We’re halfway through the NFL season, and a few things are becoming clear: the Los Angeles Rams are really good, the Oakland Raiders are really bad, and NFL football is better than ever.
As is the case with colleges around the country, it’s time to grab a coffee, pull an all-nighter, and pump out mid-term grades for every first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
1. Cleveland Browns, QB Baker Mayfield
The Browns are in total reboot mode, but the team’s struggles cannot land on the shoulders of their No. 1 overall pick. Mayfield only gets credit for one of Cleveland’s wins as a starter, but he won them in spot-duty against the Jets in Week Three, and he’s been playing decent football ever since. Mayfield’s performances against Oakland and Tampa Bay were enough to win those games, but his team let him down. Things are looking up for the ultra-accurate rookie, but he’s got a rough road ahead with Cleveland being a bigger mess than usual.
2. New York Giants, RB Saquon Barkley
Everyone talks about how the Giants botched their draft by not taking a quarterback, but Barkley is turning into one of the league’s elite offensive weapons while everyone whines about Eli Manning. Barkley is tied fourth in the entire NFL with 58 receptions, is eighth in the league with 519 rushing yards, and has scored seven total touchdowns. The kid is a stud, whether you like this pick or not.
3. New York Jets, QB Sam Darnold
It’s obvious that the Jets have their quarterback of the future in Darnold through the first half of the season. Despite leading the league with 10 interceptions, the kid is learning on the fly with an offense devoid of weapons, and he still has the Jets at 3-5. It’s a work in progress in New York, but it looks like they got this pick right.
4. Cleveland Browns, CB Denzel Ward
Everybody talks about the Mayfield pick, but GM John Dorsey absolutely landed a 10-year player in Ward. The Ohio State rookie has been an absolute stud on the Browns defense picking off three passes, forcing a fumble plus recovering two more, and recording 39 tackles. Plus, Ward is tied for third in the NFL with nine passes defended. You’ll be watching DW for years to come.
5. Denver Broncos, DE Bradley Chubb
Pairing Chubb with Von Miller has been a match made in heaven for Denver. Chubb already has 7.0 sacks in his rookie campaign (third most in the NFL) and is living up to the hype. Problem with this pick, just like the New York Giants, is that Denver has more than a few holes where this pick really would have filled better. Good example is the offensive line, which has given up 51 QB hits, the 10th most in the NFL through eight weeks. Chubb is elite as a pass rusher, so it’s hard to knock much else.
6. Indianapolis Colts, OG Quenton Nelson
The Colts had one job this season: protect Andrew Luck at all costs. They’ve done that with Frank Reich’s short passing attack, plus they found this fantastic rookie guard out of Notre Dame. Nelson has been part of an offensive line that’s allowed only 10 sacks in Indy, one shy of the fewest allowed in the entire NFL. The Colts need more weapons in the future, and they’ve got a future Pro Bowl guard already in place.
7. Buffalo Bills, QB Josh Allen
Buffalo has no idea what to do at quarterback. First, they traded A.J. McCarron, then started Nathan Peterman, then switched to Allen, then fell on walking dinosaur Derek Anderson. This strong-armed rookie has two wins, one (somehow) against the Minnesota Vikings, and another against Tennessee, which was more defensive game than anything else. The Bills have a defensive coach and a project quarterback, and it’s hard to believe this is going to get better.
8. Chicago Bears, LB Roquan Smith
The Bears suddenly find themselves in first place in the NFC North with a 4-3 record, and they have a defense that’s only allowing 20.6 points per game. Smith missed a lot of training camp and the preseason in a contract dispute, but he’s managed to start five games so far. He had a 13 tackle game in Week Seven against the Dolphins to bring his season total to 41 tackles. He’s no Khalil Mack, but Smith is finding a home in Chicago.
9. San Francisco 49ers, OT Mike McGlinchey
The 49ers were dealt a massive blow losing Jimmy Garoppolo earlier this season, but they’ve parlayed that into becoming the NFL’s leading rushing team behind their new right tackle. Behind McGlinchey, the 49ers have 12 carries of 10-plus yards to the right side of their offense, the second-most in the NFL. This passing game will struggle without consistent quarterback play, but they’ve struck gold in San Francisco with McGlinchey.
10. Arizona Cardinals, QB Josh Rosen
The Cardinals have a lot of problems on offense, having already fired an offensive coordinator and have an offensive line that’s allowed 57 QB hits already, but Rosen has been pretty solid since taking over. He’s improved every week, except for a three INT game against Denver, and led a game-winning drive to beat the 49ers in Week Eight. He still needs work, but Arizona might have found their future QB.
11. Miami Dolphins, S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick’s problem is playing time, as he’s only been on the field for about 75-percent of Miami’s snaps this season. When he’s been there, though, the former Alabama safety has been spectacular. Twice he’s recorded 10 tackle games in two of his three starts, and he’s already defended four passes. Get this kid on the field so he can play.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DT Vita Vea
The big defensive tackle out of the University of Washington gets a pass on his grade after missing all of the preseason and the first three games of the season with a calf injury, then injuring his knee in Week Eight. It was feared Vea tore his ACL, but it appears like he’ll be able to play moving forward. He has a ton of potential, but where he takes it on Tampa Bay’s last-ranked scoring defense remains to be seen.
13. Washington Redskins, DT Da’Ron Payne
Payne’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s helped turned a putrid Redskins run defense in 2017 into the league’s second-ranked run defense. The rookie out of Alabama has 25 tackles and three sacks as an interior defensive lineman, and he’s flashed moments of sheer dominance so far for this first-place Washington team.
14. New Orleans Saints, DE Marcus Davenport
The Saints moved up to get the former University of Texas at San Antonio pass rusher, and it’s worked out nicely for the most part. Davenport needs to become more well-rounded as an edge player, but he’s logged 4.0 sacks already in his rookie season. A foot injury is going to shelve him until late November, so this project remains to be seen.
15. Oakland Raiders, OT Kolton Miller
Gruden’s first selection for the Raiders rebuild was to get a left tackle to protect Derek Carr. Well, through seven games, the Raiders have allowed 25 sacks through the first part of the season, although Miller missed part of their last game against San Francisco when the Raiders allowed seven sacks. Miller’s mobility and versatility getting to edge rushers is still rookie-level, and a knee injury might sideline him temporarily.
16. Buffalo Bills, LB Tremaine Edmunds
With all eyes on Josh Allen, the Bills stole a 6-foot-5 middle linebacker that has taken over as signal caller for a Bills defense allowing the sixth-fewest total yards per game (329.1). Edmunds’ 62 total tackles rank just outside the top-10 in the NFL already, and he’s defended six passes and forced two fumbles. Edmunds is on track to make a serious case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
17. Los Angeles Chargers, S Derwin James
The versatile safety out of Florida State is living up to his hype in all areas of the game. James has started every game, made 44 tackles, logged 3.5 sacks, defended six passes, and picked off a Jared Goff pass. James is for real, and he’ll be playing in Los Angeles for as long as they’ll have him.
18. Green Bay Packers, CB Jaire Alexander
If Alexander hadn’t missed two games with a groin injury, he would easily be an A. After returning from a groin injury in Week Eight, the Louisville product broke up FIVE passes against the Los Angeles Rams and 22 of his 24 tackles have been solo takedowns. This kid might be a big-time shutdown corner in the NFL really soon.
19. Dallas Cowboys, LB Leighton Vander Esch
The former Boise State product hasn’t made many impact plays yet, but he’s been a tackling machine for only starting three games. Vander Esch’s 53 total tackles have including three double-digit tackling performances including 14 against Houston. Dallas’ defense allows the third-fewest yards per game, and this kid has been a big part of that.
20. Detroit Lions, LG Frank Ragnow
Rookie offensive lineman typically need time to grow, but Ragnow is becoming one of the best pulling guards in football really fast. The Lions running game has been resurrected from the dead, and the Arkansas rookie is a big reason why — Only five times has a run to the left side of Detroit’s line gone for negative yards. Detroit is still in the hunt thanks to balance, and Ragnow should be there a long time.
21. Cincinatti Bengals, C Billy Price
We haven’t had a chance to see much of the Ohio State center, having been sidelined with a foot injury since Week Two, but Price has a lot of potential. The two-time All-American has all the tools to be a multi-year Pro Bowl offensive lineman, and the Bengals will finally welcome him back after their Week Nine bye against the New Orleans Saints.
22. Tennessee Titans, LB Rashaan Evans
The All-SEC linebacker at Alabama has been a disappointment for a Titans defense is turning into an elite unit behind head coach Mike Vrabel. Evans, however, has been anything but dominant. Struggling with a hamstring injury, only starting four games in six appearances, and recording just 17 tackles is not first-round production. Evans can settle in to be a solid player this season, but he’ll need to ramp up the offseason work to compete at a first-round level.
23. New England Patriots, OT Isaiah Wynn
The Georgia Bulldog tore his Achilles back in August, so he won’t touch the field this season. The tackle has potential to be really good in the NFL, especially playing for the Patriots, so his healthy return in 2019 will be welcomed.
24. Carolina Panthers, WR D.J. Moore
He still needs to polish himself as an NFL route runner, but the Maryland Terrapin is a do-everything gadget player for the Panthers offense. He’s touched the ball 24 times on offense for 366 yards for a nice 15.3 yards per touch average. He’s also helped in the return game on occasion and is turning into one of Cam Newton’s go-to targets in recent weeks. Expect this kid to keep turning it up for a breakout performance before the season is out.
25. Baltimore Ravens, TE Hayden Hurst
Operating in a crowded position in Baltimore, Hurst hasn’t done much of anything so far in 2018. He missed the first four games of the year after a minor surgery and has only caught three of his eight targets for 36 yards. He did find the end zone against the Panthers, but the top tight end in this draft is leaving a lot to be desired as a rookie.
26. Atlanta Falcons, WR Calvin Ridley
After a red-hot start to the year, Ridley cooled off significantly in October to come back down to Earth, but he’s become a perfect foil to Julio Jones. Atlanta’s offense ranks third in the NFL averaging 317.7 passing yards per game, and Ridley’s 392 yards on 27 catches has helped immensely. Not to mention, if Julio can’t catch a touchdown, Ridley will gladly pick up that slack.
27. Seattle Seahawks, RB Rashaad Penny
The Seahawks reached for the 2017 consensus All-American at the end of the first round, and he’s been just about absent from the Seahawks offensive plan so far this year. Penny’s only rushed the ball 38 times for a resounding 135 yards, and he’s basically been supplanted with the emergence of Chris Carson. Penny still has some worth in the run game, but he’s just not being used at all in Pete Carroll’s system.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers, S Terrell Edmunds
The Steelers defense allows the 9th-most passing yards per game in 2018, and adding Edmunds into the mix hasn’t really helped the cause. The Virginia Tech product is more a run-stopper as it is, but his uninspiring 24 tackles leaves a lot to be desired. He did pick off a pass in Pittsburgh’s three-point win over Tampa Bay earlier this season, but they’re going to need more from their new starting safety the rest of the way.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars, DT Taven Bryan
Bryan didn’t return to Florida for his senior season, instead entering the draft, and it paid off with a first-round selection. Still, the Jaguars defense has taken a major step backwards, and the rookie defensive lineman hasn’t done much at all. He’s only pulled down nine total tackles despite appearing in every game so far.
30. Minnesota Vikings, CB Mike Hughes
The UCF Knights was turning in a nice rookie campaign before a torn ACL ended his season unexpectedly. He’d already taken an interception for a touchdown, made 21 tackles, and had a few opportunities in the return game. He’ll hope to return for the start of 2019, but Hughes figures to be a solid player in the NFL.
31. New England Patriots, RB Sony Michel
The injury bug has haunted Michel a little bit this season, but he turned in a three-game stretch from weeks four through six that showed how great a runner the Georgia Bulldog can be. Michel has racked up 422 rushing yards and four touchdowns in six games, and he’s going to become a steady Patriot runner when he finally gets 100-percent healthy.
32. Baltimore Ravens, QB Lamar Jackson
In an attempt to get Jackson on the field, the Ravens have flashed two-QB sets on several occasions this season. The heir-apparent to Joe Flacco threw his first NFL touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in Week Eight. The former Heisman winner is slowly learning the NFL in tiny doses, but he’ll be riding shotgun for as long as Flacco is in Baltimore.