There are many ways to interpret a mock draft. What is the most likely selection each team will make? Will team A go best player available, while team B looks to fill their biggest need? Let’s view this mock draft as what each team should do. I’ve taken into account current depth charts prior to free agency to get a better idea of the positions that teams are looking to improve and fortify, all with the intention of succeeding in 2018-19. So, without further ado, your first 2018 NFL Mock Draft!
1. Cleveland Browns: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. The UCLA signal-caller is an easy call as QB1 for me in this draft. Accuracy? Check. Prototypical size? Check. Throwing mechanics? Check. Not to mention, the kid is smart, well-spoken, and hates Trump. Cleveland would be lucky to have him as the face of their franchise for the next 12-15 years.
2. New York Giants: Sam Darnold, QB, USC. I was tempted to put Josh Allen in this spot, but Darnold is the pick here. Eli is 37 years old. 37! He’s obviously lost a step, as all QBs do at this stage - unless you’re a certain QB on the avocado and water diet. The only worrisome thing about Darnold is his penchant for throwing interceptions. Get that cleaned up, and he’s just as good as Rosen, albeit, with throwing mechanics that aren’t as pretty. Having Eli to learn from for a year or two will only help.
3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. Is this pick set in stone? I feel it’s the biggest lock of the top 3 by far, being 7 weeks from draft day. What’s not to like about Chubb? Excellent size, explosiveness, and fills a vital need for a Colts team desperate for help in the trenches on both sides.
4. Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, PSU. Talk about a monumental, franchise-changing draft for the lowly Browns. Sure-fire franchise QB and a generational talent at RB? The Browns have effectively exhausted any and all reasons to fail going forward. Barkley, while not as powerful as previous top 4 RBs picked - Ezekiel Elliot and Leonard Fournette – he has better speed and is significantly more advanced out of the backfield catching passes. I have reservations about whether a RB should be valued this high, especially when the college game tends to favour speed to the outside over inside running, but the Browns simply can’t pass up on this guy.
5. Denver Broncos: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. A lot of this depends on the Kirk Cousins landing spot, but let’s just assume he ends up going to Minnesota. Mayfield has me excited as a fan of football. If the Russell Wilson comparisons are true (below-average size coupled with plus accuracy and mobility) you have to swing for the fences and take him. If anyone knew Wilson would be this good this fast, he would have gone first overall. Driving a stake through the heart of all THE Ohio State? Amazing. Crotch grab? This kid is on his way to legend status. I’m all aboard the Mayfield bandwagon, come hop on!
6. New York Jets: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. Out of the top QBs in this draft, Allen has me the least excited. While he has a strong arm and scary-good size, was he any good at playing the QB position? While Allen passes the eye-test, playing at Wyoming and only completing 56% of your passes and not dominating the competition is worrisome. But, what are you going to do? It’s a QB-driven league, we’re just living in it. The Jets need their guy and will swing, and swing hard on Allen. Best case scenario, Allen becomes Ben Roethlisberger 2.0. Worst case, he’s on his second team come year 4.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama. The Bucs backfield is rather concerning, but I think Licht sees he can plug that hole in round 2 rather easily. Instead, Tampa gets a great CB/S who was well-coached at Alabama. Fitzpatrick can play inside, flip to safety, or man-up on the outside (even though he didn’t do much of this). Paired with Vernon Hargreaves in the secondary, it’s going to get really hard, really fast to pass on the Bucs. Chris Conte, Brent Grimes, and TJ Ward won’t be there for the foreseeable future; it only makes sense to reload at a position of need that matches the best player available (BPA).
8. Chicago Bears: Quenton Nelson, OG, ND. Kind of a steal, kind of a reach. Wait, can you be both? Personally, I absolutely despise seeing guards drafted in the first round when we’ve seen so many success stories drafted later (hat-tip to Ted Thompson finding TJ Lang and Josh Sitton with 4th round picks!) But, Nelson is special. Yes, even for a guard. He is the epitome of nasty. Third and 1 will never be a problem in Chicago for Trubisky and Jordan Howard with a Nelson/Long guard combo.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU. The Niners are that rare lottery team who has their franchise QB (thanks Bill!) and can afford to plug holes with the BPA. Enter: Derrius Guice. Power, power, and more power! Evan Silva compared Guice to Zeke Elliot right here https://www.playerprofiler.com/nfl/derrius-guice/ and man, it’s a wonder this hasn’t been a more common landing spot for the LSU RB in mocks to this point. I know, Lynch probably wants to fortify the D considering his Tampa roots, but let’s remember this - he just took 2 defensive cornerstones in the draft last year (Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster). At the end of the day, you can’t go into a season with Matt freaking Breida (WHO!?) and Jeremy McNichols (HUH!?) as your starting RBs. Will passing on Roquan Smith be a big disaster if Foster flames out as a serial pothead and woman beater? Probably. Which brings me to my next pick.
10. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia. I love this kid. He is Thomas Davis 2.0. Oddly enough, they both came from Georgia. He’s a heat-seeking missile in the run game, more than capable of blowing up the running back in the backfield, or chasing them outside with ease. Always capable of bringing the hammer, Roquan will bring legitimacy and fear up the middle of the Oakland D, while Khalil Mack wreaks havoc on the outside.
11. Miami Dolphins: Denzel Ward, CB, OSU. While Adam Gase could pound the table to get his QB some much needed help after the Landry trade, the value doesn’t quite add up in taking a WR this early. Dolphins take the likely top option at CB to pair with their young stud, Cordrea Tankersley. Just like the Saints lucking into Marshon Lattimore last year at 9th overall, the early run on QBs forces a top 10 talent to slide, but not too far. Look for Miami to scoop up a WR in round 2.
12. Cincinnati Bengals: Tremaine Edmunds, ILB, Virginia. I was tempted to go pass-rusher here, but the Bengals made shrewd picks last year in Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis. Enter: Tremaine Edmunds. The perfect succession plan to the train-wreck that is Vontaze Burfict at LB. Edmunds will only be 20 by the time he attends his first training camp and is more balanced than Roquan Smith. While Roquan is the better thumper, Tremaine will cover the TE down the seam much more consistently.
13. Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, NT, Washington. The Redskins had an absurd number of injuries last year along the trenches that really hurt them. One thing is for sure, that run D needs to be fortified. What better way to do that than plug in a 340 pound immovable object in the middle of the D? While Vita Vea may be a dying breed in the NFL as teams look to go smaller and quicker at DT to get better immediate pressure up the middle on the QB, he makes the Redskins D noticeably better overnight and will open things up for Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith on the edge.
14. Green Bay Packers: Harold Landry, OLB, BC. Yes, I’m still going pass-rusher here even though Damarious Randall was just traded. It would be extremely embarrassing having to draft ANOTHER corner again this high (Packers spent a 1 on Randall and two 2s on King and Rollins in the last 3 years). Brian Gutekunst opts to strengthen the pass-rush by giving newly hired DC Mike Pettine a new toy to wreak havoc with on the outside. Landry also compares favourably to his new teammate, Clay Matthews. Having said that, this pick likely pushes Matthews to the inside this coming season at some point, while also providing insurance against another Nick Perry hand injury.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Yes, that’s QUARTERBACK Lamar Jackson to you! I expect the Cards to feverishly try to trade up for one of the top 5 QBs previously mentioned, but if not, I think they’ll happily take the electrifying Lamar Jackson. No, he’s not Michael Vick, but he can be a very good QB with a little bit of seasoning for a year or so. This may force the Cards to start Drew Stanton or find a stop-gap vet, but with Lamar, the possibilities are endless when you have his speed and athleticism at the QB position.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Marcus Davenport, OLB, UTSA. Let’s be honest. Ozzie Newsome can’t possibly draft another Alabama player in round 1, can he? Davenport, while raw and from a small school, is a physically-talented and vicious edge player. I see shades of prime James Harrison at the point of attack, albeit, with lesser technique. Davenport has the tools, but he’s very raw having played at UTSA. Baltimore will give him the coaching he needs and he’ll be a perfect successor to Terrell Suggs.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Connor Williams, OT, Texas. It seems every year the Chargers are looking for OL help, this year is no different. This is an easy decision when you have likely the best OT on the board sitting for the taking.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Derwin James, S, FSU. Seattle will sprint this card to the podium if Derwin James is still there. Going from Kam Chancellor to the do-it-all FSU safety would be extremely lucky for the Seahawks as they look to rebuild their injury-ravaged, physical secondary.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. Cowboys scoop up another Michigan man in the first round for the second year in a row. Heart condition be damned, I have no doubt Hurst is going to be a good one. While some say he’s too small, I think he’s part of the new-breed of DT the NFL is trending towards. Big Mo was the heart and soul of a highly-ranked Michigan D, showing time after time his ability to collapse the inside of the OL. Jerrah gets another war-daddy to keep his front 7 fresh.
20. Detroit Lions: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. Lions fans may have clamoured hard for their home-grown talent who went a pick earlier, but Payne is a great consolation prize. He whooped that Clemson OL in the CFP then dominated in the National Championship game against Georgia. Does that speak to inconsistency in his game? Possibly, but the Lions need all the horses they can get up front. Payne will no doubt help Ziggy Ansah recapture some of that early career magic.
21. Buffalo Bills: Mike McGlinchey, OT, ND. Look for the Bills to try and trade up for one of the top QBs because no one is shaking in their boots at the prospect of facing Nathan Peterman. I’m giving the Bills McGlinchey here, but they could definitely go with more of an interior OL to offset the sudden retirement of Eric Wood (Isaiah Wynn from Georgia, maybe?). Once again, is an interior OL worthy of first round consideration? I have my reservations. That’s why I’d rather plug in a sure-fire RT to further solidify the line play.
22. Buffalo Bills: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. While not a great athlete, Ridley is a technician at the WR position. He runs excellent routes and has very good hands. He’s the consensus WR1 so this a bit of a drop for him, but this is a weaker WR class overall.
23. LA Rams: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. The Rams strengthened their secondary with the Talib and Peters additions, but they will likely lose Sammy Watkins in the process. Courtland Sutton will bring his exceptional size to LA and get the chance to grow with Jared Goff within the prolific Sean McVay offense.
24. Carolina Panthers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. A physical corner who showed off the necessary speed at the combine to put those concerns to rest. This is a bit of a slip for Jackson who is definitely in the conversation for CB1. I would argue he’s more physical than Denzel Ward given his size advantage, but not as fluid in changing direction and flipping his hips in coverage.
25. Tennessee Titans: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M. So close, yet so far from Calvin Ridley. A bit of a reach to take Kirk here, but Jon Robinson is building something special in Tennessee. Kirk won’t be supplanting Corey Davis as the Titans’ WR1 anytime soon, but he’ll definitely be a nice complimentary WR2 who will most likely excel in the slot over the long term.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP. A bit tough to find holes on teams picking this late, but you pick this late because you’re usually really close to a Super Bowl and are in the top tier within the NFL. Falcons take a guard because Dimitroff and Quinn understand trench play reigns supreme in the NFL. Not a bad place to devote resources to if you don’t have glaring holes elsewhere. WR is also a strong option, but with the top 3 off the board, the value doesn’t quite mesh with the pick point here.
27. New Orleans Saints: Mike Gesicki, TE, PSU. This kid is an absolute favourite of mine. He’s the best TE in the draft and he wrecked the combine, testing as a 99% percentile athlete. Fortunately, this is a situation where the athletic traits match the on-field performance. As a Michigan fan, I repeatedly seen Gesicki high-point passes from Trace McSorely on a regular basis down the seam with ease. In my opinion, Gesicki has a lot of Tyler Eifert in him. Brees is going to love this new addition.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama. This is a pick made strictly off the loss of Ryan Shazier. Obviously, I wish Shazier nothing but the best in his rehab going forward, but you don’t typically play in the NFL following incomplete spinal cord injuries coupled with spinal fusion surgery. Certainly a very tough loss. Rashaan Evans goes to the Steelers here, immediately supplanting Vince Williams and Sean Spence in the process. Steelers could also go safety here, but I found it tough to find a safety worthy of late first consideration outside of Evans’ teammate, Ronnie Harrison.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State. This is a Jaguars team that greatly overachieved last season, but with the coming losses of Allen Robinson and Aaron Colvin, you get the sense GM David Caldwell can go anywhere with this pick. Slight reach here? Probably. But Bortles needs to be put in position to continue his success. If Dede Westbrook and Allen Hurns can stay outside and stretch the field, everything short and intermediate will open up for Goedert to contribute in a big way his rookie season.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise St. Bit of a speculation pick here as I think the Vikings eventually landing Kirk Cousins will not allow for them to resign either one or both of their big-time ILBs – Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Rick Spielman looks to the future to ensure his vaunted defense doesn’t skip a beat when the inevitable happens.
31. New England Patriots. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado. Patriots nab a dropping CB who is capable of going higher to replace the departed Malcolm Butler and repeatedly-torched Eric Rowe. Belichick will get the most out of Oliver, taking advantage of his size to match-up well with the opposition’s WR1.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA. Eagles take the best OT available here given Jason Peters’ frequent injuries the last few years. Once again, good teams continue to build their team from the trenches, outwards.