1. Cleveland Browns – RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State)
In past mock drafts I have had a quarterback here and that’s definitely still a possibility, but it’s also very possible that they value Saquon Barkley higher than any other prospect and feel they can wait until their pick at 4 to take a quarterback, in a strong quarterback draft class. That scenario becomes increasingly likely if the Browns sign a quarterback like AJ McCarron in free agency. If they love one quarterback much more than the rest, they’ll take him here, but if not they could easily wait and take the all-around best player in the draft instead.
2. New York Giants – QB Josh Rosen (UCLA)
The best case scenario for the Browns would be if they could convince the Giants to move up to #1 overall. That would require the Giants being in love with a particular player and truly believing that the Browns would actually be willing to move down much further than 2 in a trade. If the Giants were to move up, it would almost definitely be for a quarterback. 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 would allow them to move on from the declining and expensive Manning sooner rather than later.
They could take a quarterback, sit him for a year under Manning, and then trade or release Manning next off-season and spend the cap savings elsewhere. I’m not projecting trades in this mock, but the Giants are likely to select a quarterback even if they stay put at 2. It is rare for this franchise to be picking in the top-5 and they are doing so in a strong quarterback year. Which quarterback goes here is anyone’s guess right now though. Josh Rosen is seen as an early favorite, but this is a strong quarterback class without a clear favorite at the top.
3. Indianapolis Colts – CB Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)
Saquon Barkley is likely the Colts’ #1 target on draft day and if he goes in the top-2 the Colts will likely be working the phones hard to move down with a team that wants to move up to take one of the three remaining quarterbacks. The Colts don’t have a need at the quarterback position, but they have needs all across the roster and would love to pick up some extra picks. A team like the Buffalo Bills, who have two first round picks, could make a very enticing offer to the Colts. I’m not projecting trades for now, but this seems like a prime spot for one.
If they stay put, they’ll likely choose between Minkah Fitzpatrick, Bradley Chubb, and Quenton Nelson. Chubb would be the selection if they rate him significantly higher than the other two, but he doesn’t fill a pressing need at defensive end, because John Simon and Jabaal Sheard are solid starters and they used a 3rd round pick on Tarell Basham in last year’s draft. Fitzpatrick and Nelson fill bigger needs at cornerback and right guard respectively, but some teams see Fitzpatrick more as a safety than a cornerback, which isn’t as big of a need, and a guard hasn’t been selected in the top-3 in recent memory. I think Fitzpatrick should be tried at cornerback first in the NFL and, if the Colts agree, he makes a lot of sense for them if they are unable to move down.
4. Cleveland Browns – QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
Even if the Browns sign AJ McCarron in free agency, they could still use a high draft pick on a quarterback like the Bears did last year with Mitch Trubisky, after signing Mike Glennon in free agency. McCarron has upside, but is still an unproven commodity after just 4 career starts. With two picks in the top-4 and the most cap space in the league, the Browns can afford to be aggressive in hopes of finally finding an answer under center. Unless they are able to convince Kirk Cousins to join them in free agency, the Browns will use one of their first two picks on a quarterback. It’s tough to know at this juncture which quarterback it will be, but the Browns hired former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan as a draft consult and he’s known to like Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is one of the best college football players in recent memory and is increasingly selling people on his pro potential, despite immaturity concerns and less than ideal height.
5. Denver Broncos – QB Sam Darnold (USC)
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. The Broncos made a very competitive offer for Alex Smith, but the Chiefs weren’t going to trade him in the division. They’ll make a run at Kirk Cousins, but I consider the Vikings the favorites for him because they give him the best chance to win, so the Broncos may have to settle for a veteran like Tyrod Taylor or Sam Bradford and a high draft pick. Unless they sign Cousins, they’ll take a quarterback in the top-5 and may even move up to secure the guy they want.
6. New York Jets – QB Josh Allen (Wyoming)
The Jets are in a similar boat as the Broncos. They need a quarterback badly and will go after Kirk Cousins. They don’t present much of a chance to win right away, but they could compete for a playoff spot next season with Cousins and they have more cap space than anyone in the mix other than the Browns, so they’ll make a serious run at him. Minnesota still makes more sense for him though, so the Jets probably will have to settle for a veteran like Sam Bradford or Tyrod Taylor and a rookie atop the draft. Like the Broncos, they could move up to secure the guy they want,
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Bradley Chubb (NC State)
This has to be best case scenario for the Buccaneers. Chubb is arguably the best defensive player in the draft, but falls with Saquon Barkley and four quarterbacks going in the top-6. Tampa Bay shouldn’t waste much time with this selection, as Chubb can add an instant boost to a team that had a league low 22 sacks last season. Their defense had a very difficult time getting off the field last season because they simply could not pressure the quarterback. Minkah Fitzpatrick would also fill a huge need on defense for them if he fell here. With most of the top-6 picks expected to be offensive players, the Buccaneers are in a good spot to upgrade their defense in a big way through the draft.
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 complete 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 six first round picks on defense in the last five drafts, but three were on the defensive line, two were on safeties, and one was on a middle linebacker, 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 pure cornerback prospect in the draft and likely would 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 again. He gave 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 in 2017. 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 – DT Da’Ron Payne (Alabama)
The Redskins used a first round pick on an Alabama defensive lineman in the first round last year, taking Jonathan Allen with the 17th pick, and they could easily do so again this season if Da’Ron Payne falls to them. Allen played well last season before going down for the season with a foot injury, but Payne is a different type defensive lineman, as he can line up at nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He needs to develop into an every down player to be worth this selection, but he has upside and can be a big help for this run defense immediately.
14. Green Bay Packers – CB Josh Jackson (Iowa)
The Packers used a 1st and 2nd round pick on cornerbacks in 2015, taking Demetrius Randall and Quinten Rollins, and then used a 2nd round pick on cornerback Kevin King last year, but the Packers still had arguably the worst group of cornerbacks in the league last season, a huge part of the reason why they struggled defensively. That cornerback group could get even worse this off-season, with Morgan Burnett and Davon House set to hit free agency. House is an underwhelming veteran, but he was arguably their best cornerback last season, while Morgan Burnett is a talented safety who played the slot when needed last season. The Packers need to improve their defense this off-season, so they could easily use another high pick on a cornerback.
15. Arizona Cardinals – G Billy Price (Ohio State)
The Cardinals are yet another team that needs a quarterback this off-season. In fact, with Carson Palmer retiring and Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert both on expiring contracts, they don’t have a single quarterback under contract for 2018 right now. I’d be surprised if they took one in the first round though. Trading up into the top-6 to draft one of the top quarterbacks would require giving up at least next year’s first round pick and any of the remaining quarterbacks would be a reach at 15.
The Cardinals also are built to win now, especially with Larry Fitzgerald returning for possibly his last season, so I expect them to be aggressive for a veteran like Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum in free agency and to address other needs at the top of the draft in hopes of making a playoff run in 2018. They have a top-10 defense and went 8-8 last season despite terrible quarterback play and David Johnson going down for the season week 1. Offensive line still is a huge need, as the Cardinals could need as many as three new starters on the offensive line this off-season, depending on what they decide to do with overpaid veterans Mike Iupati and Jared Veldheer, who might have to be let go for the Cardinals to afford a top level quarterback in free agency. Even if those two are retained, Price could start immediately at right guard.
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 Vita Vea (Washington)
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 Vita Vea 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 for cap reasons, 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 Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)
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. McGlinchey 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 – DE Sam Hubbard (Ohio State)
The Lions have been one of the least effective defensive teams in the league over the past couple seasons and lack of consistent pass rush is a huge part of it. That problem gets worse if they lose Ezekiel Ansah in free agency this off-season, as he had more than a third of their sacks in 2017. Even if Ansah is brought back, a defensive end like Sam Hubbard would still make sense, as they lack a consistent pass rusher opposite him.
21. Buffalo Bills – QB Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)
The Bills have two first round picks after trading down from 10 to 27 with the Chiefs last season and are reportedly trying to package both picks along with possibly a couple veterans or other picks to move up to draft a quarterback. 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. They’ll probably have to move into the top-6 to grab one of the top guys, but the Colts at 3 could definitely be enticed to move down for more picks/players, so a big move up the board wouldn’t be a huge surprise for the Bills. If they stay put, they’ll have to settle for one of the lower tier quarterbacks. Outside of the top-4, quarterbacks like Mason Rudolph and Lamar Jackson could also sneak into the first round if a team likes them enough.
22. Buffalo Bills – WR Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)
Most teams that draft a quarterback use their next pick on an offensive player to get that quarterback some help. In this scenario, the Bills get Mason Rudolph a much needed pass catcher, as the Bills have had among the worst receiving corps in the league in recent years. Kelvin Benjamin could be better in 2018, as the mid-season acquisition struggled with the mid-season move and dealt with knee problems down the stretch, but 2018 will be the final year of his contract even if he does bounce back. Jordan Matthews, meanwhile, is a free agent this off-season, while last year’s 2nd round pick Zay Jones struggled mightily as a rookie. They need to add someone else to the mix.
23. Los Angeles Rams – OLB Harold Landry (Boston College)
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 another middle linebacker like Tremaine Edwards inside in their 3-4 defense, 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 Taven Bryan (Florida)
The Falcons don’t have a lot of pressing needs, but they could have one at defensive tackle if Dontari Poe takes a bigger contract elsewhere this off-season as a free agent. Expect defensive tackle to be a target position for them early in the draft. They’ll have a few options late in the first round and early reports say they like Taven Bryan, who fits this draft slot well. He should be a late first, early second round pick.
27. New Orleans Saints – MLB Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State)
The Saints took a big step forward defensively this season, but they need to continue adding to their defense. Craig Robertson, AJ Klein, and Manti Te’o are all under contract for next season, but they could use an upgrade over all three veterans. They drafted Alex Anzalone in the 3rd round last year, but he has a long injury history and missed most of his rookie year, so it’ll be tough to count on him long-term. Even if Anzalone develops, he could still have a big role long-term at outside linebacker with Vander Esch at middle linebacker.
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 – OT Connor Williams (Texas)
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. Given that, the Jaguars will likely focus on improving around Bortles on offense this off-season. The offensive line definitely needs some work, as they had below average play at left tackle, left guard, and right guard last season. The Jaguars could target a tackle late in the first round and move left tackle Cam Robinson inside to left guard, where mediocre starter Patrick Omameh is a free agent.
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 in 2018 and is a free agent this off-season.
31. New England Patriots – DE Marcus Davenport (UT-San Antonio)
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.
32. Philadelphia Eagles – OT Orlando Brown (Oklahoma)
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. Brown 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.