The NFL during the 2018 season has had a lot of unexpected turn of events. The San Francisco 49ers were slated to be a team that was going to turn a corner in the NFC. Unfortunately, once Jimmy Garoppolo was hurt for the season, that ended those plans. The Jacksonville Jaguars looked like they were ready to officially take over the AFC this season. Now, their future at quarterback and coaching staff seems uncertain. The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams have been two of the more dominant teams this season and look poised to be perennial contenders for the next few years. Then of course, there's been the debate this year over whether Father Time is finally catching up with Tom Brady. But one thing that doesn't get talked about enough is the 2018 NFL rookie class.
This rookie class has a lot of talent in it and that has been made evident with some of the performances of certain players. Other players have demonstrated that maybe their draft position was simply too high. But which ones have been a big hit with the franchises that decided to take a chance on them? Which ones have been a colossal disappointment after their first season? Everybody has their opinions on this rookie class, but this is exclusively ours. To be fair, these are only early impressions and there's plenty of time for these players to change the perceptions around them. Let's take a good look at early impressions of every 2018 NFL first-round draft pick.
32 Baker Mayfield - Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns had the number one overall pick and decided to go with Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield out of Oklahoma. Mayfield was projected by some to be like a lot of the other quarterbacks that have come through Cleveland's system; average at best.
Mayfield turned things around once the Browns made their coaching change and it was one of Cleveland's better seasons within the last few years. Does he have what it takes to lead the Cleveland Browns next season to, dare we say, a playoff berth? From the early looks of things, it could very well happen.
31 Saquon Barkley - New York Giants
The New York Giants had the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft and needed to improve their running game. They definitely found their running back of the future by selecting Penn State's Saquon Barkley. Simply put, Barkley has been an absolute animal on the field. He started every game for the Giants and easily surpassed the 1,000 yard mark in his first season. He also showed that he's a threat to score any time he has the ball in his hands. The Giants may very well have the NFL's running back of the future.
30 Sam Darnold - New York Jets
The New York Jets needed a quarterback. That was their number one need coming into the 2018 NFL draft. The quarterback they ended up taking was Sam Darnold. Darnold was supposed to be the guy to help the Jets get back to their winning ways like they did in 2010. While Darnold threw more interceptions in his rookie season than most fans would like, we've seen plenty of young QBs have early turnover problems. It's still a little early to distinguish where Darnold is, but he'll definitely have to eliminate interceptions from his game.
29 Denzel Ward - Cleveland Browns
Denzel Ward was one of the most highly talented cornerbacks coming out of Ohio State University. The Cleveland Browns valued him so much that they drafted him at number four overall, despite many believing they were in prime position to take Bradley Chubb. Ward has certainly made his presence all over the field on defense and on special teams as well. He has a nose for the ball, as he's forced turnovers, broken up passes and made key tackles. The Cleveland defense should continue to make strides with Ward leading the dog pound.
28 Bradley Chubb - Denver Broncos
Bradley Chubb was the number one defensive player coming into the 2018 NFL draft. Chubb was selected fifth overall by the Denver Broncos and he has certainly made a name for himself in his first season in the NFL. Chubb surpassed the 10-sack mark in his rookie season and also has forced some fumbles. The future of the Broncos defense looks very bright, even after Von Miller leaves, with Chubb leading the way. Chubb was touted as the 2018 draft's best prospect and he's made a good first impression.
27 Quenton Nelson - Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts took a major step forward this season with getting Andrew Luck back, along with their first-round selection in lineman Quenton Nelson. Nelson was one of the highly talented linemen to come out of this year's draft class. Nelson also won the Offensive Rookie of the Month in October after helping the line not allow a sack on Luck in 156 straight dropbacks. The Colts can definitely keep adding to their line to help Luck guide this young Colts team to a lot of future success.
26 Josh Allen - Buffalo Bills
One of the other big-time quarterbacks that were coming into the 2018 draft was Josh Allen. Allen was probably the number two or three-ranked quarterback coming into the draft out of the University of Wyoming. Allen was drafted seventh overall by the Buffalo Bills but has missed some time this year due to injuries, as well as coming up short in winning the starting job to Nathan Peterman. While the Bills will need Allen to develop further, he did show some signs of improvement as the season went along.
25 Roquan Smith - Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears stunned everybody this season by winning the NFC North for the first time since the 2010 season. They used their eighth overall pick last April to select linebacker Roquan Smith to help bring their defense back up to one of the scariest defenses in the league to face. Smith not disappointed, as he stepped in and was a contributor right away. The Monsters of the Midway appear to be back in Chicago and Smith is clearly one of the Bears' building blocks on defense.
24 Mike McGlinchey - San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers had some bad luck when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down early on in the season. One bright spot that has happened since the Jimmy Garoppolo injury has been offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey. He was able to win a job on the offensive line and beat out Trent Brown, who ended up being with the New England Patriots. Coming out of Notre Dame, McGlinchey was one of the best linemen in college and has certainly helped the 49ers, even though they have struggled in other areas.
23 Josh Rosen - Arizona Cardinals
Josh Rosen was one of the most highly interesting prospects in the NFL draft. He was questioned about his work ethic and his football I.Q. before he was drafted tenth overall by the Arizona Cardinals. Rosen was supposed to guide the Cardinals to some wins in their rebuild. However, with injuries and inconsistencies, Rosen has been a disappointment so far. He completed less than 60% of his passes and threw interceptions at inopportune times. Rosen will need to step up with his numbers if the Arizona Cardinals want to be back in playoff contention.
22 Minkah Fitzpatrick - Miami Dolphins
Minkah Fitzpatrick was taken just outside of the top 10 in the draft and many felt the Dolphins got a steal when he slipped to 11th overall. Fitzpatrick was taken by the Miami Dolphins to help the Dolphins try to overtake the Patriots in the AFC East. While the Dolphins have been frustrating for fans to watch this season due to their utter inconsistency, Fitzpatrick has been a bright spot on the team, and looks to be one of the Dolphins' key pieces of their future.
21 Vita Vea - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were coming into this season hoping that with an improved defense, they could climb back into the playoff picture. They used their number 12 overall pick to take defensive tackle Vita Vea. Vea was one of the most highly talented defensive prospects coming into the draft. This season, he hasn't done a lot as he missed quite a bit of time due to injuries and has had trouble maintaining a spot as a starter. He showed some signs of improvement as the season went on and will hope for a second year breakout.
20 Da'Ron Payne - Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins were the team that was surprising everyone at the beginning of the season but their season went down the drain once Alex Smith got hurt. Another aspect on the defensive side of the ball that has not helped at all is defensive end, Da'Ron Payne. Payne was okay in spurts this season, but the team will obviously want to see more out of him in coming years. The Washington Redskins have a long way to go with Payne and the rest of their roster before they can talk about making the playoffs.
19 Marcus Davenport: Bust
The New Orleans Saints surprised many when they traded up on draft night to take Marcus Davenport 14th overall. Many felt the Saints were trading up for Drew Brees's successor or perhaps to take Derwin James, who many felt was the best player still available at no.14. Davenport played fairly well in the regular season, but wasn't exactly the immediate difference maker the Saints felt he'd be.
The Saints are going to need to rely on their defense to bring them to a Super Bowl title and Davenport needs to be putting up better numbers than what he is currently putting up.
18 Kolton Miller - Oakland Raiders
For the most part, the Oakland Raiders were a dumpster fire this season, as they traded away two cornerstone players in Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. But one bright spot has been left tackle, Kolton Miller. Miller started for the Raiders in all games this season. There were a couple of games that Miller and the offensive line gave up three sacks or more in a game and made life difficult for Derek Carr. But most of the time, Miller has done a great job of protecting Carr in the pocket.
17 Tremaine Edmunds - Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills had quite the interesting season. At times, they looked very good. At other times, they looked like they have no idea what they're doing. One piece on the defensive side of the ball that has looked very good is linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds forced two fumbles on the season and a sack along with over 100 combined tackles. The Bills may be looking up to the Patriots, but with a piece like Edmunds, the future looks very bright.
16 Derwin James - L.A. Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers were overlooked for much of the season. One of the biggest reasons for the Chargers' emergence in 2018 was the early impact made by their first round pick. Many felt when James slipped all the way to pick no.17 that he became the steal of the first round and it certainly appears that way. James already looks like one of the best safeties in football. He'll have to continue his production if the Los Angeles Chargers want any chance at a Super Bowl run.
15 Jaire Alexander - Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers decided to go the route of defense by selecting cornerback Jaire Alexander. Alexander has had a lot of playing time this season. The Packers have always had trouble with their defense and have usually had to rely on Aaron Rodgers to win games for them. However, their defense wasn't all that bad this year and a big reason was the emergence of Alexander. He was named to NFL.com's All-Rookie team and if the Packers can keep him in Green Bay long-term, he's definitely a key piece for their championship hopes.
14 Leighton Vander Esch - Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have seemed to hit their stride at just the right time as they made a push in the second half of the season to win a suddenly very competitive NFC East. Helping them along the way was rookie linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch. Vander Esch easily surpassed 100 tackles on the year and stepped up big time when Sean Lee missed some extended time. The Cowboys found their way back to the playoffs, and Vander Esch was a huge reason why it all happened.
13 Frank Ragnow: Bust
The Detroit Lions are continuously also trying to fix their offensive line problems. They decided to go with center Frank Ragnow. Ragnow was a center in college but has also spent time during his NFL career playing the guard position as well. The Lions are still having trouble on the offensive line and Ragnow didn't really help the Lions get much better. While Detroit's running game saw some improvement, their o-line continues to struggle in protecting Matt Stafford.
12 Billy Price - Cincinnati Bengals
On offense, it's all about the offensive line and how well they can create holes for the running backs and give the quarterback time to throw in the pocket. The Cincinnati Bengals needed offensive line help this off-season and selected Billy Price with the 21st overall pick. He wasn't much help, considering he was the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year just a year ago. The Bengals still have a ton of trouble protecting Andy Dalton and Price didn't exactly make the early impact they were looking for.
11 Rashaan Evans - Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans made plenty of additions in the off-season to put themselves in conversation to be a team to look out for in the AFC. They also drafted linebacker Rashaan Evans with the 22nd overall pick after trading up from pick no.26. Evans had trouble working his way into the Titans' starting lineup for much of the season and saw some of his snaps go to fellow rookie Harold Landry. Evans showed some improvement as the season went on, but the Titans will be looking for more from him in year two.
10 Isaiah Wynn - New England Patriots
Sometimes, players just have bad luck coming into their first NFL season. For Isaiah Wynn, he had just about the worst luck possible. It started off well when he was selected by the New England Patriots with the 23rd overall pick out of Georgia. Unfortunately, he injured his Achilles in the second preseason game and missed the entire 2018 season. Coming into next season, Wynn will hopefully replace what the Patriots thought he would do this season after losing Nate Solder to the Giants.
9 D.J. Moore - Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers wanted to add some offense to help Cam Newton and second-year running back Christian McCaffrey. They decided to take D.J. Moore 24th overall and so far has been very good for the Panthers receiving corps. Moore really was starting to emerge as a receiver, but since the Panthers slumped badly down the drain, largely in part to a banged up Cam Newton, Moore's production fell again. Moore will be a prime candidate for a breakout next season if Newton is healthy.
8 Hayden Hurst - Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens also had the 25th overall pick and decided to go with tight end Hayden Hurst. Hurst has not been the big target that the Ravens might have been looking for when they drafted him. So far this season, Hurst didn't start in any games this season and saw many of his projected snaps go to rookie third rounder Mark Andrews. Hayden Hurst better improve if the Ravens want to have any offensive direction in the future.
7 Calvin Ridley - Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons added a good wide receiver named Calvin Ridley when their 26th overall pick came up in the 2018 NFL draft. Ridley has proven that he has very good speed downfield and can catch touchdown passes in the red zone when Matt Ryan needs it the most. Ridley came in and was exactly what the Falcons thought he'd be; a perfect complement for Julio Jones on the opposite side. Ridley seemed to cool off a little bit in the second half of the season, but don't be fooled. Ridley is a legitimate wide receiving threat for the Falcons.
6 Rashaad Penny - Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks needed a running back that would bring back the glory days of having Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Rashaad Penny isn't a Marshawn Lynch, but he has done his job so far this season. Keep in mind, Penny is the backup behind Chris Carson, so obviously, the Seahawks were hoping he'd grab that starting job at some point. Still, the Seahawks did run the ball effectively this season and Penny got better as the season went on. The Seahawks could be in a good position for years to come in the backfield if Rashaad Penny gets an increased workload.
5 Terrell Edmunds - Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been known for having one of the more potent offenses in the league the past few years, but they felt they needed to improve their secondary. The Steelers went out and drafted safety Terrell Edmunds. He has made a decent amount of tackles this year, but other than that, he was underwhelming for the first half of the season. There were signs of improvement towards the end, so perhaps next year is when we see Edmunds break out.
4 Taven Bryan - Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars were expected to take another step forward this season after their Cinderella run last season to the AFC Championship game. They also selected defensive tackle Taven Bryan to help out. The whole Jaguars defense was a bust this season, and it's looking like there was really no need to draft Bryan in the first round. It's hard to judge Bryan too quickly, because it was going to be difficult for any rookie to win a starting job on that defense, but he definitely fell short of the team's expectations in year one.
3 Mike Hughes - Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings had one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2017 and figured they would add to it by drafting cornerback Mike Hughes. So far, he has not lived up to the Vikings' expectations. He played in six games, getting two starts, and had one interception, three pass deflections, and a forced fumble as well. He also, unfortunately, tore his ACL, which ended his rookie year sooner than he had hoped. It's a shame that Hughes couldn't finish his season and will hope to bounce back once he recovers.
2 Sony Michel - New England Patriots
The New England Patriots needed an explosive running back and might have found it in Sony Michel. The Patriots lost Dion Lewis to Tennessee and Rex Burkhead was injured most of the season, leaving an opening for Michel. So far, he has not disappointed. While he's also had trouble staying healthy, the Patriots played their best football this season when Michel was leading the way in the running game. If the Patriots want to get a couple more great years out of Tom Brady, Michel will be a big catalyst for that.
1 Lamar Jackson - Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson has actually been quite the surprise for the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens will surely be looking to move on from Joe Flacco this offseason, and Jackson is their future. But while Flacco has something left in the tank, the Ravens have still found some usage for Jackson. They incorporated him as a runner, sometimes even with Flacco in on offense.
Jackson stepped up big time when Flacco went down with an injury and the Ravens stuck with him throughout the regular season. While Jackson has to improve on his throwing mechanics, he definitely brought a spark to a franchise that was badly in need of one.