Our first 2018 NFL Mock Draft is up now that the regular season has concluded and the first twenty picks are (mostly) set, so let’s take a look at how the first round will play out.
1. Browns – QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
Rosen may be saying he would rather be a later pick on the right team than an earlier pick on the wrong team, but, assuming he declares, I think the Browns will select him first in the 2018 NFL Draft. Debate between Darnold and Rosen will continue all the way to draft day and it will probably end up just a personal preference among each team. One thing that is clearly evident, however, is that Rosen is much more pro ready and polished. For a team that is 1-31 the past two seasons with a coach that inexplicably still has his job but must be on the hot seat, Cleveland will opt for the larger immediate impact.
- 2. Giants – QB Sam Darnold, USC
I never thought the idea that Darnold would go back to school ever held any water, and I could be a prisoner of the moment here, but after his disastrous Cotton Bowl I think Darnold is going to strongly consider another year at the college level. However, if he does declare, you can ink him in for a top two pick. No, I don’t care that Gettleman plans to move forward with Eli Manning. In theory, considering Darnold needs some more seasoning, this makes perfect sense for the Giants. Ride Eli in 2018 and let Darnold sit and learn his entire rookie season. The Giants can cut Eli after 2018 for only $6.2 million of dead cap while saving nearly $17 million in cap space. The Giants will not pass on a possible franchise quarterback for the post Eli era because they want to roll with Eli for one more season.
- 3. TRADE Jets (F/IND) – QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Jets Trade #6, #72 and 2019 First Round Pick for #3.
It doesn’t seem like teams use the Jimmy Johnson trade chart anymore, but I’m sure there are some that still do. They’re probably in the minority but I don’t know who uses what, other than the Patriots and Seahawks appearing to use their own updated trade value chart. Regardless of whether or not someone is using the Jimmy Johnson chart, something closer to the Stuart Chase chart, or something entirely different, the Jets are clearly overpaying for this pick. I am really taking a stab in the dark here and trying to find a middle ground between the Carson Wentz trade and the Mitch Trubisky trade. The Jets are not moving as far up the board as any the Rams, Eagles, Chiefs or Texans recently have, nor are they trading into the top two like the Rams, Eagles and Bears all did. However, if the Jets are trading up it is clearly for a quarterback and there is just a premium cost for such a move, and that cost typically includes a future first round pick.
As for the pick itself, the Jets just signed both Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan to extensions through 2020. Such security may give the duo a comfort level needed to move up and secure a quarterback they want. Of course, they have to actually want Josh Allen enough to make this move, and that remains to be seen. Allen is built to impress in workouts though given his physical gifts. His accuracy is an issue but Pro Day throwing sessions are scripted and run with familiar receivers so the odds are automatically in the quarterback’s favor.
- 4. TRADE Buccaneers (F/CLE) – RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Buccaneers Trade #7, #69 for #4.
In terms of more modern trade value charts, the Buccaneers are overpaying here by a fair amount. They are getting a small discount according to the Jimmy Johnson chart however, and the Browns may charge a premium for the quality of player Barkley is.
The Buccaneers certainly have more issues, and bigger issues, than just a running back but I think Koetter and Co. will be looking to make a win-now maneuver. Despite keeping his job, Koetter has to enter 2018 on the hot seat and is trapped in the most competitive division in the NFL. In the past two seasons the Cowboys and Jaguars drafted an elite running back prospect fourth in the draft and made the playoffs the following season. No, the math isn’t that simple and there are many other factors that got Dallas and Jacksonville to the post season. However, the Buccaneers can follow in the footsteps of the Jaguars, as they project to have over $70 million of cap space (before resigning any free agents of their own) and can address their defense through free agency before moving up the board to get Barkley.
- 5. Broncos – DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
I wrote recently that I believe Elway will go the veteran quarterback route this offseason. I think the most likely candidates are either Kirk Cousins, Teddy Bridgewater or Case Keenum. If Elway needs to break the bank to sign Cousins then a candidate to become a cap casualty is Aqib Talib. Elway can save $11 million in cap space by releasing Talib ahead of the final year of his deal. Even if Talib remains on the roster for 2018, Elway may want to move on from the would-be 33-year-old free agent in 2019. Fitzpatrick gives Elway a succession plan and keeps together an elite trio of corners (which has helped the No Fly Zone thrive) in Harris, Roby and Fitzpatrick.
- 6. TRADE Colts (F/NYJ) – OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
Details of this trade are listed at the 3rd pick.
I actually think the Colts may look to move down again from this spot as I think McGlinchey’s teammate Quenton Nelson is a better fit for the Colts but doubt they would take a guard this high. Regardless, I think it is pretty clear the Colts need to do everything within their power to protect Andrew Luck.
They have two long term pieces upfront in Castonzo and Kelly but have little else. The Colts rank last in adjusted sack rate, 21st in adjusted line yards, and Brissett was the most sacked quarterback in the league this season. None of that sounds particularly appealing for Luck’s long term health.
- 7. TRADE Browns (F/TB) – DE Bradley Chubb, N.C. State
Details of this trade are listed at the 4th pick.
The Browns may get some backlash for trading down again, and some of you may be questioning why I would have them choose to pass on Saquon Barkley. I actually think the Browns are going to so greatly outbid the market place for Le’Veon Bell that they won’t need Barkley and the wise move would be selling off the pick.
As for Chubb, I was tempted to give the Browns the best offensive tackle available. Regardless of if Joe Thomas plays in 2018 the Browns still need help at right tackle and need to plan for life after Joe Thomas, whenever that becomes a reality. However, despite the solid play of Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib, I couldn’t get the idea of the Browns simply taking the best player available on the board and pairing Chubb with Garrett to terrorize AFC North quarterbacks together for the next 10 years.
- 8. Bears – WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
I don’t know how much I need to sit here and tell you that the Bears desperately need a wide receiver. With the 8th selection it seems they will be able to get their pick of the litter. For now, I think Ridley will come off the board first among the position group.
- 9. 49ers – LB Harold Landry, Boston College
The 9ers are another team that has the ability to blow away the market place for Le’Veon Bell, but considering Kyle Shanahan’s last name is Shanahan, I think they will go with a cheaper option at running back. However, the 9ers have plenty of cap space for 2018 and will certainly fill out their roster with free agent additions (my personal early prediction is they bring in Jarvis Landry).
Landry is a versatile pass rusher who led the nation in sacks in 2016 with 16.5. San Francisco is trapped in a division with Russell Wilson, Jared Goff and the Cardinals next quarterback (more on that in a minute) and cannot possibly ever accumulate enough pass rushers.
- 10. Raiders – DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson
The Raiders will probably sit at 10 and select the best defensive player available. Jon Gruden is kind of old school and will likely look to build his team through the trenches (granted this is never a bad idea). At this point Wilkins is the best available defender, a versatile defensive lineman that can penetrate into the backfield.
- 11. Dolphins – OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
The Dolphins are going to face some difficult roster management decisions this offseason. They do not have much cap space and will probably have to let Jarvis Landry walk in free agency considering the investments they’ve made in Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker. They may have to bite the bullet and release Ndamukong Suh and swallow all of the dead money in 2018 and open up cap space in each season afterwards.
These decisions will dictate the Dolphins needs (just like cuts and free agency will dictate every team’s needs come the draft) but as of now the biggest hole on the Dolphins is easily at offensive guard. The Dolphins really don’t have anyone on their roster at guard that should be starting in the NFL. Enter Nelson, who some think is better than former Notre Dame standout Zach Martin was when he entered the draft.
- 12. Bengals – OT Connor Williams, Texas
The Bengals have spent high draft picks in recent years on Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher to prepare for life after Andrew Whitworth and once Andre Smith’s performance fell off. That plan, uh, hasn’t gone well.
Say what you will about Andy Dalton, but he has proven to be a perfectly competent quarterback when protected and significantly worse when pressured. This has been a career issue for Dalton, but consider in 2016 he ranked 7th in DVOA when he was not pressured and 25th when pressured.
Williams suffered a knee injury during the season but has already declared for the draft. After an NFL season in which offensive line play was porous, Williams still figures to go high as he is a scheme versatile blocker.
- 13. Washington – WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
Until Kirk Cousins signs elsewhere I am going to operate under the assumption he plays in Washington.
This pick may seem odd as Jamison Crowder is good, Ryan Grant was a nice surprise this season and the team is not about to simply give up on Josh Doctson. However, we can safely assume Terrelle Pryor will not be back and do we trust Ryan Grant when he had 412 yards in three years combined prior to his 573 yards this season? Whoever is playing quarterback next year in Washington will need as many weapons as possible.
- 14. Packers – CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
The Packers will probably sit here and take the best defensive player that isn’t a safety or interior defensive lineman. Well, they can have the best corner in the draft in this scenario. Corner is most likely the Packers biggest weakness anyway, but I am not giving up on Kevin King.
- 15. Cardinals – QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
With the news that Bruce Arians is retiring I think the probable scenario for the Cardinals is to go for a quarterback in the first round as opposed to bringing in a veteran free agent such as A.J. McCarron. I think Arizona is a good situation for Mayfield, where he will be provided with veteran leadership to keep him on the straight and narrow. Obviously Fitzgerald playing another season would help both on and off the field, but other guys such as David Johnson, Karlos Dansby and Patrick Peterson will serve him well. If Palmer is on the roster next season that will obviously help, and guys such as Chandler Jones and Tyrann Mathieu have had personal issues before that are seemingly behind them now.
16. Ravens – DE Arden Key, LSU
I considered Christian Kirk here, but I think between Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin, the Ravens can look to add another receiver in free agency or in a later round. Yes, Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams were just drafted but Terrell Suggs won’t play forever and I feel like the Baltimore coaching staff may love to get their hands on Key. Also, Ozzie Newsome may just view Key as the best player available on the board.
- 17. Chargers – OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
The Chargers just missed out on the playoffs and actually posted a better point differential than both AFC Wild Card Teams. The Chargers should look for a win-now type player and a move that will help extend Rivers’ career for as long as possible.
- 18. TRADE Bills (F/SEA) – QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Bills Trade #25 (F/KC), #96, for #18.
The Bills have two picks each in of the first two rounds and could look to make an aggressive move for their quarterback of the future. It seems pretty clear the organization wants to move on from Tyrod Taylor but after ending the longest active playoff drought in the NFL, it may be hard to do that this offseason. Or maybe it won’t be, who knows.
But, whoever rolls the dice on Lamar Jackson will probably want a situation where he can sit and develop his rookie season before being thrown into game action. Tyrod Taylor’s contract perfectly matches that timeline since the Bills can cut him for nothing after 2018. The Bills may not want to pay Tyrod over $18 million in 2018, but this could be a situation very similar to the 2017 Chiefs where the raw, mobile quarterback of the future sits and learns behind a lame duck veteran for a season.
- 19. Cowboys – WR Christian Kirk Texas A&M
If 2017 was not the last season of Dez as a Cowboy then 2018 will be. Dez won’t take a paycut. The clock is ticking on his Dallas tenure. And receiver is an issue even with Dez on the roster. The Cowboys gave Terrance Williams a 4-year, $17 million contract this past offseason and he rewarded them with 568 yards and 0 TDs in 2017. Cole Beasley took an enormous step backwards this season posting 314 receiving yards after collecting 833 yards in 2016. Dak needs more help.
- 20. Lions – DT Derrick Nnadi, Florida State
I think the Lions are going to pony up the money to keep Ezekiel Ansah. I also think that Derrius Guice will be very tempting here, but in a loaded running back draft the Lions will opt for the run stuffer. Detroit ended up 28th in run defense DVOA and 21st in yards/carry allowed.
- 21. Titans – S Derwin James, Florida State
This may seem really low for Derwin James, but Albert Breer recently collected thoughts on his mock draft from NFL personnel people and one thing he discovered is James keeps falling down the board.
The Titans got a wonderful season out of Kevin Byard and paid Johnathan Cyprien a lot of money last offseason. Cyprien has been less than stellar this season though and the Titans can get out of his contract this offseason. The Titans also have Da’Norris Searcy but I don’t think Jon Robinson will allow James to fall past him if he makes it this far down the board. It’s not like the Titans couldn’t use him anyway, as they finished 24th in pass defense DVOA and 25th in pass yards allowed per game.
- 22. Bills – RB Derrius Guice, LSU
Odd, right, when two slots ago I talked about a team passing on Guice that actually needs a running back because of the strength at running back in this draft? McCoy will be 30 by the time next season starts and the Bills can get out of his contract either this year or next. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to rotate McCoy and Guice in 2018 before cutting McCoy ahead of the 2019 season. Between Jackson and Guice, McDermott may believe he has his backfield locked up for the next decade.
- 23. Falcons – DT Vita Vea, Washington
I don’t know if the Falcons are going to want to commit to Dontari Poe long term after this season. Even with Poe the Falcons finished 20th in run defense DVOA and 19th in yards/carry allowed. Enter the 6’5″, 340lb Vea.
- 24. Panthers – CB Joshua Jackson, Iowa
The Panthers never properly replaced Josh Norman and the second best corner in the draft falls into their laps here.
- 25. TRADE Browns (F/SEA/BUF/KC) – OT Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
Browns trade #35, #123, #154 for #25.
Most will find this trade odd considering there are two offensive lineman that fit this draft range on the board and I am projecting Seattle to trade out of this pick after having already moved down once. However, due to two in season trades the Seahawks are low on draft capital and also face difficult roster decisions on some aging players.
Pete Carroll also recently said that Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor will have a hard time playing again.
The Browns are equipped with an insane amount of draft capital, which I have them adding to by moving down from #4 to #7. Here, they use some of that capital to aggressively address their need for a right tackle/heir to Joe Thomas. There is some projection here as Rankin may not be viewed as worth the 25th selection at present. However, I think he is going to light up the Senior Bowl and see his stock climb to the point where he may go in the top 20 come April.
- 26. Jaguars – OL Billy Price, Ohio State
Allen Robison and Marqise Lee are free agents after this season. Since Robinson is coming off a torn ACL the Jaguars can probably bring him back since the market for him won’t be as lucrative. Robinson may also opt for a one-year deal to prove his health in 2018 and then get back on the market in 2019. Regardless, adding a playmaker here in the form of a receiver or tight end makes sense if one ends up warranting this draft slot, but for now Price is the pick. The Jaguars biggest issue is the interior of their offensive line, and adding Price to Robinson and Cann will set the Jaguars up nicely for years to come.
In later editions of my Mock Draft I will do more than one round which will allow me to project Alex Smith being traded to the Jaguars for their second round pick. However, this version is only one round so I just wanted to make note of that prediction.
- 27. Saints –DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
This isn’t about need as it is about the Saints taking a guy that shouldn’t be on the board. Ferrell is by far the best player left available but he does provide value to the Saints. Okafor will be returning from an Achilles injury in 2018 and the Saints need someone else to provide consistent pressure besides Cam Jordan.
- 28. Rams – LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
The Rams have major free agent decisions looming as Sammy Watkins, Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner are all on expiring contracts. Additionally, the Rams still need to extend Aaron Donald. I’m not going to predict who they will be able to retain but anyone leaving will create a need. However, in the present, I have to imagine all those guys take priority over Connor Barwin, another expiring contract. Enter Edmunds to help provide pass rush in Barwin’s absence.
- 29. Steelers – QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
If Ben retires I think the most likely landing spots for Kirk Cousins are Washington, Denver and Pittsburgh. I just wanted to state that. This pick makes sense to me regardless of if Ben plays in 2018 or not. If he does, great, Rudolph can sit and learn for a year or two before Ben does hang it up. If he doesn’t, the Steelers could just throw him out there or bring in a bridge like Sam Bradford to remain competitive while Rudolph can be developed behind the scenes.
- 30. Vikings – LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
The Vikings really don’t have an area of need and can just sit here and take the best player available. That is Roquan Smith hands down at this point.
- 31. Patriots – DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan
The Patriots actually have a trouble situation brewing at offensive tackle, and protecting Tom Brady into his 40s is essential. However, I have to imagine the Patriots will sit here and take the top defensive player that isn’t a safety. They could always trade down but given Belichick’s moves last offseason he does seem to be in more of a win-now mode and I think trading back from the 49ers second round pick acquired in the Jimmy G trade is more likely.
I also expect the Patriots to cut Alan Branch in the offseason. Hurst is from Michigan and Belichick likes programs that provide good coaching. He also needs someone like Hurst who is large and can make plays in the backfield. New England never addressed their lack of interior pass rush after the failed Dominique Easly experiment.
- 32. Eagles – OT Chukwuma Okorafor, Western Michigan
When healthy I feel confident in saying the Eagles have the best offensive tackle duo in the NFL. However, no one knows how well the soon-to-be 36 year old Jason Peters will recover from a torn ACL and MCL. The Eagles need to think about life after Peters, especially when Carson Wentz figures to be less mobile in 2018.