The 2018 NFL season is drawing closer as Training Camps have opened across the League. Hopefully, we can spend more time talking about the action on the field and not who is, or isn’t showing up at the Hall of Famer enshrinement and other off-the-field issues.
The excitement is high to see the return of All-Pros and perennial Pro Bowlers that missed last season due to injury like J.J. Watt, David Johnson, Odell Beckham Junior and Andrew Luck to name a few. But, there’s also the anticipation of watching new stars begin their pro football journey.
256 players were drafted in April–39 linebackers, the most of any position–and there are several dozens more that will make rosters as free agents. I looked into my crystal ball and here’s how I see the 2018 class fairing in their careers.
Most likely to lead the NFL in passing yards….
Josh Rosen (10th Overall Pick), Arizona Cardinals. Rosen was considered the most pro-ready of the quarterbacks in the 2018 class, having played in a pro-style system at UCLA, for a former NFL head coach. He’ll also play in an NFC West division that arguably has the best collective talent at the QB position. The style of play is even more up-tempo than the direction the rest of the league has taken. The opportunities will be there as he goes toe to toe with Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jared Goff.
Most likely to lead the NFL in rushing yards….
The safe and most popular pick would be Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants, the second overall selection in the draft. While I believe Barkley will be a very productive back in both the run and pass game with the Giants, in the mold of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, but because he plays on the same unit as Odell Beckham Junior, Sterling Shepherd and Evan Ingram, New York will have a more balanced attack and he won’t carry the ball at a high rate.
So I’m going with another NFC East rookie runner, Darius Guice of Washington. The Former LSU back was selected with the 59th pick in the 2nd round. He slipped in the draft due to character issues, but many “experts” claim he was a first round talent. Guice is a physical, downhill runner who at 5’11” 224 pounds wants to play like Marshawn Lynch. He’ll be playing with Alex Smith who handed off to the 2017 NFL Leading rusher Kareem Hunt in Kansas City last season. Hunt was a 3rd round selection (pick 86) last spring.
Most likely to lead the NFL in receptions, receiving yards or receiving TDs…
Michael Gallup (3rd round, 81st Pick), Dallas Cowboys. Jason Whitten has retired. Dez Bryant is on the free agent market struggling to find a new home. The Cowboys will be looking for a new threat in the passing game for third-year QB Dak Prescott to build chemistry with. Gallup caught 176 passes for 2,690 yards (15.3 ypc) and 21 touchdowns in his two seasons at Colorado State. Someone will have to be Prescott’s number one option when defenses load the box to stop Zeke Elliott.
Most likely to lead the NFL in turnovers…
Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets. The third overall pick out of USC had his troubles taking care of the pigskin in college, especially against top-notch competition. He’s going to see that quality and even better every week in the NFL. This doesn’t mean he won’t have a great career, Eli Manning has led the League in turnovers twice in his career and he’s probably going to get a Gold Jacket. But Darnold is being heralded as a “Savior” for a franchise that’s been dormant for nearly a decade, especially at that position. That means he’ll likely be the first of the 2018 class of QB’s to be thrown into the fire early in their career, and make several rookie mistakes.
Most likely to lead the league in tackles…
Roquan Smith (8th Overall Pick) Chicago Bears. The Georgia Bulldog linebacker could be the next great linebacker in the Bears book of great backers. The 2017 Butkus Award winner and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, racked up 252 total tackles in his three seasons “Between the Hedges.” 137 of them came last season, 14 of them for loss. Smith has a nose for the football and is always around the action. In the “Windy City” he’ll be counted on early to help the 10th ranked total defense in 2017 stop Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins.
Most likely to lead the league in sacks…
Bradley Chubb (5th overall pick) Denver Broncos. This could very well happen in his rookie season with the attention Von Miller will attract on the other side of the field, plus linebackers Brandon Marshall, Shane Ray and Defensive End Derek Wolfe. Who do you think is going to get the least amount of attention from opposing offensive units? This answer is Chubb. The North Carolina State product recorded 10 sacks in each of his last two seasons with the Wolfpack and 25 total in his four-year career. He also made 21 and 23 tackles for loss, proving he lives in offenses backfields.
Most likely to lead the League in interceptions (takeaways)….
Josh Jackson (2 round, pick 45) Green Bay Packers. His ball hawking skills are elite. Many have compared him to Richard Sherman, and he looked the part against Ohio State last season when he picked off 3 passes and took one to the house. The 2017 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, intercepted 8 passes last season and took 2 back for touchdowns. He’s a big DB at 6’1″, 196 pounds, which is the direction the League is going to counter the bigger athletic wide receivers.
Most likely to be Offensive Rookie of the Year….
Saquon Barkley (2nd overall pick), New York Giants. You can never go wrong betting on a running back, because history has shown us they adjust to the pro game quicker. Three of the last five winners of this award were running backs. Don’t expect that to change this season. If Eli Manning continues to struggle, as he has in recent seasons, the Giants best bet to compete in what will be a highly competitive NFC East, will be to hand the ball to Barkley in the run and pass game. On another note, no Giants rookie has ever rushed for 1,000+ yards, so Barkley would be making history as well.
Most likely to be Defensive Rookie of the Year…
Mike Hughes, Minnesota Vikings (1 round, pick 30). The NFL is a predominant passing league, which means the players on the defensive side of the ball that have the best chance to standout are pass rushers and defensive backs. Hughes was a star for the UCF Knights self-claimed National Championship team. In his only season in Orlando, he intercepted 4 passes taking one back for six and broke up 11 passes. He’ll be playing on a defense that rank first last season. Hughes is also a return specialist, having returned 2 kickoffs and 1 punt for touchdowns last season. His involvement, and success, in special teams will catapult him into voters conscious.
Most likely to be steal of the draft…
Orlando Brown (3rd round, 83rd pick), Baltimore Ravens. Other than running back, the players that have the least struggle transitioning to the pro game are offensive lineman. The “Big Uglies” typically have the biggest upside with the lowest risk of any position. That’s why I’m going with Brown. The 2017 Unanimous All-American and two-time Big 12 Lineman of the Year had a disastrous performance at the combine, causing his draft stock to fall. But, Brown was considered a first-round talent. He comes from great pedigree. His father, the late Orlando “Zeus” Brown Senior, played six seasons for the Ravens, starting 80 games. Brown Junior will be surrounded with people who will be invested in him as a player, but as a person due to his ties with the organization.
Most likely to be a perennial All-Pro….
Shaquem Griffin (5th round, 141 pick) Seattle Seahawks. Everyone fell so in love with his inspiring story, a guy playing without a hand, that they almost ignored his dominating performance for a UCF Knight team that was the only team in major college football to finish the 2017 season undefeated.
His combine test scores alone should have catapulted him into the first round, but teams were scared off by what they consider a disability. They’ll undoubtedly, regret that. Then there’s his game film. If you watched any one UCF game in 2017, you saw this guy pop off the screen. He totaled 17 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in his college career as a linebacker. You should never better against a guy that’s overcome what he has. Playing along side his twin brother in Seattle, I see him being able to lead the new era of Seahawks like he did in central Florida.
Most likely to be NFL Defensive Player of the Year…
Bradley Chubb, for the same reasons I mentioned previously as to why I feel he will lead the NFL in sacks. Pass rushers are a premium in the League, and historically, they win this award more than any other defensive positions. The last eight winners were pass rushers, Calais Campbell, Khalil Mack and JJ Watt were the most recent winners. If he can disrupt NFL QBs like his new teammate, Von Miller, he will take home this award at some point in his career.
Most likely to be NFL MVP….
This award always goes to the quarterback who’s on the team with the best record in the League. In the last ten seasons, a quarterback won the award nine times. Running Back Adrian Peterson was the exception in 2012. So of course I should pick a QB, right? Yes, and I’m going with Sam Darnold. If you’ve read this far — first off, thanks — you know I believe Darnold will be a turnover machine early on in his career, which he was in college. But, I like his overall makeup and I think the early growing pains are going to serve him greatly in his development. If he wins games in that city, for that organization, he’ll have the big market bias and narrative, voters swoon over.