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2018 draft redux: Were we right about the best and worst position groups?

Is the narrative about which classes are the most stocked typically right?

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The LA Rams need offensive line help and probably above all else would like to bolster the interior options, hopefully well enough to get back to where the unit was from 2017-2018 with players like Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan. Unfortunately, the issue standing between the Rams and getting those improvements through the draft are twofold:

LA doesn’t have a first round pick and the interior of the offensive line is considered perhaps the worst position group in the whole draft.

That sounds really bad, but does it mean we shouldn’t have hope that the evaluations are wrong about this group of prospects? That’s not a question anyone can answer today but we could ask it if we looked back at a draft in recent history. I decided to review a fairly recent edition of the draft, going back to 2018.

At USA Today’s DraftWire, they had this as the order of the 2018 position groups:

1. Safety

2. Running Back

3. Linebacker

4. Defensive Tackle

5. Quarterback

6. iOL

7. Wide Receiver

8. Tackle

9. Cornerback

10. Edge

11. Tight End

How’d they do?

Safety has had a strong turnout with first rounders Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James, and Terrell Edmunds. The next two off the board — Jessie Bates, Justin Reid — have been full time starters. More recently, Tracy Walker, Ronnie Harrison, and Jordan Whitehead have become starters. It seems to be a fair representation of the position’s first overall ranking.

Running back has not quite lived up to its lofty status though. Saquon Barkley is doing the best he can do with the Giants, but Rashaad Penny and Sony Michel have fallen below first round expectations, with or without injuries. Nick Chubb looks like a second round steal, but Ronald Jones, Kerryon Johnson, and Derrius Guice do not. Two years is honestly not that “early” in a running back’s career and many don’t get second chances, even if they were hampered by injuries. And despite backs having the reputation of “you can always find one on day three” that hasn’t been the case at all with 2018.

Nyheim Hines, Mark Walton, Ito Smith, Kalen Ballage, and Chase Edmonds all went in round four, all were in situations that presented opportunities, and none other than Hines made much of an impact. And that’s a stretch of the word “impact” for Hines. Seven running backs went in the top 59 picks but which of them besides Barkley and Chubb are definite Week 1 starters on their clubs right now?

The Rams drafted John Kelly in round six, and even if he didn’t make the team, could you call it a bad pick? The only back drafted after him who is definitely of interest would be Justin Jackson at pick 251. The class has not been very good and could be the most disappointing because of how highly it was viewed going into the draft.

Linebackers placed in six of the top 41 selections, including Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Leighton Vander Esch, Rashaan Evans, Darius Leonard, and Harold Landry. Smith, Vander Esch, and Leonard have made the Pro Bowl. Leonard has made a first team All-Pro roster and could be the best at his position in the league. The first real disappointment is Uchenna Nwosu of the LA Chargers at pick 48, but was followed closely by Kemoko Turay to the Indianapolis Colts, though they had snagged Leonard.

The Rams selected Micah Kiser in round five and Travin Howard in round seven and are hoping they can help fill the void at linebacker next season. The Baltimore Ravens picked Kenny Young in found four and then traded him to LA in the Marcus Peters deal. Sixth rounder Jacob Martin of the Seattle Seahawks was moved to the Houston Texans in the Jadeveon Clowney deal. Fred Warner and Jerome Baker went 70th and 73rd and are productive starters on their teams, if not a lot more.

Linebacker lives up to its status.

What about some of the worst position evals?

As it is this year, tight end was seen as perhaps the worst position of the year. That didn’t stop the Ravens from taking Hayden Hurst 25th, followed by the Dolphins and Mike Gesicki at 42 and the Eagles with Dallas Goedert at 49. Hurst ended up losing out to another Baltimore tight end drafted that year, Mark Andrews, so it is kind of a trade off in that respect. A whatever first rounder and an outstanding third rounder.

Gesicki has been pretty disappointing but is also playing on a really, really bad team. Is he part of that or could he do better in a better environment? He still had 570 yards and five touchdowns last season. Actually, Goedert’s numbers last season were quite similar, albeit these are non-transferable; who knows how they’d do if swapped.

Chris Herndon was productive as a rookie but missed all of last season. Will Dissly has been really good when he’s played but he too has missed a large chunk of his career due to injury. Names like Jordan Akins, Ian Thomas, Durham Smythe, Dalton Schultz, Tyler Conklin, and Jordan Thomas may be way more familiar to the people who follow their teams than to the world at large.

Overall, I would say this probably couldn’t be the worst position group, as it produced at least one potential star in Andrews. Hurst and Goedert still seem to have plenty of potential, Gesicki too, and maybe Herndon, Dissly with health. Jaylen Samuels was also listed as a tight end though that’s not what he does with the Steelers now.

What about the edge?

Bradley Chubb was easily the highest-rated player and he had an outstanding rookie campaign followed by a lost year two with injury. The New Orleans Saints traded up for Marcus Davenport at 14, and he’s looking least okay so far, maybe quite good. The class leader in sacks is Sam Hubbard, taken 77th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. Landry may have also been considered more “edge” than “linebacker” which would be a bump for the edge class, of course.

However, there’s really not much else and you can see why the class wasn’t viewed highly.

Finally, cornerbacks include Denzel Ward at four, Jaire Alexander at 18, and Mike Hughes at 30 in the first round. Hughes has been really disappointing, but all have their issues, with even Ward missing seven games already. Others who have started include Josh Jackson, Donte Jackson, Carlton Davis, Isaiah Oliver, and Isaac Yiadom. No cornerback taken after round three has stepped into a regular starting role as of yet, out of 17 players, except maybe Avonte Maddox of the Eagles.

Out of those three extremes — S, RB, LB at the top and TE, Edge, CB at the bottom — I would say that with two years of hindsight, the class position rankings (at least for USA Today) would grade as ... fine. Safeties do indeed look quite good, but running backs do not. Edge and corner weren’t good after all, but maybe the tight end group wasn’t so hopeless.

What did they overlook?

Perhaps tackles, which was ranked eighth overall, but produced Orlando Brown at pick 83 to the Ravens, Mike McGlinchey to the 49ers at nine, and an improved Kolton Miller at 15. Brian O’Neill to the Vikings at 62 was another good one. The Pats took Isaiah Wynn 23rd and are hoping he can be healthy next year. Braden Smith did have one season as a starter at right tackle before moving back to guard.

The way that the 2020 draft class and its positions is viewed has plenty of merit and the people making those evaluations are as well-informed as you could probably be because it is usually a consensus. It doesn’t mean that everything about these players and positions has been decided though and that’s something we’ll need to monitor for at least a few years before we can know how right or wrong we were.