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The 7 most surprising 1st-round picks of the 2018 NFL Draft

Just because a pick is unexpected doesn’t mean it isn’t smart.

NFL: NFL Draft Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Twice on Thursday night a player got picked who didn’t appear in a single one of the 97 mock drafts surveyed in our 2018 database. The first was running back Rashaad Penny, who was the No. 27 selection to the Seattle Seahawks. One pick later, the Pittsburgh Steelers made it two in a row by taking safety Terrell Edmunds at No. 28.

It’s possible that both picks could work out great. Penny was an ultra-productive bruiser who should fit in well as a north-south running back for the Seahawks. Edmunds is explosive with a 41.5-inch vertical and 134-inch broad jump — two of the top marks of the entire draft class.

But both were certainly two of the most unexpected selections Thursday night.

The Steelers take safety Terrell Edmunds

Tremaine Edmunds, the younger of the two Edmunds brothers, was a common sight in the top 10 of mock drafts. The 19-year-old linebacker ended up going No. 16 to the Buffalo Bills. Twelve picks later, his older brother, Terrell, was a shocking addition to the first round.

It’s not that the Steelers can’t use the secondary help. But Stanford’s Justin Reid and Wake Forest’s Jessie Bates were more frequently considered safeties who could sneak into the back half of the first round.

The Edmunds brothers then became the first pair of siblings to both go in the first round. And while it may have caught a lot of people off guard, Terrell has the explosive athletic ability to make the pick worthwhile for Pittsburgh.

Rashaad Penny goes to the Seahawks

Like Edmunds, the position isn’t what was surprising about the pick. It’s that other players — namely, LSU’s Derrius Guice and Georgia’s Sony Michel — were projected by most to go earlier than Penny.

Penny is 5’11, 220 pounds, which isn’t much different than Guice (5’11, 224) or Michel (5’11, 214). He was among the most productive college football players in the nation with 2,248 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns. But that production came in the Mountain West, while Guice and Michel both tallied their totals in the SEC.

That didn’t stop Toledo product Kareem Hunt from being a draft steal in 2017, and the Seahawks will hope for the same with Penny.

Lamar Jackson falling to No. 32

Almost everyone thought the first four quarterbacks taken would be Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen, in some order, before Jackson was the fifth passer taken. That’s exactly what went down, but Jackson slipping to the final selection of the round was unexpected.

With so many teams in need of a passer to groom for the future — like the Saints, Patriots, and Steelers — it seemed like the competition to grab the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner would heat up between picks 11 and 20.

Instead, team after team in need of a quarterback passed on Jackson. Then it was the Baltimore Ravens of all teams to take him — a team with Joe Flacco, a 33-year-old quarterback entering his 11th year as the starter.

The selection of Jackson won’t jeopardize Flacco’s chances at starting in 2018, but it does mean there’s a strong chance the Super Bowl winner doesn’t get to a 12th year as a starter. The Ravens didn’t trade into the first round to get a quarterback who will be a long-term backup. He’s the team’s future and probably won’t have to wait too long before he takes over.

Denzel Ward, not Bradley Chubb, gets picked at No. 4 by the Browns

No pick had experts more in agreement than Bradley Chubb going to the Browns at No. 4. But Cleveland pulled a fast one and grabbed the top cornerback of the class instead.

It wasn’t a huge need for the Browns after signing E.J. Gaines and T.J. Carrie to a secondary that already got strong play out of Briean Boddy-Calhoun in 2017. Cleveland also traded for Damarious Randall, a former first-round pick who player cornerback for the Green Bay Packers but will move to safety with the Browns.

But if Ward proves to be a shutdown, man-coverage cornerback like the Browns evidently believe he is, it’ll be easily worth the selection. But the question is whether he will prove to be worth selecting over Chubb, the top pass rusher of the class.

The Jaguars add Taven Bryan to their defensive line

Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and Malik Jackson were all defensive linemen who made the Pro Bowl for the Jaguars in 2017. The line also has Marcell Dareus and Dante Fowler, a pair of former first-round picks who helped make the Jaguars defense an elite unit.

So most expected the team to address its offense in the first round with either a lineman, a receiver, a tight end, or maybe even a quarterback. Instead the Jaguars added to a position of strength by taking Bryan, another defensive lineman.

With Campbell, Jackson, and Dareus combining for more than $40 million in cap space in 2019, the reality is that defensive tackle was going to become a need for the Jaguars soon. At least one — possibly two — of those veterans tackles is likely to be released in 2019 and the team is going to need youth at the position.

But few expected that move to be made in 2018.

The 49ers go for OT Mike McGlinchey instead of a defensive player

After San Francisco invested at quarterback with a five-year, $137.5 million contract for Jimmy Garoppolo, it made sense that the team would aim to protect the passer by taking McGlinchey.

But with Joe Staley entrenched at left tackle and high hopes for Trent Brown at right tackle, it seemed possible that the No. 9 pick wouldn’t even play much as a rookie. It made more sense a day later when the 49ers traded Brown to the Patriots for a swap of draft selections that bumped San Francisco’s fifth-round pick into a third-round pick.

McGlinchey is a 6’8, 309-pound tackle who has plenty of experience and probably slots in best as a right tackle. With Brown traded, McGlinchey won’t need to kick inside to earn play time in his first season.

San Francisco was projected by most to go defense with the first pick, with Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Denzel Ward leading the way in mock drafts. Smith and Ward were off the board, but the 49ers passed on Fitzpatrick and Edmunds to address the offensive line.

The Saints trade up for Marcus Davenport

Standing 6’6, 264 pounds with 4.58 speed and a 33.5-inch vertical, it’s not difficult to see why Davenport landed in the first round. The UTSA product drew comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney during the pre-draft process, but the problem is that the late bloomer is still such a raw player of untapped potential.

That made him one of the most enigmatic prospects of the class. The most shocking part about the Saints taking him is that the team traded up 13 spots and gave up a 2019 first-round pick to secure the pass rusher.

The move up the order was so significant that most were convinced it had to be for quarterback Lamar Jackson. Picking the Louisville quarterback probably would’ve made no impact in 2018 for a team that has the pieces to be a Super Bowl contender, but it would be surprising if Davenport made much of an impact as a rookie, either.

If he reaches his potential, he could join Ezekiel Ansah and Jason Pierre-Paul as another raw defensive end who turned his athleticism into Pro Bowl production. But just don’t expect it to happen right away.