There’s a lot that goes into a good mock draft. For the last few months, I’ve poured over news reports, researched past moves by teams’ decision makers, and cross-checked depth charts, salary information, and Pro Football Focus rankings. Even then, a relevant signing or release changes things, and about halfway through writing this I gave serious consideration to a switch near the top that would have a trickle-down effect.
Alas, everything came together to give a thorough guide to what I expect to happen in next week’s 1st round, and to prevent the spread of incorrect information like Denzel Ward still being referred to as 5’10” or Derwin James as 6’3”, players’ exact measurements from the combine are included.
Here are the 32 players who we think will be picked in the first round that will have fans buying new jerseys with their names on it and hitting the sportsbook for NFL preseason betting. Think we got a pick wrong? Let us know in the comments section where we missed. Let’s begin.
1. Browns: Sam Darnold, USC QB. 6’3⅜”, 221 lbs
I know the Josh Allen hype train is picking up speed, but Darnold has always been the favorite to go #1. He’s more of a Matthew Stafford-level prospect than Andrew Luck, but with ideal size, arm strength and mobility to make plays, he brings the best combination of a high ceiling and floor.
There’s an argument for taking someone like Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb here and just taking the best remaining passer at #4, but you can’t take a chance on who will be left there when talking about the most important position in sports. And for what it’s worth, between Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn, Cleveland has had some bad luck with taking a QB as their second selection in the 1st round.
2. Giants: Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB. 6’0”, 233 lbs
If Darnold’s not available, it feels like new GM Dave Gettleman will ride it out with Eli Manning and see what he has in last year’s 3rd rounder, Davis Webb. Chubb will likely garner heavy consideration as a replacement for Jason Pierre-Paul, but he’d face the same challenge in transitioning to a 3-4 outside linebacker that concerned them with JPP. Instead, Gettleman adds a pass catching ‘back to pair with Jonathan Stewart like he did in last year’s 1st round. I’m normally against drafting a running back so high, but impacting both the running and passing game like Barkley does can justify it. He’s like the Calvin Johnson of running backs as a huge athletic freak who followed up a decorated college career with a dominant combine, where he reportedly aced all interviews in addition to the drills.
3. Jets: Josh Rosen, UCLA QB. 6’4”, 226 lbs
Everyone knows the Jets are taking the best remaining quarterback after overpaying in a move up from #6, and if we’re talking purely about passing ability in the pocket, Darnold probably falls short to Rosen, who also surprisingly measured in as slightly bigger. However, durability concerns are what drops him a touch lower, much more than the attitude concerns that I think have been blown out of proportion. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock made a pretty apt comparison to former #1 pick Sam Bradford as a result, so with Josh McCown re-signed as a veteran placeholder, hopefully New York will be patient with him until they have a solid supporting cast. Based on when and where you read Jets news, they might have Baker Mayfield slightly above or a touch below Rosen, but based on GM Mike Maccagnan’s history, I’m sticking with the more traditional prospect.
4. Browns: Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State DE. 6’4⅜”, 269 lbs
Former Day 2 picks Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard can form a decent rotation at the defensive end spot opposite of last year’s #1 pick, Myles Garrett, but they pale in comparison to a player of Chubb’s caliber. He is a force against both the run and pass, and although he’s not particularly agile, he demonstrated his explosiveness for a defensive lineman at the combine with a 4.65 40 yard dash, a 10’1” broad jump, and a 36” vertical. Coach Hue Jackson had some, um, colorful comments about how good of a DE pairing he’d have in this situation, and if Cleveland doesn’t trade down for more picks, I think that dream he has at nighttime when he’s by himself will come true.
5. Broncos: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame OG. 6’5”, 325 lbs
I think Denver’s ideal scenario would see Barkley slip to this spot and replace the recently cut C.J. Anderson, but that’s unlikely. This could be a prime trade up spot for a team looking for one of the quarterbacks, and the Broncos might consider a signal caller themselves after only signing Case Keenum to a two-year deal. However, there’s a chance the guaranteed money in that second year makes him more than a bridge quarterback and that GM John Elway might not be willing to give up on Paxton Lynch just yet, so instead he moves to solidify the line in front of them.
While Nelson could fall lower due to the positional value of a guard, he’s viewed by some to be the cleanest prospect in the draft with his pristine pass protection and mauling reputation as a run blocker. They filled their right tackle hole with the Jared Veldheer trade, so now the guard spot across from Ronald Leary is really the only weakness on what could be a sneakily good offense.
6. Bills (via trade): Josh Allen, Wyoming QB. 6’4⅞”, 237 lbs
After only giving A.J. McCarron backup QB money and already moving up from #21 to #12, Buffalo is in position to strike for someone they consider a franchise passer. I’m projecting a trade of #12, #22, #121, and a 4th rounder next year for this pick in order to land the strong armed passer they’re most linked to in Allen. I have serious doubts about his accuracy after he’s put up such poor completion percentages every year, even in junior college, before getting to the Mountain West, but coaches are bound to fall in love with his size, athleticism, and some of the incredible throws that he is capable of making.
7. Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama DB. 6’0⅛”, 204 lbs
Ward or Derwin James have a case to be made here, but with Tampa Bay’s secondary standing to improve at multiple positions, Fitzpatrick is a great fit since he can do it all. He mostly played Alabama’s 'Star' position over the slot but has also spent time on the outside and at safety as a three year starter, and the bottom line is that he has the instincts, size, and athleticism to make plays all over the field. With 3 wide receiver sets now the most common formation in the NFL, Fitzpatrick’s best position of slot corner has basically become a part of base defenses, being used 63% of the time across the NFL last year, and on his other handful of snaps, he can either eventually replace Brent Grimes, who is about to turn 35 and was only re-signed to a one-year deal, on the outside or Chris Conte at safety.
8. Bears: Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech LB. 6’4½”, 253 lbs
Chicago is probably targeting Quenton Nelson after signing his college offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and surprisingly letting go of left guard Josh Sitton. But with Nelson unavailable here, the Bears go for upside with a prospect who is only turning 20 a week after the draft. He projects to be a difference maker at inside linebacker next to either Danny Trevathan, who has only played in 21 games after signing a big contract two years ago, or Nick Kwiatkoski, who had something of a second year breakout but still isn’t a known commodity. With ten sacks over the last two years, Edmunds’ impressive combination of size and athleticism could even potentially allow him some time at outside linebacker in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme like Ahmad Brooks, who was originally a middle linebacker himself.
9. Cardinals (via trade): Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB. 6’0⅝”, 215 lbs
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner could go much higher during the run on QBs, but if he does fall over concerns about his size, I’m projecting Arizona to trade #15, #47, and a 3rd rounder next year to snatch him up. Mayfield has improved every year despite a rotating cast of skill position players around him, and his accuracy and mobility should translate well once he transitions from OU’s Air Raid offense to an NFL scheme. The structure of Bradford’s free agent contract makes it likely he’ll be cut before the 3rd day of the next league year, making him the quintessential bridge quarterback for a rookie to learn under, especially with his injury history.
10. Raiders: Roquan Smith, Georgia LB. 6’0⅞” 236 lbs
Tahir Whitehead was a solid addition, but with him best on the outside and NaVorro Bowman still unsigned, middle linebacker should still be addressed. Smith is the prototypical sideline to sideline defender who excels in coverage that Oakland has been lacking for years, and after coming in bigger than expected at the combine, it’s hard to critique much about him.
Ward is also a possibility here since all of the corners they signed are only on one year deals, but after they just used a 1st on his Ohio State teammate Gareon Conley last year, I think they’ll address the position later on.
11. Dolphins: Denzel Ward, Ohio State CB. 5’10⅞”, 183 lbs
Like last year, an Ohio State prospect that is the best pure corner in the draft is a steal at #11, and Miami might just luck into this pick after showing heavy interest in the quarterbacks. I’m not even sure they know what direction they’re going in after restructuring incumbent QB Ryan Tannehill’s contract; parting ways with Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey; spending big on two slot receivers; trading for Robert Quinn’s expensive contract; and still re-signing William Hayes at the same defensive end position they’ve invested so heavily in. Corner is a big need, though, despite investing Day 2 picks in Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley the last two years as they ranked 92nd and 93rd out of 121 qualifying cornerbacks in PFF grades. If Ward is chosen earlier, possibly even as high as #5, either Edmunds or Smith would be the likely player available here instead and an improvement on the departed Lawrence Timmons.
12. Colts (via trade): Derwin James, Florida State SS. 6’1¾”, 215 lbs
GM Chris Ballard understands that he still needs an influx of talent across the roster, as evidenced by shrewdly picking up three extra 2nd rounders in his move down from #3 already, and that theme continues with my proposed move to this spot. If he stays at #6, Minkah Fitzpatrick or Quenton Nelson could be the pick to shore up either the secondary or offensive line, but even after moving down, the former can still be addressed with James. His elite athleticism allows him to fly around the field in run support while also providing sound coverage, and his versatility in man coverage and as a blitzer provides options for how to use their other safeties in sub packages.
13. Redskins: Vita Vea, Washington NT. 6’4”, 347 lbs
Washington allowed the most rushing yards in the league last year and was in the bottom 10 the previous two years, as well, so a dominant nose tackle like Vea would fill a huge void. His huge size belies impression coordination, and he can push the pocket as a pass rusher, as well. He’s probably best suited to come off the field on obvious passing downs to keep him fresh, however, so if one of the top defensive backs falls here, that could be the choice instead.
14. Packers: Josh Jackson, Iowa CB. 6’0⅜”, 196 lbs
The offensive line is probably a more pressing need, but based on Green Bay’s recent history, I think they’ll continue to focus more on defensive backs instead. Bringing back Tramon Williams and Davon House was just a stop gap solution, Quinten Rollins hasn’t built upon his strong rookie year and is probably best served in the slot, and last year’s top pick, Kevin King, struggled in coverage and had a shoulder injury that required surgery. Enter Jackson, who possesses nice size on the outside and excellent ball skills that helped him he lead the country in interceptions last season.
15. 49ers (via trade): Harold Landry, Boston College DE. 6’2⅜”, 252 lbs
If San Francisco stays at #9, there’s sure to be some consideration for Smith and Edmunds, especially in the wake of Reuben Foster’s criminal charges, but they’ve seemed to be more interested in corners like Fitzpatrick and edge rushers like Landry, whose first meeting at the combine was with the 49ers. In this scenario, they move back and stay in range for Landry, who would be a defensive lineman in the 1st for a fourth straight year but is much different than their past interior choices.
His 87th percentile pSPARQ score matches a trend with this front office’s acquisitions, and of all the combine drills he dominated in, the 6.88 3-cone time might be the most impressive. Besides being a display of his bend as an pass rusher, that showed he’s back to full health after an ankle injury severely limited his senior season following a 16.5 sack junior year that had him in the top 10 of mock drafts. Even if his previous campaign was more of an outlier, PFF still gave him 83.8 and 83.9 grades before and after that breakout 89.0 season, so there may not be as much risk as it appears with his inconsistent traditional stats.
16. Ravens: Calvin Ridley, Alabama WR. 6’0½”, 189 lbs
Even after signing Michael Crabtree and John Brown, Baltimore’s interest in Dez Bryant suggests that they’re still looking to improve their wide receiver group, and it’s only fitting that Ozzie Newsome picks yet another player from his alma mater with his last 1st round pick as GM. Yes, the fact that Ridley already turned 23 as a junior is a red flag along with his up and down production in the run heavy ‘Bama offense and some shockingly poor combine results, but it’s easy to forget all of that when you see how easily he separates from defenders.
The man has been a polished route-runner since day 1, as evidence by him breaking the school record for catches and yards by a freshman that was set by Julio Jones and then Amari Cooper. The latter is an easy comparison with the way Ridley wins as a technician rather than with pure size or speed, but based purely on measurables, Stefon Diggs might be the most similar comp.
17. Chargers: Da’Ron Payne, Alabama DT. 6’2½”, 311 lbs
With the signing of Pouncey and return of last year’s 2nd round pick Forrest Lamp from a torn ACL to improve the offensive line, L.A. has surprisingly few holes across the roster. Adding a player like Payne would provide a younger option on the defensive interior, though, and he even has the skills to help fill in at 3-technique while Corey Liuget serves a four-game suspension before taking over for Brandon Mebane at nose tackle. They may look at linebacker options or even a future successor to Philip Rivers like Lamar Jackson, but I like the fit of Payne here.
18. Seahawks: Maurice Hurst, Michigan DT. 6’1¼”, 292 lbs
Seattle can go in a lot of directions here after experiencing so much change across the team over the past year, so I’m going with the best player available here who also fills the void left by Sheldon Richardson’s departure and the possible release of last year’s top pick, Malik McDowell. The interior disruption that Hurst provides warrants attention higher than this, but being flagged with a possible heart condition in addition to being slightly undersized likely knocks him down a bit in some teams’ view. If the Seahawks are such a team, Josh Jackson’s history as a former receiver turned corner might remind them of Richard Sherman if he’s available to fill their need there, or edge help in the form of Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport could help replace Michael Bennett and possibly Cliff Avril if he doesn’t get medically cleared.
19. Cowboys: Courtland Sutton, SMU WR. 6’3⅜”, 218 lbs
This might seem too obvious or an overreaction to cutting Bryant last week, but Dallas was showing interest in receivers even before that, especially the local product Sutton. His big frame and physicality at the catch point might resemble Bryant to some, but I actually like a comparison from NFL.com’s Matt Harmon to the other wide receiver taken in 2010’s 1st round, Demaryius Thomas. Sutton moves better with the ball in his hands than you’d expect from a player as tall as him, and although he’s still a bit raw as a route-runner like Thomas was coming out, you can see the big play ability with his suddenness. If they elect to wait on a receiver, a defensive lineman like Payne or Hurst could be fits if available.
20. Lions: Marcus Davenport, UTSA DE. 6’5¾”, 264 lbs
The UTSA Roadrunners will have multiple players drafted in 2018, but none stand taller than Marcus Davenport. After Davenport’s meteoric rise as a prospect, going 'only' 20th might seem a little disappointing, but he is still a bit of a project despite his upside as an edge rusher. His intimidating length draws comparisons to Ziggy Ansah, who would become his teammate here and is only currently signed to the one-year franchise tender.
Even if Detroit signs the soon to be 29-year-old to a long term deal, they still need pass rush help around him, so this is likely the direction they go unless they fall in love with a cornerback prospect like Isaiah Oliver, Jaire Alexander or Mike Hughes.
21. Bengals: James Daniels, Iowa C. 6’3⅜”, 306 lbs
After adding left tackle Cordy Glenn in the move down to this spot from #12, Cincinnati can further rejuvenate their once-strong offensive line with the top interior prospect in Daniels. They let Russell Bodine walk in free agency, so improving the center spot is the largest need among the shuffling pieces up front, with another tackle like Mike McGlinchey or Connor Williams the other possibility. Andy Dalton has proven to be a solid quarterback when he has the right situation around him, but he can’t get the ball to their plethora of weapons otherwise.
22. Colts (via trade): Derrius Guice, LSU RB. 5’10½”, 224 lbs
I can see a scenario where either Denver or Indy ends up with this pick depending on who trades with Buffalo, and in both cases, Guice is the favorite to be the selection and take over their respective backfield committees. He’s an explosive runner who enjoys taking the physicality to the opponent, and I think he has more receiving chops than he’s shown thus far in LSU’s limited attack. However, if the Colts’ new coaching staff takes a shine to dynamic second year ‘back Marlon Mack or prefers a Ronald Jones, Sony Michel, Rashaad Penny or Nick Chubb fit on Day 2, one of the top linebackers or offensive lineman might be the choice here instead.
23. Patriots: Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame OT. 6’7⅞”, 309 lbs
While this may seem shockingly late for the first offensive tackle to come off the board, there also wasn’t one taken until #20 last year, and McGlinchey isn’t necessarily viewed as elite. He is the safest of this limited class, though, and I could see him go as high as #10 to the Raiders. Tom Brady’s blind side protector is by far the biggest question mark on New England’s roster in the wake of Nate Solder’s departure since LaAdrian Waddle is barely backup caliber and Antonio Garcia, a 3rd rounder last year, missed his rookie season with blood clots.
24. Panthers: D.J. Moore, Maryland WR. 6’0”, 210 lbs
While Carolina could use depth on both sides of the line, they still need an injection of explosiveness at receiver after 2nd round pick Curtis Samuel missed much of his rookie year with various injuries. Moore proved to be an even more athletic combine performer with more size than expected, as well. With comparisons to Golden Tate for how dangerous he is after the catch and a physical profile that compares remarkably favorably to Pierre Garçon, it’s easy to see how dynamic of a playmaker Moore can be at either flanker or in the slot, with Samuel hopefully also rotating in at both spots across from Devin Funchess. It doesn’t hurt that he has the best statistical profile in the class or that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner had a prominent role at his pro day, either.
25. Titans: Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State LB. 6’4¼”, 256 lbs
I gave strong consideration to edge rusher Sam Hubbard here since new head coach Mike Vrabel was the Ohio State defensive line coach when he was recruited there, but this is a little early for him. The loss of Avery Williamson leaves linebacker as a bigger need than finding a successor to Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, anyway, so instead they get nice value in Vander Esch. His tantalizing size would pair well with the smaller Wesley Woodyard inside, and in addition to being a monster in run defense, he’s solid in pass coverage.
26. Falcons: Taven Bryan, Florida DL. 6’5”, 291 lbs
Speaking of college coaching connections, Dan Quinn was the Gators’ defensive coordinator and defensive line coach during the recruitment of Bryan, with the athletic lineman committing just a few months after Quinn returned to the NFL in 2013. He can provide quick penetration at defensive tackle next to Grady Jerrett and also be an option as a 5-technique defensive end in their system. A dark horse pick here would be a receiver if Ridley or Moore falls after they lost Taylor Gabriel and don’t have much behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
27. Saints: Lamar Jackson, Louisville QB. 6’2¼”, 216 lbs
Based on talent alone, Jackson should be long gone by this pick, but after not hiring an agent, he’s handled the draft process poorly and failed the quell the notion that he’s "just a running quarterback.” Under the tutelage of an offensive mind like coach Sean Payton, Jackson can become an excellent successor to Drew Brees, though, and that might be a priority after the veteran’s contract extension took longer than expected to get done. The other likely option is whichever of the tight ends they value most since Benjamin Watson is 37 years old and only on a one-year deal.
28. Steelers: Rashaan Evans, Alabama LB. 6’1⅞”, 232 lbs
It’s probably too early to turn the page on 2016 2nd round pick Sean Davis at safety, so linebacker help should be the pick here given the uncertainty about Ryan Shazier’s future. Evans uses his athleticism well to stop the run and rush the passer, and with some experience on the outside in Alabama’s 3-4, he could potentially get time there in sub-packages. Bud Dupree’s inconsistencies so far in his career could come into play there or Pittsburgh could target an edge rusher for the fourth time in six years.
29. Jaguars: Isaiah Wynn, Georgia OG. 6’2¾”, 313 lbs
Perhaps Jacksonville takes one of the top quarterbacks if available, but that extension they gave Blake Bortles indicates that he’ll be the guy for at least the next two years. Similarly, the surprisingly large amount of guarantees they gave D.J. Hayden to replace Aaron Colvin as a third corner probably makes filling their last hole on the offensive line most likely. Wynn acquitted himself well in his time at tackle, but most evaluators see a move back to guard in his NFL future due to his size. Having him and free agent signing Andrew Norwell replace A.J. Cann and Patrick Omameh could make this one of the better lines in the league.
30. Vikings: Connor Williams, Texas OT. 6’5⅛”, 296 lbs
Williams has a case to be made as the best tackle in this class and could go higher to a team like Cincinatti, but his arm length coming in slightly shorter than expected at 33” has some concerned. I think he’s a great talent at tackle, though, and Minnesota could be in the market for one after experimenting with incumbent right tackle Mike Remmers at left guard in the playoffs. This would allow them to commit to that move, and they could switch him back if Williams eventually does need to move inside, where he would be a potentially dominant guard. If taking a pure interior lineman instead, I wouldn’t be surprised if they go with Billy Price after his former Ohio State teammate Pat Elflein was a day one starter at center for them.
31. Patriots: Jaire Alexander, Louisville CB. 5’10¼”, 196 lbs
This pick could be Mason Rudolph since using a 1st on their quarterback of the future would allow New England the fifth-year option that they lacked with Jimmy Garoppolo, but I think they address the defense here. Reuniting Jason McCourty with his twin Devin was a steal of a trade to help replace Malcolm Butler at corner, but both he and #3 corner Eric Rowe are in the last year of their contracts.
I personally prefer Isaiah Oliver, but NFL teams seem higher on Alexander, as evidenced by his invite to the draft green room. It may be splitting hairs since Alexander’s elite combine performance showed that he’s back to peak form after injuries hampered his junior year following a standout sophomore season.
32. Eagles: Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State TE. 6’4⅝”, 256 lbs
Philadelphia’s roster is as stacked as you would expect of a Super Bowl winner, but one of their few needs is a tight end partner for Zach Ertz with Brent Celek and Trey Burton gone. Choosing the best tight end among Goedert, Mike Gesicki and Hayden Hurst may come down to personal preference, but Goedert is the most complete prospect given the blocking deficiencies of the other two. That’s important since he’ll be in a lot of multiple tight end sets (Celek and Burton combined for 885 snaps, per PFF) alongside Ertz, who has always been more of a receiving tight end himself.
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