It is NFL Draft Day, the most wonderful time of the year, as the months of rumors and speculation finally come into play tonight during the 2018 NFL Draft. We here at SportSmasher.com could not be any more excited, because even more so than in previous years, there is an incredible amount of uncertainty at the top of the draft. The rumor mill is spinning out of control, and we have been paying close attention to every whisper from around the league while also discussing the draft prospects with scouts, let’s get to it. Here are the rumors we are hearing on NFL Draft Day:
– Throughout the draft process, everyone believed that the Cleveland Browns would be selecting USC quarterback Sam Darnold first overall, then a few weeks ago it seemed likely that they would be selecting Wyoming’s Josh Allen first overall. Then yesterday into last night, buzz began to generate that the Browns would in fact be picking Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield first overall. The fact of the matter is, nobody knows exactly what the Browns are doing first overall, except general manager John Dorsey. The Browns cannot miss with their quarterback of the future, they have missed so many times over the last two decades, and that is why I am sticking with my initial prediction of the safest quarterback in the draft Sam Darnold. However, Baker Mayfield is pretty close to a finished product, he is a winner who would bring swagger to Cleveland so he makes sense. Darnold is the safe pick. Mayfield is the gamble. It’s going to be intriguing to see who ends up in Cleveland.
– The rumor out of Giants camp is that general manager Dave Gettleman does not have an elite grade on any of the quarterbacks in this class, however, of the quarterback he has Sam Darnold ranked head and shoulders above the rest. Gettleman plans on drafting Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb or Quenton Nelson (I was told in that order) however, Giants ownership loves Sam Darnold and is pushing for Gettleman to select Darnold if he is on the board, and the Browns do indeed take Baker Mayfield. If the Browns pass on Darnold, there may be some fighting within the Giants organization, and Gettleman is going to have a difficult decision to make.
– Other than the quarterbacks, the next player in the draft who has been generating incredible buzz over the last 36 hours is Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, while several “experts mock drafts” have Smith going to the 49ers at nine and the Raiders at ten a scout told me to “prepare to be shocked” about where Smith is drafted. The scout mentioned that Roquan Smith is incredibly instinctive plus he is an elite athlete with sideline to sideline speed. The scout said “he is going to be Derrick Brooks. Or Ray Lewis.” Obviously, those are two Hall Of Fame linebackers, that’s high praise. I have had Roquan Smith going to the Colts at sixth overall in my final 2018 NFL Mock Draft. I was told that he could easily be gone earlier. Denver at five? Cleveland at four? Keep an eye on Roquan Smith tonight.
– We all know the Jets are drafting a quarterback, but what does their board look like? I am hearing it looks like 1) Darnold 2) Mayfield 3) Rosen and with the third pick they are guaranteed one of those three.
– While everyone knows that the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals are trying to trade up to acquire their quarterback of the future, have been told to also keep an eye on the Los Angeles Chargers, who feel that they have a very good team but want a quarterback succession plan for 36-year-old Philip Rivers. While you should not expect the Chargers to trade into the top five, if a player like Josh Allen or Josh Rosen were to begin to slide, the Chargers could trade up to acquire their quarterback of the future who could sit behind Rivers and learn for a season or two. Josh Allen sitting behind Philip Rivers for two years makes a lot of sense.
– While the Cardinals and Bills (and maybe the Chargers) are attempting to trade up to secure a quarterback, basically every other team in the league wants to trade down. Especially if that team already has a quarterback. A scout told me that none of the the only elite players in this class are really Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, Bradley Chubb and Roquan Smith. They are potential Hall Of Fame players. After those four is a tier which included Derwin James and Tremaine Edmonds, maybe Denzel Ward and Minkah Fitzpatrick, maybe Vita Vea. The scout called them potential stars. After those players is a drop-off to a third tier, in which there are 30-40 players fairly closely graded. The scout called them solid starters. This is why, outside of the top ten, almost every team in the league wants to trade down. They would rather have two players from that third tier (solid starters) than one.
– Bradley Chubb is a really good player, the problem with him is that he is not an elite athlete, like pass rushers Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney or Von Miller in recent drafts. Chubb is going to be extremely productive against both the pass and the run, but as a pass rusher, he is not a “NFL sack leader” type of pass rusher and the team that drafts him cannot expect that type of production. Despite this, Chubb is going to be a force on defense who makes the entire unit better, and I think his ceiling is probably the Browns at four while his floor might be the Colts at six if they remain in that position. An elite pass rusher like Myles Garrett and all around stud Bradley Chubb as bookend defensive ends would make the Browns defense incredible difficult to deal with which is why I think Chubb is the pick at four.
– Two players that teams are incredibly split on are UTSA pass rusher Marcus Davenport and Iowa corner Josh Jackson. Davenport is a former wide receiver and a freakish athlete, but he will start his career as a situational pass rusher, and some scouts think that’s all he will ever be. While Davenport may be a very good pass rushing specialist, he needs to improve his instincts as well as learn how to disengage from blockers in order to learn how to defend the run, scouts fear that teams will be unable to play him except for on obvious passing downs because the opponent will run the ball right at him. Josh Jackson is an incredibly gifted corner and a ball hawk, however, a scout notes that he only played zone at Iowa and that he will eventually have to play man coverage in the pros. The scout noted that he would not be surprised if Josh Jackson is quickly moved to safety after a failed stretch at cornerback.
– The hot pass rusher name leading up to draft night is Harold Landry from Boston College, he struggled in 2017 notching only 5.0 sacks while playing through an ankle injury. However, his 2016 tape when he was healthy and collected 16.5 sacks is making scouts drool, and while I have been keeping Landry in the second round of my mock drafts I am hearing he is a first round lock. To me, he is Titans pass rusher Derrick Morgan, that’s who he reminds me of. However, too many teams need pass rushers, and his 2016 tape is too good for him to last into the second round.
– The cornerback class is a very good one, with Denzel Ward at the top, but the hottest name in the class is Jaire Alexander out of Louisville. Jaire Alexander is an incredible athlete with elite speed, he has good ball skills and is an excellent tackler in run support, he plays with an attitude that teams love. I have heard that Alexander will be in the mix as early as the Dolphins at eleven and the Packers at fourteen, while Alexander will likely start as an inside slot corner, he should be one of the best in the league right away.
– Back to Denzel Ward really quick, I hear the Broncos love him, but would want to trade down in order to select him. I also hear the Broncos love Baker Mayfield.
– Another hot name in the cornerback class is Isaiah Oliver, the tall and lanky Colorado corner is an elite athlete, and he has NFL bloodlines as his father and his brother both played in the NFL. I know that the Chicago Bears love Oliver, which is why I have him going to the Bears in the early portion of the second round of my 2018 NFL Mock Draft, but I am now hearing that Oliver will not last that long.
– Sticking with corners, speedy LSU corner Donte Jackson is in the first round mix, and it sounds like there will be a major run on corners between the 25th and 45th pick. There is a lot of talent in this cornerback class.
– Teams are split on Derwin James, for one reason only, his cover skills are not top of the line. Derwin James has incredible instincts, he is a team leader who is highly respected, he is a big hitter who punishes ball carriers. A scout told me “If Derwin James had elite cover skills, he’s Sean Taylor.” The NFL is a passing league, so the one question mark on Derwin James is a big one, but I do not expect him to last much longer than the Buccaneers at seventh overall. I have heard the Packers at fourteen are in love with Derwin James but have come to the realization that they have no chance on getting him.
– Teams are split on Minkah Fitzpatrick, because they are not sure what his best position is, and where he should be playing. Some scouts view Fitzpatrick as a free safety, some think he can play outside cornerback, others think he is best suited for the slot role. The consensus on Fitzpatrick is that he is going to be a very good player wherever he lines up, but some confusion over his best position is causing him to slide a bit, from a top five lock to a top fifteen lock.
– While the wide receiver class in this draft is particularly weak, the hottest name leading up to draft day is Maryland’s D.J. Moore, who I now expect to be the first wide receiver taken. Moore was a victim of bad quarterback play at Maryland, but he is ultra-competitive and lighting fast, he is built like a running back and is a run-after-catch threat. One scout told me “He’s Steve Smith” who had an incredible career for the Panthers and Ravens. Expect to hear the name D.J. Moore in the teens.
– When it comes to the rest of the wide receivers, there are mixed opinions. For example, some teams like Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, but I’m hearing “He’s a great route runner, but he’s not a game breaker, he’s not a number one. He will catch a lot of passes, but he will not break a lot of big plays or score a lot of touchdowns.” When it comes to SMU’s Courtland Sutton, I’m hearing “He’s a big kid and a good athlete, but he needs to learn how to play the position, and that’s going to take time.” The wide receiver who seems to have gotten hot at the right time is incredibly productive Memphis star Anthony Miller, who has worked his way into the later first round conversation, NFL teams love his tape.
– The strongest position in this class is clearly the interior offensive line, and it would not be shocking to see several of the players I am about to list come off the board much earlier than the “draft experts” are currently projecting. At guard you have Quenton Nelson, Isiah Wynn, Will Hernandez. At center, which might be the strongest position in the draft, you have James Daniels, Billy Price and Frank Ragnow. All six of those players should be selected by the middle of round two, at the latest, and all six will be immediate plug and play starters. The hottest name leading up to the drat has been Frank Ragnow, he was once thought of as a mid-round pick, but I have heard that top twenty is not outside the realm of possibility. Keep an eye on the Lions at twentieth overall, they need a center, and all three of the centers are in play depending on their preference.
– The offensive tackle class is incredibly weak in this draft, which is a big problem, because it seems that almost every team in the league needs a young offensive tackle. In fact, there is no sure thing at left tackle in this draft class, the closest thing to a sure thing is Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, but the consensus is McGlinchey will be a right tackle in the NFL. I think McGlinchey is going to be a very good player, he comes from a football family (Matt Ryan is his cousin) and he works incredibly hard at his craft, I think he will be a very good right tackle right away who could potentially move to the left side down the road. After McGlinchey, I was told to expect a lot of tackles to be drafted in the second round, because a lot of teams have need at the positon and the crop is limited. More demand than supply, but the best of that group might be Louisville left tackle Geron Christian, who needs work but has been a hot name over recent weeks.
– Expect a run on tight ends, starting in the mid 20’s and running through the mid-first round, many scouts have similar grades on Hayden Hurst, Dallas Goedert, Mike Gesicki, Mark Andrews followed closely by Ian Thomas and Jordan Atkins depending on preference and team need.
– I projected Alabama nose tackle Da’Ron Payne to be selected before Washington nose tackle Vita Vea in my final mock draft and a scout told me to stop it. The scout said Vea is an elite prospect, and while Payne is a very good prospect, Vea will be drafted before Payne.
– Red Flags: Three players have been flagged medically over recent days, two of which are being called troubling and which could hurt their draft stock. Georgia running back Sony Michel has a knee issue, which was described to me as “bone-on-bone”, while it seemed that Michel would be the second running back selected the issue could cause him to slide. I was told “Sony Michel will be very good, but probably not for very long” which is concerning. Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is the darling of the “measurable nerds” who I have heard compare him to Brian Urlacher this week (ridiculous) however, I think Vander Esch is going to be a very good starter, who I compare to Cowboys star Sean Lee. However, I was told this week that Leighton Vander Esch has a neck issue, which could cause him issues down the road, and potentially even shorten his career. Jaire Alexander was also flagged for a knee issue, but it does not appear to be serious. Meanwhile, despite the fact that he has been medically cleared after a scary heart issue was detected at the combine, I am told Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst remains off several teams boards. On the other hand, Ohio State center Billy Price has received a clean bill of health after suffering a partially torn pectoral, he will be ready for training camp and has put himself right back into the round one discussion.
This rumors mill post is a living and breathing document. It will be updated regularly. Keep it here for updates.