By: Ryan Lippert
With the 2018 NFL Draft behind us, there is a lot to be excited about for the upcoming football season. This rookie class is extremely deep with talent. I strongly believe that there will be a large amount of rookies contributing in big ways for their respective teams this season. With that in mind, here are the rookies that I believe will stand out from the rest.
Quarterback — Josh Rosen (Arizona Cardinals): Out of all of the quarterbacks in this rookie class, Rosen stands out as the best prototypical NFL starter. I believe that he has the best chance out of the group to be a Week 1 starter. It will be a close competition during camp, but I look for Rosen to beat out Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon for the starting job. Rosen will take advantage of having a veteran in Larry Fitzgerald to throw to, along with a star rookie wide receiver in Christian Kirk.
Also Considered: Josh Allen (Buffalo), Baker Mayfield (Cleveland)
Running Back — Saquon Barkley (New York Giants): This one was a no-brainer for me. Barkley is one of the best running back prospects to come out of college in the past several years. By drafting Barkley, the Giants finally found their premier back to take pressure off of Eli Manning. With Manning, Barkley, and wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, this Giants offense can be one of the most dangerous in the NFC. I would not be surprised to see Barkley win the Offensive Rookie of the Year this season.
Also Considered: Rashaad Penny (Seattle)
Wide Receivers — DJ Moore (Carolina Panthers), Calvin Ridley (Atlanta Falcons):
This was one of the toughest decisions for me. I strongly believe that this wide receiver class is deep with playmakers who will be contributors early in the season. When Moore was drafted by the Panthers, Steve Smith himself said that he was the first receiver that the Panthers have found that can replace him. Although I don’t believe he is on the same level as Smith, Moore finally gives Cam Newton a go-to receiver that he has desperately needed. I look for Newton and Moore to be one of the best duos in the league within a couple seasons.
As for Ridley, he comes into a great situation. In Atlanta, Ridley will be able to learn from a fellow Alabama alumni, Julio Jones. Obviously Jones has made a name for himself as one of the best wide receivers in the league, and I see a lot of the same qualities in Ridley. Ridley is a solid deep threat who can take some attention off Jones. Matt Ryan should be a very happy man going into this season with a new contract and another elite weapon to throw to.
Also Considered: James Washington (Pittsburgh), Courtland Sutton (Denver)
Tight End — Mike Gesicki (Miami Dolphins): Gesicki is a prospect who rose up boards late in the draft process. He had an outstanding combine performance as he ran a 4.54 40-yard dash and had a 41.5” vertical. After the combine, I had Gesicki rated as my top tight end. With that being said, I was very surprised that he was still on the board in the second round for the Dolphins. Gesicki gives Ryan Tannehill a reliable vertical threat to throw to, unlike any tight end he’s ever had before.
Also Considered: Hayden Hurst (Baltimore)
Center — Frank Ragnow (Detroit Lions): The Lions went and got some much needed offensive line help early in the draft. Coming out of Arkansas, Ragnow is the top center in this draft class. Ragnow is a player who can come in and start immediately and help anchor this offensive line. With an improved line and newly acquired LeGarette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson, the Lions may have the best running game they’ve had in a long time.
Also Considered: Billy Price (Cincinnati)
Offensive Guards — Quenton Nelson (Indianapolis Colts), Will Hernandez (New York Giants): The Indianapolis Colts got a steal when Nelson fell to them at the sixth position in the draft. Nelson was a top three player in the draft on most draft boards and for good reason. He was a stud at Notre Dame and will continue to do the same in the league. Nelson will be an immediate starter, and he will provide some much needed protection for Andrew Luck. Hopefully he will help establish a run game.
Will Hernandez was an underrated prospect in my opinion. In other drafts, he would have easily been a first round pick and possibly the best offensive lineman. Hernandez can come in and start at guard for the Giants and learn from newly signed Pro Bowl tackle Nate Solder. With the Giants finally having a star running back in Barkley, they will need someone to run behind and I believe that Hernandez will be the man for the job.
Also Considered: Austin Corbett (Cleveland), Connor Williams (Dallas)
Offensive Tackles — Mike McGlinchey (San Francisco 49ers), Isaiah Wynn (New England Patriots): The 49ers landed a stud when they took McGlinchey with the ninth overall selection in the draft. A lot of people, including myself, thought that they should have addressed the defensive side of the ball with the selection, but I still think this can be a good pick for them. McGlinchey can come into San Francisco and be the future of their offensive line. With a young starting quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, they will need an offensive line that will stick around and help him reach his potential. I believe that McGlinchey can be the leader of that group.
Although Wynn was listed as a guard in a lot of cases, keeping him at tackle makes a ton of sense for the Patriots.The Patriots lost their Pro Bowl tackle Nate Solder in free agency to the Giants, so they needed to find his potential replacement. He may not be a Nate Solder, but I believe that Wynn fits the bill at that position. Wynn will slide into one of the starting tackle spots. Hopefully he will help the Patriots keep Tom Brady healthy for a few more seasons.
Also Considered: Kolton Miller (Oakland), Brian O’neill (Minnesota)
Defensive Tackles — Vita Vea (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Taven Bryan (Jacksonville Jaguars): Vita Vea was an easy selection for this position. He is by far the best interior defensive lineman in this draft class. Tampa Bay already has an outstanding defensive line with Gerald McCoy and newly signed free agents Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul. Vea will come in and start at the open tackle spot next to McCoy and be a force on the interior just as he was at Washington.
Bryan comes into a great situation as well. Although he may have slipped a little lower than expected, he is in great hands in Jacksonville.The Jaguars have possibly the best defense in the league. Bryan adds yet another young star to help this defense grow even more. He may have to come off the bench behind Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson as a rookie but I see him being a huge rotational piece for this defense.
Also Considered: Da’ron Payne (Washington), Maurice Hurst (Oakland)
Defensive Ends — Bradley Chubb (Denver Broncos), Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati Bengals): Chubb is another no-brainer selection for me. Chubb is the best defensive prospect in this class and possibly one of the top two prospects overall. The Broncos got extremely lucky when Chubb fell to them at the fifth overall selection. With Chubb, they add yet another pass rusher to an already talented defense. Chubb will be a Week 1 starter and will form a dominant duo with Von Miller.
Hubbard was a very underrated prospect in my opinion. He was a huge steal for the Bengals in the third round as he was once thought of as a first round prospect. He gives the Bengals some much needed depth on the defensive side of the ball. They already have three solid defensive ends in Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, and Carl Lawson but I believe Hubbard will find himself used frequently in the rotation. Hubbard can play on the line as a defensive end but I could see him contributing as a stand up outside linebacker as well.
Also Considered: Harold Landry (Tennessee), Marcus Davenport (New Orleans)
Inside Linebackers — Roquan Smith (Chicago Bears), Leighton Vander Esch (Dallas Cowboys): Roquan Smith was one of my favorite prospects in this class. I strongly believe that he was the second best defensive player in the draft behind Chubb. Smith is a great downhill linebacker who can make players in the run game and is athletic enough to drop back in coverage as well. The Bears will be able to use Smith as their primary inside linebacker and be able to free up Danny Trevathan and let him play outside more. They should have a great linebacker trio for many years to come with Smith, Trevathan, and Leonard Floyd.
Vander Esch was another one of my favorite players in this draft. He was a very underrated prospect but rose up a lot of draft boards after an outstanding performance at the combine. I have to admit that I was very upset that he was take by the Cowboys as he was one of the main prospects I wanted to fall to the Steelers. I believe that Vander Esch will be a great addition for the Cowboys defense and can be a force in the league. I see Vander Esch and Sean Lee starting at the inside spots, which will allow a more athletic Jaylon Smith to play on the outside.
Also Considered: Tremaine Edmunds (Buffalo), Josey Jewell (Denver)
Outside Linebackers — Rashaan Evans (Tennessee Titans), Darius Leonard (Indianapolis Colts): The Titans made a very wise decision in trading up to draft Evans. I hated to see him go this early because he was the top prospect that I wanted the Steelers to take. At Alabama, Evans was the true leader of their national championship defense. He played inside the box for the most part in college but also played on the edge in some packages. The Titans needed a linebacker as they lost Avery Williamson in free agency to the Jets. I see Evans moving around a lot in this defense. He is listed as an outside linebacker but I think he will play some inside as well.
Leonard is a very underrated small school prospect in this class. He was a stud at South Carolina State where he provided a force against the run game and off the edge. Leonard will give the Colts some much needed help on the defensive side of the ball as he is an outstanding pass rusher and is athletic enough to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game. I look for Leonard to come in and impress the coaching staff enough to earn a starting spot and be a key part of the Colts defense.
Also Considered: Malik Jefferson (Cincinnati), Uchenna Nwosu (San Diego)
Cornerbacks — Jaire Alexander (Green Bay Packers), Mike Hughes (Minnesota Vikings): I strongly believe that Alexander was the best corner in this draft class. He had an outstanding career at Louisville and improves his draft stock significantly at the combine. Alexander was drafted in a great spot with the Packers where he can go play for a contender right away. I look for Alexander to start at the nickel for the Packers and rotate at the outside corner positions with Tramon Williams and Davon House. I believe that Alexander has the makings of a future Pro Bowl corner.
Hughes is a prospect that unfortunately fell in the draft due to off the field issues. Athletically, Hughes has all the tools including great speed, physicality, and ball skills. He was a stud at UCF and will continue to do the same at the next level. Hughes will be a great addition to an already impressive Vikings defense. Like Alexander, I see Hughes coming in as the starting nickel to start his career. Eventually, I think Hughes will take Terence Newman’s starting job on the outside alongside Xavier Rhodes.
Also Considered: Denzel Ward (Cleveland), Duke Dawson (New England)
Safeties — Derwin James (San Diego Chargers), Minkah Fitzpatrick (Miami Dolphins): These two safeties were the best two defensive back prospects in this draft. James had an outstanding career at Florida State and I was shocked to see him fall. San Diego should feel very lucky to have him fall to them at the 17th pick in the draft. James is great in coverage but can also come down in the box for run support and rush the passer. I see James coming in and earning a starting spot at one of the safety positions for the Chargers as a rookie and being an outstanding player for many years to come.
Fitzpatrick had an outstanding college career at Alabama. A lot of people have him listed as simply a defensive back meaning he can play both safety and corner. The Dolphins had a serious need for help on the defensive side of the ball. With Fitzpatrick, they have a player who can come in and be an immediate impact player. As of now, I see Fitzpatrick being their starting nickel but I believe he will have a permanent starting spot at one of the safety positions in due time.
Also Considered: Ronnie Harrison (Jacksonville), Terrell Edmunds (Pittsburgh)