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