NFL Insiders predict the best rookie class of 2018

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The New York Giants stuck to their plan and drafted Saquon Barkley at No. 2 overall. Will it pay off with immediate impact?

Over the next week, our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders will break down the 2018 draft class, starting with their picks for which team will get the most from its rookies.


Which team’s rookie class will be the most impactful in 2018?

Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Chicago Bears. It starts with linebacker Roquan Smith. He’s a blue-chip talent with the speed and natural instincts to find the ball. Great fit for Vic Fangio’s defense. Up front, Iowa center/guard James Daniels has the athleticism and pro-ready technique to compete for a starting job. And wide receiver Anthony Miller should find a role as a slot target for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The quicks are there and so is the playmaking ability.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Cleveland Browns. Is there any team that needs an impact from its rookie class more than the one that’s 1-31 over the last two seasons? We don’t know when No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield will take over as the starter, but it’s a safe bet it’ll happen at some point this season. They’ll give No. 4 pick Denzel Ward significant opportunity right away as a starting cornerback. And second-rounders Nick Chubb and Austin Corbett should help the run game. Opportunities abound in Cleveland, for rookies and everyone else.

Mina Kimes, senior writer: Denver Broncos. I’m a big fan of the Cowboys’ draft class as well, but I think Denver’s first three picks — defensive end Bradley Chubb, wide receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Royce Freeman — could all become immediate contributors. Sutton, a big-bodied receiver from SMU, stands out as a potential red-zone threat for Case Keenum.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: New England Patriots. Other teams’ rookies will play more snaps and earn greater honors. As for impact? New England could emerge with a starting left tackle (Isaiah Wynn), a rotational running back (Sony Michel) and perhaps a Danny Amendola replacement (Braxton Berrios) on a championship-caliber team.

Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There’s opportunity on the depth chart. Vita Vea slides right into the starting defensive line next to Gerald McCoy. Ronald Jones II should slide right into the starting running back spot. And given the weakness at cornerback and the age of No. 1 CB Brent Grimes, who turns 35 in July, second-rounders M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis could play a larger role than expected early.

Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Indianapolis Colts. It won’t be as flashy as some other classes, but the addition of two guards and two defensive linemen among the first 64 picks will significantly enhance the Colts’ long-standing trench weakness. Guard Quenton Nelson, especially, will give the Colts a much better chance of keeping their most prized asset — quarterback Andrew Luck — upright.

Field Yates, NFL Insider: New York Giants. Here’s the bottom line: A single player can dramatically impact the perception of a team’s collective draft class. Along those lines, no player is better equipped to contribute immediately — factoring in his own ability plus the opportunity ahead — than Saquon Barkley. Beyond that, second-rounder Will Hernandez projects as a Day 1 starter. Should Barkley produce (and I expect a massive rookie season), it will be a positive reflection on the offensive line, as well.

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