Expert Handicapper Jeff Johnson Breaks Down the NFL 2018 Draft Class: Who Will Make the Biggest Impact?

The 2017 NFL draft produced a pretty impressive crop of players. Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson are quarterbacks who were picked in the first round in 2017 and will be counted on to lead their respective teams in 2018. Of the 26 running backs that were drafted, it was Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette, Carolina’s Christian McCaffery, and Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt who got a heck of a lot of attention for being such immediate impacts. It was looking like Dalvin Cook might join that group until an injury derailed his rookie campaign while Alvin Kamara raised a lot of eyebrows as the season wore on.  Jeff Johnson the handicapping expert who runs PremiumPicks.com and has developed an algorithm for successfully picking games against the spread breaks down the newest class of NFL players for the 2018 season.

Now, those guys that we just mentioned get a lot of love because those are the guys that score points. There were also some defensive rookies that made big impacts like cornerbacks Tre’Davious White, Desmond King, and Marshon Lattimore who immediately made their defenses better. Defensive ends Myles Garrett and Carl Lawson will put pressure on opposing quarterbacks for years to come while wide receiver Cooper Kupp will be a key part of the Rams’ air attack.

So, what about the 2018 class? Who are the players that are going to step right in and make a difference? Let’s take a look at some of the newcomers on both sides of the ball that will make an immediate impact.

Shoe-Ins

Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons

It’s almost a given that Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu are going to be key parts of the Atlanta Falcons’ pass attack. Well, opposing defensive coordinators know this too and will be sure to focus attention on those guys which could open things up for a guy like wide receiver Calvin Ridley who was chosen 26th overall in 2018. Ridley’s speed, route running, and 6’1” frame should make him a frequent target. Don’t be surprised if Ridley racks up around 1,000 receiving yards.

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Selected number 2 overall at the 2018 NFL Draft, running back Saquon Barkley looks like he’s ready to add something that has been missing from New York’s offense for a few years. While he will need time to adjust, this explosive running back has drawn comparisons to Tiki Barber although we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. New York’s one-dimensional attack has been a serious problem in recent years and defenses will now need to make adjustments in their approach especially with Odell Beckham Jr. back on the field. Look for Barkley to rush for 1,000 yards and pitch in with some key receptions.

D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

If there is one thing that the Carolina Panthers can use it’s a bit more depth at the wide receiver position and they got it when they picked D.J. Moore at the 2018 draft. Moore is 6-feet tall and weighs 215 pounds which makes him tough enough for defenders to deal with but add in the fact that he’s got good speed and can jump and it’s even tougher to defend against him. Devin Funchess is developing nicely and will be a favorite target of Cam Newton as will veteran tight end Greg Olsen. Torrey Smith is decent but he hasn’t had a ton of success in recent years. The opportunity for D.J. Moore to become an immediate impact is there for the taking but he will likely be eased into his role and become more of a target as the season progresses.

Rashad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have had a revolving door of running backs ever since the departure of Marshawn Lynch but it looks like the 27th overall pick at the 2018 NFL Draft could bring some stability to the position. Rashad Penny will automatically become number one on the depth chart and he’s going to get more than his fair share of touches. Seattle has been moving away from pounding the ball in recent years and Penny gives them a great reason to make that a big part of their attack once again. One of the biggest issues for the rookie might be running behind such a weak offensive line.

Maurice Hurst, Oakland Raiders

We had to pay a bit of attention defensive rookies and a few game changers were drafted in 2018. Bradley Chubb, Roquan Smith, and Marcus Davenport will all be difference makers but the defensive rookie that should have the biggest impact should be Oakland’s Maurice Hurst. Oakland needed to shore up their defense and they did just that by drafting Hurst. Oakland wasn’t too bad against the run in 2017 but they will be much tougher to run against in 2018.

Outside Chance

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

It’s been years since the Cleveland Browns have been strong at the quarterback position. DeShone Kizer, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, and Brandon Weeden are just a few of the busts that have found themselves under center on this awful team in recent years. Now they are pinning their hopes on Baker Mayfield who was the first overall pick in the 2018 draft. It appears as though the Browns will let Tyrod Taylor lead the way heading into the season but if Mayfield gets a shot he will have a talented set of receivers to throw to. It also helps that running back Carlos Hyde is there to add another dimension to Cleveland’s attack.

Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals

With quarterback Sam Bradford now in Arizona, it is quite likely that the 10th overall pick, Josh Rosen, will find himself in a backup role to start the season. Of course, this is a guy that has a lot of upside and a high football IQ so it could be hard to keep him on the bench if Bradford struggles. A strong pre-season out of Rosen would also boost his chances of stepping into the lineup. With guys like Larry Fitzgerald and dual-threat David Johnson in the offense’s mix, Rosen could acquit himself nicely if given the opportunity. Arizona is the least favorite team to make it to the Super Bowl this year where as the Seattle Seahawks were 20-1 favorites right after the Super Bowl.

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens showed that they are ready to transition out of the Joe Flacco era when they chose quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round of the 2018 draft. It’s all but certain that it will the veteran Flacco under center to start the season but it wouldn’t be shocking if Jackson was given an opportunity as the season wears on. Especially if the fading Flacco continues to regress as he has in recent years. It looks like Jackson is the future of this franchise but it remains a mystery as to when this future will begin.

Don’t Forget About…

Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

Cornerback Denzel Ward was picked 4th overall by the Cleveland Browns who will start him at the left cornerback position. The 21-year-old could surprise a lot of people.

Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts have had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL for years. They gave up the most sacks in 2017 and their quarterback was hit frequently. With Andrew Luck returning from injury, Indy can ill-afford to allow this trend to continue and Quenton Nelson should help the cause. No. Nelson won’t be able to do it on his own but he will definitely make life a little easier for Luck.

Vita Vea, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had a ton of issues in recent years such as their inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. They were last in sacks last year with just 22 but they should be better this year with the addition of Jason Pierre-Paul and their first-round pick Vita Vea. The 23-year-old Vea is 6’4” and weighs in at 247 pounds. The 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year will make Tampa’s defense a lot harder to play against

Nicole Hicks

Nicole Hicks a graduate of UFT. She’s based in Toronto but travels much of the year. Nicole has written for NPR, Motherboard, MSN Money, and the Huffington Post. Nicole is a financial reporter, focusing on technology, national security, and policing.

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