2018 NFL Mock Draft: Free agency shakes things up; Josh Allen, Saquon Barkley drop
Two big trades, five QBs in the first 15 picks, and Barkley lands in a surprising destination
The NFL combine is long over. Free agency is not only under way, but off and running. Teams no longer have the same needs they did a day ago, let alone two weeks ago, when I last filed a mock draft. Things are obviously due for a shakeup here.
In lieu of a long-winded intro, let's just get right to it.
1. Cleveland Browns
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. Josh Allen is the trendy No. 1 pick because of his performance at the combine, but I'm betting the Browns will not let themselves be swayed by that. Even if you think Allen has a higher ceiling (I'm not convinced), Darnold seems more likely to reach his than Allen does because he has fewer rough edges to iron out. The Browns can let him sit behind the recently-acquired Tyrod Taylor for a year and then give him the job for good starting in 2019.
2. New York Giants
Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame. The Giants missed out on top free-agent target Andrew Norwell, as the Jaguars swooped in with a monster offer. They redirected their attention and signed tackle Nate Solder, but they still need help on the interior -- especially after losing center Weston Richburg to the 49ers. If Justin Pugh walks, they'll need even more help. The Giants can take Nelson, who some consider the best player in the draft, in order to further solidify the line, and then go after a QB to eventually replace Eli Manning either later in the draft or next year.
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans)
Denzel Ward, DB, Ohio State. With former Packers corner Damarious Randall set to move to safety in Cleveland, the Browns still have a major need on the perimeter. Ward not only has great tape from his days at OSU, he tested out as the most athletic corner at the combine, ranking in the 98th percentile for cornerbacks. He'd be a great pick here.
5. Buffalo Bills (via Mock trade with Broncos)
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. And here's the aforementioned trade for a QB. The Bills send picks No. 12 and 22 to the Broncos in exchange for Nos. 5 and 99, and they get their quarterback of the future. On the Jimmy Johnson draft-value chart, Buffalo sends out 1,980 points and receives 1,804 in return. It's a bit of a premium but that's often what it takes to jump into the top five. (On the Chase Stuart draft value chart at Football Perspective, the Bills send out 33.7 points and receive 29.6 in return.)
6. New York Jets
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. The Jets get jumped by their division rivals but still land a QB of the future at No. 6. Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater were each signed to one-year deals and it's clear New York doesn't necessarily view either one as "the answer." Mayfield would benefit from having some time before he has to take over the top job, and from getting some competition with Bridgewater in the future, if the Jets decide to hang on to him.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama. The Buccaneers' pass defense left much to be desired in 2017, ranking 31st in Football Outsiders' DVOA. They've already brought Brent Grimes back and they drafted Vernon Hargreaves last year, but nabbing Fitzpatrick here gives them a versatile weapon to use in the slot, up high, or on the outside.
8. Washington Redskins (via Mock trade with Bears)
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. Here's our next trade. Sure, it's a surprise, but it makes sense. Washington has gotten next to nothing out of Robert Kelley the last two years. Samaje Perine was unimpressive last season. Chris Thompson is electric, but injury prone, so you need to limit his touches. Enter Barkley, who takes over the Kareem Hunt role with Alex Smith, while Thompson serves as Washington's version of Tyreek Hill.
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 still needs a whole lot of help, even after signing Richard Sherman.
10. Oakland Raiders
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. Jon Gruden said at the combine that he wants to bring football back to 1998. Drafting a linebacker this early would be doing just that. Smith is an incredible playmaker, though, and he can help Oakland's defense right away.
11. Miami Dolphins
Vita Vea, DL, Washington. After cutting ties with Ndamukong Suh, the Dolphins are going to need some help up front -- especially against the run. Vea is a monster up the middle and can not only penetrate, but occupy blockers and free up lanes for his teammates to make more plays in the backfield.
12. Denver Broncos (via Mock trade with Bills)
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. So the Broncos move down seven spots and still get a QB they can develop for the future. John Elway handed Case Keenum some money in free agency, but it''s essentially a one-year deal with the Broncos holding an option for a second season. In this scenario, they let Keenum start ahead of Allen, then decide whether they want to let Allen rip in 2019 or give him another year as an understudy.
13. Chicago Bears (via Mock trade with Washington)
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. Like the Broncos, the Bears trade down and still nab an excellent player that makes for an excellent fit. Edmunds can work across from Leonard Floyd for years and improve an already solid Chicago defense.
14. Green Bay Packers
Will Hernandez, OL, UTEP. It would be very unlike the Packers to take a guard in the first round. But it would also be very unlike the Packers to spend big money on free agents (check) and cut ties with Jordy Nelson (check). Hernandez would solidify things up front for Aaron Rodgers, helping him take advantage of the new toys Green Bay got him in free agency (Jimmy Graham).
15. Arizona Cardinals
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Even with four QBs going early, the Cardinals still land one for the future. They gave Sam Bradford just a one-year deal to be their starter, and it's clear they still need somebody for 2019 and beyond. Bradford will likely get injured at some point anyway (he always does), but Jackson and David Johnson could be a scary backfield combination for years, if the Cards develop Jackson's skills well enough.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. Baltimore signed Ryan Grant and John Brown, but their wide receiver depth chart is still ugly. Flooding the market at one position in hopes of hitting big once or twice worked for the Eagles last year, and it could work for the Ravens as well. Ridley didn't test all that well at the combine, but he was incredibly successful at Alabama and could step in and produce right away for an offense that needs so much help at such an important position.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Da'Ron Payne, DL, Alabama. Can you even imagine Payne playing with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram up front? It would almost be unfair to opposing offensive linemen. A blocker-occupying force up the middle would free things up for the rushmen to get after the QB as quickly as possible.
18. Seattle Seahawks
19. Dallas Cowboys
D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland. The Cowboys benefit from so many receiver-needy teams splashing the market in free agency, allowing them to take the top remaining receiver after Ridley comes off the board. If there's one thing Dallas loves, it's long, quick players that shine in athleticism drills, and Moore ranked second among all receivers in SPARQ. He'd be perfect for a team that badly needs some speed on the outside to help draw attention away from Dez Bryant.
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. Cincinnati Bengals
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State. Cincinnati acquired this pick in the Cordy Glenn trade, negating tackle as a major need. Instead, they opt for some help on the other side of the ball, taking the most athletic linebacker in the draft.
22. Denver Broncos (via Mock trade with Bills)
Mike McGlinchey, OL, Notre Dame. The Broncos picked a tackle in the 20s last year, and do the same right here. Pairing McGlinchey with Garrett Bolles would help solidify the line in front of Keenum and Allen.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College. After trading for both Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, it's safe to say the Rams' secondary is no longer a big concern. But sending Robert Quinn to Miami makes the pass rush more of a need, and Landry can help in that area. He has excellent quickness and great bend around the edge, and Wade Phillips could make great use of his talents.
24. Carolina Panthers
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M. 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 so 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.) Torrey Smith has shown the last several years that he doesn't really cut it if he's the only option you have as that type of player, so enter Kirk, one of the shiftiest receivers in the draft and a good long-term complement to the big-bodied Funchess.
25. Tennessee Titans
Arden Key, LB, LSU. Key is something of a risk given his inconsistent production in college and off-field questions, but he's got crazy talent and provides major upside for a defensive front that could use an infusion of talent.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Taven Bryan, DL, Florida. The Falcons are likely going to lose Dontari Poe in free agency, and they'll need help on the interior of the defense. Bryan is an incredibly athletic player on the inside, and the Falcons love taking athletes and molding them into contributors.
27. New Orleans Saints
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama. The Saints already nabbed Patrick Robinson to help on the back end and Demario Davis to play on the inside, and now they snatch Evans to make plays all over the field. Suddenly, their defense looks really, really good.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Josh Jackson, DB, Iowa. The Steelers need to address their secondary in this draft, even after taking Artie Burns a couple of 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
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. Blake Bortles is now locked in as the Jaguars' quarterback for 2018 and likely 2019, and he needs some help in order to take steps forward. With Allen Robinson leaving for Chicago, the Jaguars need a big-bodied athlete to play on the outside opposite Marqise Lee. Sutton runs 6-3, 218 and clocked in with a 4.54 40-yard dash. He's a terrific athlete with great hands who will help round out a receiver group that has a bunch of solid players but nobody resembling a No. 1 target.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Kolton Miller, OL, UCLA. The Vikes just gave Kirk Cousins a boatload of money. The next step for them is ensuring he stays healthy and well-protected so that he can have as much success as possible. Miller dominated athletic testing at the combine and played really well at UCLA, and could be a great find for Minnesota up front.
31. New England Patriots
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Isaiah Oliver, DB, Colorado. The Eagles built on the strength of their front seven by trading for Michael Bennett, but they lost corner Patrick Robinson to New Orleans. Oliver slides in and replaces his role in the defense.
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