Looking back at the 2018 edition of the NFL Draft, the talk is always around Re-Drafts and polarising subjects like “why the heck did the Giants not take a Quarterback with 2nd pick?”. But if we were to build a team who made up entirely of players entering their Sophomore year in the NFL, should teams like the Giants feel vindicated or guilty of reaching?
Quarterback: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (Round 1, Pick 1)
The first name off the board in the 2018 Draft and now we know for sure why. After a shaky start in Cleveland which resulted in the dismissal of head coach Hue Jackson, Mayfield came alive. What seemed impossible after Week 9, with the Browns sitting on 2-6-1 record, Mayfield rallied the team to win five of the remaining seven games and thrust themselves into playoff contention. With the entire organisation now backing him to achieve playoff football and more, Baker Mayfield is surely a name we will be hearing for a long while.
Running Back: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (Round 1, Pick 2)
To silence the doubters of the Giants taking Barkley 2nd overall, he needed to produce big numbers. That is exactly what he did, only finishing behind the thumping Ezekiel Elliot in total rushing yards. When you break down the numbers, Barkley in fact out-performed Elliot in terms of average yards per attempt and rushing touchdowns. If we really deep dive, we see the Giant running back broke out for 20+ yards on a single run 16 times. Nearest rivals Todd Gurley and again Elliot only managed 11. Is Barkley the best running back in the NFL?
Running Back: Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos (Undrafted)
Slightly cheating with this one as Lindsay went undrafted, but it’s plain to see he has first round talent. Such a success was his rookie season, he was elected to the Pro Bowl. The first ever offensive undrafted rookie to do so. A wrist injury unfortunately prevented him from taking part in traditional end of season talent showcase.
Lindsay certainly exploded onto the scene, outperforming fellow rookie and teammate Royce Freeman who was taken in the 3rd round. His average of 5.4 yards per carry along with nine touchdowns earns his spot on this roster.
Wide Receiver: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons (Round 1, Pick 26)
Despite facing stiff competition from Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Ridley was still able to put up impressive numbers. Not to mention the running backs of Falcons soaking up a sizeable percentage of the team’s receptions too. Quietly putting up his 821 yards and 10 score season, he ranked as the best rookie WR last season in a number of categories. Six of his ten touchdowns came in the month of September, which landed him the Offensive Rookie of the Month title. Easy to feel this is just the beginning of the accolades coming Ridley’s way.
Wide Receiver: DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers (Round 1, Pick 24)
Sticking with selections made in the NFC South, Moore would be the one to play opposite Ridley on this team. Moore ended the year just 33 yards shy of Ridley, showing that this pair share more than just a conference. He quickly showed to be Steve Smith‘s self proclaimed replacement on the Panthers roster.
Smith told the NFL world on the day Carolina picked Moore “They have never been able to replace me. Until today.” Sharing his rough and ready traits, this was shown none more by the fact that Moore led the league in yards after contact per reception (5.05).
Tight End: Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens (Round 3, Pick 86)
Andrews entered the NFL in an immediate tough spot. Baltimore had already selected a tight end by the name of Hayden Hurst in the first round. Straight from the off, the competition was there. Perhaps this spurred Andrews on, as led all rookie tight ends in receiving yards whilst claiming the third most receptions. Not bad for a guy who started off as the 4th tight end even on his own team. With talent and fight like this, Andrews is fully deserving of his roster spot here.
Offensive Tackles: Mike McGlinchey, San Francisco 49ers (Round 1, Pick 9), Orlando Brown, Baltimore Ravens (Round 3, Pick 83)
In what was considered a boring pick at the time, the 49ers had one thing on their mind – keep Jimmy Garoppolo on his feet. However, by Week 3 Jimmy G blew out his ACL on a rushing attempt and the franchise entered recovery mode.
This allowed McGlinchey to quietly solidify a role as the team’s right tackle, meaning the team need not worry about this position for years to come. Across from McGlinchey we find Baltimore’s Orlando Brown. Not exactly a neat and tidy run blocker, but his freakish measurements make getting past him a daunting prospect for any charging defensive end. Standing at 6’8″ and weighing a stonking 345 pounds, good luck beating that.
Offensive Guards: Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts (Round 1, Pick 6), Will Hernandez, New York Giants (Round 2, Pick 34)
Graded by Pro Football Focus as the 4th best run-blocking guard, it’s easy to see why Quenton Nelson was sent to the Pro Bowl. He played an integral role in keeping Andrew Luck upright, which was holding back the offensive prowess of the Colts for years.
Meanwhile, Will Hernandez showed stability when his team often did not. Plan A was always hand the ball off to Saquon Barkley, in which Hernandez played his role in ensuring this was a success. With Eli Manning at Quarterback, even a ounce of pressure made him retreat to the fetal position. Pretty difficult to protect someone like that.
Center: Bradley Bozeman, Baltimore Ravens (Round 6, Pick 215)
In a relatively porous center class, Bozeman is the one to make the cut. Despite just the one career start to his name, he played a stellar rotational role in a Ravens offence that generated 5,999 total yards. Enough for the 9th highest across the league.
Defensive End: Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos (Round 1, Pick 5)
One of the standout defensive players of the 2018 class. Playing alongside the coveted Von Miller, Chubb was able to tally 12 sacks and a further 14 tackles for loss. A true wrecking ball. Quarterbacks across Denver’s schedule last season truly felt his force as he accumulated 21 QB hits. A cornerstone of the Broncos defensive for years to come.
Defensive End: Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints (Round 1, Pick 14)
The Saints made a big splash to land Davenport in the 2018 Draft. Giving up their 1st round pick from this year’s Draft shows just how much they value this guy. An immediate return was seen in the season just past. Davensport notched up 4.5 sacks over the 13 games he featured in. He also managed to force one fumble. This is just the beginning. Plenty more to come from this hot prospect out of UTSA.
Defensive Tackle: Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Round 1, Pick 12)
Formally known as Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea, his play in 2018 was impressive as his name. It took a bit of time for Vea to see the field as injury kept him on the sidelines. When he did eventually get some NFL snaps under his belt, the difference he made to the Bucs’ defense was palpable. Opposing quarterbacks constantly found Vea getting up in their grill. He was able to pick up 3 sacks and 28 total tackles.
Linebacker: Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts (Round 2, Pick 36)
Leonard put up mind-boggling numbers for a rookie in the 2018 season. A combined total of 163 tackles, 19 more than any other player. As well as a huge 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles (recovering 2 of them) and 2 interceptions, he was causing trouble across the entire field. Leonard was the easy choice for the Defensive Rookie of the Year title. A real sideline-to-sideline enforcer, he has already become one of the best ever 2nd round picks in recent years.
Linebacker: Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears (Round 1, Pick 8)
Pre-draft, Roquan Smith was the highest ranked linebacker. This potential was certainly fulfilled, almost immediately. On his first career snap, he sacked Packers QB DeShone Kizer in front a nationwide audience on Sunday Night Football. Smith added four more sacks across the season, as well as stacking up a strong 122 combined tackles. This was enough for the 13th highest in the league.
Linebacker: Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys (Round 1, Pick 19)
LVE’s robust play in 2018 earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl. For what he’s missing in sacks, Vander Esch makes up for in combined tackles (3rd overall) and passes defended (30th overall). When Cowboys elite linebacker Sean Lee sustained a hamstring injury, Vander Esch plugged this hole superbly. In Lee’s absence, he went on to accumulate a total of 140 combined tackles, a rookie franchise record.
Cornerback: Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns (Round 1, Pick 4)
A slightly surprising pick at time by the Browns, Ward proved his worth and even earned a Pro Bowl roster spot. He finished his debut season with 53 total tackles, a forced fumble and 3 interceptions to his name. This was achieved across 13 games, Ward was unfortunate to receive a pair of concussions that forced him to miss time. The only knock on his otherwise successful rookie campaign.
Cornerback: Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers (Round 1, Pick 18)
A productive and dynamic product out of Louisville, Alexander started 11 games for the Packers. Over the course of these outings he recorded 66 total tackles and an impressive 11 passes defended. Certainly one with a nose for the ball, he dived on 2 fumbles forced by teammates of his. Alexander also notched up 4 QB pressures despite blitzing just 9 times.
Safety: Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers (Round 1, Pick 17)
One pick before Alexander in the 2018 Draft was all-pro Derwin James. His play certainly made him Darius Leonard’s main rival for the 2018 DROY award. James earned the description ‘movable chess piece’, meaning no matter where he was placed on the field, he possessed the skill-set to be an enforcer. He was dominant in pass coverage, a run stuffer and one of the league’s best pass rushing safeties, highlighted by the fact he allowed only 7.1 yards per catch (one of the best of the 2018 class across all positions).
Safety: Jessie Bates, Cincinnati Bengals (Round 2, Pick 54)
Named starter for the Bengals after they controversially let go of George Iloka prior to Week 1. The doubters of this move were soon proved wrong however, when Bates stepped up to the plate. Graded by PFF as the 2nd best rookie safety at season end, highlighted by his 111 total tackles. He also added 7 pass break-ups and 3 interceptions, showing his elite range. Were it not for Derwin James setting the world alight, Bates would be getting smothered with praise from all corners.
Kicker: Jason Sanders, Miami Dolphins (Round 7, Pick 229)
Of the three qualifying place kickers, Sanders was the only one to remain on the team that drafted him. Beating out fellow rookie Greg Joseph (who went on to become the starter for Cleveland) in training camp. He became a very dependable option for Miami’s special teams. To be exact, Sanders converted 18 out of 20 field goals, a healthy 90% success rate. His nearest competition was the aforementioned Joseph who was one-shy, converting 17 of his 20 attempts.
Punter: Michael Dickson, Seattle Seahawks (Round 5, Pick 149)
Elected to the Pro Bowl and no wonder. Dickson ranked as the league’s 2nd best punter based on average punt distance. He was pipped to the crown of being top punter by Andy Lee of the Cardinals, who you can imagine had a lot more attempts to bolster his average on that dreadful Arizona offence. Dickson also placed in the upper echelon when it come to longest punt. Tied for 4th with Kevin Huber of the Bengals, both sent one for 69 yards down the field.
Returner: Tremon Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (Round 6, Pick 196)
Smith was smooth and effective for the Chiefs in their return game. A healthy average of 26.8 yards per return, he certainly provided a boost for his team’s offence. Totalling 866 kick-return yards was enough for the third highest in the league.