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Grading the First Round of the 2018 NFL Draft


The first round of the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books and the most anticipated draft in years lived up to the billing with drama at every turn in AT&T Stadium. We’ve still got two more days and six more rounds left to go but this year’s draft process has already been fascinating to see play out.

NFL Draft

Which teams did the best when they were on the clock? Which reached for somebody they could have gotten later and lost value? And which ones whiffed completely and will have fans questioning what the front office is doing? Here’s a look at how each team did with their first-round pick and why it will — or won’t — work out down the road.

2018 NFL Draft: First-Round Grades

1. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The Browns get their quarterback, just not the one many expected them to get the past year (at least up until about 24 hours before the draft). Mayfield is the ultimate competitor and was the most efficient quarterback in NCAA history two seasons in a row, but he’s still a risk given his below-average height. College fans are all for this decision, NFL fans are split, but this is a very Cleveland pick in grabbing the Heisman winner No. 1 overall.

NFL Power Rankings: Cleveland Browns

Grade: A-

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

So much for running back being an undervalued position. Barkley was the consensus top offensive player on most teams’ boards and is a guy who undoubtedly helps extend the win-now window with a dangerous core of him, Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. on the roster. There’s some risk given the position but it makes so much sense for New York to grab another electric playmaker.

NFL Power Rankings: Giants

Grade: A

3. New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

The Jets... catch a break? A season which began with fans clamoring for Darnold winds up with the team getting their signal-caller of the future in somebody who was generally considered to be the highest-graded quarterback available. He won’t have to be a starter right away and there’s plenty of promise in him being that elusive franchise guy.

NFL Power Rankings: Jets

Grade: A+

4. Cleveland Browns: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Ward will instantly boost a secondary that faces some top-notch receivers twice a year but might be a bit of a reach compared to where others had him going later in the first. He does go against the trend of bigger corners on the outside and isn’t quite the guy you can just leave completely on an island but should help a young, fast defense get better.

NFL Power Rankings: Cleveland Browns

Grade: B

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

Good luck AFC quarterbacks facing the Broncos’ pass rush. Goodness, Von Miller, Shane Ray and others wasn’t enough and John Elway gets the guy most considered to be the top defensive player in the draft. No it wasn’t a quarterback, but this is great value that makes the team better off the edge.

NFL Power Rankings: Broncos

Grade: A+

6. Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

You had to search hard and long to find anything bad said about Nelson, who might be the cleanest prospect in the draft and the one many in the league has the best shot at turning into an annual pro bowl player. He’ll instantly boost the ground game and keep the heat off Andrew Luck whenever he returns.

NFL Power Rankings: Colts

Grade: A+

7. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The team did keep their other first-rounder while still being able to move up and land their long-term quarterback. We’ll have years to see if this gamble pays off and there’s no doubt that Allen brings tremendous upside... but this remains a bet that every sportsbook in Vegas would like to take action against because the house always wins and the Bills hardly do.

NFL Power Rankings: Bills

Grade: C

8. Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

The Bears were sneakily solid on defense last year despite lacking in talent and now defensive coordinator Vic Fangio gets a true captain on the field that can go sideline-to-sideline. There are few guys who have the instincts that Smith does and outside of him being a tad small for an inside guy, this is somebody Bears fans are going to enjoy watching for a long time.

NFL Power Rankings: Bears

Grade: A+

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

After spending all that money on Jimmy G, the team knows they need to protect him in a division where teams just love to throw pass rushers at you from all directions. McGlinchey can be a bit stiff at times but should slide right into the lineup at right tackle before flipping over to the left when Joe Staley finally retires.

NFL Power Rankings: 49ers

Grade: B

10. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Talk about a terrific landing spot for Rosen, who will get to learn from another accurate signal-caller in Sam Bradford while also providing some injury protection as a rookie. This is the best natural passer in the draft and gives the team a long-term guy at quarterback in a division full of young guys that can spin it. Plus, Rosen can be a star in that dome.

NFL Power Rankings: Cardinals

Grade: A+

11. Miami Dolphins: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick brings loads of versatility to the secondary and is somebody that is tailor-made to stop a certain New England tight end who haunts this team twice a year. Lots of people had the Dolphins pegged to get Vita Vea to replace Ndamukong Suh but the former Alabama star is an instant starter who could be a Pro Bowler with his range on the back end.

NFL Power Rankings: Dolphins

Grade: A

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vita Vea, DL, Washington

The team moved down and did well in grabbing two second-rounders in order to do so, enhancing the value of this pick. Teaming Vea with Gerald McCoy is not only a great mentor for the rookie but a super-stout tandem up front that can get some push. That’ll help pass rushers like the newly acquired JPP and boost the secondary as a byproduct.

NFL Power Rankings: Buccaneers

Grade: A

13. Washington Redskins: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama

Payne isn’t as big of a name coming out of school as some of his previous Crimson Tide teammates but he might be the most polished. He’s just scratching the surface as a pass rusher but will instantly be a run-stuffer in a division where he sees Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley and Jay Ajayi (among others) twice a season.

NFL Power Rankings: Redskins

Grade: A

14. New Orleans Saints: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA

That’s a lot to give up (a future first-rounder among the picks) for a somewhat raw prospect but it shows that the team is in win-now mode after coming within a play of the NFC Championship Game. This is just about where Davenport was slated to go and he should help off the edge in various packages as a rookie but that might be a little steep price paid in order to secure him.

NFL Power Rankings: Saints

Grade: B-

15. Oakland Raiders: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

The team did add some more capital to move back and protecting Derek Carr is a priority for Jon Gruden but Miller getting developed by Tom Cable is certainly going to be a risk going forward. The UCLA product has all the physical tools and possesses high upside, but the landing spot might not be the best for him to fully turn into the player he can be.

NFL Power Rankings: Raiders

Grade: C+

16. Buffalo Bills: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

As soon as Edmunds started slipping, you figured that some team would go up and get him and it was once again Buffalo moving up. This is yet another height/weight/speed pick with huge upside for the organization but also some risk given how young he still is. When all is said and done though, this pick has a better chance of panning out than the team’s first and is somebody who can play pretty early on that defense.

NFL Power Rankings: Bills

Grade: A

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

This is straight-up theft, as James is easily a top-10 talent. The secondary is already loaded and the pass rush they get only enhances it. James’ versatility will really be put to work in Los Angeles as they will line him up and get production out of him at a different spot on every snap.

NFL Power Rankings: Chargers

Grade: A+

18. Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

The team did a little moving around but still landed a guy it was connected to throughout this process. Alexander will have to contribute right away given some of the names in the Green Bay secondary and has a chance to really turn into a star under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who will no doubt love how well the corner can play in bump and run.

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Grade: A

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

This was a selection that many had pegged for weeks now and makes a ton of sense for both the organization and the player. Not only does Vander Esch look like the long-term successor for Sean Lee, but he’ll hedge against his injury history this season too. Add in Jaylon Smith and that’s one athletic linebacking corps in a division where you have to be active at the second level.

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys

Grade: A

20. Detroit Lions: Frank Ragnow, OL, Arkansas

Ragnow was a fast riser the past few weeks and will help boost the lackluster run game as well as protect Matthew Stafford up the middle. This is still a bit of a reach and he is coming off an injury but that does set the team up nicely in the interior line while giving them the flexibility to move the former Razorback around.

NFL Power Rankings: Detroit Lions

Grade: B+

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Billy Price, OL, Ohio State

Price’s Scouting Combine injury didn’t hurt him at all and he even gets to stay in the same state. This is another pick that helps the rejuvenation of the offensive line but might be a tad bit of a reach and does nothing to energize a fan base after a bad season. At least Andy Dalton will be happy.

NFL Power Rankings: Bengals

Grade: B-

22. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Terrific value for the Titans here in getting a guy who will instantly contribute all over that defense and fills a need given their departures at inside linebacker. He’ll be able to learn from vets like Brian Orakpo and head coach Mike Vrabel while also being a guy whose athleticism is tailor-made to where the game is going.

NFL Power Rankings: Tennessee Titans

Grade: A

23. New England Patriots: Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia

Quality scheme fit for Wynn in New England. The way the Patriots zone and get push to second level fits with this selection and his ability to play both tackle and guard will help an already versatile offensive line trying to protect Tom Brady.

New England Patriots schedule 2019

Grade: B+

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

Lots of different-sized weapons for Cam Newton now in adding Moore to Devin Funchess/Torrey Smith on the outside, Curtis Samuel out of the slot, Greg Olsen at tight end and last year’s pick Christian McCaffrey. Oh yes, this offense is going to be a nightmare to game plan against and Moore could wind up turning into option No. 1 at receiver earlier than expected.

NFL Power Rankings: Panthers

Grade: A-

25. Baltimore Ravens: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

General manager Ozzie Newsome stays winning. Traded down to grab more picks, lands a huge position of need in Hurst and gets the tight end most ready to contribute right away. Yet another steal for the Ravens.

NFL Power Rankings: Ravens

Grade: A+

26. Atlanta Falcons: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

It took a while for the wideouts to come off the board but nobody in Atlanta will argue about this landing spot. Ridley is the most polished guy at the position in the draft and will be a great fit running precise routes out of the slot to draw attention away from fellow former Crimson Tide receiver Julio Jones. Plus, Ridley knows how to win at that stadium already.