There are five quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft that will likely go in the top half of the first round and that means you should buckle up for one of the wildest, most trade-happy drafts ever.
In 2017, there were six trades on the first night of the draft and the first three came because teams — the Bears, Chiefs and Texans — were all coming up to secure quarterbacks. With the Browns, Jets, Broncos, Bills, Dolphins, Cardinals and others all hunting for passers, the game of musical chairs will start early.
But projecting trades makes the already impossible task of predicting the picks of the draft even less accurate. So here’s a mock of a trade-free, patient first round of the NFL Draft:
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Ok, let me get this straight. Browns GM John Dorsey isn’t telling team owner Jimmy Haslam who he’s picking, nor is he telling head coach Hue Jackson. But we’re supposed to believe reports that Wyoming’s Josh Allen is the favorite ... or any other reports for that matter? I’m just going to go ahead and assume that nobody except Dorsey knows which way the team is leaning and go with the pick that makes the most sense.
Darnold isn’t the most polished passer of the class or the most physically gifted, but he’s the blend of raw talent and natural football instincts that should draw the interest of Dorsey. It helps too that Darnold is built like a linebacker at 6’3, 221 pounds, something that should prove useful in the AFC North.
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
As much as I believe the Giants should go in a different direction, general manager Dave Gettleman just really seems locked in on the idea that Barkley is worth the No. 2 pick — running back devaluation, be damned.
If it were up to me, I’d go quarterback or trade to a team hunting for a quarterback. Picking Barkley feels more like aiming for a short-term surge rather than a long-term investment. But if recent history is any indication, it could make for one hell of a spike in wins and help Eli Manning get back to his old self.
3. New York Jets (via Colts): Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
It seems like John Dorsey is running Fort Knox in Cleveland, so I’m not believing reports about the Browns pick. But I do lend some credence to the increasingly loud rumors that Mayfield is the apple of the Jets’ eye. Draft analyst Tony Pauline said a source told him it’s already a “done deal.”
It makes sense too. Mayfield seems born for the New York spotlight and has the Joe Namath stamp of approval. The Jets didn’t move up from No. 6 to No. 3 to play it safe, and this is swinging for the fences.
4. Cleveland Browns (via Texans): Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State
If the Browns take a quarterback with the first pick and the Giants take Barkley with the second, it really doesn’t seem like there’s anybody else who could possibly go No. 4 than Chubb. ESPN’s Todd McShay said the team will “run the card up” if either Chubb or Barkley are on the board for their second pick.
Chubb is the consensus top pass rusher of the class and now combines with Myles Garrett to make a pretty terrifying duo in Cleveland.
5. Denver Broncos: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
If I was projecting trades in this mock, this would be the spot I’d start. With Case Keenum in place and two quarterbacks already off the board, I’m with Chris Harris in thinking the Broncos should go a different direction than grabbing a passer at No. 5.
It’d make sense to trade this pick to a team aiming for Josh Rosen or Josh Allen, but in the event that the Broncos stay put, I’m a little surprised this isn’t a more popular selection. Fitzpatrick is the top defensive back of the class, according to many experts — including NFL.com’s Mike Mayock and our own Dan Kadar.
In Denver, he’d shore up a secondary that lost Aqib Talib but already has a pair of starting cornerbacks in Harris and Bradley Roby.
6. Indianapolis Colts (via Jets): Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Shortly after the Jets and Colts made their March swap of top 10 picks, Jim Irsay told reporters Indianapolis still had premium options at No. 6.
“We could go pass rusher, we could go franchise running back, we could go offensive lineman,” Irsay said, via the Indianapolis Star.
Presumably that meant Chubb (who’s off the board), Barkley (who’s off the board), and Nelson. Adding the Notre Dame guard will give the Colts a mauler up front to jump start an offense that ranked No. 28 in the NFL in yards per carry in 2017, and give Andrew Luck some much-needed additional protection.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derwin James, DB, Florida State
Of all the teams in the NFL, mock drafters have had a lot of success predicting which direction the Buccaneers will go. And it’s becoming increasingly common to see James projected to Tampa Bay. This pick has become the “worst-kept secret” in the NFL, according to Todd McShay.
8. Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Picking between Smith and Tremaine Edmunds is a coin toss, but Smith is a player who seems more capable of immediately raising the level of a defense. The Bears already spent big to upgrade the offense by signing Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel. So I’m leaning toward the idea that Bears GM Ryan Pace wants to find wins sooner rather than later.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Even if Reuben Foster wasn’t on the verge of getting released and even if Malcolm Smith turns out to be a quality starter for the 49ers, adding an athletic and versatile linebacker like Edmunds would make plenty of sense. But Foster’s offseason adds a little urgency to find a starter and Edmunds has the potential to be a star for many years in the 49ers defense.
10. Oakland Raiders: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Defense is the way to go for the Raiders and it’s a relatively easy choice with two defensive backs and two linebackers already off the board. Ward is the top man-to-man cornerback of the class and joins a secondary with a lot of question marks, but plenty of upside with Rashaan Melvin and Gareon Conley.
11. Miami Dolphins: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Earlier this week, Mike Klis of 9News in Denver reported the Dolphins were one of three teams that called the Broncos to talk a trade for the No. 5 pick. Presumably, it’d be for a quarterback.
Baker Mayfield has been a trade target for the Dolphins in many mock drafts, but according to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, it’s Rosen who Adam Gase is “obsessed” with.
Yes, the Dolphins already have Ryan Tannehill on the roster. But the former first-round pick still hasn’t established himself as an upper echelon starter, is coming off major knee surgery that cost him all of 2017, and wasn’t the draft choice of anyone still in the organization, including Gase.
12. Buffalo Bills (via Bengals): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
This is much lower in the order than Allen has appeared in most mock drafts, but it still feels too early when you watch him actually play. But Buffalo feels like a decent fit, and at least in this scenario, the team didn’t have to move up to go get a quarterback.
A battle between AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman and Allen for the starting job is less than ideal, but the rookie would be well-served losing it and taking time to learn and grow before taking the field in the NFL.
13. Washington: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
In the last six drafts, the only defensive linemen taken in the first two days by Washington were 2017 first-round pick Jonathan Allen and 2015 second-round pick Preston Smith. Over that same span, the Patriots have picked seven defensive linemen and the Browns have taken eight.
So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Washington was No. 29 in the NFL in yards allowed per rushing attempt and No. 27 in total points allowed during the 2017 season. The return of Allen from injury and the addition of a nose tackle like Vea could turn that around in a hurry.
14. Green Bay Packers: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
He may not have the raw, untapped potential of Marcus Davenport, but Landry has the polish of a pass rusher ready to do damage right away. If it weren’t for an injury in his senior season, Landry may have locked himself into the top 10 but that could be a blessing for a team in the middle of the first round like the Packers.
Landry can fly off the line of scrimmage with a ridiculous first step and is as good at bending around the edge as any rusher in the class. He’s a tad undersized, but would be a good fit for the Packers and is similar in many ways to the prospect Clay Matthews was in 2009.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
There’s clearly five quarterbacks in a tier above the rest in this draft class and I think the competition between more than five teams will ensure they’re all off the board before the No. 15 pick rolls around. But in this scenario with no trades, the Cardinals get to sit back and let one fall into their lap.
Bruce Arians isn’t the coach in Arizona anymore, but it’s safe to say he’d applaud his former team’s selection if Jackson was the pick.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
For some reason, the Ravens really haven’t done well at drafting receivers. None of the team’s three first-round picks at the position in franchise history — Travis Taylor (2000), Mark Clayton (2005) and Breshad Perriman (2015) — ever cracked 1,000 receiving yards.
Signing Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead mean the Ravens don’t have to force it at the position, but with the No. 1 receiver in the class still on the board it’s worth the roll of the dice.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
The duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram should have the Chargers defense among the NFL’s most dominant units. But the team’s terrible run defense allowed 4.9 yards per carry in 2017 and held it back.
The offensive line needs help too, but there’s a big drop off among the nose tackles after Vea and Payne are gone, so now’s the time to strike.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Trading for Duane Brown gave the Seahawks a left tackle, but Germain Ifedi hasn’t been able to be the right tackle the team hoped for. McGlinchey could be that player. By kicking Ifedi inside with new addition D.J. Fluker, the Seahawks may be able to finally provide Russell Wilson with some long overdue help up front.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
Wide receiver has understandably become the niché pick for the Cowboys after the release of Dez Bryant, but it’s not like the team was suddenly left bare at the position and is in desperate need of a first-round pick. Especially when Dallas also has a need at linebacker.
According to Jane Slater of NFL Network, the Cowboys see Vander Esch as “Brian Urlacher 2.0.” If that’s true, there isn’t a receiver worth taking instead.
20. Detroit Lions: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
Taking a raw, underdeveloped pass rusher worked out for the Lions in 2013 with Ezekiel Ansah who eventually became a Pro Bowler for the team. Davenport is a player built like Jadeveon Clowney, but still very far from a finished product.
Davenport will likely need more time to become a legitimate pass rushing threat than Ansah did, but he has all the capabilities in the world. His consistent improvement from year to year in college is a good sign that he can realize that potential.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (via Bills): Billy Price, C, Ohio State
If Price didn’t suffer a pectoral injury at the NFL Combine in 2018, it’s probably fair to guess he’d be the center most expected to go first this week. But Iowa’s James Daniels has since taken that mantle and is the player most frequently paired with the Bengals.
That all seems a little silly considering Price’s injury isn’t considered serious and teams are picking players they hope will make a decade’s worth of impact. Most believe a center will be the pick here, so why not take the best one?
22. Buffalo Bills (via Chiefs): Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Matt Milano looks like a capable starter for the Bills at linebacker, but the other two spots are far from set. With three linebackers already off the board, the Bills better not wait much longer to start making improvements at the position. Evans — like just about all Alabama linebackers — will probably be excellent right away.
23. New England Patriots (via Rams): Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
It sure feels like the Patriots are ready to make a splashy move to go get a quarterback. But with five gone, there’s no need to force it. And since when have the Patriots forced anything?
With that in mind, taking a defensive tackle isn’t a move many are projecting for the Patriots. Not with needs at offensive tackle, linebacker, and in the secondary. But interior pressure was lacking for New England in 2017 and Danny Shelton doesn’t fix that. Hurst is quick and explosive to make up for his lack of size, but the undersized defensive tackle has been one of the most valuable positions in the NFL over the last decade.
24. Carolina Panthers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Signing Ross Cockrell was a start, but the Panthers need much more help at cornerback because 2016 second-round pick James Bradberry hasn’t been cutting it.
The danger in Jackson is that he’s still so new to the position having moved there in 2015. He was a bit of a one-year wonder with his breakout season in 2017 landing him in first-round conversation, but wow what a season it was. If it was an indication of what’s to come, landing a player of that quality this late in the first round is a steal.
25. Tennessee Titans: Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida State
The Titans were active enough this offseason to leave the roster without any major holes. That gives the team the luxury to do pretty much anything this weekend, but if there’s one major need it’s the fact that there isn’t much edge rushing depth behind Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo, who are entering seasons nine and 10, respectively, of their NFL careers.
With a drop off after Bradley Chubb, Harold Landry and Marcus Davenport, the Titans may be interested in scooting up a little to land one. But if the team sits tight, Sweat has the most raw potential of the edge rushers left on the board.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Everyone is thinking defensive tackle with this pick, but I just couldn’t bear to see the wide receiver class fall any further. Don’t worry there’s still plenty of interior defensive linemen to nab in rounds two and three.
But there won’t be any more 6’4, 216-pound receivers with the ability of Sutton. It’s not a pressing need with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu on the roster, but it’s a position where it doesn’t hurt to have a few extra riches.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
Damn near everyone thinks this pick will be used on a tight end, the toughest part is picking which one it’ll be. My guess is Goedert, despite the fact that he made his mark in the FCS. While it came against lower competition, Goedert dominated and did so with defenders draped all over him.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
I can only imagine the collective gasp of the NFL world if the Steelers took a running back. It would send a message loud and clear to Le’Veon Bell that his days in Pittsburgh are just about through, and would likely rule out any possibility that a long-term deal gets done with the back before the July deadline for franchised players.
But that deal already looks like a long shot. Unless the Steelers are ready to fork over the lucrative contract that no other running backs are coming close to receiving, the reality is that 2018 was probably Bell’s last season in Pittsburgh anyway. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Steelers have “genuine interest” in Guice and — while it would be shocking of draft night — this scenario seems very real.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
Leonard Fournette looked great at times, and disappeared at others during his rookie season. But put Wynn and Andrew Norwell in front of him, and the Jaguars offense is a Mack Truck. Jacksonville got to the AFC Championship in 2017 on the back of strong defense and a commitment to a grinding offense, so why not double down?
30. Minnesota Vikings: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
The Vikings landed their crown jewel of the offseason by signing Kirk Cousins, but now it’s time for the less sexy part. Minnesota needs to stock up on beef up front and it doesn’t get much beefier than the 6’2, 327-pound mauler, Hernandez, who comes with a neck roll for peak nastiness. The Vikings will have more work to do on the line still, but this is a great start.
31. New England Patriots: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
The only offensive tackle off the board in the first 30 picks is McGlinchey, so the Patriots have a lot of options here if they’re aiming to replace Nate Solder. But it just seems so easy to circle Miller as that replacement considering he’s so Solder-y.
New England would probably be wise to find a way to get a veteran protecting Tom Brady’s blindside in 2018 than trusting the rookie to handle the job, but there’s a lot of potential for Miller to be the best offensive tackle of the class.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
The Eagles roster is so completely devoid of holes that running back has become the favored position in mock drafts for the team, despite the presence of Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. And with Sony Michel still available, that very well may be the move.
But with so few cornerbacks coming off the board in the first round here, Philadelphia can look for the best value possible at No. 32 and that’s Alexander. In 2017, the Louisville cornerback allowed an astounding 17.7 passer rating on passes his direction. And in 2016, he provided me with my favorite college football moment of the year. I was sold in that moment.