2018 NFL Mock Draft: Browns start QB run with Josh Allen, Bills take Lamar Jackson
Four passers go in the first five picks and the Bills still land their QB of the future at No. 12.
Browns third-year coach Hue Jackson insists that veteran Tyrod Taylor, who was acquired in a trade with the Bills last month, will be the team's starter in 2018. It seems hasty to make such proclamations in April, especially when you've won exactly once in your last 32 games, but perhaps this is all part of Cleveland's draft strategy that includes passing on the more accomplished and polished passers -- Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield -- for the more athletic, higher-upside talent in Josh Allen.
If Allen is the guy, the Browns could draft him first overall and let him sit for a year. Perhaps forcing DeShone Kizer onto the field as a rookie in 2017 was a cautionary tale that hasn't gone unheeded. Kizer never had a chance to succeed, and any progress he might have made was stunted by the repeated benchings.
The Browns traded Kizer to the Packers in the offseason -- and dumped the other quarterbacks on the roster too -- and appear content to move forward with Taylor, a good quarterback who values protecting the football over just about everything else. And while that mindset was frustrating at times for the Bills' coaching staff, it will be a welcome change in Cleveland.
If Allen is the first quarterback chip to fall, we have a better idea about what the Giants and Jets will do with the following selections, though things get interesting should the Browns not trade out of the No. 4 pick. Because if they take, say, a pass rusher, that could open the door for Saquon Barkley to slip out of the top five.
Alright, enough with the chitchat, let's get to it.
1. Cleveland Browns
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. After passing on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in back-to-back drafts, the Browns are staying put and getting their quarterback. Sam Darnold might be the most polished of the passers but Josh Allen is the most athletic. And with no plans (for now, anyway) to rush a rookie into the lineup, Allen can take a year to learn from the sidelines.
2. New York Giants
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. All indications are that the Giants like Darnold above all the other quarterbacks in this draft and since it's unlikely that New York will have the No. 2 pick anytime soon, it makes a lot of sense to draft 37-year-old Eli Manning's replacement now. There is some conversation that the Giants could still choose to trade out of this spot but the price may be too prohibitive for quarterback-needy teams (hi there, Buffalo!).
3. New York Jets (from Colts)
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. Like the Darnold-to-Giants talk, word on the street is that the Jets are eyeing Mayfield at No. 3. Put another way: Let's hope the Jets fell in love with three quarterbacks because otherwise, they traded up from No. 6 to No. 3 for a consolation prize. And while Allen offers all the physical tools teams look for in a franchise quarterback, the truth is he wasn't very good in college. Put another way: The last thing the Jets need is another QB project. Mayfield, meanwhile, could excel in offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates' scheme, and it's why he's the pick here. New York may not have had Mayfield in mind when they traded up three spots but it could prove to be a decision that helps this team back to the playoffs.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans)
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. We've had the Browns trading out of this spot in previous mock drafts because so many teams are desperate for a quarterback. In this version, Cleveland stays put and lands the draft's best pass rusher. Last year the Browns used the No. 1 pick on Myles Garrett, who showed glimpses of just how dominant he could be. Chubb would bookend Garrett and suddenly give Cleveland one of the most formidable, disruptive defensive lines in the NFL.
5. Denver Broncos
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. Case Keenum signed a two-year deal, so the Broncos are set at quarterback in 2018, but the team jettisoned Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian, and former first-rounder Paxton Lynch has been disappointing in limited action. Rosen might be the best quarterback in this draft; he has terrific mechanics and completed 63 percent of his passes last season even though he was victimized by 31 drops.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from Jets)
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. This isn't the sexy pick, especially with Barkley still on the board, but the Colts get the draft's best offensive lineman to bolster a unit that hovered around replacement-level in the run game and was dead last in protecting the quarterback.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. This wasn't the plan, mostly because the Bucs didn't think Barkley would still be on the board. But after cutting Doug Martin, and with little depth remaining in the backfield, adding Barkley will make Jameis Winston's life immeasurably easier.
8. Chicago Bears
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. The Bears have needs at cornerback behind starters Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller. There's also a need at linebacker, where we've previously had Chicago grabbing Tremaine Edmunds.
9. San Francisco 49ers
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. Smith is considered the draft's best inside linebacker, and with Reuben Foster's mounting legal troubles -- and little proven depth behind him -- drafting his replacement might be the prudent move here.
10. Oakland Raiders
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. It's hard to believe Fitzpatrick lasted this long, but the Raiders have little depth behind Shareece Wright and Gareon Conley, the latter a 2017 first-round pick who only appeared in two games because of a shin injury.
11. Miami Dolphins
Vita Vea, DT, Washington. The Dolphins would consider a quarterback here should one fall to them but with four passers already off the board they address the gaping hole in the middle of their defense created when they released Ndamunkong Suh.
12. Buffalo Bills (from Bengals)
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. After trading up from No. 21 to No. 12, the Bills stay put for their quarterback and take Jackson. There's no rush to get him on the field immediately; AJ McCarron will have a chance to earn the job in 2018, but if he flops, Jackson would get his opportunity to be the next face of the franchise.
13. Washington Redskins
Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. At 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, Payne is a natural run-stuffer who needs more work as a pass rusher, but he'll be a starter from Day 1. And in Washington, he fills an obvious need in the middle of the defense.
14. Green Bay Packers
15. Arizona Cardinals
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. The Cardinals have a glaring need at tackle -- they traded Jared Veldheer, and D.J. Humphries hasn't developed as planned. Quarterback is also on the list but if Arizona can keep Sam Bradford healthy, the playoffs are a real possibility in 2018.
16. Baltimore Ravens
D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland. The fact that the first wide receiver doesn't go off the board until No. 16 tells you all you need to know about this draft class. It's also why the Ravens aggressively pursued wideouts in free agency, first with John Brown and Ryan Grant (who mysteriously failed a physical), and then with Michael Crabtree.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. At 6-foot-2 and 283 pounds, Hurst may be undersized, but his unbelievable quickness more than makes up for it. He'll join a front seven that includes Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. Davenport followed up a big Senior Bowl week with a strong combine, and the University of Texas-San Antonio standout brings his pass-rushing skills to Seattle, where the exodus of talent has the Seahawks in the running for the NFC West's worst team. He had 21.5 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss during his four-year college career, and he would join a defensive line that is now without Michael Bennett and possibly Cliff Avril.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. We had the Cowboys taking SMU's Courtland Sutton in this spot in our last mock draft but do they really want to replace Dez Bryant with a younger version of ... Dez Bryant? Ridley's the more explosive talent, and he would get a chance at plenty of playing time given the lack of depth at wide receiver.
20. Detroit Lions
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. Darius Slay is one of the NFL's best young corners and Jackson has the physical attributes to become a force opposite him in a division that features Aaron Rodgers and now Kirk Cousins.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Bills)
Will Hernandez, OL, UTEP. Andy Dalton took a beating last season and his drop in production reflected as much. The Bengals could look for Vontaze Burfict's replacement here too, but instead bolster the interior of their line by taking Hernandez.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Chiefs)
Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State. With Preston Brown signing with the Bengals, the Bills fill the void in the middle of their defense with Vander Esch, who's long on athleticism but short on experience. He has also been impressive during pre-draft workouts.
23. New England Patriots (from Rams)
Derwin James, S, Florida State. The Patriots didn't trade Brandin Cooks to the Rams and acquire the No. 23 pick to take a quarterback. At this point in the proceedings, five of them are already off the board. Instead, Bill Belichick goes about fixing one of the team's biggest weaknesses last season: its secondary.
24. Carolina Panthers
Mike Hughes, CB, UCF. The Panthers have needs along the offensive line and at wide receiver, but with depth concerns at cornerback, new-old general manager Marty Hurney bolsters the position with the addition of Hughes.
25. Tennessee Titans
26. Atlanta Falcons
27. New Orleans Saints
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. At 6-foot-4, Sutton isn't a burner but he's a huge downfield and red-zone target. Tight end has been a popular choice here in previous mock drafts, but after Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn is 34 and newly signed Cameron Meredith is coming off a serious injury.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Justin Reid, S, Stanford. With Ryan Shazier out for 2018, the Steelers have a gaping hole in the middle of the defense. But with Smith, Evans and Vander Esch off the board, Pittsburgh looks to bolster its secondary. Reid had a fantastic combine but remains an under-the-radar first-round talent.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State. Could six quarterbacks go in Round 1? If it happens, the Jags could be in the market for Blake Bortles' replacement. Yes, he earned the right to be the starting quarterback in 2018, but there are no guarantees beyond that. If he regresses next season the Jags will have Rudolph waiting in the wings.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia. The Vikings need help at tackle but Wynn is too good to pass up here, and he'll bolster the interior line of a unit that was replacement-level in the running game last season.
31. New England Patriots
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU. With LeGarrette Blount now in Detroit, Guice, who has drawn comparisons to Marshawn Lynch, would seem like a natural fit. Yes, Jay Ajayi and Super Bowl hero Corey Clement return (along with Wendell Smallwood) but as Blount proved in 2017, you can never have too many talented backs in a game where injuries can derail a season.
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