This project has greatly evolved over the course of the last two months. While many of the picks remain the same, the names have often changed. That is the ultimate testament to the thoroughness and the ups and downs of the draft process.
Here is my final mock of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, Southern Cal
Round and round the wheel spins. First it was Darnold on top. Then just last week the Browns favored Josh Allen. Now, early this week, the Browns are contemplating Baker Mayfield. This wild state of affairs isn’t likely to go away until the Browns go on the clock, but expect the first name to be the one that rings true: the Browns take Darnold to groom for a season and become the face of the franchise.
Previous pick: Sam Darnold, QB, Southern Cal
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
The Giants, apparently enamored with only Sam Darnold, won’t be picking a quarterback and it’s unlikely they’ll find a fair compensation package to allow a team to jump up in front of them, especially with two more trade partners further down the list. The pick comes down to Quenton Nelson, Saquon Barkley and Bradley Chubb, the consensus cream of the crop.
Barkley is the one consistently pointed to by my colleagues in draft coverage, I’ll side with them on a pick this high up in the order.
Previous pick: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
3. New York Jets (via Indianapolis Colts): Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Mayfield is often considered a risky play by the outside world, but according to more than one person I have spoken with, Baker is typically No. 2 on teams’ QB boards. The Jets come away with a strong fit for their city/media and for their offense in landing Mayfield.
Previous pick: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
4. Cleveland Browns: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
Bingo! The Browns will be sitting on eggshells while the Giants make their selection at No. 2 overall, but ultimately their guy is still on the board. With Chubb, the Browns have a potent pass rush duo and can still implement Emmanuel Ogbah into the rotation as well.
Landing high-profile players on either side of the football is the one thing keeping Cleveland from caving into the trade offers on the table.
Previous pick: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming (Bills)
5. Buffalo Bills (via Denver Broncos): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Cleveland holding their cards is of no concern to the Bills, because John Elway put the “For Sale” sign out front just last week. The Broncos could target Quenton Nelson, but they have eyes for other players, as well.
Allen is the biggest wildcard in the draft. Can he reach his ceiling? How long will it take him to get there? Buffalo needs to come away with a passer and aggressively decides to go get one.
Previous pick: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
6. Indianapolis Colts (via New York Jets): Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
This one is a bit of a surprise, but with this much smoke, there’s undoubtedly some fire. As I understand, Cleveland and Denver also very much like Ward and he would be in consideration for both teams without a trade back. Indianapolis needs talented players across the board.
Ward fits that mold and can help further establish a defensive identity for this team, along with Quincy Wilson and Malik Hooker.
Previous pick: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (Dolphins)
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
The Buccaneers are another team that would likely consider dealing if all their preferred options (Chubb, Nelson, Barkley and Derwin) aren’t on the board. But the quarterback run has the Bucs poised to be the primary beneficiary when it’s all sorted out.
Landing Nelson, arguably the best player in the draft this year, would go a long way in aiding a pathetic rushing attack.
Previous pick: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
8. Chicago Bears: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
This would be quite a surprise, wouldn’t it? But RT Bobby Massie hasn’t been a reliable starter, and this offense does need to make sure it’s fortified to keep QB Mitch Trubisky upright. Personally, I think the pairing of McGlinchey with Leno Jr, Sowell, Whitehair and Kyle Long up front, plus a potent running game and exciting new receiving weapons is a terrific personnel grouping.
Previous pick: Derwin James, SAF, Florida State (Redskins)
9. New England Patriots (via San Francisco 49ers): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
When the Patriots first flipped WR Brandin Cooks for the 23rd overall selection, I was speculative that they’d make this type of move. But the general feeling from those I’ve spoken with is that the Patriots are very serious in their consideration to make a move. The feeling is depending on how the board falls, at least one other team would take a look at the Patriots’ package of 23 and 31 to jump to 9.
For what it’s worth, the swap of those three picks is separated by just 10 points (1350 vs. 1360) on the old trade value chart. A very fair price to pay for New England to land its quarterback of the future.
Previous pick: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
10. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
No one is happier to see the 49ers trade out of the previous pick than coach Gruden and the rest of the Raiders. The two players the team has been tied to most recently are OT Mike McGlinchey (gone at 8) and LB Roquan Smith (likely a 49ers target at 9).
Instead, the team is able to land a stout interior defender to provide some needed toughness up the middle.
Previous pick: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
11. Miami Dolphins: Derwin James, SAF, Florida State
Miami would give Josh Rosen a long, hard look if he fell here to 11. In this scenario, he does not, but the team would gladly gobble up a home-state playmaker on the defensive side of the football. Pairing Derwin James with Reshad Jones gives Miami two big play defenders on the back end. They’ll need that with Tom Brady still lurking in the division and two new quarterbacks on the opposing teams.
Previous pick: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College (Colts)
12. Denver Broncos (via Buffalo Bills from Cincinnati Bengals): Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
Bummer for the Broncos, who would have loved to see Denzel Ward slip to 12 after trading out of the fifth spot. Instead, the team opts to land a linebacker to step into the middle and play behind a physical defensive front. Surprisingly, it’s Leighton Vander Esch, who a source told me the Broncos are partial to out of the available linebacker prospects.
Previous pick: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State (Browns)
13. Washington Redskins: RB Derrius Guice, RB, Louisiana State
The Redskins have been tied hard to Washington DL Vita Vea throughout the process, but more than one insider I’ve corresponded with has pointed me in a different direction. Perhaps the interest is genuine, but for what it’s worth Washington has ample rotational bodies up front (including returning 2017 rookie Jonathan Allen) and not a whole lot of proven production at the running back position.
Guice fits this team’s preferred RB mold very well.
Previous pick: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech (Bears)
14. Green Bay Packers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, SAF, Alabama
I’ve been mocking the Packers Leighton Vander Esch for the better part of two months. But with the Broncos scooping up their man at pick 12, Green Bay is forced to redirect.
The pivot leads to a better football player, too. Minkah Fitzpatrick’s draft slide ends at 14, where he’s paired with a fellow Crimson Tide safety (Clinton-Dix) to help fortify the secondary. Draft analyst’s Tony Pauline come out on Monday saying the Packers have a higher grade on Derwin James, but the team won’t be faced with that dilemma in this scenario.
Previous pick: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (Saints)
15. Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The only endorsement needed to sell me on this pick was when former head coach Bruce Arians joked that pairing Lamar Jackson with David Johnson would make him consider coming out of retirement.
The Cardinals are fortunate to have the dual-threat quarterback still on the board, primarily because the favorite to trade up (New Orleans) has limited draft capital (picks 27 and 91 are all the team owns in days 1 and 2).
Previous pick: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
16. Baltimore Ravens: James Daniels, C, Iowa
Baltimore’s dedication to improve the WR group has mitigated the need to draft D.J. Moore or Calvin Ridley early. It’s actually quite fitting, as it allows departing GM Ozzie Newsome to go out true to form: drafting the trenches.
Daniels can replace now departed starter Ryan Jensen (Tampa Bay).
Previous pick: Minkah Fitzpatrick, SAF, Alabama
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
The Chargers have to be thrilled. The team lands one of the most physically gifted prospects in the class, who just so happens to address a position of need. Edmunds is a young player and a physical freak, he’d be a very exciting addition behind this defensive line.
Add in all three starting LBs for the Chargers are entering a contract year in 2018 and this proactive move makes sense.
Previous pick: Vita Vea, DL, Washington
18. Seattle Seahawks: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
Landry is another prospect who has been impacted by the 49ers trade back. The dominoes of Rosen going at No. 9 force a very gifted pass rusher into the late teens, where he’d make a great pairing with the Seahawks.
Seattle has taken on lighter framed rushers before (Bruce Irvin/Cliff Avril), which means there’s a precedent here for Landry to play in this physical defensive front.
Previous pick: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State (Packers)
19. Atlanta Falcons (via Dallas Cowboys): Taven Bryan, DL, Florida
As Landry comes off the board, the urgency on defensive linemen picks up. The Falcons are smitten with Florida DL Taven Bryan, so getting aggressive to ensure the Lions don’t snatch away their hopes and dreams at 20 is a logical decision.
Previous pick: Taven Bryan, DL, Florida (Cowboys)
20. Detroit Lions: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
There’s just one man who could prevent the Lions from getting Payne’s name on the card and he’s just been picked by the Seahawks at 18. Instead, Detroit wants to bet on the physical upside and stout anchor of Payne, who would be a notable upgrade in the middle of this defensive line.
Previous pick: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
21. Cincinnati Bengals (via Buffalo Bills from Kansas City Chiefs): Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
Apologies for being the bearer of bad news, Bengals fans, but Mike McGlinchey isn’t walking through that door at 21. And with Baltimore selecting James Daniels at 16, this pick is pretty simple for the Bengals.
Ragnow fits all of the requirements the Bengals look for and his toughness on the inside would be a big step in the right direction for remaking this offensive line.
Previous pick: James Daniels, C, Iowa
22. Denver Broncos (via Buffalo Bills): Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
For all the disappointment the Broncos reaped not having Denzel Ward fall into their laps at 12, all is forgotten with the addition of Hernandez here at 22. The Broncos named Sean Kugler their offensive line coach this offseason. His previous gig was… you guessed it, a four-year stint as the head coach of the UTEP Miners.
Kugler and Hernandez being reunited in the NFL is a no brainer.
Previous pick: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA (Browns)
23. San Francisco 49ers (via New England Patriots from Los Angeles Rams): Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
There are some mocks that have the 49ers considering Marcus Davenport at No. 9 overall. Here, the 49ers can target Davenport at a much more reasonable value range. The team has invested heavily in the defensive line in recent years, adding first-round picks Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas up front. But where is the burst? The quick first step?
The 49ers can add that to the mix with this pick and thanks to the trade with New England they still have another first-round pick to address another need.
Previous pick: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA (Patriots)
24. Carolina Panthers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Jackson slipping past scheme fits like Washington and Seattle is a bit of a surprise, but it does allow the Panthers to quickly gobble him up. In a tough call between Jackson and Justin Reid, Jackson is a part of a position group with less depth this year.
Previous pick: Justin Reid, SAF, Stanford
25. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Landing Rashaan Evans helps the Titans to address two needs. First of all, it replaces ILB Avery Williamson, who is now with the Jets. But it also gives a fresh pass rush element, something the Titans need to think about as they get a bit long in the tooth from a pass rush perspective.
Previous pick: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
26. Dallas Cowboys (via Atlanta Falcons): Vita Vea, DL, Washington
The Cowboys have to be thrilled to see Vea still on the board here at 26. Yes, WR Courtland Sutton is in the mix, but Dallas insiders have suggested the team views him as more of a second-round talent. Dallas would be wise to take their pick at 50 and get into the first 10 picks of the second round.
That approach would give them a solid interior presence who can rush the passer AND a size receiver to help replace Dez Bryant.
Previous pick: Courtland Sutton, WR, Southern Methodist
27. New Orleans Saints: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
Forgive my speculative approach that South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst will be the first TE off the board this year. The Saints offense with a viable tight end to fill the Jimmy Graham role is a very scary thought. And while Gesicki and his explosive numbers, or any tight end for that matter, is a bit of a luxury pick, it does fill a long-term need.
Previous pick: Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa (Seahawks)
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Reid, SAF, Stanford
It’s been a hair-raising last 10 or 12 picks for the Steelers, watching preferred targets like Rashaan Evans slip off the board. The Steelers are lucky to see Reid on the board here, directly due to the slip of Josh Jackson and the subsequent pick by Carolina as a result. Free safety and ILB are Pittsburgh’s two “must haves” this year in the draft. They can check a box by adding Reid.
Previous pick: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State (Giants)
29. Cleveland Browns (via Jacksonville Jaguars): Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
What options do the Jaguars have here? Hernandez has been a staple of my mock draft since January, and he’s off the board to Denver. When in doubt, trade back! I think the Browns will look to ensure they lock in a starting offensive tackle to replace Joe Thomas and can coax the Jaguars down four spots in the draft order with a mid-round pick.
Previous pick: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
30. Minnesota Vikings: Billy Price, IOL, Ohio State
Pectoral injury and all, this pick just makes too much sense. The Vikings added a short-term answer to their defensive tackle issues and still need Guard help. Plug Price in next to college teammate Pat Elflien and prosper, Minnesota!
Previous pick: Billy Price, IOL, Ohio State
31. San Francisco 49ers (via New England Patriots): Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Yes, the 49ers drafted Ahkello Witherspoon in the second round last year, and signed Richard Sherman in free agency this year. But imagine if you will the potential of a cornerback room filled with Jaire and a healthy (but aging) Sherman!
This pick is centered around value.
Previous pick: Connor Williams, OL, Texas (Patriots)
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Philadelphia’s collective hearts were broken when Guice had his name called in the top 15, but not to worry. Sony Michel is a solid consolation prize who has all of the needed skills to step into Jay Ajayi’s shoes as needed and keep this running game humming.
Previous pick: Derrius Guice, RB, Louisiana State