My initial takeaways on the 2018 NFL Draft. While I don’t do grades and strongly believe that we need to see at least two seasons play out before grading, I do evaluate choices based on decisions made relative to players and positions available as well as team/personality fits.
To the Chicago Bears. Great draft in terms of value, need and scheme fit from GM Ryan Pace, starting at the top by nailing the first rounder with Roquan Smith. He’s got the high-end ability to be the next great Bears MLB. Both second-round picks, center James Daniels and WR Anthony Miller, will start right away. Others were higher on both than I was, but each represented the last player at their position in the tier where the Bears had a shot at them. Day Three defenders Bilal Nichols and Kylie Fitts were smart choices and each went one round later than projected. After a draft where Pace made a couple of panicky gambles (which largely worked), he was more patient and prepared in 2018.
San Francisco 49ers—erasing the Reuben Foster fiasco with third-rounder Fred Warner helps save face, and Mike McGlinchey at No. 9 is a prudent, low-risk move. I love adding WR Richie James in the seventh round; he was a third round playmaking talent for me and he excels right where Jimmy Garoppolo does, working the middle of the field. Fourth-round safety Tarvarius Moore could start as a rookie.
New York Giants—if the plan was to ride Eli Manning as long as possible, adding Saquon Barkley at No. 2 and Will Hernandez at the top of the second round was about as great as they could possibly expect. Kyle Lauletta in the fourth this year as the potential Eli successor is an infinitely better choice than Davis Webb in the third last year.
I’d include the New England Patriots here too, but any team that drafts Danny Etling cannot ever be associated with having a “thumbs up” draft.
To the Minnesota Vikings. From a pure big board value, no team fared worse with their selections than the Vikings. First-round CB Mike Hughes can be justified as proper value, but the Vikings are crawling with corners already and added more later on, hedging their bets against the chance Hughes—a one-year wonder for UCF after underwhelming at North Carolina—flops. Second-round OT Brian O’Neill had an undrafted grade from me thanks to his lightweight waist-bending and improvisational technique in pass protection. Jalyn Holmes, Tyler Conklin and Ade Aruna on the third day recouped some face for GM Rick Spielman, though none project higher than third on the depth chart at their respective spots as rookies, and Aruna and Holmes play the same spot. It’s a good thing the Vikings already have one of the best rosters in the league, because they didn’t do much to augment it with this draft, not in the short-term anyway.
Other draft classes I wasn’t crazy about:
Pittsburgh Steelers—massive reach in the first to take a consensus 3rd-4th round safety in Terrell Edmunds. Not satisfied, they drafted an incredibly similar player in Marcus Allen four rounds later. Adding the Oklahoma State pass-catch duo of Mason Rudolph and James Washington probably excites fans in Stillwater a lot more than in Western PA, though Washington quickly replaces the traded (a year too late) Martavis Bryant nicely.
New Orleans Saints—they traded next year’s first round pick and this year’s first and second to move way up to take Marcus Davenport, a pass rusher with legit upside but a fairly high bust factor. It’s an all-in move for a player who was hit/miss in Conference USA games. Their fourth round pick is an offensive lineman who was somewhat generously given a “should be invited to an NFL training camp” grade by NFL.com. If I had to grade every individual team, the Saints would earn the lowest.
To the Detroit Lions. I love adding two offensive linemen, including landing my No. 2 tackle Tyrell Crosby in the fifth round. Frank Ragnow makes the Lions interior OL one of the best in football if everyone is healthy, and Crosby can play guard or tackle and gives the unit real depth for the first time I can remember. Kerryon Johnson is a great fit at running back, and Tracy Walker could eventually take over for Glover Quin at safety. But the thumbs are twiddling because the No. 1 need on the team is pass rush, and GM Bob Quinn ignored it almost completely. Trading next year’s third rounder for an enigmatic complementary DE in DaShawn Hand is a poor choice, and a fullback for the final pick seems wasteful. Even so, the Lions landed five players in my top 90 overall talents (Hand included) and have devoted major resources to fixing the league’s worst rushing offense.
Others where there the emotions are mixed:
Seattle Seahawks—they took Rashaad Penny two rounds too early and ahead of several RBs I, and most others, rated much higher. And they largely ignored their dreadful OL and dilapidated secondary. But I do like several of their Day 3 choices and that includes punter Michael Dickson. Drafting Shaquem Griffin is a special moment and a great move for their fans.
Washington—DaRon Payne helps them on the defensive front and I think he can be a more effective pass rusher in the NFL than at Alabama. Getting Derrius Guice where they did is a steal if his fall for being one what league source described to me as “naively difficult” proves a mistake. But Geron Christian was taken 100 spots too high and they bit on the “tests like Tarzan, plays like Jane” apple that is safety Troy Apke. Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton probably got seriously hurt again as I wrote this. But Trey Quinn as Mr. Irrelevant could catch a lot of passes for Alex Smith too.
To the Cleveland Browns, for trading up to select Florida bad boy WR Antonio Callaway. He’s definitely talented on the field, but his off-field foibles are disturbing. There are arrests for drug possession, credit card fraud and sexual assault. He was suspended by the Gators for the entire 2017 season for disciplinary issues. Callaway was even stupid (or brazen) enough to fail his Combine drug test. That is not the type of person I want anywhere near my football team, no matter the team. I’m certainly not trading up for a knucklehead like that.
Compounding the suck is new GM John Dorsey’s steadfast refusal to care about character. Later in the draft he tabbed Simeon Thomas. The Louisiana-Lafayette CB was suspended for two full seasons (one for academics) and four times total. The undrafted free agent class has a strong flavor of “The Longest Yard”. Darvin Kidsy has a felony hit-and-run arrest to his credit which got him thrown out of North Texas. Desmond Harrison got booted from Texas for multiple failed drug tests and other disciplinary issues. Zaycoven Henderson has an arrest record with multiple felonies on it as well from his abbreviated days at Texas A&M.
There is a real case to be made for giving young men second chances, to overcome past transgressions. I’m generally supportive of that, particularly when drugs or alcohol were directly involved. But adding so many guys with checkered pasts to a team burned by Johnny Manziel, Josh Gordon and others seems like a ridiculously unnecessary risk.