If there is one thing I can say after going through the mock draft process this year, it’s that the 2018 NFL Draft may be one of the least predictable ones in recent memory.
Unlike most years, even the number one pick is a mystery as the Cleveland Browns presumably have zoned in on their top quarterback target. But the New York Giants hold a lot of cards for the top 10 as they sit second in the pecking order. Will the Giants begin a mad dash for quarterbacks, or will they go with Saquon Barkley, the top available player in the draft according to most pundits?
For the Green Bay Packers in particular, this draft is one of intrigue. The Packers not only are slotted much higher than usual, they are also reliant on the leftover talent after the first 13 picks. Unfortunately in this mock, all of my tier one players are off of the board. If the draft indeed moves similarly, Packers fans may be in store for a trade down or a surprise in the first round.
After months of speculation, here is my final mock draft, void of draft day trades (of which I foresee many).
1. Cleveland Browns - Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming (previous pick: Sam Darnold)
This pick is going to be a quarterback. Mark that down. The question is which one. All along, I have felt the Browns brass will fall in love with Allen and many experts have agreed with me in recent weeks. Josh Rosen is my favorite signal caller in the draft and I picked Darnold in my last mock because of the buzz. But Allen’s potential is as high as anyone and will have at least a year to develop under Tyrod Taylor.
2. New York Giants - Sam Darnold, QB, USC (previous: Saquon Barkley)
Barkley or a quarterback? There are reasons to believe either scenario. If Darnold is the top quarterback on the Giants’ board and does not go first overall, I think New York takes a leap of faith knowing that Eli Manning’s time is ticking down. The Giants are hoping not to pick this high again anytime soon and could have several running back options to choose from early in round two if desired.
3. New York Jets - Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (previous: Rosen)
The Jets moved up to pick three and did not give up extra selections without having confidence in a number of quarterback options. At this point, it comes down to Rosen or Baker Mayfield and it might be neck and neck. The Jets have taken chances on a spread quarterback in Bryce Petty and one with a lot of mechanical and accuracy issues in Christian Hackenberg. Rosen is the most pro-ready quarterback in this class and probably has the least glaring on-field flaws to correct. He will embrace the New York market just as much as “Broadway Baker” and give the Jets the franchise player they’ve been searching for under center.
4. Cleveland Browns - Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State (previous: Bradley Chubb)
With a quarterback of the future in place, the Browns should draft either Barkley or Bradley Chubb. Either player moves the needle in Cleveland and Chubb would be a tremendous asset alongside Myles Garrett on the defensive line. But Barkley is an offensive game-changer that can be utilized in a variety of ways. Carlos Hyde’s spot is not a given after year one of his contract and Barkley could further help Cleveland begin contending in the AFC North.
5. Denver Broncos - Bradley Chubb, Rusher, NC State (previous: Josh Allen)
With Mayfield on the board, Denver could still go quarterback even with Case Keenum and 2016 first round pick Paxton Lynch on the roster. I think there’s a very real possibility that John Elway is attracted to Mayfield’s swagger and grabs him with this pick. But the Broncos have not gotten consistent, healthy production from another former first round pick Shane Ray and have yet to pick up his option. Chubb would fill a gap, even with Ray on the roster, as a bookend to All-Pro Von Miller and is a much safer NFL prospect than Mayfield in the top five.
6. Indianapolis Colts - Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia (previous: Denzel Ward)
This has been a trendy pick as of late and, honestly, I see it. The Colts are in need of a defensive player to build around and Smith could provide that spark. In a recent pre-draft press conference, General Manager Chris Ballard called Smith a “unique talent” and a player that would make a team “happy” at whichever linebacker spot he played. A trade down is an obvious possibility here if Mayfield is still available, but I like Smith even more than Quenton Nelson and a secondary player for the Colts.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State (previous: Derwin James)
I have had James mocked to Tampa Bay in each of my past two mocks. But prior to the draft, I make a change with Ward who shores up a need at outside corner. Unless Tampa decides to go interior line with Nelson, I expect the team to take the secondary player it values most.
8. Chicago Bears - Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame (previous: Nelson)
This pick has not wavered and the only way Chicago does not take Nelson here is if someone has chosen him before the eighth pick. Tremendous value and a starter from day one for the Bears.
9. San Francisco 49ers - Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech (previous: Edmunds)
The secondary is actually in good shape in San Francisco, but the 49ers’ linebacking corps and pass rush could use some assistance. If Reuben Foster can stay out of trouble, a pairing with Edmunds would be scary. Edmunds has been a top athletic performer in pre-draft workouts, is only 19 years old, and is versatile enough to help in both traditional linebacker and pass rusher roles.
10. Oakland Raiders - Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama (previous: Fitzpatrick)
Here’s another consistent pick for me. Having James still on the board makes this selection interesting, but the versatility and college production of Fitzpatrick are things former Packer personnel man Reggie McKenzie will love. The Raiders need more help at corner than safety and Fitzpatrick’s ability play immediately in the slot makes him a good fit.
11. Miami Dolphins - Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (previous: Roquan Smith)
I really don’t expect Mayfield to fall outside the top 10, but he would not only fulfill the media speculation but represent the best available player for Miami. I really like Da’Ron Payne and Vita Vea on the interior defensive line for Miami, but a Mayfield slide makes a lot of sense for the Dolphins.
12. Buffalo Bills - Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (previous: Baker Mayfield)
If the board plays out like this, the Bills are in a tough spot with the consensus top four quarterbacks off the board. I still think Buffalo could make a surging draft day trade to get in position for a quarterback, especially with Denver at number five. If they stay put, the Bills could get their signal caller in Jackson at pick 12 with the hype train picking up steam. Jackson could sit behind AJ McCarron for a couple of years and fully develop his tantalizing array of skills.
13. Washington Redskins - Derwin James, S, Florida State (previous: Da’Ron Payne)
An interior defensive lineman is just what is needed in Washington and both Vea and Payne are still available. But James is the top player at this juncture and after trading away a safety-linebacker hybrid in Su’a Cravens, the Redskins have an opportunity to plug James into a similar defensive role. James also gives Washington help in the box and in the slot as the Redskins pick up a run-stopper later on.
14. Green Bay Packers - Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA (previous: Harold Landry)
There is hope that secondary help in the form of James, Ward, or Fitzpatrick falls to Green Bay at 14, but it does not happen here. The Packers are left with their choice of Davenport, a cornerback like Josh Jackson or Mike Hughes, or a surprise pick like Calvin Ridley. I personally like Jackson but it’s hard to find pass rushers, even those as raw as Davenport. The cornerback position may have enough depth in the second round for the need to be remedied there. Pass rushing players are hard to come by this year and Davenport gets the nod.
15. Arizona Cardinals - Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame (previous: McGlinchey)
With five quarterbacks already selected, Arizona could reach a little bit for Mason Rudolph or take a top available position player. The Cardinals could really use an offensive tackle to groom behind Andre Smith on the right side and McGlinchey fits the billing.
16. Baltimore Ravens - Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama (previous: Courtland Sutton)
Ridley’s stock has been extremely up-and-down over the course of the draft season. I think he’s starting to trend back up and is the vertical, smooth route-running threat Baltimore does not have. Michael Crabtree and John Brown were added in the offseason, but Ridley gives Joe Flacco a home run threat.
17. Los Angeles Chargers - Vita Vea, DL, Washington (previous: Vea)
Even with Da’Ron Payne hanging around, I still like the fit of Vea in LA to beef up the middle of the defensive line. This is an ideal scenario for the Chargers.
18. Seattle Seahawks - Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa (previous: Jackson)
Seattle is undergoing a makeover on defense, especially cornerback. Despite glaring holes on the offensive line, the Seahawks look to corner and select a ball-hawk in Jackson to replace Richard Sherman. John Schneider will love the tools and potential for growth in Jackson.
19. Dallas Cowboys - Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama (previous: Rashaan Evans)
Rashaan Evans makes a lot of sense here for a linebacker unit seeking help in the middle and on the weak side. But Payne is the best player available and Dallas can utilize Payne immediately in the middle of the line. There’s more value here if Payne grows into a productive pass rusher, but he’s an NFL-ready run-stopper.
20. Detroit Lions - Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State (previous: Derrius Guice)
Adding a running back like Guice or Ronald Jones to complement LeGarrette Blount is realistic and both are available. Center James Daniels is also a distinct possibility. But after drafting middle linebacker Jarrad Davis a year ago, Detroit gets an opportunity to add another linebacker to play outside and bring increased pass rush. Vander Esch is inexperienced, but could develop into a nice starter in Detroit.
21. Cincinnati Bengals - James Daniels, C, Iowa (previous: Vander Esch)
Moving down to pick 21, the Bengals were able to acquire tackle Cordy Glenn from Buffalo to fill one area of need on the offensive line. Daniels would fill the other, giving Cincinnati an instant starting center. The decision to trade down 10 picks ends up netting the Bengals two offensive line contributors.
22. Buffalo Bills - Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College (previous: D.J. Moore)
The Bills were able to attain their quarterback of the future in Lamar Jackson earlier in the first round and with their second selection, Buffalo grabs one of the top pass rushers in the draft. The Bills hosted Landry on a pre-draft workout and though a quality linebacker is still on the board in Rashaan Evans, Buffalo adds to its pass rush.
23. New England Patriots - Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama (previous: Marcus Davenport to Rams)
For as much of a perennial postseason team as New England is, the Patriots have multiple needs. The Patriots moved into the first round after trading Brandin Cooks and have a massive need at offensive tackle. With McGlinchey off the board, Kolton Miller could be a logical fit. But since the offensive line run has not yet begun and the Patriots hold another first round selection, New England drafts a versatile upgrade to its linebacking corps.
24. Carolina Panthers - Jaire Alexander, CB, UCF (previous: Isaiah Wynn)
Offensive guard is a need for Carolina after losing Andrew Norwell in free agency and players like Will Hernandez and Isaiah Wynn are still there. But after being unable to sign Bashaud Breeland in free agency, Carolina still needs help at corner. Alexander is a first round talent who would be picked much higher than this if not for injury concerns. He’s an outside cover man that the Panthers can count on right away.
25. Tennessee Titans - D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland (previous: Calvin Ridley)
A pass rusher would be ideal for Tennessee and a player like Josh Sweat is someone to keep an eye on. But with Davenport and Landry off the board, the Titans surprise for a second consecutive year with a wide receiver pick, taking Moore. The former Terrapin is dangerous with the ball in his hands and has been a late riser as I predicted. Tennessee adds Moore, a viable slot receiver if not more, to a corps that boasts Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews on the outside.
26. Atlanta Falcons - Taven Bryan, DL, Florida (previous: Bryan)
I have routinely slated Bryan into pick 26, but do not necessarily love this pick. Atlanta has needs on the defensive line and Bryan has a high ceiling if a defensive staff can be patient. Otherwise, another lineman like Maurice Hurst, who has medical concerns, could be a candidate here.
27. New Orleans Saints - Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State (previous: Lamar Jackson)
The Saints’ offense was just as explosive last season as it has been over the past decade. One piece New Orleans did not have was a big-play tight end like it once had in Jimmy Graham. With some of the top quarterbacks already taken, the Saints can afford to upgrade the tight end position with their top-ranked candidate. Goedert is a big-bodied, confident target for Drew Brees and the creative Sean Payton.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers - Mike Hughes, CB, UCF (previous: Justin Reid)
Signing Morgan Burnett helped stabilize the safety position, but a third quality corner to go along with Joe Haden and Artie Burns could really make Pittsburgh’s defense imposing. Hughes can be a reliable man-to-man corner right away for the Steelers.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars - Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia (previous: Dallas Goedert)
Jacksonville’s defense was the storyline a year ago, but the offense is going through a few transitions after losing players such as Allen Robinson and Marcedes Lewis. Still, the Jaguars could use help on the right side of the offensive line and Wynn has the versatility to play either guard or tackle at the next level. Although a tackle such as Kolton Miller is still available at this point, the ability for Wynn to fill in wherever needed makes him attractive to the Jags.
30. Minnesota Vikings - Connor Williams, OT, Texas (previous: Williams)
Like Jacksonville, Minnesota is looking for offensive linemen that can play both inside and outside. Williams is another one of those players that can play tackle, but could be a great fit at guard. Minnesota is a contender, but an improved offensive line to protect Kirk Cousins solidifies the team even more.
31. New England Patriots - Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA (previous: Mike Hughes)
Adding Rashaan Evans and Miller would be a win-win scenario for the Patriots in round one. Miller could go much sooner than this as his stock has been rising in recent weeks. But in this mock, Miller replaces Nate Solder.
32. Philadelphia Eagles - Derrius Guice, RB, LSU (previous: Mike Gesicki)
A successor to the aging Jason Peters is a legitimate possibility here, but the value may be higher for a running back. Philadelphia has several options to choose from in offsetting the loss of Blount, but adds a potential every-down back in Guice to complement Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement.