Nobody knew how the top of the 2018 NFL Draft would shake out. After all, the Cleveland Browns kept things close to the vest, which created plenty of drama and anticipation about who would become the No. 1 overall pick. Ultimately, they bet big on Baker Mayfield — a decision that set the stage for three other quarterbacks to go in the top 10.
While Lamar Jackson had to wait until the final pick of the first round to hear his name called, Josh Allen’s slide ended once the Buffalo Bills traded up to select him seventh overall. A raw, physically gifted prospect with incredible upside, he’s helped turn around a directionless franchise. And while Allen still has to prove he can get it done in the playoffs, his eye-popping $258 million extension ensures he’ll remain the starter in Buffalo for years to come.
However, none of the six players taken ahead of him have signed extensions.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t deserve long-term deals. But it does reflect the fact that they all come with red flags.
So, how do the six players chosen before Allen stack up? Based on production, positional value, durability, and upside, here’s how they fall in my rankings.
6. Sam Darnold, QB, Carolina Panthers
Despite being the third player off the board, Sam Darnold easily ranks well below every member of this list. In fact, it’s entirely fair to call him the biggest disappointment of the 2018 draft.
Expected to turn the New York Jets around, the USC product did the exact opposite. Darnold routinely turned the ball over during his three-year stint with the AFC East franchise. After throwing 39 interceptions and committing 20 fumbles in 38 games as a Jet, he got a chance to resurrect his career in Carolina. Unfortunately for Panthers fans, the front office’s decision to take a leap of faith on Darnold turned out to be a poor one.
Between his erratic play on the field (59.5% completion rate, 7:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio) and his inability to stay healthy, the 24-year-old has done nothing to cement his status as a long-term building block for the Panthers.
Needless to say, Darnold’s stock couldn’t be any lower, which is exactly why he’s the lowest-ranked player on this list.
5. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
Saquon Barkley looked like a generational talent in college. A fast, physical, agile playmaker with seemingly no holes in his game, he became the highest-drafted running back since Reggie Bush also went No. 2 overall in 2006. And based on his rookie-season numbers — which included a league-leading 2,028 total yards from scrimmage — Barkley appeared on track to justify his selection.
However, it’s hard to put him any higher on this list based on what’s happened since his sensational 2018 campaign.
Injuries have derailed what once looked like an incredibly promising career. Barkley suffered a high ankle sprain in 2019 before tearing his ACL early in the 2020 season. To make matters worse, he’s missed time this season due to another ankle injury.
With only 254 yards and two touchdowns on 79 carries since 2020, it’s obvious he hasn’t provided much of a spark (or anything, really) for the Giants. Given his immense physical gifts and strong work ethic, Barkley still has a chance to remind everyone why he went five picks ahead of Josh Allen.
But his inability to stay on the field and produce forces me to put him in the fifth slot.
4. Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns
Would Baker Mayfield go No. 1 overall in a redraft?
Would he still go in the top 10?
The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner has shown flashes of star ability at the pro level, most notably a year ago when he completed 62.8% of his passes for 3,563 yards, 26 touchdowns, and a career-low eight interceptions. Yet consistency continues to elude Mayfield, making him a difficult player to evaluate more than midway through his fourth NFL season.
Plus, it’s fair to question his maturity and leadership — two qualities that are critical to living up to the “franchise quarterback” label. We’ll find out just how much the Browns value the signal-caller they hitched their wagon to in 2018 sooner than later. Mayfield certainly falls short of the electrifying Lamar Jackson, but he’s nowhere close to a flat-out bust like Darnold.
At the end of the day, he’s a league-average quarterback who’s gone 28-27 as a starter. He’s contributed far more than Barkley, but he hasn’t reached the same peak as the next player on the list.
3. Bradley Chubb, OLB, Denver Broncos
Bradley Chubb generated some pre-draft buzz as a potential candidate to go No. 1 overall. Although he waited a little longer to hear Roger Goodell announce his name at the podium, the former North Carolina State star still became a top-five pick.
Like Barkley, Chubb wasted no time showing why he earned All-American honors in his final collegiate season. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound outside linebacker made an instant impact for a Denver Broncos defense that finished the year 13th in points allowed. Chubb set a franchise rookie record by totaling 12 sacks — an impressive accomplishment that suggested brighter days were ahead.
Unfortunately for Broncos fans, they haven’t seen much of the talented pass rusher since then. Just like Barkley, Chubb’s dealt with major injury issues, including a partially torn left ACL that ended his 2019 campaign prematurely.
That being said, Chubb’s game film and stats speak for themselves. When healthy, he’s dominated offensive tackles to the tune of 20.5 sacks and 46 quarterback hits in 35 games. If he avoids further setbacks, don’t be surprised if he earns Pro Bowl recognition in the near future.
2. Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns
Teams often spend premium picks on players who are directly involved in the passing game. In the case of the Browns, they followed up the Mayfield selection by securing a valuable commodity on the other side of the ball: a blue-chip cornerback.
Denzel Ward went fourth overall in a class that also saw Jaire Alexander and Mike Hughes go in the first round. Although he hasn’t made the Pro Bowl again after earning the honor as a rookie, he still deserves the No. 2 spot on this list.
Why’s that the case?
Although durability remains a concern (Ward has yet to play a full season), the 5-foot-11, 190-pound corner has proven he can shut down high-level receivers. With nine interceptions, 47 passes defended, and a 52.7% completion rate allowed in 47 games, the Ohio State product has established a reputation as a shutdown defender.
The Browns deserve credit for drafting a true No. 1 corner, especially considering they have to play some tough offenses in the AFC North.
This ranking may ruffle some feathers, but I’m a big believer in Ward’s upside, and I fully expect him to earn a Pro Bowl nod in the coming years.
1. Quenton Nelson, OG, Indianapolis Colts
Did the Indianapolis Colts use a top-10 pick on a premium position?
Did they do the smart thing and just take the best player available?
You bet they did. And by making Quenton Nelson the last player selected ahead of Josh Allen, they locked down the left guard position for the next decade-plus.
Arguably the most physically imposing interior lineman in the league, Nelson has made NFL defenders look like high schoolers since Day 1. Despite playing a thankless position, he’s turned into a social media darling thanks to his penchant to bury linemen, linebackers, and safeties with relative ease.
A three-time first-team All-Pro who’s helped the Colts navigate out of the post-Andrew Luck era, he’s undoubtedly the best player out of the six chosen before Buffalo’s franchise quarterback.
And outside of Lamar Jackson, there may not be a better player from the entire 2018 draft than the leader of the Colts’ offensive line.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.