The NFL might only be played in the fall and winter, but it’s one of those rare sports that receives a lot of coverage around the entire year. No matter what your favorite team is, there’s always a glimmer of hope every spring thanks to the NFL Draft when the new class of rookies comes into the league. Every fan hopes their team selects the right guy, with many experts making instant grades to tell you who did well and who messed up.
Judging draft picks as soon as they happen, of course, isn’t usually accurate. Instead, you have to wait to see how the players perform with their new teams before you can really judge them. Now that the 2018 NFL Draft class is coming close to concluding their first season, it’s time to see where some of them stand. There have been many that have shown the potential to become perennial Pro Bowlers, while some have struggled mightily away from college.
We’ll take a look at 10 of the players that already have their fans getting antsy about their favorite team’s front office, as well as 10 that have them excited for the future. There’s plenty of Pro Bowlers already on the list, and we wanted to only focus on the first two rounds (at least on the bust side of things). After all, not many NFL general managers are expecting anything later than that to make an immediate impact on their teams.
20 Bust - Ronald Jones
Ronald Jones was the fifth running back off of the board, landing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of USC with the 38th overall pick. Jones played in four games before an injury held him back for a few weeks (eventually returning), and even in that time there was nothing to write home about.
In his first season as a pro, Jones finished with just 44 rushing yards and a lone touchdown on 23 carries, giving him an average of 1.9 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Peyton Barber led the way for the Buccaneers rushing attack, averaging nearly a full two more yards per carry.
19 Future Star - Saquon Barkley
In a conference that has the likes of Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara, it’s not easy to be a Pro Bowler in the NFC. That’s exactly what Saquon Barkley did in his first year with the Giants, though. Barkley has been a powerhouse, rushing for well over 1,000 yards in his first season, as well as finding the endzone on a consistent basis, which was good enough for nearly yards per carry.
On top of that, Barkley has racked up touchdowns and yards from scrimmage through the air, making him a dynamic threat for the Giants for years to come. He’s a big part of their retooling process as they enter the final years of Eli Manning, and those that were questioning a running back with the second overall selection aren’t very critical these days.
18 Bust - Terrell Edmunds
Not many were surprised to hear Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds’ name be called in the first round, but were a little stunned to hear his brother Terrell being drafted 28th overall by the Steelers. Edmunds struggled mightily to start the year, and finished with just one sack, one interception and just over 70 tackles as the team’s starting strong safety.
According to the analytics at Pro Football Focus, Edmunds was ranked as the 64th best safety in the NFL during the 2018 regular season. That’s actually an improvement from where he started the first half of the season, showing that hope might not be dead. However, you know what his floor looks like at this point.
17 Future Star - Phillip Lindsay
Speaking of running backs, Broncos rusher Phillip Lindsay wasn’t supposed to be a star. In fact, he wasn’t even considered to have playing potential this year, since he wasn’t drafted at all. The Broncos were willing to give him a chance, though, and he’s become the first undrafted rookie offensive player to ever make the Pro Bowl.
Lindsay rushed for over 1,000 yards on the season, becoming the team’s starter with nine touchdowns and breaking the record for most yards by an undrafted rookie running back. You can fully expect Lindsay to be one of those players that gets taken in the first round of fantasy drafts in 2019 after coming out of nowhere.
16 Bust - Billy Price
The Lions took a center (Frank Ragnow) with the 20th pick in 2018, and it was immediately followed by the Bengals selected center Billy Price out of Ohio State. Center isn’t exactly a glamour position for the first round, so you better make sure that you get a hit on the pick. Through the full season, Price started 10 games, and has not been impressive.
Center is one of those positions where you don’t want to rank in the 30s since there’s only one on the field, but Price has ranked 32nd in the league. For the Bengals run game to continue to improve into 2019, Price is going to have to up his game in a hurry.
15 Future Star - Leighton Vander Esch
There were many that thought that Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was a bit of a reach for the Cowboys at the 19th overall spot. Those tunes have quickly changed, though, as Vander Esch has been a big impact player for the vastly improved Dallas defense. In his first season, Vander Esch has a pair of interceptions with over 130 combined tackles, and seems to be all over the field.
Vander Esch along with the physically repaired Jaylon Smith gives the Cowboys one of the more formidable linebacking corps of the future. Both were considered risky when drafted, but are now having teams all across the league kicking themselves for not selecting either player.
14 Bust - Hayden Hurst
It was decided that 2018 wasn’t exactly a deep year for tight ends, which is why it wasn’t until the 25th selection that one was called, as South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst was selected by the Ravens. It was expected that Hurst would come in and make an impact right away, but that certainly hasn’t been the case. In his first season, Hurst has registered just over 100 yards with a touchdown.
Needless to say, there are several tight ends on the Ravens roster that have more yards this season. This includes names such as Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and Mark Andrews. These aren’t the guys that the Ravens would’ve hoped were leading their first rounder.
13 Future Star - Nick Chubb
With how well the Cleveland Browns' rookie class of 2018 played, the only question many are asking is what the Browns' record would've been had they started the rookies from day one. From Baker Mayfield to second round pick Nick Chubb, that's a lot of talent that the Browns had as backups behind less productive veterans in Tyrod Taylor and Carlos Hyde.
The Browns noticed Chubb's emergence and shipped Carlos Hyde off to Jacksonville. Following the trade, Chubb kept getting better, and broke the Browns franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie (previously held by Jim Brown). The future definitely looks bright in Cleveland, for the first time in a long time.
12 Bust - Sam Darnold
Much of the intrigue of the 2018 NFL Draft came from which quarterback was going to be taken first. After Baker Mayfield went first, USC signal caller Sam Darnold was drafted third overall by the Jets. Granted, there’s not much to work with in terms of weapons for Darnold, and most rookie quarterbacks struggle, but Darnold hasn’t been the franchise changer that the Jets were hoping for just yet.
Of course, you have to be patient, but Darnold hasn’t generated much excitement. He improved a little in the month of December, but that was all in games that were meaningless, from a playoff standpoint. Darnold will have to show he can play well in games when they matter.
11 Future Star - Baker Mayfield
Like Vander Esch, there were many that were wary of the Browns using such a high pick on their top player, Baker Mayfield. The Oklahoma quarterback was the first overall selection, and already has the Browns seeing a vast improvement from their previous two seasons. Mayfield has shown a ton of potential to make the Browns a playoff contender in 2019.
Not only has Mayfield produced on the field, but he provides team leadership already as a rookie, and has the entire culture in Cleveland feeling changed tremendously almost overnight. It'll be interesting to see what Mayfield can do when he starts a full season in 2019.
10 Bust - Josh Allen
Continuing with quarterbacks, Josh Allen was the third quarterback selected with the Bills hoping their finally found their franchise quarterback. The Wyoming project was considered extremely raw with a strong arm, so it was going to take some time to develop. There have been moments where Allen has looked impressive, but it’s been rare to see him put it together for four quarters.
The Bills didn’t want to throw Allen into the fire right away, but he got his first playing time in week 1, due to Nathan Peterman's ineptitude at the quarterback position. Allen has shown he can make plays with his legs, but has looked lost as a passer. More worrying is the completion percentage, which sits very close to 50 percent, which is dead last for qualifying starters in 2018.
9 Future Star - D.J. Moore
It’s hard to believe that we had to wait until the 25th selection until a wide receiver was taken in 2018. That receiver was D.J. Moore, who was selected out of Maryland by the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have tried with receivers before, and the team that doesn’t pass to receivers all that much might have finally found their guy.
Moore teamed up with Cam Newton and emerged, eventually becoming one of the team’s starters as he’s turned it on later in the season. Even as a receiver, Moore has added some rushing yards, and is ranked in the top 30 most efficient receivers in the league already. As a rookie, that’s incredibly impressive.
8 Bust - Josh Rosen
Sandwiched between Darnold and Allen in completion percentage at the bottom of the NFL is Josh Rosen, the UCLA quarterback selected by the Cardinals with the 10th overall pick. Like the other two quarterbacks, the Cardinals are hoping to build around their prospects while they develop, and Rosen has had the same struggles.
Of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round, these three have been at a level below the potential of Lamar Jackson, and far below what Baker Mayfield has done. Many thought Rosen was the most pro-ready quarterback coming into the 2018 draft, but that clearly wasn't the case.
7 Future Star - Derwin James
The Chargers were incredibly improved on both sides of the ball in 2018 to help lead them into the playoffs, and they received a big charge to their defense thanks to 17th overall selection Derwin James. The safety from Florida State reached the Pro Bowl in his first season, thanks to some big plays that includes 3.5 sacks and a trio of interceptions.
James seems to be all over the place on the field, always getting near the ball. James also registered over 100 combined tackles from his safety position, and has the Chargers looking like a force on defense for years to come.
6 Bust - Kolton Miller
The Raiders are in full rebuild mode as they prepare to move the team from Oakland to Las Vegas. With their first pick in the second Jon Gruden era, the Raiders selected tackle Kolton Miller out of UCLA. The tackle hasn’t missed a start so far in his NFL career, which hasn’t gotten off on good footing.
Miller is ranked as the 79th most efficient tackle in the league, and the line as a whole has been making life difficult on Derek Carr. The Raiders allowed the third most sacks in the NFL this season. That’s only behind Houston and Dallas, and Miller’s slow development has been part of the reason for the Raiders’ line struggles.
5 Future Star - Mike McGlinchey
Coming out of Notre Dame, Mike McGlinchey was considered to be ready to start at day one. The tackle was selected ninth overall by the 49ers, and has been one of the bright spots in a lost season after the injury to Jimmy Garoppolo. He was the second offensive lineman off of the board after his former Irish teammate, and both have been incredibly strong.
McGlinchey has been ranked as the 16th most efficient tackle in the league already, and figures to become a team leader as the franchise continues around Garoppolo and head coach Kyle Shanahan. Most experts agree, it’s been general manager John Lynch’s best selection yet.
4 Bust - DJ Chark
The wide receiver class, much like the tight ends, was considered to be incredibly weak in the 2018 NFL Draft. After losing Allen Robinson, the Jaguars hoped they could replace him with another receiving threat, drafting DJ Chark in the second round out of LSU. Perhaps it’s due in part to Blake Bortles struggling, but Chark has been a non-factor in his first season.
Chark wasn't able to find the end zone in his first season and didn't emerge as a starter on a consistent basis. Instead, it’s been Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief leading the way in receiving. Chark was being outgained by James O’Shaughnessy through the air, which doesn’t present a lot of optimism for the Jaguars.
3 Future Star - Denzel Ward
After selecting Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in 2018, the Browns were up again already at the fourth spot. With that pick, they took Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, which left some experts scratching their heads once again. Instead, the Browns have two cornerstone players for years, with Ward getting off to an incredibly hot start.
Already a Pro Bowler in his rookie season, Ward has been ranked as the 12th best corner in the NFL during 2018. The stats look pretty good too, with three interceptions and 11 passes defended to go along with a forced fumble and over 50 combined tackles.
2 Bust - Sony Michel
With as much as Bill Belichick uses running backs for a short period of time and dumps them away, it was a surprise that the team selected Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 draft. There have been some impressive moments for Michel, but overall he’s been inconsistent. Michel rushed for over 900 yards in his rookie season, which is good, but the year included some pretty sub-par games.
For Michel to be a consistent threat for the Patriots, he has to find more favor in Belichick’s offense. The coach has been known to have an incredibly short leash with his running backs, so he could turn out to be the next Kevin Faulk or Corey Dillon, or the next Jonas Gray in a heartbeat. Either way, New England doesn’t hang on to running backs for very long.
1 Future Star - Darius Leonard
The rookie that was considered to be biggest snub for the Pro Bowl in his rookie season was Darius Leonard, the linebacker taken out of South Carolina State by the Colts with the 36th overall pick. Indianapolis saw their defense improve dramatically in 2018, and a big part of that is having Leonard all over the field, having over 150 combined tackles in his first season, as well as causing turnovers.
In terms of efficiency, Pro Football Focus says that Leonard didn't just have an impressive rookie season, but was also one of the best linebackers in the league, ranking him fifth overall. That’s high praise for anybody, and a sign that the Colts defense is in good hands for many more years with Leonard around.