Last year, we asked the question, why doesn’t anyone reward the team with the best NFL draft class? When we couldn’t come up with an answer, we decided to step up and do it ourselves. After holding a vote with only current and former NFL scouts voting, we presented the New Orleans Saints with the first-ever ITL Best NFL Draft Class Award for 2017 at our annual combine seminar.
We’ll do it again in February at our 10th annual seminar. But who will voters choose? It’s still too early to tell, but since we’re at midseason, it’s time to take a look at the possible finalists for the award. Here’s who we’re considering with half the season left to go, in no particular order.
- Browns: It’s been an up-and-down season for the top pick in the draft, but QB Baker Mayfield deserves the benefit of the doubt so far. At worst, he seems to give Cleveland a passer the team can build around. Meanwhile, DC Denzel Ward looks like a keeper, as well, and we’ll know more about OH Nick Chubb by the end of the season as the team shipped out OH Carlos Hyde a week and a half ago. WO Antonio Callaway has provided glimpses of ability, too, as has OB Genard Avery. Right now, the Browns look like the early leaders for best draft.
- Colts: First-round OG Quenton Nelson has been solid, but the real find so far has been OB Darius Leonard, a true difference-maker the Colts found in the second round out of South Carolina State. The team also found a starter at right tackle, Braden Smith, one pick later, and fourth-round OH Nyheim Hines has been a threat as a rusher and a receiver.
- Giants: Running back Saquon Barkley has been as-advertised, an undeniable talent and the leader in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. Also, DT B.J. Hill looks like a building block, or at least part of the solution on defense. As for the rest of the team’s draft class, the grade has to be ‘incomplete.’ Guard Will Hernandez is learning on the job for a weak offensive line but there’s hope he’ll come away from the season as a bright spot. We may find out sooner rather than later what the team has in QB Kyle Lauletta, though there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding DT R.J. McIntosh.
- Broncos: Denver struck it rich twice, once in the first round with DE Bradley Chubb and once after the draft, when it landed UDFA OH Phillip Lindsay. We could see a lot more of WO Courtland Sutton in the second half with fellow receiver Demaryius Thomas now in Houston, so their draft could look even better in the second half.
- Jets: So far, QB Sam Darnold has had his problems, but he’s the starter, no questions asked, so presuming he stays healthy, he’s got a chance to learn from his mistakes and make the Jets’ draft class look really good. In non-franchise QB news, the Jets also got a starter on the DL in the third round (DT Nate Shepherd) and fourth-round TE Chris Herndon is tied for the team lead in receiving TDs with three.
There are several other teams that could edge their way into the top five, and we’ll look at five more of them today in the Friday Wrap.
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