2018 NFL Mock Draft: Bears, Cowboys, and Panthers give their QBs some help
Plus, the Browns, Giants, Broncos, and Cardinals get their QBs of the future
Oh yes, it's mock draft season. The Super Bowl is over and free agency is rapidly approaching, but the draft is coming sooner than you think. Teams are already building out their draft boards and figuring out how their plans in late April will affect -- and be affected by -- what they do in free agency, so this is as good a time as any to take an early look at how things might shake out.
Below is the current draft order, which is a coin-flip away from being 100 percent set.
1. Cleveland Browns
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. I'm not necessarily sure I think Darnold is the top passing prospect available, but I think the NFL probably does, based on the traits the league always seems to value in QBs. You have to think the Browns will take their pick of quarterbacks No. 1, and for now, the bet is that Darnold is their man.
2. New York Giants
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. The Giants will happily snag the next passer on the board and let him learn behind Eli Manning for a year or two. There are a lot worse quarterback gurus to learn from than Pat Shurmur, who has done great work over the last few years.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. It's tempting to spring for Saquon Barkley here, but what the Colts need more than anything else is a defense that helps ensure Andrew Luck doesn't have to win games by himself. They can get a running back in the later rounds, as we've seen plenty of teams do over the last few years.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans)
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. The Browns take their quarterback at No. 1, and here solidify the back end of their defense with the best DB in the draft. Fitzpatrick has the ability to play inside, outside, and up high, allowing the Browns to get creative with all kinds of coverages.
5. Denver Broncos
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. The Broncos don't seem especially likely to succeed in their bid for Kirk Cousins, given how much more cap space the other suitors will have. Instead, John Elway gets his quarterback in the draft.
6. New York Jets
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. While the Giants grab a quarterback, their MetLife Stadium brethren take the draft's top running back and find Josh McCown's replacement in free agency. (Perhaps by breaking the bank for Cousins.) Barkley can serve as the foundation for their offense on the ground and through the air.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. The Buccaneers need to help Jameis Winston take the next step. A big part of doing that is ensuring he's well-protected. Nelson is not only an ace pass-protector, he can help road-grate in the running game.
8. Chicago Bears
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. The last couple early wide receiver picks have not worked out so well for the Bears, but maybe the third time will be a charm. Hey, continually nabbing first-round receivers eventually worked for the Lions, right?
9. San Francisco 49ers
Derwin James, S, Florida State. San Francisco's pass defense was an outright disaster in 2017, ranking 28th in the league per Football Outsiders' DVOA. James can help clean up the back end of a defense that needs a whole lot of help.
10. Oakland Raiders
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. Jon Gruden is an offensive coach, but his team's defense is a far bigger issue. We saw throughout this college football season and especially in the playoffs that Smith is a premier second-level playmaker that flies all over the field. He can help the Raiders defense right away.
11. Miami Dolphins
Josh Jackson, DB, Iowa. The Dolphins' secondary was atrocious in 2017. Jackson wouldn't alleviate those issues entirely, but it's a start. He's an athletic playmaker that can help a defense start forcing more turnovers with his great anticipation of routes.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. Letting Andrew Whitworth walk out the door turned out to be a mistake. Who could've seen that coming? The Bengals set about rectifying it here by taking one of the top tackles on the board.
Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. Washington had a horrific run defense in 2017 despite nabbing former Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen -- who was limited to only five games -- in the first round of last year's draft. Pairing him with another member of the Tide will help the team climb out of the basement in run defense.
14. Green Bay Packers
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Green Bay struggled badly against No. 1 and No. 2 wideouts in 2017, and three of their top four corners allowed passer ratings of 100 or better on throws in their direction, per Pro Football Focus. Adding a high-level corner like Ward would instantly upgrade one of their weaker position groups.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. Allen is likely going to need some time to come into his own as a passer, but the Cardinals have nothing going at the position right now and could take a chance on his upside. He'll have Larry Fitzgerald in town to help him make the transition to the NFL, which should help his early-career progress.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Connor Williams, OT, Texas. The last time the Ravens went for a tackle in the first round, they wound up with a very nice player in Ronnie Stanley. They go back to the well here to select Williams as a bookend on the opposite side of the line.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
18. Seattle Seahawks
19. Dallas Cowboys
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M. The Cowboys would clearly missing an element of speed in their offense in 2017, and it showed in the way defenses crowded up near the line of scrimmage against them. Adding Kirk would force defenses to devote some over-the-top coverage and help loosen things up for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
20. Detroit Lions
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. As ever, the Lions are still in need of pass-rush help. The last time they took an elite athlete up front with an early pick, it worked out pretty well for them: they got Ezekiel Ansah. Here, they finally get him some help.
21. Buffalo Bills
22. Buffalo Bills from Chiefs
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama. We're going with back-to-back defensive picks for the Bills here. Buffalo's defense started off the season incredibly hot, but eventually tailed off a bit. They can use help against the run, in particular, and Evans' athleticism should help on that front.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn. Davis helps the Rams where they need it most: in the secondary. They allowed 71 yards per game to No. 1 receivers last year, per Football Outsiders. Only six teams allowed more.
24. Carolina Panthers
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State. The Panthers finally found an offensive rhythm down the stretch of the 2017 season, but it was painfully clear for most of the year that they are in need of a pass-catcher that can stretch the field vertically while Christian McCaffrey does horizontally and Devin Funchess works the intermediate areas. (They were the worst team in the NFL on deep passes to wide receivers in 2017, per NFL.com's Matt Harmon.) Enter Washington.
25. Tennessee Titans
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas. Jefferson is an incredible athlete that makes plays literally all over the field. The Titans can use a player with his range to beef up their already solid run defense, and to help cover the intermediate zones of the field against the pass.
26. Atlanta Falcons
27. New Orleans Saints
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. Edmunds has the versatility to play on or off the line, rush the passer, and play the run. The Saints defense was much-improved in 2017, but could still use some help up front.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville. The Steelers need to address their secondary in this draft, even after taking Artie Burns a couple years ago and finding Mike Hilton in free agency. Joe Haden's cap hit balloons to $11.9 million next year if Pittsburgh wants to keep him, and given what they're spending elsewhere, it might be wise for the Steelers to cut bait and go with a younger, cheaper option.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State. Who knows who will be playing quarterback for the Jaguars next season, but it's clear that whoever it is needs more outlets to throw to. Goedert has great size and athleticism and can work in-line or split out wide.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia. The Vikings' offensive line was improved in 2017, but still not great. The weak link was on the interior, but slotting Wynn next to 2017 third-rounder Pat Elflein would help solidify things inside. Let them clear the way for Dalvin Cook and stop Case Keenum from having to run around and avoid pressure so often.
31. New England Patriots
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida. The Eagles might have the best roster in football. They're going to lose some guys this offseason, though. Super Bowl champs always do. The strength of this team is its defensive line, and taking Bryan would help ensure that remains the case next year and beyond.
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