With two seasons under our belt since the 2018 draft, Luke Inman takes a look back to see how the board should have fallen using the information we have now. This story first appeared at Zone Coverage and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News.
This isn’t a knock on Baker Mayfield, who I think will prove to be the clear cut second best signal caller of what is now known as a loaded quarterback class. Ironically enough, it was the last quarterback taken in Round 1 who has proven to be the hands down best. With franchise qualities and his ability to shred defenses both through the air and on the ground, he’s pushing for MVP already in his second year. With Mayfield and Jackson winding up in the same division, a simple swap would change the course of both franchises and put the Cleveland Browns as the new favorite for years to come with Jackson at the helm.
I can’t argue the playmaking ability Barkley has brought to the Giants offense. However, the fact remains the value of running backs is low in comparison to other positions. While some might scoff at the idea an offensive guard ranks any higher, with Nelson it turns out you’re drafting a possible Hall of Fame interior lineman. This allows the Giants to sharpie in Nelson at guard for the next decade and help protect and block whichever tailback they find later on — with plenty of healthy options to choose from.
3. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (Actual Pick: Sam Darnold)
Baker is the real deal and had it not been for a fluky once in a decade player in Jackson he would still be the first quarterback taken. The Jets get a redo and swap Darnold for Mayfield who’s shown far more promise, upside and leadership on and off the field.
4. Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State (Actual Pick: Denzel Ward)
That’s right, the Browns just went from zero to hero bringing in the two best offensive skill position players. No doubt a combo of Jackson and Barkley would be flat out lethal and shake up the AFC North in favor of the Browns for the first time in decades.
No one has proven to be more versatile of a weapon defensively than James, who won the rookie of the year after making a serious impact at five different positions: free safety, strong safety, outside cornerback, nickel cornerback and linebacker. While Chubb has been solid, there’s no denying the talent and value provided by James, who was well worthy of a top-five selection all along.
Now we’re having fun. Andrew Luck had just missed the entire 2017 season due to injury, so imagine if the front office had gone searching for a little insurance. Considering Luck would blindside the Colts with his retirement a year later, Allen would save a lot of headache and stress on the front office and fan base. Allen has been a firecracker in his first two seasons, bringing an emotional leadership to his huddle. Outside of having the strongest arm in arguably the entire league, Allen has surprised many with his ability to be a dual threat quarterback with his big frame and quick feet.
With the proven signal callers taken, the Bills add Fitzpatrick to the secondary mix. He has been the second best playmaker in the back end, just behind Derwin James. With an ultra versatile player, savvy defensive coach Sean McDermott will get every drop of value out of Fitzpatrick, forming a young foundational duo next to Tre’Davious White.
This turned out to be an unbelievably loaded linebacker class, and while the jury is still out on Smith — who was the most highly touted of the group — in a redraft Leonard is the clear cut top choice. Leonard has been a monster in the middle of the Colts defense while taking second place in the rookie of the year voting. Adding Leonard next to Khalil Mack would be a nightmare for opposing NFC North offenses.
If you remember back at the 2018 combine, Brown was bashed and ridiculed for a brutally sluggish athletic performance. However, his tape for the Sooners always indicated a high end blocking prospect that swallowed up pass rushers with the NFL genes from his former Pro Bowl father. Giving Kyle Shanahan the superb blocking and protection from Brown into his offensive trenches turns a great unit into one flirting with elite status.
The ripple effect starts to get intense here as you think about the Cardinals likely passing on Kyler Murray in 2019 once seeing the potential of Darnold inside Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. The butterfly effect takes another turn when you start to wonder if Darnold would’ve had enough success to play the team out of the No. 1 overall selection completely and instead would have added a different blue chip player in the top five like Nick Bosa, Ed Oliver or Devin White.
Chubb slips just out the top 10 not because of a lack of talent, but only because he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. When on the field Chubb has been a serious threat to opposing quarterbacks and has formed a deadly duo across from Von Miller. The Dolphins get the pass rushing threat in Chubb they thought they were getting in Charles Harris just a few years prior.
Vea busted out of his shell last season. However, a two-down nose tackle simply doesn’t bring enough value into an early selection here. While many will say running backs don’t have great value here as well, Chubb has played at an All-Pro level as a game-changing player out of the backfield. Injecting his explosion and home run ability into Bruce Arians‘ offense is a blessing for whichever quarterback lines up under center, taking the load off their shoulders.
With aggressiveness and an in-your-face mentality, Alexander has the qualities and mental makeup of a lock down corner in the NFL. By adding a real No. 1 cover corner, Washington can depend on Alexander to lock down stud wideouts, putting their secondary into a different gear for the first time in years.
The Saints gave up extra picks to move up and select Davenport. Looking back, however, moving up for Ward would be far more beneficial. Ward has been rock solid through his first two seasons despite being an undersized cover cornerback as the Browns No. 1 man. Reuniting Ward with former Ohio State teammate and All-Pro Marshon Lattimore would be suffocating for opposing wideouts and help put New Orleans’ secondary in a better position to close out games in the fourth quarter.
Miller hasn’t been bad, but a guy like Edmunds has looked like a decade long plug and play cornerstone in the middle of the defense — and is still just 23 years old. A classic “Gruden Grinder,” Edmunds fits the bill for the silver and black and would allow the team to save some cash the following year in free agency on guys like Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski while using the money elsewhere.
16. Buffalo Bills: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama (Actual Pick: Tremaine Edmunds)
The Bills watch on as Edmunds gets sniped one pick prior. However, they still add a force in the middle of their defense with Payne, who has himself been playing like the top 20 pick he was. I’m still not sure how this affects them selecting Ed Oliver in 2019, but here’s to hoping we live in a world where they can have both.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Reid, FS, Stanford (Actual Pick: Derwin James)
One of the biggest steals of the entire draft class has been Reid, who was drafted with the 68th pick in the third round. All Reid has done for the Texans is totaled 166 tackles, 15 passes defended and five interceptions — including a 101-yard touchdown as a rookie. He nearly returned another for a touchdown in Week 16 this season against Tampa Bay, which would have been a record seventh pick-six against Jameis Winston, but the score was called back due to a penalty. This is a nice little consolation prize after losing out on Derwin James the second time around.
18. Green Bay Packers: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU (Actual Pick: Jaire Alexander)
It’s no secret the Packers have been thirsty for more star power opposite of Davante Adams for multiple seasons in a row. Sutton has quickly turned himself into a legitimate No. 1 weapon with his big frame and body control in the air, which he uses to create huge chunk plays down the field. Giving Aaron Rodgers this playmaker now would save headaches and turmoil for the franchise that we’ve seen play out over the last few months between the front office and their quarterback.
Have I mentioned just how insane this linebacker class turned out to be? Smith was one of my favorite players in the class during the pre-draft process, and I am still certain he will go on to have a long and successful career. The Cowboys swap out one great linebacker for another and continue to bolster their front seven with a player who has far fewer injury concerns than Vander Esch.
The first selection that stays the same goes to… the Lions!? Kudos to Bob Quinn, who deserves a lot of credit for nailing this first round selection. Interior linemen are never fun or sexy, but they can be vital to the success of an offense’s production. Ragnow has gotten better and better with nearly every rep he’s taken and now is on his way to becoming one of the best centers in the game.
McGlinchey is an easy pick here for the Bengals, who whiffed on Ohio State standout Billy Price. With McGlinchey you’re getting a smooth moving mauler who has shown great reps at guard, but is best suited at tackle, where he’s shown he has the long arms and frame to be an above average starter. With the addition of 2019 top 10 pick Jonah Williams, the Bengals would now have two bookend tackles for Joe Burrow and the offense. This is a recipe for success and a great start to the rebuild in Cincinnati, knowing how the AFC North likes to play rough and tough football.
22. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama (Actual Pick: Rashaan Evans)
I went back and watched Evans’ film with the Titans this past season, and I am convinced that if given the opportunity this front office wouldn’t change a thing. Evans was vital for Mike Vrabel’s aggressive front-seven looks and has done everything the coaches have asked of him and beyond. The Titans shocked the world when they found the catalyst on how to stop Lamar Jackson in the playoffs, and Evans was a big piece to the puzzle. This linebacker class continues to impress and make its mark as one of the best of the decade.
Patriots can’t go wrong with Chark or Calvin Ridley here. While Ridley has posted better stats, he is playing across from Julio Jones and Matt Ryan. Chark, however, has established himself as a No. 1 wide receiver despite little to no help around him while catching passes from rookie Gardner Minshew. With his route running and explosiveness, Chark has been far more impressive to watch and is a better fit for Josh McDaniels in the Patriots offense.
24. Carolina Panthers: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State (Actual Pick: D.J. Moore)
Knowing what we now know about Luke Kuechly, it’s easy to plug in another old school linebacker like Vander Esch who possesses similar traits like off the charts awareness and football IQ. When he has been injury free, Vander Esch has put together weeks of football that resembles a top five player at his position.
Hubbard has been a surprising monster and one of the best values of the 2018 draft, showing off great size, length and production to match. Despite not starting in a single game his rookie year, he still managed to post six sacks, seven tackles for loss and even found his way into the end zone on a strip sack scoop and score. Hubbard then earned his way into the starting lineup and churned out 8.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss to go along with his 76 tackles. Between his production and potential, Hubbard has definitely earned the right to be a first round selection and could thrive under John Harbaugh’s defensive system.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College (Actual Pick: Calvin Ridley)
It’s no secret Dan Quinn loves speed on his defense, especially if it’s flying off the edge. Landry has been outstanding at getting after the quarterback and into the backfield with a scary quick first step and great bend. Quinn gets another toy in his front seven to add to his arsenal and mix up his defensive looks.
O’Neill has quietly been one of the best tackles of this entire class, giving up just two sacks and a handful of pressures. With a solidified blocking unit in front of Russell Wilson, the Seahawks now have the leverage to wait on a running back and find better value later on while addressing their biggest need.
In two seasons with the 49ers, Warner has emerged as a tremendous linebacker and one of the leaders of the defense. Warner has averaged over 120 tackles per season and was a main reason why San Francisco had arguably the best defense in the NFL. Plugging Warner next to T.J. Watt and letting Mike Tomlin work his magic screams Pittsburgh Steelers football.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Vita Vea, NT, Washington (Actual Pick: Taven Bryan)
Full transparency: The Jaguars don’t desperately need a nose tackle per se. However, after how dominant he was last year, Vea is just too good to leave off this list and outside the first round. Even if he is going against the grain as a two-down run stopping tackle in what feels like a pass-first league, Vea is a difference maker for any defense, helping set up third and long situations and making everyone around him better.
Put me in the minority if you’d like, but Hughes’ best football is still ahead of him. When healthy he has gotten better and better under Mike Zimmer’s tutelage. However, when compared side by side, Jackson has been the better playmaker with freaky speed and a knack for the big play after leading all second-year players with seven interceptions. While I fully expect Hughes to be Zimmer’s No. 1 corner in 2020, in a redo scenario Jackson’s ability to lock up offenses’ best wideouts is too good to pass up now that you know what you’re getting.
Andrews exploded in 2019, adding ten more touchdowns to his resume and looking the part of a first round pick out of Oklahoma. Adding himself and D.J. Chark into the passing game would turn a dull unit into a juicy core of young and talented pass catchers while filling a huge need after the departure of Rob Gronkowski. These two additions would allow the front office to pass on N’Keal Harry the following year as well and focus other positions like the front-seven and offensive trenches.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland (Actual Pick: Lamar Jackson to Baltimore Ravens via trade)
Let’s say the Eagles stayed put, it would be hard not to imagine Doug Pederson punching the ticket on one of the high profile wideouts left like Moore or Ridley. Despite not finding the end zone a handful of times, Moore has still been ultra productive, posting 2,000 yards already in just his first two seasons. Plugging him into the passing attack would do wonders for Carson Wentz, who just one year later will find out just how desperate for playmakers at the wideout position they really are.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama – Nearly 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns, it remains to be seen how much of that production is pure talent vs. Ridley taking advantage of single coverage across from Julio Jones and catching passes from Matt Ryan.
Phillip Lindsay, RB, Colorado – When it comes to value there may not be a player who has outperformed their draft slot than Lindsay, who has posted close to 2,500 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns despite being an undrafted free agent.
Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest – One of the best secondary players in the entire class, Bates has been a true difference maker on the Bengals defense, tallying over 200 tackles and six interceptions in just his first two seasons. Originally taken with the 54th pick, Bates would surely be flirting with first-round status this time around.
Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA – Miller has been Mr. Consistent: He’s been plugged into the left tackle position and started all 32 games without missing a single snap. Cleaning up his penalties is the only thing holding him back.
Mike Hughes, CB, UCF – When healthy Hughes has shown promise and flashes of greatness with his best yet to likely come. In 2020 Hughes will get his first crack as the team’s No. 1 cornerback on the depth chart.
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia – Simply put, the Patriots don’t win the Super Bowl in 2018 without Michel. As a rookie, Michel had six touchdowns in the playoffs as the Patriots claimed their sixth Super Bowl title.
Lorenzo Carter, EDGE, Georgia – He has 10.5 sacks, but missed time due to a thumb injury as a rookie, and his 2019 season ended with a foot injury in December. Carter has 88 tackles and 8.5 sacks for the Giants, who originally drafted him with the second pick in the third round.