Of course it’s far too early for a mock draft. Every mock draft published before, oh, 7:57 Eastern Standard Time on Day 1 of the NFL Draft, is “too early.”
It’s important to recognize mock drafts–especially those at this time of year–for what they truly are: exercises. Investigations. One possible permutation.
The NFL Draft is an incredibly finicky contraption–consider last year! We knew Myles Garrett was going first, but we didn’t know he was going first–and what would have happened if he hadn’t? Would the Bears have traded up? Kansas City? Houston?
From each “too early” mock draft to every “Two-thousand insert year here Draft retrospect,” our work with the NFL Draft is centered on a massive, tangled ball of ‘what ifs?’. With that in mind, here’s one thread: One unique, curious tinkering of the unpredictable NFL Draft contraption.
The draft order for this mock draft was determined using current Vegas Super Bowl odds. Please feel free to yell at me anyway.
1) Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Remember: it’s all just a big ‘what if?’.
It’s absolutely absurd–absurd, I tell you–to imagine a RB going with the first overall pick. While today it’s impossible to predict the first overall pick’s likely contract, we know that rookie RB Leonard Fournette (drafted 4th overall in 2016) has the 5th-largest contract of all NFL RBs by total value. So, a first overall RB would immediately be among the top three earner at his position.
But there’s no reason to believe Cleveland will select a QB here, as they haven’t used premier draft positioning to do so over recent history. The closest thing I’ve ever seen to a can’t-miss prospect, however, is sitting in front of you. If Cleveland continues their recent trend of unearthing top value at every turn, they may just bite on Barkley here.
2) San Francisco 49ers: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Kyle Shanahan, my friends, is quite good with quarterbacks. Having seen the production he was able to get out of C.J. Beathard last week against Washington, Matt Ryan during the Falcons’ Super Bowl run, and even Pro Bowler Matt Schaub with the ’09 Texans, you get the sense Shanahan will use this high draft stock to pick his ideal protégé.
From a player perspective, Rosen has the arm talent and mental processing to make Shanahan’s offense tick. But Rosen’s a character, and Shanahan allegedly can rub his QB the wrong way with his coaching style. Meetings between these two will be big.
3) New York Jets: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Before the season, you would have struggled to convince me HC Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan would still be employed by Draft time. But, following the Jets’ shocking 3-3 start, they may just have another swing at actually bringing, you know, talented playmakers to the New York roster.
If Maccagnan and Bowles remain around, I imagine they’ll feel the heat on their seat–and, accordingly, take some risks. Lamar’s skinny frame and play style may not suit the fancy of some NFL decision-makers, but he can single-handedly win football games–he’s been doing it for his entire career at Louisville. His escapability and creativity instantly jive with Bilal Powell’s pass-catching skills, and we know Jermaine Kearse can make some splash plays with a mobile QB.
4) Chicago Bears: Harold Landry, EDGE, BC
Chicago fell hard for Leonard Floyd as a long, super bendy edge rusher from Georgia two years ago; in April, they find his counterpart in Harold Landry. Landry has put up the production that GM Ryan Pace will love, especially after Pace showed in 2017 that he’s not afraid to dip into schools beyond the established talent factories.
Chicago’s in desperate need of some pass-catchers for franchise QB Mitch (ell?) Trubisky–but if they’re drafting this high, I don’t think they find WR talent that merits this draft stock. As they have their franchise QB, and the rest of the Top-5 teams don’t, they’re an early trade-back candidate for sure.
5) New York Giants: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The golden boy has to watch two QBs go before him on Draft day, but he’s rewarded with the most talented pass-catchers by far. It’s an excellent situation for Darnold in that regard, as a strong core of WRs Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and TE Evan Engram help Darnold acclimate to an increased game speed that may give him fits early.
If Ben McAdoo remains in New York, Darnold will have to prove he can throw with adequate anticipation to hit the quick-breaking routes of McAdoo’s scheme. Fortunately for Darnold, there’s no freakin’ way McAdoo remains in New York.
6) Los Angeles Chargers: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
One of the greatest disappointments of the young college football season: Connor Williams’ injury. A meniscus tear, as well as an MCL and PCL sprain, in the left knee ended the stud OT’s season. Fortunately, reports indicate he should be able to participate in at least some of the pre-Draft process, which will help assuage teams’ concerns regarding his recovery.
Los Angeles bolstered the offensive line last year, with OGs Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney–but tackle remains a need for the Chargers. If they believe QB Phillip Rivers has enough in the tank for one last hurrah, they’ll likely continue running the offense through RB Melvin Gordon regardless. If the front office begins looking for a young QB to replace Rivers, they’ll need a franchise tackle to protect him. Either way, this pick is a win.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, NC State
Tampa Bay has played 5 football games. The Tampa Bay defense has 6 sacks.
How a team that employs Gerald McCoy, an absolute monster, averages 1.2 sacks per game is beyond me. But the combination of Robert Ayers, William Gholston, and Noah Spence simply isn’t getting the job done. Chubb is an instant three-down starter, given his staunchness against the run, and helps disguise a struggling secondary by actually generating some pressure on the quarterback.
8) Oakland Raiders: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Perhaps Payne’s name is one you haven’t seen frequent the top of mock drafts so far this season. Well, get on the train before it leaves without you: Da’Ron Payne is the quintessential NFL nose tackle that can one-gap or two-gap, anchor against double teams, and provide a pass-rush presence on 3rd down.
If Oakland indeed does pick in the Top-10, this front office will have a ton of questions to answer. They have a QB with whom you can win in Derek Carr, enough RB talent to generate some good production behind that stellar OL, and some excellent pass-catching weapons. But holes all over that defense force them into shootouts with inferior opponents. Payne’s presence helps keep the linebackers clean and prevents defenses from devoting their entire attention to slowing elite EDGE Khalil Mack.
9) Miami Dolphins: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame.
Don’t tell me ninth overall is too high for a guard–Washington took Brandon Scherff fifth overall in 2015, and he’s an elite player at his position and a key cog in their offensive success. Yeah, Leonard Williams was still available–but Scherff was a blue-chip player, and Miami’s gonna get a guard of equally high quality a few picks later in 2018.
Similarly to Los Angeles above, Miami has a tenuous QB situation, and their stud RB could really take the next step with improved offensive line play. I’m sure they’d love to see Isaac Asiata, their fourth-round pick last year, develop into a starter–but the fact that he hasn’t broken an awful interior rotation yet speaks to the long road ahead of him. Nelson is a plug-and-play starter. Pull the trigger.
10) Jacksonville Jaguars: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Man, would Jacksonville do anything to have Nelson fall just another slot–he really completes the picture on that offensive line. But the Jaguars have a good running game, enough receiving options (WR/TE will be a temptation here, especially barring the health/contract of Allens Robinson and Hurns), and a filthy defense. It’s time to get serious about the quarterback position.
Baker falls behind Rosen and Darnold because he isn’t as traditional; behind Jackson because he isn’t as dynamic. Jacksonville doesn’t mind: Baker is a pure playmaker. His competitiveness, poise, and ability to extend plays instantly make Jacksonville a fierce competitor in the AFC.
11) Indianapolis Colts: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
How does Chuck Pagano still have this job? Let’s just assume he keeps it into 2018–no reason to believe otherwise–and you’ve got a team with enough offensive firepower to hang in games, but no defense of which to speak. A pick anywhere along the defense would make sense, but I think Indy continues with the recent revitalization of the defensive back end, snagging a top-flight CB in Alexander.
I’m as big of a Quincy Wilson fan as the next guy–it’s Vontae Davis, nearing 30 and oft-injured, about whom I’m worried. Alexander and Wilson can both play fearsome press coverage, while rookie FS Malik Hooker can cover the entire field as a single-high safety. Now the Colts can regularly play with eight in the box, or blitz five or six, which helps mask some of the issues along the defensive front.
12) Buffalo Bills: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
This is my favorite pick so far (yes, I made all of them, but you know what I mean). Mo Hurst, while “undersized” for a defensive tackle, has regularly shown at Michigan that he can’t be stopped. He’s technically proficient, violent and effective with his hands, and insanely explosive off the ball.
Buffalo has enjoyed the luxury of solid DT play for years, but times could be a-changing with a new coaching staff/front office. Kyle Williams is entering free agency at 34 years of age, Adolphus Washington was on the trade block earlier this year, and stud DT Marcell Dareus saw all of his production–and money–from the old regime. Mo Hurst plays a physical, disruptive, high-motor style of football that will work very nicely alongside DE Shaq Lawson and fit new HC Sean McDermott’s culture nicely.
Remember: McDermott came from Carolina, where they love to stockpile interior defensive linemen.
13) Baltimore Ravens: Derwin James, S, Florida State
You won’t find James outside of the Top-10 in most mocks. However, let’s do the stock count: James is coming off of a major injury, doesn’t play a defined position, and his likely position in the NFL (SS) is of relatively low value comparatively. Add on to that the fact that he’s not playing fantastic football in 2017, and I don’t think he makes the Top-10 come April.
Baltimore, however, will love James’ pedigree, athleticism, and some of his production numbers. Where does he fit on that defense, with Tony Jefferson, Eric Weddle, and Ladarius Webb all running about on the back end? Really, wherever. James has enough mass to play weakside linebacker in some sets, and can be used as an effective blitzer on almost any down. Nickel corner upside is a sweet little cherry on top as well, for a defense still working to get younger and faster.
14) Arizona Cardinals: Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State
Two (slightly overrated) Florida State defensive backs in a row. McFadden’s had an up-and-down season to date, but he’s got the physical profile for sure–and, in Arizona, he won’t be responsible for #1 WRs. Patrick Peterson’s got that locked down.
Arizona fans must be ripping their hair out, watching current CB2 Justin Bethel give up big play after big play, touchdown after touchdown. Arizona went defense early with both of their picks in 2017; in 2018, if they can go CB2 and DT early, they’ll have a very promising defense to ease their inevitable transition from QB Carson Palmer and HC Bruce Arians to the next regime.
15) Cincinnati Bengals: Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
Baker may be another name you don’t know as well, and you’re surprised to see him as the first linebacker off the board. Time to get your head out of the sand, folks–Baker is an absolute dog, and illustrates the modern NFL linebacker. He brings a coverage ability that’s sorely lacking from the Bengals’ current LB corps.
If I were higher on any of the quarterbacks beyond the four selected, you may see one of them here. If you want another Andy Dalton, draft Ryan Finley or Luke Falk here. Maybe you take Josh Allen or Will Grier and try to develop their game as Dalton’s career wanes; maybe you’ve seen enough from A.J. McCarron to keep him in the building. Either way, add a piece or two on the offensive line, and this team is a QB (and a head coach?) away from stepping back into the playoff picture.
16) Tennessee Titans: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The Titans have a lot of needs for a team many thought would compete in 2018. Pressure of the edge has disappointed, the interior offensive line has struggled, and that secondary? Yeesh.
But I think Tennessee could really shore up their interior defense by bringing in a space-eater like Vea. Coming from Washington, Vea has experience playing from a plethora of alignments and techniques, which helps him find playing time early on. I imagine Tennessee will look to improve their edge pressure as well–the complete lack of youth in the front seven is concerning as whole. Vea begins what seems to be a significant revitalization effort.
17) Washington Redskins: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
The writing is on the wall for Kirk Cousins’ time in Washington, but even if he stays, the Redskins are in desperate need of a steady rushing attack. After Matt Jones fell out of grace, Rob Kelley took the starting job, only to lose snaps to fourth-round rookie Samaje Perine. If Perine can show enough juice to enter 2018 as the presumed starter (Chris Thompson taking all passing-down reps), expect Washington to go elsewhere in the first round: defensive line, safety, wide receiver.
But Guice has truly elite talent at the position, and if his down season and nagging ankle injury push him this far down the board, he’s a value pick for any team. With Guice, Perine, and Thompson in their RB stables, as well as a strong offensive line, Washington can lean on the running game as they handle their inevitably tumultuous QB situation.
18) Los Angeles Rams: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
A pick that could pay immense dividends for Los Angeles, if they determine the best way to deploy Minkah. While I’m of the opinion you could really put Minkah anywhere in the secondary and watch him thrive, I recognize the concerns regarding his change of direction skills.
Kayvon Webster isn’t the current answer at CB opposite Trumaine Johnson for Los Angeles, and remember–keeping Johnson long-term may be tough for the Rams, as he enters free agency after this season. While offensive line could get a look here, on the whole, this Rams roster doesn’t have too many holes beyond those in the secondary. Minkah immediately pushes for starting reps at CB, and can be deployed as a box safety in subpackages if he struggles on the outside.
19) Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans): Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Let’s chalk up the Kenny Britt experience as an epic fail and move on, shall we? Cleveland’s roster is utterly devoid of playmakers. WR Corey Coleman can’t stay on the field, and while TE David Njoku has shown some promise, you can’t run your offense through your TE (unless his name rhymes with Schmonkowski). I imagine DeShone Kizer begins the 2018 season as the starter, but regardless of who mans the helm, he needs players at whom to throw the doggone football.
Saquon Barkley was an excellent start, at first overall–Courtland Sutton keeps the train chugging along. Big, fast, and physical, Courtland Sutton can do damage at all three levels of the field and draw a ton of defensive attention, opening up throwing lanes for David Njoku in the middle of the field, and Corey Coleman deep. Large catch radius helps Kizer as well.
20) Detroit Lions: Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
Arden Key is going to fall come Draft time. His weight has fluctuated over the past year almost as much as his commitment to football has. In LSU’s underwhelming season, his play has been hot and cold. In his performances against tough competition, he has particularly struggled.
But Detroit will snap him up quickly. Kerry Hyder hit injured reserve before the season got rolling, Anthony Zettel has produced at a clip that simply isn’t sustainable, and Ziggy Ansah has only 1 sack against teams that weren’t deploying Ereck Flowers as their left tackle. There’s a lot about which to be excited in that secondary, and the linebacking corps saw reinforcements in last year’s draft, to the tune of Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Key adds depth and explosiveness to an EDGE unit that must start pulling its weight for the Lions’ defense.
21) Dallas Cowboys: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
Another year, another early selection for Dallas along the defensive front. Linebacker is a bigger need here, but I’m not sure they wouldn’t be reaching for the current talent available. Not to mention: Christian Wilkins is pretty solid value in the 20s.
Wilkins is a high-motor player that can produce both on the inside and outside, which will help the Cowboys riddle out their current David Irving conundrum. He’s explosive, and has a ton of room to grow when maximizing his athleticism in his pass-rush. He may be a couple of years away from being a truly dominant DT, but this Cowboys defense is a couple of years away anyway–even more if they can’t resign DE DeMarcus Lawrence.
22) New Orleans Saints: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
New Orleans getting good value on an early WR? Well, I’ll be.
In all seriousness, Ridley can fill the role vacated by Brandin Cooks–and, I think, add a greater presence across the middle of the field than Cooks ever brought. While New Orleans is another team that may look to add a QB as Brees’ heir apparent, I think they can make a real run in Brees’ final years if they give him all of the receiving options he once had, and plug the final holes on that defense.
I don’t know if there’s a secondary that can handle the offensive speed of Michael Thomas, Calvin Ridley, Alvin Kamara, and Ted Ginn Jr. (if he’s retained). Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at, either.
23) Green Bay Packers: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
Get to know the name, folks–Will Hernandez has been a dominant college player, having allowed precisely 0 QB hits/sacks in 2016. That is, in a word, ideal. He reunites with fellow Miner Aaron Jones in Green Bay, and provides a desperately needed presence on the interior offensive line.
While I didn’t go this direction on this particular mock, I’m very interested to see if Green Bay looks for more of a G/T swing player. The injuries of this season proved to the Packers that they need improved depth everywhere across the offensive line. Finding a swing player (Mike McGlinchey of Notre Dame could probably start at guard or tackle on an NFL offensive line) could take out two birds with one 300+ lb stone.
24) Denver Broncos: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
Brown’s another guy who may get the guard treatment at the NFL level, given that he’s absolutely gargantuan (6’7, 345 lbs). His feet tend to lag on the outside, so speed rushers may give him a problem at the next level; but if you can’t avoid contact entirely, good luck clearing him. Dude’s powerful.
Last year’s first-round OT, Garett Bolles, has played some solid football for Denver; but RT Menelik Watson has brought a new meaning to the word “liability.” Forever riding an elite defense and misusing a talented corps of offensive weapons, RT glares as one of the few big holes on this team. QB is another, but you’re not getting a long-term starter at 24 from this crop.
25) Minnesota Vikings: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Look at our little run on offensive linemen here! How exciting! By the time this mock ends, we’ll see six come off the board, which makes sense–it’s one of the strengths of this upcoming class, in my opinion. Minnesota’s team is, barring the health of QB Teddy Bridgewater and RB Dalvin Cook, an offensive lineman or two away from competing deep into the playoffs. Ooh, wait, check that: someone needs to get Trae Waynes off the field as well.
McGlinchey is athletically limited–a wart that was hidden at RT in college, but won’t be so easily concealed in the NFL. But he’s got excellent technique and strong hands–and at this point, Minnesota can’t turn their nose up at any tackle prospect. I originally liked Trey Adams, from Washington, as a possibility here–but he just tore his ACL. Terrible shame.
26) Carolina Panthers: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, EDGE, Oklahoma
A riser across the season, I can’t wait to get deeper into Okoronkwo’s tape. Director of Scouting Kyle Crabbs has claimed there’s a bit of Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue in his game, and Ngakoue was one of my dudes in 2016. While undersized, Okoronkwo’s production has impressed, and his success on both outside and inside rush tracks stands out among college rushers.
Carolina, on the other hand, is getting the majority of their edge pressure from Julius Peppers, who’s roughly 130 years old. Youth and production are desperately needed on a front-seven that could be truly special, if better play came from the defensive end spots. While offensive tackle is a massive need for Carolina, they caught the tail end of a run, and Okoronkwo has Top-15 talent. The Panthers will end his drop here.
27) Atlanta Falcons: Armani Watts, S, Texas A&M
One of the few things lacking in Atlanta’s fearsome defense is true single-high speed–no longer, with Armani Watts. Watts still bring the fearless physicality that characterizes the Atlanta defense, but his ball-hawking ability from the free safety position allows Keanu Neal to spend more time in the box, an area in which he can be absolutely devastating.
Beyond that position, find me the hole on this Atlanta team. Maybe a stronger WR2 or pass-catching TE? Down defensive linemen could be improved, I guess. This is a great marriage of need and talent, in my opinion. Thomas Dimitroff continues to pitch strikes, folks.
28) Seattle Seahawks: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Okay, we both know it should be an offensive lineman, but it’s not actually going to be an offensive lineman, so let’s just move on.
While Chris Carson’s emergence looks promising, Seattle should still be searching for the answer at RB. That offense hasn’t been nearly what it was since the departure of Marshawn Lynch. Enter Nick Chubb: ridiculously physical, explosive at the second level, and cheap given his injury history. Seattle only has a few holes–a balanced attack would do wonders to ease Russell Wilson’s load in that offense. Just patch up that offensive line and we’re golden!
I don’t know how Seattle fans do it, man.
29) Pittsburgh Steelers: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
I love this fit. Malik has insane athletic skills, but he needs to learn how to see the game better. He can play alongside Ryan Shazier, one of the headiest linebackers in the game, and learn a ton. He also supplies the coverage ability that seems to be lacking in Pittsburgh’s linebacking corps. All of a sudden, you have quite the young defensive nucleus in Pittsburgh, between T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, and Shazier and Jefferson.
If Pittsburgh is willing to pull the plug on CB Artie Burns, you may see them go that direction here. I also like Pittsburgh to be that team that brings in the developmental, late first-round QB. Will Grier feels like a fun fit here; if you’re a Josh Allen truther, he’s an option in Pittsburgh as well.
30) Philadelphia Eagles: Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
RB is a huge need for Philadelphia, absolutely. But this team is enjoying shocking success due, in large part, to the best offensive line play in the NFL right now. That offensive line, of course, is anchored by two 30+ veterans in LT Jason Peters and C Jason Kelce. RBs, you can get later; premier offensive linemen? Those come at a heftier price.
Rankin, a JUCO transfer, has seen success against top EDGEs in college football at LT, but also has experience playing on the interior. An ankle injury is hampering him currently in 2017, and he’s certainly more raw than you’d like your first-round draft pick to be, but Philadelphia may have the luxury of redshirting him, if Kelce and Peters continue their Ironman efforts in 2018.
31) Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City): Adonis Alexander, CB, Virginia Tech
After snagging great value in Maurice Hurst earlier, the Bills go get Tre’Davious White’s running partner at CB in Alexander. Alexander has an impressive frame (6’3) and excellent ball-skills, adding a physical dimension to the Buffalo defense that Tre White doesn’t necessarily bring to the table.
Buffalo went through two first-rounders without selecting a WR–I know. I was tempted to give them Auden Tate. But you could do significantly worse in the NFL than Zay Jones, Jordan Matthews, Andre Holmes, and Charles Clay at TE. I’m sure they’d love to bolster their pass-catching ranks, and they will have the opportunity to do so with some talented Day 2 receivers. But this is a ball-control, run-first offense. If WR was terribly important to them, they wouldn’t have traded Sammy.
32) New England Patriots: Dorance Armstrong, EDGE, Kansas
Very peculiar, for a team with such glaring needs to be picking here at 32. Call it the Brady/Belichick Effect, I guess.
New England could go a plethora of directions–almost all on the defense, in my opinion–with this selection. Last year’s EDGE selection, Derek Rivers, never saw the field following preseason injury, so there’s a good chance they look for LB, CB, or even C (Frank Ragnow hive stand up!) here. But, all things considered, I think Armstrong is a top talent at this point in the Draft.
Armstrong gives me some Khalil Mack vibes–it isn’t a full comp, but the way he generates power from off-ball explosiveness and works through the OT is Mack-esque. Khalil Mack also found himself under-recruited due to a diminutive frame; Armstrong must show he can hang tough with significantly larger offensive tackles if he’s to consistently rush at the NFL level.