The Browns should go hard at signing Kirk Cousins to the richest contract in NFL history once free agency opens up in March. They have an incredible amount of cap space and struggled with what was likely the worst quarterback play in the league last year.
But he has to want to play there. And convincing the best franchise QB to hit the open market in some time on the idea of joining a team that was 1-31 over the last two seasons is a hard sell.
For the purposes of this mock, I have Cousins joining the Jets in March, thereby taking them out of the quarterback race. And that means the Browns have to use the No. 1 pick on their top-rated QB prospect. Waiting until No. 4 to draft a QB means opening up the possibility of the Giants, or a trade-up team, sniping the Browns' top choice. They can't afford to let that happen.
Below is the current draft order, which features a coin flip at No. 9 and 10.
1. Cleveland Browns
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. The former general manager in Cleveland put off committing to a franchise quarterback for two years and ultimately paid for it with his job. Don't expect the new front office to make the same mistake. In a class loaded with several potential long-term starters at the most critical position in football, I fully expect the Browns to use their top pick on their quarterback of choice rather than risk missing out on their guy by targeting him at No. 4. I'm making Darnold the favorite for that honor right now.
2. New York Giants
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. It's certainly possible the Giants use this pick on a quarterback, but we're going to have to wait until the combine to see who emerges as a candidate for a top-two pick. The Cousins market could also play into who's available here. I expect to slot a QB in here eventually, but for now we'll stick with Barkley, possibly the best running back prospect to come along since Adrian Peterson. I'd also like to see the Giants consider trading down ( ) to pick up multiple assets to use to boost their offensive line.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. With Barkley off the board, the Colts pivot to taking the best pass-rusher in the class. Kansas City enjoyed a wealth of pass-rushers when Colts GM Chris Ballard was with the team, adding Dee Ford in the first round in 2014 despite already having Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. The Colts need to boost their pass rush after recording just 25 sacks in 2017 (31st in NFL), and Chubb would have an immediate impact.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans)
Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Alabama. I'm listing Fitzpatrick as a free safety, but expect the team that drafts him to go the Jalen Ramsey route and try him at cornerback first. At either position, he feels like a lock for the top five based on his versatility and the importance of having elite talents in the secondary in today's game. If the Browns come out of the first round with a potential franchise QB and Fitzpatrick, they'll have "won" the draft.
5. Denver Broncos
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. The Broncos seemed to do their due diligence on Baker Mayfield at the Senior Bowl, but if Rosen falls into their laps I think he has to be the pick, provided the quarterback situation isn't resolved by draft day. Rosen has pro-style experience at UCLA and figures to be the type of high-ceiling talent John Elway is looking for at the position after two years of juggling Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.
6. New York Jets
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. The Jets get their franchise quarterback in the form of Kirk Cousins in this scenario, and they now use their top pick on another piece to add to their young, promising secondary. Jackson is excellent in man-to-man coverage and comes off a season in which he led the nation in interceptions. He gives the team an excellent replacement for free-agent Morris Claiborne.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. The Buccaneers need to upgrade several spots on their offensive line, and while left tackle is arguably a bigger need, Nelson is the best offensive line prospect in this class and well worth selecting in the top 10. He's the type of prospect that isn't going to bring a lot of excitement to a franchise but about as unlikely to turn into a bust as anyone after dominating top-tier talent at the collegiate level.
8. Chicago Bears
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. The Bears have their franchise quarterback, and now it's time to give him someone to throw to. With Alshon Jeffery a thing of the past and Kevin White not working out, Chicago needs to address this weakness in multiple ways. Even if they sign a relatively big-name free agent receiver, I'm not ruling them out for Ridley, who is a much better prospect than his collegiate numbers suggest.
9. San Francisco 49ers
Derwin James, SS, Florida State. John Lynch showed in his first draft as 49ers GM that building a quality defense is a top priority, as the 49ers drafted Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster in the first round and followed that up by taking Ahkello Witherspoon in the second round. James can be a Swiss Army knife for the 49ers' defense while giving the team yet another building block on that side of the ball.
10. Oakland Raiders
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. The Raiders must go to work improving all three levels of their defense; Khalil Mack can't do it alone. Smith has excellent power and speed at the linebacker position and should be a force as a three-down linebacker for this unit for years to come.
11. Miami Dolphins
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. The Dolphins are facing a big question mark at quarterback after Ryan Tannehill missed the entire year due to injury, and 2018 is the first year it becomes financially feasible to get out from under his contract. While the team could save $15.2 million in cap space by releasing him, a healthy Tannehill is worth keeping as the starter one more year while Allen develops and gets in position to take over in 2019.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. The Bengals have to come out of this draft with a better plan for their offensive line after the disaster of 2017, and McGlinchey is a great step in the right direction. He has proven himself against some of the country's best edge-rushers during his Notre Dame career, and he'll improve both the pass- and run-blocking for a team that desperately needs it. This would be a great spot for the Bengals to trade down as well and pick up multiple picks to address the line.
13. Washington Redskins
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. With the quarterback situation sorted out, I think the Redskins most likely use this pick on a front-seven player. Zach Brown is a free agent, while Mason Foster and Martrell Spaight fit better in depth roles. Edmunds is part of the , players who "devoured ball-carriers and held up in coverage simply because of their outrageous athletic gifts at their mammoth size," per our Chris Trapasso.
14. Green Bay Packers
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. The Packers could go one of a few ways with this pick, but after signing Davante Adams to an extension at the end of the season, the most likely scenario has them targeting a player on the defensive side of the ball. Here they add to the cornerback depth chart with Ward, a smallish cover guy who nonetheless has held his own with bigger targets. He and Kevin King would give the Packers a nice foundation at the position for years to come.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. Arizona is a clear trade-up candidate if they can't land a starting-caliber quarterback in free agency. I pegged them as trading up to No. 10 in my mock two weeks ago, and may do so again depending on how the market shakes out in March. Mayfield may be on the shorter side, but he has a gunslinger mentality that many offensive coordinators should be excited to build upon.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma. In Ozzie Newsome's final draft at the helm of the Ravens, he brings in a familiar name, the son of the late former Ravens tackle Orlando "Zeus" Brown. This isn't just a legacy pick for the franchise; Brown Junior is a massive presence who has the physicality to succeed in the NFL and should be a boost to the team's pass protection from Day 1.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. The Chargers have a pair of beasts on the edge to rush the passer, but too many times this year they were done in by the run, giving up a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry as six opponents topped 150 rushing yards against them this season. Payne gives the Chargers the best run defender in this draft as well as a sneaky-good pass-rushing threat from the inside to pair with their excellent duo at end.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Will Hernandez, G, UTEP. The Seahawks enter the offseason with two starters on the offense line locked in (Duane Brown, Justin Britt), and they should be looking for upgrades for all three other spots. Hernandez has everything you want from a guard prospect and can step in and start from the get-go. He'd be an important cog in Seattle's offensive line for the next 10 years if selected here.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Vita Vea, DT, Washington. Maliek Collins hasn't worked out in his two years on the line, and he was a sieve in run defense while playing the second-most snaps of any Cowboys defensive lineman behind DeMarcus Lawrence. Vea would be a huge leap forward in run defense, and he can also get into the backfield and help collapse the pocket on passing downs. Trapasso says
20. Detroit Lions
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. The Lions should be looking for some way to boost their pass rush if they don't bring Ziggy Ansah back next season. While at his best Ansah is tough to handle, injuries have plagued him the last few years and made him largely ineffective. Davenport would be an excellent cheaper option to replace Ansah's production, but there's also a chance the big defensive lineman could be long gone by the time the Lions pick.
21. Buffalo Bills
Billy Price, C, Ohio State. The Bills lost Eric Wood to a career-ending injury this offseason, and they could look to the draft to find his long-term replacement if they aren't comfortable giving Ryan Groy a bigger role. Price is incredibly strong, and that should help him stand up to NFL-caliber defensive tackles right from the get-go.
22. Buffalo Bills from Chiefs
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. The Bills have made it clear they don't see Tyrod Taylor as the long-term starter, and since they've been mostly unable to land elite talents in free agency, that should mean turning to the draft to find their franchise quarterback. It's possible they package their two picks together to leap into the top 10. If they stay put, Jackson figures to be a best-case scenario. Like Deshaun Watson, opinions of Jackson are all over the map, but Brian Daboll should be able to put him in a position to succeed.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn. With Trumaine Johnson finally getting a shot at free agency after being franchise-tagged twice, and with Nickell Robey-Coleman also scheduled to hit free agency, it's clear the Rams have some work to do at the position. Even if they land someone in free agency (perhaps a Wade Phillips-Aqib Talib reunion?), they shouldn't hesitate to go corner here if a prospect they like is available. Davis has the size to match up with receivers at the NFL level but still has room to grown under Phillips' tutelage.
24. Carolina Panthers
Connor Williams, OT, Texas. The Panthers are tied to Matt Kalil for at least one more year, but another year of the caliber of play he delivered in 2017 will leave them desperate for a change. Why not get a jump on that eventuality with Williams, who has a high ceiling for a left tackle prospect but didn't come close to playing up to it in 2017? Using him as a swing tackle in 2018 and getting him ready to take over next year should ensure the offensive line is a strength in front of of Cam Newton.
25. Tennessee Titans
Arden Key, OLB, LSU. Like Williams one pick earlier, Key was a highly-touted prospect coming into 2017 who didn't live up to his billing. He'll have to answer questions about off-field red flags at the combine, but expect him to test well enough to remain in the first-round conversation. The Titans have their top two outside pass-rushers ticketed for free agency after the 2018 season, so drafting and developing Key could put them ahead of the game.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida. The Falcons don't have many needs, but one spot they could be targeting in the first round is defensive tackle, with Dontari Poe only signing a one-year deal last offseason. Bryan has earned some J.J. Watt comparisons despite the lack of stats at the collegiate level, so he could be a fast riser if he blows away the competition at the combine.
27. New Orleans Saints
James Daniels, C, Iowa. The Saints showed in 2017 that they can build the offense around a dominant running game, and it wouldn't be too surprising to them keep building on that strength with a pick like Daniels. He's on the small side for a center prospect, but he'll be a great fit for the Saints' zone-blocking scheme. His stock could be on the rise if he can put up a great bench-press number at the combine.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama. The inside linebacker position tragically became one of need when Ryan Shazier suffered a catastrophic injury against the Bengals during a Monday night game. While Shazier focuses on his health, the team must find an answer inside. That could come in the form of Evans, a versatile linebacker who can cover in the passing game but take on blockers while attacking the running back as well.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. The Jaguars will watch Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson hit free agency in March, though the latter is a candidate for the franchise tag. And Allen Hurns is a release candidate whenever the team wants to part ways with him and his big cap number. While the Jaguars had unheralded receivers like Keelan Cole step up in 2017, there's still reason to solidify their talent base at the position this offseason. Sutton is more of a possession receiver than a burner, and he could give Blake Bortles the security blanket he needs in the passing game.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. Assuming the Vikings figure out what to do with their free-agent quarterbacks heading into the draft, they could be looking to add talent at one of a few different positions. One spot where they have a need is at defensive tackle, where Sharrif Floyd can't be counted on to resume his career anytime soon. Hurst is undersized for an NFL defensive tackle, but he has the speed to penetrate into the backfield and should give the team's pass-rush a boost.
31. New England Patriots
Harold Landry, DE, Boston College. Landry likely doesn't have the size to hold up as a three-down defensive end in the NFL, but one thing he'll give the team that drafts him is pass-rush help after piling up 16.5 sacks in a breakout 2016 campaign. The Patriots are certainly a team looking for that type of boost after having to turn to James Harrison late in the season and postseason. Bill Belichick would put Landry in the best chance to succeed, and if he reaches his potential, the Patriots could have their next pass-rush star.
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia. The Eagles have no Day 2 picks, and it makes sense for them to trade down if they aren't in love with how the board shakes out by the time No. 32 is on the clock. If they stay put, the athletic Wynn would be a great value in the spot, and he'd give a team without many glaring needs quality depth inside.