2018 NFL Draft: Burning Questions
As Draft Day approaches, Dom Murtha answers the questions that everyone still seems to be asking. Mainly dealing with overarching themes and big picture stuff, consider this your "what to watch for" article heading into Thursday night.
Oh how far we’ve come…
It seems like just yesterday that I released my Mock Draft 1.0, wondering everything from what the Browns would do with their two top-five picks, to if it were possible to improve the Eagles roster. While those questions remain the same, in another sense this moment seems like forever ago…
Since late January, there have been 23 trades, nearly all of which have included at least one draft pick, while hundreds of other players have changed teams via free agency. The landscape of the league is undoubtedly much different than it was back then, making this pre-draft treatise a necessary read.
We’ve been covering this draft for months now, and while largely every angle and storyline has been analyzed and dissected ad nauseam, here will be laid out the overarching themes and burning questions that will come to define the draft in a meta sense. Think of this as a crash course; a “what to watch for” entering Thursday night – my favorite event on the annual football calendar – the NFL Draft.
A side note here before we begin, I will be doing this in Q&A format because A) I always wanted to do that type of article and B) because I think it fleshes out the themes of the draft in the most clear way possible. Please pay no mind to the fact that I’m interviewing myself because as I said, I am feeling a lot of emotions around this time of year and am running on fumes. Quite frankly, I shouldn’t be held fully accountable for my actions over the next week or so. Anyway, without further prologue… Please enjoy!
“Who are the quarterbacks? Who are the teams? How early? And in what order?”
There has been considerable anticipation for this quarterback class for quite a few years now, and for good reason, as there are several potential franchise signal callers within it, which is a rarity nowadays. The list includes USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen, amongst others. That’s the order I would rank them, however depending on who you ask, they would tell you a completely different order and would maybe include a few other names such as Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Western Kentucky’s Mike White, Washington State’s Luke Falk, Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, Memphis’ Riley Ferguson, and Marshall’s Chase Litton. Of the first group of guys, many predict that at least three of them will be gone by the first five picks, while all five should be gone by pick 15 at the latest. As of my most recent mock draft I have four going in the first five picks, which should show you the kind of premium that is going to be put on these young signal callers. As for the order they will be picked, there is unfortunately no consensus whatsoever. For months now, the odds on favorite for the number one pick has been Sam Darnold, but even that is far from a lock. One recent narrative that has been floating around is that Baker Mayfield's and Josh Allen’s arrows are pointing up, while Josh Rosen's is falling. Having said all of that though, this is rumor season – where almost nothing that GM’s say can be trusted.
As for the teams in play for this litter of quarterbacks; understandably most of the league has been linked to at least one of the names above...
In Tier 1 (in most dire need of a QB) you have the Browns, Giants, Jets, Broncos, Bills, and Cardinals. All of these teams are in play in the first round for the five main guys that I listed, while they will be looking at the second group on days two and three if they miss out on the first group in the first round.
In Tier 2 (need of a QB of the future) you have the Chargers, Steelers, Patriots, Jaguars, Saints, and Dolphins. These teams largely have either aging signal callers or ones who aren’t likely to be with the team after 2018.
In tier 3 (need a backup/a QB to push the starter) you have the Ravens, Redskins, Cowboys, and Bengals. These four teams will likely not be looking at the first group of quarterbacks, but will definitely be digging in the second group in hopes of striking gold towards the end of the draft.
Simply put, there are a lot of quarterbacks in this class and a lot of teams looking to get one. They will prove to define this year’s draft.
“How many trades in the first round? And who’s looking to move up/down?”
In a short answer to both parts of the question… 1) I’m not sure 2) basically everyone. In more detailed terms, understand that as I said previously, we have already seen 23 trades so far this offseason, most of which have involved draft picks. While there has already been ample movement, chances are that draft day is even more active due to the demand put on these first round quarterbacks. Either teams at the top will be looking to move out because they don’t need a quarterback, teams in the middle and bottom will be looking to move up because they do need one, or most likely a combination of both. Ultimately, expect to see a lot of deals getting done on Thursday night; more than is typically seen in the first round of a traditional NFL Draft.
I’ll outline this in further detail in my final mock draft (set to be released tomorrow), but for now here are some teams to pay attention to in terms of moving around in the first round.
Buffalo Bills (desperately need a franchise quarterback; possess two first round picks as trade capital).
Cleveland Browns (also possess two first rounders; GM openly said that he is willing to trade)
New York Giants (need a franchise quarterback, but have gone on record saying that they are open for business)
Indianapolis Colts (don’t need a quarterback but have a valuable top-six pick; have moved back from third overall already)
Miami Dolphins (dark horse team looking for a new quarterback)
Arizona Cardinals (in desperate need of a young quarterback)
New England Patriots (have two first rounders and are being heavily rumored to be looking for a quarterback to groom behind Tom Brady)
“Is a guard really the best player in the draft? Can he realistically go inside the top-10?”
While he hasn’t been getting as much coverage as this polarizing group of quarterbacks, Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson is in fact the best player in the draft. In the simplest of terms, he’s a prospect without flaws, but that alone doesn’t speak to the level of player that he can be. Nelson’s defining trait is as a road grader in the run game. He finishes off run plays at the second and third levels of the defense, often pancaking defenders, and never losing his own balance. As a pass protector he’s less decorated by the media, but it shouldn’t go without saying that he hasn’t allowed a sack in over two years. If there ever was a lock for a Pro Bowl, or even the Hall of Fame, in this draft class, the conversation begins and ends with Nelson. Beyond the high ceiling, he’s also the safest pick in the draft, making him the number one overall prospect, without much argument.
As for his place as a top-10 pick, that discussion is a bit more complicated. Going back through the last 20 years, there has only been two traditional guard prospects that have been taken in the top-10 – Jonathan Cooper (7th overall) and Chance Warmack (10th overall) – both of whom were taken in the historically bad 2013 NFL Draft. Point being, regardless of all of the All-Pro and Hall of Fame guards that have graced this league over the last 20 years, teams still don’t typically value the position enough to spend an early first rounder on them.
It seems as though that this year is going to be different, as most mock drafts have Nelson as this draft’s can’t miss prospect, but every year, seemingly without fail, there is at least one, but more often times two, “top-10 locks” that end up sliding to the middle or even later part of the round. Considering how the league typically values the guard position, I would hardly be surprised if Nelson ended up being one of this year’s sliders.
Having said all of this, I am still confident in the talent that Nelson will be bringing to the table. Regardless of where he is drafted, I’m bullish enough to predict at least a Pro Bowl appearance from him in his rookie season.
“How does Dallas replace Dez? And does the run on wideouts begin before or after 19th overall?”
Unlike most years, in this draft there are few “elite” wide receiver prospects and few teams at the top that need one. Because of this, a unique situation is on our hands, where the back end of the first round can define an otherwise typically premium position.
One of the bigger, more recent storylines of this offseason is how the Cowboys cut longtime star receiver, Dez Bryant. It’s no secret that they will be looking to replace him in this upcoming draft, but the question remains if they will be looking to pull the trigger on a wideout as early as 19th overall.
To fully answer the question, Dallas replaces Dez not by trying to draft a younger and cheaper version of him, but instead by drafting a different type of receiver all together. As Brett Talley and I already discussed on the Fantasy Alarm: Fantasy Football Podcast The Cowboys need a “Dak friendly” receiver to lead this team, and by that I mean the receiver that they draft needs to be everything that Dez was not. Since his rookie season, Dak Prescott has struggled to make a connection with Dez Bryant because where Dez isn’t the best route runner and struggles to create separation at this point in his career, he still is the master of the 50-50 ball. Dak doesn’t feel comfortable throwing into coverage, regardless of the skill set that Dez Bryant offers in that area. Considering this, it’s no surprise that Bryant’s stats fell off a cliff once Tony Romo was supplanted as the starting quarterback in Dallas. So where people are claiming a diminished talent in the recently cut receiver, I more see it as a change in offensive philosophy. With Prescott now the identity in Dallas, they will look to build with his type of receivers around him. In this draft, that brings to the forefront great route runners that naturally create lots of separation. Names that come to mind are Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, Maryland’s DJ Moore, Memphis’ Anthony Miller, and Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, amongst several others. While they could certainly still go in this direction, I do however feel that this change in philosophy should rule out names like Courtland Sutton of SMU and James Washington of Oklahoma State, regardless of the fact that both were invited for private workouts with the team. Both Sutton and Washington lack a refined route tree and eye popping speed and agility traits, which wouldn’t exactly gel with a Dak Prescott oriented offense. A dark horse to keep an eye on for Dallas is LSU receiver DJ Chark, as his elite deep speed is something that this team has been missing for quite some time.
As for part two of the question… “does the run on wideouts begin before or after 19th overall?” In a simple sense, no, because not only am I not 100% sold that they will spend their first pick on the position, but also because I could see a few teams picking a wide receiver before them – most notably of which are the Baltimore Ravens at 16. If the Ravens go, say Calvin Ridley in the first round, I could certainly see Dallas panicking and picking DJ Moore at 19, which would technically begin the wide receiver run at 16. Beyond that though, my overall feeling on this draft’s collection of receivers is that while deep, it is lacking in the elite department. Moore and Ridley are my only two receivers with a first round grade. Outside of them, I see a lot of rock solid, second and third rounders. With a gun to my head, I bet that the real run on receivers begins early in the second round. Considering that, don’t be surprised if Dallas goes defense at 19 and trades up into the early part of the second round in hopes of not missing out on Dak’s receiver of the future.
“Of this talented tight end class, will at least one be taken in the first round?”
Another tough question... While last year’s class had five first round caliber tight ends, three of which ended up actually making the cut, this year’s class is less on the elite side, despite being one of the deeper position groups. Names that I like as potential first rounders include South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, and South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst. In reality, while there are several tight ends in this class that may end up being great players, even potential Pro Bowlers, I would be surprised if more than two of them went in the first round.
So, to answer the question, I would say, yes. I predict that both Goedert and Gesicki go towards the end of the first round, while Hurst just misses the cut. Teams that should be in play for tight ends in that range include the Jaguars, Patriots, and Saints.
“What to make of Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick? An elite talent, but where does he play? How do teams view him? And is he really falling?”
Word on the street is that Fitzpatrick is falling, but as I have previously said, this time of year it is really hard to believe anything that NFL GM’s are saying. While the rumored belief is that teams are struggling to find a concrete position for him, the fact of the matter is that he’s a damn good football player. Rather than relating this situation to last year’s Jabrill Peppers debacle, just look a year further in the past, to get the better comparison. Like Jalen Ramsey did in 2016, Fitzpatrick is casting doubt into the minds of NFL GM’s because he isn’t just great at one position, but has instead shown promise at multiple spots along the defensive secondary. Contrariarly, unlike Jabrill Peppers, Fitzpatrick isn’t undersized and was actually a great defensive player in college – rather than just being elite with the ball in his hands.
In my humble opinion, Fitzpatrick is a top-five talent in the draft at minimum, and shouldn’t realistically fall outside of the top-10 picks. Much of what you hear about him falling is likely smokescreens being cast by worrisome NFL GM’s. Having said all of this however, I have also mentioned that every year it seems like at least two guys who should go in the top portion of the draft, slide much farther than they should. Who's to say that this year’s victim won’t be Minkah Fitzpatrick?
“Is there a franchise left tackle in this class?”
As you can tell, the theme of this draft is that it is peculiar to that of years past. There are a litany of potential franchise quarterbacks, while it is uniquely light at other premium positions such as wide receiver, edge rusher, and yes – offensive tackle.
With that being said, the answer I will give you depends on how you define “franchise left tackle”. If a franchise tackle to you means a perennial Pro Bowler on the blind side for the next decade, then no, I don’t think there is one in this draft, but if you just are asking if there is a guy or two who you can rely upon to consistently protect your quarterback on the left side for years to come, then the answer is a bit different…
Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey is likely the most logical prospect and odds on favorite to be the best left tackle in the draft, as he did it for three years in college, and at a high level at that. Even with him though, scouts are pretty confident that he will have his best reps in the NFL on the right side instead. Other candidates include Connor Williams of Texas – a talented prospect no doubt, but a guy who battled with injury rust in 2017 and lacks traditional length to play tackle in the NFL – Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill – more of a raw prospect who isn’t yet the sum of his talented parts – Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown – who had a great college career, is massive, and put together some solid tape, but posted one of the worst NFL Combine performances of all time – and UCLA’s Colton Miller – who contariarly put together one of the best Combine’s I’ve ever seen, but doesn’t yet fully grasp the nuances of the position.
Simply put, there are some names to be thrown out there, but none without some serious warts. If I had to choose, I would say that McGlinchey and Miller have the best chance to serve as a “franchise left tackle”, but neither is someone that I would put money on to make a Pro Bowl any time soon.
“Shooting from the hip… Most underrated prospect in the class? Most overrated? BOLD prediction for Thursday Night (hottest take you’ve got)?”
Part one is quite the loaded question, as is part two. For most underrated prospect, let me put out a disclaimer that if Minkah Fitzpatrick falls out of the top-15 he has to be the number one contender for this award. Assuming that the Minkah falling talk is just a classic pre draft smokescreen, I will say that running back Kerryon Johnson out of Auburn is the draft’s most underrated prospect. Despite being just as talented as any, Johnson for some reason is not being mentioned amongst the likes of Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and the rest of the highly hyped running backs. While you’ve probably heard far more about the five backs that I just listed, I actually have Johnson ranked above half of them and third overall at the position. I would take him in the second round of this draft, and at least according to the lack of media hype surrounding him, most other draft pundits wouldn’t. Below is a clip of what Johnson is capable of… In a lot of respects he reminds me of DeMarco Murray with his high cut, patient, and physical running style.
As for the most overrated, I’ll keep it simple and tell you that the Josh Allen hype train has got to chill. Yes, he’s a quarterback blessed with natural athletic gifts such as an end zone to end zone cannon arm, a 6-foot-5 frame, and the foot speed to navigate the pocket, but he’s also wildly inaccurate to the point that he struggled mightily even in an underwhelming division of college football against inferior competition. The fact that he hasn’t ever completed 60% of his passes in any season, dating as far back to his junior varsity days in high school, is incredibly alarming. I certainly would draft him based off of his natural gifts and high potential, but the people arguing that the Browns should take him first overall are outside their minds. He’s a late first rounder at best in my book, but then again I’m not the one drafting on Thursday night.
The hottest take I’ve got? Hmmm…… How about this one?
Widely accepted top-five talent in the draft, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, falls just like many are predicting that he will. In similar fashion to what happened to Aaron Rodgers in 2005, things begin to get awkward inside the green room. Just before the late teen picks begin to approach the early 20’s, suddenly a team swoops in and jumps ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers – a team that would certainly have pulled the trigger on the California kid. Who’s the team moving up you ask? None other than the New England Patriots… The Patriots package their 23rd overall pick with their 43rd overall overall selection and convince the Baltimore Ravens to move back. Potentially most surprising of all, the Patriots manage to keep their 31st overall pick and take Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki. In this hot take, the Patriots manage to get the heir apparent for both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski – two future Hall of Famers that may not be with the team beyond 2018.
While a “hot take” this scenario is also something that I could definitely see happening.
Well, that’s all I got. Make sure to read my final mock draft set to release at some point tomorrow (Wednesday, April 25th, 2018). Also make sure to tune into Fantasy Alarm’s coverage of the 2018 NFL Draft on Thursday night, as I will personally be updating and analyzing each pick as they come in live. After the conclusion of the first round, Brett Talley and I will be recapping the action on the Fantasy Alarm: Fantasy Football Podcast. Expect that to be posted late on Thursday night/early Friday morning.
Also, here’s a twitter handle to follow me on (@Nostra_Dom_Us).