Welcome to my first mock draft of the season. An important tidbit when evaluating my picks, these are what I think should happen, not necessarily what will happen. While I certainly factored in team need, this draft is more of a reflection of which players I like in the draft rather than my prediction of what will go down April 26. And with that in mind, we’re off!
1. Cleveland Browns – QB Sam Darnold
Sam Darnold isn’t the perfect quarterback prospect, but he does enough things well to justify the first overall pick. He has the arm strength, accuracy, size and mobility to be an above average starter for years to come, but he needs to improve on his decision making to achieve his true potential. He should compete with the newly acquired Tyrod Taylor for the starting job in camp, but ultimately would be best suited riding the bench while he learns the nuances of life as an NFL quarterback.
2. TRADE Buffalo Bills – QB Josh Allen
After forking over picks 12, 21, and a future third in this hypothetical, the Buffalo Bills move all the way up to the second pick to get their quarterback. New general manager Brandon Beane has long been a fan of Josh Allen, and what’s not to like. Allen has one of the strongest arms in recent memory, and showed flashes of dominance in his time at Wyoming. There are still major question marks surrounding his accuracy, game management skills, and overall throw making ability, but it’s hard not to fall in love with his incredible natural gifts. No one is doubting Allen’s impressive intangibles, but it remains to be seen if all that talent can translate into wins.
3. New York Jets – QB Josh Rosen
The New York Jets have failed miserably at evaluating quarterback talent in recent drafts, but have finally found their guy in Josh Rosen. The former UCLA Bruin looked inconsistent in his time in Westwood, but appears to be the most NFL ready of the top three quarterbacks. He has no discernible weaknesses, but also lacks an overwhelming strength. His accuracy is likely his greatest asset, and his footwork and feel for the pocket are top notch. Rosen’s arm strength isn’t elite, but it is certainly NFL caliber, and he has the size NFL teams covet at the quarterback position. At the end of the day, Rosen is essentially the anti-Josh Allen in that he is not an overwhelming athlete, but he knows the ins and outs of the quarterback position. His demeanor fits in perfectly with the New York media, and he should be a mainstay at the quarterback position for years to come.
4. Cleveland Browns – EDGE Bradley Chubb
With their second top five pick, the Cleveland Browns select the drafts best defensive player, and an immediate impact presence on the Browns defense. Bradley Chubb was a dominant force off the edge in his time at NC State, and his pass rushing ability should translate very well to the NFL. His motor and overall athleticism are the best in the class, and his ability to contribute in the run game can not be overlooked. He possesses the qualities of a multi time Pro-Bowler, and should from one of the league’s fiercest pass rushing duos with former number one overall pick Myles Garrett.
5. Denver Broncos – QB Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield is one of the draft’s most polarizing figures, with scouts split on how to properly evaluate the former Heisman trophy winner. Some scouts point to Mayfield’s impressive college production, and trust his skills will translate at the next level. Others believe his video game like numbers were propped up by porous Big-12 defenses, and point to his struggles against elite college defenses. While neither constituency is necessarily incorrect, the idea that Mayfield will be able to find the same success he did with Oklahoma in the NFL is highly unlikely. He has elite play-making ability, and certainly has the highest floor of any quarterback prospect in the draft. His arm strength and accuracy are above average, and his mobility adds another intriguing wrinkle to his overall skillset. But, at Oklahoma Mayfield was rarely put in difficult situations and was surrounded by some of the best talent in the country. His lack of height is overblown, but it is obviously not ideal, and there are serious concerns about his decision making under pressure. Overall, Mayfield should be an average to above average starting quarterback, and in the right situation could blossom into an All-Pro type talent.
6. Indianapolis Colts – RB Saquon Barkley
The Indianapolis Colts number one priority this offseason should be to make life as easy as possible for quarterback Andrew Luck, and the easiest way to do that is to get him some weapons. Saquon Barkely is a generational prospect at the running back position, and will provide much needed life to a mundane Colts offense. He has the strength and vision to run between the tackles, and the breakaway speed to beat defenders to the edge. Barkley is also an excellent pass catcher, and should provide immediate value as a receiver coming out of the backfield. All in all, Barkley is a fantastic fit next to Luck and the perfect addition to the talent starved Colts.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the best pure safety in the draft, and should immediately help a struggling Buccaneers defense. He has the ability to play all over the secondary, but will likely find the most success playing as a true single high safety. Fitzpatrick covers an impressive amount of the field when he drops in coverage and has great timing when the balls in the air. He can control entire sections of the field, and makes everyone’s job a lot easier. Fitzpatrick will revamp the entire Tampa Bay defense, and should be a long time NFL starter.
8. Chicago Bears – G Quenton Nelson
Quenton Nelson may be the best player in the draft, but luckily for Chicago falls all the way to eighth. Nelson is elite at essentially every facet of the game, providing incredible production in both the run and pass game. He has tremendous strength, is quick off the line, uses his feet exceptionally well, and gets impressive leverage with his 34 inch arms. He is an otherworldly prospect at the guard position, and should already be in the conversation for best in the league. Nelson, along with fellow guard Kyle Long, should anchor the Bears offensive line for years to come.
9. San Fransisco 49ers – CB Denzel Ward
Denzel Ward certainly has his limitations, but what he does well he does really well. He is one of the quickest corners in the draft, and showed at Ohio State he has the ability to stay with even the shiftiest of receivers. His footwork is advanced, and he plays with an impressive fluidity. Ward is limited by his height at 5’10, but he is able to compensate with elite speed and jumping ability. His 4.32 forty yard dash was tied for tops in the class, and his 39 inch vertical was second. Ward will ultimately be comfortable guarding most receivers in this league, and should be a shut down corner for years to come.
10. Oakland Raiders – LB Roquan Smith
There are few players currently in the NFL who match the athletic skillset of Roquan Smith. At Georgia, Smith wrecked havoc on SEC offenses with his incredible sideline to sideline speed. He lead the Bulldogs with 95 tackles, but only five for loss, as Smith did much of his damage over the middle. He needs improvement in his coverage skills, but at 21 he has time to learn. If coached correctly, Smith has the potential to be a multi time Pro Bowler. He will immediately be an interesting rookie to watch, and an early favorite for Defensive Player of the Year if he earns the starting job in camp. Smith should help legitimatize a defense bursting with talent.
11. Miami Dolphins – CB Josh Jackson
Josh Jackson is a long, physical cornerback who shined in his final season with the Iowa Hawkeyes. He lead the nation in pass breakups and interceptions, and was a first team All-American. Jackson stands at 6’1, elite height for a cornerback that can also jump 38 inches. He is not the quickest of cornerbacks, but he excels at all other levels. He profiles similar to player like Richard Sherman, who stands a little taller at 6’3 but has the same forty time as Jackson at 4.56 seconds. Jackson projects as a rangy press corner who can be effective in the right system. His ball skills and route anticipation are elite, and should help compensate for his lack of blinding speed.
12. TRADE New York Giants – LB Tremaine Edmunds
The New York Giants need a linebacker bad, and they get one bursting with potential in Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds is incredibly only 19 years old, and he already looked dominant in his time at Virginia Tech. In his junior season, he lead the team with 109 tackles, 14 for loss and was named to first team All-ACC. And yet, he was often out of place, fooled by play action or misdirection. When he bails out on the run play he can either blow up a play or be taken completely out of it. In college, Edmunds relied purely on his elite athleticism to make plays, and for the most part it worked. He should pick up on the nuances of the position quickly, and may prove to be one of the top talents in this draft.
13. Washington – S Derwin James
Another elite athlete, Derwin James plays the safety position like few others can. His 6’2 frame glides around the field, delivering bone-crushing blows to any receiver who dares come over the middle. James also has the ability to play as a double high safety, and uses his long arms to make a difference in the pass game. He will best be suited playing near the line of scrimmage, where he can patrol the middle, blitz the passer or control the run game. He will make everyone around him better and can help solidify a Washington defense lacking in talent. There are few defensive players who will have the immediate impact of James, and he should dominate within the next few years.
14. Green Bay Packers – WR Calvin Ridley
With the departure of Jordy Nelson, the game’s best quarterback needs a new weapon, and who better than the draft’s best wide receiver. Calvin Ridley is the premiere talent in this year’s receiving corp, and acclimate very quickly to life with Aaron Rodgers. He is a natural route runner with fantastic hands and an uncanny ability to create space. Ridley showed the ability to burn defenders when necessary, and his 4.43 forty time was tied for sixth in his class. He’s the top receiver in this draft for a reason, and he falls to the perfect situation for him to dominate from day one.
15. Arizona Cardinals – QB Lamar Jackson
The Arizona Cardinals don’t seem to have a plan, but the selection of Lamar Jackson could define their present and their future. In an offense crafted around his skills, Jackson has the ability to be the most successful quarterback from this draft class. He has incredible natural gifts, and showed time and time again at Louisville that he has the ability to make NFL-caliber throws. His arm strength is elite, but at times his accuracy and decision making can be suspect. Unlike most other college prospects though, Jackson played a pro style system in college and will likely surprise his doubters with his ability to make the short and intermediate throws. Jackson’s ability with his legs can not be overlooked, and his electricity running the ball adds a dimension few other quarterbacks can replicate. If paired with a running back of David Johnson’s caliber, their potential together is unlimited. Jackson should sit for a year behind Sam Bradford, but once he’s ready there’s no telling what kind of career he can have.
16. Baltimore Ravens – G Isiah Wynn
The Baltimore Ravens know better than anybody how much a dominant guard can anchor an offensive line, and draft their next ten year starter with the selection of Isiah Wynn. Wynn played well in his final season at Georgia, being named first team All-SEC and second team All-American while anchoring the line for the championship game bound Bulldogs. He is proficient in the passing attack, but he is downright dominant in the run game. He has lightning quick hands and his footwork is advanced for his age. He should start from day one, and will benefit greatly playing opposite All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – DL Maurice Hurst
The Los Angeles Chargers already have an impressive corp of young pass rushers, namely former first rounders Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but are lacking any presence in the middle of their defensive line. While they could go with a traditional nose tackle like Vita Vea, but the 4-3 scheme the Chargers employ would better benefit a quicker, more agile defensive lineman like Maurice Hurst. Hurst was a force of nature in his time at Michigan, and his pass rushing ability should translate well at the NFL level. He has long arms, a fantastic motor, and has the quickness and strength to command a constant double team. The red flag with Hurst stems from his health, as he was flagged for heart concerns during the Combine’s initial health screening. But, Hurst was later cleared by an independent doctor, and didn’t receive a request for a second screening from the Combine’s doctors. If a team’s own doctors find no long term issues with Hurst’s health, he could be a steal for a team later in the first round.
18. Seattle Seahawks – EDGE Harold Landry
The Seattle Seahawks quietly are in desperate need of a pass rusher, and Harold Landry is one of the purest in the draft. He was a projected top five pick to start the year, but his stock quickly fell after a injury riddled senior season at Boston College. Scouts instead point to an incredible junior year campaign where Landry racked up 16.5 sacks, 22 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles. He showed elite explosiveness off the edge, and has the dip and rip ability to be a constant nuisance in the pass game. Landry has enough natural skill and athleticism to stay in the league, but to become a truly impactful pass rusher he will need to get significantly better with his arm placement and develop true pass rush moves. He is a great find for the Seahawks at 18, and should be an impact player from day one.
19. Dallas Cowboys – CB Isaiah Oliver
Isaiah Oliver looks the part of the modern NFL corner, and possess the type of skillset general managers around the league covet. He stands at 6’0 and weighs 200 pounds, but runs a 4.5 second forty yard dash. Oliver thrives in matchups against big, physical receivers, but could struggle against the league’s quickest pass catchers. Oliver’s press coverage at Colorado was some of the best in the nation and should translate well at the next level. He also has exceptional ball skills and is adept at taking away easy completions. He obviously is far from a finished product, but has limitations in his game that may hold him back from truly elite status. Oliver isn’t as fluid as some would like, and he has trouble flipping his hips and changing direction quickly. He would benefit from a reduced role as a rookie, but with time he should evolve into an above average starting cornerback.
20. Detroit Lions – DL Taven Bryan
Taven Bryan was simply unblockable at times during his stint with the Florida Gators, and has the potential to bring the same sort of dominance to Detroit. He is extremely quick off the ball and was often in the backfield before the play even developed. Bryan mostly plays on the interior, but his smaller frame may eventually push him to the outside. At Florida, Bryan simply used his supreme athletic ability to either blow by or bowl over opposing offensive lineman. In the NFL, Bryan won’t have that luxury and some scouts worry he won’t develop the moves necessary to succeed against his athletic peers. Despite the flashes of dominance, Bryan’s college stats are underwhelming at best. He collected only four sacks his final season in Gainesville, and only totaled six in his three years at Florida. Bryan certainly has first round talent, but he will likely take some time to evolve into the pass rusher he one day could be. Whichever team selects Bryan is taking a sizable risk, but one that could pay dividends somewhere down the road.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – OT Mike McGlinchey
Mike McGlinchey was the model of consistency at Notre Dame, playing in every single game in his three years with the school. He isn’t a phenomenal athlete, but McGlinchey plays the offensive tackle with a understanding usually reserved for veterans ten year his senior. He played both right and left tackle in college, and should become a day one starter at either position. Scouts rave about McGlinchey’s attention to detail and comprehension of the intricacies that separate the good offensive lineman from the great ones. McGlinchey has all the makings of a franchise left tackle, but lacks the pure athletic ability needed to truly dominate in the NFL. He should succeed from the second he steps in the building, and will likely have a spot in the league for years to come.
22. TRADE New York Giants – S Justin Reid
The New York Giants use their second first round pick of the day to continue the revitalization of their defense, and select one of the draft’s best pure safeties. Reid can do a lot of things well, as he has the coverage skills to lock receivers up in man coverage or drop deep and control the field as a single-high safety. Reid has ideal height at 6’1 and is an impressive athlete, running a 4.4 forty and registering a 37 inch vertical jump. His ability to come down with interceptions is uncanny for his age, and his presence in the run game can not be overlooked. There are still concerning flaws in Reid’s game, as he can be a little undisciplined, especially in the run game, and his feet aren’t as quick as some of his safety counterparts. Overall though, Reid profiles as a long time starter at the safety position and a steal at 22.
23. New England Patriots – EDGE Marcus Davenport
Marcus Davenport absolutely obliterated Conference USA offenses in his final season with UTSA, but unlike past small school stars, Davenport didn’t rely purely on his athleticism. Davenport still grades as an above average athlete, with a 4.58 forty time and 22 reps on the bench press, but his ever important three cone time was a relatively disappointing 7.2 seconds. Also important to mention Davenport is listed at a whopping 6’7 and 256 pounds. On top of all that, Davenport has some of the best technique in the draft and can attack off the edge in a variety of ways. He registered 57 total pressures in his senior season, collecting eight and a half sacks and 55 tackles, 17.5 of them for loss. He is an elite pass rusher by any definition of the word, and should fit in nicely on a New England defense needing a presence off the edge.
24. Carolina Panthers – CB Jaire Alexander
As NFL passing offenses continue to prosper, the cornerback position has become even more of a priority in building a championship level roster. Twitchier, smaller corners who will likely only play in nickel or dime sets have transitioned from luxury to necessity and an elite level talent like Jaire Alexander is a huge advantage in today’s NFL. Alexander stands at 5’11, but runs a blazing 4.38 forty and has a 35 inch vertical. Alexander shined as a sophomore, pulling down five interceptions including two against future first round pick Deshaun Watson in a Louisville loss to Clemson. His junior season was limited to six games due to injury, but he showed enough the previous to validate a first round selection. Alexander should contribute in a limited role his rookie season, and will likely grow into an above average player at the position.
25. Tennessee Titans – TE Dallas Goedert
After a surprising playoff run that culminated in a divisional round loss to the New England Patriots, the Tennessee Titans are ready to compete now behind the leadership of quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota should thrive in new offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur’s system, but the offense would be best suited to add another weapon. A full season from former top five pick Corey Davis should help, but adding a tight end of Dallas Goedert’s quality would unlock unforseen levels for the Titan offense. If the team can get over his inexperience as a blocker, and that’s a big if, Goedert would be an exciting complement to star tight end Delanie Walker and an instant contributor for an up-and-coming Titan offense. Goedert was an athletic talent rarely seen at South Dakota State, and he often looked like a man amongst boys. He is 6’5 with almost an 80 inch winspan, giving him a ridiculous catch radius to pair with his breakaway speed. His route running skills are undeveloped, but if the Titans are willing to be patient Goedert has the natural talent to quickly develop into one of the league’s premiere talents at the position.
26. Atlanta Falcons – EDGE Arden Key
Arden Key was once thought to be a top ten pick, but after a junior season defined by injury and intrigue Key’s draft stock plummeted. Scouts instead should focus on Key’s sophomore season at LSU, where the Atlanta native racked up 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss en route to All-SEC honors. Key is explosive off the line, and uses his 34 inch arms to overpower opposing offensive tackles. His footwork certainly needs to improve, and he needs to develop a wider array of moves, but towards the end of the first round there are few better values than Key.
27. New Orleans Saints – NT Vita Vea
Tevita Tuliakiono Tuipuloto Mosese Va’hae Faletau Vea, also known as Vita Vea, has the size of a traditional nose tackle, but has the ability to line up all across the defensive line. He is a behemoth of a man, standing at 6’4 and weighing 347 pounds, but the former high school running back has the quickness and explosiveness to blow by opposing offensive lineman. Inconsistency plagued Vea’s final season at Washington, and has divided scouts on Vea’s long term potential. At worst, he will act as a disruptor in the middle of the defensive line who can act as an integral part of early down rotations. At his best, Vea could be a three down lineman with the ability to wreak havoc as both a run defender and pass rusher. The situation Vea is drafted into will likely decide his future.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers – LB Rashaan Evans
The horrific injury to Ryan Shazier left a gaping hole at the linebacker position for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and there are few prospects who could fill the void better than Rashaan Evans. Evans is the most complete linebacker prospect in the draft, and while he doesn’t dominate in one particular area he possesses no glaring weaknesses. Evans is strong in the run game, controlling sideline to sideline for the vaunted Crimson Tide defense. He is also skilled as a pass rusher, and should provide value as a blitz happy linebacker in sub packages. Evan’s instincts aren’t quite as honed as other prospects in the draft, and scouts are curious to see how effective he can be outside of Alabama’s system. All in all though, Evans is a player worth betting on and should make some defensive coordinator very happy.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars – OT Connor Williams
Once thought to be the next great left tackle prospect, Connor Williams had a disappointing and injury riddled junior season and has seen his draft stock take a sizable hit. There is no denying though the brilliance of Williams in 2016, when he controlled the Longhorns offensive line and blanketed opposing pass rushers. Williams has fantastic technique, rarely finding his hands in poor positioning. His footwork is also advanced for his age, and he plays with a fluidity necessary to succeed at the next level. Williams greatest strength lies in the run game, which may facilitate a move to guard or even center at the next level. Despite his 6’5 frame, Williams has relatively short arms at 33 inches and has struggled against longer, more physical defensive ends. He also needs to gain more flexibility in his hips, as he sometimes had trouble containing the quickest of edge rushers. Overall, Williams is certainly not without his flaws and will benefit greatly from the upgrade in coaching he will receive in the NFL. Even after a discouraging 2017 season, Williams still projects as a starting offensive lineman with the natural ability to take the next step forward.
30. Minnesota Vikings – OG Will Hernandez
Will Hernandez was a four year starter at UTEP, and was a model of consistency starting 37 straight games at left guard. Hernandez excels in the run game, showing impressive quickness and deftness with his feet. His hands always seem to be in the right position, and he plays with a mean streak teams covet. Hernandez’s arms a little short, only measuring 32 inches on his 6’2 frame, and as a result isn’t quite as dominant in the pass game. Yet the potential is there for Hernandez to thrive in both areas, and become a Pro-Bowl caliber guard.
31. New England Patriots – RB Ronald Jones
Ronald Jones will be an instant weapon for whatever team is lucky enough to acquire his skills, and while he likely won’t start at the running back position as a rookie he should provide value as a shifty pass-catcher coming out of the backfield. Jones has some of the quickest feet in the draft and is an overall fantastic athlete. He can produce at a relatively similar level to former Patriots running back Dion Lewis, and offers potential to grow that Lewis did not. Scouts have pegged his light frame as a concern, and worry that he may not be able to hold up over a sixteen game season. Overall, Jones profiles as a immediate threat in both the running and passing game who should contribute from day one.
32. Philadelphia Eagles – LB Leighton Vander Esch
The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles figure to have a loaded defense next season, but could add another exciting contributor with the selection of Leighton Vander Esch. Vander Esch was one of the most effective linebackers in the country last season, racking up an astounding 141 tackles, good for fifth in the country, to go along with four sacks and two interceptions. He is a menace in the run game, blowing up holes almost as quickly as they open. Vander Esch also took large strides in his coverage game, and has clearly made it a priority to never come off the field. Standing at 6’4 and weighing 256 pounds, Vander Esch possesses ideal intangibles for the middle linebacker position. He’s not the perfect prospect, as he needs to learn to release off blocks quicker and get stronger in coverage, but he is a strong pick at the end of the first round. The former Boise State Bronco is a true three down linebacker, and should have a long and fruitful NFL career.