Best and Worst Case Scenarios for the 2018 NFL Draft
First Round Draft Prospects Can Be A Dream… Or A Nightmare
Hope springs eternal, sure. But fear of a wasted first round pick is always lurking in the shadows, just out of sight. For these five NFL teams and their fanbases, the next 3 months leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft will come with visions of agile O-linemen dancing in their heads… but also the spectre of misfit prospects clawing their way through the chest cavity and into the waking world.
Who are these angels and demons for your favorite team?
Best Case: Connor Williams, OT Texas
There are going to be a lot of QBs drafted in the top-6 or 7 picks in the NFL Draft, and that means great players at other positions will be pushed down. No player would be more advantageous for the Bears than Connor Williams, who has the potential to be a top-5 OT in the NFL. It might be a longshot for an elite LT of Connor Williams’ caliber to fall to pick 8, but if it ever happens, it would happen in a year with stacked talent at the QB position. The Bears aren’t close enough to having a complete roster that they can afford a trade up to secure him, so hoping he slides is their only course of action. And it might just pay off.
Worst Case: Calvin Ridley, WR Alabama
Drafting for need is never a good idea, but it is an especially bad idea when you are drafting in the top-10, and your biggest need is at a position where there is not a top-10 prospect available. Especially bad would be trying to project Ridley and his safe, solid skill set, to be a difference maker at the next level. He is a fine complimentary piece. But if you are drafting at pick 8, you need a game changer, and that is not Ridley. If they just identify their biggest hole and fill it with their first pick, it will be a disaster for the Bears.
Best Case: Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State
I am typically against drafting a RB at the top of the first round. Especially so if there is a huge amount of depth at the position, which there is this in this year’s draft. But you can’t have absolute rules. You have to judge it on a draft-by-draft (and prospect-by-prospect) basis, and Saquon Barkley is the definition of an Exception. There is a chance, due to the aforementioned depth at RB, and the growing irrelevance of the position on affecting the outcome of games, that Barkley will fall to Oakland. And if he does, putting him behind that offensive line… oh my goodness. It would be a coup.
Worst Case: Derwin James, S Florida State
You’ll notice a theme here, which is a team reaching for a player in order to fill a need at a position of weakness. Picking Derwin James inside the top-10 would be a reach on its own merits, but in the Raiders case, would be doubly frustrating because they selected Conley and Melifonwu in the first and second rounds of last year’s draft. The Raiders (as shown by the Melifonwu pick) still have the ability to fall in love with a player’s athletic upside more than his on-field production, and if they do it with James just to help shore up their defensive backfield, Gruden could be in for a long season.
Best Case: Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville
For better or worse (I believe worse) many people in the mock draft world are down on Lamar Jackson because they believe he is just a running QB or that he is too skinny to excel at the next level, or both. What this means to me is that a team who has no business landing a player with his potential might end up with the steal of the draft. And a team who picks in the right range of the draft, who I expect to have a huge need at the position, is Washington. Lamar can be the centerpiece of an offense in need of an identity, and without Washington even having to trade up for the franchise QB.
Worst Case: Mike McGlinchey, OT Notre Dame
There’s a real chance the Skins look at the Cowboys and Eagles, two division rivals with excellent offensive lines, and say, “That’s what we need to do. Build from the inside out.” It’s an old bromide that can be true for some teams and in some situations, but not for where the Redskins are right now. They need to find an offensive identity, and LOCK DOWN the leader of the offense, which they’ve failed to do for years now. This could be an example of an owner trying to “get serious” with his team building process and show the world he’s changed the way he’s doing things, only to flop on draft day.
Best Case: Roquan Smith, ILB Georgia
You may call me crazy now, but I think there is a very real possibility that Roquan slips MUCH further than everyone is predicting on draft day. You know how many linebackers of his size (6’1″, 225) have been drafted in the top-10, where he is currently being projected, in the past decade? Zero. Do you know how many linebackers his size have been drafted in the first round? Zero. The closest matches I could find were Reuben Foster (6’0″, 229) and who I had pegged as the second best prospect overall in the draft, lasting until pick 31, and Ryan Shazier (6’1″, 229) who was almost certainly faster than Roquan, being drafted at pick 15. In fact, it’s that comp that has me believe the Steelers could hit it big twice. Shazier suffered a catastrophic injury, and may never play again. There is a chance that his closest comp could be available, despite what all the mock drafts are saying today, to the Steelers at pick 28.
Worst Case: Kerryon Johnson, RB Auburn
Another comp that’s being thrown around a lot is Kerryon Johnson comparing favorably to Jamaal Charles. I’m not here (yet. my RB rankings post is always my favorite of the year!) to say whether or not I believe that is a fair comp. But I do know, right now, that the talent at RB is immense this year, and that equally talented players (Guice, RJ2, Chubb, Michel, Penny, Freeman, Wadley, Adams, Scarborough, Ballage) will be available rounds later. The Steelers may have to consider life without Le’Veon, but the first round is probably not the ideal time to do it.
Best Case: Vita Vea, DT Washington
The common thread with all these best case scenarios are that super-talented players are falling further than they should. Whether it’s because the top of the draft is QB heavy (Connor Williams) declining positional importance (Saquon) stereotypes (Lamar) size (Roquan) or in this case, positional depth. This year’s crop of DTs is very heavy at the top (though less so now, with Wilkins returning to Clemson) with Vea, Settle, Hurst, and Payne (and even Phillips and Bryan getting some first round love.) It’s not too difficult to imagine a “limited” player like Vea, who could be viewed as just a run-stopper/space-eater, who isn’t a sack machine, to fall. If this happens, the Pats would be wise to jump all over their next Wilfork at the end of the round.
Worst Case: Mason Rudolph, QB Oklahoma State
Can’t you just feel how much this would hurt? Having traded Garoppolo, the QB they groomed for three years, for just a second round pick, then using their first rounder on a new QB project (who could end up Cassel or Hoyer just as easily as he could end up Garoppolo) instead of an impact player where they need it. Let’s be honest. It’s the Pats. Pretty much no matter who they take, New England will rejoice. But the one exception would be if they grab a second (third?) tier QB out of desperation, and watch their first round pick sit for a year, or two, or three. Always fearful that he will be traded away, just like all the others…
photo: Perry McIntyre Jr., UGA / Todd Van Emst, AU Athletics