NFL Insiders predict: Rookie awards, midround fantasy stars, more

By
Updated: May 15, 2018

Our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders is making its predictions for the 2018 NFL draft class.

First up: Baker Mayfield was the first overall pick. But will he be regarded as the best in four years?

Our Insiders make their picks, plus dig into these topics:

  • Teams that will have the most impactful rookie classes

  • Who will win Offensive Rookie of the Year

  • Who will win Defensive Rookie of the Year

  • Fantasy studs drafted after Round 1


It’s the summer of 2022. Which pick from the 2018 draft will we judge as the best?

Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Miami Dolphins. Fitzpatrick has the versatile traits to impact the game like Tyrann Mathieu. He’s that “monsterback” in the secondary who can cover, blitz, tackle and make plays on the ball. Miami found a defensive leader here.

Mike Clay, NFL writer: Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets. When we look back at this draft, I think we’ll focus a lot of attention on the Giants’ controversial decision to select a running back over a potential heir to Eli Manning at No. 2 overall. That move, of course, allowed Darnold to fall to the other New York team and supply the Jets with a potential franchise quarterback.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Josh Rosen, QB, Arizona Cardinals. I thought he was the best of the quarterback prospects, and he was the fourth one taken. The chip on his shoulder is no secret, as his “nine mistakes” clip has been aired ad nauseam since the words came out of his mouth. I think Arizona got a steal.

Seifert: Dallas Goedert, TE, Philadelphia Eagles. We all know how the Eagles use their tight ends. In two seasons under coach Doug Pederson, they have targeted tight ends an NFL-high 348 times. Goedert will get plenty of opportunities, and with long arms and a flair for dramatic catches, he is built to be a red zone star.

Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos. Very little stands between Freeman and a starting job in Denver. It could also be Nyheim Hines in Indianapolis, for the same reason.

Sando: Antonio Callaway, WR, Cleveland Browns. Running backs are safer bets (Royce Freeman comes to mind in Denver), but I’ll go out on a limb with Callaway. NFL evaluators call him the most talented receiver in the class, a first-rounder who slid to the fourth round because of off-field concerns that still could derail his career. He’s a long-shot bet on a team that might not pass the ball too well, but the talent is certainly there.

Kimes: Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys. In case you haven’t heard, the Cowboys recently parted ways with a prominent wide receiver. While the team did sign former Jaguar Allen Hurns, Gallup, a versatile, sure-handed pass-catcher out of Colorado State, could step into the No. 1 role by the end of the season.

Joyner: Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns. The Browns bring back four starting offensive linemen from a group that placed seventh in my run-blocking grades last season. That could be a big boost for Chubb, who ranked 11th among Power 5 running backs in percentage of rushes that gained 10 or more yards last season (17.7 percent, minimum 100 carries). That combination could lead to a tremendous number of long gains if Chubb can land the starting role in this offense.

Graziano: Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys. It’s all about opportunity, and the departures of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten vacate 219 passing targets from last season. Dak Prescott has to throw to someone, and Gallup has the tools to produce if he picks up the playbook quickly.

Clay: Jordan Wilkins, RB, Indianapolis Colts. Indy’s running back room is highlighted by Marlon Mack (who is recovering from shoulder surgery), journeyman Robert Turbin and 5-foot-8, 198-pound change-of-pace back Nyheim Hines. Enter fifth-round pick Wilkins, who stands 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds with the ability to handle a three-down role. He was a very efficient rusher at Ole Miss, is a solid receiver and is a sneaky bet to emerge as the lead back in what could be a high-scoring offense.

Bowen: Ronald Jones II, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just turn on the USC tape. Jones has a one-cut running style to shake defenders, and the home run ability is there, too. Plus, I fully expect the Bucs to use Jones as a receiving threat out of the backfield. While I don’t expect Jones to log 20 touches a game, he has the talent to develop quickly as a versatile weapon with Tampa.


Who’s your pick to be 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year?

Bowen: Bradley Chubb, DE, Denver Broncos. I expect Chicago’s Roquan Smith to be in the discussion, but Chubb gets my vote because of the sack numbers he can produce in Denver. Working opposite Von Miller, Chubb should see more one-on-one matchups. Also, his talent base is legit: strength, power and the counter moves to get home to the QB. Watch out.

Clay: Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio runs a 3-4 scheme, and his top two off-ball linebackers in recent years — Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman — have both generally been near-every-down players. Smith is very young at 21, so a slow start is possible. But his combination of speed, athleticism and intelligence figures to land him an every-down role and high-end production in short order.

Kimes: Bradley Chubb, DE, Denver Broncos. In a less quarterback-centric draft, Chubb could’ve easily landed in the top two; his athleticism and football IQ will enable him to wreak havoc in the NFL from the jump. Transitioning to the Broncos’ 3-4 scheme shouldn’t be too challenging for the NC State defensive end, who will benefit from offenses’ double-teaming Miller.

Sando: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Buffalo Bills. Coach Sean McDermott seems to be able to develop players and feature them properly. The role Edmunds plays should give him ample opportunity to make some splash plays.

Schatz: Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers. I like Roquan Smith to lead rookies in tackles, but James should have a lot of playmaking opportunities on the Chargers’ schedule. They could face a series of first-time starting quarterbacks, with two games against Patrick Mahomes plus an early matchup with Buffalo and games against Arizona and Baltimore late in the season, when Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson could be in the lineup.

Seifert: Bradley Chubb, DE, Denver Broncos. Let’s face it: These types of awards are often based on tangible statistics such as sacks or interceptions. Chubb has every chance to rack up the sack numbers while playing opposite Von Miller. Will he be the every-down force that many expect Roquan Smith to be? That’s less certain. But the kind of gaudy stats that Chubb has a chance to collect will generate national attention.


Who’s your pick to be 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year?

Yates: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants. Not overthinking the obvious here. Barkley is just that good, and the opportunity is just that rich. It would be no surprise to see him breeze past 320 total touches as a predominant part of the Giants’ rushing attack and passing game. There is no certainty of a rookie quarterback starting out of the gate, and there isn’t a receiver in this year’s class that is widely viewed as a transcendent talent at the moment. Barkley is the pick.

Joyner: Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots. Barkley has the inside track to this award, but Michel led all Power 5 running backs in percentage of carries of 10 or more yards (22.1 percent, minimum 100 carries). Put that kind of ball carrier in a high-powered offense with an offensive line that ranks fifth in my preseason rankings and it could give Michel a very good chance to bypass Barkley.

Graziano: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants. The Giants have been starved for a run game for years, and they locked in on Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick for a reason. You’ll hear all the right things all summer about how he’s going to earn his way and they don’t want to lean too hard on him as a rookie, but you heard the same things about Ezekiel Elliott two years ago in Dallas. This is the guy, and he’ll get the ball a ton for the Giants. When he does, he offers potential for the spectacular.

Clay: Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have been extremely pass-heavy the past two seasons, but the offseason change to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and subsequent personnel moves suggest a move back to the run. Those moves included taking San Diego State’s Penny in the first round of the draft. He led the nation in rushing yards last year (2,248) and has good size, terrific elusiveness and post-contact ability as well as good receiving chops. He’s a candidate to push for well more than 250 touches as a rookie.

Bowen: Derrius Guice, RB, Washington Redskins. Saquon Barkley should be considered the preseason favorite. But let’s not forget about Guice in Washington’s offense. His physical, balanced running style is a fit for the NFL game. He can bring it on contact. That 4.49 speed will show up when Guice hits the second level. He should handle the touches on early downs and on the goal line for the Redskins, and I see a skill set on film that will allow the rookie to contribute as a receiver on underneath throws.


Which team’s rookie class will be the most impactful in 2018?

Bowen: Chicago Bears. It starts with linebacker Roquan Smith. He’s a blue-chip talent with the speed and natural instincts to find the ball. Great fit for Vic Fangio’s defense. Up front, Iowa center/guard James Daniels has the athleticism and pro-ready technique to compete for a starting job. Wide receiver Anthony Miller should find a role as a slot target for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The quicks are there, and so is the playmaking ability.

Graziano: Cleveland Browns. Is there any team that needs an impact from its rookie class more than the one that’s 1-31 over the past two seasons? We don’t know when No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield will take over as the starter, but it’s a safe bet it’ll happen at some point this season. The Browns will give No. 4 pick Denzel Ward significant opportunity right away as a starting cornerback. Second-rounders Nick Chubb and Austin Corbett should help the run game. Opportunities abound in Cleveland, for rookies and everyone else.

Kimes: Denver Broncos. I’m a big fan of the Cowboys’ draft class as well, but I think Denver’s first three picks — defensive end Bradley Chubb, wide receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Royce Freeman — could all become immediate contributors. Sutton, a big-bodied receiver from SMU, stands out as a potential red zone threat for Case Keenum.

Sando: New England Patriots. Other teams’ rookies will play more snaps and earn greater honors. As for impact? New England could emerge with a starting left tackle (Isaiah Wynn), a rotational running back (Sony Michel) and perhaps a Danny Amendola replacement (Braxton Berrios) on a championship-caliber team.

Schatz: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There’s opportunity on the depth chart. Vita Vea slides right into the starting defensive line next to Gerald McCoy. Ronald Jones II should slide right into the starting running back spot. Given the weakness at cornerback and the age of No. 1 CB Brent Grimes, who turns 35 in July, second-rounders M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis could play a larger role than expected early.

Seifert: Indianapolis Colts. It won’t be as flashy as some other classes, but the addition of two guards and two defensive linemen among the first 64 picks will significantly enhance the Colts’ long-standing trench weakness. Guard Quenton Nelson, especially, will give the Colts a much better chance of keeping their most prized asset, quarterback Andrew Luck, upright.

Yates: New York Giants. Here’s the bottom line: A single player can dramatically impact the perception of a team’s collective draft class. Along those lines, no player is better equipped to contribute immediately — factoring in his own ability plus the opportunity ahead — than Saquon Barkley. Beyond that, second-rounder Will Hernandez projects as a Day 1 starter. Should Barkley produce (and I expect a massive rookie season), it will be a positive reflection on the offensive line as well.

Article source: http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/23406971/nfl-insiders-predict-best-rookies-fantasy-football-value-2018-draft-class