No one was a bigger winner in the 2018 NFL Draft than the Cowboys, who did a fantastic job of hosting the event while simultaneously adding quality talent to fill key positions of need each day. Dallas thrilled the hometown fans with the selection of Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch at No. 19 overall, an ascending prospect with the instincts, athleticism and perhaps most important, durability. Dallas lacked the latter at that position and saw only flashes from Jaylon Smith and even star Sean Lee. It then reinforced the strength of the team - the offensive line - with falling local product Connor Williams who could prove to be a Pro Bowler at left guard and addressed the need for pass-catchers with nationally underrated receivers Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson in the third and sixth rounds, respectively. Tight end Dalton Schultz won't have anyone forgetting about Jason Witten any time soon, but he is a quality prospect who should be able to at least fortify the position. Similarly, Dallas found quality backup options at defensive end, quarterback and running back to their current stars in Dorance Armstrong Jr., Mike White and Bo Scarbrough, respectively.
New York Giants
General manager Dave Gettleman wasted no time making Penn State running back Saquon Barkley the No. 2 overall selection, raising criticism by some that he should have used up the allotted 15 minutes to pursue potential trade-down opportunities with Sam Darnold unexpectedly (more or less) still available. While it is true that the running back depth in this class could have afforded the Giants to look at other options, let's be clear, Barkley is an exceptional talent who complements the win-now moves already made in acquiring veterans Nate Solder and Alec Ogletree. Barkley is the hands-down favorite at this point to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year and New York will take a Giant step up in the win column in 2018 based largely on Gettleman's (and head coach Pat Shurmur's) wise decision to not get too cute. Guard Will Hernandez is the no-nonsense pile-mover to help assure Barkley's instant impact. I'm not quite as high on the hog-mollies Gettleman added along the defensive line, though there is no denying Lorenzo Carter's raw traits or defensive tackle B.J. Hill's bull rush. Frankly, I'm more intrigued by the Giants' fifth-round pick, long-armed defensive tackle R.J. McIntosh, though he will need to be much more consistent to earn playing time. Quarterback Kyle Lauletta lacks the big arm that generated so much buzz about Davis Webb a year ago, but he is savvy, highly accurate short to intermediate level passer who may prove a better fit in new head coach Pat Shurmur's offense.
Eagles fans will have to bask in the glory of their title because the draft offered little in terms of excitement - other than former kicker David Akers riling up the Cowboy-loving crowd and the team jumping ahead of their arch rival to select tight end Dallas Goedert, who some believe Jerry Jones was targeting one pick later. The Eagles had few options on draft day because of the big trade for Carson Wentz two years ago. That said, general manager Howie Roseman did a nice job of taking advantage of the picks he did have. Because the contracts given to players in the first round contain a team-friendly fifth-year contract option rather than a maximum four-year deal for later rookies, the No. 32 overall selection can be much more valuable than No. 33 overall. Still, Roseman believed it was more beneficial to ship the pick to Baltimore and acquire a pair of second-round selections (which turned into Goedert), including one next year. Goedert was viewed by some as the best tight end in the class and provides the club a quality backup option behind Zach Ertz. In a case of the rich getting richer, the Eagles also could look smart in taking a chance on edge rusher Josh Sweat (a top-50 talent who fell to the No. 130 overall due to medical red-flags) and former rugby player Jordan Mailata, though given all of the talent already on Philadelphia's offensive and defensive line, it could be difficult for both to make the team.
Many will suggest that the Redskins (like the Cincinnati Bengals) had their preferred top pick stolen one selection ahead of them when Tampa Bay secured massive defensive tackle Vita Vea at No. 12. While that may be the case, don't expect me to quibble with Washington's selection of Alabama's Da'Ron Payne, whom I personally ranked as the ninth best player available this year and, therefore, an ideal value, especially given that Washington surrendered an NFL-worst 134 yards on the ground per game last season. If the troubling off-field concerns that caused his stock to plummet were indeed overblown, Derrius Guice could be the bell-cow running back this team has been searching for since Alfred Morris was starring for Mike Shanahan. Guice was thought by some to be in play for the Redskins at No. 13 overall. His situation bears watching and could make or break the perception of Washington's draft. I like the upside of left tackle Geron Christian, who possesses an intriguing combination of length and light feet. Safety Troy Apke wowed in workouts and fills a clear need. Washington found another big body to plug the middle in Tim Settle in the fifth round, though he will need to play with more consistency to see the field. Like Apke, wideout Trey Quinn was overshadowed much of his career but is a savvy route-runner with terrific hands who may very well make the final 53-man roster.
It is appropriate that the year legendary linebacker Brian Urlacher will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the Bears found their next star in the middle with Georgia's Roquan Smith, who possesses the instincts and elite athleticism to live up to this legacy. The expensive trade up a year ago for Mitchell Trubisky left the Bears shorthanded but general manager Ryan Pace turned that into three potential starters in Smith, highly athletic interior offensive lineman James Daniels and wideout Anthony Miller, one of the savviest route-runners and most reliable pass-catchers in this draft. Like Miller (Memphis), relative small-schoolers like inside linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe (Western Kentucky) and defensive end Bilal Nichols (Delaware) face a steep jump in competition but are potential diamonds in the rough. Edge rusher Kylie Fitts and wide receiver Javon Wims flashed playmaking ability but injury (Fitts) and a lack of opportunities (Wims) kept them from reaching their potential in college. Each, however, has the raw talent to potentially be more successful in the NFL than they were in college.
The NFC North was long considered the NFL's so-called black and blue division, with physicality and toughness as primary characteristics. The Lions appear dedicated to regaining that image, adding a plug-and-play, lunch-stealing interior lineman in Arkansas' Frank Ragnow in the first round and the top blocker in the PAC-12 last year in tackle Tyrell Crosby (who fell due to medical red flags) in the fifth. Running back Kerryon Johnson is a classic slasher who runs hungry, also adding a physical element to a rushing attack that has been desperately in search of a bell-cow for years. He will be aided by the draft's best lead blocker in Nick Bawden, the club's seventh-round pick. Safety Tracy Walker and powerful defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand, both middle-round picks, look the part of NFL players but never proved to be the dominant prospects at their respective levels that their imposing frames suggest.
Green Bay Packers
If there were any nerves from first-year general manager Brian Gutekunst Thursday he certainly didn't show it, earning high marks on each day of the draft. He started it off by trading down (while acquiring the Saints' first-round pick in 2019) and then back up (with Seattle) to add a terrific cover corner and returner in Louisville's Jaire Alexander. The movement and player are a significant departure from the style of Green Bay's previous general manager Ted Thompson, who preferred taller, longer corners - like Josh Jackson whom the club nabbed in the second round before adding much-needed speed at inside linebacker in Oren Burks. It is worth noting that in moving down the Packers passed up on the opportunity to nab Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds, selected by Buffalo, Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch (Dallas) and Florida State's Derwin James (L.A. Chargers), each of whom the club heavily scouted and may wind up producing more of an obvious immediate impact for their respective NFL teams. That said, given that Green Bay's opponents often have no choice but to try to pass the ball aggressively in an effort to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' explosive offense, reinforcing the secondary was a must. Several Day-3 prospects deserve mentioning, including toolsy wideouts J'Mon Moore, Marques Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown, as well as two of the more underrated linemen in the draft in blocker Cole Madison and defender James Looney. This class probably won't get much national buzz but I'm confident that years from now it will prove to be one of this year's best.
Boasting one of the league's deepest rosters, the Vikings took the same strategy as Green Bay, adding a playmaking cover corner and returner in UCF's Mike Hughes. He should add immediate help inside at nickel corner to complement former first-round picks Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, each larger than Hughes. The Vikings added a future starting tackle in Brian O'Neill in the second round before providing head coach Mike Zimmer two intriguing projects along the defensive line to tutor (like he did Danielle Hunter) in Jalyn Holmes and especially sixth-round pick Ade Aruna (a personal favorite). Like Aruna, former Appalachian State guard Colby Gossett made my Diamonds in the Rough squad and will ultimately out-perform his draft selection. So too will Daniel Carlson, the best field-goal kicker in this draft.
Former NFL MVP Matt Ryan had to be all smiles when the Falcons nabbed former Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley in one of the surprise picks of the first round. The silky-smooth route-runner should serve as a complement to superstar Julio Jones, in a fashion similar to that of Roddy White, a first-round Falcons pick in 2005. Ridley and fellow 'Bama alum Jones likely will engage in friendly competition that might help each of them. The Falcons added a perfect fit for Dan Quinn's scheme in long-armed cornerback Isaiah Oliver in the second round, as well as a Grady Jarrett clone in Deadrin Senat in the third. Running back Ito Smith was a notable Combine snub but that didn't stop general manager Thomas Dimitroff from making him a fourth-round pick, which was a smart move as he possesses a similar brand of vision, burst and underrated power as fellow "undersized" back Devonta Freeman, who was a fourth round pick, himself, four years ago.
Count former Panthers Pro Bowl wideout Steve Smith Sr. among those impressed with the club's decision to make Maryland pass-catcher D.J. Moore the first receiver off the board in 2018. Moore offers a similar skill-set as Smith, projecting as the perfect complement to a running game featuring Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and big receiver Devin Funchess. The Panthers might have the ideal defensive back if they could morph their next two selections - Donte Jackson and Rashaan Gaulden - into one player. Jackson was the fastest player at the Combine (officially clocking in at 4.32 seconds) but isn't nearly as instinctive or physical as Gaulden, who did everything at Tennessee except run well, clocking in at 4.69 in the 40-yard dash at his March 19 Pro Day after timing 4.61 (officially) at the Combine. Both played multiple positions for their respective SEC teams and could wind up doing the same in the NFL, providing Carolina intriguing flexibility in a division loaded with explosive receivers. Tight end Ian Thomas is not as gifted as Greg Olsen but he should be able to fill the complementary role of free-agent departure Ed Dickson (who signed with Seattle). Fellow fourth-rounder Marquis Haynes is an explosive, if undersized edge rusher, addressing a key need.
New Orleans Saints
I gave the Saints one of my highest grades a year ago (B-plus) but I'm not nearly as high on this class. Certainly, one must admire the win-now mentality that led general manager Mickey Loomis to make the aggressive trade up from No. 27 to No. 14 overall to land UT-San Antonio edge rusher Marcus Davenport, as finding a complementary threat opposite Pro Bowler Jordan Cameron was a clear need and Davenport possesses the raw traits scouts drool over. The cost (which included next year's first-round pick) and Davenport's relative inexperience against top competition, however, are significant. Third-round wideout Tre'Quan Smith has the frame and physical nature to be a nice secondary threat to burgeoning star Michael Thomas. I'm not as high on the rest of the Saints' class, though, to be fair, each of them came at pick No. 127 or later. We shall see if tackle Rick Leonard (Florida State), defensive backs Natrell Jamerson (Wisconsin) and Kamrin Moore (Boston College), running back Boston Scott (Louisiana Tech) or interior offensive lineman Will Clapp (LSU) prove me wrong but each were selected higher than NFLDraftScout.com (or I, individually) ranked them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It will likely be remembered more from the perspective of the Buffalo Bills (as they moved up for quarterback Josh Allen) but Bucs general manager Jason Licht deserves kudos for adding a pair of second-round picks by dropping five spots and still landing the player he likely was targeting at No. 7 overall in defensive tackle Vita Vea, one of the true freakish talents in the 2018 draft. The move was an especially good one because Licht didn't drop too far, picking one spot ahead of the Redskins who were also thought to be very high on Vea and wound up selecting Da'Ron Payne, the defensive tackle most (including NFLDraftScout.com) ranked second in the class. The Bucs then added the perfect "air back" to complement its deep passing game in running back Ronald Jones II, an ideal nickel in M.J. Stewart and perimeter cornerback in Carlton Davis and a quality cover safety in Jordan Whitehead in the fourth round. Among the other highlights was small-school offensive lineman Alex Cappa (Humboldt State), who impressed at the Senior Bowl with his grit, projecting as a future starting guard.
Arizona drafted six players this year but let's be clear, this class will either soar or sink based on mercurial quarterback Josh Rosen, who the Cardinals flew up five spots from No. 15 to select at No. 10 overall. Rosen is largely considered the most gifted passer in this year's draft, an opinion I agree with. The selection is interesting given that his struggles with durability are what has plagued incumbent starter Sam Bradford. But like Bradford, a former No. 1 overall selection, nobody questions Rosen's natural talent. Nicknamed Chosen Rosen for years, the former Bruin is motivated after a self-perceived slip to No. 10 overall. Rosen could make general manager Steve Keim and new head coach Steve Wilks look brilliant. The opposite, however, is also possible. That is why it was key for Keim and Co. to add a gifted pass-catcher in Christian Kirk in the second round. Agile and tough, Kirk is a Golden Tate clone who will provide an immediate impact as a complementary target to Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. Versatile offensive lineman Mason Cole was the Cardinals' next choice, but he is more of a jack of all trades and master of none type. Of Arizona's Day-3 selections, I'm highest on running back Chase Fordham, though he too is more of a complementary threat than a headliner at this level.
Los Angeles Rams
After trades that netted the club wide receiver Brandin Cooks, as well as cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, the Rams were the last team to make a selection in the 2018 draft, investing their first pick (No. 89 overall) in tackle Joseph Notebloom. His selection kicked off a lineman-heavy draft that included blockers Brian Allen (center) and Jamil Demby (guard); each of whom have the look of future contributors but not necessarily starters. I'm highest on fellow fifth-rounders Micah Kiser and edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Kiser lacks elite speed to the flanks, but he is a classic run-stuffing thumper on the inside. At just 6-foot-2, 253 pounds, Okoronkwo lacks height but he possesses disproportionately long arms (33 3/4 inches), as well as burst and tenacity as an outside rusher - traits that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips may be able to take full advantage of given the Rams' fearsome front. Needless to say, Todd Gurley II is the Rams' bell-cow, but sixth-round pick John Kelly could prove an ideal complementary threat. The Rams are not likely to receive much of an impact from this rookie class, but the veterans added via draft picks certainly boost the grade - if that is, they manage to live up to expectations.
San Francisco 49ers
After plenty of speculation that he was in over his head, 49ers general manager John Lynch's trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and solid first draft last season silenced critics. Demonstrating yet again that he is committed to winning in the trenches, Lynch selected the most reliable tackle in this draft class in Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey at No. 9 overall. While not the dancing bear scouts would prefer as a blind-side pass protector, McGlinchey is the kind of blue-collar blocker that will serve as the foundation to this rapidly improving team. The addition of McGlinchey is obviously aimed at protecting the investment made last season in Garoppolo, one reinforced with the addition of silky-smooth route-runner Dante Pettis in the second round, an ideal flanker in head coach Kyle Shanahan's version of the West Coast Offense. I'm also quite high on naturally underrated linebacker Fred Warner, toolsy free safety Tarvarius Moore (one of this year's top Combine snubs) and potential "starting" nickel corner D.J. Reed. The 49ers could hit gold if explosive defensive lineman Kentavius Street is able to bounce back from the torn ACL suffered during a pre-draft workout, ending his rookie NFL season before it even began.
Reuniting Shaquem Griffin with his twin brother Shaquill (who led the Seahawks with 15 passes broken up as a starting rookie cornerback last season) was the most heart-warming and certainly well documented stories of the 2018 NFL draft. While Griffin is obviously a notable addition, running back Rashaad Penny was drafted at No. 27 overall to be the face of Seattle's draft class, one that shows head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider's re-commitment to the same power-running scheme that helped the club reach consecutive Super Bowls and earn the only championship in team history. Despite leading the country in rushing yards and touchdowns a year ago, Penny did not receive the same national attention as other backs in this class. But his combination of size, power and speed made him highly valued among scouts with one team even attempting to trade for him seconds after the selection was announced, according to Schneider. The starting job won't be handed to him, but if Penny improves his pass protection and is Seattle's primary ball-carrier next season he can become the immediate spark this team needs and a dark-horse rookie of the year candidate. Understandably, no one has better connections at Southern California than Carroll, which makes the selection of versatile defensive lineman Rasheem Green especially interesting. With some seasoning, Green could be the second coming of Michael Bennett. Like Griffin, fellow Day-3 picks Will Dissly (tight end), Jamarco Jones (tackle) and Michael Dickson (punter) have the potential to contribute early on for an underrated class that likely will earn poor marks from national pundits who fail to recognize that the Seahawks' blueprint is different than most others in the NFL.