Browns make the percentage call at No. 1 overall
The Browns kept a stunningly tight lid on their pre-draft operation, misdirecting and obfuscating for the entirety of the four-month process. When their decision was finally announced on Thursday evening, it was the mildly surprising — but correct — choice of Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner plays quarterback the way the modern NFL likes it. He hits all his layups but isn’t afraid to shoot some high-percentage threes. Mayfield is an accurate playmaker, one who doesn’t mind doing so on the move. A demonstrative leader, Mayfield checks boxes both analytical and old school. There are no sure things in the NFL draft. Mayfield is the closest the 1-31 Browns were going to get after years in the wilderness.
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Giants try to turn back time with Saquon Barkley
If the Browns opted for the late reveal, the Giants did what they telegraphed all along, making Saquon Barkley the highest-drafted running back since Reggie Bush in 2006. Barkley is a special player. He is a freak athlete, combining size, speed and power with feathery hands that make him a true three-down threat. That does not mean he was the right pick for the Giants at No. 2. Running back is not the premium position it once was. That’s especially true if you don’t have a quarterback. With Eli Manning on his last legs, the G-Men made a short-sighted decision when they could have landed a quarterback of the future in Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen. Thankfully for fantasy players, they at least did so with a runner who is going to make an immediate impact. Even behind the Giants’ woeful offensive line, Barkley will deserve first-round consideration in this summer’s drafts.
Jets pounce on Sam Darnold at No. 3
After trading up six weeks ago, the Jets did what the Giants couldn’t, taking a shot on a new franchise player in USC’s Sam Darnold. Exceptionally young for a first-year signal caller — he turns 21 in June — Darnold is raw but has 24 games of PAC-12 starting experience under his belt. That’s nearly double the 13 Mitchell Trubisky had coming out of North Carolina. Darnold can be wild. He threw 20 interceptions over his final 20 college games. He has some Jameis Winston in him. But like Winston, Darnold is fearless, and has a natural instinct for making plays. He has nearly limitless potential for growth. Darnold’s downside is real. It is outweighed by his upside.
Bills make their long expected move upward, roll the dice on Josh Allen
Embroiled in a Twitter controversy — he posted some extremely dumb things as a teenager — Josh Allen avoided what could have been a prolonged slide. Desperate to find a franchise quarterback, the Bills traded up for the second time in as many months, surrendering the No. 12, 53 and 56 picks for the right to move up five spots. With it, they selected the most enigmatic quarterback prospect in recent memory. Fresh off third-team Mountain West honors, Allen enters the NFL as a 56.2 percent college passer. He did not dominate his lower-level competition, instead too often fitting right into it. It’s easy to see why teams salivated over Allen’s film. He has an almost impossibly huge arm and “looks the part.” But he has a cardinal sin of quarterbacking — inaccuracy — that almost never gets better from one level to the next. A successful career might resemble Jay Cutler’s. That would not be the worst thing. Would it be worth the treasure of two trade ups?
Cardinals luck into Josh Rosen
With the board parting like the Red Sea, the Cardinals moved up five spots to select Josh Rosen at No. 10. It had been 12 years since the Cards used a Day 1 pick on a quarterback. They will hope Rosen turns out better than Matt Leinart. With a viable claim to being a deep class’ best player, Rosen could prove to be the steal of the draft. That’s if he stays healthy and on the same page with his coaching staff. Pre-draft reports had teams fearing Rosen as some sort of alien being: A football player who asks questions. That belies an on-field approach where Rosen needs to ask more questions, namely “why am I allowing myself to take this thundering hit?”
Raiders trade for walk-year wideout Martavis Bryant
The price was steep — this year’s 79th overall pick — but the Raiders finally got themselves a legitimate No. 3 receiver, and arguably a No. 2. Still only 26, Bryant is a touchdown scorer with game-breaking ability at every level of the field. The problem, of course, is his suspension history. There’s also the fact that he couldn’t get along with the Steelers’ coaching staff after his return from a year-long exile last season. That’s what makes the price surprising. The Raiders gave up a day-two pick for a contract-year player who could get banned at any moment. Bryant’s established upside and downside are in perfect equilibrium.
Panthers make D.J. Moore first receiver off the board at No. 24
For the fourth time in five years, the Panthers used one of their first two picks on a wideout. None were taken as high as D.J. Moore, a Big 10 compiler capable of doing major damage after the catch. A punishing athlete in the Percy Harvin/Golden Tate mold, Moore mixes in some Darren Sproles-style explosiveness. He’s a shot that had to be taken for a team that annually finds itself short on weapons.
Falcons pair Calvin Ridley with Julio Jones
Apparently feeling short on gamebreakers after their elite offense came back down to earth in 2017, the Falcons set about elevating Matt Ryan, getting him a blur of acceleration in Calvin Ridley. The Alabama product has struggled with drops and isn’t anyone’s idea of a power wideout, but he provides speed and separation. He will command attention opposite his all-world running mate Julio Jones. It could be a while before it translates to fantasy value, however.
Seahawks offer up running back surprise at No. 27
Continuing to march to the beat of their own drafter, the Seahawks — who were making just their second first-round pick in the past six seasons (seriously) — made San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny the second running back off the board. It’s a bold selection, one the Seahawks are banking on to snap their backfield out of its post-Marshawn Lynch malaise. With arguably the league’s worst offensive line, it could take longer than hoped.
Patriots go against their backfield grain, select running back
Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill … no matter. Enter Sony Michel, a terrifying specter in the open field. He probably won’t be the next Alvin Kamara, but he has a similar skill-set. It was a surprising pick for a Patriots team that has preferred a piecemeal/budget approach in the backfield. Michel could slide right into Dion Lewis’ old role, and be the Pats’ best 2018 bet for running back fantasy value.
Ravens sneak in Lamar Jackson before the clock hits 0:00
Rumored to be a Ravens target as early as No. 16 overall, Lamar Jackson instead closed out the night after departing GM Ozzie Newsome traded back into the first round. The heir apparent to a decaying Joe Flacco, Jackson offers rare athletic ability for sports’ most important position. Whenever he gets under center — which perhaps won’t be until 2019 — Jackson’s running ability will make him an immediate fantasy stud even if his passing takes some time to catch up.
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