2018 NFL Mock Draft: Colts, Lions, Bills, and Saints get pass-rush help
The NFL combine is here and free agency is rapidly approaching, which means the 2018 NFL Draft is coming sooner than you think. Teams are already building out their draft boards and figuring out how their plans in late April will affect — and be affected by — what they do in free agency, and this week they’re getting an up close and personal look at hundreds of prospects in Indianapolis. Let’s take a look at how things might shake out.
Below is the current draft order, which is a coin-flip away from being 100 percent set.
1. Cleveland Browns
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. I’m not necessarily sure I think Darnold is the top passing prospect available, but I think the NFL probably does, based on the traits the league always seems to value in QBs. (His hand size measurements turned out just fine, by the way.) You have to think the Browns will take their pick of quarterbacks No. 1, and for now, the bet is that Darnold is their man.
2. New York Giants
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. New Giants general manager Dave Gettleman came right out and said he does not buy into the idea that running backs should be devalued in today’s NFL. Barkley is considered arguably the top prospect in the draft, and taking him here would at least take some of the pressure off returning starter Eli Manning.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. With Barkley off the board, what the Colts need more than anything else is a defense that helps ensure Andrew Luck doesn’t have to win games by himself. They can get a running back in the later rounds, as we’ve seen plenty of teams do over the last few years.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans)
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. The Browns take their quarterback at No. 1, and here solidify the back end of their defense with the best DB in the draft. Fitzpatrick has the ability to play inside, outside, and up high, allowing the Browns to get creative with all kinds of coverages.
5. Denver Broncos
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. The Broncos don’t seem especially likely to succeed in their bid for Kirk Cousins, given how much more cap space the other suitors will have. Instead, John Elway gets his quarterback in the draft.
6. New York Jets
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. While the Giants grab a running back, their MetLife Stadium brethren take their quarterback of the future a few picks later. Rosen never quite lived up to the massive hype generated by his initial season at UCLA, but he has a ton of talent and if it ever comes together, the Jets will be happy they picked him.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. The Buccaneers need to help Jameis Winston take the next step. A big part of doing that is ensuring he’s well-protected. Nelson is not only an ace pass-protector, he can help road-grate in the running game. He also checked in with elite measurements at the combine, another feather in his cap as a potential top-10 pick.
8. Chicago Bears
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. The last couple early wide receiver picks have not worked out so well for the Bears (and the recent history of first-round receivers is not great in general), but maybe the third time will be a charm. Hey, continually nabbing first-round receivers eventually worked for the Lions, right?
9. San Francisco 49ers
Derwin James, S, Florida State. San Francisco’s pass defense was an outright disaster in 2017, ranking 28th in the league per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. James can help clean up the back end of a defense that needs a whole lot of help.
10. Oakland Raiders
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. Jon Gruden said at the combine that he wants to bring football back to 1998. Drafting a linebacker this early would be doing just that. Smith is an incredible playmaker, though, and he can help the Raiders defense right away.
11. Miami Dolphins
Josh Jackson, DB, Iowa. The Dolphins’ secondary was atrocious in 2017. Jackson wouldn’t alleviate those issues entirely, but it’s a start. He’s an athletic playmaker that can help a defense start forcing more turnovers with his great anticipation of routes.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. Letting Andrew Whitworth walk out the door turned out to be a mistake. Who could’ve seen that coming? The Bengals set about rectifying it here by taking one of the top tackles on the board. McGlinchey didn’t measure out quite as well as his Notre Dame teammate (Nelson), but he’s arguably the top player available at a position of major need.
Vita Vea, DT, Washington.Washington had a horrific run defense in 2017 despite nabbing former Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen — who was limited to only five games — in the first round of last year’s draft. Pairing him with Vea will make the middle of the defense much more stout, an important thing in a division suddenly featuring three incredibly strong running back groups.
14. Green Bay Packers
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Green Bay struggled badly against No. 1 and No. 2 wideouts in 2017, and three of their top four corners allowed passer ratings of 100 or better on throws in their direction, per Pro Football Focus. Adding a high-level corner like Ward would instantly upgrade one of their weaker position groups.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. Allen is likely going to need some time to come into his own as a passer, but the Cardinals have nothing going at the position right now and could take a chance on his upside. He’ll have Larry Fitzgerald in town to help him make the transition to the NFL, which should help his early-career progress.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma. The last time the Ravens went for a tackle in the first round, they wound up with a very nice player in Ronnie Stanley. They go back to the well here to select Brown as a bookend on the opposite side of the line.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. Can you even imagine Payne playing with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up front? It would almost be unfair to opposing offensive linemen. A blocker-occupying force up the middle would free things up for the rushmen to get after the QB as quickly as possible.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Will Hernandez, G, UTEP. The Seahawks so obviously need help along the offensive line … and they finally get some here. Russell Wilson will be thankful for this pick.
19. Dallas Cowboys
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State. The Cowboys would clearly missing an element of speed in their offense in 2017, and it showed in the way defenses crowded up near the line of scrimmage against them. Washington is not quite as tall as former Oklahoma State star Dez Bryant, who would become his new teammate in this scenario, but he’s got more speed than Dez and can help loosen things up for him and Dak Prescott, assuming the Boys keep Dez around.
20. Detroit Lions
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. As ever, the Lions are still in need of pass-rush help. The last time they took an elite athlete up front with an early pick, it worked out pretty well for them: they got Ezekiel Ansah. Here, they finally get him some help.
21. Buffalo Bills
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. Hurst is a disruptive force on the interior against both the run and the pass, which will help the Bills maintain some of the defensive improvements they made in 2017.
22. Buffalo Bills from Chiefs
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama. We’re going with back-to-back defensive picks for the Bills here. Buffalo’s defense started off the season incredibly hot, but eventually tailed off a bit. They can use help against the run, in particular, and Evans’ athleticism should help on that front.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn. The Rams just brought in Marcus Peters, but they could lose Trumaine Johnson and possibly LaMarcus Joyner and/or Nickell Robey-Coleman in free agency. If that happens, they could swing for another corner in the draft.
24. Carolina Panthers
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M. The Panthers finally found an offensive rhythm down the stretch of the 2017 season, but it was painfully clear for most of the year that they are in need of a pass-catcher that can stretch the field vertically while Christian McCaffrey does horizontally and Devin Funchess works the intermediate areas. (They were the worst team in the NFL on deep passes to wide receivers in 2017, per NFL.com’s Matt Harmon.) Enter Kirk, one of the shiftiest receivers in the draft and a good complement to the big-bodied Funchess.
25. Tennessee Titans
Arden Key, LB, LSU. Key is something of a risk given his inconsistent production in college and off-field questions, but he’s got crazy talent and provides major upside for a defensive front that could use an infusion of talent.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma. We all know how much the Falcons love top-flight athletes on defense, especially when it comes to the front seven. Okoronkwo fits the profile perfectly.
27. New Orleans Saints
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. Edmunds has the versatility to play on or off the line, rush the passer, and play the run. The Saints defense was much-improved in 2017, but could still use some help up front.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville. The Steelers need to address their secondary in this draft, even after taking Artie Burns a couple years ago and finding Mike Hilton in free agency. Joe Haden’s cap hit balloons to $11.9 million next year if Pittsburgh wants to keep him, and given what they’re spending elsewhere, it might be wise for the Steelers to cut bait and go with a younger, cheaper option.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State. Blake Bortles is now locked in as the Jaguars’ quarterback for 2018 and likely 2019, and he needs some help in order to take steps forward. Goedert has great size and athleticism and can work in-line or split out wide.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia. The Vikings’ offensive line was improved in 2017, but still not great. The weak link was on the interior, but slotting Wynn next to 2017 third-rounder Pat Elflein would help solidify things inside. Let them clear the way for Dalvin Cook and stop Case Keenum from having to run around and avoid pressure so often.
31. New England Patriots
Harold Landry, LB, Boston College. The Patriots need a pass-rusher so, so, so badly.
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida. The Eagles might have the best roster in football. They’re going to lose some guys this offseason, though. Super Bowl champs always do. The strength of this team is its defensive line, and taking Bryan would help ensure that remains the case next year and beyond.