It feels like just yesterday that we opened up our virtual doors here at The Draft Network. I remember one of our sit-down meetings to discuss weekly columns and the conversation settled on the concept of Studs & Duds. I eagerly called dibs and began to plot what types of themes I could run throughout the coming months. I was pumped.
And then it hit me. Oh sh*#! What are you going to do when the season ends?
Well my day of reckoning has come. The end of the 2018 NFL season and just about every damn bowl game in a slate of games so deep not even I could grind through them all in December. So before we forge forward into the depths of the off-season, it's time for some reflection.
Welcome to Studs & Duds.
STUDS - The 2018 NFL Draft's Top-10
What a hell of a start this collective group has had. Mayfield set the record for most rookie QB touchdown passes (27). Saquon Barkley went over 2,000 offensive yards from scrimmage. Bradley Chubb had 12.0 sacks. Quenton Nelson killed a guy! Sam Darnold turned it on after coming back from a foot injury and Josh Allen helped the Bills climb out of the sorrows of one of the worst stretches of offensive play in league history. Roquan Smith is going to the playoffs with 122 tackles to his name.
It's not often you get the collective stars of a draft class all balling out from the jump, yet here we are. These "diaper dandies" have a long, bright future ahead.
DUD - The QB Purgatory Club
Imagine. Imagine being one of the teams not in the market for a young quarterback over the course of the last three seasons and seeing the likes of Goff, Wentz, Prescott, Watson, Mahomes, Trubisky, Mayfield, Darnold, Allen, Jackson and Rosen enter the league.
Now, imagine for me that you passed on these players because you had Andy Dalton. Or Ryan Tannehill. Or Blake Bortles. Or Eli Manning. Or Kirk Cousins. EL OH FREAKING EL.
Whoops. Let the record state that Cincinnati (6-10), Miami (7-9), Jacksonville (5-11), New York Giants (5-11), Washington (7-9) and Minnesota (8-7-1) all have connections to these middling options and each missed the playoffs.
Let the record also state that the 2019 NFL Draft class doesn't have anywhere near this level of quarterback talent. Whoops. Good luck trying to secure the future of the franchise in 2019 because there may be enough QBs for one of you to find him.
STUD - Baltimore Head Coach John Harbaugh
The Ravens entered the bye week at 4-5, with Harbaugh looking like a potential scapegoat for another season gone awry. And then came the most impressive coaching move of any coach in the league, bar none, in my opinion.
The Ravens promoted Lamar Jackson to the starting quarterback and completely changed their offensive identity during the bye. The end result? Baltimore is 10-6 after barely holding off the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 and hosting a home playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers next weekend.
This 6-1 stretch (the only loss in Kansas City in a game the Ravens easily could've won) after the bye has allowed the team to go against the grain. The league is filled with Rams and Chiefs wannabes, but not these Ravens. No, this team punches you on the mouth on defense and refuses to let you possess the football, shortening the game and chewing through clock.
Baltimore's last three games before the bye were all losses (New Orleans, Carolina and Pittsburgh). The team averaged 25 minutes time of possession over those three games. In the seven games after the bye? Baltimore was won the TOP in every game and has averaged nearly 36 minutes time of possession. That is incredible.
Well, done. Coach Harbaugh.
DUD - Black Monday
That sound you hear is the guillotine dropping on another NFL head coach. Before Black Monday even began, we saw four openings: Mike McCarthey in Green Bay, Hue Jackson (lol) in Cleveland, Dirk Koetter in Tampa Bay and Todd Bowles in New York.
We aren't done. The coaching carousel will yield additional changes, probably in Arizona, Denver and Miami. It's the ugly side of the business...you play to win. And without wins? What the heck are we doing then?
A results based industry requires results. The collateral impacted when teams decide they need to change that up is taken for granted. You don't have to be sad to see these coaches go, but remember the human element on this 2018 Black Monday.
STUD - Rams DL Aaron Donald
Aaron, you majestic beast! 20.5 sacks this season is a career high (by 9) and puts Donald into an elite stratosphere. The complete list of NFL players to log more than 20 sacks in a single season:
1. Michael Strahan - 22.5 (2001)
2. Jared Allen - 22.0 (2011)
3. Mark Gastineau - 22.0 (1984)
4. Justin Houston - 22.0 (2014)
5. Chris Doleman - 21.0 (1989)
6. Reggie White - 21.0 (1987)
7. Aaron Donald - 20.5 (2018)
8. Lawrence Taylor - 20.5 (1986)
9. J.J. Watt - 20.5 (2014)
10. J.J. Watt - 20.5 (2012)
Credit to Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers for their roles in getting enough additional pressure to force teams to not use all five linemen to block Donald...although I seem to remember one or two times they tried that and it didn't work anyway.