The dust is beginning to settle on free agency as teams scour the free agent heap to find remaining role players at a bargain price. It is time to shift the focus to the NFL Draft, which is less than a month away. Joe Malfa will put together a full 1st-round mock draft every week starting today and leading up to the morning of the draft.
1) Cleveland Browns — QB Sam Darnold, USC
Darnold is the best QB prospect in this draft class and the Browns seem to be interested. Will he finally be the answer to all of their quarterback questions?
2) New York Giants — RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
For all the talk about the Giants getting a quarterback to prepare for life after Eli Manning, I think the right move would be to select a generational talent like Barkley to help make one last run with Manning.
3) New York Jets — QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
“With the 3rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the New York Jets select — Josh…” There may be a march on Florham Park if that last name is “Allen” instead of “Rosen.” Darnold is the best prospect, but Rosen is the most NFL-ready.
4) Cleveland Browns — EDGE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
If the Browns do opt for a quarterback with the 1st overall pick, I think there is a very good chance they go ahead and trade this one. If they stay put, they should look to improve the defense. I initially had them taking Minkah Fitzpatrick to bolster the secondary, but they won’t need a secondary when the opposing quarterbacks can’t throw because Chubb and Myles Garrett are breathing down their necks.
5) Denver Broncos — QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Case Keenum is not the long-term answer for the Broncos. They could go with a defensive back here after losing Aqib Talib, but John Elway is under a bit of pressure to figure out the quarterback situation beyond a year or two of Keenum. Mayfield’s boisterous personality rubs some people the wrong way and there will be detractors who say he is too short, but he has the tools to be a star.
6) Indianapolis Colts –OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Andrew Luck has suffered a lacerated kidney, a concussion and most recently a should injury that kept him sidelined for an entire season since being drafted by the Colts in 2012. It is time to shore up his offensive line and keep him healthy. Nelson is one of the best guard prospects in recent memory and may be the best football player in this draft after Barkley.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers — CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
The Bucs filled their need on the edge by trading for Jason Pierre-Paul. The next hole to fill is in the secondary, and Ward has what it takes to be a shutdown corner in the NFL.
8) Chicago Bears — ILB Roquan Smith, Georgia
As we get closer to draft day, we will see a lot of debates about the draft’s top inside linebacker. Despite being undersized, Smith is my pick. He is lightning quick, does nothing but make big plays, and would fill one of the Bears’ biggest needs.
9) San Francisco 49ers — DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
The Niners could use either a linebacker or a defensive back, and there are good options still on the board at both positions. Fitzpatrick’s talent, football IQ and versatility make him an attractive pick. He can cover, play center field and come up to defend the run. John Lynch’s ties to that position also leads me to believe he goes secondary over linebacker.
10) Oakland Raiders — ILB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
The Raiders, like the Bears, are in the market for an inside linebacker with NaVorro Bowman seemingly unlikely to return to Oakland. Edmunds is an athletic freak and turns 20 in May. He has All-Pro potential and he can anchor a defense for the next decade.
11) Miami Dolphins — DL Vita Vea, Washington
The departure of Ndamukong Suh left the Dolphins with a big hole to fill — both literally and figuratively — in the middle of their defensive line. Consistency has been an issue for Vea, but he is tough to contain when at his best.
12) Buffalo Bills — QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Last year, I mocked Deshaun Watson to the Texans and made note of the fact that I thought they would probably trade up for him. Same goes for the Bills and Allen this season. Do I think they will draft him? Yes. Will it be with the 12th pick? No shot. Look for them to trade up with either the Giants in the 2nd slot, Browns in the 4th or Colts in the 6th to get their guy.
13) Washington Redskins — S Derwin James, Florida State
Su’a Cravens was supposed to be the answer to the Redskins’ problems at safety when they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2016, but that situation ended up being very complicated with his brief retirement. He was traded to the Broncos on Wednesday, leaving the Redskins with D.J. Swearinger and Deshazor Everett at safety. Not ideal. James has what it takes to be a perennial pro-bowler.
14) Green Bay Packers — EDGE Marcus Davenport, UTSA
The Packers consistently finish in the middle of the pack or near the bottom of the league in total defense. Aaron Rodgers can only do so much — he needs the defense to step up. Davenport has what it takes to be a force around the edge, making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
15) Arizona Cardinals — CB Mike Hughes, UCF
Hughes has been rapidly rising up draft boards over the last couple of months thanks to his speed, athleticism and ball skills. He needs to polish his cover skills a bit, but working with Patrick Peterson should help.
16) Baltimore Ravens — WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Joe Flacco may be the most overrated quarterback in the league, but in fairness, he does not have many options. I personally am not a big fan of Ridley, but he will probably be the first receiver off the board. The Ravens are desperate for help at the position. They added Michael Crabtree and John Brown in free agency, but that is not enough.
17) Los Angeles Chargers — DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
It is a copycat league, and teams will try to duplicate the manner in which the Eagles constructed their defensive front. Even though it was already a strength for the Eagles, they went out and added Chris Long and Derek Barnett, making a strength even stronger. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are giving offensive lines issues from the outside, but they need a complement on the interior. Payne has the strength, athleticism and motor to be a three-down run stuffer and pass rusher from the inside of the line.
18) Seattle Seahawks — OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
The Seahawks took steps towards improving the offensive line last season, but there is more work to be done. Wynn has the tools to start immediately and he can play either guard or tackle.
19) Dallas Cowboys — LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Anthony Hitchens left in free agency, and he needs to be replaced. Evans has the speed, athleticism and instincts to be an impactful NFL starter. He works well sideline-to-sideline, stops the run and can get after the passer.
20) Detroit Lions — C James Daniels, Iowa
The Lions do not currently have a center. I am a big fan of Ohio State’s Billy Price, but he split time between center and guard in college and may be better suited as a guard in the NFL. Daniels is a true center and a talented one at that, making him a wise choice at a position of need for a team investing an average of $27 million per year at quarterback.
21) Cincinnati Bengals — OT/OG Connor Williams, Texas
The Bengals needed to repair the offensive line this offseason. The acquisition of Cordy Glenn helps, but there is more work to be done on the interior. From what I saw in person when Maryland played Texas to open the 2017 season and what I have watched on tape, I see Williams as more of a guard than a tackle. The Bengals can slide him inside next to Glenn to protect Andy Dalton’s blind side, and he has the versatility to kick back out to tackle if needed.
22) Buffalo Bills — WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
I doubt the Bills make this selection since they will probably be trading up, but if they get Allen with the 12th pick they should go ahead and get him another target with the 22nd.
23) Los Angeles Rams — EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College
They just signed Suh, why make a pick to improve the defensive front? See my reasoning for the Chargers drafting Da’Ron Payne. It’s a copycat league, and teams will try to duplicate the Eagles’ blueprint. Besides that, the Rams simply do not have many needs so bolstering a strength is in their best interests. Wade Phillips would be giddy.
24) Carolina Panthers — WR D.J. Moore, Maryland
Moore has strong hands, runs clean routes and has the strength and quickness to feast in the middle of the field. I may be a bit biased having watched him in person each of the last two seasons as a member of Maryland’s video crew, but the buzz is there. After his combine performance, he shot up draft boards and prompted people like Gil Brandt to call him the draft’s top wide receiver prospect. The fit with the Panthers is also perfect, and they spent more time with him than any other team at his pro day on Wednesday.
25) Tennessee Titans — EDGE Leighton Vander Esch
The Titans have improved steadily since drafting Marcus Mariota, and developing a pass rush is the next area in which they need to improve. Vander Esch needs to be polished up a bit, but the raw talent and instincts are there. New head coach Mike Vrabel could have some fun molding this prospect.
26) Atlanta Falcons — OG/OC Billy Price, Ohio State
The Falcons’ championship window is still open, but the roster needs some fine tuning in a couple of areas, specifically the interior of the offensive line. Price could have an immediate impact as a starter. He played center this past season, but he was a guard before making the switch after now Vikings’ center Pat Elflein turned pro.
27) New Orleans Saints — TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State
There are not many holes on this Saints roster, but tight end is one of them. Drew Brees loves his tight ends, but Josh Hill and Benjamin Watson won’t cut it. They tried bringing back Jimmy Graham, but he opted to sign with Green Bay. Gesicki would immediately take on a prominent role in this offense. Forcing defenses to focus on him on the inside would open things up for their talented receiving corps on the outside.
28) Pittsburgh Steelers –QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Of all the picks in my mock, this is the most likely to change between now and draft night. The end is near for Big Ben, so let Rudolph marinate for a couple of years underneath him. Coming from Oklahoma State’s offense, he could benefit from a couple of years with a clipboard, but the talent is there.
29) Jacksonville Jaguars — OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
The Jaguars started rebuilding their troubled offensive line last season with the selection of Cam Robinson at the top of the second round. They continue the trend by taking the player who is, in my opinion, the draft’s best tackle. Something about offensive lineman from Notre Dame.
30) Minnesota Vikings — LB Malik Jefferson, Texas
This may be a dozen spots too early for Jefferson, but the Vikings have the luxury of being able to take a chance since the rest of their roster is stacked.
31) New England Patriots — OT Kolton Miller, UCLA
Left tackle has always been a position Bill Belichick has had under control, but the departure of Nate Solder leaves a gaping hole on Tom Brady’s blind side. They won’t waste too much time in plugging that hole by grabbing Josh Rosen’s blind side protector here, unless they ultimately trade out of the first round as they so often do.
32) Philadelphia Eagles — CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
Like the Vikings, the Eagles do not have any major needs. Depth at corner is an issue if we are going to nitpick and we do not know what Sidney Jones will look like coming off the achilles injury, so Jackson would be a wise choice.
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