With the 2018 NFL Draft almost upon us, it is still impossible to say what will take place. In one of the deepest quarterback classes in recent memory, as many as six signal-callers could go in the first round, which would make it the first time that happened since the famed 1983 draft.
On top of the impressive quarterback class, the running back, interior offensive line, and defensive back crops are also notably bountiful, making for many potential trades, reaches, and falls come Thursday night. Despite it being a near impossible feat, here is my first and only attempt to predict what will happen, based on rumors, personal evaluations, and logical fits:
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Despite efforts to avoid leaks on who the first pick may be, there have been clear signs pointing to the 20-year-old Trojan getting the nod come Thursday night. From Browns owner Jimmy Haslem meeting with Sam Darnold’s parents at the USC Pro Day to Darnold inexplicably adding Browns’ backup quarterback and “veteran mentor” Drew Stanton on Instagram, the subtle hints are there. Luckily for the long-suffering Cleveland faithful, he is well worth the pick.
Although Darnold doesn’t have the strongest arm or the cleanest footwork, his anticipation of routes downfield and deep ball touch may be the best in the draft. On top of that, his ability to sense pressure, move through condensed pockets, and make throws off-platform suggests that he’ll be able to stay composed when structure breaks down, making Darnold a candidate to start and thrive early in his career. So long as Hue Jackson affords him a long enough leash if he begins to turn the ball over.
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St.
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman isn’t one to mince words, so when he heaped praise upon the Penn State tailback at his pre-draft press conference, it came with a distinct air of authenticity. Although taking a running back so high in the draft makes little economic sense, considering that Gettleman will likely have to reject lucrative trade offers from multiple teams in order to pick Saquon Barkley, there is enormous upside with this pick.
While Barkley does have occasional lapses in his vision, his speed, quickness, and receiving ability are top-notch, and reminiscent of Matt Forté in his prime. Considering that running back is a major need for Big Blue, Barkley could still be a legitimate franchise piece despite the hefty price tag.
3. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
When the Jets traded three 2nd round picks to the Colts to move up to the third pick, it became clear that they were exclusively in the market for a quarterback. At that point, the only question left was, which one? According to ESPN analysts Todd McShay and Rich Cimini, the Jets favor Baker Mayfield, the short, spunky signal caller from Oklahoma.
Schematically, Mayfield is an excellent fit. With a quick release, excellent touch, a plus arm, and the best all-around accuracy in the draft, Mayfield is perfect for offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates’ quick-hitting, motion-heavy Air Raid-style system, and could thrive right away. While the price to move up was undoubtedly steep, getting this year’s QB1 out of it would be well worth it.
4. Cleveland Browns: Bradley Chubb, Edge, North Carolina St.
After two years of trading down and collecting picks — and consequentially passing on stud quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz — one can only assume that this Browns regime has turned over a new leaf. After all, if the Browns end up trading this pick to a team like the Bills, who in turn use it on a quarterback that turns out better than Darnold, the insufferable narratives would be endless. So, the smartest move here is to stay pat and take the best impact player available, that being defensive end Bradley Chubb.
While Chubb does not have the inane bend of Myles Garrett, his future teammate and last year’s No. 1 pick, he has exceptionally strong, quick hands, and more than enough athleticism to be a perennial Pro Bowler in what looks to be a nightmarish Cleveland defensive front.
5. (TRADE WITH BRONCOS: No. 12, No. 22, and No. 65 for No. 5) Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Such a trade and pick may not sit well with much of the fanbase, but it makes sense considering where Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane is coming from. Having gone to Super Bowl 50 with the Carolina Panthers, Beane has made numerous attempts to replicate the Panthers’ success in Buffalo. Having already brought in WR Kelvin Benjamin and DT Star Lotulelei, Beane may now see Josh Allen, who is big (6’5), athletic, and has a howitzer for an arm, as the next Cam Newton.
Although Allen is not the same athlete as Newton, he is similar, having posted an impressive Relative Athletic Score of 9.65. Allen still has a long way to go in terms of anticipating throws and recognizing blitzes and coverages as plays develop, but could develop into a viable starter in time so long as the Bills go on to get help around him.
6. Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
While there has been buzz of a quarterback-centric trade down with the Miami Dolphins, the Colts’ priority, first and foremost, is their own franchise quarterback: Andrew Luck. Having missed the past season and a half with a debilitating shoulder injury, after missing much of the 2015 season with a lacerated kidney, Luck desperately needs protection, and, in Quenton Nelson, he’ll get it.
Nelson is technically sound, powerful, violent, and quick while pulling, making him a near-perfect guard prospect. If the Colts hope to salvage Luck’s gold jacket potential, Nelson has to be the pick.
7. (TRADE WITH BUCCANEERS: No. 15, No. 47, No. 79, No. 134, DT Robert Nkemdiche for No. 7, No. 180) Arizona Cardinals: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
With Carson Palmer retired, and Arizona’s quarterback room down to the oft-injured Sam Bradford, the underwhelming Mike Glennon, and a pair of woefully raw second-year players in Brandon Doughty and Alek Torgersen, quarterback is a pressing need. In Josh Rosen, the Cardinals would get a mechanically sound, mentally sharp passer with solid touch on his deep ball and excellent anticipation and eye-manipulation ability. So long as he is kept clean, he has the tools to tear defenses apart from day one.
The Bucs meanwhile, would get desperately needed pass rush help via the twitchy Robert Nkemdiche, who would get a fresh start after failing to start even a single game for the Cardinals since being drafted in round one of the 2016 NFL Draft, as well as a bounty of picks.
8. Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
While Denzel Ward is also an option here, ultimately, this pick should be Roquan Smith so long as Quenton Nelson is off the board. Fast, rangy, and instinctive, Smith represents everything that teams want in the modern-age inside linebacker, and should prove especially valuable for the Bears, who recently released veteran Jerrell Freeman. While the organization has shown commitment to 2016 fourth round pick Nick Kwiatkowski, the upside of Smith may simply be too much to pass up.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
With Smith off the board, and last year’s first round pick, Reuben Foster, facing serious domestic violence charges, investing in the linebacker position seems like a no-brainer for the 49ers. Tremaine Edmunds, while not as explosive as Roquan Smith, could offer similar value, both as a downhill thumper and a coverage backer. At just 19 years of age, Edmunds’ pursuit and tackling technique are extremely sound, and indicate a player that could contribute at a high level for a long time.
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) January 12, 2018
10. Oakland Raiders: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio St.
Back in January, I wrote about Denzel Ward, calling him a potential franchise player. Although he is somewhat undersized (5’11), simply put, there aren’t many players like him. His hips are ridiculously fluid, which, when coupled with his smooth feet out of his backpedal, makes for a dangerous defender, whether outside or in the slot.
On top of that, while his ball skills started out raw, they visibly grew over his final season at Ohio State. Having cut Sean Smith, Oakland is in desperate need of a lock-down corner, so pairing Ward with former OSU teammate Gareon Conley seems like an obvious move.
11. (TRADE FROM DOLPHINS: No. 14, No. 76, No. 186 for No. 11) Green Bay Packers: Derwin James, S, Florida St.
Having moved on from both Damarious Randall and Morgan Burnett in the off-season, the Packers need to bolster their secondary. With Ward, supposedly Green Bay’s top target, off the board, the Pack could look to the explosive, versatile Derwin James with new general manager Brian Gutekunst’s debut pick.
Having allowed the eighth-most yards per play last season, the Packers are in need of a dynamic play-maker, and James could be the athletic tone-setter to bring that number down.
12. Denver Broncos (From Bills): Vita Vea, NT, Washington
Considered by some to be a future franchise cornerstone and by others to be woefully overrated, the gargantuan Vita Vea would certainly be a polarizing selection, given that one-technique interior defenders rarely go this high.
However, Vea is more than just a two-down run stuffer; at his considerable girth, he offers sneaky quickness, giving him some rare pass rush value, à la Chicago’s Eddie Goldman. With the Broncos’ sack total down considerably in 2017, from 42 in 2016 to just 33, Vea could be the disruptive presence they need to reignite their pass rush.
13. Washington: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Considered by some to be a potential top-five pick at the beginning of the draft cycle, Minkah Fitzpatrick has fallen to 13 for a variety of reasons, notably his lack of hip fluidity while playing in the slot. Despite this, though, Fitzpatrick is still a top-notch player. With tremendous instincts and supposedly superhuman football character, Fitzpatrick could be a game changer at numerous positions in Washington’s secondary for years to come.
14. Miami Dolphins: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
With rumors that 2014 first round pick, OT Ja’wuan James, may be out the door soon after an underwhelming 2017 campaign, the Dolphins could look to replace him with a premium pick. Although Mike McGlinchey has had his lapses in the way of finishing blocks and picking up faster rushers, he still has the quickness and power to be a bookend tackle for many years.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
Though the Bucs could trade down even further with teams such as the Chargers, Patriots, Ravens, and Bengals looking to move up for Lamar Jackson, Harold Landry offers excellent value while filling a position of need. With high-level quickness and flexibility around the edge, Landry offers Pro Bowl upside, so long as he can rekindle the fire of his ridiculous 16.5-sack 2016 campaign.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
A controversial pick, no doubt, but one that makes perfect sense considering where the Ravens’ organization is at this moment. With long-time general manager Ozzie Newsome due to step down and hand the reins to in-house replacement Eric DeCosta, Newsome hinted that this pick could “surprise” some fans, suggesting a potential “splash” move.
Having already signed Robert Griffin III to back up incumbent Joe Flacco, there could be a consensus in the front office about moving to a dual-threat quarterback in the future. While Lamar Jackson can occasionally struggle with picking up interior pressure and over-anticipating throws over the middle, he has a terrific arm and the best combination of speed and elusiveness since Michael Vick, giving him almost unlimited upside.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
With nose tackle Brandon Mebane getting up there in age (33), the Chargers could be in the market for are in the market for a new interior penetrator. Since Vita Vea, who the Chargers brought in for a visit, is now gone to the rival Broncos, the Chargers would get the next best thing in Da’Ron Payne, a powerful block shedder with some quickness to boot.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Now that Tom Cable is out of town, the Seahawks may be more inclined to build protection for the beleaguered Russell Wilson based on production, rather than pure potential. Connor Williams plays with a visible mean streak, and during his last healthy season (2016) allowed just four pressures all year. If he can revert back to that form, Williams has legitimate All-Pro potential.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Although quarterback Dak Prescott had his fair share of struggles last season, particularly under pressure, his top two receivers — Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley — did him no favors, especially in the way of getting open. Calvin Ridley, the shifty deep threat and crafty route runner, could remedy that from day one.
Although this seems like a massive fall, especially with some mocks projecting Ridley to go as high as the Bears earlier in the spring, after the disappointing rookie seasons of last year’s first round receivers, teams might be somewhat apprehensive of taking wideouts high.
Calvin Ridley can make Vernon Hargreaves look like he’s wearing ankle weights… Buh-byeee 🏎💨 pic.twitter.com/kXyhfFapgV
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) April 18, 2018
20. Detroit Lions: Marcus Davenport, Edge, UT-San Antonio
Though defensive lineman Anthony Zettel made tremendous progress this past season, totaling 6.5 sacks, with Ziggy Ansah playing on the franchise tag, the Lions should still be in the market for a pass rusher. Marcus Davenport’s skill set brings much of what Ansah offers — speed, flexibility, and quick, strong hands to win the initial punch — making him a potential replacement.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: James Daniels, C/G, Iowa
Having let G Kevin Zeitler and C Russell Bodine leave in free agency, the Bengals are in desperate need of interior o-line help. James Daniels anchors well, has a strong upper body to manhandle defenders, and is savvy in picking up double teams.
Having blocked for the shifty Akrum Wadley in college, Daniels could be perfect leading the way for Joe Mixon, especially if the Bengals decide to run a zone blocking-heavy scheme.
22. Denver Broncos: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
If NFL insider Benjamin Allbright is to be believed, the Broncos are keen on Quenton Nelson and could take him if they stay at 5. Having traded down, the Broncos miss out on Nelson, but get a similar player in Will Hernandez. With a strong core, ample athleticism to pull, and a noticeable mean streak, Hernandez fits the prototype of the contemporary NFL guard.
23. New England Patriots: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Though some teams may be wary of Maurice Hurst due to a reported heart problem during his Combine physical, he was not requested back for a recheck, and was since cleared to run Michigan’s Pro Day. Hurst is quick and flexible, and, given that the Patriots are not afraid to gamble on potentially high-risk players with upside, his draft day tumble could end with New England.
24. Carolina Panthers: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
This fit makes so much sense that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Panthers actually traded up for Moore come draft day. Cam Newton’s best attribute as a passer is his deep ball, but, unfortunately, he has never had a bona fide deep threat that could consistently get open downfield and come down with tough catches.
Enter D.J. Moore, who has excellent quickness in his release, speed to burn (4.42 40-yard dash), and the strong hands and ball skills to be a threat on under-thrown balls and red zone plays.
25. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Despite posting a top-six run defense grade (90.1) per Pro Football Focus, Avery Williamson was not retained by the Titans, giving the team a massive hole at linebacker. In Rashaan Evans, the Titans would get a dynamic replacement.
Though he struggled with injuries late in his career at Alabama, Evans has enough instincts and sideline-to-sideline athleticism to project as an every-down ‘backer in the NFL, and offers some pass rushing value (15.0 career sacks) on top of it all.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
While losing out on Da’Ron may seem like a “Payne” for the Falcons, Taven Bryan is an solid consolation prize. Although he doesn’t have the refined block-shedding technique of Payne, Bryan is more dynamic an athlete and brings a thunderous bull rush. When paired with Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley Jr., Bryan could quickly transform Atlanta’s pass rush into one of the best in the league.
27. New Orleans Saints: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise St.
Though Leighton Vander Esch is more raw than Roquan Smith, Rashaan Evans, and even 19-year-old Tremaine Edmunds, he may be the best athlete to come out at his position since Luke Kuechly, having posted an inane Relative Athletic Score of 9.97.
With excellent speed in coverage (as shown by his two interceptions as a junior) and a strong lower body, Vander Esch could be the play-maker the Saints need to put them over the top.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Lousiville
Although 2016 first round pick Artie Burns still looks like a project two years into his career, that should not dissuade the Steelers from spending another premium pick on a high-upside corner. With five interceptions as a sophomore, Jaire Alexander showed off tremendous ball skills complemented by quick, fluid hips, making him a potential future All Pro if he can stay healthy.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Having signed quarterback Blake Bortles to a lucrative extension in February, the best move for the Jaguars now is to surround him with deep threats. Courtland Sutton may not have the most consistent hands, but he is tremendously quick (6.57 3-cone drill) for a big man, and offers excellent body control on contested catches, similar to the Eagles’ Alshon Jeffery.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Isaiah Wynn, G/T, Georgia
Having paid Kirk Cousins a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract, it is imperative that the Vikings find him some protection. Isaiah Wynn has a swift first step and a strong initial punch, and while he may kick inside to guard due to his lack of length (33 3/8-inch arms), he could establish himself as a linchpin on Minnesota’s offensive line for years to come.
31. New England Patriots: Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa
After investing in their pass rush with Mo Hurst at the 23rd pick, the Pats will now look to capitalize on the added pressure by introducing a ball-hawking corner in Joshua Jackson. Although he is not the most fluid mover, and could fall victim to craftier route-runners, Jackson made a name for himself at Iowa, intercepting eight passes as a junior and taking two to the house. He could have a similar impact for the Pats.
32. (TRADE: No. 36, No. 104 for No. 31, No. 206) Indianapolis Colts: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
With the Eagles reportedly looking to trade down, the Colts, who previously missed on Saquon Barkley, would now get a crack at the next best thing. Guice is powerful, nasty, and quick behind the line of scrimmage. On top of that, he offers a deceptively wide arsenal of open-field moves.
While he may fall due to concerns (unfair as they may be) over some of his family members, he still possesses All-Pro level talent, and could turn the Colts’ backfield into the NFL’s very best when paired with Marlon Mack.
— BleedingGreenNation (@BleedingGreen) April 25, 2018
Other potential first-round fits:
Patriots: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia; Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis; Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
Eagles: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA; Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota St.
Steelers: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma St.; Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Vikings: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas; Billy Price, C, Ohio St.
Falcons: Josh Sweat, Edge, Florida St.