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The players NFL teams SHOULD draft, if they picked based on college performance

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Baker Mayfield’s chances at the No. 1 pick just shot way up.

NCAA Football: TaxSlayer Bowl-Louisville vs Mississippi State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft is all about potential. Teams aren’t interested in what college football’s best players have done in the past, but what they might do as a pro. That’s how players like Josh Allen, he of the 56 percent career completion rate, can be a top-three pick just for looking like an NFL prototype quarterback while former Heisman Trophy award winner Lamar Jackson may sit out the first round entirely.

It’s a system that’s been in place for decades, and it’s tough to argue with the results. Troy Smith may have won a Heisman Trophy, but he wasn’t much of an NFL quarterback. Same with Eric Crouch and Jason White. Andre Williams was the NCAA’s top rusher in 2013, but has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry as a pro after sliding to the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Sometimes big college performances fail to translate.

But what if the 2018 NFL Draft were based solely on college production rather than potential? Here’s a look at what this year’s selections could look like if teams based their picks on blind resume items (spoiler: while first-rounders Da’Ron Payne and Vita Vea just miss the cut, it’s great news for Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson):

1. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The race for the top pick comes down to two Heisman-winning quarterbacks: Mayfield and Jackson. Jackson is the better athlete; a man who averaged 6.3 yards per carry and scored 50 rushing touchdowns in three seasons. Mayfield is the more accomplished passer, having thrown for 119 touchdowns in his time at Oklahoma and an uber-efficient 10.6 yards per pass. Ultimately, his arm (and not-inconsequential athleticism) earn him the top spot for a passer-hungry team.

2. New York Giants: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Jackson’s a pretty solid consolation prize for the Giants, who can ease him into their starting lineup behind a still-competent Eli Manning. While he lacks the accuracy of Mayfield, Jackson’s arm strength helped him throw for more than 277 yards per game in his last two seasons at Louisville. Combine that with his ability to extend drives with his legs, and you’ve got a proven playmaker eager to show he’ll remain elite at the next level.

3. New York Jets: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

Rudolph was the exact kind of big-armed quarterback Mike Gundy loves. In his three seasons as Oklahoma State’s starter, Rudolph threw for nearly 13,000 yards and piloted three straight 10-win seasons in Stillwater. While his numbers may have been inflated in an offense-heavy Big 12, his leveled-up performance as a senior (377 yards per game, 65 percent accuracy) suggests he would have been good no matter where he played last fall. When the Jets moved up to No. 3, it was to land a quarterback. Here, they get the third off the board.

4. Cleveland Browns: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

Fitzpatrick was Alabama’s best player last season. He’s so good even Nick Saban admitted he was phenomenal. That’s not something you’ll hear from Saban often, or at all. In 42 career games, Fitzpatrick had 171 total tackles, 16.5 of them for loss, five sacks, and nine interceptions (four of which went for touchdowns). The Thorpe Award winner is versatile, and can play just about anywhere that’s asked of him. Whether it was based on his college accomplishments or his NFL prospects, he was going to be a high selection. He’s the real deal, and the Browns could use him.

5. Denver Broncos: Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Nelson was the best blocker in college football last season. SB Nation’s Stephen White said he blocks like a goon, which is pretty high praise. Nelson showed out at the NFL Combine in early March, doing 35 reps on the bench press and leaping for an 8’9 broad jump. ESPN’s Mel Kiper had Nelson ranked as the No. 3 player in the draft, with Todd McShay having him at No. 2. The guy is good and could help a still-rebuilding Broncos’ line.

6. Indianapolis Colts: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

The most explosive, instinctive, and speedy linebacker in college football finished his time at Georgia as the Butkus Award winner. He was also a finalist — with Fitzpatrick and Bradley Chubb — for the Bednarik Award recognizing the nation’s best defensive player. The only issue in his NFL projection is that he’s just 6’1, 236 pounds. But that doesn’t matter here and the Colts could use a playmaking linebacker in the middle of a defense that was among the NFL’s worst in 2017.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

Aside from his expertise as a towel-stealing fiend, Chubb is the pass rusher every NFL team wants — especially a team like the Bucs, which totaled a league-worst 22 sacks last year. NC State wasn’t much of a contender while he was there, but he was unquestionably one of the best players in the country. He had 10 sacks in both his junior and senior seasons, as well as a combined 44 tackles for loss. He also showed he could even drop into coverage. You couldn’t ask for more from him.

8. Chicago Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Ward is the top prospect coming out of Ohio State this draft season, and rightfully so. He was buried on the depth chart for most of his career at Ohio State, playing behind now NFL-ers like Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, and Eli Apple. But when his time came, he thrived with 17 passes defended (15 PBUs and two interceptions), which was the fourth-best in school history. Cornerback isn’t the biggest need for the Bears, but Ward would play as rookie — and could be an important part of their future.

9. San Francisco 49ers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

The 49ers don’t just need a cornerback — they need someone who can make a quarterback instantly regret throwing a pass the second it leaves his hand. Last season, San Francisco finished in the bottom third of the NFL in both interceptions and total takeaways. Enter first-team All-American Josh Jackson. He only started for one year at Iowa, but that’s all he needed to prove he could make quarterbacks pay. In his final season, he led FBS in interceptions (eight) — including two pick-sixes in the same game — and passes defended (26). Besides, who doesn’t love Pacey?

10. Oakland Raiders: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

While he’s an all-world draft prospect, Barkley’s production and accomplishments in college don’t quite warrant a top-five selection like he’ll probably be in April. But make no mistake, he was still a dynamic player at Penn State who did more than enough to deserve a spot here. Barkley dominated, at times, but disappeared at others and finished behind Bryce Love in the race for the Doak Walker Award. That shouldn’t scare off the Raiders, who are committed to a return to a more simple, powerful style of football under Jon Gruden.

11. Miami Dolphins: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

Barrett’s college career got off to a blazing start when he became the Buckeyes’ starter as a freshman due to Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury. He led a Heisman-caliber campaign during the 2014 season, before getting hurt against Michigan in the final regular season game. He paved the way for a national championship that season, one Cardale Jones was tasked with finishing off. Not many other quarterbacks finished with a career as decorated as Barrett’s. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in Big Ten history, holding 35 Ohio State and Big Ten records. For a Dolphins team that has been looking for more leadership in the locker room, it couldn’t do better in that department than the three-time Ohio State captain.

12. Buffalo Bills: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Rosen was dogged by poor coaching, lackluster offensive talent to work with, and one of the nation’s worst rush defenses. Had his UCLA teammates contributed more, Rosen had all the talent and ability to land much higher here. But even though Rosen never climbed into a Heisman race, he still finished No. 2 in the nation in passing yards per game during the 2017 season. Buffalo needs a quarterback of the future and Rosen fits the bill.

13. Washington: Hercules Mata’afa, DT, Washington State

Mata’afa was one of college football’s smallest defensive tackles, but it didn’t stop him from wrecking shop. He was the AP’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year with 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. That kind of pressure from a lineman would be huge for Washington with linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith generating almost all of the team’s pass rush. At just 254 pounds, Mata’afa won’t sniff the first round. But if it was based solely off of college performance, he’d be off the board in a hurry.

14. Green Bay Packers: Derwin James, S, Florida State

James wasn’t able to show out in 2016 because of a knee injury, but he made up for it in 2017. He had 84 tackles, 5.5 of them for loss, two picks, and 11 pass breakups. If he’s anything like fellow Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey in the NFL, the secondary-needy Packers would be more than happy with their selection.

15. Arizona Cardinals: Sam Darnold, USC

Interceptions and turnovers kept Darnold from going earlier, but that doesn’t mean he was a bad college football player. He still finished fifth in the nation in passing yards in 2017 with 4,143 and was stellar as a redshirt freshman in 2016 when he finished with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions. If he stayed at USC longer, there’s no doubt Darnold would’ve been able to contend for the kind of production and awards that earned Mayfield, Jackson, and Rudolph spots in the top three.

16. Baltimore Ravens: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

The No. 1 beneficiary of Rudolph’s ascension as a senior was Washington, who topped all FBS targets with 1,549 receiving yards. It was the third straight 1,000-yard season for the Cowboy, who established himself as one of college football’s preeminent deep threats in three high-yield seasons. He’s averaged a ridiculous 20.3 yards per catch over that span, giving Rudolph the home run hitter he needed along the sideline to help Oklahoma State thrive.

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

Before the NFL Combine, Orlando Brown was projected to be a first-round pick — and not just because he’s the son of an NFL tackle who played for nine seasons in the NFL. After the combine, things changed. Brown had a historically bad performance: He was slow, unathletic, and he was accused of loafing. But he’s still the same left tackle who didn’t let Mayfield get sacked once during his Heisman-winning campaign. The Chargers kept Philip Rivers pretty clean last season, but at right tackle, Joe Barksdale left a lot to be desired. Like his father Zeus, Brown could be a starting RT in the NFL.

18. Seattle Seahawks: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

This is not a good draft for teams that need offensive linemen, especially tackles. And the Seahawks always need offensive line help, even though they solved one perennial problem last season when they traded for left tackle Duane Brown. McGlinchey might be the only left tackle in the draft who can jump in and start right away, but he could still fill a massive need hole for Seattle at right tackle. That’s where McGlinchey started his career at Notre Dame, before moving over to left tackle in his final two years.

19. Dallas Cowboys: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

A heart condition threatened to end Hurst’s pro career before it could even start and kept him from participating in the combine, but he’s since been cleared by doctors and will likely be a first-round pick whether we’re drafting on production or potential. He’s a bulldozing defensive lineman with the power to drive interior linemen backwards and hold his ground in the face of double teams in the running game. He recorded 24.5 tackles for loss his past two seasons and proved he’s a valuable pass rusher — something the Cowboys desperately need — with 10.5 sacks over that span.

20. Detroit Lions: Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Penny was college football’s leading rusher during the 2017 season, ahead of Barkley. The big argument against picking Penny higher are that his 2,971 all-purpose yards came against inferior competition. But people raised the same questions about Kareem Hunt, and he did just fine for a rookie. The Lions, who haven’t had a ground game worth talking about since Barry Sanders, could use all the rushing help they can get.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Billy Price, C, Ohio State

The Bengals made a huge mistake last offseason when they let their top two offensive linemen walk in free agency. The result was a line that was, at best, an inconsistent mess last season. The team entered this offseason needing a couple of new starters and already traded for LT Cordy Glenn. Now one of Cincinnati’s biggest needs is center. Just like Pat Elflein before him, Billy Price played just one year at center at Ohio State. The All-American guard took over for Elflein at center in his senior year and was so good he won the Rimington Trophy. A pectoral injury at the combine could cause Price to fall, but he’s the steady, versatile body the Bengals need up front.

22. Buffalo Bills: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

Miller paired with fellow first-rounder Riley Ferguson to give the Tigers a dynamic aerial attack, but he’s more than just a wideout. The former high school track star was a legit deep threat for a solid AAC team (15.1 yards per catch) but also chipped in as a runner (31 carries, three touchdowns in three seasons at Memphis) and a useful punt returner. At 5’11 he’s not a huge red zone target, but his speed and shiftiness — which the Bills currently lack — made him a big-time game breaker in college.

23. Los Angeles Rams: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

Jefferson was a bright spot in a Texas season that was still part of a rebuilding process. He showed a big jump from his sophomore to junior season, recording 110 total tackles, 10 for a loss, and four sacks in 12 games. His NFL-ready build — 6’3, 236 pounds — is appealing for the Rams, whose biggest weakness on a scary-looking defense is at linebacker.

24. Carolina Panthers: Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

Gallup’s not a big name in a draft class that’s not robust when it comes to wide receiver talent. But in his two seasons at Colorado State after transferring from Butler Community College, he put up 176 receptions, 2,690 yards, and 21 touchdowns in 26 games. His touchdown numbers cut in half between his junior and senior seasons, but his receptions skyrocketed for the Rams. He was a consensus All-American in 2017 and a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Cam Newton could do worse in a weapon.

25. Tennessee Titans: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma

Okoronkwo shared the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award with Texas’ Malik Jefferson in 2017. In his senior season, he had 75 total tackles, 17 of those for loss, and eight sacks. He also forced three fumbles, recovering two of them. He’s projected as a Day 3 pick, but he was a monster at Oklahoma and Mike Vrabel could use a defensive playmaker like that on his team.

26. Atlanta Falcons: Dante Pettis, WR/PR, Washington

The Falcons need a dynamic No. 2 wide receiver to replace Taylor Gabriel, and the outrageously elusive Pettis fits the bill. He broke out as a junior when John Ross manned the opposite sideline at Washington, with 53 catches, 15.5 yards per catch, and a whopping 15 touchdowns. Putting him next to Julio Jones would give him a similar chance to thrive. Also, he’s statistically the greatest punt returner in NCAA history. In 2017 he averaged more than 20 yards per return and housed four of them.

27. New Orleans Saints: Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma

Baker Mayfield’s favorite target was the 256-pound Andrews, who was a multifaceted weapon for the Sooners. While he’d always been a red zone threat (14 touchdowns in 50 receptions his first two seasons), he exploded with a 62-catch, 948-yard performance last fall to state his case as one of the draft’s best tight ends. Andrews isn’t a burner, but he’s tough to bring down in the open field, and used that strength en route to an average gain of nearly 16 yards per catch over his career. That’d be attractive to the Saints, who missed out on bringing Jimmy Graham back to New Orleans this offseason.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: DeShon Elliott, S, Texas

DeShon Elliott wasn’t the best safety in college football last year — that honor belongs to Fitzpatrick. But he was the second-best. The Steelers ditched a few underperforming veterans in their secondary (Mike Mitchell, William Gay, and Robert Golden) this offseason and are looking for cheaper, younger replacements. Elliott came up with 8.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, six interceptions, and two pick-sixes last season for the Longhorns and would give the Steelers some much-needed depth in the defensive backfield.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Riley Ferguson, QB, Memphis

The Jaguars pick up their exit strategy from the Blake Bortles era should the embattled former No. 3 pick return to his pre-2017 ways. Ferguson made the most of his two seasons at Memphis, taking hold of the team’s starting spot and throwing for 70 touchdowns and nearly 8,000 yards. The former Tennessee transfer ensured a smooth transition after Paxton Lynch jumped to the NFL, and he’ll hope to outperform his fellow Tiger in the NFL.

30. Minnesota Vikings: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

This mock draft isn’t really nice to small school players, by design. There’s the occasional skill position player who racked up huge stats and, thus, accolades that earned them a spot here. But an offensive lineman doesn’t get that chance. So it speaks to just how dominant of a player Hernandez was at UTEP that he lands in the first round. The 6’2, 348-pound mauler tossed opponents aside during his college career and earned a spot as a second-team All-American. The Vikings can use that kind of beef up front to re-establish their running game and protect their $84 million investment in Kirk Cousins.

31. New England Patriots: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Edmunds has been a super-productive linebacker against both the pass and the run, finding ways to shed blockers and make important stops in the backfield. A long-armed tackler with 4.5-second 40 speed, he closes gaps quickly and plays sideline to sideline defense to smother ballcarriers. He racked up 202 tackles over his last two seasons and would be just the kind of versatile player the Patriots need to boost a limited linebacking corps.

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia

Kiser was one of the best linebackers in the ACC during the 2017 season. He was fourth among leading tacklers in the country, and got third-team AP All-American and first-team All-ACC nods for his 143 total tackles, five sacks, and two fumble recoveries. His production over his entire career was equally impressive. Even though in reality he’ll be a later-round pick, Kiser could be a good Plan B for the Eagles if Jordan Hicks can’t stay healthy.