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2018 NFL mock draft: An early run on quarterbacks

One team found its QB, but plenty of others will be looking for help in April.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL will always be a league about the haves and have nots at quarterback. A handful of teams that will have a top 15 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft have proven they have a big need at the game’s most important position.

This week’s projection sees five quarterbacks get taken in the top 11 picks. The last time anything close to that happened was in 1999 when five were taken in the top 12 picks.

The over-drafting of quarterbacks, of course, means players who are more highly rated will drop. After Week 13, here’s how the 2018 draft could play out.

As always, the pick positions are based on the latest NFL draft order.

1. Cleveland Browns - Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Believe it or not, the Browns actually have pieces in place on offense, with young tight ends David Njoku and Seth DeValve and Corey Coleman and the returning Josh Gordon at wide receiver. Unfortunately, it looks like using the 52nd overall pick in this year’s draft on DeShone Kizer was a wasted selection. At the top of the draft, the Browns can go after whomever they deem as the top quarterback. Rosen has good size and a quick release

2. New York Giants - Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California

The Giants are cleaning house this week, firing head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese. Although Eli Manning will return as the starting quarterback, at 36 he’s obviously not the future in New York. With this high of a pick, the Giants are guaranteed to get a shot at a top quarterback. Darnold is considered by many to be the draft’s top quarterback and after starring in Los Angeles at USC, he should be able to handle the New York spotlight.

3. San Francisco 49ers - Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Something about picking at No. 3 instead of No. 2 makes taking Barkley a little better for some reason. Maybe it’s because it’s a little closer to No. 4 where Leonard Fournette was taken this year and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.

4. Denver Broncos - Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Losers of eight consecutive games, the Broncos are in a tailspin. The Broncos should strongly consider taking a quarterback here. Mayfield is a polarizing player, but Denver general manager John Elway could fall in love his confidence and passion for the game.

5. Indianapolis Colts - Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State

The Colts should hope that Barkley falls this far. If he doesn’t, the consideration could be LSU running back Derrius Guice and a pass rusher. The Colts have some decent pieces on defense, but desperately need an edge rusher.

6. Chicago Bears - Connor Williams, OT, Texas

It’s time for the Bears to get serious with their offensive line. Otherwise the development of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky could be slow, and painful. A player like Williams could slot directly into one of the starting offensive tackle spots.

7. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans) - Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

The Houston Texans have lost five of six games, inching the Browns higher each week. If a player like Fitzpatrick is available, the Browns should pounce. Whether he’s playing coverage safety or cornerback, the Fitzpatrick would be a starter for the Browns straight away.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Arden Key, DE/OLB, LSU

The Buccaneers have the fewest sacks in the NFL, and desperately need to hit on an edge rusher this offseason. Key may start his career as a situational pass rusher, but if he’s used correctly he can make an impact.

9. Cincinnati Bengals - Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

The Bengals have to go offensive line early and often in the 2018 draft, and McGlinchey has a little extra value because he’s a tackle. He can play on the left or right for the Bengals.

10. Arizona Cardinals - Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Even with his inconsistencies, Allen remains a good fit for the Cardinals. On draft weekend they should consider a trade down to attain extra draft capital and still get him.

11. New York Jets - Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Although the Jets have had a better season than expected, and Josh McCown has played fairly well, they should still think of the future with a quarterback. If he’s coached right – and he would be by ace offensive coordinator John Morton – Jackson can be a sensation in the NFL.

12. Washington - Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

Washington’s offensive line has had issues this season because of injuries. While a player like Nelson won’t help if Morgan Moses or Trent Williams get hurt, he can help sure up the inside. Having Nelson and Brandon Scherff would give Washington one of the league’s best guard pairings.

13. Miami Dolphins - Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

It would be fun to change this pick up and give Miami a cornerback or linebacker, but the needs on the offensive line are too great. Brown could factor in at tackle, or even get a look at guard.

14. Los Angeles Chargers - Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

Potentially not wanting to create an Eli Manning situation with an already fractured fanbase, the Chargers could opt to just let Philip Rivers play until he decides to retire. With that in mind, the Chargers could turn to a defensive line where tough decisions will have to be made in the offseason about Corey Liuget and Brandon Mebane.

15. Dallas Cowboys - Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

There isn’t a linebacker with more range in the draft next year than Smith, who was sensational on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game. Sean Lee’s health has made him something of a liability, so Smith could be seen as a replacement or partner at linebacker.

16. Oakland Raiders - Derwin James, S, Florida State

This is another pick that continues to stick just because James is so good and we’re getting a little deep into the first round. He can be a utility player in the NFL, working at safety, linebacker and even as a blitzer.

17. Detroit Lions - Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

There’s plenty of directions Detroit could take here. Obviously a defensive tackle or edge rusher will be considered, and if Ohio State center Billy Price lands in the first round this could be a destination. But Guice would finally give the Lions a legit lead running back.

18. Buffalo Bills - Vita Vea, DT, Washington

You have to wonder if the Bills will package their two first-round picks to move up on a quarterback (spoiler: that possibility will be explored in next week’s mock draft). For now, lets focus on fixing the run defense, which has suffered since Marcel Dares was trade several weeks ago. Vea is a dependable run stuffer who will take up multiple blockers and make the linebackers behind him better.

19. Green Bay Packers - Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Obviously this could be a pass rusher like Harold Landry of Boston College. But it’s hard to ignore the draft’s top wide receiver this deep into the first round. That’s particularly true considering that the contracts of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will get long looks this offseason.

20. Atlanta Falcons - Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

If Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson slips because of the position he plays, the Falcons should pounce on him. If he’s gone, defensive tackle is arguably the team’s biggest need anyway. When the Falcons hired Dan Quinn as head coach, he said he wanted to be “fast and physical.” That’s exactly what Hurst provides in the middle of the defense.

21. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs) - Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

The Bills need a linebacker who can fly around the field and make plays, and that’s what Jefferson offers. His athletic ability can help mask the mistakes of his teammates.

22. Baltimore Ravens - Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

If Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome can be criticized for something, it’s his inability to draft wide receivers. He should be able to take another stab at it in 2018. A player like Sutton is a very good athlete with size at the position, and he should quickly become Joe Flacco’s top target.

23. Seattle Seahawks - Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State

This should be pretty simple for the Seahawks. Rankin, who is officially headed to the Senior Bowl, is the best offensive tackle available.

24. Carolina Panthers - Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

It would be easy to work in a wide receiver like James Washington of Oklahoma State or Christian Kirk of Texas A&M here. But Ferrell is too good of a pass rusher to not take at No. 24 overall. On an absolutely loaded Clemson defensive line that may have four fist-round picks, Ferrell is the most consistent at generating a pass rush.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars - Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma

My philosophy about teams that are finally starting to threaten as a playoff team – which Jacksonville is obviously doing at 8-4 – is to fill needs with safe but good talent. That’s Andrews, the top tight end in the 2018 draft. He’s a player that can be added to give the offense another element in the pass game. Andrews has one of the higher floors of any player in the draft.

26. Tennessee Titans - Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College

The versatility and sheer size/athleticism combination Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard is still intriguing for Tennessee. But Landry is far too good of a pass rusher to continue free falling.

27. Los Angeles Rams - Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa

Like the Jaguars, the Rams are a team that has made a push to the playoffs this season. So if they go for an easy fix with a good player, it would be hard to overlook a cornerback. If the Rams have been the breakout team in the NFL this season, Jackson has been the breakout player in college football.

28. New Orleans Saints - Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

The Saints seem to always be in need of a linebacker, and it looks no different heading into the offseason. Evans has had a rocky 2017 season because of injuries, but he can play the middle or the weak side in the NFL.

29. Philadelphia Eagles - Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

An offensive tackle should get a look here, but it can be hard to find one while picking in the back half of the first round. Instead, the Eagles could turn to cornerback where Ward has put together an incredible 2017 season that has him soaring up draft boards.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers - Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

The fourth Alabama first-round player comes off the board in Harrison. He’s a reliable safety who can come up and work the run or drop back and rely on his quickness in pass coverage.

31. Minnesota Vikings - Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn

At some point 39-year-old Terence Newman will prove he is mortal. That could come after this season. If so, the Vikings could find a new partner for Xavier Rhodes in Davis. He’s another member of this group of cornerbacks that are taking the first round by storm.

32. New England Patriots - Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

Hubbard, a junior expected to go pro, was a high school safety who converted down to base defensive end and moonlights as rush middle linebacker. Tell me what Bill Belichick wouldn’t love about him.

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