It’s April, and we are now officially in draft month. With barely three weeks to go until the league converges on Jerryworld for the real NFL Draft, and the April Fool’s Day mess out of the picture, it’s time to drop another NFL mock draft.
Since the first David Howell mock, a few things have changed. OBJ trade rumours have spread with remarkable speed; it’s hard to actually make a mock draft that has the mercurial receiver leaving the Giants, but it’s easy to believe there is a legitimate chance he does.
How that affects what happens at Big Blue’s #2 pick – after Cleveland, presumably, select the next former Browns quarterback – is anyone’s guess. To be honest, this whole process is. Not to mention the small wrinkle that the Rams have just traded their first-round pick for another Class of 2014 wide receiver in Brandin Cooks.
What can be predicted with certainty is that there will be draft-day trades.
Therefore, this mock has some. Beyond that, the aim of this mock is not to predict what will happen, but to tell a coherent story of what could.
Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Let us begin.
1. Cleveland Browns – Sam Darnold (QB, USC)
The Tyrod Taylor trade tips the balance towards upside for the Browns, and Darnold – a 20-year-old redshirt sophomore with arguably more NFL traits than any of the other QBs in this class – is certainly not lacking in that. With that said, while at this stage the top pick is quite often all but locked in, that doesn’t appear to be the case this year. Not yet, at least.
TRADE: New York Giants trade pick #2 to Denver Broncos for pick #5 and a 2019 first-round pick
2. Denver Broncos (from Giants) – Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
This pick is a head-spinner and a half. Do the Giants keep it? Would they use it on a QB if they did? If so, which one? Who’d trade up? Is the OBJ trade a sign the Giants are blowing it up and starting again? If that is the case, does that mean they’re more likely to keep this pick for an Eli Manning successor, or more likely to try a Sashi-style all-the-picks rebuild? Is it relevant that new Giants GM David Gettelman spent seven years in Carolina without a trade down and seemingly spent most of that time drafting defensive linemen and 6’5″ pass-catchers?
I have no idea. What I do know is that the last mock had the Giants standing pat and taking a QB, so let’s tell a different tale this time. The Bills are the team everyone expects to trade up and rightly so, but the Broncos would be the perfect trade partner for the Giants because they could still take one of the top non-QBs, and John Elway is no less aggressive in the front office than he was on the field. Yes, they have Case Keenum, but he’s on a two-year contract that doesn’t scream “here’s our new franchise quarterback” in any way.
They’re in this position because Paxton Lynch has proven to be a bust, so the logical target would be Rosen, as he’s strong in areas (mechanics, accuracy, poise) where Lynch had ruinous weaknesses. Someone could fall in love with Rosen like this, or he could unexpectedly tumble based on concerns over his durability and the negative chatter over his character. Another version of this mock could have Rosen falling out of the top ten. This one has him going second. There is that much uncertainty this year.
3. New York Jets (from Colts) – Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma)
We know it’s a QB, we have essentially no idea which one. Once again, this pick is based on learning from past mistakes, as the Jets’ QB need stems from how spectacularly successful Christian Hackenberg wasn’t. Of the remaining QBs on the board, Mayfield’s pro-readiness is first with daylight second. When the only viable QBs on the roster right now are ER veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, that matters, and it matters a lot.
TRADE: Cleveland Browns trade pick #4 to Buffalo Bills for pick #12, pick #22, and 2019 second-round pick
4. Buffalo Bills (from Texans via Browns) – Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming)
Allen has the arm strength to function in a Buffalo winter and then some. You can argue he doesn’t have much else, but you can’t argue he’s lacking that. The Bills have been desperate for a true franchise quarterback, and they could easily convince themselves that Allen is one of those. My guess is that Browns GM John Dorsey – whose first big move as the Chiefs GM was trading two high picks for Allen antithesis Alex Smith – will quite happily let them hold that thought and snatch three of their premium picks for someone who all too often looks like a malfunctioning JUGS machine in a 6’5″ human body.
5. New York Giants (from Broncos) – Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
The Giants get someone who could become one of the most feared players in the NFL if he can play to his size between the tackles – as David Johnson learned to do in Arizona, and Barkley is on another level athletically – plus two first-round picks in 2019. Now that’s how to win friends and influence people in your first draft with a new team.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from Jets) – Bradley Chubb (EDGE, NC State)
The Colts simply have to take Chubb if he gets to 6. They already have three second-round picks, so it’s not like they’re lacking in opportunity to add the depth they need if they don’t trade down again.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Derwin James (S, Florida State)
The Bucs have a big need at multiple defensive positions. Safety is very much one of them, and the best safety in the draft happens to be essentially in the Bucs’ back yard, meaning they will assuredly have given him a very long look. Wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him go here, as the Bucs could then use their second-round pick on an RB and there will certainly be a good option at the position at that point.
8. Chicago Bears – Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB, Alabama)
With Kyle Fuller having turned his career around in 2017 and earning a fat contract (on terms dictated by the Packers courtesy of the transition tag), the Bears have two quality corners. But they absolutely have room between them for Fitzpatrick, who projects to be a Tyrann Mathieu-type instant impact playmaker almost anywhere in space between the numbers, without any of the Honey Badger’s baggage.
9. San Francisco 49ers – Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame)
The offense is falling into place with unexpected speed since the Jimmy Garoppolo trade (maybe the Patriots would have been better off if Brady retired after that comeback?), but better blocking would certainly make a difference. And you won’t get a much bigger upgrade up front than adding Nelson, who belongs in the top five and only falls this far because of playing an undervalued position. John Lynch’s charmed beginning to life as a GM continues.
10. Oakland Raiders – Roquan Smith (LB, Georgia)
If Smith is on the board at 10 and the Raiders pick anyone else, heads need to roll.
TRADE: Miami Dolphins trade pick #11 to Green Bay Packers for pick #14 and pick #101
11. Green Bay Packers (from Dolphins) – Denzel Ward (CB, Florida State)
Yes, Mike Pettine prefers big corners, and the Packers in general have preferred big corners, but they handed a pre-draft visit to Mike Hughes – a first-round talent who measured barely 5’10” at the Combine. Ward is a fraction taller (coming in a shade under 5’11”), a ton faster (his 4.32 40 leaves Hughes’ 4.53 in the dust), and by common consensus flat-out better. He’s the sort of talent you pass on thresholds for, and he’d be perfect for shadowing slippery receivers like Golden Tate and Taylor Gabriel in the Packers’ own division. As our very own Packers fan Ste Hoare has put it, a good draft pick is one your divisional rivals hate.
TRADE: Cleveland Browns trade pick #12 to New England Patriots for pick #23 and pick #43
12. New England Patriots (from Bengals via Bills and Browns) – Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
The New England Patriots, as of the Brandin Cooks trade, have two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and Brian Hoyer as the only backup for a QB who is literally older than the President of France.
Moving up – especially in this little window created by the Dolphins trading down – for Tom Brady’s replacement (and this time you know it’s for real) seems by far the most logical conclusion. And remember, the Patriots drafted Jacoby Brissett two years ago, so there’s already evidence that Bill Belichick is willing to put the post-Brady Patriots in the hands of a speedy black quarterback.
No further explanation for why the Browns would be on the other end of the trade is required. This would be the second year in a row they’ve flogged the #12 pick to a team moving up for a quarterback, and they’d own that pick this year courtesy of that trade last year and then trading down with another team moving up for a quarterback.
13. Washington Redskins – Vita Vea (NT, Washington)
The Washington/Washington connection is coincidence; this is a team with a huge need for a huge defensive lineman, and Vea can fill that need for sure.
14. Miami Dolphins (from Packers) – Tremaine Edmunds (LB, Virginia Tech)
The Dolphins like to be aggressive in their roster construction. Taking Edmunds, an immensely athletic playmaker who doesn’t seem the finished article yet, would fit that approach.
15. Arizona Cardinals – Mike McGlinchey (OT, Notre Dame)
If Sam Bradford is your QB answer on a team with a leaky offensive line, you’ve really, really asked the wrong question. Fortunately, in this scenario the Cards get the best offensive tackle on the board to replace Jared Veldheer, whom they palmed off to the Broncos in a salary-dump trade.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Calvin Ridley (WR, Alabama)
Alabama prospect at major position of need available for Baltimore at a spot where he wouldn’t be an egregious reach. NEXT!
17. Los Angeles Chargers – Da’Ron Payne (DT, Alabama)
The Chargers have the best edge rush duo in the league. Unfortunately, teams were able to work around that by running up the gut against a past-it Brandon Mebane, alleged PED user Corey Liuget (whose 2017 performance did not look enhanced in any way, shape or form), and a bunch of young linebackers who regressed from the previous season. Let’s hand this team the best one-technique DT in the draft and set up Bosa and Ingram for even more sacks!
TRADE: Seattle Seahawks trade pick #18 to Atlanta Falcons for pick #26, pick #90, and 2019 fourth-round pick
18. Atlanta Falcons (from Seahawks) – Isaiah Wynn (OL, Georgia)
With the movement skills to play tackle but not the physical dimensions teams look for there, Wynn looks to fit best as a zone-blocking guard. The Falcons need one of those and happen to be in win-now mode, making them a logical team to move up ahead of multiple teams in need of help on the interior O-line. (The win-now aspect is why the compensation incorporates a future pick, which would go down fine with a Seahawks team who seem to be going for a soft reset after the Legion of Boom turned into the Legion of Backups.)
19. Dallas Cowboys – Leighton Vander Esch (LB, Boise State)
The Cowboys are notorious for only using first-round picks on players they’ve used an official pre-draft visit on (one exception in the last 12 years). Vander Esch is one of those players, and you’re going to climb up boards when you show elite athleticism at the Combine as he did. In particular, he showed exceptional agility for his 6’4″, 256-pound size with a 4.15 in the short shuttle and a 6.88 in the three-cone drill. To put those into context, those would have both ranked in the top three amongst running backs this year.
20. Detroit Lions – Derrius Guice (RB, LSU)
No, Lions fans, LeGarrette Blount is not the final answer at RB for this team. This is a very fair price for Guice, especially if he comes even close to living up to the expectations of our writer Joe Hulbert – who has him above Saquon Barkley on his big board.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Bills) – Will Hernandez (G, UTEP)
The first rule of 2018 mock drafts; allocate an offensive lineman to the Bengals. Probably an interior one, as Cordy Glenn will theoretically be the answer at left tackle.
22. Cleveland Browns (from Chiefs via Bills) – Courtland Sutton (WR, SMU)
23. Cleveland Browns (from Rams via Patriots) – Harold Landry (EDGE, Boston College)
So, in this scenario, Cleveland’s total haul for last year’s 12th overall pick: Jabrill Peppers from last year, the best pure speed rusher in this class in Landry, a quality possession receiver to help Sam Darnold ease into the pro game in Sutton, and 2018 and 2019 second-round picks.
Is that worth giving up on Deshaun Watson for? Discuss. Good luck doing so without a time machine.
24. Carolina Panthers – Mike Gesicki (TE, Penn State)
Greg Olsen is recovering from a Jones fracture, is entering the last year of his contract, and seems unlikely to sign another one – he made his booth debut last year on the Panthers’ bye week, and last month he reportedly auditioned for the vacant Monday Night Football analyst role vacated by Jon Gruden. With Ed Dickson having left in free agency, there’s a real need here, so it is absolutely not out of the question the Panthers go for a tight end in the first round. Gesicki has Madden create-a-player athleticism, and players like that go sooner than you think year after year, especially in a situation like this where the positional need is more long-term than immediate.
25. Tennessee Titans – Arden Key (EDGE, LSU)
One of the more interesting players in this draft class having been considered a top-5 candidate before the season only to nosedive down boards over off-field concerns and a down 2017, Key might be the sort of player the Titans might take a chance on in the hopes of establishing themselves as a playoff perennial. An AFC playoff team taking him also makes sense because those teams really won’t want him going to the Patriots, who are beyond needy at edge rusher and have history with straightening up wayward elite talents.
26. Seattle Seahawks (from Falcons) – Josh Jackson (CB, Iowa)
You could accuse him of being a one-year wonder at the collegiate level, but the Seahawks are all about their playmaking press-man corners, and Jackson is Exhibit A of that in this class. He’d be in play at 18, so to get him plus a mid-round pick both this year and next would surely please the 12s.
27. New Orleans Saints – James Daniels (C, Iowa)
The Saints need some sort of interior line help, whether as a starting upgrade or just as a fallback plan; Drew Brees is more vulnerable to inside pressure than anything else. With Billy Price recovering from injury, Daniels is unquestionably the man to take at this position for a team in win-now mode if he wasn’t already.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers – Mason Rudolph (QB, Oklahoma State)
This pick wouldn’t go down well with Joe Hulbert – who not only leaves Rudolph off his top 50, but has a UDFA grade on him – but Rudolph has gained definite interest from the Steelers, surely helped by his dominant performance on their home field in a collegiate road game. Big Ben has openly considered retirement, and the Steelers need a succession plan/injury backup for him in the worst way. No, Joshua Dobbs doesn’t count.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars – Maurice Hurst (DT, Michigan)
“Wait, a defensive lineman for the Jags?” Yes, I know. “But they have Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, and Marcell Dareus!” Yes, I know. And they combine for over $43m in 2018 cap hit between them, and over $40m in 2019 when all three of them can be cut (Dareus with no dead money, the other two with a few million each). Oh, and by the way the Jaguars are currently projected to be over the 2019 cap – and not by a small margin either – with just the players on their roster right now. They have some brutal decisions to make next March, the time to prepare for them is right now, and there’s no better way than taking Hurst, who’s only falling this far because of health concerns. The Jags took the chance on Myles Jack and have been rewarded; to quote Jay Z, “can I get an encore? Do you want more?”
30. Minnesota Vikings – Mike Hughes (CB, Central Florida)
The Vikings are another team who might look for a defensive lineman for depth now and cap relief later – and don’t underestimate the value of defensive line depth, because those big guys get tired! – but Hughes falling this far would be difficult to resist. The Vikings obviously think they have a shot at him, as he’s received one of their 30 pre-draft visits (and while that’s not as reliable a tell as it is with the Cowboys, three of their last four first-round picks got that treatment).
31. New England Patriots – Marcus Davenport (EDGE, UTSA)
Davenport could easily go higher than this, but he’s certainly a player with a lot of landing spots. The Patriots’ desperation for an edge rusher makes this his likely floor, and Foxboro would be a good spot for an unpolished diamond like him.
TRADE: Philadelphia Eagles trade pick #32 to Denver Broncos for pick #40 and pick #106
32. Denver Broncos (from Eagles) – Sony Michel (RB, Georgia)
The Broncos, despite that trade up to get their QB, hadn’t lost any of their remaining 2018 picks, just a 2019 one. Of the seven teams holding the eight second-round picks they’d leapfrog with this move, four (Browns, Giants, Colts, Buccaneers) are in the mix for an RB, and only one of them will get Saquon Barkley. The Giants here, in case you’ve forgotten what happened 27 picks ago.
Teams who take early QBs tend to give them help with their next pick. Michel – who has been praised for his pass protection skills, so often the liability for young backs entering the NFL – would absolutely count as help for Josh Rosen.