After a couple weeks off (sorry I had the flu), I’m back to discuss the draft. There will be a continuation of scouting reports in the coming weeks, but because of the timing of this post, it is important that I get a mock draft done before the combine occurs. So, without further ado, here is each decision I would make in this draft’s first round if I were an NFL GM for any of these thirty-two picks.
* – the Raiders and 49ers are tied at the #9 pick which will be decided by a coin flip
1 – Cleveland Browns : RB – Saquon Barkley (Penn State)
The Browns need an immediate impact from this draft, and no player is more likely to give them that than Barkley. Although a quarterback selection seems imminent at this point, it is not the correct decision. This is an overrated draft for quarterbacks, no prospect will have immediate success similar to Deshaun Watson, and Cleveland is guaranteed a top QB prospect at the number four pick (there are more than four big time QB prospects this year). There is no way Barkley slips to the #4 pick, and Cleveland should know this. Barkley is a less risky pick, and has hall of fame potential. For a team with many holes, taking the best player available should be the strategy.
2 – New York Giants : QB – Josh Rosen (UCLA)
The Giants were expecting Cleveland to take a quarterback, and now won’t get Saquon Barkley. GM Dave Gettleman will end up taking the top QB prospect here, and set up Rosen for a future under the teaching of Eli Manning. Rosen’s ability to work the short field with quick decisions plays well to New York’s bevy of receiving weapons.
3 – Indianapolis Colts : DE – Bradley Chubb (NC State)
The Colts haven’t had an elite pass rusher in his prime since the days of Peyton Manning. That’s way too long for a team to go without pressuring opposing quarterbacks, and will be the reason for their struggles going forward if it isn’t addressed here. Chubb is the type of player that affect every play with his speed and motor.
4 – Cleveland Browns (via Houston) : QB – Sam Darnold (USC)
Darnold is a little awkward at times in his movements, and ball security is an issue, but he has been marked as the most consistent of this draft’s QB prospects. I am not especially high on Darnold, but he is much better set up for the NFL than any other quarterback on this list. Cleveland does not want a project QB, and hopes that Darnold’s regressive senior year is just a fluke.
5 – Denver Broncos : OG – Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)
I still expect Denver to win the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, and with a new veteran quarterback ready to take over their system, it only makes sense for the Broncos to invest in their offensive line. Quenton Nelson is the second best all around player in this draft, and should boost this unit immediately.
6 – New York Jets : QB – Josh Allen (Wyoming)
These last two picks will switch if the Jets acquire Cousins instead of Denver as they will also need help on the o-line. Josh Allen is a prospect with a higher upside than both Darnold and Rosen. His size and athleticism are intriguing despite some accuracy issues, but Allen’s strong arm talent can make up for this. The comparisons to Jamarcus Russell are a little scary, but Allen’s ability to shine at a less talented football school like Wyoming sets him apart from others with his skillset. He may be the next Carson Wentz.
7 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers : FS – Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)
Minkah Fitzpatrick can play anywhere in the secondary, and is easily one of the safest picks in this draft. He reminds me a bit of Jamal Adams in terms of his draft status, and as a result Tampa will be just fine selecting him. As the best player available at this point, Fitzpatrick will be an immediate starter and leader on Tampa’s defense. Fitzpatrick’s positional flexibility makes him a special prospect.
8 – Chicago Bears : CB – Joshua Jackson (Iowa)
Rumor has it that Chicago is falling in love with this kid Josh Jackson out of Iowa. Jackson was a complete ballhawk his senior year with 8 interceptions. He is the type of prospect that an aggressive defensive coordinator loves, and will certainly be a day one starter in a Bears secondary that needs all the help it can get.
9* – San Francisco 49ers : LB – Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech)
The 49ers’ 3-4 requires athletic playmaking linebackers just like Edmunds. Edmunds can sit in a hybrid role as someone who can cover with his long arms, can stop the run, and even pressure the QB if needed. As a Swiss Army knife of a defender, it would be tough for John Lynch to pass him up.
9* – Oakland Raiders : LB – Roquan Smith (Georgia)
One of my favorite prospects in this draft, Smith is the type of linebacker that can cover space quickly, and is at his best when aggressive against the run. Although he is sometimes overpowered by blockers, he is an amazing 1 on 1 tackler, and should shine in Jon Gruden’s defense. Gruden hopes that Smith can be the Derrick Brooks for a defense that hasn’t had a young talented middle linebacker in a very long time.
11 – Miami Dolphins : CB – Denzel Ward (Ohio State)
Miami’s endless search for a starting cornerback has to be addressed in the early rounds of this draft. Last year, the Saints got a pro bowl level corner out of Ohio State with the eleventh pick. The Dolphins will try to replicate that here with another talented cover corner in Denzel Ward.
12 – Cincinnati Bengals : OT – Orlando Brown (Oklahoma)
Brown is an absolute monster at offensive tackle, and the Bengals have a monstrous need for o-line help. It’s a Perfect fit. Brown will be a plug and play prospect for a team that lost most of its offensive line talent in free agency last year.
13 – Washington Redskins : DT – Da’Ron Payne (Alabama)
This might be a reach for the Redskins, but the idea of pairing Payne back with his Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen is amazing. Payne is the top run stopper in this draft; something that the Redskins desperately need after finishing 32nd against the run in 2017. The depth at d-line with Payne, Allen, and Matt Ioannidis turns a weakness into a strength for the Redskins in 2018.
14 – Green Bay Packers : SS – Derwin James (Florida State)
The Packers need ultra-athletic players on defense, and James fits the bill. A subpar senior year at Florida State doesn’t concern me as the loss of FSU’s quarterback in week one killed their momentum. James is a great comparison to Kam Chancellor at the pro level, and can be the type of takeover talent on defense Green Bay hasn’t had since youthful Charles Woodson. James’ prescence can change the Packers’ defensive culture quickly.
15 – Arizona Cardinals : OT – Connor Williams (Texas)
Arizona has always made a habit of dealing with QB issues in free agency, so I think an investment in their porous offensive line is warranted here. Some people think that Williams is a top prospect in this draft due to his gritty attitude on the gridiron at Texas. He certainly will be an upgrade at tackle to whatever Arizona had in 2017.
16 – Baltimore Ravens : WR – Calvin Ridley (Alabama)
Baltimore has the veteran receivers to develop Ridley into an NFL star. If the Ravens can add another skill player in free agency, this passing game may thrive once again. Ridley is by far the top wide receiver prospect in terms of route running ability, great hands, and game-breaking talent.
17 – Los Angeles Chargers : DT – Vita Vea (Washington)
Gus Bradley’s defense doesn’t have any problems with getting to the quarterback, but he could certainly use more help on the interior of the defensive line. Vea is a huge prospect with the talent to do more than just stop run at the point of attack.
18 – Seattle Seahawks : DE – Marcus Davenport (UTSA)
Seattle’s defense is running the risk of losing its dominant identity. Drafting Davenport gives them a talented pass rusher to counteract that, and reinvigorate the defense’s ability to get to the quarterback. The veteran culture still exists enough in Seattle to create great teaching grounds for raw prospects like Davenport.
19 – Dallas Cowboys : WR – Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)
I think it’s likely that Dallas will cut ties with Dez Bryant this offseason, and thus will need a stud receiver to fill the void. Jerry Jones got to see Christian Kirk play up close in Arlington, Texas last October, and he is the type of specimen that can help this offense become explosive once again. Built like a running back, Kirk is extremely versatile for his position, and will open up the deep passing game for Dak Prescott.
20 – Detroit Lions : RB – Sony Michel (Georgia)
By far one of my favorite prospects in 2017 is going to get selected much higher than suspected. Last year, Christian McCaffrey rose big time on draft boards after the combine. This year, Michel will be the one that benefits from a great workout. After struggling in the run game for so long, Detroit hopes they’ve found their next Barry Sanders. Michel fits the bill for today’s NFL running back with speed and pass catching ability, and he still has the size of a workhorse back.
21 – Buffalo Bills : QB – Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
Rumors say that Buffalo is interested in cashing in their extra first round pick to move up in the draft and guarantee a quarterback selection, but they may be able to get their guy at #21. Because it’s such a premium position, I suspect Mayfield will be gone before #21, but Buffalo may still be the ones selecting him. The Bills need a quarterback, and Mayfield’s athletic ability could spark an otherwise underwhelming offense.
22 – Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City) : C – James Daniels (Iowa)
The Bills need an immediate replacement for Eric Wood, and Daniels is the best candidate for NFL ready center in this draft. Between him and Billy Price, Buffalo will likely get an experienced interior lineman to bolster the unit. Price would also be a fine fit for Buffalo, but Daniels gets the nod here due to his higher experience level at center.
23 – Los Angeles Rams : CB – Mike Hughes (Central Florida)
Hughes was an absolute ballhawk in the UCF secondary last year. His greatest trait is his stellar hands that can break up even some of the most well placed passes. He brought energy and consistency to UCF, and was a big part of their undefeated season in 2017. Hughes would be a great addition to Wade Phillip’s defense, which still needs corner depth despite the trade for Marcus Peters.
24 – Carolina Panthers : WR – James Washington (Oklahoma State)
I hope the Panthers don’t waste their time looking for a possession receiver in this draft. Cam Newton already has Devin Funchess, and this offense isn’t built for that type of football. The loss of Ted Ginn Jr has been an underrated blow to the Panthers’ offense. Carolina needs a speedy receiver like Washington to spread the field. The ability to beat a defense downfield was a big part of Carolina’s dominant 2015 season.
25 – Tennessee Titans : OG – Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)
Wynn had an amazing senior bowl week moving from tackle to the interior offensive line. He has quickly shot up numerous draft boards and will be considered by many in the latter half of this first round. Wynn is a huge player and gives great push in the run game as shown by Georgia’s success running the ball in 2017.
26 – Atlanta Falcons : DT – Maurice Hurst (Michigan)
I don’t know if Atlanta intends to bring back Dontari Poe, but they need to find a long term answer in the middle of the defensive line. Atlanta is one of those teams that doesn’t have a ton of weaknesses, but can improve already above average units. It’s a good place for Arthur Blank’s team to be in.
27 – New Orleans Saints : LB – Rashaan Evans (Alabama)
The Saints have stacked up on defense in the past two drafts, and the only position they haven’t hit yet on is linebacker. Evans brings excellent athleticism to the forefront here with an ability to run the field, and help in pass coverage at a high level. Evans could be the final piece to building a dominant defense in New Orleans.
28 – Pittsburgh Steelers : RB – Derrius Guice (LSU)
I hate to be that guy, but this Le’Veon Bell situation is not working out. The Steelers have an amazing opportunity to take a high end running back at the back end of the first round of this draft, and should take it with Guice. Guice is the best natural power back in this draft, and could be even better than his LSU predecessor Leonard Fournette .
29 – Jacksonville Jaguars : TE – Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State)
The Jaguars are looking to upgrade their passing game by surrounding Blake Bortles with more weapons. Bortles has seemed extremely comfortable with a Tight End unit featuring aging Marcedes Lewis and a bunch of no names. It is likely that the Jaguars notice Bortles’ ability to thrive with a physical pass catching tight end, and Goedert could figure in here.
30 – Minnesota Vikings : OG – Billy Price (Ohio State)
With no huge holes anywhere Minnesota may be best off investing more in their interior offensive line which suffered many injuries in 2017. Price has the ability to play at center, but would likely see time at guard in Minnesota. Offensive lineman from the Big 10 are more and more sought out because of the physical nature of the conference.
31 – New England Patriots : QB – Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
This could be a stretch, but if I were New England I’d be looking for a replacement for Tom Brady. Brady is great, and it’s clear that giving any QB prospect time to learn under him is great for the development of their game. Jackson is an insanely athletic prospect with accuracy issues, but with the right coaching and teaching he can thrive. I have no doubt that he could be the next face of the Patriots’ franchise.
32 – Philadelphia Eagles : OT – Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)
Jason Peters is getting up there in terms of age, and he comes with a hefty price tag. I don’t know if Peters is going to retire, or become a free agent soon, but it is clear that the Eagles will have to address his position either this year or next. Notre Dame has been a great school for offensive linemen recently, and McGlinchey would be a great value pick at this point in the draft.
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All Rights Reserved – Nick Merriam – 2018