First-Round Mock Draft – February 5, 2018

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsSouthern California quarterback Sam Darnold

It is my first mock draft of the 2018 NFL offseason. It is still very early in the draft process so I reached out to a number of sources by looking at various websites and rankings to come up with a relative consensus.

It should be noted that this mock will come out three weeks before the Combine and five weeks before the start of free agency. I cannot stress this enough, that until those two events unfold, any attempt at projecting how the draft will go is a fool’s errand. So remember that before you post your angry comment below.

But unlike others, I always try to incorporate what may or may not happen in Indianapolis or during free agency into this projection. For example, I expect that the Denver Broncos will sign Kirk Cousins in free agency. Such a signing would eliminate their need to draft a quarterback, which explains why I don’t have them doing so.

I also like to factor the potential of cap casualties creating holes at various positions for teams, but tried to make note of those instances when I was considering that in the descriptions below each pick.

There will be more mock drafts to come and this is a very fluid process. So please, relax and be patient. Again at this point, this is more an exercise in conceiving what is possible particularly from a team needs standpoint rather than predicting what will actually happen.

An asterisk (*) indicates an underclassman.

1. Cleveland Browns – QB Sam Darnold, USC*

Darnold got a lot of hype following a strong first year as a starter in 2016, but cooled off a bit in 2017. However the Browns are looking for a franchise-changing quarterback and while he may lack the polish of some other prospects like Rosen, Darnold’s physical tools give him a potentially higher ceiling. The Browns will nab him as well as potentially sign a free agent like A.J. McCarron to keep the seat warm.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA QB Josh Rosen

2. New York Giants – QB Josh Rosen, UCLA*

The Giants are likely going to keep Eli Manning for another year, but they won’t hesitate to snatch up their heir apparent given how hight they’re drafting. Rosen fits as a smart, cerebral quarterback in a similar mold as Matt Ryan. His outspoken nature won’t be a problem in a city like New York, but rather the biggest concern for him will be durability.

3. Indianapolis Colts – EDGE Bradley Chubb, N.C. State

With new head coach Josh McDaniels coming to town, the Colts might be tempted to upgrade their offensive line by taking a player like Quenton Nelson. But for a team in desperate need to upgrade their defense, Chubb is too gifted a talent to pass up at this point. He’ll join the likes of Jabaal Sheard and John Simon and should quickly take over as Indy’s premier pass-rusher.

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans) – DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama*

The Browns traded up for Jabrill Peppers last year, but he was stuck playing deep rather than in the box where he’s most comfortable. Fitzpatrick’s versatility to play a multitude of positions gives the Browns flexibility to deploy him as a free safety or to make him into a cornerback, where the team also needs help to deal with receivers like Antonio Brown and A.J. Green.

5. Denver Broncos – OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame*

Nelson is a rare interior offensive line prospect that will draw comparisons to Notre Dame alumnus Zack Martin in terms of his ability to instantly impact a unit. The Broncos need interior line help with Ron Leary having an injury-plagued first year in Denver and Max Garcia being a better backup than starting option.

6. New York Jets – QB Josh Allen, Wyoming*

Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan’s teams have drafted the likes of Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty and Tom Savage over the past four years. Clearly, he likes arm talent. There isn’t better arm talent in this class than Josh Allen. The Jets will likely look to sign a veteran in free agency to keep the seat warm until Allen is poised to take over as he’s probably the prospect that most needs a redshirt year.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State*

With Doug Martin’s tenure in Tampa likely coming to an end, the Bucs could use a feature running back to take over and stabilize what has been one of the league’s worst rushing attacks since Dirk Koetter took over as head coach. Barkley provides upside both as a runner and receiver as the Bucs also try to draw on the example of Alvin Kamara in New Orleans.

8. Chicago Bears – CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State*

The Bears need a young, talented outside corner with Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller poised to hit free agency. Should they be able to bring one of those starters back and/or upgrade in free agency, they have a solid trio with Bryce Callahan filling in as the nickel corner.

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Washington DT Vita Vea

9. San Francisco 49ers – DT Vita Vea, Washington*

With Jimmy Garoppolo stabilizing an offense, the 49ers need to continue to build up their defense. With Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, the team already has potentially three-fourths of a top-line defensive line. Vea’s size and power should help beef up their run defense.

10. Oakland Raiders – LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech*

With Jon Gruden taking over and bringing in ex-Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to lead the defense, the Raiders will definitely be looking for linebacker help. Edmunds has tremendous size, length and speed and is a perfect fit for the type of physical, but athletic linebacker that the Bengals and Vikings have made into Pro Bowlers over the past few years.

11. Miami Dolphins – WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama*

With Jarvis Landry poised to hit the open market and looking for the highest bidder, the Dolphins could be in the market for a replacement No. 1 wideout. DeVante Parker hasn’t quite lived up to expectations yet and the Dolphins will hope a talented receiver such as Ridley can give a returning Ryan Tannehill a more reliable receiving option to take this offense to the next level.

12. Cincinnati Bengals – OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma*

The Bengals’ picks of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher two years ago has not quite worked out. Brown is the big, physical mauler that the Bengals typically are attracted to (see Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith) and can come in and be plugged in at either tackle spot right away.

13. Washington Redskins – LB Roquan Smith, Georgia*

The Redskins might lose linebacker Zach Brown to free agency and will need to find an adequate replacement that offers comparable speed, athleticism and range in the middle of their defense. Roquan Smith could give the Redskins, with the healthy return of Jonathan Allen and the presence of Ryan Kerrigan, one of the more formidable front sevens in the NFC.

14. Green Bay Packers – CB Josh Jackson, Iowa*

The Packers need help across their defense including finding another pass-rusher to team with Nick Perry long term. But they also need an outside corner given that Davon House and Quinten Rollins failed to elevate the position. Jackson gives them another big outside guy to play across from Kevin King and bump the diminutive Damarious Randall inside to the slot.

15. Arizona Cardinals – QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

The Cardinals may move up in the draft to make sure they secure their quarterback of the future. Mayfield may lack the size that most covet at the position but makes up for it in a lot of ways. Mayfield’s “swagger” and demeanor should make him fit in just fine in Arizona as new Cardinals play-caller Mike McCoy had no issues working with the likes of Philip Rivers for years.

16. Baltimore Ravens – S Derwin James, Florida State*

The Ravens could plug James in as a hybrid safety/inside linebacker beside C.J. Mosley, a role that former undrafted rookie Patrick Onwuasor shined in this past year. But James represents a more permanent upgrade with plus size and physicality that has drawn comparisons to the likes of Kam Chancellor.

17. Los Angeles Chargers – DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama*

The Chargers will look to beef up a run defense that struggled throughout 2017 with a player like Payne, who can take over for Brandon Mebane at nose tackle while also providing a bit more “oomph” as a pass-rusher on third downs.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan DT Maurice Hurst

18. Seattle Seahawks – DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan

With Malik McDowell’s future in doubt, Cliff Avril’s career potentially being over, Sheldon Richardson hitting free agency and Michael Bennett potentially being a cap casualty this offseason, the Seahawks could quickly become shockingly thin as far as their pass rush goes heading into 2018. Thus a pick like Hurst makes a ton of sense. It’s also worth mentioning that with the Seahawks are missing a second and third-round pick this year, so they are primed for a trade back to collect more picks if need be.

19. Dallas Cowboys – DT Taven Bryan, Florida*

The Cowboys will look to improve their defensive front and pass rush with a relatively raw, but talented player like Bryan. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli works wonders for developing rushers and Bryan could potentially be another notch in his belt as he offers comparable skill to supplant Tyrone Crawford as a guy that can play both inside and outside in their front.

20. Detroit Lions – EDGE Marcus Davenport, UT-San Antonio

The Lions could wind up losing Ziggy Ansah to free agency this offseason, but even if they manage to keep (or tag) him, they still need to find a capable running mate.  Davenport offers comparable leg and developmental potential that could either replace or supplement Ansah up front for the Lions.

21. Buffalo Bills – RB Derrius Guice, LSU*

The Bills are likely going to be in the market to move up in the draft to get a quarterback. Possessing two firsts and two seconds, the Bills potentially have the ammunition to move all the way up into the top five to get their guy. But since this isn’t a mock that projects trades, they’ll simply settle for upgrading the supporting cast around their prospective passer. With LeSean McCoy battling injuries throughout 2017 and getting up in years, the Bills need to start looking to who will be their feature back for the next few years and Guice is as good a pick as any.

22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs) – OC Billy Price, Ohio State

The sudden retirement of Eric Wood will likely prompt the Bills to try and address their hole at center in free agency or early in the draft. They’ll certainly have options in free agency if they want to spend. But if they prefer to get a younger guy in their continued bid to remake their offensive line, Price is a good get.

23. Los Angeles Rams – CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado*

The Rams shopped top cornerback Trumaine Johnson less than a year ago and he’ll be hitting free agency for the second year in a row. Whether they retain him or not, the Rams are looking for a corner that can be an upgrade over the likes of Troy Hill and Kayvon Webster as Wade Phillips hopes to build one of the strongest secondaries in the league as he helped do in Denver a few years back.

24. Carolina Panthers – WR Courtland Sutton, Southern Methodist*

The Panthers need to find better talent to surround Cam Newton with and a big wideout like Sutton makes a lot of sense to team with Devin Funchess. Sutton has the talent to develop into the more reliable go-to option that Kelvin Benjamin never quite was.

25. Tennessee Titans – EDGE Arden Key, LSU*

With both Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan getting up in age and Kevin Dodd seeing minimal work in his first two years, new Titans head coach Mike Vrabel will look to re-shape the Titans pass rush. While Key had a down 2017, his length, athleticism and talent could remind Vrabel of some of the talented players he coached in Houston like Whitney Mercilus and Jadaveon Clowney.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia OL Isaiah Wynn

26. Atlanta Falcons – OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

The Falcons were able to make due with Wes Schweitzer at right guard, but adding some additional youth up front makes a lot of sense given that three of their five starters up front will all be on the wrong side of 30 when the 2018 season kicks off. Wynn played tackle in college, but is well suited to moving inside to guard in the Falcons’ outside-zone scheme.

27. New Orleans Saints – EDGE Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State*

The Saints saw big improvement from their defense in 2017, but can’t take that for granted. Particularly given that Cameron Jordan provided 99.9 percent of their pass rush. Adding a productive player like Mata’afa into the mix as an edge-rusher should help continue to build up that defense for years to come.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers – LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama

The Steelers will be looking to replace Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker and Evans offers comparable speed and athleticism. There could be other options worth slotting in here, particularly if guys like Malik Jefferson (Texas) or Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State) test particularly well at the Combine.

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

29. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville*

The Jaguars seem poised to bring back Blake Bortles for the final year of his contract even at the exorbitant price of $19 million. However, it doesn’t mean they’ll be committed to him as taking a talented passer like Jackson, whose play-making abilities will remind many of Michael Vick, makes too much sense at this point.

30. Minnesota Vikings – S Ronnie Harrison, Alabama*

The Vikings probably would love to see Wynn slide to them here, but if not, then they’ll “settle” for taking a talented safety like Harrison. With Andrew Sendejo constantly in and out of the lineup with injuries and on the wrong side of the 30, the Vikings would be smart to peg Harrison as his heir apparent to continue giving them one of the league’s most dominant defenses.

31. New England Patriots – OT Connor Williams, Texas*

With Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming on the verge of free agency, the Patriots are clearly in need of an upgrade at offensive tackle. Williams has been projected by many as a potential top 10 pick, so if he were to somehow slide in the draft, would be considered a nice steal for the Patriots.

32. Philadelphia Eagles – CB Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State*

Initially I was projecting the Eagles to take an offensive tackle to develop, but with Jason Peters likely returning for another year and coupled with Ronald Darby’s struggles in the postseason, having another top cornerback to throw into their secondary would be a smart play. McFadden offers the size that their current group doesn’t quite have.

I’ll probably wait until right before or after the Combine before I drop another mock.

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Aaron Freeman
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