Projections

2018 NFL DRAFT – FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Synopsis: In the 2018 NFL Draft, quarterbacks went with four of the top 10 overall picks for the first time in history. As a result, draft pundits will evaluate this year’s draft class based on the success or failure of QBs Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen. Running back Shaquon Barkley certainly will be part of the conversation, but likely in reference to how he performs relative to the three QBs taken after him. Hopefully, linebacker Shaquem Griffin is not just a footnote and gets remembered for having a successful NFL career despite missing his left hand. It’ll be at least five years before I can definitively declare any Top 10 Busts. In the meantime, I’ll offer my assessment of the early favorites. 


2018 NFL DRAFT – FIRST IMPRESSIONS

When sharing my 2018 Mock NFL Draft, I offered the following “bold” predictions.

  1. THE FIRST FOUR PICKS WOULD BE QUARTERBACKS.
  2. AT LEAST THREE TEAMS WOULD TRADE UP FOR TOP 10 OVERALL PICKS DURING THE DRAFT.

So how did I do? One word . . . Meh! Two (vs. three) teams traded up for a top 10 pick during the draft, and only two (vs. four) QBs went in the top four. Furthermore, I didn’t fair too well predicting the correct order of the first 10 picks. In case you missed my T10B 2018 NFL Mock Draft, the following table summaries the picks.

2018 T10B MOCK NFL DRAFT
Pick Player Pos College Ht Wt 40 Time Vertical Leap Bench Press (Reps)
#1 Josh Allen QB Wyoming 6’5″ 237 4.75 33 1/2″ N/A
#2 Sam Darnold QB USC 6’3″ 220 4.85 26 1/2″ N/A
#3 Josh Rosen QB UCLA 6’4″ 226 4.92 31″ N/A
#4 Baker Mayfield QB Oklahoma 6’1″ 215 4.84 29″ N/A
#5 Saquon Barkley RB Penn State 6’0″ 233 4.40 41″ 29
#6 Bradley Chubb DE NC State 6’4″ 269 4.65 36″ 24
#7 Minkah Fitzpatrick FS Alabama 6’1″ 201 4.46 33″ 14
#8 Roquan Smith OLB Georgia 6’1″ 236 4.51 N/A N/A
#9 Tremaine Edmunds ILB Va. Tech 6’5″ 253 4.54 N/A 19
#10 Quenton Nelson OG Notre Dame 6’5″ 329 N/A 26.5″ 35

I concede that the previous table has a lot of information that doesn’t necessarily justify each player’s draft position. Still, it offers a quick snapshot of his size, strength and athleticism.

The table serves as the equivalent of the bathing suit portion of a beauty pageant. It won’t let you know who will win; however, it sets up the early favorites. I offer the following snapshot as support for this statement.

2017 MISS USA TOP 10 “BEST WALK” IN THE BATHING SUIT COMPETITION 

With respect to the women in the picture, four ended up in the top 10 at the end of the night.

  • New Jersey finished 3rd (i.e. 2nd runner-up)
  • South Carolina finished in the Top 5.
  • California finished in the Top 10.
  • New York finished in the Top 10.

Starting this year, the Miss America pageant will be removing the swimsuit portion of the competition. True to form, the Miss USA organization won’t hold itself to the same artificially lofty standards. If so, we might miss out on wonderfully bad responses during the interview portion of the competition such as this one during the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant.

In case you didn’t click on the link, here’s the question posed to and answer provided by Miss Teen South Carolina.

Q. Recent polls have shown that 50% of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?

A. I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps. And, I believe that our education, such as in South Africa and The Iraq, everywhere, like, such as, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., or should help South Africa. It should help The Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us.

I get that the contestant was very nervous. Still, she failed to recognize the basic theme of domestic education. I personally believe that U.S. Americans will enjoy the mostest that she added a “The” in front of Iraq not once, but twice. Too bad she couldn’t have been honest and simply said, “Half of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map because they’re imbeciles.” Then again, I would put a decent wager predicting whether or not she could pass that basic test of world geography. 

PREVIOUS LESSONS LEARNED

We’ve all heard the expression, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” In the case of the NFL draft, desperate teams make desperate decisions. Not surprisingly, many busts could have been avoided if teams acted more rationally.  After reviewing over forty years of draft history, I came up with 7 Lessons to minimize exposure to potential busts. Specifically, these lessons include:

  1. There’s no such thing as a sure thing.
  2. When in doubt, draft offensive linemen and avoid receivers.
  3. Don’t reach.
  4. Character matters.
  5. Avoid players who regressed in their final season.
  6. Avoid QBs who were interception leaders.
  7. Get to camp on time.
2017 TOP 10 PICKS – LESSONS LEARNED

Last year, seven of the top 10 overall picks raised red flags because teams ignored one of my 7 Lessons.

First, teams took wide receivers Corey Davis, Mike Williams, and John Ross with early picks (Lesson 2). Davis led the group with only 34 receptions and 385 yards in 11 games while Williams finished second with 11 receptions for 95 yards in 10 games. To be fair, Ross only started one game because of an injury so he arguably deserves a “pass” for now. Still, the lesson seems to be following previous experience.

Second, both Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey regressed in their final college seasons (Lesson 5). Instead of trying to reverse the trend and finish off strong, both players sat out of their teams’ Bowl games with a fear of getting hurt (versus actually being hurt). Given their actions, I expressed more concern about potential injuries than their abilities. Fournette lost three games to injury while McCaffrey played in all 16 games last year. Regardless, each player exceeded 1,000 yards from scrimmage during the 2017 NFL season so they seem to be bucking the trend (for now).

Third, teams may have reached by taking QBs Mitch “You’re not a Mitchell” Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes (Lesson 3) so high. Trubisky threw for over 2,000 yards in 12 starts while Mahomes threw for almost 300 yards in his one start. Mitchell had only 7 TDs while compiling a 4-8 record, and Patrick had a 1-0 record with 0 TDs and 1 INT. It’s still too early to tell for either player. Relative to the two picks, I like the gamble taken by the Chiefs.

2018 TOP 10 PICKS – LESSONS LEARNED

The following table highlights the pre-draft rankings for the 2018 Top 10 overall picks.

Draft       CBS USA Pro FB NFL. Avg
Pick Player College Position Sports TODAY Focus com Rank
1 Baker Mayfield Oklahoma QB 34 16 1 22 18
2 Saquon Barkley Penn State RB 6 1 9 2 5
3 Sam Darnold USC QB 22 19 2 5 12
4 Denzel Ward Ohio State CB 13 28 13 12 17
5 Quenton Nelson Notre Dame OG 3 2 5 1 3
6 Bradley Chubb NC State DE 1 3 11 3 5
7 Josh Allen Wyoming QB 54 75 35 38 51
8 Roquan Smith UGA LB 4 5 7 6 6
9 Mike McGlinchey Note Dame OT 35 21 14 31 25
10 Josh Rosen UCLA QB 14 8 6 14 11

Relative to the prior year, the 2018 NFL Draft raised far fewer red flags. Whereas 7 players raised concerns in 2017, only 3 players faced a similar situation in 2018. Specifically:

  • Sam Darnold’s performance regressed last year (Lesson 5), and he threw a lot interceptions (Lesson 6).
  • With a peak ranking of 12 and average ranking of 17, CB Denzel Ward could be considered a reach pick as the 4th overall selection of the Browns (Lesson 3). 
  • QB Josh Allen ranked as the 51st best prospect but went with the 7th overall pick. As a result, he qualities as a reach (Lesson 3).

OT Mike McGlichey could be considered a reach as well by going 9th overall to the 49ers despite an average ranking of 25. Then again, he’s 6’8″ and 312 pounds so the risk/reward is worth the pick (Lesson 2). Furthermore, San Francisco already won the proverbial lottery by only having to give up its 2018 2nd round pick to get QB Jimmy Garoppolo from New England last season. As a result, the organization could risk an early pick on a top offensive lineman to protect their new franchise quarterback.

Baker Mayfield (drunk & disorderly) and Josh Allen (inappropriate Tweets as a teenager) raised questions with their off-field behavior (Lesson 4). However, I don’t think either player’s transgression elevated to the point of having to question their character. Viewed differently, their behavior didn’t raise the same red flags at 2015 #1 pick Jameis Winston and 2014 #22 pick Johnny Manziel.

T10B 2018 NFL DRAFT EVALUATION

With respect to the top 10 picks from the 2018 NFL Draft, I adjusted their expected draft value after accounting for any trades. For instance, the New York Jets took Sam Darnold with the #3 overall pick, which has a TFI (T10B Football Index) value of 95. However, the team gave up 205 TFI points by trading its 2018 #6 pick (75 pts), #37 pick (47.5 pts), #49 pick (42.5 pts), and 2019 2nd Rd pick (40 pts) to move up to the 2018 #3 pick. As a result, Darnold needs to surpass 205 TFI points in order for the Jets’ trade to add value.

2018 NFL DRAFT EVALUATION TABLE
Draft Pick Player Trade Adjusted TFI Comparable Player Draft Position Comp. Player Accomplishments
1 Baker Mayfield 100 Alex Smith #1 2005 3x Pro Bowl
2 Saquon Barkley 95 Eric Dickerson  #2 1983 6x Pro Bowl / 5x 1st Team
3 Sam Darnold 205 Matt Ryan #3 2008 4x Pro Bowl / 1x 1st Team / 1x MVP
4 Denzel Ward 85 Kenny Easley #4 1981 5x Pro Bowl / 3x 1st Team
5 Quenton Nelson 75 Lomas Brown #6 1985 7x Pro Bowl / 1x 1st Team
6 Bradley Chubb 75 Willie McGinest #4 1994 2x Pro Bowl
7 Josh Allen 143 Phil Simms #7 1979 2x Pro Bowl / 1x Super Bowl MVP
8 Roquan Smith 75 James Farrior  #8 1997 2x Pro Bowl
9 Mike McGlinchey 75 Lincoln Kennedy #9 1993 3x Pro Bowl / 1x 1st Team
10 Josh Rosen 128 Daunte Culpepper #11 1999 3x Pro Bowl
#1 PICK – BAKER MAYFIELD

Given that the Browns didn’t have to trade up in order to take Baker Mayfield with the #1 overall pick, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner has the lowest threshold of the four QBs in the table. As such, he’ll have the best chance to avoid becoming a Top 10 Bust. At the same time, his career will be judged relative to the careers of the other three quarterbacks who could have been taken instead.

As the 2005 #1 overall pick, Alex Smith surpassed expectations with a career winning percentage approaching 60% and a TD/INT ratio close to 2:1. Still, Smith cannot avoid comparisons to future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers (66% winning percentage, 4:1 TD/INT ratio) who went 23 picks later in the same draft. Smith has had a really good career, but he’ll never escape being compared to one of the game’s all-time greats. Mayfield faces the same potential challenge.

Given the dysfunction of the Browns since they returned to Cleveland, Mayfield realistically only has to surpass the career production of 1999 #1 overall pick Tim Couch to avoid being call a bust. Specifically, Couch threw for 11,000 yards and had a career TD/INT ratio of approximately 1:1 (64 TDs/67 INTs). I predict that Mayfield has an 80% chance to surpass those numbers. If he doesn’t and one of the other three QBs in the table has a Hall of Fame career, however, my T10B list may need a revision.

#2 PICK – SAQUON BARKLEY 
With that throwing form, Barkley will have to stick to running.

To be fair to Barkley, he only needs to surpass the career production of 1983 #3 pick Freeman McNeil in order to meet the expected value from a #2 overall pick. While playing for the Jets in the 80s and early 90s, McNeil had 50 TDs and over 11,000 yards from scrimmage. He also made 1 All-Pro Team and 3 Pro Bowls. While those numbers are not a slam dunk for Barkley, they’re not outrageous either.

However, I chose 1983 #2 overall pick Eric Dickerson as the comparable player in the table because the Hall of Fame running back went before two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Jim Kelly and Dan Marino). Barkley could have a great career and still face the same comparisons that Mayfield will have to endure. Fair or not, the running back’s career will be evaluated based on the success of Darnold, Allen, and Rosen.

I first watched Saquon Barkley play when Penn State went to Ohio State in October 1997 with a 7-0 record and #2 ranking. After Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, I looked at my son and said, “He’s going to win the Heisman.” However, I then watched him run for 44 yards on 21 attempts and thought, “He’s overrated.” After the game, I envisioned having to include him as an addendum to my previous post about the Penn State Jinx. (i.e. successful Penn State RBs who underachieved in the NFL).

I’ll admit that Barkley is a talented running back who should become a productive NFL player. Then again, so were former Penn State running backs 1987 #14 pick D.J. Dozier, 1990 #2 pick Blair Thomas, 1995 #1 pick Ki-Jana Carter, and 1998 #5 pick Curtis Ennis. Until proven wrong, I don’t go against a trend so I don’t like the pick. 

Overall, I give Barkley a 20% chance of becoming the exception to the rule regarding the NFL failures of former Nittany Lion RBs. I don’t think that he will fail based on his talent. However, I fear he won’t be able to either escape injury or the microscope of the New York media.

#3 PICK – SAM DARNOLD 
Darnold reminds me of someone, but I can’t quite draw the connection.
Oh yeah, this guy.

Going into the 2017 college season, USC’s Sam Darnold ranked as the likely #1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He went 3rd overall, so his fall certainly wasn’t as precipitous as the one experienced by former Trojan Matt Leinart. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 2003, Leinart ranked as the likely #1 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. However, he stayed in school and regressed to fall to 10th overall in the following draft. Darnold regressed by staying in school, but the Jets didn’t seem to be worried by the interception-prone QB.

I highlighted the Penn State Jinx regarding former Nittany Lion running backs, but highly touted USC quarterbacks haven’t faired any better. I already mentioned T10B Matt Leinart, but can’t avoid references to 2009 #5 overall pick Matt Sanchez. Mrs. Tony Parker’s (i.e Eva Longoria’s) former boy toy took the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship Games, but he also caused the “Butt Fumble” and he left New York empty-handed. I would be remiss to exclude 1991 #24 draft pick Todd Marinovich, who needs no introduction. But for getting the Brady Quinn Exemption, the Robo-quarterback certainly would have ranked as a T10B. 

Darnold already raised two red flags by regressing in his last year in college and by throwing a lot of picks (#10 in the NCAA last year). If he can’t find a window in college with slower DBs, how can he possibly thread the needle in the NFL? Furthermore, his threshold is much higher given the trade made by the Jets to move up in the draft. 

After highlighting a Penn State Jinx, perhaps I need to create a USC Jinx regarding former Trojan QBs. Darnold may become the exception to the rule jinx, but I doubt it. Given that he failed two of my 7 Lessons and he’s playing in New York City, I give the Jets’ 2018 opening day QB a 10% chance of being successful. 

#4 PICK DENZEL WARD
Based on the information in this photo, Ward deserved to go #4. Still, I bet the Browns could have traded down to get him.

If taken with a mid-1st round pick (as projected), Denzel Ward may have become a hidden gem. However, the Browns took him 4th overall so he will have to live up to unreasonable expectations given the value of the pick. Of note, teams certainly would have given excess value (i.e. future draft picks) in order to move up and take QBs Josh Allen or Josh Rosen.

I project that Ward will have a similar career to 2010 #5 pick Joe Haden. Of note, Haden made 2 Pro Bowls and ranked 5th in the NFL as a rookie with 6 INTs. Based on the value of the pick, Ward will need to exceed the career of 5x Pro Bowl and 3x 1st Team All-Pro Kenny Easley. I give Ward a 10% change of meeting this threshold.

#5 PICK QUENTON NELSON / # 6 PICK BRADLEY CHUBB / #8 PICK ROQUAN SMITH 

In order for these picks to exceed their expected values, they need to exceed the careers of OT Lomas Brown, DE Willie McGinest, and LB James Farrior, respectively. Given the focus of teams trying to secure future franchise quarterbacks, I believe these players became undervalued future superstars. As such, I don’t believe any of them will come close to becoming future busts. In contrast, I predict that they collectively will have the most productive careers (i.e. highest TFI) from any three players in the 2018 NFL draft class.

With respect to the three, Roquan Smith has the most upside and potential to become a Hall of Famer. Generally, I question rookies who hold out given the structured contracts for new NFL players. However, I respect Smith for refusing to accept a financial penalty for the new NFL targeting rules. I project him to be the next great Chicago Bears linebacker in the image of Dick Butkus and Brian Urlacher. If so, he’ll become the steal of the draft. 

KHALIL MACK TRADE

After writing most of this article but before posting it, I learned that the Bears traded for 2016 Defensive Player of the Year DE Khalil Mack. With both Mack and Smith, Da Bears should return to their defensive dominance from the mid-1980s. As a result, I may need to change my prediction regarding the bust potential of “Mitchell” Trubisky. The 2017 #2 overall pick now only needs to match the capabilities of Jim McMahon or Trent Dilfer to win a Super Bowl given the strength of his defense. As always, it’s better to be lucky than good.

As an aside, I looked up the career stats of Hall of Fame LB Dick Butkus to see if I needed to reference the 1960s Bears’ defense as well. Based on his WCAV (weighted career average value), the all-time great linebacker didn’t rank as one of the top 400 players in NFL history. Still, he had 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries in his 9-year career. He also would have had over 100 sacks if that stat had been recorded at the time. Based on the new contact rules, I would guess that over half of his hits would result in a flag as well. For a good as Mack is and Smith might be, they’ll never live up to the standard set by:

Blue Thunder’s Richard ‘Ski’ Butowski

You should recognize Pro Football HOF members Dick Butkus (R) and Bubba Smith (2nd from L) from the photo. In addition, you hopefully recognize T10B #10 SNL all-time great Dana Carvey (L). As the star of the show, James Farentino never imagined he would be the least recognizable person in the photo 30 years later.

Like Butkus, Smith gave up his NFL career after nine years to pursue a career in acting. BTW, the T10B all-time greatest RB Jim Brown also gave up his NFL career to pursue acting after nine years. I wonder how much players like Butkus or Brown would have made today. If Kirk Cousins is worth $28 million/year and Khalil Mack is worth $24 million/year, they would each get > $35 million/year, easily. As a trade-off, we wouldn’t have Jim Brown in The Dirty Dozen or Dick Butkus in Blue Thunder.  

#7 PICK JOSH ALLEN

Relative to all of the QBs taken with a Top 10 overall pick, Josh Allen has the most upside. He also has the most downside as shown by his #51 overall ranking. If Allen fails, he’ll confirm concerns about his inaccuracy and inability to progress beyond the FBS. If he succeeds, the Bills got lucky.

In preparation for my mock draft, I hesitantly admit that I watched the NFL combine. I only added that adverb because the combine should not be used to replace actual film. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to watch enough college football so I take what I can get. During my 4-hour diversion on a Saturday morning in early March, I learned three things that I didn’t already know.

  1. Former Louisville QB Lamar Jackson cannot throw a football. In case you’re wondering, I’m not joking. He underthrew a receiver by 10 yards in a 40-yard post route. Jackson may become a capable receiver, but I doubt he’ll ever become a capable quarterback.
  2. In contrast, Allen overthrew receiver in a 70-yard route by 5 yards. He missed the receiver by 15 feet and garnered the most gasps of the day. Allen then completed a 68-yard pass with little effort. In case you forgot, he measures 6’5″ and 237 lbs. Sign me up!
  3. Shaquem Griffin will be the steal of the draft. Of note, Griffin won the 2018 Peach Bowl Defensive MVP and ran a 4.38 in the 40-yd dash at the combine. Yet, he fell to the 5th round because he doesn’t have a left hand. I watched Jim Abbot throw a no-hitter in the MLB without a right hand. I can’t wait for Griffin to defy odds despite his disadvantage. 
 #10 PICK JOSH ROSEN

I keep hearing that Josh Rosen is the most NFL-ready quarterback in the 2018 NFL draft class. I don’t know what I’m missing, but I’m not seeing what everyone else is. As the 4th quarterback taken in the draft, Rosen clearly had the same impression on GMs that he did on me.

To be fair, Rosen had some really impressive games in college. I admit that I wrote him off in Week 1 last year when UCLA trailed Texas A&M by 34 points with four minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. Rosen impressively threw four TDs in the 4th quarter to lead a dramatic comeback. Furthermore, he outplayed Sam Darnold (421 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT vs. 264 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT) in match-up of future 2018 Top 10 overall picks. Still, I never jumped on the Rosen bandwagon.

Despite Rosen’s college achievements, I just can’t get over the image of him sitting in a hot tub in his freshman dorm room three years ago.

BOYS WILL BE BOYS, BUT IMAGINE GETTING AWAY WITH THIS IN YOUR DORM

More relevantly, I don’t think Rosen will be able to outplay Sam Bradford in the short-term to give his teammates comfort that he’s a better leader for the team. 

As the 4th QB taken in the 2018 NFL Draft, Rosen should have the lowest threshold (i.e. least expectations). Still, I give him a 60% chance of failing to meet the success of comparable pick Daunte Culpepper. 

CONCLUSION

In sum, I predict the following:

  1. Baker Mayfield – Decent career (i.e. not a bust or an all-time great).
  2. Saquon Barkley – Short-term greatness, but not worth the high pick.
  3. Sam Darnold – Decent career, but not worth the trade made for him.
  4. Denzel Ward – Not worthy of the #4 overall pick.
  5. Quenton Nelson – Good, safe pick.
  6. Bradley Chubb – A steal as a #6 pick.
  7. Josh Allen – High risk / high reward – either a flame-out or a reason for Buffalo to forget Jim Kelly.
  8. Roquan Smith – The best player in the draft.
  9. Mike McGlinchey – Questionable pick so high, but worth the risk.
  10. Josh Rosen – Forgettable pick / player.
2018 NFL DRAFT – FIRST IMPRESSIONS

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