It’s officially post-NFL Combine draft season, which means it’s time for the first installment of my mock draft.
One of the biggest question marks this year is who will be the first pick of the draft and where the dominos will fall from there. Cleveland’s history of drafting a quarterback with the second of two first round picks hasn’t been pretty with the likes of Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, and Johnny Manziel. Yet, their second pick has never been located in the top five before. Could the Browns take an explosive player like Saquon Barkley with the first selection and still land their quarterback of choice at pick number four? Or will they lock in on their franchise-saving hopeful first overall?
My initial thoughts on that question are listed below, in addition to all 32 picks of the first round free of trades.
1. Cleveland Browns - Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
New GM John Dorsey could take Saquan Barkley, but instead opts for his quarterback to re-build the Browns. A lot of questions surround Allen’s production for the level of competition he faced, but there’s no disputing that Allen has arm talent and maybe most closely resembles the arm strength of Patrick Mahomes, Dorsey’s pick last year in Kansas City. Allen isn’t the most NFL-ready quarterback of the bunch, but he was developed by Craig Bohl, who coached breakout star Carson Wentz. The Browns can afford to sit Allen behind DeShone Kizer until he is fully ready.
2. New York Giants - Sam Darnold, QB, USC
How much is left in Eli Manning’s tank? The Giants are committed to him at least for next season, but it’s unknown what the future holds for the Super Bowl winner. The Giants selected Davis Webb last season and the jury is still out on if he can be the long-term answer. But the Giants may see an infrequent opportunity to draft inside the top five and groom a quarterback of the future despite Barkley being able to help Manning’s offense immediately. Darnold isn’t as high on my board as many others, but I get the sense he’s highly valued in NFL circles.
3. Indianapolis Colts - Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
The Colts could go a number of directions with this pick and pass rusher Bradley Chubb makes a lot of sense. I’m torn on the Colts turning to running back with Marlon Mack in the saddle, but Barkley is the best prospect on the board at this point and will give Andrew Luck a legitimate all-around weapon in his return under center.
4. Cleveland Browns - Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
After securing their quarterback with the first pick, the Browns turn their attention to the defense and grab the draft’s safest and best pass rusher in Chubb to complement last year’s top pick Myles Garrett. Cleveland definitely could select a top corner like Denzel Ward or Minkah Fitzpatrick or go the route of guard Quenton Nelson to protect their new QB. For now, I’m going with Chubb which suddenly gives the Browns an imposing pass rush.
5. Denver Broncos - Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
The Broncos are an intriguing pick because there are so many possibilities. John Elway could see a quarterback with a gamer mentality and moxie that reminds him of himself in Baker Mayfield. He could opt to allow Paxton Lynch further time to develop and beef up the offensive line to protect him in Nelson. After trading Aqib Talib, a cornerback could be in play. But for now, I wait on Kirk Cousins to make his decision and mock Edmunds to the Mile High City after a stellar combine. He will give the Broncos needed depth at linebacker and extra pass rush with Von Miller.
6. New York Jets - Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen is my top, most pro-ready quarterback on the board this year and despite his speculated character concerns, I think his mentality will fit in New York. The Jets can’t walk away from this draft one more time without taking a signal caller in the first round and Rosen gives them the potential to step in quickly.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Derwin James, S, Florida State
James had an excellent Combine and sneaks into the top 10. Without tearing his ACL as a sophomore, James would be a consensus top five pick and gives the Tampa Bay secondary a boost. Denzel Ward could also be in play here at corner, but the Florida connection lands the athletic, versatile James in Tampa.
8. Chicago Bears - Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Many have described Nelson as a second coming of Steve Hutchinson and if so, eighth overall could be low for Nelson. The Bears have undergone changes on the offensive line and after releasing Josh Sitton, have a hole at guard. Nelson could immediately strengthen Chicago’s offensive line with Mitch Trubisky in the fold.
9. San Francisco 49ers - Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward continues to rise and after an impressive all-around Combine performance has firmly placed himself in top 10 consideration. The 49ers could use corner help and Ward would have the chance to immediately compete for at least a role in the nickel. Minkah Fitzpatrick is in play here as well, but Ward is more of a true corner.
10. Oakland Raiders - Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama
A product of the Packers’ brass, GM Reggie McKenzie is bound to love versatility in the secondary and that’s what Fitzpatrick would provide. The Raiders went corner with Gareon Conley in the first round last year, but he missed significant time as a rookie. Oakland could draft Fitzpatrick to ultimately pair with Conley and have insurance at safety if NFL corner doesn’t work out. He’s also a value pick at this juncture.
11. Miami Dolphins - Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
If Ryan Tannehill had been healthy last season, we may not be having the conversation about Baker Mayfield and Miami. I still think Miami could stick with Tannehill and turn their attention to the top positional talent left on the board which is Roquan Smith. Smith gives the Miami linebacker corps speed and physicality while it awaits a verdict on Tannehill.
12. Cincinnati Bengals - Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
The Bengals struck out on Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round two years ago, but get an opportunity to take the truest left tackle on the board this year. With a lot of the draft’s best prospects off the board, this would be a good slot value for Cincinnati if they don’t trade down.
13. Washington Redskins - Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
The Redskins had Jonathan Allen fall into their lap last year at pick 17. This year, they get another Alabama defensive lineman with upside in Da’Ron Payne. For his size, Payne is extremely athletic and hasn’t fully tapped into his potential as an inside rusher while consistently clogging the line of scrimmage. The Redskins instantly bolster their interior line with this pick.
14. Green Bay Packers - Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UT-San Antonio
Davenport is as much a boom-or-bust prospect as an edge rusher in recent memory. He’s extremely raw in technique, but has tantalizing measurables to go along with flashes of stardom against lower FBS competition (see North Texas game). The Packers desperately need to add pass rushing talent and the market is slim in free agency. They turn to the draft to develop a player that has all the size and speed to be a force with good coaching.
15. Arizona Cardinals - Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
I’m actually surprised Mayfield has fallen this far in my mock and really, there could be a trade up for him at any point from another team. But at this point, after years of speculation, Arizona hops the Sooner schooner for its quarterback of the future after using Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert in Carson Palmer’s absence a year ago.
16. Baltimore Ravens - Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Until a rough Combine, there was no way I would mock Calvin Ridley slipping past Baltimore with its need at receiver and GM Ozzie Newsome’s affinity for Alabama players. Now, Ridley is falling and Sutton is rising after having the exact opposite workout. A receiver with great size who has been up-and-down over the past year, Sutton is picked to give Joe Flacco a rare weapon on the outside.
17. Los Angeles Chargers - Vita Vea, DL, Washington
The Chargers need help stopping the run on the interior line. Enter Vea, who is a strong value pick here to fortify the defense alongside Corey Liuget.
18. Seattle Seahawks - Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
The Seahawks apparently are moving on from Richard Sherman and needed help at corner even before the news. Alexander has been steadily moving up draft boards and had an eye-opening Combine with a 4.38 second 40-yard dash and top marks in the broad jump, shuttle, and cone drills at his position. Injuries may scare some teams off, but Alexander becomes another starting, ballhawk corner for Seattle.
19. Dallas Cowboys - Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Evans becomes the third Alabama defensive player off the board in the first 20 picks, offering Dallas the potential to start at inside linebacker if Anthony Hitchens leaves and a bonafide future weakside linebacker with Sean Lee hitting the age 32 mark.
20. Detroit Lions - Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
If the board fell this way, it wouldn’t surprise me if Detroit moved back for any takers on Lamar Jackson. If not, the Lions could go with an offensive line prospect or turn to a glaring weakness - running back. There are a few players on the board like Sony Michel and Ronald Jones that could be enticing here, but in the end the Lions go with a Tiger and make Guice the second LSU running back in two years to be drafted in the first round.
21. Buffalo Bills - Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
The Bills get a unique opportunity in the bottom third of the first round with back-to-back selections after making their first playoff appearance since 1999. With their first selection, they look to the defense to add a youthful corner to go along with E.J. Gaines and recent pickup Vontae Davis. A handful of players could be considered here, but Jackson rises after displaying his speed (4.32 second 40-yard dash) at the Combine. Height is a bit of a concern for Jackson, but his raw athleticism and upside intrigue a Buffalo team that traded away Ronald Darby last season.
22. Buffalo Bills - Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
From Donte to Lamar, the Bills take another Jackson. Tyrod Taylor could be on his way out this offseason, leaving unproven second-year pro Nathan Peterman as the starter in waiting. While Peterman gets a crack at being a starting NFL quarterback, the Bills could develop one of the draft’s most intriguing talents behind him. Jackson is a work in progress as a pocket passer, but his athleticism for the position is off the charts and allows him to improvise like few can. With two first round picks, Buffalo takes a chance on greatness.
23. Los Angeles Rams - Isaiah Wynn, G/C, Georgia
After making bold trades to acquire Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, the Rams no longer are in dire need of corners to replace their looming free agent departures. They turn their attention to the offensive line where center John Sullivan is a free agent and extra depth on the interior of the offensive line is needed. With that in mind, the Rams take the versatile Wynn who could potentially start from day one and have the flexibility to be moved around as needed in the long-term.
24. Carolina Panthers - Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
As mentioned before, Ridley is slipping after age and testing concerns at the Combine. But I really like the fit here for Ridley in Carolina, where the Panthers need a viable second receiver to team up with possession receiver Devin Funchess, tight end extraordinaire Greg Olsen, and jack-of-all-trades Christian McCaffrey. Cam Newton could really utilize a player of Ridley’s skillset that can separate underneath and stretch the field deep. He was that player when he had a reliable quarterback as a freshman.
25. Tennessee Titans - Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
The Titans have two pending free agent edge rushers in 2019 and could benefit from developing another in advance. Landry’s senior season really hurt his draft stock, but he has begun to move back up in recent weeks. He needs to get stronger and develop a broader combination of pass rushing moves, but he bends with the best and was ultra productive as a junior.
26. Atlanta Falcons - Taven Bryan, DL, Florida
Atlanta has three unrestricted free agents across the defensive line and a player like Bryan that could line up inside or outside would be an asset. Bryan is not overly consistent, but is only scratching the surface of his development. His raw athleticism stood out in stretches, making me believe Bryan could be a disruptive player in a few seasons once he has been coached up.
27. New Orleans Saints - Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
The Saints’ offense was imposing last season as Alvin Kamara broke out as a rookie star. Between him and Mark Ingram, the backfield is in great shape, but more weapons in the passing game could take the offense to a new level. New Orleans could look to a first round receiver, but instead turn to Gesicki, whose athleticism is off the charts for the tight end position. The creative New Orleans scheme will fully utilize the former volleyball player, who may remind Saints fans of a certain former basketball player in the same offense.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers - Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State
Losing Ryan Shazier to a spinal injury was a tremendous blow to the Steelers’ defense last season. With Shazier’s future in doubt, Pittsburgh adds a high-effort, fast, physical inside linebacker to the defense in Vander Esch. He’s a one-year wonder to a certain extent, but his film is fun to watch for a blue-collared franchise.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars - D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Potentially losing both Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, the Jaguars should be in the market for a wide receiver in the draft. Although a bigger receiver is more ideal for Jacksonville in this position, Moore could bring great value to the Jags out of the slot. Moore continues to rise after a solid Combine showing and his ability after the catch and as a returner brings value to a team that needs more consistent quarterback play.
30. Minnesota Vikings - Connor Williams, OT, Texas
It’s amazing that this is only the second offensive tackle off the board thus far, but Williams would fill a significant need for the Vikings on the offensive line. Minnesota used seven starting combinations on the line last season and though they are okay at tackle right now, more depth would be welcomed. In the meantime, Williams can slide inside to guard where the Vikings have restricted and unrestricted free agent starters.
31. New England Patriots - Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
This is a bit of a tumble for Jackson, who was super productive last season for the Hawkeyes. Speed was always the question for Jackson and the concerns weren’t alleviated with his 4.56 40-yard dash. He’s also a one-year wonder who was once a college receiver. But those ball skills were on display last season with eight interceptions in some of the team’s biggest games. Parting ways with Malcolm Butler, the Patriots would pounce on a player of Jackson’s acumen after a horrendous secondary performance in the Super Bowl.
32. Philadelphia Eagles - Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Philadelphia is in position to take the best player available and really doesn’t reach here for a player that fits a position of relative need. Although the Eagles still have Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, LeGarrette Blount is set to hit the market. Philadelphia could land a running back here that really realized his potential as a senior, stepping out of Nick Chubb’s shadow. Michel offers serious value as a receiver as well as a runner, and would give Carson Wentz yet another weapon.