With the regular season wrapped up and a full 16-game schedule for the first-year players in the books, I decided to name my All-Rookie team for 2018. To do so I put together starting lineups on offense, defense and the specialists, plus I added key substitutes for each unit. While I did want to put the best 11 players out there respectively, the full body of work for these players had to be considered and I could not go with a couple of players I liked but simply didn’t play enough. So here are my starting lineups:
QB Baker Mayfield
RB1 Saquon Barkley
RB2 Nick Chubb
WR1 Calvin Ridley
WR2 D.J. Moore
TE Mark Andrews
LT Mike McGlinchey
LG Quenton Nelson
C James Daniels
RG Will Hernandez
RT Orlando Brown
For my offensive formation I decided to go with 21 personnel, meaning two running backs and a tight-end. While this obviously isn’t the most common NFL formation anymore, I wanted to put the best eleven rookies on the field. My quarterback and RB1 will be battling it for Offensive Rookie of the Year because of how spectacular they have been this season, but there are plenty of impact players around those two. I have two dynamic receivers, a second back who is more of an in-between the tackles runner and a vertical threat at tight-end. On the offensive line it was hard for me to ultimately decide on a center because instead of going with one of the two starting rookies that actually played the position, I picked between two guys who manned that spot in college but moved to guard at the next level. Altogether I love the interior of the O-line and what I have coming out of the backfield to build around a strong rushing attack, plus a tight-end to catch the ball behind linebackers, two receivers on the outside who can win a lot of one-on-one matchups and a quarterback who excels at defeating man-coverage.
You can definitely question some of the decisions the Browns have made in recent years, but there is no way that can be said about what the did with the first overall pick back in April. Baker Mayfield is the perfect quarterback for that Cleveland organization and their fan base with his attitude. As far as his play on the field goes, Baker has been carving up opposing defenses with quick recognizing skills and precision throws. That’s how he set a new rookie QB mark for touchdowns (27) in just 13-and-a-half games.
At that first running back spot I had to go with the most impressive guy at the position to come into the league maybe ever. I had Saquon Barkley as my number one prospect and I thought he was better than Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley. His explosiveness at those 230+ pounds is mind-boggling. Saquon became only the third player to surpass 2000 yards from scrimmage in his first season while also setting a new mark with 91 catches for rookie running backs. To have done that behind a sub-par offensive line has me thinking he is the best back in football already. Alongside him I had a hard decision between Nick Chubb and Philip Lindsay. I ultimately went with Chubb because of his power and short-area quickness as an inside runner to go with Barkley’s homerun ability.
Like I said, I have two receivers on the outside that specify in creating separation from man-coverage. Calvin Ridley routinely defeated number two cornerbacks as the Robin to Julio Jones’ Batman, who led the league in receiving yards. Ridley did lead all rookies in that category himself while also easily beating out the competition in touchdowns through the air with ten, which is as much as number three and four have combined. D.J. Moore on the other side finished only 33 yards behind Ridley with just under 800 yards on the year while officially starting just ten games. He also carried the ball 13 times for an additional 172 yards on sweeps and reverses to go along with teammate Curtis Samuel, giving him an average of over 14 yards per touch. At the tight-end spot I went with the Ravens’ Mark Andrews. Baltimore actually selected Hayden Hurst in the first round, but the third-rounder emerged as their main receiving option at the position, racking up 552 yards on 16.2 a catch while routinely stretching defenses down the seams.
I already mentioned my dilemma at the center spot with two guys who played the position in college but lined up at left guard for their respective teams. I ultimately went with James Daniels over the Lions’ Frank Ragnow because I thought they played at a very equal level as rookies and I had Daniels slightly ahead in my draft evaluations, considering his athleticism to reach D-tackles and get out on the move. What I have at those two guard spots in incredible. Quenton Nelson is already in the conversation for the top player at the position due to his ability to move people in the run game and provide pocket integrity, while Will Hernandez is a road-grader in the run game who has improved his technique in pass protection a lot throughout the year to go along with his natural strength. At left tackle I went with Nelson’s former teammate in Mike McGlinchey, who fits better on the right side, but has clearly been the best rookie at the position. On the opposite end I had another tough decision – go with another Colt in Braden Smith or my third-highest graded tackle in Orlando Brown. I went with the Ravens’ starter at right tackle, because he has yet to allow a full sack in ten starts and game-action in all 16 matchups while also creating a ton of movement at the point of attack on those zone-reads and fake hand-offs on the edges.
QB Lamar Jackson
RB Philip Lindsay
WR Courtland Sutton & Christian Kirk
TE Dallas Goedert
OT Braden Smith
OL Frank Ragnow
As my second quarterback I went with Lamar Jackson, not because I think he will be better than Sam Darnold or Josh Allen necessarily, but he gives me a dimension as a runner on designed plays that none of the other guys do. Philip Lindsay was a close call not to crack the starting lineup. I mentioned him as my prime candidate to make an impact as an undrafted free agent at the start of May. He has delivered with over 1000 yards on the ground, a Pro Bowl nod and game-breaking long speed. The guy I expected to appear on this list was Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson, but his coaches inexplicably didn’t want to give him the ball early on and then he missed the last few weeks with injury. As my third and fourth receivers I went with a big-bodied pass catcher in Courtland Sutton and a speedster, who can also win with quickness in Christian Kirk. Dallas Goedert is my second tight-end because I thought he was the most talented pass-catcher among the draft prospects at the position, although the Jets’ Chris Herndon deserves some consideration as he led all first year TEs in catches. Ian Thomas has shown that tremendous upside I talked about back in March/April, which he should continue to display if Greg Olsen decides to retire. As my swing-tackle and backup I went with the already-mentioned Braden Smith, who also brings inside-out flexibility. And as that extra interior O-linemen Ragnow made the roster, who can also play all three interior spots and plays with excellent technique.
LE Harold Landry
NT Daron Payne
3T Da’Shawn Hand
RE Bradley Chubb
SLB Darius Leonard
MLB Leighton Vander Esch
WLB Roquan Smith
CB1 Denzel Ward
FS Jessie Bates
SS Derwin James
CB2 Jaire Alexander
It was tough for me to decide on the actual defensive front, since all three of my linebackers might be best suited for the WILL spot in a 4-3, but they simply were the top three guys at that level. Moreover, my edge rushers actually play in a 3-4 and my 1-technique plays a true nose role for the most part. However, I don’t see why my D-ends would have a problem transitioning to positions they actually played in college and I have a shade nose that will draw double-teams and therefore allow the linebackers to flow freely, which they do best. With two physical corners on the outside, a true center-fielder and a versatile strong safety, that likes playing in the box, I would primarily run a Seattle-style cover-three / man-bail scheme on the back-end, while having the ability to also use some two-high safety alignments because those guys are pretty rangy and my corners are not afraid of coming up to tackle people. Of course with the depth I have at corner and all that speed at the linebacker position, I can do a lot of stuff in sub-packages.
On the edges I really like what I have in Bradley Chubb and Harold Landry. Chubb has the frame and strength to dominate on the strong side in the run game while bringing savvy pass-rush prowess beyond his years, including a deadly speed-to-power move. Landry on the other hand is more of that speed guy around the corner and I thought he was the most natural waist-bender and overall pass rusher in the 2018 draft. Both can play wide-nine, they go after the ball and they have at least some experience dropping into coverage.
Two Bama boys man the interior of my defensive front. Daron Payne is a rock in the middle of any defense, because even in the Redskins scheme where he was asked to two-gap primarily he was a problem for any center as a rookie, plus he is underrated as a pocket-pusher. Next to him is a familiar face in Da’Shawn Hand, who is finally starting to live up expectations of a former top-ten national recruit in Motown. While the Lions had a rough overall 2018, they found what I thought was their biggest need in an upfield three-technique. I want to cover up the middle and penetrate outside the guards.
The linebacker level was were I had to put a couple of guys out of position. Darius Leonard (who should win Defensive Rookie of the Year) has been unbelievable at WILL and MIKE for the Colts, but with his quick trigger I like him on the strong side. Leighton Vander Esch has more MIKE size to me at 6’4”, 255 pounds. I want him to be able to use his sideline-to-sideline speed, but he would probably line up in the middle for most teams (that don’t have Jaylon Smith). That leaves me with Roquan Smith on the weak-side, which is clearly his natural fit. I have to be most cautious with him not having big bodies in his face, because that is clearly the weakness to his game. My outside backers are both excellent blitzers and my guy in the middle is tough to throw over the head of.
On the perimeter I already mentioned how physical those two guys are. Denzel Ward had as hot a start for a rookie corner as I’ve seen in years. Through his first five games he intercepted three passes, knocked down another six, forced a fumble, blocked a field goal and simply locked down opposing number one receivers. While he has cooled off a little, Jaire Alexander emerged as the top-flight cover-guy I saw him as at Louisville. He doesn’t quite have the numbers to back me up, but in his nine straight starts before getting hurt Josh Gordon was the only guy he covered primarily outside of Julio Jones that surpassed 80 yards and that was due only to a crazy scramble play for a 55-yard TD.
At safety I have that rangy center-fielder in Jessie Bates. He has been one of the bright spots for the Bengals in a let-down season, starting off 4-1 and then dropping to 6-10. Having him in the line-up allows me to play a lot of single-high alignment. To go with him I have who I think has played like a top five safety in the league already – Derwin James. Nobody has lined up all over the place more than the Chargers rookie phenom. James has played linebacker, nickel, strong safety, half-field and even some deep middle, just because he was their best guy at it. He can cover man and zone, races up against the run and is an incredible blitzer from multiple spots.
DL Vita Vea & Maurice Hurst
EDGE Marcus Davenport
LB Tremaine Edmunds
CB J.C. Jackson
S Justin Reid
DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
As far as back-ups go, I tried to put up the top players while bringing versatility to the table. On the interior D-line I went with a freakish 350-pounder in Vita Vea and a penetrator and sub-package rusher in Maurice Hurst. Vea looks like a Stallworth in the middle for the Bucs and Hurst was one my favorites to watch on tape at Michigan, because of the disruption he brought to the table. I decided on Tremaine Edmunds as my fourth linebacker because his upside is incredible and he already made big plays in year one. As far as my secondary substitutions go, I think my three guys bring a lot of flexibility. I really wanted to put Carolina’s Donte Jackson up, but his play declined as the Panthers started their downfall. J.C. Jackson has emerged as an outstanding number two corner for the Patriots, Justin Reid became a full-time starter and playmaker very early for the Texans and Minkah Fitzpatrick has been one of the top rookie corners and safeties for the Dolphins. I can use those guys all over the place and play with six or even seven defensive backs in certain situations, which gives me that many more options.
K Michael Badgley
P Michael Dickson
RS Tremon Smith
ST Chris Board
I went with Michael Badgley as my place-kicker, having gone 18 of 19 on field goal attempts with his lone miss coming from 52 yards and 27 of 28 on extra points, since the Chargers chose to go with him in week six. Hopefully he will finally solve their kicking issues, which has cost them several games in recent years.
Punter might have been the easiest choice of all and that’s crazy to say when you have generational talents at guard with Quenton Nelson and running back with Saquon Barkley. Johnny Hekker is probably the only guy at the position I would take over Michael Dickson, who is second in the league in average yards per punt and is allowing just 13.3 yards per return when taking over kickoff duties.
Since some of the guys I liked returning kicks didn’t really qualify due to a lack of attempts, such as Cleveland’s Antonio Callaway, I checked out the average numbers and referred to Pro Football Focus. Tremon Smith is one of only two returners to earn a grade above 90 and he is averaging 26.8 yards per kick return. However, Tyreek Hill is still fielding punts for the Chiefs.
Special teamers are by far the hardest category to evaluate. There are no statistics for guys blowing up an upback on the kick return team or freeing up a teammate rushing the punt next to him. With that being said, I went with one of the most productive guys in the Ravens’ Chris Board. The rookie recorded 12 special teams tackles, played 80 percent of those snaps and when a guy makes the roster at linebacker when they already have C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young and all those outside guys that tells me a lot.