We here at SportSmasher.com normally release our first 2018 NFL Mock Draft prior to free agency, but with so many teams needing quarterbacks and so many quarterbacks expected to hear their names called at the top of the 2018 NFL Draft, we decided to hold off until after free agency. We are glad that we did, because team needs have changed in a big way, due to acquisitions in free agency. We also have heard many rumors, about which direction teams are leaning in the 2018 NFL Draft, and which players they may or may not be interested in. Let’s get to it:
1) Cleveland Browns – Sam Darnold, QB (6’4 225lbs) USC – If I was running the Cleveland Browns, this would not be the pick and I would proceed with the plan that I outlined below in the “Alternate Pick” section, however I am being told that Sam Darnold will be the Browns pick first overall. Darnold is a very talented quarterback prospect who was over scrutinized a bit unfairly during the 2017 season, when he struggled with turnovers, with a supporting cast that was not as talented as he previously had at USC. Darnold does everything well, he moves well in the pocket, he has a very good arm and knows how to read a defense. My issue with Darnold is, he is not elite anywhere, but he is solid all around. The Browns do not have to rush Darnold, they can bring him along slowly behind new acquisition Tyrod Taylor, and start Darnold when they are sure he is ready. Again, this is not the route that I would go, however I have heard that Darnold will be the Browns pick. I also heard that the Jets offered the Browns a significant trade package to move up from number six to number one, but the Browns turned it down, because they were set on Darnold.
Alternate Pick: If I was running the Browns, I would draft Penn State running back Saquon Barkley first overall, and wait to draft a quarterback with the fourth overall pick. Saquon Barkley is the top overall player in this draft class regardless of position, he is potentially a once in a generation talent, and behind him there are four quarterback prospects who are all pretty closely graded. So if the Browns pass on a quarterback and select Barkley first overall, its guaranteed that two of the four quarterback prospects will still be on the board when they select fourth overall, and they can just sit back and select their favorite of those two. I have heard that the Browns general manager John Dorsey loves Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, I have heard that other members of the Browns front office are high on Baker Mayfield, the odds that one of the two of those players are available at the fourth pick if you select Barkley first overall are extremely high. If they go second and third overall, then you can pick your favorite of Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold, and no matter how you slice it you walk away with a top quarterback prospect as well as a potential culture changer at running back. That’s how I play my hand, if I am running the Browns, but alas I am not.
2) New York Giants – Saquon Barkley, RB (5’11 223lbs) Penn State – Eli Manning will return to the New York Giants for another run under new head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman, Manning is now 37-years-old and is not the same quarterback that won the Giants two Super Bowls, so logic would dictate that the Giants would be looking for their heir apparent. However, the Giants drafted quarterback Davis Webb in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and he has impressed teammates and the front office enough that they feel he can develop under quarterback guru Pat Shurmur. In this scenario, the Giants draft the only truly elite player in the draft, and a potential superstar in Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. A player that was already highly regarded by his performance at Penn State last season, Barkley then absolutely destroyed the NFL combine, and wowed everyone in Indianapolis and watching at home. He has it all, speed, power, balance, vision, pass catching ability. Saquon Barkley is the most talented running back prospect since Adrian Peterson came into the league, and the Giants can try to win now with Barkley taking handoffs from Eli Manning, while Shurmur develops Webb to be the quarterback of the future.
Alternate Pick: While some in the organization think Davis Webb has potential, he was selected by the old regime, and some think that the new Gettleman/Shurmur regime will not be able to pass up selecting their own franchise savior at quarterback with the second overall pick. If this is the case, you would have to think Gettleman would prefer Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, who is big and athletic with a rocket arm. However, Pat Shurmur tends to favor accuracy, in which case you would think Josh Rosen would be the pick. The Giants are a team with plenty of needs, and I think in the end they may end up trading this pick, to a quarterback needy team for a king’s ransom of draft picks. The Buffalo Bills now have the twelfth and twenty-second picks in the first round of the NFL Draft, and they are rumored to covet Sam Darnold, they are definitely discussing trading up again with multiple teams as they try to get into the top five to secure a quarterback. If The Bills get desperate and offer a package that includes both of their first round picks this year, and their 2019 first round pick, the Giants could have no choice but to trade down. The Giants should thank their neighbors the Jets, who traded three second round picks to the Colts to move up three spots, they set the bar high for any trade offers the Giants are fielding. Another interesting whisper that I have heard, would the Browns trade some of their war chest of draft picks to the Giants to move up from four to two, giving the Browns the top two picks of the 2018 draft? This would allow the Browns to draft the quarterback of their choosing and Barkley at number one and number two, while the Giants could draft Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson or a quarterback at four and walk away with a treasure trove of draft picks to rebuild their roster.
UPDATE: Rumors indicate that the Giants and the Bills are already talking, and some state that the Bills have already made the Giants a trade offer for the second overall pick, and the Giants are working on a counter offer. No solid information on the Bills initial offer yet, but if the two sides are talking, well when there’s smoke there’s fire.
UPDATE: There have been whispers about the Giants talking trade with the Browns, which would net the Browns the first and second picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, and allow them to draft Saquon Barkley and a quarterback (likely Sam Darnold). The Giants would get the fourth pick, where most speculate they would draft Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson to solidify their offensive line or NC State pass rusher Bradley Chubb to replace the traded Jason Pierre-Paul, along with a slew of second round picks and future picks.
UPDATE: I have also heard a rumor that the Arizona Cardinals have inquired about what it would take to acquire the second pick from the New York Giants. The Cardinals need to find their quarterback of the future, they are going into 2018 with Sam Bradford on a one year deal backed up by Mike Glennon, which is obviously not ideal.
3) New York Jets – Josh Rosen, QB (6’4 210lbs) UCLA – The Jets attended the UCLA Pro Day to get an up close and personal look at quarterback Josh Rosen, and the next morning, they traded two second round pick in 2018 and one in 2019 to the Colts in order to move up three spots in the draft. I do not think the timing was coincidental, Josh Rosen wowed scouts at his Pro Day, he throws the ball with incredible velocity and accuracy with a lightning quick release which has some scouts making comparisons to the great Aaron Rodgers (as crazy as that sounds). Josh Rosen seems to have answered questions about his leadership, which many of his teammates called ridiculous, and his cocky attitude should play well in New York City. By resigning Josh McCown and bringing in Teddy Bridgewater on a one year prove it contract, the Jets will take their time with their quarterback of the future, but trading up to three made it clear that a quarterback would be the pick.
Alternate Pick: Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield are the other two players that I have heard the Jets linked to, but I think that was more early speculation about the sixth pick, by trading up to three the day after Rosen wowed everyone with his ridiculous arm talent I have to think Rosen is their target. Allen has a huge arm, and he is a big kid with athleticism, but he needs development and work on his accuracy. Mayfield is a leader with all the intangibles, but he is small, and has made some questionable decisions off the field. I think that the Jets are locked in on Rosen as the future of their franchise.
4) Cleveland Browns – Minkah Fitzpatrick, S (6’1 203lbs) Alabama – In this projection, the Browns miss out on landing Saquan Barkley and a top quarterback, so instead they fill a need on the defensive side of the ball and draft Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. A player who brings versatility, Fitzpatrick is a speedy centerfielder who also has the size to be an effective tackler in the run game and match up with tight ends, he can really do it all. Fitzpatrick will likely play free safety in the NFL, and he has an incredibly high football IQ, to go along with the physical skill teams look for in a safety. If you need him to matchup with receivers or tight ends, he can do that too, he really does not have many limitations on his game.
Alternate pick: The more I look at this, if I was running the Browns (which I should be) and had first and fourth picks, I am definitely drafting Saquan Barkley first overall. I grade Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield all pretty closely (and in that order), and if the Browns take Barkley first overall, two of those players are guaranteed to be on the board when they select fourth. Browns management, I know you are reading this, and this should be your strategy. However, it’s more likely that the Browns will fall in love with one of the quarterbacks, and select “their guy” first overall then hope that Barkley falls into their laps at four
5) Denver Broncos – Josh Allen, QB (6’5 240lbs) Wyoming – The Denver Broncos signed Case Keenum to be their starting quarterback in free agency, and Keenum is coming off an incredible season with the Minnesota Vikings, but he is also a career journeyman and its unanimous that the Vikings upgraded when they replaced Keenum with Kirk Cousins in free agency. John Elway needs to find his quarterback of the future, and in this scenario he drafts Josh Allen, who he can groom for a year (or two) behind Case Keenum. From a purely physical standpoint, Josh Allen is the most talented quarterback prospect in this draft class, he is huge at six-foot-five 240-pounds, and he can launch the ball downfield effortlessly. Allen is also a very good athlete for his size, and he reminds scouts of Ben Roethlisberger and/or Carson Wentz, but he is going to need time to develop. Allen was better in 2016 than he was in 2017, although his supporting cast was far worse which explains some of it, and he needs to work on reading defenses and to improve his accuracy. I think Elway will fall in love with the size and the arm that Allen possesses, and he will be happy to land him with the fifth overall pick, as his quarterback of the future.
Alternate Pick: I think that the Broncos will select a quarterback here, with the most likely candidate being Allen, who can learn from an experienced pro in Case Keenum for a year or more. However, Baker Mayfield could also be an option, depending on how the top four shake out. If the Broncos truly believe they are ready to win now with Case Keenum under center, and think that 2016 first round pick Paxton Lynch still has a chance to develop into their quarterback of the future (despite his struggles), then the Broncos can look to pass rusher Bradley Chubb or offensive guard Quenton Nelson, the top two non-quarterbacks available.
6) Indianapolis Colts – Bradley Chubb, DE/OLB (6’4 275lbs) NC State – Nice work by Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard, the Colts need talent everywhere after several botched NFL Drafts in a row, and with Andrew Luck set to return to the Colts they were in the position to get value from quarterback needy team. That has already happened, the Colts traded down three spots with the New York Jets, and picked up three additional second round picks (two in 2018, one in 2019) for their troubles. Not too shabby, because in this scenario the player that the Colts intended to take with the third pick falls into their laps at six, and they end up with talented pass rusher Bradley Chubb from NC State. Bradley Chubb does not have the eye-popping workout numbers that some of the pass rushers we have seen selected at the top of drafts in recent years have had, but his numbers are solid, and he brings one important attribute to the table that scouts seem to forget about this time of the year. On field production. Chubb had 73 tackles, 25 of those for a loss, along with 10.0 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2017. The Colts need difference makers, especially on defense, and Chubb has proven he is one.
Alternate Pick: If Bradley Chubb is off of the board (the Giants might take him at two or Browns could take him at four), the Colts have so many needs, they will not be too upset. The Colts can easily take Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson here, he will help open holes in the running game, but most importantly help to keep Andrew Luck upright and healthy. With their wealth of second round picks, expect the Colts to invest in the offensive line multiple times in this draft, they need to protect their quarterback.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Quenton Nelson, OG (6’5 325lbs) Notre Dame – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have plenty of needs, but a major area of concern is the offensive line, which they fill here by selecting a rare talent in Notre Dame offensive guard Quenton Nelson. A few years ago a scout told me that Cowboys guard Zack Martin was the best guard prospect he has ever seen, when I asked him who was better between Martin and Nelson, he said Nelson and it’s not even close. Nelson is an absolute mauler in the running game, he plays with a nasty streak, and just blows defenders off of the ball. He is also solid in pass protection, and while I normally would not draft an offensive guard inside the top ten, Quenton Nelson is an exception. Nelson will set the tone for the entire offensive line, he will make the unit better in all facets of the game, and he is too good to pass up at seven.
Alternate Pick: The Buccaneers need to improve their pass rush, and have needed to do so for years, so even after signing Vinny Curry in free agency they could look to a pass rushing specialist. However, once Bradley Chubb is off the board, there are no pass rushers worthy of being selected this early. Safety has also been a weakness in Tampa Bay over recent seasons, so Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James are both solid options for the Bucs, each player would give them a major upgrade at a position of need.
8) Chicago Bears – Denzel Ward, CB (5’11 185lbs) Ohio State – The Chicago Bears seemed to have done a better job in free agency than almost anyone else in the league, they needed pass catchers, so they signed three (wide receivers Alan Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, tight end Trey Burton). They were worried about cornerback depth, then they resigned both Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller to new deals, and it really seems they can sit back and take the best player available when they are on the clock. However, their cornerback depth is still thin, and Denzel Ward is too good to pass up, so in this scenario the Bears solidify their defensive backfield. Denzel Ward is an extremely talented cover cornerback, he has incredible speed and quickness, with excellent ball skills. What sets Ward apart is his ability to mirror receivers, he has great eyes and instincts, and he has lockdown corner potential. Ward can be brought along slowly, behind the soon-to-be 29-year-old Amukamara, and can develop into a very good tandem with Kyle Fuller in the future.
Alternate Pick: While the Bears did a nice job of addressing their major needs in free agency, they lost veteran offensive guard Josh Sitton in free agency, and Quenton Nelson would be a perfect fit for the way the Bears will try to play and an upgrade to their interior offensive line. The Bears could use another edge rusher, and while Bradley Chubb will be off of the board, someone like Marcus Davenport could come into play. The weakness of the Bears offensive line is their right tackle, Bobbie Massie can be overmatched, so they could consider Mike McGlinchey to start on the right side and eventually slide to the left side. They would be luxury picks, but the Bears have a strong franchise tradition of playmaking linebackers, so they could consider Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edwards. I do think that Quenton Nelson is the pick of he’s available.
9) San Francisco 49ers – Vita Vea, DT (6’4 340lbs) Washington – The 49ers are a team that many predict will be on the rise in 2018, but their defense lacks a true anchor, and in this scenario they solve that problem by drafting massive nose tackle Vita Vea. While he is huge and a space eater in the trenches, Vita Vea is much more than just a clogger, he has quickness off the ball and athleticism that helped him notch 8.5 sacks over the past two season. Vita Vea has the ability to collapse the pocket, so not only will he make plays himself and be an immovable object against the run, but he will free up the 49ers other young defensive playmakers like Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner to make plays. I love this fit.
Alternate Pick: If he were to slide, but I do not think he will, Quenton Nelson would be a perfect fit in San Francisco. The 49ers can improve their guards, but if they miss on Nelson, you can expect them to address this position on day two of the draft. It has been reported that some NFL teams prefer Alabama defensive tackle DaRon Payne to Vita Vea, but based on the scheme fit, I doubt the 49ers are one of those teams. The 49ers could also go get a playmaking wide receiver for Jimmy Garoppolo, and while Courtland Sutton could be a nice fit, he looks like a major reach at nine. The 49ers could also use young playmakers in their secondary, so a safety like Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James would make sense.
10) Oakland Raiders – Roquan Smith, LB (6’1 235lbs) Georgia – Another fit that I absolutely love, while the Raiders signed Tahir Whitehead in free agency, their linebacker play was absolutely atrocious in 2017. If you watched the Georgia Bulldogs run to the National Championship Game in 2017, Roquan Smith was all over the field, I know this is sacrilege but at times he reminded you of Ray Lewis. It seemed like on every single snap, Roquan Smith either made the tackle or was in on the tackle, he is a true sideline to sideline linebacker. Roquan Smith is also the type of team leader and quarterback of the defense that new head coach Jon Gruden loves, and will be looking for, so this fit makes perfect sense as the Raiders look to stabilize a terrible defense.
Alternate Pick: There are plenty of directions that the Raiders could go with this pick, the Raiders will likely draft another wide receiver (or two), because they do not have playmakers on the roster except Amari Cooper and old and injured Jordy Nelson. The Raiders could also look to add another corner, so if Denzel Ward were to fall into their laps, unless they are set on Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin as their top two cornerbacks.
UPDATE: There is a report making the rounds that Roquan Smith has medical red flags, and while he is a fantastic player, this could cause him to slide a bit on draft day. We await more information, as nothing more specific has come out regarding his injury that is causing potential concern at this time.
11) Miami Dolphins – Tremaine Edmunds, OLB (6’5 250lbs) Virginia Tech – The Miami Dolphins are really a team without an identity, they jettisoned several high cost veterans this offseason, but swear that they are not in rebuilding mode. I feel that they are in denial, the Dolphins are in rebuilding mode, they just do not know it yet. As they can get out of his contract following this season, the Dolphins need to confirm if Ryan Tannehill can stay healthy, and if he can truly be their franchise quarterback. That means they should at least consider a quarterback here, and in this scenario Baker Mayfield is still on the board, but again I think the Dolphins really believe they can compete in 2018. The Dolphins only have two running backs on their roster right now, they also only have only five linebackers, and in this scenario they bolster their linebacker corps. Tremaine Edmunds is an athletic freak, who also happens to be an extremely productive linebacker, that totaled 109 tackles with 5.5 sacks in 2017. The Dolphins love their middle linebacker of the future, 2017 second round pick Raekwon McMillian who missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury, pairing an inside linebacker like McMillan with an outside linebacker in Edmunds would give the Dolphins one of the best young linebacker corps in the league.
Alternate Pick: The Dolphins just need so much help, their offensive line is just okay, but has holes in the interior. They have a lot of wide receivers, but no true number one, and they need to hope that DeVante Parker can step up and be that guy. They have no proven tight end, their secondary is okay, but they could use a true number one cornerback. There are many directions that the Dolphins can go in, because they have more questions than answers on their roster, the number one question being if they will continue moving forward past 2018 counting on Ryan Tannehill as their franchise quarterback. Also, the Dolphins released Ndamukong Suh who was overpaid but still dominant, apparently in order to create cap room. Then they used that cap room to sign Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson to be their third and fourth wide receivers while they already have decent wide receiver depth on the roster. That’s just confusing.
12) Buffalo Bills – Baker Mayfield, QB (6’ 215lbs) Oklahoma – While the Bills signed A.J. McCarron in free agency, the trade that they made with the Cincinnati Bengals to acquire this draft pick proves that they are still searching for their quarterback of the future, and there is little doubt that they plan on leaving the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft with their franchise quarterback. The rumor that I have heard all along is that the Bills front office and coaching staff absolutely love USC quarterback Sam Darnold, and based on the trade discussions that the Bills are rumored to be having with the New York Giants to acquire the second overall pick, the Bills are rumored to attempting to get in the range to draft Darnold. If the Browns take Darnold first overall, at least the Bills will be in range to take their second favorite quarterback, ahead of the rival New York Jets at three. However, we do not mock trades, we discuss potential trades at length but we do not mock them. In this scenario, the Bills still get their quarterback of the future, but it’s fiery Baker Mayfield at twelve overall. The numbers do not lie, Mayfield puts up huge statistics, and he is a winner who motivates his teammates to be great. The off the field issues seem overblown, NFL teams like Baker Mayfield, just not as much as they like the other top three quarterbacks in this draft class. From a physical standpoint, Mayfield is just not as gifted as Darnold, Rosen and Allen, which causes him to slide.
Alternate Pick: Bills brass will be disappointed if they cannot trade up and get themselves into position to draft a top quarterback prospect, but in actuality, this scenario where they land Baker Mayfield at twelve and keep the twenty second pick in the draft would work out well. I do not think they will, but if the Bills go another route, they need multiple players who can help at linebacker so both Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds are options. The Bills signed center Russell Bodine and tackle Marshall Newhouse to solidify their offensive line, but they could really use young talent, at both center and right tackle. When it comes to weapons on offense, the Bills quarterback of the future has big target Kelvin Benjamin and possession receiver Zay Jones, along with tight end Charles Clay but they can use a more dynamic deep threat to open the offense up.
13) Washington Redskins Da’Ron Payne – DT, (6’2 310lbs) Alabama – I know I am going to get a lot of flak for this, but I absolutely hated the Redskins offseason, and it’s not just what I thought was a horrible decision at quarterback. The Skins refuse to give Kirk Cousins the contract that he wants, and arguably deserves, so they let him walk and trade for Alex Smith. Then they sign the soon-to-be 34-year-old Alex Smith to a four year contract extension worth $94 million dollars, which includes a $27 million signing bonus. What is the logic here? If you can lock up the legendary Alex Smith until he is almost 40-years-old, and downgrade at quarterback in the process, you have to do it? Then the Skins attempt to solve their hole at wide receiver by signing vertical threat Paul Richardson in free agency, except their new quarterback Alex Smith’s biggest weakness happens to be that he cannot throw the ball downfield, and I know he was better in 2017 I am talking historically. What are the Skins doing? Can anybody tell me? Alex Smith is fine and he is not going to kill you, the Skins vastly overpaid him, and if this team was ready to win now this would make sense. However, this team is nowhere near being ready to win, so I am left just confused. Anyway, the Skins have a huge hole at nose tackle, and its known that they heavily scouted both Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne. In this scenario, Vea is already off the board, so they take Payne who gets reunited with his former Crimson Tide teammates defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and linebacker Ryan Anderson.
Alternate Pick: We know what Alex Smith is going to do in Washington next season, control the clock and extend drives with short passes, but after free agent signing Paul Richardson who is more of a deep threat the Skins have Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and tight ends like the often injured Jordan Reed and the 34-year-old Vernon Davis. The Skins should look to acquire a slot type receiver who can help Alex Smith play to his strengths, but they might be able to grab a player like Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk in the second round, and I doubt they select Calvin Ridley or Courtland Sutton here after signing Paul Richardson. The Skins also desperately need a center, they let Spencer Long in free agency, and do not have a center on the roster who has been proven capable of starting in the NFL.
14) Green Bay Packers – Derwin James, S (6’2 215lbs) Florida State – The Green Bay Packers lost safety Morgan Burnett in free agency, so while they have other needs, strong safety is one that needs to be addressed immediately. Derwin James would be an excellent fit, he is one of the top players available in the 2018 NFL Draft, but since he plays a position that is not a high priority on Draft Day he drops into the Packers laps in this scenario. Derwin James suffered a knee injury in 2016 that cost him all but two games, however he was incredible as a freshman for the Seminoles in 2015, and played extremely well coming back from the injury in 2017. Derwin James is just an excellent football player, Florida State lined him up at both safety spots, corner, linebacker and he even rushed the passer in 2017 and he finished the season with 72 tackles and two interceptions. Teams as early as the Buccaneers at seven will be interested in him, so if Derwin James is available at fourteen, the Packers should run to the podium.
Alternate Pick: The Packers suddenly have a lot of needs, they could take a wide receiver after losing Jordy Nelson in free agency, while Randall Cobb could be playing elsewhere following the 2018 season so getting Aaron Rodgers a weapon like Calvin Ridley could be tempting. Cornerback has been a need for the Packers seemingly forever, so a player like Joshua Jackson or Carlton Davis would make sense, in order to solidify the secondary. The Packers offensive line is solid, but has been injury ravaged over the past few seasons, and needs young depth. Protecting Aaron Rodgers has to be a priority. Also, if a great inside linebacker like Roquan Smith was available here, the Packers could look to upgrade.
15) Arizona Cardinals – Calvin Ridley, WR (6’ 190lbs) Alabama – I thought that the Arizona Cardinals would attempt to find their quarterback of the future this offseason, instead they elected to sign injury prone Sam Bradford to a one year deal, while also signing Mike Glennon to back him up. Eventually, the Arizona Cardinals are going to need to find the face of their franchise going forward, but for now it seems they will try to plug in Sam Bradford and win, but he is going to need some help. The only wide receiver on the Cardinals roster who is a threat is Larry Fitzgerald, and he turns 35-years-old before the start of the regular season, so the Cardinals must get Bradford some help. They draft Calvin Ridley in this scenario, a tremendous talent, who’s numbers did not reflect his skill level due to the fact that he played in the Crimson Tide’s ground and pound style of offense. Ridley is a polished route runner with great hands, he torched Florida State, and made big plays whenever Alabama needed one.
Alternate Pick: The Cardinals could really use a left tackle of the future, so I had Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey slotted here initially, however the Cardinals strengthened their offensive line when they signed Andre Smith and Justin Pugh in free agency. The Cardinals have needed a cornerback to start opposite Patrick Peterson for seemingly forever, every fix they have tried has failed miserably, so maybe 2018 is the year that they finally grab a player like cornerback Joshua Jackson to stop this area of concern. If one of the top quarterbacks in the draft were to fall into their laps, the Cardinals would have to strongly consider it, Bradford is injury prone and on a one year deal. I could see the Cardinals selecting Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson here and developing him for a year behind Bradford before they hand him the reigns in 2019.
16) Baltimore Ravens – Mike McGlinchey, OT (6’7 309lbs) Notre Dame – When the Baltimore Ravens signed wide receiver Ryan Grant to a four-year $29 million deal with $14.5 million guaranteed, I legitimately almost fell out of my chair, Grant only has 84 receptions and six touchdowns over four seasons. Luckily the Ravens got miraculously bailed out, Ryan Grant failed his physical which voided the contract, and the Ravens signed a much better player in Michael Crabtree to a much more reasonable three year $21 million dollar contract with only $11 million guaranteed. Ryan Grant ended up signing a one year deal worth $5 million with the Colts, much more what he is worth. Wide receiver was a huge area of need for the Ravens entering this offseason, but they did a nice job of filling it in free agency with Crabtree, John Brown and DeVier Posey. Another huge weakness for the Ravens over recent seasons has been right tackle, so in this scenario the Ravens spend another early pick on the offensive line, and draft Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey. A player that started out at right tackle, but who moved to the left side when his former teammate (and current Ravens left tackle) Ronnie Stanley left for the NFL, Mike McGlinchey is a nasty run blocker who can start off on the right side in the NFL and could potentially move to left tackle in the future.
Alternate Pick: Despite the fact that the Ravens signed three wide receiver in free agency, they still need pass catchers, they do not want to be in the position that they have been in recently where Joe Flacco has no downfield weapons on offense. If the Ravens wanted to really insure that Flacco had weapons on offense, they could grab a wide receiver like Courtland Sutton or Calvin Ridley here, then look to address right tackle later in the draft. You have to think that the Ravens will draft a developmental quarterback at some point during the 2018 NFL Draft, and they could also use another tight end, the Ravens relied heavily on 37-year-old Ben Watson last season and need to upgrade.
17) Los Angeles Chargers – Marcus Davenport, DE/OLB (6’5 265lbs) Texas-San Antonio – The Chargers have come out and said that the focus of their 2018 NFL Draft would be the defensive side of the ball, and in this scenario they get lucky, because a high upside pass rusher falls into their laps at seventeen overall. Marcus Davenport is an athletic freak, he is a former wide receiver a who had 55 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 2017, he needs to get stronger but should be a terror off the edge on passing downs. The Chargers have two great pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but Davenport can start his career as a situational pass rusher who provides pressure on passing downs, it will take him a year or two to add the strength needed to become an every down player which is needed for him to reach his ceiling.
Alternate Pick: The Chargers have let the world know they will be looking at defenders, so a defensive tackle like Vita Vea or Da’Ron Payne or Taven Bryan would make a lot of sense, but they could also look to the defensive backfield and draft a player like Joshua Jackson or Carlton Davis or Donte Jackson or Jaire Alexander. Safety is another area of need, the ideal player would be Derwin James, but there is no way he lasts until the seventeenth pick. The Chargers believe they should have been a playoff team in 2017, they believe they will be a playoff team in 2018, as long as they make a few tweaks to their defense.
18) Seattle Seahawks – Joshua Jackson, CB (6’ 195lbs) Iowa – The Seahawks have traded or released many of their longtime defensive veterans, there is a youth movement taking place in Seattle, and they have to build the next generation of The Legion Of Boom. Joshua Jackson fits the mold of the type of cornerback that the Seahawks like, he is a big and physical corner, who has ball skills and recorded eight interceptions last season for the Hawkeyes. He will have big shoes to fill, Richard Sherman will not be easy to replace in Seattle, but it is time for the Seahawks to build their secondary of the future.
Alternate Pick: The Seattle Seahawks need to continue to improve their offensive line, Russell Wilson has been running for his life over the past two seasons, and an injury to Wilson likely means the end of the Seahawks season. A player like UTEP guard Will Hernandez is an option for the Seahawks, as is Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, who will likely line up at guard in the NFL but has experience at tackle so he brings some versatility.
19) Dallas Cowboys – Leighton Vander Esch, LB (6’4 255lbs) Boise State – The fantastic but often injured Sean Lee will be 32-years-old at the start of the 2018 season, and while the Cowboys have Jaylen Smith on the roster and he showed promise last season, there are questions about his long term health after a career threatening knee injury suffered in college. The Cowboys need to find long term answers at linebacker, and in this scenario they fill that void with Leighton Vander Esch, a player that reminds me a bit of Sean Lee. While Leighton Vander Esch only started one year at Boise State he certainly made the most of it, he totaled 141 tackles, 8.5 for loss, four sacks, en route to being named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player Of The Year. Vander Esch is long and lean, he needs to get stronger and fill out his frame, but he could be a fixture in the Dallas front seven for years to come.
Alternate Pick: The Cowboys need to get younger at wide receiver, but after signing veteran Allen Hurns to add to a pretty deep roster position, I had them go another route in the first round. The Cowboys spent several early selections in the 2017 NFL Draft on the secondary, but I have to think they would be interested in a speedy playmaking corner like Jaire Alexander, who could start in the slot and has the potential to develop into a shutdown corner down the road. Also, the Cowboys signed Cam Flemming from the Patriots to start at right tackle, but I would not be surprised if they spend an early draft pick on a right tackle who could develop into a long term starter. The Patriots gave Cam Flemming a lot of help last season, so if Flemming is alone on an island in Dallas, it could spell trouble.
20) Detroit Lions – Taven Bryan, DT (6’5 291lbs) Florida – The Detroit Lions have long needed to improve their pass rush, after Ziggy Ansah who will be making $17.5 million under the franchise tag in 2018, the cupboard is pretty bare. While there is not a traditional pass rusher worth the pick here, unless Marcus Davenport falls into the Lions laps, they use the pick to bolster their defensive front seven and draft defensive tackle Taven Bryan out of Florida. Taven Bryan looks the part, he is a physical specimen, who performed exceptionally well at the combine where he put up similar numbers to J. J. Watt. New Lions head coach Matt Patricia will love Taven Bryan, he is scheme versatile, and can line up at multiple positions on the defensive front. While Bryan is a standout athlete and a physical freak whose father was a Navy Seal, he did not put up dominant numbers at Florida and needs to develop as a football player which will come with NFL coaching.
Alternate Pick: The Lions need to find a number one wide receiver for Matthew Stafford in the passing game, which is why I considered Courtland Sutton here, but this draft is pretty weak at wide receiver and Sutton is a bit redundant with 2017 third round pick Kenny Golladay who showed promise as a rookie. The Lions really need pass rushers, so if Marcus Davenport was to fall, you have to think they would rush to the podium. If the Lions go a different route here, expect them to look for pass rush help on day two of the draft, where there are many players available to fill this need. Lions could also use a center so Ohio State’s Billy Price or Iowa’s James Daniels could fill a need.
21) Cincinnati Bengals – Will Hernandez, OG (6’2 340lbs) UTEP – The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line was an embarrassment in 2017, after losing tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler last offseason, and while they started off their rebuilding effort on the right foot by trading for Buffalo Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn more help is need to solidify that unit. In this scenario the Bengals add Will Hernandez, an absolute mauler at guard, who plays the game with incredible strength and a mean streak. Will Hernandez turned heads at the senior bowl, he simply overpowers defenders, and blow up holes in defenses allowing the Bengals to run the football once again. Running backs Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard will love this selection, and combined with the addition of a true left tackle in Cordy Glenn, the Bengals offense would improve vastly in the trenches.
Alternate Pick: The Bengals need a tight end, unfortunately promising Tyler Eifert’s career has been derailed by numerous injuries, however with no standout prospect the Bengals can afford to wait a round. The Bengals have signed Matt Barkley to backup Andy Dalton, but they are one of the teams I have heard linked to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, if they are looking for a high ceiling developmental quarterback to compete with Dalton down the road. The Bengals have a lot of cornerbacks on the roster, but none have developed into a true lockdown corner, so they could spend another pick on the secondary.
22) Buffalo Bills –Courtland Sutton, WR (6’4 218lbs) SMU – In this scenario the Buffalo Bills did not trade up, they acquired quarterback Baker Mayfield twelfth overall, and now they need to get Baker Mayfield some weapons in the passing game. The Bills depth chart at wide receiver is incredibly thin, the top of the depth chart looks like Kelvin Benjamin (who has been dealing with injuries) and Zay Jones (who the team has to be worried about after a recent video of a naked fight against his brother in the hallway of an apartment building went viral in which he made some bizarre remarks), and after that Rod Streeter and Andre Holmes. Not a lot of talent for the Bills new quarterback to work with, so in this scenario, they draft SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton. A big wide receiver (6’4 218lbs) Sutton caught 68 passes for 1,085 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017, his second consecutive season with double digit touchdowns.
Alternate Pick: The Bills seem to have filled their needs along the defensive line in free agency, by signing nose tackle Star Lotulelei and defensive end Trent Murphy, but one area where the Bills could use more depth is cornerback. The Bills will start 2017 rookie sensation Tre’Davious White and veteran acquisition Vontae Davis at cornerback, but they do not have a lot of depth behind that duo, so in a strong cornerback class a player like Jaire Alexander, Carlton Davis, Mike Hughes or Donte Jackson could make sense. The Bills are in an interesting spot, everyone expects them to trade up to acquire a quarterback, however they are in a position to acquire plenty of talent should they stand pat.
23) New England Patriots – Lamar Jackson, QB (6’3 200lbs) Louisville – Bill Belichick acquired this pick when he shipped wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams, and after trading Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers and watching him become an instant star, the Patriots need to find their eventual successor to the legendary Tom Brady. In this scenario, the Patriots find their quarterback of the future when they draft former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who can develop in the Patriots system until the great Tom Brady is ready to step away from football. People have the misconception that Lamar Jackson is only a spread offense quarterback who makes plays while scrambling, but this is not the case, Lamar Jackson comes from Bobby Petrino’s pro-style offense and has a cannon for an arm that should allow him to develop into an effective pocket passer. Jackson makes some incredible plays and throws that will drop your jaw, but he also makes some poor throws and bad decisions that lead to turnovers, who better to develop under than Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady?
Alternate Pick: The Patriots have many need areas to address, because they lost several key players (Malcolm Butler, Nate Solder, Brandin Cooks, Cam Flemming, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola), so they could look to the secondary and draft a player like Jaire Alexander, Mike Hughes or Justin Reid. The Patriots also need to rebuild their offensive line, especially to address their holes at tackle, so they could look at a player like Kolton Miller, Connor Williams or Geron Chirstian would make sense. Of course, it’s the Patriots and they have two first round and two second round picks, so it’s almost a lock that trades are coming. Georgia running back Sony Michel would be an incredible fit as a Dion Lewis replacement.
24) Carolina Panthers – Justin Reid, S (6’1 205lbs) Stanford – You can argue that the Carolina Panthers biggest need is a safety who can start opening day next to Mike Adams, and in this scenario, they fill that need by drafting Justin Reid out of Stanford. The brother of former LSU star and NFL Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid, Justin Reid has the size and physical toughness to play in the box, but also has the speed to cover deep. Truly a prototypical modern day NFL safety, Reid is also touted for his leadership, and he would be an excellent fit in the Carolina secondary.
Alternate Pick: The Carolina Panthers believe that they are close to winning the Super Bowl as presently constructed, however they definitely need pass rush help as their best players at pressuring the quarterback are the 38-year-old Julius Peppers and Mario Addison, so they swing for the fences and draft a boom-or-bust pass rusher in Arden Key or a player like Sam Hubbard or Harold Landry. The Panthers have shown interest in Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore and could also solidify the interior offensive line after losing Andrew Norwell in free agency.
25) Tennessee Titans – Rashaan Evans, ILB (6’3 235lbs) Alabama – I have pass rusher as the Tennessee Titans biggest need as the 2018 NFL Draft approaches, but with nobody really worth the selection at this point of the draft, the Titans replace inside linebacker Avery Williamson who they lost in free agency with Alabama’s Rashaan Evans. A sideline-to-sideline linebacker who has great speed, Evans is quick to make reads, and will use his excellent instincts to make plays all over the field. Evans improved greatly throughout 2017, he is tough and played through an injury much of the season to lead the National Champion defense, he finished the season with 74 tackles and six sacks. While the Titans have a few inside linebackers on their roster, none of them have the speed and instincts of Evans, who would offer an immediate upgrade.
Alternate Pick: The Titans really need to upgrade their pass rush, they do not have much on the roster behind the soon to be 32-year-old Brian Orakpo and the 29-year-old Derrick Morgan, unfortunately 2016 second round pick Kevin Dodd only has one career sack and looks to be a bust. The Titans have two of the best bookend tackles in the league in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, they are set at center with the solid Ben Jones, but they need help at guard so a player like James Daniels, Isaiah Wynn or Will Hernandez would make sense.
26) Atlanta Falcons – D.J. Moore, WR (6’ 210lbs) Maryland – The Atlanta Falcons have possibly the NFL’s best wide receiver in Julio Jones, they have a solid number two wideout in Mohammed Sanu, then they have…not much else. This allowed opposing defenses to focus all of their attention on Julio Jones in 2017, which limited quarterback Matt Ryan’s effectiveness, as he had to force throws to Julio while he was heavily covered. The Falcons need more threats on offense, who opposing defenses will need to account for, which in turn will allow Julio Jones more opportunities to succeed. In this scenario, they draft an absolute burner and big play threat out of Maryland, wide receiver D.J. Moore who ran a 4.42 40-yard-dash at the combine. D.J. Moore can take the top off the defense and will open up the Falcons offense.
Alternate Pick: The Falcons love speed on defense, so a player like Jaire Alexander could make a lot of sense, they also have a need at free safety so a player like Justin Reid or Ronnie Harrison would fit if its determined they can play next to Keanu Neal. The Falcons could also use more beef in their defensive line after losing Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn during free agency, another space eater next to Grady Jarrett would make sense, so Michigan’s Maurice Hurst or Stanford’s Harrison Phillips could be fits. The Falcons could also look to upgrade offensive guard, so James Daniels, Isaiah Wynn or Will Hernandez fit.
27) New Orleans Saints – Dallas Goedert, TE (6’5 255lbs) South Dakota State – The Saints have spent a lot of time scouting quarterbacks in this draft class, but in this scenario there are none available worth the pick, and as the Saints believe they are close to winning the Super Bowl they bring in another weapon for Drew Brees in the passing game. The Saints have several tight ends on the roster, including the recently signed 37-year-old Benjamin Watson and unimpressive veteran Colby Fleener, so here they add a dynamic young talent in South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert. A player that can lineup at tight end, in the slot or out wide, Goedert had 92 receptions for 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2017 and can immediately become a versatile threat in the passing game for Drew Brees. Goedert is too fast for linebackers to cover, and too big for defensive backs to cover, he is a true matchup nightmare which every team looks for in the modern NFL.
Alternate Pick: If Lamar Jackson is available, he could be the pick, and if the Saints pay up to trade down Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield could be the pick. However, the Saints believe they are close to contending, so you would think that they want to find immediate contributors on both sides of the ball. The Saints could use an inside linebacker, so while they signed Demarrio Davis, a player like Rashaan Evans could make sense here. The Saints could also use help at safety, so a player like Justin Reid who is ready for action on day one would make sense, he could provide an immediate plug and play upgrade.
28) Pittsburgh Steelers – Jaire Alexander, CB (5’10 195lbs) Louisville – The Steelers have been trying to upgrade their young talent on secondary, both through free agency and the draft over the past few seasons, but they have had limited success and still have major trouble stopping or slowing down opposing passing offenses. Jaire Alexander was one of the top cornerback prospects in the country in 2017, much of the season with a sprained knee and a broken hand, however after his performance at the combine has him climbing back up draft boards. Jaire Alexander has speed to burn, after running a 4.38 40-yard-dash at the combine, but what scouts consistently mention is his toughness and ability to make plays in the running game. Alexander has a nose for the football, and he also can impact special teams, both in coverage and as a punt returner. From a pure coverage standpoint, he is probably the second most gifted cornerback prospect in the draft, after Denzel Ward.
Alternate Pick: The Steelers could look to find Ben Roethlisberger’s eventual successor, and they are rumored to have some level of interest in Lamar Jackson, but could also sit tight and draft Mason Rudolph. The Steelers have need at inside linebacker, so if a player like Leighton Vander Esch or Rashaan Evans was available, the Steelers could add them to upgrade the middle of their defense. We have also heard the Steelers have again been scouting pass rushers, a position that they often seem to address late in the first round, so Lorenzo Carter out of Georgia or Harold Landry from Boston College could make sense.
29) Jacksonville Jaguars – D.J. Chark, WR (6’3 200lbs) LSU – I do not remember writing this before in the history of the franchise, but the Jacksonville Jaguars are loaded, the one question that remains is will Blake Bortles play the quarterback position well enough for the Jaguars to be true Super Bowl contenders. The Jaguars lost Allen Robinson in free agency, and while they have a lot of wideouts on the roster, they do not have a true number one wide receiver on the outside. A player that I think would be an excellent fit is Courtland Sutton, but in this scenario he went 22nd overall to the Bills, so instead the Jaguars grab wide receiver D.J. Chark out of LSU for his size and speed combination. D.J. Chark can flat out fly, he ran a blazing 4.34 40-yard-dash at the NFL combine, he can use his elite speed to get behind defenses and could be a star down the road if he develops consistency.
Alternate Pick: The Jaguars will draft a developmental quarterback at some point, they only have Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler on the roster, so this could be the slot for Mason Rudolph. While he needs development, Rudolph has an NFL arm, and he will have the opportunity to challenge Blake Bortles if he can prove he gives the team a better chance to win. The Jaguars do not have a lot of explosiveness in the passing game on offense, so a player like Christian Kirk could make sense, an elite slot receiver and punt returner. The Jags could also use a slot cornerback, so if Jaire Alexander was available, he could be a fit.
30) Minnesota Vikings – James Daniels, C/OG (6’3 306) Iowa – The Minnesota Vikings acquired quarterback Kirk Cousins this offseason, they believe they are poised to win the Super Bowl, but they have to be sure Cousins has adequate protection. In this scenario they draft the versatile James Daniels, who can play either center or guard, and the Vikings have needs in the interior offensive line. Daniels is an elite athlete for an interior offensive lineman, he gets to the second level easily, and picks up blocks on defenders that other interior lineman would not be able to make. Daniels needs to get stronger, which shows on tape and is proven by his 21 bench press reps at the combine, but his quickness and agility is rare for an interior lineman.
Alternate Pick: The Vikings could like Billy Price more than James Daniels, so he could be the pick, depending on who the team thinks fits their scheme better. The Vikings get running back Dalvin Cook back from a knee injury, but they lost Jerrick McKinnon in free agency, so while it seems like a luxury pick Sony Michel would be a dangerous weapon in the slot and as a third down back. The Vikings could also use another corner, names to keep in mind are Jaire Alexander and Mike Hughes.
31) New England Patriots – Connor Williams, OT (6’5 315lbs) Texas – This would just be an ideal fit for the Patriots, Conor Williams looked to be a lock top ten pick entering the 2017 season, but after struggling through injuries his tape did not hold up which has caused him to slide as a prospect. Some NFL Draft experts think Williams will be a right tackle only, other think he is better suited at guard, however I personally believe Conor Williams will develop into an excellent left tackle in the NFL. Williams is as tough as they come, he is also a team leader, and he is a technician as an offensive linemen. In a weak offensive tackle class, I think the Williams could be a steal as long as he develops into the player we saw in 2016 and is not the player we saw in 2017 going forward.
Alternate Pick: The Patriots need to find their offensive tackles of the future, and with four picks in the draft’s first two round, I expect them to address that need. Other names to keep in mind are Kolton Miller, Brian O’Neill and Geron Christian. The Patriots need to keep Tom Brady upright during the twilight of his career, so finding a tackle or two would fill a big need, with Nate Solder and Cam Flemming leaving in free agency.
32) Philadelphia Eagles – Kolton Miller, OT (6’8 310lbs) UCLA – The Philadelphia Eagles will enter the 2018 season as the defending Super Bowl Champions, but starting left tackle Jason Peters is 36-years-old and coming off a torn ACL, while backup Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled when he was forced into action. In this scenario, the Eagles upgrade the position, and find an understudy for Peters if he can return healthy or a replacement if he cannot. Much like Jason Peters, Kolton Miller is huge at (6’8 310lbs), and he did a nice job protecting Josh Rosen’s blindside in 2017. Being as tall as Kolton Miller does come with some challenges, he does not play low enough and is not as fluid of an athlete as you would like to see at left tackle, but with some coaching and added strength he has the chance to develop into a solid NFL starter.
Alternate Pick: The Eagles could use another wide receiver, they lost Torrey Smith this offseason, so they could use a weapon particularly on the outside. They added Mike Wallace to replace Torrey Smith, but they can do better, and a young receiver with speed would be a nice fit. Philly could also use another linebacker, they signed Paul Worrilow in free agency, but the position could be upgraded further during the draft.