2018 NFL Preview: AFC East

josh allen

Josh Allen was drafted by Buffalo to replace the outgoing Tyrod Taylor at QB

Previous previews:

2018 NFL Preview: NFC East

2018 NFL Preview: NFC South

2018 NFL Preview: NFC West

2018 NFL Preview: NFC North

It’s time to move my NFL season preview onto the AFC, starting with the eastern division and the dynasty that is the New England Patriots. New England once again made the Superbowl last season and, even though they came up short, they figure to be in the conversation for league supremacy again this time around. The other three teams include two first round rookie quarterbacks, with Sam Darnold and Josh Allen leading the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, respectively, into week one. Who will come out on top in 2018? Keep reading to find out.

1. New England Patriots

Notable Additions: Cordarrelle Patterson (WR), Jason McCourty (CB), Isaiah Wynn (OG), Sony Michel (RB)

Notable Losses: Nate Solder (OT), Danny Amendola (WR), Malcolm Butler (CB), Brandin Cooks (WR), Julian Edelman (WR, suspended for the opening four games of the season), Dion Lewis (RB)

New England might actually be as weak across the 53 man roster as they have been for a decade, after the loss of top tackle Nate Solder, leading receiver Brandin Cooks and star cornerback Malcolm Butler. However, due to the rebuilding state of the rest of the division, and the ongoing presence of a certain Tom Brady, it’d be foolish to predict anything but another Patriots AFC East crown. Without Cooks, running back Dion Lewis and the suspended Julian Edelman, Brady will have to be at his absolute best to take New England deep into the playoffs. At the age of 41, it’s up for debate whether he’s capable of that. Nonetheless, Brady was superb as a 40-year-old, and you quite simply don’t pick against Tom Terrific and his mentor, Bill Belichick.

2. Miami Dolphins

Notable Additions: Frank Gore (RB), Danny Amendola (WR), Robert Quinn (DE), Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB), Mike Gesicki (TE)

Notable Losses: Jarvis Landry (WR), Ndamukong Suh (DT), Mike Pouncey (C)

You get the impression that things are coming to a head in Miami, both for head coach Adam Gase and QB1 Ryan Tannehill. After one playoff appearance in nine years the Dolphins are in desperate need of some fresh impetus, especially after the departure of leading receiver Jarvis Landry and mammoth defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. Two 6-10 seasons out of three doesn’t inspire much cause for optimism, and the only reason I’m predicting a second place finish is the youth and inexperience on show in Buffalo and New York. Speaking of which..

3. New York Jets

Notable Additions: Sam Darnold (QB), Avery Williams (LB), Terrelle Pryor (WR)

Notable Losses: Muhammad Wilkerson (DT), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE)

The time is now for Sam Darnold, fresh from USC, to lead the Jets into what appears to be a bright future under head coach Todd Bowles. However, the present could feature more than a few growing pains and 2018 should very much be a developmental campaign. Isaiah Crowell might be one of the more under appreciated running backs in the league, but him aside Darnold will have little help on offence and the defensive unit remains one of the more average, at best, in the AFC.

4. Buffalo Bills

Notable Additions: Josh Allen (QB), Tremaine Edmunds (LB), Star Lotulelei (DT)

Notable Losses: Tyrod Taylor (QB), Richie Incognito (OG)

Tyrod Taylor led Buffalo to its first playoff berth for 19 years and subsequently was shipped off to Cleveland, off all places. In his stead Josh Allen will be tasked with extending the Bills streak of post-season appearances to two, but he’ll have to do so with a porous offensive line and an ageing LeSean McCoy lining up next to him in the backfield. The man known as “Shady” should see plenty of carries, as per usual, but it could be a long season in upstate New York while the rocket armed Allen finds his feet.

Who do you think will come out on top in the AFC East? Leave a comment or tweet @fredjstanley

 

 

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2018 NFL Preview: NFC North

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Chicago QB Mitchell Trubisky will be hoping for a big leap in year two of his NFL career

We’ve reached the conclusion of my NFC season preview with the northern division, and it promises to be as competitive as any in the entire league thanks to strength up top and plenty of intrigue at the bottom. Aaron Rodgers returns for a full season as the premier quarterback in the conference for Green Bay, while Minnesota welcome former Washington QB Kirk Cousins into the fold. Mitchell Trubisky will be hoping to take big strides in his second professional season for Chicago. Detroit shouldn’t be slept on, either, after they won nine games a year ago and finished second in the division. Another day, another powerhouse NFC division. Who’ll come out on top? Keep reading to find out.

1. Green Bay Packers

Notable Additions: DeShone Kizer (QB), Jimmy Graham (TE), Muhammad Wilkerson (DT), Jaire Alexander (CB), Josh Jackson (CB)

Notable Losses: Jordy Nelson (WR), Morgan Burnett (S)

When Aaron Rodgers is on the field, Green Bay are legitimate Superbowl contenders. When he’s not? Well, we saw what happened last year when the Packers finished below .500 and didn’t make the post-season for the first time since 2008. There were positives from what was mostly a lost season, notably Davante Adams emerging as a top-level receiver, but ultimately a 7-9 record saw general manager Ted Thompson ousted and Brian Gutekunst hired in his place. Gutekunst was proactive in free agency, a departure from the usual order of business in Green Bay, bringing in tight end Jimmy Graham to give Rodgers a big bodied target on the outside to replace Jordy Nelson. The Packers also selected cornerbacks with their first two picks in May’s draft, the first steps towards overhauling a defensive unit that has lagged behind the offence for almost the entirety of Rodgers tenure under centre.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Notable Additions: Kirk Cousins (QB), Sheldon Richardson (DT), Mike Hughes (DB)

Notable Losses: Case Keenum (QB), Sam Bradford (QB), Teddy Bridgewater (QB), Jerick McKinnon (RB)

Three quarterbacks out, Kirk Cousins in. Will Minnesota see a noticeable upgrade? Probably. But it’s easy to forget just how good Case Keenum looked in 2017 until the clock struck midnight in the NFC Championship game, and Sam Bradford was excellent in his solitary week one start (27/32, 346 yards, 3 TD’s). Jerick McKinnon’s loss could be felt in the passing game, although the return of fellow running back Dalvin Cook from torn knee ligaments should aid Cousins and the Vikings offence. The defence remains arguably the top unit in the league, and it would be surprising if Minnesota didn’t run Green Bay incredibly close for the division crown. As is usually the case, two head to head meetings between the pair in weeks two and 12 could make all the difference.

3. Detroit Lions

Notable Additions: LeGarrette Blount (RB), Devon Kennard (LB), Frank Ragnow (OL), Kerryon Johnson (RB)

Notable Losses: Eric Ebron (TE), Haloti Ngata (DT)

Detroit appear to be one of the NFL’s “limbo” teams – never bad enough to secure a high draft choice, yet rarely winning enough games for a high playoff seed or even a post-season appearance. Over the past five years they’ve won 7,11,7,9 and 9 games, making the playoffs twice and losing in the wild card round on both occasions. In many ways this is emblematic of quarterback Matthew Stafford and his ability relative to the rest of the league. No one would deny Stafford isn’t a very good QB, but while he certainly gives the Lions a chance to win most weeks he isn’t in the rarified air of the elite signal callers (think Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers) around the NFL. To help support Stafford Detroit signed veteran RB LeGarrette Blount and picked fellow runner Kerryon Johnson from Auburn in the second round of the draft. If they can help take some of the heat off of Stafford then maybe, just maybe, this could be the year Detroit breaks through and makes some noise in January.

4. Chicago Bears

Notable Additions: Allen Robinson (WR), Trey Burton (TE), Taylor Gabriel (WR), Prince Amukamara (CB), Roquan Smith (LB), James Daniels (C)

Notable Losses: Josh Sitton (OG), Quintin Demps (S)

John Fox is out in Chicago and Matt Nagy is in, but the change of coach is unlikely to alter the fortunes of the Bears enough to see a first post-season appearance since 2010. The main storyline of the summer was the addition of a new number one receiver in former Jaguar Allen Robinson, while Trey Burton was brought in from Philadelphia to play tight end. This follows the model used by the Eagles a year ago, when they surrounded second year QB Carson Wentz with a plethora of skilled playmakers to aid his development. Chicago will be banking on similar improvement from their own sophomore quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, but it’s wishful thinking to expect the Bears to replicate the Superbowl victory and near MVP season that Wentz and Philly enjoyed a year ago.

Who do you think will emerge as the winners in the competitive NFC North? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley.

More division previews:

2018 NFL Preview: NFC West

2018 NFL Preview: NFC South

2018 NFL Preview: NFC East

2018 NFL Preview: NFC West

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Arizona RB David Johnson is one of the best dual threat weapons in the NFL

Hot on the heels of my NFC East and NFC South previews, it’s time to head out west to see how the L.A Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks fared this off-season. While the NFC South is arguably the best division in the NFL, the NFC West isn’t far behind with three of the four teams set at QB and the other, Arizona, possessing a plethora of talent across the field. Where do I think they’ll finish? Just scroll down to find out.

1. L.A Rams

Notable Additions: Brandin Cooks (WR), Aqib Talib (CB), Marcus Peters (CB), Ndamukong Suh (DT)

Notable Losses: Sammy Watkins (WR), Robert Quinn (DE), Alec Ogletree (LB), Trumaine Johnson (CB), Connor Barwin (DE)

Young supremo Sean McVay took the league by storm last year, reigniting a previously stagnant offence and getting the most out of former number one overall pick Jared Goff at QB. Todd Gurley broke through as perhaps the best running back in the NFC, while the defence also grew under veteran coordinator Wade Phillips. The off-season was an adventurous one in L.A, with the Rams trading for New England speedster Brandin Cooks in addition to former Chief and shutdown corner Marcus Peters. Fellow cornerback Aqib Talib was also added via trade, while superstar defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was signed during free agency. Those moves should give opposing offences fits, in particular, although L.A notably lost players such as receiver Sammy Watkins, pass rusher Robert Quinn and linebacker Alec Ogletree. Unless injury strikes the Rams should be able to secure a post-season spot, although they may struggle to gain a first round bye due to the strength of their division.

2. Seattle Seahawks

Notable Additions: Ed Dickson (TE), Barkevious Mingo (LB), Rashaad Penny (RB)

Notable Losses: Kam Chancellor (S, likely retired), Richard Sherman (CB), Michael Bennett (DE), Cliff Avril (DE), Jimmy Graham (TE), Paul Richardson (WR)

Much like the Rams, it’s been all change for Seattle as they’ve waved goodbye to a number of members from their all-time great 2013 defence. Gone are safety Kam Chancellor (fellow safety Earl Thomas is in the midst of a contract dispute and wants a trade), cornerback Richard Sherman and pass rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. However, it isn’t all doom and gloom for the Seahawks. They’ve made some subtle improvements to their offensive line, and Russell Wilson remains a top five QB in the NFL. Pete Carroll has shown an ability to rebuild teams on the fly in college,and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Seattle compete for a wild card spot late into the season, especially with their formidable home support.

3. San Francisco 49ers

Notable Additions: Jerick McKinnon (RB), Weston Richburg (C), Richard Sherman (CB), Dante Pettis (WR)

Notable Losses: Carlos Hyde (RB), Eric Reid (S)

The niners are one of the trendy picks for a post-season appearance in 2018, with a full year of Jimmy Garoppolo on tap and offensive whiz Kyle Shanahan at the helm. While San Fran should win more games than 2017 (6-10 final record), they still have a few holes on the roster and it’s unclear if Jerick McKinnon will prove to be an upgrade at running back over the departed Carlos Hyde. The defensive line is led by former high draft picks Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, ensuring that particular unit is the strength of a D that also added former Seahawk and 49ers tormentor Richard Sherman on the outside. 10 wins is very much a possibility for the 49ers – whether or not that will be enough to finish in a playoff position is very much in doubt, but the future is certainly bright in Southern Cal.

4. Arizona Cardinals

Notable Additions: Sam Bradford (QB), Justin Pugh (OL), Josh Rosen (QB), Christian Kirk (WR)

Notable Losses: John Brown (WR), Tyrann Mathieu (S)

Arizona nabbed their quarterback of the future in May’s draft in the form of UCLA product Josh Rosen, but it’s likely that Rosen will sit behind Sam Bradford until the coaching staff decides he’s ready (or Bradford gets injured). Former Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was hired to replace the retired Bruce Arians, so it’ll be a learning curve both on the field and off it for the pillars of what the Cardinals hope is a successful future. 2018 might see some growing pains, but a long-term plan is at least in place for a franchise that is excited to welcome running back David Johnson, who missed almost all of last season with a fractured wrist, back into the fold. One other player to keep an eye on is legendary receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who needs 390 receiving yards to move past Terrell Owens into second place on the all-time list.

Who do you think will prevail in the NFC West? Leave a comment or tweet @fredjstanley. Stay tuned for further NFL previews as the season approaches.

 

2018 NFL Preview: NFC South

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints

Alvin Kamara made his mark as a rookie with over 1,500 yards from scrimmage

Part two of my NFL season preview features the NFC South, arguably the toughest division in the whole league, featuring two of the previous three NFC representatives in the Superbowl. Former league MVP’s Cam Newton and Matt Ryan lead the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, respectively, while the timeless Drew Brees is back for another year at the helm of the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay are no slouches, either, although they’ll be without QB Jameis Winston for the first quarter of the season as he serves a four game suspension. Keep reading to find out who each team has added, lost and where I think they’ll finish.

1. New Orleans Saints

Notable Additions: Marcus Davenport (DE), Cameron Meredith (WR), Ben Watson (TE), Patrick Robinson (CB)

Notable Losses: Coby Fleener (TE), Nick Fairly (DT), Kenny Vaccaro (S), Mark Ingram (RB, suspended first four games)

New Orleans were one, agonising blown coverage away from progressing to the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia, and although they weren’t able to accomplish that goal in 2017 they return the core of an ascending young team for the 2018 season. Alvin Kamara pairs with Mark Ingram (suspended to begin the year) to form arguably the best 1-2 running back punch in football, while Michael Thomas might be the most underrated WR in the game. The defence came on leaps and bounds last year and after surprisingly trading up in the draft to select pass rusher Marcus Davenport, should be ready to take the leap into the league’s elite this campaign. Of course, you can’t mention New Orleans without mentioning future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. All the time number nine is under centre in the Big Easy, the Saints will have an excellent chance of doing damage deep into January.

2. Carolina Panthers

Notable Additions: D.J Moore (WR), C.J Anderson (RB), Torrey Smith (WR), Donte Jackson (DB)

Notable Losses: Jonathan Stewart (RB), Andrew Norwell (OG), Kurt Coleman (S)

2017 wasn’t a vintage year for Carolina; nonetheless they still progressed to the playoffs as a Wild Card team and with former MVP Cam Newton returning under centre the Panthers will hope to repeat the trick this season. With Panthers legend Jonathan Stewart moving on via free agency the backfield is now Christian McCaffrey’s to own. Receiver D.J Moore was added in May’s draft to give Newton another downfield weapon, while the defence will, as ever, rely on stud linebacker Luke Kuechly to stay fit and anchor the middle of an otherwise league-average unit. Carolina has a few holes in their roster, more than the Saints, but they remain one of the more efficiently run teams in the NFL and head coach Ron Rivera has gained the respect of his peers across the league.

3. Atlanta Falcons

Notable Additions: Calvin Ridley (WR)

Notable Losses: Adrian Clayborn (DE)

A relatively quiet off-season for Atlanta may not be an altogether bad thing, particularly compared to last summer where all involved were made to recount their Superbowl collapse over and over. If the Falcons are to return to the big game they’ll need Matt Ryan and Julio Jones to have bounce-back campaigns, while the addition of rookie wideout Calvin Ridley surely won’t hurt. Defensively Atlanta remain built on speed and have an underrated unit, but there’s something missing for a team that many feel may have caught lightning in a bottle during their memorable 2016 run. Nonetheless, there’s enough talent here to give any team fits on Sundays, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Notable Additions: Jason Pierre-Paul (DE), Vinny Curry (DE), Vita Vea (DT), Ronald Jones II (RB)

Notable Losses: Doug Martin (RB), Jameis Winston (QB, suspended first four games), Chris Baker (DT)

In many other divisions, you could easily predict the Bucs to finish second or even first. However, the strength of the NFC South, and the impending four game suspension for QB Jameis Winston, mean they could be consigned to the basement for the second consecutive year. Even when Winston plays he hasn’t shown the growth many would expect from a former first overall pick, as he threw just 19 touchdowns in 2017 compared to 11 interceptions. One thing Tampa Bay should be given credit for is improving their defensive line depth with the free agent signing of Vinny Curry, a trade for former Giant Jason Pierre-Paul and first round draft choice Vita Vea. It’s entirely possible the Buccaneers win eight or more games – however that’s unlikely to be enough in this stacked division.

Who do you think will win the NFC South? Have your say in the comments or by tweeting @fredjstanley.

2018 NFL Preview: NFC East

Houston Texans Vs. New York Giants

Eli Manning will be hoping for a bounceback season in 2018, aided by second overall pick Saquon Barkley

Welcome to the first instalment of my 2018 NFL season preview series, featuring the NFC’s vaunted Eastern division. The NFC East, of course, provided last season’s Superbowl champions in the Philadelphia Eagles, but there’s intrigue elsewhere in the Dez Bryant-less Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants rookie running back sensation Saquon Barkley and the Alex Smith led Washington Redskins. Keep reading to find out what to expect from each team, ranked by my projected final standings.

1. Philadelphia Eagles

Notable Additions: Dallas Goedert (TE), Michael Bennett (DE), Haloti Ngata (DT), Mike Wallace (WR)

Notable Losses: LeGarrette Blount (RB), Patrick Robinson (CB), Mychal Kendricks (LB), Vinny Curry (DE)

Go ahead and call me biased, but it would take a brave man to pick against the reigning Superbowl champions in a division featuring a number of rebuilding clubs. Philly returns Carson Wentz from a torn ACL, with Superbowl MVP Nick Foles ready to go in case the Eagles play it safe with their star QB once the season is underway. Philadelphia remains strong on both the offensive and defensive lines, where the majority of games are won and lost, and managed to avoid any serious departures over the off-season. Michael Bennett was added from Seattle, although it remains to be seen how much the former stud pass rusher has left in the tank. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Doug Pederson’s squad will be dealing with heightened expectations following February’s breakthrough victory in Minnesota.

2. New York Giants

Notable Additions: Saquon Barkley (RB), Nate Solder (OT), Alex Ogletree (LB), Jonathan Stewart (RB), Will Hernandez (OG)

Notable Losses: Jason Pierre-Paul (DE), Brandon Marshall (WR), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (CB), Weston Richburg (OL), Justin Pugh (OG)

Saquon Barkley is an elite running back talent. The merits of drafting a running back so high (second overall) have been much discussed, but regardless of the value of the pick New York, and Eli Manning, have to be excited to have added such an explosive offensive weapon. Couple Barkley’s addition with the return of star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from injury and the Giants should boast a more potent offense than they were able to in 2017. Nate Solder was paid big bucks to bolt New England for New Jersey, and while he should provide a boost for the offensive line it’s also worth noting that Big Blue have lost two starters, Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, from the unit. Will Hernandez was drafted to create holes for Barkley, making New York’s intentions clear for the upcoming season as they attempt to take some responsibility off of the clearly declining Eli Manning’s shoulders. Jason Pierre-Paul will be missed on defense – the pass rush was already a weakness for the Giants – and how that unit performs will go a long way to determining whether New York finish above or below .500.

3. Washington Redskins

Notable Additions: Derrius Guice (RB, out for the year with a torn ACL), Pernell McPhee (LB), Da’Ron Payne (DL), Alex Smith (QB), Paul Richardson (WR)

Notable Losses: Kirk Cousins (QB), Su’a Cravens (S), DeAngelo Hall (CB), Terrell Pryor Sr. (WR), Kendall Fuller (CB)

The big question heading into the 2018 season for Washington is whether or not Alex Smith represents an upgrade at quarterback over the departed Kirk Cousins. Cousins spent the last couple of seasons playing under the franchise tag and it had become increasingly clear that the team hierarchy had little faith in his ability to lead the team deep into the playoffs over the long-term, despite Cousins consistently delivering 4,000 yard campaigns and showing incremental improvement from year to year. Smith has developed a reputation as a somewhat cautious QB, and the loss of second round draft pick Derrius Guice to a torn ACL figures to harm Smith and the Washington offense. Elsewhere on the roster, the Redskins lost arguably their best CB Kendall Fuller in the Smith trade, while the defensive line should be improved with the addition of top draft choice Da-Ron Payne. Paul Richardson is a wide receiver who never quite fulfilled his potential in Seattle, so head honcho Jay Gruden will be hoping he can get the most out of the talented pass catcher, a direct replacement for the disappointing Terrell Pryor Sr.

4. Dallas Cowboys

Notable Additions: Allen Hurns (WR), Leighton Vander Esch (LB), Connor Williams (OL), Michael Gallup (WR), Kony Ealy (DE), Tavon Austin (WR)

Notable Losses: Jason Witten (TE), Dez Bryant (WR), Orlando Scandrick (CB)

Dallas turned the page on storied careers from franchise stalwarts Dez Bryant (released) and Jason Witten (retired) this off-season, bringing third year tandem Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot into focus as the dual-faces of the Cowboys. Both regressed slightly in their second year as pros, and it’ll be interesting to see how the offense functions without any recognised talent at the tight end or wide receiver positions. Defensively, DeMarcus Lawrence was retained and he’ll be counted on to provide the pass rush for a unit that is still overly reliant on the playmaking ability of oft-injured linebacker Sean Lee. Dallas returns one of the better offensive lines in the game, although it hasn’t performed quite as well over the past two seasons as it did earlier in the decade. Still, expect holes to open up for Zeke in a ground-heavy offense that’ll focus on chewing clock and keeping the ball out of Prescott’s hands where possible.

Who do you think will win the NFC East this season? Have your say in the comments, or tweet @fredjstanley with your take.

 

 

2018 NFL Mock Draft

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Which team will select UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen in the 2018 NFL Draft?

Welcome to the pinnacle of the NFL off-season, the NFL Draft. Running from April 26-28, each of the league’s 32 teams will choose from the cream of the collegiate crop as they endeavour to build for a brighter future. The 2018 edition sees perennial NFL bottom dwellers the Cleveland Browns select both first and fourth overall, while the New York Giants hold the second overall pick following a dismal 3-13 season. Read on to find out who I think will make the cut in the first round, including one (projected) blockbuster trade. I’m also joined by England cricketer and Oakland Raiders fan Tymal Mills, who breaks down what the Raiders should do with the tenth overall selection.

Note: The picks made are from the perspective of what I think each team should do, not what I would do personally

1. Sam Darnold (QB) – Cleveland Browns

Although many believe Saquon Barkley to be the best player in the draft, selecting a non-QB at #1 would be a huge risk for a Browns franchise that hasn’t had an above-average NFL quarterback since they re-formed in 1999. With a plethora of picks, not least the #4 selection in this draft, other needs can be addressed later on while Cleveland adds their franchise QB in the shape of USC star Darnold. Darnold has outstanding athleticism, a big arm and scouts rave about his makeup and football IQ, which should limit his bust potential and makes him a far surer bet than the rocket armed Josh Allen. Turnovers were an issue for Darnold in college but after sitting behind Tyrod Taylor for at least a season Hue Jackson and the Browns staff should be able to coach those out of him.

2. Saquon Barkley (RB) – New York Giants

Barkley is widely considered to be the best running back prospect for a generation, and while I personally think #2 is too high to select a player at a non-premium position the Giants seem set on giving Eli Manning enough weapons for one more run at a championship. All of the QB’s in this class have question marks while Barkley’s combination of size, speed, vision and hands make him the quintessential can’t miss prospect. If Barkley can do for New York what Ezekiel Elliot did for the Cowboys (minus the off-field drama), they’ll be thrilled with this pick.

3. Baker Mayfield (QB) – New York Jets

It’s fairly widely believed that the Jets love Mayfield, and the brash Oklahoma product would certainly be an interesting fit in the Big Apple. Mayfield lacks prototypical height at just 6’1″, but he was historically productive in the spread offence at college and displayed elite accuracy, poise and an ability to execute broken plays. Johnny Manziel and Russell Wilson are the two comps mostly thrown Mayfield’s way – I actually tend to lean towards placing him in the middle of that spectrum as a player who will ultimately compete at the NFL level but fail to live up to the billing of a top three draft pick due to his not-quite Wilson level athleticism and a slightly questionable attitude.

4. Bradley Chubb (EDGE) – Cleveland Browns

The Browns have two options at four if the draft plays out as it does in this mock; trade down with a team desperate to acquire a QB, or pick the best defensive player on the board to bookend with last year’s number one pick Myles Garrett. Chubb has the potential to be an elite pass rusher at the next level, with outstanding size and speed, plus he possesses the ability to set the edge in the run game. If Barkley is still on the board at this point Cleveland would have a tough decision to make, but with him gone in this mock there’s really only one option as the Browns continue to add blue chip talent to their young roster.

5. Josh Allen (QB) – Buffalo Bills (via mock trade with Denver Broncos)

Mock trade! I’m not convinced the Broncos are particularly interested in drafting a QB this year after signing Case Keenum in free agency, and there’s enough defensive talent on the board to help them even after sliding back to #12 in a trade with Buffalo. The Bills have made their intentions perfectly clear by moving Tyrod Taylor and trading up to 12, so here I have them completing the process by trading both of their ones (numbers 12 and 22) plus, say, a four to Denver for the right to select the rocket armed Allen. Coach Sean McDermott was in Carolina for a number of years with Cam Newton and he saw first hand what a strong armed, mobile QB can do to opposition defenses, so in this scenario he’s willing to overlook Allen’s accuracy issues to make him the main man in Buffalo.

6. Quenton Nelson (G) – Indianapolis Colts

After trading down from #3 a few weeks ago, Indy pick up the best offensive lineman in the draft and give Andrew Luck, ropey shoulder and all, some much needed protection as he makes his much anticipated return from injury. The Colts have holes all over the roster but after picking up three second round picks from the Jets they’ll be able to address those both this year and next as they attempt to bulk up on talent after a couple of miserly years. New head coach Frank Reich is a former QB who appreciates the value of a strong offensive line, and Nelson is the complete package at guard and someone who the Colts should be able to plug in and play for at least the next six or seven years.

7. Minkah Fitzpatrick (S/CB) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay were one of the big disappointments in the NFL in 2017 and they’ve got a fantastic opportunity to put things right if the draft board falls this way. With three of the top six picks going on quarterbacks the Bucs can select from a crop of very talented defensive backs, a clear area of weakness, with Fitzpatrick a Malcolm Jenkins clone by virtue of the fact he can play safety or slot cornerback. Fitzpatrick’s big game experience, having played for Alabama in college, also makes him one of the more pro ready prospects in a stacked top ten.

8. Mike McGlinchey (OT) – Chicago Bears

The Bears spring one of the first surprises in my mock with this pick as they opt to shore up the offensive line with the first tackle off the board, as opposed to selecting one of the many elite defensive prospects still available. McGlinchey is a good, if not quite elite, tackle prospect but Chicago would be wise here to consider the development of second year QB Mitch Trubisky by shoring up his protection and allowing him to flourish in a way not dissimilar to Carson Wentz in Philadelphia last season. You may recall that Philly made the offensive side of the ball a priority last off-season, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Chicago followed the same blueprint during the draft.

9. Roquan Smith (LB) – San Francisco 49ers

San Fran are in a bit of a pinch at the linebacker position after the arrest of Reuben Foster for domestic violence last month. Fortunately for them in this mock they have their pick of the linebacker crop, with Smith largely regarded as the standout player in the class thanks to his incredible sideline to sideline range. That should play perfectly in the 49ers defense and ease their concerns about the ongoing Foster situation.

10. Denzel Ward (CB) – Oakland Raiders

*Pick made by Sussex and England cricketer Tymal Mills*

If this is the way the board fell on draft night the Raiders would be delighted. With various holes across the defense they would have the choice of five or six players who could contribute immediately. New coach Jon Gruden has already said he’d like an interior presence to take some heat off stud pass rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, however #10 would likely be too early to select either Maurice Hurst or Vita Vea. Meanwhile, cornerback remains a position of desperate need with Gareon Conley (who missed all but one game in 2017) and Reshaan Melvin (who signed a one year deal in free agency) slated to start on the outside. With that in mind, the Raiders opt to pull the trigger on Ward, the best cover corner in the draft, pairing him with Conley for the foreseeable future.

11. Josh Rosen (QB) – Miami Dolphins

At 11, Rosen is just too good to pass up for Miami, who I believe to be in two minds about whether to move on from Ryan Tannehill or not. Having jettisoned Jarvis Landry and Jay Ajayi over the past twelve months you’d think Miami were in rebuilding mode, however Adam Gase is under a little bit of pressure to demonstrate the team is progressing and acquiring a new QB may give him a bit more rope with the Dolphins hierarchy. Personally, I like Rosen the most of all the quarterback prospects in this draft, but his alternative and allegedly “challenging” personality doesn’t seem to rub well with a lot of front office personnel. In some ways, Rosen is a lot like Jay Cutler, who isn’t universally popular but possesses and outrageous amount of talent, and seeing as Gase had no problem in signing Cutler last summer it figures he’d also be prepared to recruit Rosen to South Beach.

12. Marcus Davenport (EDGE) – Denver Broncos (via mock trade with Buffalo Bills)

Denver are a difficult team to peg for this draft, but as I see them trading down I think they go the route of trying to restock their depleted defense in an effort to return the unit to the elite level it was at as recently as 2016. Davenport is unanimously considered the second best edge rusher in the class behind Chubb, and with a premium placed on players who can rush the quarterback it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him edge into the top half of this class.

13. Derwin James (S) – Washington Redskins

In this scenario the Redskins would be delighted, with James falling beyond his talent level to the thirteenth pick in the draft. James has fast closed on Fitzpatrick in terms of being the top ranked safety in the 2018 draft, so while the latter is long gone in this mock Washington would be more than happy to pick up a versatile safety who should shore up what has been a problem spot for them in recent seasons, especially with the bizarre retirement (or non-retirement, as it turned out) of Su’a Cravens shortly before the 2017 season began.

14. Tremaine Edmunds (LB) – Green Bay Packers

The Packers addressed the offensive skill positions by adding tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency, which frees them up to add Edmunds, a high quality linebacker who fills a position of need in the immediate term, as well as long-term with stud LB Clay Matthews beginning to slow down. Green Bay are also in a position here where trading down could make sense if a quarterback needy team wants to jump ahead of Arizona to select Lamar Jackson.

15. Courtland Sutton (WR) – Arizona Cardinals 

I don’t, however, have the Cardinals selecting Jackson as they have a multitude of other needs and few picks outside of their first round selection. It’s pretty rare that no receivers are off the board by pick 15, and this year it appears that there’s little to choose between the top three of Sutton, Calvin Ridley and D.J Moore. Sutton has impressed during the pre-draft process however, and Arizona has a need outside with little on offer other than the ageing Larry Fitzgerald.

16. Calvin Ridley (WR) – Baltimore Ravens

Ridley, meanwhile, endured a below par combine and has fallen slightly from a borderline top ten prospect to a player who’s ceiling is in the middle of round one. Ridley is an accomplished route runner and with Baltimore having released Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin since the end of the 2017 season he fills a need, giving Joe Flacco the number one receiver he’s lacked for more than a few years.

17. Vita Vea (DT) – Los Angeles Chargers

Like a lot of the teams towards the end of round one, the generally more successful teams, Los Angeles could go a number of ways with this pick due to their relatively hole-free roster. A developmental QB is in play with Phillip Rivers ageing, but the 2004 first round pick shows no signs of age yet and the Chargers will be keen to give him as good an opportunity as possible to win a ring before he retires. Vea would be the first interior defensive lineman off the board in this scenario, and he would immediately help L.A in the run game, taking some of the heat off star pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.

18. Joshua Jackson (CB) – Seattle Seahawks

This is one of the picks that many analysts have predicted, due to both the scheme and positional fit. At 6’3″, Jackson is the type of long-limbed corner Seattle loves, which makes him an attractive option with Richard Sherman now plying his trade for division rivals San Francisco. The Legion of Boom may be on its last legs, but the selection of Jackson could herald a new era of stellar secondary play in the Northwest.

19. D.J Moore (WR)  – Dallas Cowboys

With Dez Bryant no longer playing in Big D, it would be extremely tempting for Jerry Jones to dip his toes into the WR market at #19 and select his replacement. Moore is slightly more raw than the aforementioned Calvin Ridley, but he possesses enough upside to warrant a top 20 pick. Dak Prescott is in desperate need of help in the passing game with Jason Witten nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career, something that played up even more when Ezekiel Elliot missed time with suspension in 2017.

20. Da’Ron Payne (DT) – Detroit Lions

Another DT off the board at #20, with Detroit taking the third Alabama product of the first round (keep reading for number four shortly). The Lions had the 21st ranked rushing defence (by yards per carry) in 2017, and Payne should help shore up that element of the team while potentially providing a dynamic pass rush from an interior position.

21. James Daniels (C) – Cincinnati Bengals 

Cincy are pretty well stocked at the offensive skill positions with A.J Green and a stable of running backs on the roster, but the offensive line hasn’t been up to scratch in recent seasons and Daniels would represent an upgrade at centre. Daniels is the number one centre in this class, although it was a close call between him and Billy Price before Price tore a pectoral muscle during the pre-draft process. If the Bengals decide to go defense here keep an eye on Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans.

22. Mike Hughes (CB) – Denver Broncos (via mock trade with Buffalo Bills)

Having picked up EDGE rusher Davenport at #12, Denver adds a second defensive talent with their second (theoretical) pick acquired from Buffalo. With Aqib Talib now in L.A with the Rams, Mike Hughes would fill a need and add a ball-hawking element to the Broncos secondary (four INTs in 2017 for UCF, where he gained All-ACC honours). One knock on Hughes is his lack of height at just 5’10”, which is the primary reason for him falling below fellow corner Joshua Jackson in this mock.

23. Harold Landry (DE) – New England Patriots

New England is desperate for pass rush help, and hometown hero Landry would aid the cause in short order. This pick arrived at the Patriot’s door thanks to their trade of Brandin Cooks to the L.A Rams last month, giving Bill Belichick the luxury of two selections in the final third of the first round. It’s possible they look to trade up and they just might be in play for Tom Brady’s eventual replacement under centre – more on that later.

24. Billy Price (C/G) – Carolina Panthers

As previously mentioned, Price tore his pectoral muscle at the NFL scouting combine and as a result has seen his draft stock fall slightly. Price has excellent versatility and can fill in at either guard position or centre, which should play well in Carolina where they’ve lost Andrew Norwell to retirement since the end of the season. A developing trend here would indicate that interior offensive lineman are in reasonably high supply this year, while offensive tackles are slightly thin on the ground. This won’t concern the Panthers, who could also be in the market for a safety, linebacker or pass rusher at this spot.

25. Rashaan Evans (LB) – Tennessee Titans

Guess what? Another member of the Crimson Tide! Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans joins teammates Minkah Fitzpatrick, Calvin Ridley and Da’Ron Payne in hearing his name called in round one, as new Titans head coach, and former NFL linebacker, Mike Vrabel makes his first pick in Tennessee. Evans should help fortify a questionable linebacker core for the Titans, although Tennessee could also be in the market for offensive line help to aid the cause of quarterback Marcus Mariota.

26. Jaire Alexander (CB) – Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta grab Louiseville corner Alexander in this mock, a player who may actually be better suited to playing inside as opposed to on the outside due to his quick twitch nature and lack of height (another 5’10” corner in this class). Alexander has missed a substantial amount of time through injury during his college career, so he’ll have to quell those doubts if he wants to excel at the next level.

27. Lamar Jackson (QB) – New Orleans Saints

Jackson finally sees his “slide” fall on draft night as he’s selected by Saints offensive guru and head coach Sean Payton, although in reality Jackson could be picked anywhere from the Dolphins selection at #11 or the end of the first round – perhaps even later. Jackson is a real boom or bust prospect, a QB with elite mobility, good arm and.. plenty of question marks. With great play-making ability comes the potential to be erratic, and Jackson will almost certainly need time to iron out these issues before he sees significant game time. That said, Deshaun Watson had similar question marks surrounding his name before the draft last year, and Jackson could excel in the right environment – such as the one he’ll find himself in with New Orleans.

28. Leighton Vander Esch (LB) – Pittsburgh Steelers

Boise State linebacker Vander Esch has the ability to continue to great Steelers linebacker tradition, having tested extremely well at the combine and filled the stat sheet up during his one full year as a starter in college. Vander Esch is one of the true “bolters” of this class, having risen all the way from a mid round prospect to a player who could quite possibly crack the top 20 if everything falls right. He also fills a clear need in Pittsburgh with Ryan Shazier unfortunately looking unlikely to suit up again.

29. Mike Gesicki (TE) – Jacksonville Jaguars

Our first tight end goes off the board with the Jaguars opting to give Blake Bortles an additional weapon in the passing game. With the rushing attack now well established, Gesicki would serve as a big bodied, slot receiver-type player who has outstanding speed for his 6’5″ frame, reminiscent of Patriots star Rob Gronkowski. If Penn State product Gesicki can come close to replicating the Gronk, whichever team selects him will be overjoyed.

30. Isaiah Wynn (G) – Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings had very few holes in 2017, but the offensive line may just have been one of them as they progressed all the way to the NFC Championship game. Having landed prize free agent QB Kirk Cousins, the next order of business for Minnesota is to protect their new leader, in addition to clearing the way for last year’s second round pick Dalvin Cook. Wynn actually played tackle in 2017, but projects as a guard in the NFL, a position he played during the 2016 season for his alma mater Georgia.

31. Mason Rudolph (QB) – New England Patriots

Tom Brady is 40. Jimmy G is in San Francisco. New England has already added an impact player on defense with the 23rd pick. There’s too many reasons for the Pats to select a QB to ignore, and Mason Rudolph fits the Belichick bill as a classic pocket passer with average to slightly below arm strength. The New England offense runs off play action and timing routes on the short to intermediate level, which matches up well with the former Oklahoma State gunslinger. Six quarterbacks in the first round? It could well happen.

32. Maurice Hurst (DT) – Philadelphia Eagles

Last, but not least, is Michigan Wolverine Hurst, a penetrating defensive tackle who enjoyed a productive college career but unfortunately saw his combine end prematurely when a scan showed up heart irregularities. Hurst was originally pegged to go in the middle of the first round, and despite being medically cleared since his heart scare it’s all but certain teams will be wary of spending too high a pick on a prospect who has so recently received such worrying news. Philadelphia find themselves in the luxurious position of having few holes to immediately address, with running back, safety and the offensive line also in play. However I’ve got GM Howie Roseman selecting a defensive lineman to conclude round one, as he has so often done during his tenure as Philly’s head honcho.

What do you think will happen draft night? Make your predictions in the comments or by tweeting @fredjstanley

Five Moves That Should’ve Happened in Free Agency – But Didn’t

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A.J Bouye emerged as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks in 2016

The free agency floodgates opened on two Thursday’s ago as the NFL ushered in a new league year, with players cashing in on the open market as the league’s 32 teams sought to fill holes on the roster with the 2016 season now well in the rear-view mirror.

Of the major moves that took place Cleveland grabbed headlines by essentially buying a second-round pick from Houston by agreeing to take on the ill-advised Brock Osweiler contract, while New England splashed the cash on cornerback Stephen Gilmore and acquired former Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks via trade. Safe to say the Patriots aren’t getting complacent after winning their fifth Lombardi Trophy of the Bill Belichick era in February.

Yet while these were some of the moves that were made, there were a number of opportunities that were passed up by franchises where an available player would’ve perfectly filled a need. We focus on the top five transactions that didn’t happen, and why they simply made too much sense to actually come to fruition.

Terrell Pryor Re-Signing with Cleveland

An abundance of cap room? Check. Best wide receiver on the team? Check. Young, relatively cheap and motivated? Check. It’s anyone’s guess as to why the Browns let their biggest bright spot in 2016 walk, but it’s a move that will come back to haunt Cleveland if Pryor is successful with his new team, the Washington Redskins, on a team friendly one year deal. The short-term nature of the contract places no risk on Washington, and the Browns are simply not stocked with enough playmakers on offence to be able to let someone with Pryor’s talent walk in free agency. Cleveland made a similarly questionable move last off-season, allowing offensive lineman Alex Mack to leave and join eventual Superbowl runners-up Atlanta. For their sake, let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself.

San Francisco Trading for Kirk Cousins

There’s a very slim possibility this trade still happens, but all signs point towards Cousins signing his franchise tag tender with Washington and playing under the tag for the second consecutive year in D.C. The 49ers, meanwhile, have signed Brian Hoyer to play QB for them in 2017 in their quest to fill the position with a sub-standard player for the third consecutive season. With Colin Kaepernick on the outs they had a fantastic opportunity to acquire one of the better young signal callers in the league, and with more cap room than they know what to do with they also had the money to pay the man. It’s widely accepted that to win in the NFL you need an elite QB, yet this is an opinion it appears the 49ers top brass are yet to concur with.

Green Bay Signing A.J Bouye

By now, everyone knows that the Packers simply do not enter the free market frenzy and prefer to grow their own talent. It’s a strategy that has paid off over the years, as the franchises storied history would attest to. However sometimes it feels as if Green Bay are prepared to “cut their nose off to spite the face”, and are to steadfast and stubborn in their beliefs to get all-world QB Aaron Rodgers back to the big game and give him the chance to add to his solitary Superbowl triumph back in 2011. The Packers offense has a slew of receivers for Rodgers to target, and the offensive line is in pretty good shape, yet no one would argue that the defense at times simply isn’t up to championship standard. The NFC Championship game was testament to this, as Matt Ryan and the Falcons offence ran riot, with receivers repeatedly roaming free in the secondary as Rodgers and the Packers offense struggled to keep up.

Former Texans corner Bouye, who signed with Jacksonville on the first day of free agency, ranked third among all cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’s rankings last year, and as a true shut down force his presence would allow Green Bay to focus more attention on the other side of the field while Bouye takes care of the oppositions top wideout. Unfortunately, Bouye is headed to the Jaguars, where he’ll enter a rebuilding team with a new coach and no immediate prospect of a play-off berth. A better scenario for both team and player would’ve seen Bouye bolster a suspect Green Bay D, giving the Packers a defense good enough to run with the high-octane offenses NFL teams are now able to throw their way. The worry here is that Rodgers runs the risk of ending his career with just one ring on his finger, which would be a tragedy considering the level at which he has played since he took over for Brett Favre in Wisconsin.

T.J Lang Signing for Seattle

Make no mistake about it – the Seattle offensive line was a mess in 2016. Russell Wilson spent half of the season running for his life on a gammy leg, while the Seahawks previously vaunted rushing attack failed to scale the heights it’s reached during the franchise’s golden run over the past five seasons. Yet Pete Carroll and the ‘hawks opted to continue down the same, risky path that they’ve done in recent years, plugging holes on the line with journeymen vets or late round draft picks, as opposed to bringing in top end talent. T.J Lang was one of the top players on this year’s free agency market, a guard who spent his whole career protecting Aaron Rodgers before signing with his hometown Lions this week. Although it’s understandable that Seattle has struggled to fit significant contracts for lineman under the salary cap, sooner or later they’ll have to bite the bullet if they want to improve an offense that has regressed to the league mean in recent seasons.

Denver or Houston Trading for Tony Romo 

Everyone knows that Tony Romo won’t be a Dallas Cowboy next season. And everyone knows that Denver and Houston are his top two suitors this Spring. So why, exactly, is Romo still on the Dallas roster? Basically, Denver and Houston are engaged in a game of poker, trying not to blink and thus enabling themselves to acquire Romo as a free agent, rather than having to give up capital in the draft by trading for him. The Cowboys are still hoping that one or the other gives in and swings a deal for the long time veteran, with a draft day deal a distinct possibility. Romo comes with his drawbacks, namely a chequered injury history and his advanced age, yet it’s impossible to ignore his track record of success in a league where top level quarterback play is at a premium. Houston and Denver both have elite defences and enough pieces on offense to realistically think they can win a Superbowl, with Romo the extra ingredient that can push them over the top.

Which moves do you think your team should have made in free agency, but didn’t? Leave a comment or tweet @fredjstanley