):
- Sam Darnold, Southern California: +175
- Josh Rosen, California-Los Angeles: +285
- Saquon Barkley, Penn State: +425
- Josh Allen, Wyoming: +650
- Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma: +1000
- Field (Any Other Player): +500
Let’s break this down.
Sam Darnold: Redshirt Sophomore | 6’4″ and 220 Pounds | Born June 5, 1997 (Age: 20)
Darnold is the top player in our quarterback rankings, and he looks like a future NFL starter: He has the size and winning record (21-6) to appeal to GMs and he’s the youngest professional passing prospect ever. In the entire history of the NFL, never before has a quarterback been 20 years old when drafted (Pro Football Reference). Just a two-year starter in the Pac-12, Darnold might benefit as a young professional if he begins his career as a backup to a veteran. New Browns general manager John Dorsey has shown in the past that he’s not opposed to drafting first-round quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes II) who need time to develop. In fact, Dorsey might even prefer quarterbacks like that. A promising player with strong college production (64.9 percent completion rate, 8.7 adjusted yards per attempt), Darnold seems highly likely to be selected in the top five, maybe even the top three. The primary question is whether there’s another quarterback who seems likely to appeal to Dorsey more.
Also, this isn’t relevant, but it’s notable: Darnold’s grandfather (the aptly named Dick Hammer) was the Marlboro Man. If you were an NFL GM, would you pass up the Marlboro Man’s progeny?
How I’m leaning: Maybe
Josh Rosen: Junior | 6’4″ and 218 Pounds | Born February 10, 1997 (Age: 21)
From a player-centric perspective, Rosen should be in consideration for the first pick. Rosen is a no-doubt first-rounder and he’ll play the entirety of his rookie campaign at the young age of 21. Over the past 25 years, only six first-round quarterbacks have finished their rookie campaigns at the age of 21.
- 2015: Jameis Winston, No. 1 pick
- 2009: Matthew Stafford, No. 1 pick
- 2009: Josh Freeman, No. 17 pick
- 2005: Alex Smith, No. 1 pick
- 2001: Michael Vick, No. 1 pick
- 1993: Drew Bledsoe, No. 1 pick
Basically, whenever a young strong quarterback prospect is available, he’s historically been selected at the top of the draft. This year there are three quarterbacks who will be 21-year-old rookies. Of the trio, Rosen has the best blend of collegiate experience (three-year starter in a Power Five conference) and passing ability (60.8 percent completion rate).
But Rosen seems highly unlikely to be selected No. 1 if we focus on the team holding the pick. The Browns seem likely to take a quarterback first overall — Dorsey has said that finding a quarterback is his highest priority — but he has a history of scouting and drafting quarterbacks who don’t look like Rosen. Dorsey’s quarterbacks tend to be boom/bust projects — even his first-rounders — whereas Rosen is the prototypical pro-ready prospect. On top of that, before he was hired Dorsey reportedly labeled Rosen as a “stay away” prospect while Rosen “expressed concern about winding up in Cleveland” before declaring for the draft (per ESPN’s Adam Schefter). Based on how Dorsey reportedly views Rosen and how Rosen views the Browns, it doesn’t seem likely for him to be chosen by the team at the top of the draft.
How I’m leaning: No
Saquon Barkley: Junior | 5’11″ and 230 Pounds | Born February 7, 1997 (Age: 21)
Barkley is at the top of our running back rankings, and it makes some sense for him to be a pseudo-serious candidate for the No. 1 pick: The Browns have only Duke Johnson at the position, and they are reportedly not inspired by any quarterback in the class. Barkley has been slated to the Browns with the top pick in some mock drafts, and many analysts believe that he’s best overall player in the class.
In fact, based on his age, size, and production, Barkley is the best pre-combine running back prospect of the past decade. Just look at him in comparison to the backs selected with top-10 picks over the past few years.
- Leonard Fournette (2017, 1.04)
- Christian McCaffrey (2017, 1.08)
- Ezekiel Elliott (2016, 1.04)
- Todd Gurley (2015, 1.10)
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.
But based on a number of factors it’s hard to imagine the Browns actually using the top pick on a running back, especially since that position might be the deepest of the class. Why would a team draft a back No. 1 overall when it could get a good back on Day 2? Even more to the point, why would the Browns draft Barkley at No. 1 when they could draft a quarterback and then have a very real chance of getting Barkley at No. 4?
The Browns have needed a quarterback for years, but they opted against taking a first-round passer in the past two drafts, and that decision proved unpopular, as they missed out on several intriguing quarterbacks, namely Carson Wentz in 2016 and Deshaun Watson in 2017. Given that they have already said that quarterback is their No. 1 priority, the Browns could have a riot on their hands if they pass on a quarterback with the top pick now, especially if a passer selected with the second or third pick turns into a star.
Exactly one running back has been selected No. 1 overall in the last 30 years: Ki-Jana Carter — from Penn State. He was a total bust. I’m not saying that the Browns won’t or shouldn’t select Barkley No. 1 overall just because in 1995 the other professional football team from Ohio got unlucky when it used the top pick on a back from Barkley’s alma mater — but it’s easy to imagine the fear of drafting another Carter being strong enough to keep the Browns from selecting Barkley.
Big picture: There are four quarterbacks in this class who seem locked into the first round, and a fifth quarterback could also sneak into Day 1. On top of that, the team with the No. 1 pick presently needs a quarterback. It seems very unlikely for four to five quarterbacks to be drafted in Round 1 and for one of them not to be the first player selected. Only once in NFL history — the draft of 1949 — has the NFL had a four-quarterback first round in which a passer wasn’t chosen No. 1. When a class has so many worthy quarterbacks, traditionally one of them has been good enough to warrant the top selection.
With the exception of 1999, when he was the Director of Player Personnel for the Seahawks, Dorsey was with the Packers from 1991 to 2012, first as a scout and then the Director of College Scouting and finally the Director of Football Operations. From 2013 to 2017, Dorsey was the GM for the Chiefs. In all that time, not once did a team of his draft a running back in the first round.
How I’m leaning: No
Josh Allen: Redshirt Junior | 6’5″ and 237 Pounds | Born May 21, 1996 (Age: 21)
Oh, baby. Allen looks like the type of quarterback Dorsey tends to like. Dorsey is old school. When evaluating passers, he doesn’t care what the numbers say: He wants guys he thinks can play. If a quarterback has a massive arm but struggles with accuracy or consistency, that doesn’t matter. If a guy had to transfer schools for some reason, that doesn’t matter. If a guy played for a non-Power Five institution, that doesn’t matter. If a guy is raw and needs time to develop on the sideline, that doesn’t matter. Dorsey seems to be almost single-mindedly focused on upside: Potential value guides his quarterback decisions much more than positive expected value, and he’s had tremendous success with quarterbacks who statistically look undraftable. Dorsey likes his quarterbacks the way witches like frogs — with warts — and Allen’s warty. Per ESPN’s Ian O’Connor and The MMQB’s Peter King, multiple industry insiders expect the Browns to draft Allen with the first pick.
Although some draft analysts compare Allen to Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz as a big-bodied non-major conference prospect, he was a horribly inaccurate college passer, completing (from first to last season) 49.0, 56.0, and 56.3 percent of his passes in his three years as a starter — and his first campaign was at Reedley Community College. Think about that: Allen didn’t complete even 50.0 percent of his passes at junior college. Based on what he’s done since graduating from high school, Allen is barely a viable prospect. If selected No. 1 overall, he could turn into one of the biggest busts of all time: This sounds weird to say, but that’s why Dorsey might draft him. It doesn’t matter if the numbers suggest that Allen is the next Jake Locker (54.0 percent completion rate). What matters is that Dorsey tends to like boom/bust quarterbacks, and that’s what Allen is. Like Mel Kiper, we have Allen going to the Browns at No. 1 in our most recent mock draft.
How I’m leaning: Yes
Baker Mayfield: Redshirt Senior | 6’0″ and 216 Pounds | Born April 14, 1995 (Age: 22)
There are reasons to dislike Mayfield — he’s a small fifth-year spread quarterback with a high-maintenance personality — but he’s no Johnny Manziel. 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 and Heisman winner, Mayfield had an absurdly elite mark of 11.9 AY/A in his three final seasons. He improved each year, 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 95.4 overall grade, Mayfield was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 quarterback in 2017, ranking first with an 80.6 percent adjusted completion rate and 139.9 passer rating when blitzed.
A gritty player who walked on twice (first at Texas Tech and then at OU), Mayfield has earned everything he’s gotten. If Dorsey looks at Mayfield and sees a gutsy competitor who can sling the ball, lead a team, and maybe become the next Russell Wilson, it’s possible he could draft him No. 1 overall just to be sure he doesn’t miss out on his guy. But I don’t think that’s likely since the Browns have the No. 4 pick and a reasonable chance of getting Mayfield there.
Additionally, the Browns could be scared of taking Mayfield so high because of his superficial similarities to Manziel, and Mayfield’s height might be an issue for head coach and reported quarterback guru Hue Jackson, who likes his passers to be at least 6’2″ so they can see over the offensive line.
The last 6’0″ quarterback to be taken No. 1 overall was Vick. Mayfield is special, but he doesn’t have the mitigating physical talent that Vick had. Before Vick, it was Randy Duncan . . . in 1961. Mayfield feels like the type of player who might appeal to Dorsey, but the historical trends against drafting short quarterbacks are pretty strong.
How I’m leaning: Maybe, but probably not
I’m yet to see a mock draft have anyone other than these five players at No. 1.
How I’m leaning: No
Ranking the Potential No. 1 Draft Picks
Here are my rankings for the six options (from most likely to least likely to be the No. 1 player drafted).
Just to be clear, I don’t think Allen should go first, but I expect he will. I think it would be a bad pick, and the Browns are the Browns.
If I were feeling bold, I’d just bet on Allen and call it a day. If I wanted to cover my bases, I’d place bets on Allen and Mayfield and hedge with a bet on Darnold. At +175, Darnold at No. 1 would almost cover the losses from betting on Allen and Mayfield. And if Allen or Mayfield were selected No. 1 overall, the win would more than cover the two lost positions.
Photo Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports