This is still much more of the “what I think they’ll do” more than the “what I would do” variety in this 2018 NFL mock draft, but I do let personal biases guide the hand in some instances. As always, the projections here do not reflect my personal positional rankings. In some cases they’re not even close.
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC. The first pick is almost certain to be a quarterback from Los Angeles. I went with Darnold over UCLA counterpart Josh Rosen here for a couple of reasons. First, there are enough people I’ve talked to within NFL decision-making circles who confirm the chatter around the questions about Rosen’s desire and attitude that I do think it impacts his draft position. Second, Darnold has the higher ceiling, though his turnover-prone floor is lower than expected too. He can be special and won’t shy away from the challenge in Cleveland.
2. New York Giants: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. Too much potential to fall beyond here even with the aforementioned questions, which may or may not even be legit. Finding Eli Manning’s replacement is paramount for New York.
3. Indianapolis Colts: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. This will be a very popular projection in the next few weeks leading up to the Combine, and with fair reason. Frank Gore, while still impressive, cannot play forever, and the Colts sorely need more weapons to aid T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle and whomever winds up playing QB.
4. Cleveland Browns (from HOU): Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. The hope for Cleveland would be Fitzpatrick turning into the next Jalen Ramsey, a positionally versatile impact player in the secondary. Fitzpatrick has that kind of potential, and his game should translate right away.
5. Denver Broncos: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. John Elway should realize he has to get QB right, and Paxton Lynch isn’t the answer unfortunately. Mayfield’s hyper-accurate passing and fearless swagger make him very tough to look past, even if he’s short and somewhat immature.
6. New York Jets: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. The big question here is, will they force the QB? In this scenario they do not, instead opting for someone who can be the leader of the defense for years to come. Smith is a special off-ball backer with outstanding tackling power and speed.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bradley Chubb, Edge, North Carolina State. Upgrading one of the league’s most anemic pass rushes is paramount, and Chubb has the ability to make a huge impact right away.
8. Chicago Bears: Connor Williams, OL, Texas. The 2016 Williams is an instant upgrade at either tackle spot, and both Charles Leno and Bobby Massie are better than you might think. The 2017 Williams moves to guard and eventually supplants again Josh Sitton or Kyle Long, coming off an injury. Their biggest needs (WR, TE, WR) do not match the board here, so they are a great candidate to trade back.
9. Oakland Raiders: Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan. Another offensive tackle who was better in ’16 than ’17, but he doesn’t have Williams’ injury excuse. I saw Okorafor in person seven times over three seasons and I love his potential, but there is real risk he’s plateaued in his development too. The Raiders need to take a chance he can take over for Donald Penn, or at least start at RT in ’17.
10. San Francisco 49ers: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU. Guice looked great in ’17 despite a wounded ankle, and his acceleration, strength and balance at full speed are all outstanding. Pairing him with Jimmy Garoppolo could breath even more life into the emerging 49ers offense.
11. Miami Dolphins: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. Playmaker extraordinaire for a team which needs impact players. Jackson is a player I believe will rise throughout the draft process as both an athlete and a football player.
12. Cincinnati Bengals: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. Nelson is probably the best player in this draft regardless of position; he will earn my highest draft grade. Adding him to the worst OL in the league is a no-brainer, even if he doesn’t play a premium position. Probably my fave pick in this mock.
13. Washington: Derwin James, S, Florida State. Not the biggest need, as rookie Montae Nicholson paired nicely with volatile D.J. Swearinger on Washington's back end in ’17, but James is a potential difference-maker. He would give the option for multiple nickel and mix/match defensive schemes.
14. Green Bay Packers: Maurice Hurst, DE, Michigan. Hard to know what the Packers D will look like considering Dom Capers hasn’t been replaced yet as of press time, but it’s safe to say they need talent across the board. Hurst appears scheme-versatile and well-prepared to make an impact as both a pass rusher or powerful edge run presence.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. I still don’t buy the hype one bit on the big-armed Allen, but this is the range where it does appear teams will start to consider him. The Cardinals are losing both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, as well as coach Bruce Arians, so the time to roll the dice could be now.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. The first wideout off the board, and Ridley certainly fits with his size and ability to separate with the ball in the air. His ceiling is lower than some others but not by much, and he’s closer to it than most too.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Billy Price, C, Ohio State. Price is an NFL-ready tactician who can start right away at center or guard. With last year’s draft picks Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney, the Chargers would have an impressive young interior core. Price’s run blocking prowess would be a big hit for Los Angeles.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma. He’s physical, likes to play through the whistle, and can dominate foes when he gets his weight sunk properly. Exactly what the OL-needy Seahawks need, though he does have more “bust” risk than I’m comfortable with this high. Fascinating player.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson. The Cowboys continue to stockpile young defensive go-getters with Ferrell, a high-floor edge defender who has traits which can blossom at the next level.
20. Detroit Lions: Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College. A scheme-versatile rusher with bend and closing burst, exactly what the doctor ordered for Detroit’s weak pass rush. I know it’s very early for absolute statements but I’ll be absolutely floored if they take a running back here.
21. Buffalo Bills: Arden Key, Edge, LSU
22. Buffalo Bills (from KC): Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Back-to-back picks for Buffalo. Key brings sizzle to the pass rush, which didn’t get more than four sacks from any player and whose top two rushers (Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes) will both be on the wrong side of 30 in ’18. Jackson is a lottery ticket with franchise QB potential and improved his passing prowess in his final college season. He is not a wide receiver, period.
23. Los Angeles Rams: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State. Wait for the buzz on the FCS-level star, who one scout I trust compared to “a more physical Travis Kelce”. I’ve only seen two games in as many seasons but the talent is obvious, and the Rams can use a physical presence in the seams.
24. Carolina Panthers: Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn. I continue to believe Davis’ length and physical style will get him in the first round, even if he holds too much and needs work on his transition footing. He’s got some Josh Norman to him, and the Panthers play in a division with some outstanding, big wideouts.
The rest of the first round selections still aren’t set, but this is how they would go based on today’s order
25. Tennessee Titans: DaRon Payne, DT, Alabama. A stout interior presence who can play the run on his way to the quarterback, Payne flashes the athleticism to be an impact interior defender. The Titans have not gotten enough production from the defensive front outside of Jurell Casey.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State. The Falcons are in position to address more long-term needs here, and Rankin could wind up being the best tackle in this class. The Falcons depth up front is sorely lacking.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: Martez Ivey, OT, Florida. Ivey is an impressive tackle prospect too, but he spent his first two years playing left guard for the Gators. That’s where I’d project him in Jacksonville, where the tackles are a lot better than the guards up front.
28. New Orleans Saints: Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State. A better all-around prospect for my money than former Noles DT Timmy Jernigan, Nnadi does the dirty work exceptionally well between the tackles. He can disrupt the opposing backfield, too. The Saints keep building the much-improved defense, a smart hedge against regression and injury.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Allen, S, Penn State. Smart, poised and rangy, Allen would make a nice fit on the back end of a Steelers defense which remains vulnerable over the top.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. He brings length and power but isn’t as twitchy or laterally agile as the prospects going above him here. The Vikings won’t care as long as the well-heeled McGlinchey can seal open holes and not get beat to his inside shoulder.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama. Philly keeps loading up the defense with speed and thumping tackling. Evans’ stock appears all over the place, but I suspect he’ll settle in the 30s once the testing is done.
32. New England Patriots: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. Another player who could go either 15 or 50 overall. I’ll split the difference and send the big, intriguing Sutton to the Patriots to help sate their seemingly perennial – and perennially overstated – need for wide receivers.
Next five picks:
Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State
Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State