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Re-grading the 2018 NFL draft: Mel Kiper on the best, worst rookie classes

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Is the future brighter for the Colts or the Browns? (1:55)

A year after having successful 2018 draft classes, the NFL Live crew weighs in on whether Indianapolis or Cleveland has a brighter future. (1:55)

Eleven months after the 2018 NFL draft, what stands out now is that the two teams with the most draft capital absolutely nailed their classes. Helped by the immediate impact of their rookies, the Browns and Colts took big leaps forward in 2018 -- the Colts to the playoffs, the Browns to respectability -- and are now the favorites to win their respective divisions in 2019. That shows you what can happen when you hit on a rookie class, just like the Saints did in 2017.

It's time for my annual tradition of evaluating last year's draft, tearing up my grades that come out the night the draft ends and starting from scratch based on how each rookie performed in Year 1. As a reminder: The updated grades are just a fun exercise in seeing how the draft class appears to be shaping up. It's a check to see how players are coming along. A few parameters:

  • I look at first-year impact from the rookie class based on relative value -- contributing to a winner is worth more than piling up reps for a bad team.

  • I included rookie undrafted free agents added after the draft, as those are an important part of the process.

  • I'm also taking into account all the trades from before and during the draft and how those look a year later.

We'll start with the highest-graded class and go in order of best to worst grades, with teams in alphabetical order for grades that are the same. Click the links below to go directly to a team:


Cleveland Browns

Post-draft grade: B-

Simply put, GM John Dorsey's first draft in charge of the Browns was fantastic. Quarterback Baker Mayfield brought a different energy to Cleveland football from the time he was drafted No. 1, and he was fantastic on the field when he took over, breaking the rookie record for touchdown passes (27) while starting 13 games. Dorsey got his guy, and there's no doubt the Browns are ascending.

Elsewhere, I questioned the pick of cornerback Denzel Ward over pass-rusher Bradley Chubb at No. 4, but Ward became the team's top cornerback from Day 1 and he had a Pro Bowl season. Nick Chubb took over as the team's starting running back and forced the team to trade away Carlos Hyde. Antonio Callaway looks like a steal in the fourth round, as the receiver with off-field issues going into the draft had 43 catches and five touchdowns as a rookie. He's going to be a deep-ball threat for years to come. Linebacker Genard Avery is another likely 2019 starter. Undrafted left tackle Desmond Harrison began the season as the starter, although he was benched midseason. Harrison could be the swing tackle going forward. Austin Corbett didn't play much as a rookie, but he's expected to take over one of the starting guard spots in 2019.

Again, this is a tremendous class, and the Browns are for real. I love what they've done this offseason, too, and there will be several starters from this rookie class.

New grade: A


Indianapolis Colts

Post-draft grade: B+

Who saw the Colts' 2018 season coming? Not me. To go from 4-12 to 10-6 with a playoff win is just a fantastic accomplishment, and this draft by GM Chris Ballard saw several instant-impact players who helped lead the way. (OK, Andrew Luck returning to form was a big reason, too.)

Top pick Quenton Nelson was phenomenal, making the All-Pro team at left guard and playing 100 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps. Braden Smith took over at right tackle and made 13 solid starts. Getting middle linebacker Darius Leonard at the top of Round 2 might have been the steal of the draft, as he led the NFL in tackles (163) and also had seven sacks, four forced fumbles and two picks. He totally changed the defense as a rookie and is already the leader of the unit. Defensive end Kemoko Turay had four sacks as a rotational edge rusher. Running backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins pitched in and were part of the reason Ballard stayed out of the Le'Veon Bell free-agency sweepstakes despite having a ton of cap space.

This is a fantastic draft from Ballard, and that's not even mentioning what the team thinks of wideout Deon Cain, a sixth-round pick who flashed in training camp before tearing his ACL. This is a well-deserved "A," and Ballard and the Colts have three top-60 picks in the 2019 draft to try to put them over the top.

New grade: A