Jody Smith’s First Round 2018 NFL Mock Draft
For football months, the long wait for the 2018 NFL Draft is nearly over. We are now just a day away from all 32 teams arriving at AT&T Stadium in Arlington and kicking off the latest and greatest edition of the most hyped offseason event in sports.
I was privileged to join the latest FantasyPros podcast and got to act as the real general manager for eight NFL squads. While I walked away feeling like a fairly successful franchise figurehead, the draft will undoubtedly play out far differently than it did on the show.
It seems like draft talk, speculation and rumors are all we’ve heard about for the past several weeks. While the actual event is almost here, it’s time to for us to shore up our finalize our final mock drafts and get ready to enjoy the actual show on Thursday evening.
After being nominated as the unofficial champion of the FantasyPros podcast live mock, it’s time for me to present my official first round mock draft for all 32 teams, where I actually to try to predict what the real teams are about to do, rather than what I would do with the picks.
My goal is just to get a couple of these right, and not be completely embarrassed by Mike Tagliere’s three-round mock draft, which is terrific and certainly worth the read. Now, let’s get on with the prognostications.
1. Cleveland Browns – Sam Darnold (QB – USC)
It’s not a question of if the Browns will take a QB, but which player do they prefer? Trading for Tyrod Taylor allows them the luxury of grooming the heir apparent, which is fueling the Josh Allen hype. Allen has all the physical traits that would appeal to 32 teams but is on-field performance leaves a lot to be desired.
I have to think that an analytics-driven franchise like the Browns sees those limitations and goes with the safer overall prospect in Darnold. It would not be shocking to see Cleveland reach for the upside of Allen, but considering this club’s dubious track record for developing a franchise quarterback, I think they go with the safer bet.
2. New York Giants – Saquon Barkley (RB – Penn State)
The Giants are hard to predict and have the chance to dictate the next half-dozen picks depending on who they target here. And Dave Gettleman has done a tremendous job of giving nothing away. My hunch here is that the Giants covet Darnold and since he’s off the board, they’ll go with what they view as the best player in this draft.
Two is a bit high to select a running back, but it’s a need for New York, and Saquon Barkley has the tools to build an offense around and be a true difference-maker for the next 8-10 years. The combination of Barkley, Odell Beckham, and Evan Engram gives the Giants a great young offensive nucleus to build around.
3. New York Jets – Baker Mayfield (QB – Oklahoma)
It’s been a while since the Browns have drafted and developed a franchise signal-caller, but they have nothing on the Jets. Once Mike Maccagnan shipped three second-round picks to Indianapolis for the No. 3 pick, it all but assured that the Jets would be in a position to finally get their next quarterback. Baker Mayfield is a favorite of the fantasy football and draft community and is probably the most pro-ready QB in this draft.
Mayfield isn’t the biggest prospect, but he’s highly accurate, athletic, and has the commanding personality that will help him thrive in the Big Apple. The Jets finally get their man.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) – Bradley Chubb (DE – N.C. State)
This is a spot where the Browns could consider moving back and accumulating even more draft capital. In this scenario, John Dorsey stays put and nabs the top pass rusher in a class that is quite thin. Pairing Bradley Chubb with last year’s first-round pick Myles Garrett gives the Browns a scary defensive line in an increasingly pass-happy league.
5. Denver Broncos – Josh Rosen (QB – UCLA)
There’s a real possibility that a team is going to entice the Browns to trade back with the explicit purpose of getting in front of John Elway to target a quarterback. Denver has been linked to Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Bradley Chubb, but in this worst-case scenario, all three are off the board. While the Broncos could select Rosen and look to develop him a year or two behind Case Keenum, I think Elway would prefer to move out of this spot and another club could offer up a ton to take Rosen. Even though I’m not confident that he’ll go to Denver necessarily, Rosen makes a lot of sense in this spot.
6. Indianapolis Colts – Tremaine Edmunds (LB – Virginia Tech)
New Indianapolis GM Chris Ballard is rumored to be interested in possibly moving down here, which makes sense considering how devoid of talent the Colts’ roster is. Ballard has a lot of holes to field on both sides of the ball. It’s tempting to mock Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson — the draft’s top offensive lineman — here to help protect QB Andrew Luck. However, interior offensive line is rather deep, so I think Ballard goes with a young, versatile, rangy defender who can start immediately and be a three-down difference maker for a rebuilt Indy defense.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Denzel Ward (CB – Ohio State)
Tampa surrendered a league-worst 260.6 passing yards-per-game in 2017. They’ve got to get better in the secondary, which includes both safety spots and a potential replacement at cornerback opposite of Brent Grimes, who is about to be 35 and will be a free agent at the conclusion of this season. Ward looks like the clear-cut top cornerback in this draft and would give the Bucs a solid, young tandem of corners with Vernon Hargreaves.
8. Chicago Bears – Quenton Nelson (G – Notre Dame)
Chicago still has some defensive holes to fill, but if Matt Nagy’s innovative offense is going to come to fruition, he’s got to keep second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky healthy. Nelson is the top offensive lineman in this draft and also has ties to Chicago’s new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. If Nelson is gone at this point, Chicago could look at an impact linebacker or defensive back with this pick.
9. San Francisco 49ers – Roquan Smith (LB – Georgia)
The top draft need for John Lynch is to add to the pass rush. San Francisco could go with a defensive lineman here, but considering the tenuous relationship with Reuben Foster, adding a tremendous talent like Roquan Smith to man the middle of the Niners linebacking corps makes a lot of sense for the club, who can look to address wide receiver and offensive line needs later. Defensive back is another possibility with this pick and the quality of players available at this juncture of the draft could be too great for Lynch to pass up.
10. Oakland Raiders – Minkah Fitzpatrick (S – Alabama)
The Raiders have got to get better in the secondary, where they forced an NFL-low five interceptions last season. Starting free safety Reggie Nelson will turn 35-years-old this season and is on a one-year contract. Fitzpatrick can play anywhere in the secondary, including slot corner. Having missed out on the premier linebackers in this draft, John Gruden turns back the clock by nabbing a versatile defensive back to help reinforce the Oakland’s back end.
11. Miami Dolphins – Vita Vea (DT – Washington)
The Dolphins released Ndamukong Suh and now have a glaring need at defensive tackle. Vea is a premiere run-clogging interior lineman who can also hold his own as a pass rusher. This is also a spot where Miami could really look to move down from teams desperate to get in front of Buffalo to grab a quarterback.
12. Buffalo Bills – Josh Allen (QB – Wyoming)
There’s definitely a divide between the rumors we hear of how many NFL personnel men covet Allen’s elite size and potential versus what draftniks say about Allen’s consistent lack of accuracy on a lesser level. Allen actually fits what the Bills are looking to do now that they’ve moved on from Tyrod Taylor, plus the presence of A.J. McCarron would allow Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll to groom Allen should they choose to go that route.
13. Washington Redskins – Da’Ron Payne (DT – Alabama)
According to Football Outsiders, Washington’s run defense was the worst in the league last season, so the Redskins are in desperate need of a run-stuffing defensive tackle. Having missed out on Vita Vea, Da’Ron Payne excels at occupying blockers and stopping the run and has the ability to improve as an inside pass rusher. Also, keep an eye on defensive backs here, and there are rumors that the Redskins could even consider a running back.
14. Green Bay Packers – Derwin James (S – Alabama)
Last year, Mike McCarthy said he’d like the Packers defense to become more versatile. Enter Derwin James, who can play anywhere in the secondary, including slot corner, and even on the line of scrimmage. The Packers secondary was a definite problem in 2017, and starting strong safety Josh Jones was graded as the 73rd-ranked safety according to Pro Football Focus. James would fit in as an immediate starter for a defensive backfield that yielded 30 touchdown passes last season, the second most in football.
15. Arizona Cardinals – Lamar Jackson (QB – Lousiville)
While the Cardinals did spend a lot of money to sign QB Sam Bradford for
three weeks two years, Arizona continues to be linked to all of the potential first-round quarterbacks in this draft. New head coaches often mean new quarterbacks, and the Cardinals have a creative play-caller in Mike McCoy who could implement run-pass option plays immediately to get Jackson on the field. When Bradford gets hurt, we could see McCoy totally revamp his offense in just the way that Bill O’Brien did for the Texans last season.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Mike McGlinchey (OT – Notre Dame)
This will be Ozzie Newsome’s final season at the helm for the Ravens, who have been their best when they combine a strong running game with an elite defense. This is a common spot to mock a wide receiver, but considering Newsome’s dubious-at-best track record with first-round wideouts and the club’s signing of Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead, I think the Ravens will address defense, or nab the draft’s top offensive tackle in McGlinchey.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – Kolton Miller (OT – UCLA)
The Chargers are rumored to be focusing on continuing to add pieces to an impressive young defense, particularly a defensive tackle. With Vea and Payne off the board in this scenario, Los Angeles instead address the biggest need on the other side of the ball, where the club finished last in the NFL in rushing. LT Russell Okung will turn 30 and RT Joe Barksdale was PFF’s 56th-ranked tackle in 2017. With only two offensive tackles currently expected to command first-round grades, Tom Telesco nabs an impact player who can help his ailing ground game and assure aging QB Philip Rivers stays healthy.
18. Seattle Seahawks – Marcus Davenport (DE – Texas-San Antonio)
The Seahawks find themselves in an unfamiliar position, needing to rebuild many corps pieces of the Legion of Boom defense that have been jettisoned. Davenport is a bit raw but offers a ton of pass rush upside and is viewed as one of the best edge rushers in this class. Always a candidate to trade down, Seattle could also look to fill holes in the offensive line, linebacking corps, or secondary.
19. Dallas Cowboys – Leighton Vander Esch (LB – Boise State)
Dallas has a desperate need for a wide receiver and certainly will consider one here, but depending on what you read, Jerry Jones isn’t enamored with any of the wideouts. At the same time, the Dallas defense has been slipping over the past couple of years, especially when Sean Lee is out of the lineup. After losing Anthony Hitchens to Kansas City, the Cowboys have a desperate need at linebacker and have reportedly compared Vander Esch to Brian Urlacher.
20. Detroit Lions – Harold Landry (EDGE – Boston College)
Detroit’s top need is pass rush and Landry’s ability to play defensive end or outside linebacker in Matt Patricia’s new hybrid defense is a perfect fit. Marcus Davenport also makes a lot of sense if he were available, as does offensive line.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – James Daniels (C – Iowa)
The Bengals were able to acquire OT Cordy Glenn in a trade down with Buffalo, but they still have a lot of needs on the offensive line. Cincinnati’s brass had a pre-draft visit with Daniels and there’s been a lot of mutual interest between the two. Daniels would likely start right away at center and help the Bengals beef the run blocking for second-year RB Joe Mixon.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City) – Frank Ragnow (C – Arkansas)
Buffalo’s offensive line is also a mess and Ragnow and Daniels could be interchanged as the top-ranked centers in this draft. The Bills have one of the most barren rosters in all of the NFL, so nearly every position could be considered if the club doesn’t move this pick in an attempt to trade up for a quarterback.
23. New England Patriots (from LA Rams) – Jaire Alexander (CB – Louisville)
After losing Malcolm Butler, the Patriots need to reinforce their secondary. It’s hard to read through the smoke screens if the Patriots are indeed serious about packaging both of their first-rounders to move up for a quarterback, but in this scenario, Bill Belichick nabs an ascending talent (Mike Mayock’s No. 12-ranked player) who fits a big need.
24, Carolina Panthers – Calvin Ridley (WR – Alabama)
Finally, the draft’s first wide receiver. Overall, I’m not that impressed with this draft’s crop of wideouts, but I do like Ridley, who’s supreme route-running ability will create plenty of opportunities in an offense that already has terrific pass catchers at running back and tight end. The Panthers also could look to address their secondary or offensive line with this selection.
25. Tennessee Titans – Sam Hubbard (EDGE – Ohio State)
OLB Brian Orakpo will be 32 when the season starts and is also set to become a free agent after the 2018 campaign. The Titans have got to find some edge defenders to fortify Dick LeBeau’s defense and Hubbard has the obvious connection to new head coach Mike Vrabel, who played and coached defenders at Ohio State. There are a number of different needs Tennessee could choose to address here, including offensive line, linebacker or wide receiver. Trading back is also a real possibility.
26. Atlanta Falcons – Taven Bryan (DT – Florida)
Atlanta’s defense was particularly vulnerable in the middle, where the club has little depth or talent outside of Grady Jarrett. Bryan would be an immediate starter and huge upgrade for a defense that needs to improve in a division loaded with talented passers.
27. New Orleans Saints – Hayden Hurst (TE – South Carolina)
The Saints have been on a role picking defenders and I think they could continue to add pieces to that rebuilt defense here. New Orleans tried to sign Jimmy Graham and they need a bigger red zone target as Michael Thomas has struggled to command a large role in that area. Hurst, 25, is the most complete tight end in this class and would add an intriguing weapon for Drew Brees to target and also take some pressure off of Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara. Missing a second-round pick, the Saints have to add a player who will be an immediate contributor, regardless of which position they target.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers – Rashaan Evans (LB – Alabama)
Typical Steelers pick. Pittsburgh has a habit of hitting big on impact defenders drafted late in the first-round and Evans fits that bill perfectly. Linebacker became a much bigger need for the Steelers after the unfortunate loss of Ryan Shazier to a neck injury. Evans is an extremely talented player and would make an excellent addition to a linebacking corps that already has T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars – D.J. Moore (WR – Maryland)
The Jags are hard to peg, as they could go in a number of different directions. In this scenario, Jacksonville grabs the second-ranked wide receiver in this draft to help account for the loss of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Other positions of need for Jacksonville include the o-line, quarterback, linebacker, and secondary depth.
30. Minnesota Vikings – Isaiah Wynn (G – Georgia)
After spending $84 million fully guaranteed to get their man, the Vikings now need to prioritize protecting their huge investment. Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers were merely adequate at tackle, and Minnesota is probably below average at center and guard. Wynn would be an instant starter who could allow the Vikings to move players around into better fits.
31. New England Patriots – Lorenzo Carter (LB – Georgia)
This would be a really good scenario for the Patriots, who were able to address their two biggest defensive needs. Tackle remains the club’s top offensive hole, but instead of reaching for a subpar tackle, Bill Belichick nabs a versatile defender who can help rush the passer from the edge, or run with receivers in coverage.
32. Philadelphia Eagles – Josh Jackson (CB – Iowa)
The Eagles are rumored to be interested in possibly moving down, so a number of teams could jump back up into the first to grab Jackson, a talented cornerback who could go much higher in this draft. Corner happens to be a need for the Eagles, so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see the defending champs rebuff trade offers if they can add a talented defensive back like Jackson to their speedy defense.