1. Cleveland Browns – QB Josh Allen (Wyoming)
It’s tough to project where the quarterbacks are going to go this early in the process because there will be more veteran quarterbacks on the move this off-season than normal, but one thing is clear and that’s that the Browns need to find a difference maker at quarterback this off-season. They may go after a veteran like Alex Smith or Tyrod Taylor, but either of those guys would probably be nothing more than a stopgap, so bringing in either one of them would not preclude the Browns from taking a quarterback early in the draft, especially if there’s one they are in love with. Early reports suggest that the Browns like Josh Allen, but that could definitely change between now and draft day.
2. New York Giants – QB Josh Rosen (UCLA)
The Giants don’t have as dire of a need at the quarterback position as the Browns, but they could still use this pick on a quarterback if there is one they love, especially given how infrequently they have chances to pick in the top-5. Eli Manning should be a capable stopgap for another couple years and they used a 3rd round pick on Davis Webb last year, but they were not eager to get Webb on the field even in a lost season and a quarterback like Rosen would allow them to move on from the declining and expensive Manning sooner rather than later.
3. Indianapolis Colts – RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State)
The only team in the top-6 without a need at quarterback, the Colts can take whoever they feel the best non-quarterback is at 3. A defensive player is definitely a possibility here, but owner Jim Irsay spoke at length in his season ending press conference about their need to add a running back, even referencing the Colts’ selection of Edgerrin James with the 4th pick back in 1999 and how much that improved their offense. If Irsay gets involved in the draft process, Barkley will likely be his guy and the front office could have similar feelings, given that Barkley is an Ezekiel Elliott level running back prospect. Frank Gore is a free agent who will be 35 in May and 2017 4th round pick Marlon Mack didn’t impress in limited action as a rookie.
4. Buffalo Bills (TRADE) – QB Sam Darnold (USC)
With 2 picks in the top-5, the Browns are a strong candidate to move down and pick up multiple high picks. The Bills have a pair of first round picks this year after moving down last year to allow the Chiefs to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In this trade, they package those two picks together with a future first to move up and get their quarterback, a year after passing on Mahomes. I’m not sure that Darnold is their guy, but I could see the Bills doing something similar to this to get one of the top quarterbacks in this draft. Tyrod Taylor is a stopgap that they aren’t excited about paying starters’ money, while Nathan Peterman was a mere 5th round pick last year and struggled mightily in limited action as a rookie. Darnold could be a week 1 starter for them.
5. Denver Broncos – QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
Outside of the Browns and maybe the Jets, the Broncos have the worst quarterback situation in the NFL. Trevor Siemian has shown himself to be nothing more than a backup caliber player. Paxton Lynch was a first round pick in 2016, but he hasn’t been able to beat out Siemian in either of the past two off-seasons and has struggled mightily in limited action in 2 seasons in the league. Brock Osweiler, meanwhile, is a veteran journeyman who isn’t even a stopgap starter. They’d be the perfect fit for a guy like Alex Smith, because they have a defense that is ready to win now and just need a quarterback to manage the game and avoid turnovers, but the Chiefs might be hesitant to trade him in the division, so the Broncos may have to settle for a combination of a quarterback like Tyrod Taylor and a high upside rookie like Baker Mayfield. For what it’s worth, the Broncos’ coaching staff specifically requested Mayfield on their Senior Bowl team.
6. New York Jets – OLB Bradley Chubb (NC State)
The Jets also have a major need at quarterback, but the top-4 guys are off the board at this point. That has a good chance to be the case on draft day, so I expect the Jets, who have a ton of cap flexibility this off-season, to be serious players for Kirk Cousins if he hits the open market this off-season. Outside of the Browns, no quarterback needy team can offer Cousins as much as the Jets. Without a quarterback available here at 6, the Jets take the top defensive player in the draft, Bradley Chubb, who could go as high as 3 to the Colts. The Jets had the 5th fewest sacks in the league last season and didn’t have an edge rusher with more than 3.5, so they could definitely use someone like Chubb.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)
Fitzpatrick is a bit of a tweener, but his versatility to play outside cornerback, slot cornerback, and safety should make him very appealing to a team like the Buccaneers, who desperately need help on the backend. The Buccaneers took cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in the first round in 2016, but he’s been disappointing through 2 seasons in the league, while fellow starter Brent Grimes is a free agent going into his age 35 season this off-season. Fitzpatrick would also be an upgrade at safety, even though the Buccaneers took Justin Evans in the second round last year, and he’d be a massive upgrade in sub packages as a nickel cornerback.
8. Chicago Bears – WR Calvin Ridley (Alabama)
The Bears used the 7th overall pick on Kevin White in 2015, but that pick has gone about as badly as possible, as he’s played in just five games in three seasons in the league, including just one last season. Without White and Cameron Meredith in 2017, the Bears had arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL. Both should be healthy for training camp, but Meredith is a #2 caliber receiver and White is a completely mystery given how little he’s played thus far in his career. The Bears need a long-term #1 receiver for Mitch Trubisky and are a strong candidate to take this draft class’ top receiver Calvin Ridley with the 8th pick.
9. San Francisco 49ers – CB Denzel Ward (Ohio State)
The 49ers have used their last 5 first round picks on defensive players, but the last three have been on the defensive line and the previous two were safeties, so the 49ers still have a glaring need at cornerback. Ahkello Witherspoon had an impressive rookie season in 2017 after the 49ers drafted him in the 3rd round, but they don’t have a good option opposite him. Ward is the top cornerback prospect in the draft and could be a week 1 starter for a team on the rise.
10. Oakland Raiders – MLB Roquan Smith (Georgia)
The Raiders had major issues in their back seven in 2017. They used their first two draft picks on the secondary last year and should be better in the secondary in 2018 if they can stay healthier, so linebacker is much more of a pressing need, especially with NaVorro Bowman set to hit free agency, after giving them a boost against the run as a mid-season addition. Smith is the top linebacker prospect in the draft and one of the cleanest linebacker prospects in years. He’s a strong candidate to go here at 10 to one of the neediest linebacker teams in the league.
11. Miami Dolphins – G Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)
The Dolphins have had major problems on the offensive line for years. They used first round picks on tackles in 2014 (JuWuan James) and 2016 (Laremy Tunsil) and they have formed a nice bookend, but they have big holes at both guard spots. Jermon Bushrod, Jesse Davis, Anthony Steen, and Ted Larsen all struggled mightily as starting guards this season. Nelson would be a major immediate upgrade at either guard spot and is easily the top interior offensive line prospect in the draft. He’s a good bet to go in the top-15.
12. Cincinnati Bengals – S Derwin James (Florida State)
The Bengals have a desperate need on the offensive line and are likely hoping that Quenton Nelson is available here at 12, but, with him off the board and no offensive tackle worth grabbing here at 12, the Bengals go with value over need and take Derwin James, who could easily be a top-10 pick. Safety isn’t a pressing need for the Bengals, but James would be an upgrade over Shawn Williams and would pair nicely with fellow starter George Iloka.
13. Washington Redskins – QB Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)
The Redskins really screwed themselves by lowballing Kirk Cousins last off-season. After Cousins had a 3rd straight solid season in 2017, despite his weakest supporting cast to date, and the Redskins are really only left with three options unless Cousins agrees to a below market value deal before free agency, which is unlikely. They can franchise tag him again, but the franchise tag would cost them about 34 million this time around and would only be a short-term solution. They could transition tag him, but that would still guarantee him about 28 million in 2018 and the Redskins would be forced to match any deal he’s offered on the open market or risk losing him for nothing, meaning he’d be much more expensive than he would have been last off-season. Or they could let him leave and start over at the position, which might be the most likely outcome at this point. Obviously, Cousins’ status will affect what they do with this pick, as a quarterback would become a real option if Cousins leaves. Mason Rudolph is not a lock to go in the first round, but could if a team falls in love with him. In Washington, he could develop behind a veteran free agent addition like Sam Bradford or Tyrod Taylor or behind incumbent backup Colt McCoy.
14. Green Bay Packers – OLB Harold Landry (Boston College)
Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are a capable starting duo at outside linebacker, but Perry has missed 24 games in 6 seasons in the league with injury and has never played in all 16 games once, while Matthews is going into his age 32 season and is owed 11.375 million non-guaranteed in the final year of his contract in 2018. They could use young depth behind them. Landry could play a rotational role as a rookie and then become a full-time starter in 2018 if the Packers want to move on from Matthews or Perry (owed 11 million non-guaranteed in 2019).
15. Arizona Cardinals – CB Josh Jackson (Iowa)
The Cardinals can lock down one wide receiver with Patrick Peterson and have good slot cover guys and safeties, but they badly need another cornerback outside opposite Peterson, after having to resort to signing veteran Tramon Williams mid-season this year. Williams did a solid job, but is not a long-term solution, as he will be 35 in 2018 and is not under contract for next season. Jackson gives them a legitimate #2 cornerback and someone who could develop into half of a dangerous cornerback duo with Peterson if he fulfills his upside.
16. Baltimore Ravens – WR Courtland Sutton (SMU)
Like the Bears, the Ravens used a first round pick on a wide receiver 3 years ago, but Breshad Perriman has been about as big of a disappointment as Kevin White, arguably even more so. Unlike White, he’s been able to stay relatively healthy, despite missing his entire rookie year with injury, but he’s been so bad over the last 2 seasons that he was a healthy scratch down the stretch in 2017. In 27 career games, he has just 43 catches and averages just 5.76 yards per target. With veterans Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin both possibly on their way out, as a free agent and a cap casualty respectively, wide receiver is a huge need for the Ravens this off-season.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – DT Da’Ron Payne (Alabama)
The Chargers’ defense took a major step forward in 2017, but that was primarily because of their pass defense, as the Chargers have a strong duo of edge rushers and a talented secondary. They were still one of the worst run defenses in the league, in large part because veteran nose tackle Brandon Mebane struggled mightily. Expect a big run stuffing nose tackle like Da’Ron Payne to be high on their shopping list this off-season.
18. Seattle Seahawks – DE Arden Key (LSU)
Arden Key is a top-5 talent, but has off-the-field issues that could keep him out of the first round. Some teams are more comfortable in their ability to coach up and manage players like Key than others and the Seahawks have been one of those teams in the Pete Carroll era. With Cliff Avril possibly retiring because of a neck injury and Michael Bennett possibly not being brought back for his age 33 season, the Seahawks have a major need at defensive end. If Key pans out, he can bookend Frank Clark long-term in Seattle.
19. Dallas Cowboys – OT Orlando Brown (Oklahoma)
Given how much emphasis the Cowboys have put on having a strong offensive line, it would not surprise me if the Cowboys used another first round pick on an offensive lineman, after a disappointing season upfront in 2017. Brown can be an immediate starter at right tackle, which would allow La’El Collins to kick back inside to left guard where he’s more comfortable. He would also give them a better insurance in case left tackle Tyron Smith gets hurt again. Their offense looked lost when he was out of the lineup this season, even after Ezekiel Elliott returned from suspension.
20. Detroit Lions – RB Derrius Guice (LSU)
The Lions used a 2nd round pick on Ameer Abdullah in 2015 to be their feature back, but that never panned out, thanks to a combination of injury and ineffectiveness. Abdullah appeared to be getting fazed out of the offense down the stretch, getting just 21 carries in his final 4 games of the season and losing carries to passing down back Theo Riddick and undrafted free agent Tion Green, neither of whom are the long-term answer. With a new coaching staff in place, the Lions could add a potential new long-term feature back early in the draft.
21. Cleveland Browns (TRADE) – CB Mike Hughes (Central Florida)
The Browns get both of the Bills’ first round picks in their trade down, giving them 3 picks in the first round and 3 picks in the second round this year, as well as an exact first rounder in 2019. It’s going to take hitting on most of those picks to turn this team around after an 0-16 season, though finding a quarterback is obviously their biggest priority. After quarterback, finding a #1 cornerback is probably their biggest need. Jason McCourty had a solid year, but will be in an age 31 contract year in 2018, so he’s not a long-term solution, while Jamar Taylor is a #2 cornerback at best and Briean Boddy-Calhoun is a slot specialist. Hughes has the tools to develop into a #1 cornerback in the NFL long-term and gives them valuable depth in the meantime.
22. Cleveland Browns (TRADE) – OT Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)
Offensive tackle should also be a priority for the Browns, with Joe Thomas going into his age 35 contract year and coming off of a major injury. Thomas has not confirmed he will be back in 2018 and, even if he is, the Browns still have to start planning for life after him. If Thomas returns for 2018, McGlinchey can plug in at right tackle in the meantime, where he’d be an upgrade over Shon Coleman, before becoming the left tackle in 2019 or 2020.
23. Los Angeles Rams – OLB Marcus Davenport (UT-San Antonio)
The Rams had a surprise breakout year in 2017, but could take a step backward in 2018, given how many key players they have set to hit free agency, including top cornerback Trumaine Johnson, safety LaMarcus Joyner, outside linebacker Connor Barwin, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and center John Sullivan. Where they go with this pick will likely be dependent on who they lose in free agency, but, even if they bring Barwin back, an edge rusher like Davenport makes some sense. Barwin isn’t much of a pass rusher at this stage of his career (age 32 in 2018) and they need a long-term edge rusher opposite Robert Quinn.
24. Carolina Panthers – S Ronnie Harrison (Alabama)
Mike Adams was the Panthers’ best safety in 2017, but he’ll be in his age 37 contract year in 2018, so he’s not a long-term solution. Fellow starter Kurt Coleman has struggled since signing a 3-year extension following a strong 2015 season and could be cut in either of the next two off-seasons, owed 4.1 million non-guaranteed in 2018 and 4.375 million non-guaranteed in 2019. Safety should be high on their list of needs this off-season.
25. Tennessee Titans – MLB Tremaine Edwards (Virginia Tech)
The Titans are another team that could lose several starters in free agency, with wide receiver Eric Decker, guard Josh Kline, defensive end DaQuan Jones, and middle linebacker Avery Williamson all set to hit free agency this off-season. Even if Williamson returns, they could use a middle linebacker like Tremaine Edwards, as 2017 5th round pick Jayon Brown struggled mightily as a rookie and veteran Wesley Woodyard is just a base package run stuffer at this stage of his career (age 32 in 2018).
26. Atlanta Falcons – DT Vita Vea (Washington)
Dontari Poe was a nice addition last off-season, but he was only brought in on a one-year deal and could leave for more money now that he’s another year removed from his back injury. Vita Vea is a massive run stuffer that could replace him well and he’s a great value at this stage of the draft. Even if Poe is brought back, the Falcons rotate a lot of defensive linemen, so Vea could still be useful in a rotational role behind Poe and Grady Jarrett.
27. New Orleans Saints – WR Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)
When the Saints traded Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for a first round pick, they were likely envisioning Willie Snead stepping up and having a bigger role in his 3rd season in the league. Instead, he caught just 8 passes in 11 games thanks to suspension and injuries. He could bounce back in his contract year in 2018, but the Saints could still take a wide receiver early in the draft. After Michael Thomas, running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, and soon-to-be-33-year-old Ted Ginn, the Saints didn’t have a player with more than 364 receiving yards in 2017.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers – MLB Rashaan Evans (Alabama)
What happened to Ryan Shazier was awful, but the NFL is a brutal business sometimes and the Steelers can’t count on Shazier ever returning. It would not surprise me if they drafted his replacement early this year. If Shazier can make a miraculous return to the field, he and Rashaan Evans can play inside together in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense. Vince Williams was the other starter this season, but he’s best as a pure base package run stuffer. Evans is an every down player who can fill Shazier’s role on the field.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars – C Billy Price (Ohio State)
Blake Bortles wasn’t great in 2017, but he was good enough that he should keep his job in 2018, especially since the Jaguars are not going to be in position to draft one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft. Given that, the Jaguars will likely focus on improving around Bortles on offense this off-season. Guard was a problem at both spots this season, as both Patrick Omameh and AJ Cann were mediocre starters. Omameh is a free agent this off-season and Cann is one next off-season. Price could allow center Brandon Linder to move back to his natural position of guard or Price could slot in at guard himself, as he can play all 3 positions on the interior.
30. Minnesota Vikings – DT Mo Hurst (Michigan)
The Vikings used a first round pick on Sharrif Floyd in 2013 and he got off to a promising start to his career, but he’s missed every game since week 1 of 2016 with a leg injury and is a major question mark going forward. The Vikings could use a complement inside next to Linval Joseph and Hurst could have an immediate role. Tom Johnson, who played a big role inside in 2017, will be 34 next season and is a free agent this off-season.
31. Philadelphia Eagles – OT Brian O’Neill (Pittsburgh)
Jason Peters’ future is up in the air, as he’ll be in his age 36 season in 2018 and is coming off of a torn ACL that ended his 2017 season prematurely. Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled on the blindside in his absence and looks like a swing tackle going forward, so the Eagles could use an early pick on an offensive tackle. O’Neill might be a better fit at right tackle than left tackle, but the Eagles could flip right tackle Lane Johnson over to the left side this off-season, as he has a left tackle’s skill set and a left tackle’s salary.
32. New England Patriots – DE Sam Hubbard (Ohio State)
The Patriots had a respectable 42 sacks this season, but that was largely as a result of frequently playing with a lead, as they struggled to get consistent pressure all season long. Even with the favorable game situations, they didn’t have anyone with more than 6.5 sacks. Getting last year’s 3rd round pick Derek Rivers back from a torn ACL in 2018 will help, but the Patriots could use another defensive end either way, especially with Trey Flowers going into a contract year in 2018.