Biggest Day 1 surprises: Saints, Seahawks
For months I billed the 2018 NFL draft as the year of the quarterback. There were five passers selected Thursday, the most in a first round this century, so my long-time suspicions were verified even if I waited until the last pick of the day for that fifth quarterback.
So at least one thing went as expected with the QB quintet comprising Baker Mayfield (No. 1), Sam Darnold (No. 3), Josh Allen (No. 7), Josh (Waited to be chosen) Rosen (No. 10) and Lamar Jackson at No. 32.
But NFL drafts are always filled with surprises and this year was no different, with the Cleveland Browns making bold selections at No. 1 and No. 4 overall with Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward.
All due respect to Mayfield and Ward - each shorter than generally preferred -- the "biggest" surprise of the day was later when the New Orleans Saints shipped two first round picks (No. 27 overall this year and their first pick in 2019) to move up 13 spots to acquire UT-San Antonio edge rusher Marcus Davenport.
Teams rarely are willing to dedicate two first round picks to players other than quarterbacks. While the 6-foot,6-inch, 265-pound Davenport possesses exceptional tools, he is sushi raw when it comes to the finer techniques of rushing the passer, something that was evident with his struggles against top competition during Senior Bowl practices.
Saints' defensive coordinator Dennis Allen did a terrific job of creating pressure a season ago with only Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan recording more than five sacks, though the team finished tied for seventh in the league a year ago with 42 overall. Clearly the team feels that working with Allen and Jordan will help unleash Davenport's undeniable athletic upside.
For a team largely built to win now, however, Davenport was a surprising and quite costly selection.
That said, I did rank him No. 15 in my final Big Board 100, give him to New England at No. 20 in my last mock draft and our NFLDraftScout.com ratings placed him No. 16 overall. So it was the cost of the acquisition that surprised more than the selection itself.
To his credit, Davenport sounded confident after the draft that he will be able to adapt quickly to the new level of competition and defended the Roadrunners and their Conference USA schedule.
"I don't think of it as a small school, more of a young school," he told the Saints' media. "And the learning curve, I'm just going to have to work to get over that, and I'm just going to do that as soon as possible."
In terms of where prospects ranked on NFLDraftScout.com's board, the biggest surprise of the first round was clearly the Seattle Seahawks selecting San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny at No. 27 overall. Penny, 70th on NFLDraftScout.com's board, was the second runner selected behind only Penn State's Saquon Barkley, whom the Giants drafted second overall.
During his post-draft press conference with the media in Seattle, however, Seahawks general manager John Schneider said that Penny was their choice at No. 18 overall. Head coach Pete Carroll was "fired up" to be able to trade down with Green Bay (acquiring a 3rd round selection) while also addressing a once-proud running game that produced just a single touchdown from a running back last season. Penny led the country in both rushing yards (2,248) and touchdowns (23) last season.
Schneider added to the intrigue moments later, sharing that the club fielded calls from teams immediately after the selection with one club offering to trade for Penny, something the longtime executive said he'd never seen in his NFL career.
Penny's ability to impact the game on all four downs (he was a three-time Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year), experience in a traditional I-formation offense and the relative lack of punishment he's absorbed at San Diego State all earned him a higher grade on Seattle's board than other, more nationally-recognized backs.
Penny left San Diego State as a four-year difference-maker despite a relatively low 613 career touches, less than many of the other top senior running backs, including Georgia's Sony Michel (who went four picks later to the Patriots), his teammate Nick Chubb and Oregon's Royce Freeman (1,026), who had received a lot of pre-draft buzz from fans in Seattle.
Penny is expected to compete with last year's flashy rookie running back Chris Carson for the starting running back role, offering the immediate impact ability - like the Saints' Davenport - to make silence the critics suggesting either team overpaid.
Also picked significantly higher than rated by NFLDraftScout.com were Ohio State center Billy Price (rated No. 72 overall, selected No. 21 by Cincinnati) and for the largest numerical disparity there was Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds (rated No. 88 overall, selectee No. 28 by Pittsburgh).
However, on my final big board, Price was No. 20, but Edmunds was at No. 60.