We’re through the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft and a lot of action was packed into one night. There was a lot going on and while we did our best to analyze it in real time, it’s good to step back and unpack what went down with a little distance from the end of the round. With that, let’s get into a few winners and losers of the night. Without too many surprises going on, there were more winners than losers during night one.
Winner: Eli Manning
It’s yet to be known if the selection of Saquon Barkley will really rejuvenate his production — we have our doubts — but the selection of a running back over a quarterback gives Manning a longer leash heading into the season. The threat of being replaced is not immediate with the presence of Davis Webb not nearly as intimidating as a first-round pick. Webb gets a supplemental win, too, since it looks like he’ll be the backup and he’ll get another year of development under Manning before the Giants are in position to make a decision on the future.
It makes little sense to draft a quarterback in the middle or late rounds who would be a developmental prospect with Webb already there. If a quarterback was to be taken, it should have been in the first as a chance for the player to turn into an above average starter at the least. The Giants clearly have a plan for what they want 2018 to look like and a Manning-Webb depth chart at quarterback is what they’re going with.
Loser: The “Don’t take a running back in the first round” crowd
There’s some layers to this, but teams weren’t afraid to spend first-round picks on running backs Thursday night. It started early with the selection of Barkley and that looked to be it until two surprise teams jumped into the fray late in the first round.
After a trade back, the Seattle Seahawks did their best Randy Orton impression with a selection out of nowhere of San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny. Seattle’s running game has been bad since the last healthy Marshawn Lynch season, but they’ve also been terrible along the offensive line. One would think a lineman would have done just as much good for the running game and Russell Wilson, who spent most of 2017 running for his life, but the Seahawks went with a running back. Penny does bring value to the passing game, which helps his value and apparently he was quite coveted around the league with general manager John Schneider reporting a team reached out in an attempt to acquire after the Seahawks drafted him.
Then there was perhaps the bigger surprise with the New England Patriots selecting Georgia running back Sony Michel with the 31st overall pick. If there’s been a team that was a perfect study for how to get value out of cheap, late-round running backs it was the New England Patriots. The Patriots still had the fifth-most money committed to running backs in 2017, but each individual player was relatively cheap. That will technically still be the case with Michel as the 31st overall pick. He’ll count for an estimated $1.76 million on the cap this season and his four-year average will only be $2.43 million. Barkley, on the other hand, will cost an estimated $5.7 million on the cap this year with a $7.8 million four-year average.
Winners: Indianapolis Colts
Back in March, the Colts traded the third overall pick to the New York Jets in Gang Green’s quest for a quarterback. Without a need for a quarterback themselves, the Colts took the sixth, 37th, and 49th overall picks from the Jets. Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard said this week the Colts had eight premium non-quarterbacks on their board. That meant the Colts could have traded out again and still had a premium player available, but they stayed at six and took what probably was their most premium non-quarterback, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson.
Nothing is more important to the Colts than keeping Andrew Luck healthy — well, first getting Andrew Luck healthy, then keeping him healthy. Nelson immediately makes that job easier as a great guard in pass protection. He should also help in a running game that ranked 24th in DVOA last season and no longer has Frank Gore.
The Colts still get two early second-round picks for Friday and with their own pick (36) included, they’ll have three of the first 17 picks in Round 2. For a roster that still needs a lot of help in multiple areas, this is about the best case scenario Indianapolis could have hoped for when this deal was made a month ago.
Winners: Los Angeles Chargers
Derwin James is arguably the best defensive player in this year’s draft class. He’s a 6-foot-1 safety who gets comped to Kam Chancellor, but he’s really more than just a hard hitting strong safety. James has the versatility to play all over the defense and routinely did so at Florida State. He balanced typical safety responsibilities while also covering the slot against both receivers and tight ends, taking running backs in coverage, playing outside corner, and blitzing off the edge. He was successful at all of those things. He was a productive kind of positionless player.
This player was available to the Los Angeles Chargers with the 17th pick in the first round. This player gets added to a defense that was already 12th by Football Outsiders’ DVOA and will return a healthy Jason Verrett at cornerback.
I’d bet James was one of Colts GM Chris Ballard’s elite non-quarterbacks and the Chargers got him 17th overall. It might be the steal of the first-round.
Losers: Buffalo Bills
The Bills knew they needed a quarterback and they took their shot. Unfortunately, they paid a high price for a lottery ticket that doesn’t have great odds of returning a winner. When Buffalo originally made its move up to 12th overall, everyone knew it was in an attempt to be in range for a quarterback. On Thursday night, they packaged the 12th overall pick with two second-rounders (53 and 56) for Tampa Bay’s seventh overall pick and pick 255. That’s giving up a 157 percent return for the seventh overall pick and Josh Allen, a quarterback who needs to be the most outlierly of the outliers to become a productive NFL starting quarterback.
If your argument for Allen’s college performance was a bad supporting cast in Wyoming, it’s not getting much better in Buffalo. He’ll be under center behind a makeshift offensive line that lost its two best offensive linemen to retirement this offseason and he’ll be throwing to a starting wide receiver duo of Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones.
Even with a thin roster, the Bills traded up again in the first round and moved from 22 to 16 by also giving up a high third-round pick (65) and getting pick 154 in return. That’s “only” a 118 percent premium, but the Bills don’t have the type of roster that they should be throwing away multiple picks for singular players. Tremaine Edmunds might be good in the middle of that defense, but he’s going to have to be surrounded by more for that team to be good in 2018.
Here’s a full rundown of what the Bills got and gave up in these two trades:
Bills Net Draft Trades
|Bills Give||Bills Get|
|Bills Give||Bills Get|
Overall, the Bills paid a 144 percent premium to draft a project quarterback and a middle linebacker. Luckily Buffalo did not have to give up any 2019 picks in the process, but that’s still a hefty price to pay with a roster that needs more help.
Winners: Teams working the draft board
Not surprisingly there were a lot of trades on Thursday night. A few teams were more active than others making multiple trades. Two teams traded back twice then used some of the draft capital acquired to move back up late in the first round and grab a player they desired. Some call that being too cute, but really it’s just working the draft board well and both the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens came away better for it.
Green Bay initially traded back with the New Orleans Saints at the 14th overall pick. The Saints gave the Packers picks 27 147, and a 2019 first-round pick for 14. Green Bay later used that 27th pick to move back up to 18th with the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers gave up picks 27, 76, and 186 in exchange for picks 18 and 248. Here’s the net of what the Packers gave up and received:
Packers Net Draft Picks
|Packers Give||Packers Get|
|Packers Give||Packers Get|
By the Football Perspective Approximate Value chart, the Packers got a 73 percent return on just 2018 draft picks. But there’s that big 2019 first rounder looming from the Saints. Say the Saints pick at 27 again next year, that would mean the Packers got a 125 percent return on their value and even if the Saints win the Super Bowl next season and that 2019 first ends up being 32nd overall, the Packers still got a 120 percent return on Thursday night’s trades.
The Baltimore Ravens did similar work. They first traded back with the Buffalo Bills at 16 and received picks 22, 65, and 154. They traded back again at 22 with the Tennessee Titans and picked up picks 25 and 125 in exchange for 22 and 215. The Ravens made their pick at 25 and then traded back into the first round at 32 getting the last pick of the first round from the Eagles along with pick 132 for picks 52, 125, and a 2019 second-round pick. Again, that’s a lot of numbers, so here’s what the net trade looks like for Baltimore:
Ravens Net Draft Picks
|Ravens Give||Ravens Get|
|Ravens Give||Ravens Get|
Baltimore’s return on these trades hinges on where that second-round pick ends up. If Baltimore finishes in the same place they did in 2017 and that 2019 second-round pick is again 52nd overall, the Ravens still would receive just 98 percent of what they gave up by AV. Should the Ravens play better and win the Super Bowl making that pick 64th overall, the return would be 102 percent and if the Ravens bottom out with the league’s worst record and that pick is 33rd overall, the Ravens would receive 92 percent of what they gave up.
This would be good return in a vacuum alone, getting nearly even value while picking up a second first-round pick, but Baltimore also acquired its quarterback of the future with that last trade when the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson. Given the two other trade ups for a quarterback on Thursday night cost the teams trading up a 157 percent (Bills) and 135 percent (Cardinals) premium, the Ravens should be commended for not only getting a steal of Jackson late in the first round, but coming away from the night with a potential surplus in draft capital and at the worst a near even trade. That just doesn’t happen for teams trading up for quarterbacks in the first round.
Losers: New Orleans Saints
Of the teams that made “one-player away” type trades, the New Orleans Saints might be the closest to being that. New Orleans was a freak play away from the NFC Championship Game last season and they’ll return almost everyone from that roster with a few additions. With a win-now mindset, the Saints made a big trade up to the middle of the first round to select UTSA edge rusher Marcus Davenport, giving up a 2019 first-round pick in the process.
Davenport can be an excellent player. Statistical forecasts like Football Outsiders’ SACKSEER liked him better than Bradley Chubb, who went much earlier in the round. But this is definitely a high price to play for an edge rusher who isn’t all that refined. Maybe that matters less when paired with a pass rusher like Cameron Jordan, but still the Saints took quite a swing for one player to make a big impact. At best the Saints paid a 162 percent premium if that first-round pick ends up 32nd overall thanks to a Super Bowl win. That’s more than any team gave up for a quarterback Thursday night and about even with what the Jets gave up in their trade with the Colts.
Winner: Future watchability of the AFC North
Since the creation of the AFC North, divisional games have been about physical, smash mouth football. At its best, it gave us hard hitting epics of prime Steelers-Ravens contests. At its worst, games could feel like never-ending slogfests featuring more bad offense than great defense.
Now two teams in this division will have Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson at quarterback, whether it be at some point in 2018 or 2019. There’s no harder left turn from the old school AFC North than that. With the modern game evolving, it’s good to see two teams in this division adapting and soon games between these teams could be among the most fast-paced and exciting in football. Imagine being excited for a prime time Browns-Ravens game. We’re closer than ever to that point.