Chris Knight/Associated Press
As the 2017 NFL regular season winds down this week, 20 teams will be focusing on next year and the draft.
The 12 playoff teams will have most of their attention on trying to win Super Bowl LII, but they are also busy behind the scenes evaluating the next wave of talent that will be joining the league.
Looking at where every team stands right now and possible needs they will have, here is an early look at the first round of the 2018 NFL draft and what will happen as the player-evaluation process gets underway.
2018 NFL Mock Draft (Order Based on Current Record)
1. Cleveland Browns: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
2. New York Giants: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, Georgia
4. Cleveland Browns (via HOU): Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
6. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
7. New York Jets: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
8. San Francisco 49ers: Derwin James, S, Florida State
9. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
10. Cincinnati Bengals: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
11. Oakland Raiders: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
12. Miami Dolphins: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
13. Arizona Cardinals: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
14. Green Bay Packers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
15. Washington: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
16. Los Angeles Chargers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
17. Dallas Cowboys: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
18. Buffalo Bills: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
19. Detroit Lions: Harold Landry, LB, Boston College
20. Seattle Seahawks: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
21. Tennessee Titans: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
22. Atlanta Falcons: Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State
23. Baltimore Ravens: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
24. Carolina Panthers: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
25. Buffalo Bills (via KC): Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
26. New Orleans Saints: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
28. Los Angeles Rams: Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
29. Pittsburgh Steelers: Terrell Edmunds, S, Virginia Tech
30. Minnesota Vikings: Arden Key, DE, LSU
31. New England Patriots: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
Josh Rosen, QB (Projected No. 1 to Cleveland Browns)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Times are tough for the Cleveland Browns, losers of 30 of their last 31 games, though they have at least taken steps toward making legitimate improvements.
Hiring new general manager John Dorsey, who worked with the Green Bay Packers from 2000-12 and was the architect of the Kansas City Chiefs during his time as GM from 2013-16, indicates the Browns are serious about building an NFL team.
After selecting Myles Garrett first overall last year to anchor the defense, Cleveland’s first order of business this offseason will be to find a quarterback to build the offense around.
In terms of raw talent, UCLA’s Josh Rosen is as exciting as any quarterback in this draft. He’s listed at 6’4″, 218 pounds on the Bruins’ athletic website and has been groomed for this moment since being the top-ranked pro-style quarterback coming out of high school.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has stoked the flames around Rosen’s rising draft fire by ranking the UCLA product as his No. 1 overall player in the 2018 class with this assessment:
“This is still a close race between Sam Darnold and Rosen, but I watched the USC-UCLA game from the sideline and there is a gap between the two QBs right now. As I noted in our draft primer, Rosen is far superior going through his progressions and has a pretty deep ball. He’s a better QB right now, but that doesn’t mean he will be down the line.”
Hpwever, there are some concerns about what kind of player he’s going to be.
As B/R’s Matt Miller noted last month, one question being asked about Rosen by NFL scouts is how much he really loves football.
It’s not a requirement that every great player has to be 24/7 focused on football, but Rosen’s overall level of interest in being the kind of leader that playing quarterback requires and doing what is necessary to reach his full potential is already being called into question.
The best thing working in Rosen’s favor is he’s only 20 years old. He has plenty of time to mature into the athlete and person he’s going to become.
Another problem, specifically for the Browns, is ESPN’s Adam Schefter reporting Rosen “would be hesitant” to declare for the 2018 draft if he thought Cleveland would select him.
This does cloud things for the Browns when making a mock draft, but until Rosen officially takes himself out of the 2018 class, he’s the best player on the board who fills the biggest need Cleveland has.
Saquon Barkley, RB (Projected No. 7 to New York Jets)
Chris Knight/Associated Press
Conventional wisdom would suggest the New York Jets need to go after a quarterback, but things don’t line up well for them to take one at their current draft position.
Rosen, USC’s Sam Darnold and Wyoming’s Josh Allen come off the board in the first six picks. Baker Mayfield will be the popular name because of his marquee value as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and rising draft stock.
But there’s something to be said for value, especially on a team that needs multiple playmakers on offense.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley had an unusual 2017 season. He started as the early Heisman favorite, but talk around him faded because the Nittany Lions fell out of the playoff discussion and he only had four 100-yard rushing games.
Even though the rushing numbers don’t immediately stand out, Barkley is such a versatile player that he impacts games in multiple ways. He had 1,134 rushing yards, 594 receiving yards, 426 kickoff return yards and 21 total touchdowns.
Miller broke down what makes Barkley such a special talent coming into the NFL, with this particular part of the scouting report standing out:
“Barkley is rare. As [former Penn State offensive coordinator and current Mississippi State head coach Joe] Moorhead told me, ‘He’s a five-tool guy. He can do it all. He has speed, power, can run through you or hurdle over you. You can put him in the slot. He can return kicks. And he’s worked hard to become a great pass protector.’
“If that all sounds too good to be true, you might think it’s just an old coach wanting to help out his former player. But when talking to an NFL general manager for this story, he asked me for the highest grade on my scouting grading scale. ‘A 9.0,’ I replied. ‘Put that by his name.'”
First-round running backs have made a comeback, in part because the recent wave of players at the position drafted that high have been special. Ezekiel Elliott transformed the Dallas Cowboys into one of the best teams in the NFC last year.
Todd Gurley leads the NFL with 1,305 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns and has a strong case as the 2017 NFL MVP for the Los Angeles Rams.
Barkley has the potential to be that kind of game-changing talent in the NFL. Getting that player at No. 7 overall would make him one of the biggest draft-day steals in 2018.
Baker Mayfield, QB (Projected No. 15 to Washington)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
Since Mayfield is arguably the best-known player in college football thanks to his Heisman victory and emotional outbursts on the field, it’s only fair to think about what he will look like in the NFL.
The first thing Mayfield must do is convince teams his height won’t be an issue in the NFL. He’s listed at 6’1″ on Oklahoma’s official website, though it’s possible that’s a slightly exaggerated number.
If Mayfield really is 6’1″, it won’t be hard for teams to think of him as a quarterback worthy of being drafted in the top half of the first round. Russell Wilson‘s success as an undersized quarterback could still pave the way for the Sooners star to be a first-round pick, even if he’s shorter than 6’0″.
The Oklahoma superstar does have questions to answer about his personality and attitude. He was arrested in February and later pleaded guilty to three charges including public intoxication and disorderly conduct.
Mayfield’s attitude on the field has also gotten the better of him at times. He didn’t start the regular-season finale against West Virginia for making a lewd gesture directed at Kansas players during a Nov. 18 game.
After watching Mayfield lead Oklahoma to a 29-24 win over Texas in October, Miller went so far as to say the 22-year-old can be a franchise quarterback:
“He might not be a natural fit for every offense, but if you look at the most successful young quarterbacks in the NFL this season (Watson, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Dak Prescott), we see offenses that have been adjusted to fit their strengths. You can do that with Mayfield. His underneath accuracy hasn’t shown up as a strength, but his mobility and toughness would work with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco or John Morton and the New York Jets. He’s athletic enough to run the scheme Tyrod Taylor runs in Buffalo. His downfield passing ability would even be a fit for Sean Payton in New Orleans.”
Of the teams on that list, the Jets and Buffalo Bills have the most pressing need for a quarterback. The New Orleans Saints will have to see what Drew Brees‘ future looks like before deciding what they want to do in the draft.
Jimmy Garoppolo has given the San Francisco 49ers more hope than anyone associated with that franchise since Jim Harbaugh was hired as head coach prior to the 2011 season.
Of the teams not mentioned by Miller, Washington stands out because it has a big decision to make about Kirk Cousins this offseason. He’s received the franchise tag each of the past two years, and a third one would cost Washington $34.5 million in 2018.
If Cousins decides he’s tired of waiting for Washington to make a long-term commitment, or the team decides it wants to move in a different direction after three straight years between seven and nine wins, Mayfield could come into play at No. 15.
It seems unlikely the first round will go by without Mayfield being part of it. By the time the evaluation process is finished, he could push himself into the top 10.