NFL: Evaluating the 2018 AFC Draft Class

After two years in the league, there is sufficient evidence to evaluate the NFL players drafted in 2018. One season is often not enough, and sometimes two does not suffice either. Yet, for many players, they are already making names for themselves, or running out of chances. This evaluation will focus on the players drafted by each AFC team.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns: 5/10

With four picks in the first two rounds, the Cleveland Browns have had moderate success with these players. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has flashed promise at times, but struggled for much of his sophomore season. Cornerback Denzel Ward had a strong rookie season, making the Pro Bowl, but regressed slightly in Year 2. Running Back Nick Chubb has played well across both seasons, and had the second-highest rushing yards in 2019. If each of these three players continues to improve in Year 3, it’s a good foundation for the Browns emerging from one draft class.

However, the other of their first four picks, Offensive Lineman Austin Corbett, is a reflection of how the rest of Cleveland’s draft went. Corbett has played in few games, and was traded for a fifth round draft pick. Similarly, the Browns also drafted Wide Receiver Antonio Callaway and Simeon Thomas, who have had off-field issues, suspensions, and are no longer with an NFL team. Defensive End Denard Avery has also been traded, but had some ok production in his rookie season with the Browns, recording 4.5 sacks.

Elsewhere, the Browns also drafted DE Chad Thomas, who has had some limited production as a backup to Myles Garrett. WR Damion Ratley is deep on the depth chart, but has been reasonably productive when on the field. Across all of their draft picks, Chubb and Ward look the best, while Mayfield needs to develop further to be worth a #1 overall pick. Chad Thomas and Ratley have been good for where they were selected, but the misses on Callaway, Corbett and Simeon Thomas drag down the Browns’ overall draft class.

Cincinnati Bengals: 5/10

The Bengals had a mixed bag of a draft class, having hits and misses. First round Centre Billy Price has been sound as a starter, allowing few sacks, but has missed time and needs improvement in the run game. WR Auden Tate (7th round) improved in 2019 and had an increased role with the absence of starter AJ Green. However, RB Mark Walton’s (4th round) off-field issues forced him to be waived, and he struggled to be a consistent contributor. QB Logan Woodside never made it with the team, but had some success in the AAF before its collapse.

Defensively, the Bengals found quality pieces early in the draft. Jessie Bates was the 11th ranked Safety in 2018, and continued to play at a high level in 2019. DE Sam Hubbard has developed into an above-average starter, while fellow DE Andrew Brown has had limited action as a backup.

The remainder of the Bengals’ 2018 draft class have barely seen the field. Linebacker Malik Jefferson has played in 21 games, including 12 for Cincinnati in 2018, but was waived prior to the 2019 season. CB Davontae Harris was injured for his rookie season before being waived, while Offensive Guard Rod Taylor was also injured and suspended before being waived. CB Darius Phillips has found a role on Special Teams with some time on Defence, but has missed time through injury. While Price and Tate are positives for the Offense, and Bates and Hubbard for the Defence, there were too many misses for Cincinnati in 2018.

Baltimore Ravens: 7/10

Nearly half of the Ravens’ current starters on Offense were all drafted in 2018. QB Lamar Jackson played at an MVP level throughout 2019, while TE Mark Andrews and Offensive Tackle Orlando Brown have both made Pro Bowls across their first two seasons. Their first overall selection, TE Hayden Hurst, has become part of one of the league’s best running attacks and is also a featured part of their pass attack. Baltimore also drafted OG Bradley Bozeman in the 6th round, and he became a highly capable lineman, starting all 16 games in 2019.

However, Baltimore was less successful with their defensive picks. CB Anthony Averett has not managed to become a starter, although has found a place on Special Teams. LB Kenny Young has played better for the Los Angeles Rams since being traded, although the trade did net Baltimore Marcus Peters. Safety DeShon Elliott has spent most of his career on injured reserve, and unless he can remain healthy, is unlikely to get another chance with the team.

The Ravens also had some misses amongst their selections. WRs Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley have seen little action, with the latter cut from the team. OT Greg Senat has been frequently injured, was waived by Baltimore and has not played yet. DE Zach Sieler has briefly seen the field, and was also waived prior to the 2019 season. While their Offensive pieces may be high calibre, the Ravens struggled to pick up contributors in the second half of the draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers: 5/10

The Pittsburgh Steelers managed to identify talent at points in the draft, but didn’t make the most of their picks. First round Safety Terrell Edmunds has played well as a starter, being part of one of the league’s best Defences in 2019. WR James Washington saw an increased role in 2019 with the departure of Antonio Brown, but failed to establish himself as a consistently reliable option. RB Jaylen Samuels had greater success over his first two seasons, and was productive with his touches, although figures to be part of a committee in the future. OT Chukwuma Okorafor has been a capable backup, and has been successful in a limited role.

With only seven picks in the draft, the Steelers wasted two of them on Defensive Lineman Joshua Frazier and Safety Marcus Allen, who have played in three games between them. There was hope that QB Mason Rudolph would develop into a potential starter, but after struggling in 2019, he is unlikely to be still considered the long-term replacement for Ben Roethlisberger. Few of their selections proved to be successful, although they managed to get enough contributors for the draft not to be a waste.

AFC East

New York Jets: 6/10

Gang Green had a mostly positive draft, although had only 6 picks after trading up to select QB Sam Darnold. Darnold has mostly played well, and had a good run of games in 2019, but needs to continue progressing to make the pick worthwhile. TE Chris Herndon had a sound rookie season, but through suspension and injury missed the 2019 season. RB Trenton Cannon has also made some contributions to the Offense, but has missed time through injury as well. If these offensive players can continue building on what they’ve shown, the Jets will feel good about the selections.

Elsewhere, third round DE Nathan Shepherd showed positive signs in his rookie season, but missed a large part of 2019 through suspension. CB Parry Nickerson had little impact in his brief time before being waived, while fellow sixth round selection DL Folorunso Fatukasi has been a capable backup. While this draft class largely hinges on the success of Darnold, if players like Shepherd, Fatukasi, Herndon and Cannon can find roles, it won’t be a complete waste. The Jets are bordering on a better grade, but their players haven’t shown enough yet.

Buffalo Bills: 7/10

Like the Jets, the Bills traded up to draft a QB. Josh Allen has been one of the better running-QBs since entering the league, although is yet to prove he can be a reliable passer. Allen has also lacked surrounding talent, with fellow 2018 rookie WR Ray-Ray McLeod unable to earn playing time. 7th round WR Austin Proehl was also a whiff, and has been waived by multiple teams. Their other Offensive player, OL Wyatt Teller became a starter in 2018, although was traded to the Browns, where he started most of the season.

However, Buffalo had 2 first round picks, and used the second of those on LB Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds has played at a high level since entering the league, making a Pro Bowl and being a key player on one of the league’s best Defences. DL Harrison Phillips was effective as a backup in 2018, but missed most of 2019 with injury. CB Taron Johnson has become a starter over his two seasons, while fellow CB Siran Neal has earned a special teams role and is increasingly seeing snaps on Defence. While these Defensive players have been positives for the Bills, if Allen doesn’t develop, this draft will be disappointing.

Miami Dolphins: 7/10

Drafted under their old regime, this Miami draft class is hard to evaluate. First round selection Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick had a terrific 2019, earning an All-Pro spot – but with a different team. The Dolphins found talent and contributors throughout the draft, such as TE Mike Gesicki who improved in 2019 and will look to build on it. 7th round Kicker Jason Sanders has been highly effective, including scoring a Touchdown on a fake Field Goal attempt. RB Kalen Ballage has made contributions at times too. LB Jerome Baker has played well in his two seasons, showing progress in 2019.

The draft wasn’t without its misses though for Miami. TE Durham Smythe has been a blocker and Special Teams player, but may need to make greater contributions for a 4th rounder. CB Cornell Armstrong and LB Quentin Poling were both waived, seeing little to no snaps since being drafted. This was a mostly positive draft for Miami, but not being able to make the most of Fitzpatrick drags them down a little.

New England Patriots: 3/10

The Patriots have had little production from their 2018 Draft class. Only 4 out of their 9 selections are still with the team, and three of those have missed substantial time with injury. 2nd round CB Duke Dawson and 6th round WR Braxton Berrios have had some playing time with Denver Broncos and New York Jets, respectively. 6th round LB Christian Sam and 7th round QB Danny Etling were both waived without seeing the field, while 7th round CB Keion Crossen has mostly been on Special Teams, and was traded to the Houston Texans.

Of the players remaining on the team, there is little to be praised. Offensive Tackle Isaiah Wynn was the first of two first round picks used but has played in just 8 games over two seasons. Their other first round pick, RB Sony Michel was a centrepiece of their Offense in 2018, but wasn’t able to progress significantly in 2019. TE Ryan Izzo has played a limited role, unable to escape injury in both seasons. Their final selection, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, has seen time as a starter, but again has missed extended time from injuries. If not for Michel, there is little from this Draft class that has performed well since entering the league. While Bentley and Wynn may have better health moving forward, it’s been disappointing for New England.

AFC West

Denver Broncos: 8/10

From the early rounds of the draft, the Broncos have found multiple starters and contributors. LB Bradley Chubb had a very good rookie season, but injury kept him out of most of 2019. WR Courtland Sutton had a breakout 2019 season, and figures to be the team’s WR1 moving forward. RB Royce Freeman has been good in a rotational role, while TE Troy Fumugalli has provided good depth at the position. LB Josey Jewell has made some good plays but needs to progress further, and CB Isaac Yiadom improved in 2019, starting 8 games. WR DaeSean Hamilton has made a few contributions, but is not a starting WR.

Yet, in the later rounds, Denver struggled to hit on their three picks. OL Sam Jones was cut prior to the 2019 season, LB Keishawn Bierria was waived in 2019, and RB David Williams was waived in 2018. With standout picks in Chubb and Sutton, and enough other contributions from players like Jewell and Freeman, this becomes a successful draft. Increased roles and production from the players still on the roster would push this draft grade up.

Oakland Raiders: 4/10

The Raiders had 9 selections in the 2018 Draft, but are yet to yield overall good results from those picks. OT Kolton Miller has started all 32 games since being drafted, but his play has been inconsistent, including 7 sacks allowed in 2019. While not drafted until the 5th round, DL Maurice Hurst was their other major selection, playing at a high level in his two seasons. Fellow DL P.J. Hall has been underwhelming for a 2nd rounder, having little impact on games. DE Arden Key has been better, but missed half of the 2019 season.

Amongst their other picks, the Raiders picked up little talent. OT Brandon Parker has been an average backup, while WR Marcell Ateman has had a few good games, but overall limited impact. CB Nick Nelson has played a few games on Special Teams and LB Azeem Victor was waived before the season began. 5th round selection, Punter Johnny Townsend, was also waived after the 2018 season, failing to live up to the pick’s value for his position. While there is potential for Oakland to have a few starting calibre players emerge from this group, it has largely been disappointing.

Los Angeles Chargers: 6/10

If not for first round selection Safety Derwin James, the Chargers did not unearth much talent in this Draft. James was an All Pro in his rookie season, but missed the majority of the 2019 season through injury. Few other players have started for the Chargers from the Draft class, with DL Justin Jones improving into 2019 but needing further development still. Safety Kyzir White started several games in 2019, but needs to continue progressing to have a lasting career in the NFL.

Beyond these players, the Chargers found multiple backups, as well as WR Dylan Cantrell who is yet to take the field. LB Uchenna Nwosu and OL Scott Quessenberry have had time as starters, but are far from confirmed to retain those spots moving forward. RB Justin Jackson has filled in capably as needed, but has mostly been used for Special Teams. While 6 of their 7 picks have found roles with the team, only one is currently playing at a high level. There is potential for this to be a strong draft class, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Kansas City Chiefs: 5/10

The Chiefs had only 6 selections in 2018 after trading up for QB Patrick Mahomes in 2017. Of those picks, few have had significant impacts for the team since being drafted. Among those, Special Teamer Tremon Smith was waived in 2019, as was OL Kahlil McKenzie.

Their first selection, 2nd round CB Breeland Speaks, had an above average rookie season, but missed 2019 with suspension and injury. Safety Armani Watts played in more games in 2019, but did not start and has had mixed success. LB Dorian O’Daniel has found a place on Special Teams, with few snaps on Defence. The highlight of the group for Kansas City is DL Derrick Nnadi, who has been a sound starter, although needs further improvement still. The pick used to acquire Mahomes has been worthwhile, but this draft class has largely failed to deliver.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts: 8/10

With 11 selections in the 2018 Draft, the Colts have had mostly positive results from their picks. First round OG Quentin Nelson has been an All Pro and Pro Bowler in each of his two season, as has LB Darius Leonard, who was also Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2018. OT Braden Smith has been a starter and played at a high level over his two seasons. DE Kemoko Turay had a promising 2018, but missed most of 2019 with injury.

Amongst their other selections, the Colts found several players to fill a range of roles. RBs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins have had strong games over their two seasons, backing up starter Marlon Mack. DE Tyquan Lewis has been a rotational player, and LB Zaire Franklin has been effective on Special Teams. WRs Deon Cain and Daurice Fountain have had little playing time, with the latter being waived during the 2019 season. LB Matthew Adams has had little success, making little improvement into 2019. The Colts managed to find multiple high-end starters in 2018, along with several other contributors, with few misses.

Tennessee Titans: 6/10

The Titans made just 4 selections in the 2018 Draft after trading up multiple times. Their first rounder, LB Rashaan Evans, had a strong 2019 season that helped take the Titans to the AFC Championship Game. Similarly, LB Harold Landry also improved in 2019, recording 9 sacks. CB Dane Cruikshank has been successful on Special Teams, playing multiple roles.

However, the fourth pick made by Tennessee, QB Luke Falk, was less praiseworthy. He was waived without playing in the regular season for the Titans, and has been with two other teams since. Among them, he started multiple games for the Jets, but struggled mightily and is a Free Agent. The Titans had good selections overall, but Falk blemishes an otherwise good draft. Additionally, their other three picks still have room for improvement.

Jacksonville Jaguars: 7/10

The jury is still out on the Jaguars’ 2018 Draft class. DL Taven Bryan has seen an increased role in 2019, playing well in his first two seasons. Likewise, WR DJ Chark had a significant increase in his 2019 workload, recording 8 TDs and over 1000 yards. Safety Ronnie Harrison was another player whose 2019 showed pleasing improvements, seeing more time as a starter. Each of these players needs to replicate their success and show further developments to truly be worthwhile picks. But signs are positive that the Jaguars will get their return on investment.

The other Jaguars picks are not as successful currently. OL Will Richardson missed the 2018 season with injury and was a backup in 2019, not impressing with his play. QB Tanner Lee has not played in the league and was waived by the Jaguars. LB Leon Jacobs has been a typical backup, and Punter Logan Cooke has been suitable for his position. For the potential this Draft class has, Jaguars should feel optimistic.

Houston Texans: 3/10

Despite not having a first round pick, the Texans still had 8 selections in 2018. Much of their Draft class has failed to deliver due to injury, or had a small role on the team. Safety Justin Reid has been a good starter, although needs to improve further. Beyond him, there is little to compliment from this group.

OT Martinas Rankin has missed the majority of his two seasons, and was traded to the Chiefs in 2019. TEs Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas and WR Keke Coutee have both had productive games, but are inconsistent in production and usage. DE Duke Ejiofor had a small role in 2018, and missed the 2019 season with injury. CB Jermaine Kelly was waived without making an appearance for the Texans, while LB Peter Kalambayi has primarily been relegated to Special Teams. With few players from the group seeing regular snaps, or having sustained success when they do, the Texans currently have a poor 2018 Draft class. 

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