As the NFL playoff picture starts to form, the race for the first-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft is beginning to take shape as well. With Hue Jackson at the helm, the Cleveland Browns are going to be awfully tough to displace atop the draft standings. But the 49ers and Giants are within striking distance, and there’s plenty of football left to be played.
Whoever does receive the first-overall pick in the upcoming draft will have a difficult decision on their hands. Currently, there is no clear-cut, Andrew Luck-like no. 1 prospect. Instead, we have a handful of quarterbacks with intriguing but imperfect skillsets, plus a couple non-QBs making strong cases to hear their names called first by commissioner Roger Goodell — assuming he’s still around.
Of course, who goes first overall is always somewhat dependant on which team owns the pick, and that’s especially true when there is no obvious prospect atop the board. But here are the current five favorites and their odds to succeed Myles Garrett as the next no. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Coming off a Heisman Trophy-winning 2016 campaign, where he was responsible for a whopping 51 touchdowns, the fleet-footed Jackson only had one thing to prove to NFL scouts entering his junior season: he can beat a defense from the pocket. And that’s exactly what Jackson has done. The Louisville star has improved his completion percentage from 56.2-percent to 60.2-percent this season, and is on pace to surpass his 3,543 passing yards from 2016 by nearly 400 yards.
What has been most impressive is the fact Jackson has accomplished this with a brand-new receiving corps, and has sacrificed very little production with his legs. Sure, he may never be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady from the pocket, but Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen don’t appear to fit the bill, either, and neither of them has even half the athleticism and explosiveness of Jackson, who just became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Odds to be taken first-overall in the 2018 NFL Draft: 4/1
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
If you asked 100 (neutral) college football fans who the best player in the nation is, I’m confident Saquon Barkley would receive nearly 90 votes. So why isn’t the best player the favorite to be taken first overall? Well, the last running back to be selected first overall was Ki-Jana Carter (also a Nittany Lion) back in 1995. The general belief among NFL scouts is that talented RBs are a dime a dozen. General managers would prefer to wait on a back, confident they can find a good fit for their system among the less-heralded players available in the later rounds.
However, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette — the fourth-overall picks in the last two drafts — have both lived up to their hype and played huge roles in turning their respective teams into winners. Fading running backs may be a thing of the past. And if you gave most NFL GMs their choice of Elliott, Fournette, and Barkley, the latter would be the most popular pick.
Barkley has the power to run between the tackles, the speed to get to the outside, ample shiftiness in the open-field, and the hands to be a weapon in the passing game. Quite simply, the junior running back can do it all.
Odds to be taken first-overall in the 2018 NFL Draft: 9/2
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
A long, long time ago, in a football world where Sam Darnold was still riding the bench, and Lamar Jackson wasn’t scoring touchdowns at will, Josh Rosen was the projected first-overall pick for the 2018 NFL Draft. Though Darnold’s prospects have cooled (more on that later), Rosen has not done anything to stand out above the other premier quarterbacks in this class. And even with Darnold struggling, his ceiling is still believed to be higher than Rosen’s.
However, the UCLA pivot does have the size, arm-strength, and accuracy to warrant being an early pick. On top of that, he has refrained from voicing his opinion on controversial topics to the media, which was something the NFL desperately wanted to see. In order to be the first-overall pick come late April, Rosen will need to get the Bruins into a Bowl Game and put on a show when he’s there.
Odds to be taken first-overall in the 2018 NFL Draft: 6/1
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
After lighting up the college football world in 2016, and providing us with one of the most entertaining games of all-time (the 2017 Rose Bowl against Penn State), Sam Darnold was the clear-cut first-overall pick for the 2018 NFL Draft — when he is eligible to declare. But Darnold’s 2017 season has left us with some doubt on how good he actually is. The USC signal-caller has seen his completion-percentage drop nearly four points (to 63.4-percent) and he’s continued to show he’s prone to turnovers (11 interceptions this season).
But even with that seed of doubt planted, Darnold is still seen by most as the top quarterback prospect eligible for the draft. So why isn’t he the favorite to go no. 1? Rumors are swirling that Darnold may stay in school for another year, especially if the Browns have the first pick. So the odds seen below take that into consideration. If he does declare for 2018, these odds will get a lot shorter.
Odds to be taken first-overall in the 2018 NFL Draft: 8/1
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Before the 2017 season started, most pundits had Arden Key or Derwin James pegged as the top defensive prospect eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft. But Bronko Nagurski-finalist Bradley Chubb has seized that honor by proving he’s nearly unblockable off the edge. Chubb has ten total sacks on the season (fourth in the nation) and leads the country in tackles for loss with 23.5.
The North Carolina State product may not possess the same freakish athleticism of Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney — the last two DEs to be selected first-overall — but there’s no questioning the impact he can make for a defense.
Odds to be taken first-overall in the 2018 NFL Draft: 9/1
- Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: 10/1
- Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: 12/1
- Arden Key, DE, LSU: 19/1
Judging strictly from the 2017 season, it’s hard to argue any quarterback has been better than Baker Mayfield. But his 6’1 stature and eagerness to scramble had scouts doubting he could transition to the pro game. The skepticism may be a thing of the past, though. Mayfield has simply been majestic for Oklahoma this year, throwing for 3,559 yards (second in the country) and 31 touchdowns (third). In recent weeks, he has also shown he can lead an attack from the pocket, and the Sooners’ fourth-ranked scoring offense hasn’t missed a beat.
Josh Allen was another hot name to open the season, but he has struggled any time the Cowboys have faced reasonable competition. He’ll need one hell of a Senior Bowl, Pro Day and combine workout to convince teams he’s the best pivot available.
Injury has largely derailed Arden Key’s junior season, and there’s just not enough time left for him to regain enough hype to be taken first-overall. Expect him to improve his draft stock with a solid showing at the NFL Combine, but it won’t be enough to jump all the way to no. 1.