The 2017 NFL regular season is over, and we’re past the wildcard round of the playoffs, with the divisional round featuring the final eight teams on deck for this weekend. However, it’s never to early to put together a mock draft before the real thing happens in Chicago during last weekend in April. Here’s Salute Mag’s first mock draft of 2018.
1. Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
The obvious choice for the Browns is taking whoever they feel is the top quarterback in the draft. However, given that they’re… well, the Browns, many of the QB prospects will probably have cold feet about going anywhere near Cleveland, lest the spirit stench of incompetence latches onto them.
So, why not go for arguably the best player in the entire draft? Barkley appears to be a one-in-a-kind talent that could pay huge dividends down the road for any team. And hey, it’s not like running back isn’t a need for them. Isaiah Crowell isn’t bad, but his ceiling as a starter is very limited. The same goes for Duke Johnson, who could complement Barkley well.
2. New York Giants: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
This could pan out poorly for the Giants. The last time they tried to transition away from Eli Manning was met with outrage from their fanbase and was arguably the move that got Ben McAdoo fired. But with a new coach eventually coming in, it may be time to look ahead to the future.
Arguments will rage about who’s the best QB prospect in this class. As of now, Rosen appears to be slightly ahead of the others. He’s a fairly balanced signal caller with no glaring downsides, though the notorious “anonymous executive” reports from around the league are concerned with his outspoken nature. That could turn the Giants off, especially since they’ve had locker room problems all season.
3. Indianapolis Colts: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama
If the Browns do take Barkley at #1, the Colts are going to bang their collective heads against the wall. Frank Gore is nearing the end of his career, and while the team has six other running backs on the roster, Marlon Mack is the only one who has any longterm potential.
Alas, Barkley isn’t here, so the Colts have to look elsewhere. Their secondary was up-and-down all year, but there is talent in place with Rashaan Melvin, Quincy Wilson, and Nate Hairston. The former is a free agent, however. Fitzpatrick is in play to be the first defensive player off the board. He’s a versatile guy with a bright future ahead of him.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans): Sam Darnold, QB, USC
This time last year, Darnold looked like he was going to run away with the chance to be the first overall selection. Over the course of the 2017 season though, his flaws became more apparent. His decision making still needs work, and his accuracy didn’t noticeably improve from 2016.
But the Browns may fall in love with his raw potential. Pairing Darnold with Josh Gordon and an underrated offensive line could help ease him into the league better.
5. Denver Broncos: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
In terms of raw numbers, Mayfield is by far the top QB in the draft. He was dominant all year with the Sooners, which was really impressive considering how much talent they lost at the end of last year. But scouts are going to scrutinize his physical traits and some of his off-the-field problems, which could potentially drag his stock down.
Will John Elway care? I don’t think so. The Broncos have loads of talent on their roster, especially on defense, but they couldn’t compete this season because of their revolving door at QB. That could push them to chase after one of the free agent signal callers instead, but maybe Elway will see some of himself in Mayfield.
6: New York Jets: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Jets exceeded all expectations in 2017, which weren’t very high. They are super young across the board, but the 38-year old Josh McCown isn’t likely to stick around. The team will probably be content to go with whatever QB falls to them, which in this case is Jackson.
Last year’s Heisman winner, Jackson could be argued as the most physically talented prospect in the class. Scouts and GMs may get weary of how much he scrambled in college, but keep in mind that he was largely playing with average talent around him, forcing him to improvise a lot more. He could be a hyper version of Tyrod Taylor: a QB with limitations who excels tenfold at the things he’s good at.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bradley Chubb, DE/OLB, NC State
Despite the high expectations heading into this season, the Bucs pretty much fell on their faces, mostly due to how inexperienced they were. One of the few veterans on the roster, Robert Ayers, is a free agent, and the rest of the edge rushers on the team underperformed.
Chubb has a case to be made for “best all-around talent in the draft” status. He can be lined up in a variety of ways on defense and is a relentless pursuer of the QB, something the Bucs sorely need.
8: Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Matt Nagy has arrived as the new head coach of the Bears, and his mission statement will be further advancing second-year QB Mitch Trubisky. He can’t do that without reliable wideouts to throw to. Enter Ridley, who has stepped forward as the best receiver in the class.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa
San Fran is a young and hungry squad, with Jimmy Garoppolo as their QB of the future. Their goal is to start filling in the rest of the holes on the roster. Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waun Williams performed well in 2017, but there isn’t much depth among the rest of the cornerbacks. Jackson had a historically great 2017 with the Hawkeyes and would fit in well with the youth movement the Niners have got going.
(Note: the 49ers and Raiders will have a coin flip to determine during the rookie scouting combine who picks at #9)
10. Oakland Raiders: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
One might think that an offensive-minded head coach like the newly returned Jon Gruden would go for, well, a prospect on offense. But the Raiders defense is in dire straits right now, with holes all over the lineup. Linebacker is a big need as well, but with nose tackle Justin Ellis heading for free agency, the team may prioritize that.
Plus, Payne, the defensive MVP of the national title game, has numerous talents on the defensive interior, including a nose for pass rushing. The Raiders definitely lacked a stable presence in that area outside of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin this season.
11. Miami Dolphins: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Out of all the prospects in the draft, Nelson may be the most pro-ready. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him named to the All-Pro team sooner than later. The Dolphins interior offensive line was a mess in 2017, so he would be able to make an impact right away.
12. Cincinnati Bengals: Mike McGlinchey, T, Notre Dame
Part of the reason why the Bengals took a step back this year was the poor blocking from their line. Losing Andrew Whitworth was too much for them to bear. McGlinchey would be a nice replacement. Back-to-back Fighting Irish players!
13. Washington Redskins: Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
Believe it or not, the Redskins don’t have many glaring weaknesses heading into the offseason, aside from resigning Kirk Cousins. If he leaves, QB will obviously become their primary focus. However, they have a number of inside linebackers who are set to hit free agency as well, including Zach Brown. Smith, who could go as high as #10 to the Raiders, would offset the losses.
14. Green Bay Packers: Derwin James, S, Florida State
The Packers secondary has struggled as of late, and they need impact players as soon as possible. Compounding matters is the impending free agency of veteran safety Morgan Burnett. James is a top-ten talent who should contribute right off the bat.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Carson Palmer has retired, leaving the Cardinals with a gaping hole at QB. They may end up moving up in the draft to snag one of the other prospects, but if they stay at #15, they could settle for Allen, who fits the mold many scouts look for in a signal caller but needs time to develop his passing skills.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
The Ravens offense was bombarded with injuries this season, which greatly affected their playoff chances. A lack of consistency at wideout made things worse, and Mike Wallace is a free agent this offseason. Samuel’s a very similar player who can step right into that deep threat role.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Connor Williams, T, Texas
Despite playing in a soccer stadium, the Chargers were extremely competitive this year and have no obvious holes to fill. However, their tackle situation could be improved. Russell Okung is solid but has a history of injuries, and Joe Barksdale was shaky at right tackle. Williams was an All-American in 2016 and has a great deal of potential.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Billy Price, G/C, Ohio State
The Seahawks will be looking to make a lot of changes on offense, which began by firing offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell yesterday. Their offensive line is still a mess, and both their starting guards are free agents. Price might be a better prospect at center instead of guard, but he’s capable of playing the latter.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Arden Key, DE/OLB, LSU
Demarcus Lawrence had a breakout 2017, which will most likely net him a big payday this offseason. That could price him out of the Cowboys’ range, meaning a replacement will be required. There are a number of interesting edge rushing prospects, but Key, who could go a lot higher than #19, might fit their defense best.
20. Detroit Lions: Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
There’s a sizable hole at the safety position next to Glover Quin, and filling it would improve the Lions secondary immensely. Harrison had a nice championship game for the Crimson Tide, which could result in his stock going up.
21. Buffalo Bills: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Vea is much more talented than #21, but the majority of the teams picking in the teens don’t have a huge need for an interior defensive lineman. The Bills might, however, if veteran Kyle Williams leaves or retires.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs): Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Back-to-back picks will let the Bills address their biggest need, a weapon for whoever their QB will next season. Sutton is physically talented with a knack for athletic catches.
23. Los Angeles Rams: Clelin Ferrell, DE/OLB, Clemson
The Rams defense is fairly well set, but their edge rushers were very inconsistent in 2017. With Connor Barwin aging, perhaps a guy like Ferrell can split time with him next season before getting a bigger role in 2019.
24. Carolina Panthers: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Mike Shula got canned as the Panthers offensive coordinator, and a big reason for that was how thin the team’s wideouts were during his tenure. Cam Newton needs a stable receiving threat, and Washington can fit the bill.
25. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama
(Note: #25-32 will be determined by the rest of the playoffs, so the order is currently set according to strength of schedule)
26. Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
If Blake Bortles is going to stay as the Jaguars QB, he’ll need more consistent receiving threats, especially if one or both of Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee depart during the offseason. Kirk looks to be a dangerous option out of the slot receiver position.
27. Atlanta Falcons: Christian Wilkins, DE/DT, Clemson
28. New Orleans Saints: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Another Ohio State corner for the Saints after they drafted Marshon Lattimore last year? Hear me out. Safety Kenny Vaccaro is a free agent, and aside from his shaky play over the past few seasons, he also filled their nickel corner role this year. Bringing in Ward would bolster their depth at corner and allow Vonn Bell more time at safety.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Three of the four running backs currently on the Steelers right now will be free agents, including Le’Veon Bell. Even if he does return, the Steelers should reduce his workload if they want him to last longer. Guice is a similar runner who can also catch passes out of the backfield.
30. Philadelphia Eagles: Orlando Brown, T, Oklahoma
The loss of Jason Peters to ACL and MCL tears hasn’t set the Eagles back yet, but it’s fair to wonder how long the veteran left tackle has left. Brown is a monster physically, and some time behind Peters could him his development.
31. New England Patriots: Sam Hubbard, DE/OLB, Ohio State
The Patriots had a lot of problems with their edge rushers early on due to injury, and they recently brought in James Harrison to bolster that group. They have a couple other young talents there, but the Ohio State connection could be too much for Bill Belichick. Plus, Hubbard has a lot of untapped potential.
32. Minnesota Vikings: Isaiah Wynn, C/G, Georgia
There aren’t many needs for the Vikings right now, but they’re not that strong in the interior offensive line. Center Joe Berger will turn 36 in May as well. Wynn could play center or guard right away.