Editor’s note: In conjunction with the Trib’s coverage leading up to Thursday’s NFL Draft, we’ll look back at the three best and three worst picks of each draft over the past five years.
Years from now, the 2018 NFL Draft could be remembered for myriad reasons.
Maybe for a quarterback class that saw four taken in the first 10 picks and five in the first round. Maybe that Saquon Barkley became the highest running back selection in a generation and developed into a star (or didn’t). Maybe there will be surprises who become future Hall of Famers.
For my money, though, the draft always will be remembered as the turning point for the Cleveland Browns. For the better part of two decades, they had been comically inept, from the turnover of the front office to awful drafting. Last April, that all changed.
Led by newly minted general manager John Dorsey, the Browns — early returns show — hit home runs with Baker Mayfield (No. 1 overall), Denzel Ward (No. 4) and Nick Chubb (No. 35). While those three and the rest of the draft class aren’t the sole reasons why, it was telling Cleveland went from 1-31 the previous two seasons to 7-8-1 last fall.
Here are the highlights and lowlights of last year’s draft:
1. Baker Mayfield
QB, 1st overall, Browns
What made the Browns’ picks of Mayfield and Ward so special were they both went against convention (most people probably would have taken Sam Darnold at No. 1 and Bradley Chubb fourth). But in Year 1, both choices look genius.
2. Darius Leonard
LB, 36th overall, Colts
Leonard was the 15th defensive player selected, but he won the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Leonard led the NFL in tackles by a wide margin, added seven sacks, two interceptions and four forced fumbles. He was instrumental in the Colts’ turnaround.
3. Derwin James
S, 17th overall, Chargers
James finished second to Leonard in defensive rookie of the year balloting and also was first-team All-Pro safety. James had 105 tackles and three interceptions, and he, too, was a featured part of a vastly improved team.
1. Josh Rosen
QB, 10th overall, Cardinals
Look, Rosen might go on to a long and productive career. And much of his struggles as a rookie can be blamed on a dreadful supporting cast. But with strong speculation Arizona is moving on from Rosen, it’s certain they are going to get pennies on the dollar for the No. 15 overall, third- and fifth-round picks they spent to acquire him (trading up to No. 10) one year ago.
2. Rashaad Penny
RB, 27th overall, Seahawks
Penny was a surprising pick in that not many had predicted him going in the first round. And running backs rarely get overdrafted. And while there’s nothing wrong with ignoring the draftnik noise and getting “your guy,” if it doesn’t work out, you look even worse. Penny managed 494 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns as a rookie.
3. Ronald Jones
RB, 38th overall, Buccaneers
Another running back, this one even less productive. Jones had 23 carries for 44 yards (1.8 average) and seven catches for 33 yards. He was inactive for seven of Tampa Bay’s 16 games and recorded positive yardage in only five of those games.