Hello beautiful people. Plenty will happen in the draft world over the next two weeks. Draft meetings have obviously begun and prospect visits continue. Presentations by scouts and coaches will be made, but the final decision will be handed down by the ultimate decision makers. The longer I do this, the more I realize for early round prospects, the only evaluation that matters is that of the decision makers (head coach and GM). We might hear buzz from scouts via media quotes, but what matters is that final choice… and it might not be made by those open to the media.
Of course this mock will be inaccurate. The goal of every mock draft is to identify current needs, potential needs, draft trends of specific decision makers and highlight names that all of you can go and watch. Accuracy is not exactly the goal. This is a mock of what I think will happen.
1. Cleveland Browns - QB Josh Allen, Wyoming - After Sam Darnold’s pro day, Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks and Joel Klatt put it in permanent marker that Darnold would be the Browns selection. That seemed to change in the last week, with Jeremiah stating he’s gotten the sense Allen will be the pick. There’s still time left in the process, but teams have at least started their scouting meetings and board placement.
Look, I’m not the biggest fan of Allen’s game, so let me approach this from a Browns’ point of view. Allen produced a clean process, including participating in the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. I could see coaches believing in the improved footwork he showed at his pro day, stating Allen is “on the right track.” Above all, coaches think they can coach. That they can mold a piece of clay into something impressive. And in this case, they can always fall back on the plan to not play him in year one after trading for Tyrod Taylor and signing Drew Stanton.
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2. New York Giants - QB Sam Darnold, USC - Star beat writer Jordan Raanan has basically predicted the Giants will pick Sam Darnold if he’s on the board. Going with a quarterback would be the right move. Take advantage of your opportunity to draft the future when picking in the top five rather than trading up in a future draft. If he starts week one, Darnold will be the youngest quarterback ever to do so.
3. New York Jets (via IND) - QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma - Robert Klemko has written a great 50 part series on Mayfield during the draft process. Klemko was asked which team he expects Mayfield to land on. He predicted the Jets, insinuating there’s a reason why (that he won’t share until after the draft). Mayfield would certainly fit the style of offense the Jets deployed last season.
4. (TRADE) Buffalo Bills - QB Josh Rosen, UCLA - This is a projected trade, as the Bills send the No. 12, No. 22 and a second round selection to the Browns to move up to No. 4. It might take even more than that, like a first-round pick in 2019 instead of the lone second rounder. Or even two second round picks.
If we look at the passers the Bills recently moved on from (Tyrod Taylor) and acquired (Nathan Peterman and A.J. McCarron), it appears the Bills want a prototypical pocket passer. Rosen is easily the best quarterback that fits that label. Josh Allen might as well. The Bills seemed to be interested in last year’s quarterback class (maybe Mitchell Trubisky specifically) and likely plan to not be near the top of the draft for years. Shoot your quarterback shot now.
5. Denver Broncos - RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State - Possibly a worst case scenario for the Broncos, as they could get into a bidding war with the Bills for No. 4. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team select Quenton Nelson over Barkley, as second contracts dictate the NFL valuing guards over running backs. But I could also see the Broncos concluding that if a quarterback is not the pick, that Barkley is another way to immediately elevate the offense.
6. Indianapolis Colts (via NYJ) - EDGE Bradley Chubb, NC State - The ideal outcome for the Colts. It is clear Chris Ballard wants to build a young core, and there’s a chance he can do that in this draft alone. Chubb is a building block piece on the defensive side of the ball.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - S Derwin James, FSU - My favorite defensive prospect in this class. On the first snap of the game, James might line up as a split safety. The second snap he might line up in the slot. Then outside corner. Then back to safety, either strong or free. I know it was a down 2017 season, but James is extremely talented with plenty of positive tape.
8. Chicago Bears - G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame - The NFL respects interior offensive linemen, as they should. Interior disruption is king, so preventing it is important. The Bears have a need at one guard spot, and hiring Notre Dame’s offensive line coach only adds fuel to the fire.
9. San Francisco 49ers - LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech - Football players Edmunds’ size should not move the way he does. He has his flaws, but as a run and chase player with a theoretical high ceiling, Edmunds could shine with the 49ers. All three of the 49ers’ linebacker spots could feature an open competition in camp.
10. Oakland Raiders - OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame - Gil Brandt recently said McGlinchey will be a top 10 pick. I’m a big fan of his game and consider him the top tackle in this class (outside of Isaiah Wynn, who the NFL views as a guard). I know there are snaps where he loses. That can be said of almost every tackle in the league.
11. Miami Dolphins - LB Roquan Smith, Georgia - The right player for a sizable need. I’m sure the Dolphins still believe in Raekwon McMillan, but they can’t blindly trust him to change the success of the position. Roquan plays bigger than his size while still utilizing speed to make plays behind the line.
12. (TRADE) Cleveland Browns (via BUF) - CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State - Now to the Browns end of this projected trade. Ward is even a possibility if the Browns stay at No. 4. He offers outstanding athleticism and comfort in playing the ball in the air despite his smaller frame.
13. Washington Redskins - DL Vita Vea, Washington - The Redskins have invested a number of picks in their front five, yet they still need plenty of help. Vea could lock down the interior and instantly improve the run defense. That’s his floor. I question how consistently disruptive he can be game to game, but others do not. I’m not naive enough to think my evaluation is the only one that matters.
14. Green Bay Packers - EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College - The best speed rusher in this class. No one can get upfield in three steps, bend and take a tight angle to the quarterback in this group like Landry. I know his run defense is not good, but don’t focus on that. Focus on Landry being able to make an impact on a game, even as a situational player.
15. Arizona Cardinals - CB/S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama - The Cardinals drafted Tyrann Mathieu’s replacement in Budda Baker last year, but they showed two similar type players can be on the field at the same time. Insert Fitzpatrick, who fits best as a hybrid defensive back who works in the slot and the box.
16. Baltimore Ravens - WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama - It might not ultimately be at No. 16, but the Ravens should exit the early part of the draft with a pass catcher. It might be a cliché to lean in the direction of an Alabama prospect here since Ozzie Newsome is making the call, but Newsome has drafted a Crimson Tide prospect in the first round in two of the last four drafts. Ridley’s game is based on creating separation and sustaining it. That translates to the NFL.
17. Los Angeles Chargers - QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville - Thus far, Jackson’s draft day projection has placed him among his own tier of quarterbacks and away from the “top” four. The Chargers and Saints have been looking at quarterbacks for multiple drafts. At some point one will pull the trigger. Bucky Brooks’ point of Bill Belichick possibly wanting a mobile quarterback with pocket skills after watching Deshaun Watson is an interesting point.
18. Seattle Seahawks - OL Isaiah Wynn, Georgia - Wynn is a top 10 prospect. He has left tackle skills, however, he likely ends up inside due to height thresholds. The Seahawks must find dependable pieces along their front five. Wynn is coming off labrum surgery but should be all set for next season.
19. Dallas Cowboys - LB Leighton Vander-Esch, Boise State - LVE is closer to Tremaine Edmunds than given credit for. He is uber-athletic and presents uncommon size at the position. If the Cowboys aren’t fond of the defensive tackles or receivers here, linebacker makes sense.
20. Detroit Lions - EDGE Marcus Davenport, UTSA - The Lions added Davenport’s position coach to the staff this offseason (also hired a former Boston College DC). Davenport has all of the tools and deploys a great long arm, yet he’s not a complete player right now. Filling a rotational role early makes sense.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (via BUF) - C James Daniels, Iowa - The Bengals allowed top offensive line talents like Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth to leave prior to the 2017 season. The offensive line was a mess because of it. Finding an anchor to replace the replaceable Russell Bodine is vital, and Daniels is one of the best interior linemen in this class. I gave him a Ryan Kalil comparison.
(TRADE) 22. Cleveland Browns (via BUF) - DL Da’Ron Payne, Alabama - The Browns have a few solid interior players, but no true difference makers (maybe Ogunjobi becomes one). Yes, I have a bias towards interior disruption, and when Payne is on his game he’s outstanding. He reminds me a bit of Chris Jones.
23. New England Patriots - CB Josh Jackson, Iowa - Jackson is an awesome talent and could go much earlier. I have a tough time pegging corners with teams. Jackson is at his best mirroring receivers and playing the ball in the air. He’s also very reliable in the red zone.
24. Carolina Panthers - WR D.J. Moore, Maryland - Who knows, Moore might not even be on the board here. I bet many teams view him as the clear top receiver with the highest ceiling. The Panthers have brought him in for a visit, and if they view him as that top option, this is their only chance to draft him.
25. Tennessee Titans - EDGE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State - Is it too obvious to link Hubbard to a head coach with Ohio State ties? Maybe even one who recruited him in college? Hubbard fills a need, as the Titans have aging edge rushers.
26. Atlanta Falcons - DL Taven Bryan, Florida - Dan Quinn prioritizes interior quickness, explosion and disruption in defensive tackles. That is Bryan’s game. After getting upfield, Bryan has no idea what to do. He is a ball of clay, and I’ll bank on NFL coaches earning their salary when coaching him.
27. New Orleans Saints - TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina - It’s tough to gauge which tight end will go off the board first. I think it should be Dallas Goedert, but the league might like the inline skills of Hurst. The Saints have shown plenty of interest in pass catchers.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers - S Justin Reid, Stanford - Justin Reid is receiving plenty of interest from mid- to late-first round teams. He’s super athletic, a trend for multiple first and second round picks for the Steelers in recent years. It wouldn’t be surprising for him to go off the board five or so picks before this.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars - DL Maurice Hurst, Michigan - More talent for the Jaguars front? Yep, and it’s because teams look multiple years ahead. Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell’s contracts are huge, and it might be difficult to roster both beyond 2018.
31. New England Patriots - RB Derrius Guice, LSU - Guice is a top 10 talent, but the question in his evaluation is his impact in the receiving game. That might not matter with the Patriots, since they deploy a rotation and feature backs in their best role. Guice isn’t necessarily bad in the passing game, it’s that we don’t know much about him in that area thanks to LSU’s offense.
32. Philadelphia Eagles - CB Donte Jackson, LSU - The Eagles’ most pressing need is slot corner. They have like 11 outside corners, but none with slot experience. So either they ask one to make the transition, which is quite difficult, or draft one. Jackson has that slot experience.