For the first time in 35 years, the 2018 NFL Draft saw five quarterbacks selected in the first round. And there’s a good chance, at least as of right now, that like the 1983 NFL Draft, the very best quarterback among the group could be the last one taken: Lamar Jackson, the 32nd overall pick by the Baltimore Ravens.
After leading the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs as a rookie, with every single game that Jackson plays in 2019, he makes guys like NFL coach Marty Mornhinweg and former NFL executive Bill Polian — both of whom have said Jackson would be better served not playing quarterback — look even stupider, considering he’s the heavy favorite to win the league’s MVP award at the end of his second season.
So let’s take a look back at the decisions made by the rest of the NFL — specifically, the 31 players who were picked ahead of Jackson last year.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (#1 overall, Cleveland Browns)
In a first round that would see five quarterbacks taken, the Cleveland Browns passed on presumptive favorite Sam Darnold and the strong-armed Josh Allen to make reigning Heisman Trophy-winner Baker Mayfield the #1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
After Cleveland (mercifully) fired Hue Jackson from the head coaching position, Mayfield helped the Browns finish tied for their highest win total in a decade, and finished as the runner up for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award after throwing the most touchdown passes for a rookie quarterback in NFL history (27).
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State (#2 overall, New York Giants)
The New York Giants eschewed the conventional wisdom of selecting a quarterback when picking this high up in the NFL Draft in order to select one of the most complete running back prospects to enter the NFL Draft in years.
Despite the criticism heaped upon the General Manager Dave Gettleman and the New York Giants, Barkley would finish with a bevy of record for a rookie running back, including the most 100+ yards games from scrimmage (12), the most scrimmage yards by a rookie (2,028), the most receptions by a rookie running back (91), and tied for the most touchdowns of 50+ yards (five). It wasn’t any surprise, then, that Barkley finished as the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Sam Darnold, QB, USC (#3 overall, New York Jets)
After trading a bevy of draft picks to move up to the third overall pick with the hopes of landing one of the top quarterbacks in this draft, the New York Jets watched the guy whom many believed to be the best quarterback prospect fall into their laps in quarterback Sam Darnold.
In his rookie season with the Jets, Darnold finished with a 4-9 record, but became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to post a quarterback rating with more than 110 in a game, and finished with the highest quarterback rating as a rookie (77.6).
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State (#4 overall, Cleveland Browns)
With the second of their picks among the top four selections in the first round of the draft, the Cleveland Browns passed on a premier pass rusher to take cornerback Dezel Ward from nearby Ohio State University.
Ward would emerge as one of the best young defensive backs in the NFL by the end of his rookie season, having finished in 2018 with 53 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass deflections, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries in 13 games, of which he started 12. At season’s end, he was named to the Pro Bowl and NFL All-Rookie Team.
Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State (#5 overall, Denver Broncos)
It’s well documented that the Denver Broncos were on the phone with the Buffalo Bills to trade down from this pick, until the Cleveland Browns took Denzel Ward at #4 and Denver realized that Bradley Chubb was still on the board.
They obviously hung up on the phone on Buffalo and selected Chubb, and watched the latter pair with edge rushing demon Von Miller, starting in all 16 games in 2018 and recording 60 combined tackles (41 solo), 12 sacks, two forced fumbles, and one pass deflection. He was even named among the NFL’s Top 100 Players, as selected by NFL players. Unfortunately, Chubb would tear his ACL in Week 4 of the 2019 season.
Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame (#6 overall, Indianapolis Colts)
One of the most dominant interior offensive line prospect to enter the draft in quite some time, Quenton Nelson was on the short list of prospects whom the Indianapolis Colts were targeting, and they were thrilled to be able to get him with the 6th overall pick.
Nelson repaid the faith that Colts’ General Manager Chris Ballard had in him by walking into the NFL and instantly becoming one of the most fearsome lineman the league had to offer. He was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month in October of 2018, becoming the first guard to ever win the position. At the end of his rookie season, he was named a first-team All-Pro and shockingly snubbed as a Pro Bowl selection.
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming (#7 overall, Buffalo Bills)
Former Carolina Panthers’ alumni Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane clearly saw shades of Cam Newton in the cannon-armed Josh Allen, which is why they sent three draft picks to Tampa Bay to move up and select him.
While the Bills would finish with a 6-10 record in Allen’s first season, he became the first quarterback in Bills history to lead the team in both passing and rushing in a season, and he showed off his athletic ability when led all quarterbacks with eight rushing touchdowns on the season. In 2019, he has the Bills primed to return to the playoffs.
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia (#8 overall, Chicago Bears)
General Manager Ryan Pace has had a rather spotty history in Chicago when it comes to draft picks, but few people can fault him for adding a blue chip inside linebacker like Roquan Smith, especially when you consider the storied history of the position for the Bears.
At the end of his rookie season, Smith finished with 122 tackles, five sacks, five passes defended, and one interception, which led to him being selected to the PFWA All-Rookie team. Throughout the 2019 season, he’s led the Bears in tackles.
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame (#9 overall, San Francisco 49ers)
The San Francisco 49ers opted to go the “safe and smart” route, taking a high-floor, low-risk prospect like Mike McGlinchey to shore up their offensive line.
After the 49ers traded away tackle Trent Brown, head coach Kyle Shanahan named him the starting right tackle to begin the regular season, opposite starting left tackle Joe Staley. As a rookie, he started in all 16 games for the 49ers, before suffering an injury-plagued sophomore season in 2019.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (#10 overall, Arizona Cardinals)
Instead of taking a chance on someone like Lamar Jackson, the Arizona Cardinals watched their preferred quarterback (Josh Allen) get picked, made a panic trade with the Oakland Raiders to #10 overall, and selected quarterback Josh Rosen, even though they never really loved him as a prospect.
They then followed that up by pairing him with one of the worst supporting casts and one of the worst offensive coordinators (Mike McCoy) in the NFL. As we all know, with the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury as the team’s new head coach, and with Kingsbury leading the charge to select Kyler Murray with the #1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Cardinals traded away Rosen to the Miami Dolphins just one year after taking him.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama (#11 overall, Miami Dolphins)
Even with the questions at quarterback, the Miami Dolphins entered the 2018 NFL Draft looking to upgrade several spots on the defense. While many thought they’d go in the direction of an outside linebacker or defensive lineman, they selected the versatile Minkah Fitzpatrick from the University of Alabama, whom they saw as a chess piece that could play safety or outside cornerback or slot cornerback.
Of course, as we all know, with the new regime that arrived in Miami after the 2018 season, the Dolphins traded away Fitzpatrick after just one year to the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he’s emerged as one of the premier playmakers in the NFL.
Vita Vea, DT, Washington (#12 overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
With Minkah Fitzpatrick off the board, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked the rest of the NFL when they passed on Derwin James, and instead selected mammoth defensive tackle Vita Vea, one of the most dominating defensive linemen in the nation in 2017.
Vea had a rather disappointing rookie season in Tampa, as sprained his calf during training camp, forcing him to miss the entire preseason as well as the first 3 games of the regular season. Entering 2019 with a better bill of health, Vea became the first defensive player since J.J. Watt in 2014 to record a sack and catch a touchdown in the same game, as the Tampa coaches dabbled with using him on offense (in addition to his defensive responsibilities).
Daron Payne, DT, Alabama (#13 overall, Washington Redskins)
Even after using their top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on fellow defensive lineman Jonathan Allen from the University of Alabama, the front office of the Washington Redskins opted to double-down at the position, opting to use their pick on defensive lineman Daron Payne.
Payne paired with his former teammate (Allen) to form a defensive line that was formidable for the first half of the 2018 season, in which he finished with 56 tackles, five sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. At season’s end, he was named to the 2018 PFWA All-Rookie Team
Marcus Davenport, DE, University of Texas-San Antonio (#14 overall, New Orleans Saints)
Never afraid to make the splashy personnel acquisition, the New Orleans Saints traded up from late in the first round, while sending their 2019 first round pick to Green Bay, in order to select raw but talented defensive end Marcus Davenport from the University of Texas-San Antonio.
Most people realized that Davenport would need time for “polishing” in the NFL, and it showed his rookie seasons when he finished with 4.5 sacks in 13 games. However, Davenport has emerged in 2019 as a threat to be reckoned with, securing six sacks in his first 12 games (second among all Saints teammates).
Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA (#15 overall, Oakland Raiders)
With his first selection as the new head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Jon Gruden raised a lot of eyebrows and left a lot of people scratching their heads by taking offensive tackle Kolton Miller from UCLA.
Miller was named the Raiders starting left tackle to start the 2018 season (forcing veteran incumbent Donald Penn to move over to the right tackle spot), but admittedly struggled through the first half of his rookie year, allowing upwards of a half-dozen sacks. However, Miller has continued to develop and remains the team’s starting left tackle in 2019.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech (#16 overall, Buffalo Bills)
Watching a player that many considered to be one of the 10 best prospects in the draft fall into the middle of the first round, the Buffalo Bills’ brain trust dipped into their trove of draft picks to move up and grab Tremaine Edmunds, with the vision of him becoming their version of Luke Kuechly.
Edmunds became the youngest player in the NFL to record an interception (at only 20 years old), and finished his rookie year with 121 total tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles. In December of his rookie year, Edmunds was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the month.
Derwin James, DB, Florida State (#17 overall, Los Angeles Chargers)
Lamar Jackson falling to last overall pick might be the biggest travesty to take place in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. But there’s almost no question that Derwin James falling into the second half of the first round would be a close second. Because of completely bogus injury concerns, the Los Angeles Chargers stole one of the five best prospects in the entire draft, taking him at #17 overall.
Upon his insertion into the Chargers’ secondary, he immediately gave Los Angeles one of the most versatile secondaries in the NFL, with James showcasing his combination of size, strength, and instincts in a way that could disrupt entire offensive schemes himself.
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville (#18 overall, Green Bay Packers)
The Green Bay Packers had previously traded out of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft entirely, when they sent their pick to the New Orleans Saints. But they then traded back into the first round, sending a package of picks to Seattle to select cornerback Jaire Alexander from Louisville, who was highly coveted by defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
The feisty cornerback has made an immediate impact for the Packers, immediately providing dividends for their selection en route to being named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team. In 2019, Alexander has paired with fellow cornerback Kevin King to have among the most pass breakups of any duo of corners in the NFL.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State (#19 overall, Dallas Cowboys)
With the injury history of linebackers Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, the Dallas Cowboys made one of the smarter value picks in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, snagging linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with the 19th overall pick.
In his first NFL season, not only did Vander Esch finish third in the NFL in tackles (140), but he set the Cowboys’ franchise record for most tackles by a rookie, while also tallying seven deflections, and two interceptions in 16 games and 11 starts.
Frank Ragnow, OL, Arkansas (#20 overall, Detroit Lions)
The Detroit Lions passed on several options to upgrade their defense, and instead opted to use their pick with the goal of better protecting quarterback Matt Stafford. Center Frank Ragnow was considered to be one of the most underrated prospects in the draft, with many believing he could be an excellent NFL player for a long time.
Ragnow’s rookie season certainly had its ups and downs. Early on, he really struggled, especially as a pass blocker. Still, there was enough improvement by the end of the season to give the Lions some confidence that Ragnow was on his way to being a quality starter, even if his rookie year was overall a minor disappointment.
Billy Price, OL, Ohio State (#21 overall, Cincinnati Bengals)
The Cincinnati Bengals opted to fill the void created by the departed Russ Bodine, drafting center Billy Price to ideally slide into the starting center position. Price was coming into the draft having won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top player at the position in 2017 at Ohio State.
Unfortunately, the Bengals’ checkered history with draft picks again caught up to them, as Price missed 6 games in his rookie year and struggled in the games he was healthy. For much of the 2019 season, the new coaching staff in Cincinnati has been shuttling Price in and out of the lineup because of his inconsistent level of play.
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama (#22 overall, Tennessee Titans)
After letting incumbent inside linebacker Avery Williamson walk via free agency, the Tennessee Titans shored up their newly vacant spot by drafting Rashaan Evans from the University of Alabama.
As a rookie in 2018, Evans played in 15 games with seven starts at inside linebacker and totaled 63 tackles, six quarterback pressures, two tackles for loss and three passes defensed. In general, he’s been a speedy, sideline-to-sideline presence for a Titans’ defense that’s one of the more underrated groups in the league.
Isaiah Wynn, OT, Georgia (#23 overall, New England Patriots)
Having lost offensive tackle Nate Solder in free agency less than two months prior, the New England Patriots used the first round pick they acquired after trading away Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams to select Isaiah Wynn, a versatile offensive lineman whom many believed could play a myriad of positions in the NFL.
Unfortunately, Wynn hasn’t come close to fulfilling his talent because of consistent injury issues. In the second game of the preseason of his rookie year, Wynn suffered a torn Achilles and was ruled out for the 2018 season. In Week 2 of 2019, the Patriots placed Wynn on injured reserve as a result of the toe injury he suffered, forcing him to miss the majority of the year (he was designated to return, and did so in late November).
DJ Moore, WR, Maryland (#24 overall, Carolina Panthers)
With Devin Funchess being the only semi-viable receiver on the roster entering the 2018 NFL season, the Carolina Panthers used their first round pick on wide receiver DJ Moore from the University of Maryland. Moore was seen as an explosive, playmaking receiver who could emerge as a true threat if he improved his route-running abilities.
The talented rookie flashed his talent throughout his rookie season, finishing with 788 yards receiving (and another 172 yards rushing). In his sophomore season, Moore is posed to finish with over 1,000 yards receiving and somewhere near a half-dozen touchdown receptions.
Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina (#25 overall, Baltimore Ravens)
Most people forget that the “top” selection of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens wasn’t actually Lamar Jackson. Rather, before they had secured the services of the electrifying quarterback, they took tight end Hayden Hurst in yet another attempt to convince themselves that all Joe Flacco needed was a better supporting cast.
Hurst battled injuries in his rookie year, finishing with 13 catches in 12 games. He’s shown slow but incremental process in Year 2, going for 213 yards receiving (on 23 catches) over his first 12 games of the season.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama (#26 overall, Atlanta Falcons)
The Atlanta Falcons sought to bolster the supporting cast for quarterback Matt Ryan and help take some pressure off Julio Jones to beat secondaries almost single-handedly, when they selected shifty wide receiver Calvin Ridley from the University of Alabama.
Ridley surprised many with an outstanding rookie season, finishing with 64 receptions for 821 yards, setting the Falcons record for touchdown catches by a rookie (10). While he’s actually on pace to finish with even more receiving yards in his second season, he’s struggled a bit, like the rest of the Falcons’ offense.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State (#27 overall, Seattle Seahawks)
After once again trading back in the first round of the Draft (as they seemingly do every year), the Seattle Seahawks rendered everyone’s mock drafts totally useless when they surprised everyone via their selection of running back Rashaad Penny.
Penny started the season somewhat banged up, but he finished his rookie season with 419 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Many people thought Penny would form a formidable 1-2 punch with Chris Carson in his second season, but the Seahawks have never quite found the best way to maximize Penny’s talents within the flow of their offense.
Terrell Edmunds, DB, Virginia Tech (#28 overall, Pittsburgh Steelers)
Without question, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection of Terrell Edmunds from Virginia Tech was the biggest shocker of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Many draft pundits saw this Edmunds (as opposed to his brother the linebacker) as someone who would be a Day 2 selection at the earliest.
The “other” Edmunds brother (who’s actually one of two Edmunds brothers playing for the Steelers) finished his rookie season in 2018 with 78 combined tackles (55 solo), four pass deflections, one sack, and one interception in 16 games and 15 starts. However, he’s struggled considerably in his second season, going his first 10+ weeks of the year without recording an interception.
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida (#29 overall, Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Jacksonville Jaguars opted to look ahead to the future with this pick, knowing that they’d eventually have to deal with the expiring contracts of defensive linemen like Calais Campbell, Marcel Dareus, and Malik Jackson, and took Taven Bryan from the University of Florida.
Bryan showed a few flashes during his rookie year, but didn’t record a single sack until Jacksonville’s last game of the year; that’s disappointing for a player with a reputation for easily getting penetration. In 2019, Bryan has shown a few more flashes, but they’re still not on par with what you’d expect from a first-round draft pick.
Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida (#30 overall, Minnesota Vikings)
It seems like every year, the Minnesota Vikings use a premium draft pick to bolster a perpetually leaky secondary. For the fifth in seven NFL Drafts, the Vikings took a defensive back with their first or second round pick, opting for the talented Mike Hughes at #30 overall.
However, in mid-October of his rookie season, Hughes tore his ACL was immediately lost for the remainder of the season. He’s gradually worked his way towards more playing time in the second half of his sophomore year in the NFL, but he’s still a ways away from being the guy Minnesota envisioned when drafting him.
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia (#31 overall, New England Patriots)
It’s hard to imagine what was more surprising: that the New England Patriots actually used both of their picks in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, that they used one of them on a position that most people were devaluing (running back), or the fact that they actually passed on Lamar Jackson (whom they reportedly were very intrigued by).
While Michel ran for 931 yards and six touchdowns in his rookie season, because of recurring knee issues that Michel had since his days at Georgia, the New England Patriots have never quite seen the guy whom many believed was one of the best players on the field during the 2017-2018 National Championship game.