It’s time for another opportunity for me to project which prospects will hear their names called on the opening night of the 2018 NFL Draft. And this time I’m doing so by predicting trades!
The draft is now beginning to coalesce into something that makes a projection at least a bit more realistic compared to the last time I attempted this.
My last mock draft was a month ago before the Combine. But now we have seen the players work out in shorts and have had extensive player movement in free agency the past two weeks to eliminate several teams’ key needs.
I tried to project realistic trades, but also tried balancing that with infusing this mock with a healthy dose of drama that would make for an exciting night of television, should anything like this go down a month from now.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Cleveland Browns – QB Sam Darnold, Southern California
The early favorite to be the No. 1 pick remains the likeliest candidate to come off the board first. Darnold may not be universally hailed as the best quarterback in this draft class, but he’s probably the guy that has been picked apart the least. His youth and inexperience prompts many to excuse some of the decision-making issues he showed this past year at USC.
2. *TRADE!!!* Buffalo Bills (from NY Giants) – QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
Trade Details: Bills trade first (12th and 22nd overall), second (53rd and 56th) and a conditional second-round pick in 2019 to Giants for their first-round (2nd) pick. The condition is that if the Bills make the playoffs in 2018, that selection becomes a first-round pick.
While many seem convinced that the Giants aren’t looking to trade out of the second overall pick after the New York Jets moved up recently, I just think people lack imagination. I believe the Giants want more than what the Jets were willing to offer, plus the level of pettiness to avoid bending over backward to help their cross-town rival nixed any trade possibilities.
Instead, the Giants could be more than willing to do a deal with the Bills, who are forced to up their offer thanks to the Jets trade. The Bills move up to ensure they get the top quarterback on their board, which in this case is Rosen. Rosen is the most polished quarterback in this draft class and personally reminds me a lot of Matt Ryan when he was coming out of Boston College a decade ago. The Bills hope that Rosen similarly uplifts that franchise to make their recent postseason berth a much more common occurrence over the next several years.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis) – QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
With the Bills leapfrogging them, the Jets are forced to “settle” for the third-best quarterback in Allen. While many would dispute Allen ranking this high on any NFL team’s draft board, he works in New York.
Jets GM Mike Maccagnan has been at the head or part of organizations that drafted Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty and Tom Savage. Clearly, the big, strong-armed quarterback appeals to his sensibilities.
Allen definitely fits that mold and the presences of Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater give the Jets every excuse to let him sit his rookie season, as he likely should as he works to catch up mentally to the NFL game.
4. *TRADE!!!* Arizona Cardinals (from Cleveland) – QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Trade Details: Cardinals trade first (15th overall), second (47th) and fourth-round (134th) picks in 2018 along with a first-round pick in 2019 to Browns for their first-round (4th) pick.
With quarterbacks going 1-2-3, why not go 4 for 4? Despite spending a fortune to bring in veterans like Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon already this offseason, the Cardinals seriously need to address the long-term future of the position. Making the bold move to jump up into the top four picks is a no-brainer at this point.
Selecting Mayfield makes sense given that he’ll be coached by offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who has experience working with a fiery, confident passer from his shared days in San Diego with Philip Rivers. Given the veterans ahead of him, Mayfield is likely to see the field as a rookie in the hopes that he can bring the hopes of a bright, young passer to the desert that hasn’t existed since the Cardinals selected Jake Plummer over 20 years ago.
5. Denver Broncos – RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
The Broncos are more than happy to sit back and relax if the draft falls this way, as they’ll find arguably the best non-quarterback available falling into their laps in the form of Barkley.
With their signing of quarterback Case Keenum, there isn’t as much pressure on the Broncos to pull the trigger on one of these young quarterbacks as there is with some of the other teams picking near the top of the draft.
Barkley immediately will become the centerpiece of the Broncos offense in the same way that Todd Gurley was for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. Coupled with their strong defense, the Broncos are hopeful that alone will get them back atop the AFC West division race.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from NY Jets) – DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
The Colts were able to pick up a wealth of picks with their previous Jets trade. Now like the Broncos, they can sit back and see which player falls to them with the sixth pick. They’ll almost certainly address this pick with the best trench player available. In this case, the clear option is Chubb.
He will immediately give them the pass-rusher they’ve been searching for the past few years as their attempts to replace Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis with players like Jerry Hughes and Bjoern Werner failed to pay dividends. Chubb should be a good fit in their new-look 4-3 defense under new head coach Frank Reich and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
The Bucs’ ability to snag Jason Pierre-Paul via trade took pressure off them to have to come away from this draft with Chubb. That opens up their ability to address another troubling aspect of their defense: their secondary. The team drafted Vernon Hargreaves two years ago and he’s yet to pay huge dividends yet has flashed potential.
Ward is the most athletic cornerback in this draft class and also fits in with defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s style of defense that doesn’t mind undersized corners as long as they’re willing to mix it up and can make plays on the ball. Ward does exactly that, and the Bucs hope that following on the heels of the Saints selecting his former teammate Marshon Lattimore a year ago, Ward can immediately impact in a stacked NFC South division as they look for someone that can slow down the likes of Julio Jones and Michael Thomas.
8. Chicago Bears – OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
The player the Bears hope falls to them with this pick is none other than Nelson, who can immediately slide into Josh Sitton’s vacated left guard position. He fits perfectly with the identity that the Bears are looking to achieve under new head coach Matt Nagy.
They’re going to be a team that features a hefty dose of a physical run game coupled with an explosive play-action-based passing attack. Nelson brings a lot of nasty on the interior and should quickly stabilize a unit that has dealt with inconsistencies from center Cody Whitehair and durability concerns with right guard Kyle Long the past few years.
9. San Francisco 49ers – S Derwin James, Florida State
The 49ers will continue to look towards the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks for their template for success, making it likely that they will devote their top pick to another defensive playmaker as they did a year ago when they selected Solomon Thomas.
It’s hard to find better options than James, who immediately becomes the tone-setter for this 49ers defense in the same way that Keanu Neal and Kam Chancellor did for the Falcons and Seahawks, respectively.
While Jaquiski Tartt is coming off a strong year, he’s just not on the same level as James as far as toughness, leadership and poise are concerned. Also given the fact that Reuben Foster is dealing with a multitude of off-field issues, James’ ability to drop down in the box and play some linebacker makes him an even more attractive option.
10. Oakland Raiders – ILB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
The Raiders will borrow a page from their aforementioned across-the-bay rivals by focusing heavily on their defense at the top of this draft in the hopes of turning around a unit that perennially underachieved under previous head coach Jack Del Rio.
Edmunds gives the Raiders a strong option at linebacker that has the flexibility and versatility to play either inside or outside linebacker within defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme. He has the length and athleticism to play strong-side linebacker in the same way that Anthony Barr does for Guenther’s mentor, Mike Zimmer, in Minnesota. He could also play in the middle or on the weak-side as well, with the former being a good option in case NaVorro Bowman doesn’t return.
Either way, Edmunds should have little issue growing into a highly effective playmaker that will be the keystone in the middle of a new-look Raiders defense.
11. Miami Dolphins – QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Despite the return of Ryan Tannehill from injury, the Dolphins are reportedly very interested in getting in on the quarterback sweepstakes at the top of this year’s draft. However, they have too many holes and a viable starter already to think that they should seriously entertain moving up to get one of the top guys.
Instead, they’ll simply hope that a good player slides to them at this pick, and one does in the form of Jackson. Jackson, a Miami native, will instantly be a rock star for his hometown team. The presence of Tannehill gives the Dolphins an excuse to let him sit for a year, but we all know it’s only a matter of time before head coach Adam Gase finds a way to get the electric Jackson on the field as a way to secure his job after a very lackluster 2017.
12. New York Giants (from Buffalo) – CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
The Giants can afford to trade back because they have a wealth of needs, not just at the quarterback position. And they manage to snag a huge steal despite moving back 10 spots as they get a player in Fitzpatrick that is arguably a top 5 talent in this draft.
Fitzpatrick is a great fit in defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s scheme since he can immediately slide into the same role that Tyrann Mathieu played as a hybrid slot corner/safety. Fitzpatrick stabilizes a cornerback group that was hard hit by injuries and poor play from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple a year ago.
Fitzpatrick could also dabble as a single-high safety if the Giants are looking to also push Darian Thompson. He’ll essentially be a movable chess piece, something Bettcher will covet as he looks to restore the Giants defense to the heights it saw in 2016.
13. Washington Redskins – DT Vita Vea, Washington
The top player on the Redskins wish list could very well be Vea, as they look to upgrade the nose tackle position in their 3-4 scheme from the likes of Stacy McGee and Ziggy Hood. Vea is a ridiculously strong, powerful force to plug into the middle of any defense but just makes too much sense in Washington.
He’ll be flanked by capable pass-rushers like Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis, and help shield linebackers like Zach Brown from quality interior blockers, particularly like those the Redskins see routinely in both Dallas and Philadelphia. Thus he has the ability to be a game-changer for an ascending Redskins front seven.
14. Green Bay Packers – ILB Roquan Smith, Georgia
The Packers desperately need to upgrade their pass rush, but a talent like Smith is simply too good to pass up at this point in the draft. Especially when you consider their inside linebacker play has been problematic over recent years. They saw improvements last year under Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan, but neither are anywhere close to the caliber of athlete and playmaker that Smith is.
Smith’s range and coverage ability can easily draw comparisons to fast, rangy linebackers like Lavonte David and Deion Jones. While it may not solve their pass-rush woes, plugging Smith into the middle of the defense certainly gives the team an athletic playmaker to anchor their defense that has rarely been seen in Green Bay.
15. Cleveland Browns (from Arizona) – CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
The Browns have done a good job adding talent to their defense the past few drafts and will likely continue to do so at the one spot they’ve had the most trouble upgrading: cornerback.
Jackson hopefully will make up for their miss on former first-round pick Justin Gilbert a few years back. Jackson provides superb ball skills, coupled with good size. While the Browns tried to address their issues at this position with free-agent signings E.J. Gaines and Terrance Mitchell, neither possess the potential of a playmaker like Jackson.
16. Baltimore Ravens – OLB Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio
The Ravens have invested quite a few picks in recent years hoping to find the heir apparent to Terrell Suggs, but none have yet to truly take off. But it won’t hurt them to try one more as the 35-year old Suggs can’t hold off Father Time forever.
Plus Davenport offers things that players like Tim Williams, Matt Judon, and Tyus Bowser don’t: size and length. While he may not be the most polished pass-rusher, Davenport possesses tremendous upside to take Suggs’ mantle and spearhead the Ravens’ pass rush for many years to come.
17. *TRADE!!!* New York Giants (from LA Chargers) – OLB Harold Landry, Boston College
Trade Details: Giants trade first (22nd overall) and third-round (69th) picks to Chargers for their first (17th) and sixth-round (191st) picks.
With Davenport coming off the board, the Giants can’t afford to wait around and hope the pass-rusher they want falls to them later. So they move up to get Landry, who many consider a more NFL-ready rusher than Davenport.
Landry should easily slide into the vacated roster spot of the recently traded Jason Pierre-Paul across from Olivier Vernon. Landry’s combination of production and athleticism hasn’t been seen in the ACC since the heyday of Vic Beasley, and like Beasley should be more natural fit in a defensive scheme like the Giants that will ask him to both rush the quarterback and play in space.
18. *TRADE!!!* Carolina Panthers (from Seattle) – WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Trade Details: Panthers trade first (24th overall) and second-round (55th) picks to Seahawks for their first (18th) and fifth-round (146th) picks.
While the offseason additions of wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright are a step in the right direction for the Panthers, they are not nearly enough to get this team’s passing attack to where it needs to be. The Panthers lack a true No. 1 receiver since Steve Smith left, and their brief hopes for Kelvin Benjamin becoming that player were shattered recently.
Ridley has what it takes to be the reliable go-to option that has been sorely missing from the Panthers offense the past three seasons. Ridley has the flexibility to play both outside and inside and is a reliable possession receiver that can also stretch the field vertically to a certain extent, which will always be a core component of any offense that features quarterback Cam Newton.
The Panthers are hopeful that Ridley will give them the No. 1 receiver that every other team in the NFC South already possesses.
19. Dallas Cowboys – DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan
The Cowboys will continue to invest in their defensive line as they’ve done in recent years with high selections like Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Taco Charlton and Maliek Collins.
But Hurst might wind up being the best of the bunch, sliding in to play on the interior alongside Collins and David Irving. Irving is entering a contract year and while he’s flashed dominance as a pass-rusher, consistency has been somewhat a concern. That shouldn’t be an issue with Hurst, who seemingly is poised to overcome whatever heart condition that held him out of the Combine.
The worst-case scenario for the Cowboys is that Hurst’s presence on the interior means that they can move Irving to the edge where he can take over for Tyrone Crawford, who may be entering his final year in Dallas as well.
20. Detroit Lions – ILB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
With new head coach Matt Patricia looking to repeat his success from New England in Detroit, adding a defensive player that fits that “Patriot mold” makes a ton of sense with this pick. Vander Esch certainly fits in the same way that players like Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich have in recent years.
After only one season as a starter, Vander Esch isn’t the most polished pass-rusher at this point but has the versatility and developmental upside to grow into a wide variety of roles. He could be deployed at middle linebacker, outside linebacker or developed as an edge-rusher for the future. That sort of flexibility will aid Patricia as he hopes to build a “multiple” defense that can give opponents a lot of different looks.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – OC James Daniels, Iowa
The Bengals spent too many years rolling with the perennially underachieving Russell Bodine at center, whose departure in free agency likely was to the glee of many a disgruntled Bengals fan.
To replace him the Bengals look to plug in an athletic, ascending player like Daniels, who was a stable force on Iowa’s offensive line for several years. They hope that he’ll bring that same stability to a Bengals offensive line that sorely needs it as they look to rebuild with additions like Cordy Glenn this offseason.
22. L.A. Chargers (from Buffalo through NY Giants) – DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
The Chargers are able to move back in their trade with the Giants and still get the player they were likely targeting with the 17th pick in Payne.
Payne is a good fit in L.A., adding his presence to an already formidable Chargers front. He can immediately slide in and replace Brandon Mebane at the nose tackle position, while also giving them some insurance on the inside now that defensive tackle Corey Liuget is expected to miss the first month of the 2018 season due to a suspension.
Payne finished his 2017 season strong with a breakout performance against Georgia in the national title game, and the Chargers hope to build off that as they try to construct the league’s most dominant front that already features the best pair of edge-rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
23. L.A. Rams – OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
The Rams upgrade their offensive line, which saw a huge surge in 2017 thanks to the additions of veterans Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan. But both of those guys are closer to the end than the Rams need to continue to beef up their front as it will be critical to sustained success under head coach Sean McVay and his Gurley-centric offense.
McGlinchey can immediately come in and play right tackle for the Rams, kicking Rob Havenstein back inside to guard, a position that the team tinkered with him playing before last season. When Whitworth finally hangs up the cleats, then McGlinchey gives them an in-house candidate to take over at his more natural left tackle position and hopefully stabilizes that position far better than Greg Robinson ever did.
24. *TRADE!!!* Atlanta Falcons (from Carolina through Seattle) – DT Taven Bryan, Florida
Trade Details: Falcons trade first (26th overall), fourth (126th), sixth (200th) and a fifth-round pick in 2019 to Seahawks for their first (24th) and fifth-round (168th) picks.
The Falcons and Seahawks for the second consecutive draft do a deal that involves them swapping first-round picks. The Falcons see that with Payne off the board, they can’t afford to wait and see if the next best defensive tackle falls to them at pick 26.
So they move up for Bryan, who should be able to carve out a multitude of roles immediately in Atlanta, as the Falcons look for their own version of Michael Bennett, a player they wanted to acquire this offseason.
Bryan is a bit raw at this point but has the athletic tools, size and explosiveness to play both inside and outside in the Falcons front. He can play defensive end in the team’s base defense but kick inside to defensive tackle in the nickel if the Falcons are looking for ways to maximize his potential.
But he’ll most likely see the brunt of his 2018 reps on the inside as the team looks to add a pass-rusher that can fill the voids left by departed free agents Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe.
25. *TRADE!!!* Minnesota Vikings (from Tennessee) – OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
Trade Details: Vikings trade first (30th overall), third (94th) and sixth-round (218th) picks to Titans for their first (25th) and a seventh-round pick in 2019.
The Vikings offensive line made great strides in 2017 thanks to the additions of Mike Remmers, Riley Reiff and Pat Elflein. But this team knows it can’t afford to take any steps back after several years of awful play up front. So they make sure they move up to get the perfect fit for what they need at the guard position in Wynn.
Wynn is arguably one of the better prospects in this draft, but due to the position he plays will likely get selected well after where his overall talent level suggests he should go. He should slide in immediately at left guard where the Vikings could certainly afford to upgrade over the likes of Nick Easton and Jeremiah Sirles.
26. Seattle Seahawks (from Atlanta) – RB Derrius Guice, LSU
The Seahawks managed to trade back twice and still land the player they were coveting all along, while also picking up much-needed second and fourth-round picks as they head into the draft without picks on the second day.
That player is Guice, who helps improve what has been one of the league’s least effective run games the past few years since Marshawn Lynch decided to hang up his cleats.
The Seahawks have trotted an endless string of candidates in Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy, Chris Carson, Mike Davis and C.J. Prosise in the hopes that one would emerge as their workhorse, but it hasn’t been the case.
Guice is everything those guys are not, which is a steady, reliable and explosive runner that should immediately step in and receive the brunt of the carries.
27. New Orleans Saints – WR Courtland Sutton, Southern Methodist
The Saints would probably like to continue to bolster an improving defense, but can’t pass up a talent like Sutton at this point in the draft. Sutton brings size and vertical potential to the Saints offense that is lacking at this position outside Michael Thomas.
The positive that Sutton brings is that the Saints could opt to use him as their main outside receiver, while kicking Thomas inside to the slot where he can be even more dangerous and offer superior abilities as their main weapon similar to what Marques Colston provided them several years ago.
Or it’s possible Sutton could be that player instead. Either way he gives them a viable No. 2 option to play opposite Thomas that will create mismatch nightmares throughout the NFC and NFC South.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers – ILB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
It’s no secret that the Steelers are hoping to add a player in this draft that can fill the massive shoes of Ryan Shazier in the middle of their defense. And it’s hard to imagine a player that is better suited to try than Evans.
An undersized inside linebacker that is at home both as a blitzer, run-defender and in coverage, Evans makes for an excellent fit not only in Shazier’s role but in the Steelers 3-4 defense in general. The linebackers were always the core of the great Steelers defenses of yesteryear, something that has been lost a bit in recent years. They hope to get that tradition back with an addition like Evans.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars – OG Will Hernandez, Texas-El Paso
The Jaguars must continue to rebuild and revamp their offensive line and a value such as Hernandez at this point in the first round is perfect for them.
Hernandez is a big, physical mauler on the inside that should mesh perfectly with their offensive identity that centers around feeding running back Leonard Fournette as much as possible. Hernandez joins free-agent signee Andrew Norwell as part of the Jaguars bid to build what could quickly become the most physical football team on both sides of the ball in 2018.
30. Tennessee Titans (from Minnesota) – OLB Josh Sweat, Florida State
The Titans are able to move back in their trade with the Vikings and still snag a good player like Sweat. He gives them a much more capable pass-rusher to groom behind Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan than Kevin Dodd has shown thus far.
Sweat’s combination of length and athleticism makes him a good fit in the type of defense that new head coach Mike Vrabel is likely to want to build, which is going to be one that is aggressive and challenges opponents. One or both Orakpo and Morgan could be playing their final seasons in Nashville, making it imperative that the Titans can get at least one of their replacements in the building as soon as possible.
31. New England Patriots – OT Connor Williams, Texas
The Patriots lost Nate Solder to free agency, but likely won’t fret as they should have the ability to snag his replacement at the end of the first round.
Patriots recent draft history, whether it’s Solder, Marcus Cannon or Sebastian Vollmer, suggests that they prefer athletic offensive tackles that can be molded by superb position coach Dante Scarnecchia. Williams fits in that same mold, although many think he might make a better guard in the NFL than a tackle. But the Patriots should be confident that Scarnecchia can get the most out of him and get him to immediately fill Solder’s shoes on the left side.
32. Philadelphia Eagles – RB Sony Michel, Georgia
The Eagles need to find a running back to build around for several years to come with Jay Ajayi entering a contract year and players like Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement being better suited for part-time roles than feature backs.
Enter Michel, whose unique combination of size, speed and ability in the passing game make him a prototypical lead back in today’s NFL. He’ll immediately replace LeGarrette Blount in the Eagles rotation, but also grow into a more expanded role down the role in the years to come as their main runner.
That’s it as far as this mock draft goes. I’ll try to put up another multi-round mock sometime in April before we get to the final week of the draft.