With the NFL Scouting Combine in the books and the official open of free agency fast approaching, I am pleased to present my 2018 NFL Mock Draft 2.0. These first-round projections are based on the current draft order and my impression of team needs as of March 10, and do not reflect any potential trade scenarios.
1 | Cleveland Browns — Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Even with the trade for Tyrod Taylor, quarterback remains the target of preference for the beleaguered Browns. Josh Allen and Sam Darnold have seemingly pulled ahead of the pack, and while the big-armed Allen was the top pick in my 1.0 mock draft, in this scenario, the high-ceilinged Darnold is the first passer off the board.
2 | New York Giants — Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
It’s extremely rare for a guard to be in consideration this high, but Nelson is the best player in this draft class and has the makings of a perennial All-Pro. That said, would the Giants really pass on a chance to draft a QB of the future to put Big Q in Big Blue? Who says they aren’t already convinced?
3 | Indianapolis Colts — Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
In this scenario, the Colts could be fielding calls from any number of teams coming up to chase a quarterback. But, assuming they stand in to make the pick, it’s practically a lock that they tab the pro-ready Chubb to be their new franchise pass rusher.
4 | Cleveland Browns — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Back on the clock, the Browns follow the blueprint for providing their newly-drafted quarterback the best chance for success, bringing in the freakishly-athletic, aptly-named Barkley to be their new feature back.
5 | Denver Broncos — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
After banking twice on strong-armed, statuesque college quarterbacks whose traits didn’t translate to NFL starting quarterback, the Broncos take a different approach by drafting Mayfield, who has the resume, personality, and play to be the new top guy in Mile High.
6 | New York Jets — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The Jets have had their fair share of quarterback woes in recent years. With Rosen, generally considered the best pure passer and most NFL-ready signal caller in this draft, Gang Green gets another chance, and perhaps their best yet, to get it right.
7 | Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
The Buccaneers are the beneficiaries of the way the draft plays out in this scenario, with Fitzpatrick, possibly the top overall defender, falling right into their lap. Taking the versatile corner-safety hybrid would be a step in the right direction to improve their league-worst defense.
8 | Chicago Bears — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Placing the transition tag on Kyle Fuller, the Bears have seemingly secured one starting cornerback position, but a void remains opposite the former first-rounder. Enter Ward, who has the blazing speed, exceptional technique, and elite coverage skills to develop into a lockdown pass defender.
9 | San Francisco 49ers — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Winning the coin toss at the Combine, the 49ers not only win the right to draft ahead of the Raiders, but the inside track to draft the top linebacker prospect in Roquan Smith. A blue-chip defender on his own, he also serves as a valuable insurance policy if off-field issues sideline Reuben Foster.
10 | Oakland Raiders — Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Jon Gruden inherits a Raiders team without a proven difference-maker anchoring the interior defensive line. That changes with the addition of Vea, a 350-pound powerhouse who manhandles blockers and possesses movement skills that you wouldn’t expect from a player his size.
11 | Miami Dolphins — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Having just agreed to trade top receiver Jarvis Landry, lacking a true feature back, and tracking toward a change at quarterback, the Dolphins offense is now effectively one big question mark. Assuming the current regime has the green light to reload, bringing in Josh Allen and his cannon arm to groom behind a veteran passer makes sense.
12 | Cincinnati Bengals — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
The linebacker position is arguably the weakest link of the Bengals defense, and after repeated free-agent fixes through the years, it could be time to draft a stud defender for the second level. The Combine proved to be a showcase for the rising Edmunds, whose best football is ahead of him.
13 | Washington Redskins — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Washington has become known for having a potent passing attack, and while it remains to be seen if that continues with Alex Smith now at the helm, a clear-cut WR1 would certainly help. The consensus top receiver on the board, Ridley is a pro-ready primary target with speed, route savvy, and the ability to separate.
14 | Green Bay Packers — Harold Landry, RSH, Boston College
All signs point to the Packers taking a defender, specifically a pass rusher, with their first-round pick. They opt for the explosive, edge-capturing Boston College product, who bounced back from an injury-hampered senior season to put on an outstanding showing at the Combine.
15 | Arizona Cardinals — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
The Cardinals will make a run at a quarterback in free agency or the draft, but most likely both. Depending on how satisfied they are with the veteran they land, their first round pick could be reserved for another position. A Combine standout, Alexander could be the long-sought solution for CB2 opposite Patrick Peterson.
16 | Baltimore Ravens — D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
The Ravens have made do with a pedestrian corps of receivers, but it’s time to add a high-caliber weapon in the passing game. Moore’s tape is convincing enough to make him a first-round pick, but measuring bigger, running faster, and simply dominating the testing and drills at the Combine has put him in the conversation for WR1 in this draft.
17 | Los Angeles Chargers — Derwin James, S, Florida State
Once a franchise carried by the arm of QB Philip Rivers, the Chargers are rapidly accumulating stud defenders and putting them to work. James would be the choice here if he is somehow still on the board, as he has the physical tools, the athletic traits, and the leadership qualities to play all over the field and set the tone for his unit, if not the entire team.
18 | Seattle Seahawks — Marcus Davenport, RSH, UTSA
Seattle suddenly has the appearance of a team that is dangerously close to going full rebuild, specifically on the defensive side of the football. While cornerback is a strong consideration, it’s not everyday that you have an edge prospect with the athletic profile and sky-high ceiling of Davenport there for the taking.
19 | Dallas Cowboys — Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
Knowing the Cowboys like I do, if the draft were to fall this way, I would not be surprised at all if they attempted to bail out of 19. If they were to indeed stand in and pick, plugging in a mauling man-mountain like Hernandez at LG to beef up their celebrated offensive line could be an option.
20 | Detroit Lions — Ronald Jones, RB, USC
The Lions have managed to be mildly successful in recent years without even a semblance of a running game. While he isn’t the biggest back, Jones has the big-play potential as a runner and receiver to be the ideal backfield fit for a team that leans heavily on Matthew Stafford and the passing game.
21 | Buffalo Bills — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
22 | Buffalo Bills — James Daniels, C, Iowa
After trading Tyrod Taylor, who the Bills only ever seemed to be begrudgingly comfortable with as their starting quarterback, it would shock no one to see one, or perhaps both, of these selections leveraged in a move up to take one of the top four quarterback prospects. That said, assuming they sign a veteran QB, still like Nathan Peterman enough, or are content to seek a developmental passer on Day 2 or 3, solidifying the trenches could be in order. Payne came to compete at the Combine and put up some pretty impressive numbers for an athlete his size. Meanwhile, Daniels is a ready-made starting center who would fill the void created by the retirement of Eric Wood.
23 | Los Angeles Rams — Connor Williams, OT, Texas
The Rams have been very active just ahead of free agency, agreeing to trades for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, while deciding to part ways with pass rusher Robert Quinn and linebacker Alec Ogletree. Grabbing a young, affordable front-seven defender could be a consideration, but adding Williams to an offensive line group where no player is locked up long-term makes sense as well.
24 | Carolina Panthers — Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Despite trading for Torrey Smith, wide receiver remains an early consideration for the Panthers. Sutton is relatively raw, but has the tools teams look for in a WR1, with prototypical size, sure hands, and playmaking ability after the catch. With talented weapons around him, Carolina could scheme to his strengths as he develops.
25 | Tennessee Titans — Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia
Defense might be the first-round play for new head coach Mike Vrabel, but the value could be in fortifying the interior offensive line between bookend tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin. A college tackle with the power and athleticism to slide inside, Wynn checks all the boxes to be a plug-and-play starter at guard.
26 | Atlanta Falcons — Jessie Bates III, S, Wake Forest
It’s fair to say the Falcons now boast the fast, physical defense head coach Dan Quinn mastered in Seattle, but one role funneled down the pipeline from the Pacific Northwest that has yet to be filled is a rangy, single-high safety to patrol the back end. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bates sneak into the first round as a potential fit.
27 | New Orleans Saints — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Saints hit the jackpot in last year’s draft and, if not for the Minnesota Miracle, just might have translated that influx of talent into a Lombardi Trophy. With an electric athlete like Jackson available and possibly the perfect situation for him to develop and deliver on his amazing upside, could they have the magic touch again?
28 | Pittsburgh Steelers — Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
With Ryan Shazier sidelined by a career-threatening spinal injury, linebacker is at the top of the list of needs for Pittsburgh. Vander Esch is a rising prospect, and one to whom the Steelers have been heavily linked. Considering his tape, his Combine exploits, and the mutual affinity between the player and the organization, it seems almost a perfect match.
29 | Jacksonville Jaguars — Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
The Jaguars locked up quarterback Blake Bortles through 2020, and with that commitment, could look to continue to add pieces around him. But, if he happens to still be on the board, they might be hard-pressed to pass on Hughes, a top-tier cornerback who could make their shutdown secondary airtight.
30 | Minnesota Vikings — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Now expected to go all in on free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Vikings could find themselves having to make some tough decisions financially, particularly on defense. Being able to backfill the cornerback position, for one, with a tall, talented ballhawk like Jackson could help make the process a little more palatable.
31 | New England Patriots — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
If the Patriots pass on bringing back free-agent tackle Nate Solder, drafting a suitable replacement could be on the table as the first round comes to a close. McGlinchey might not meet the lofty standard of franchise left tackle, but he’s a quality football player with the pro-ready frame, technique, and football IQ to be an immediate starter.
32 | Philadelphia Eagles — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
The Eagles have continued to be active in the trade market, both acquiring and jettisoning players, and with their roster depth and shortage of picks, it’s possible that will continue leading up to the draft. Provided that they don’t wheel and deal for a linebacker or part ways with the pick, the hard-hitting Evans could find himself heading to Philadelphia.