The most likely scenario to me by the time the draft rolls around is Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen going 1-2 in some order. But nothing is written in pen until the card is turned in on draft night, and as a result, mock draft season is the perfect time to game out how different decisions made by teams at the top of the draft could play out as we go down the board.
In previous mocks, I've slotted Rosen in No. 2 to the Giants. That's a possibility even if the Giants decide to keep Eli Manning around for 2018, as new general manager Dave Gettleman has said is his intent. Here, though, we're going to see what happens if the Giants aren't sold on Rosen or any of the quarterbacks available at No. 2, or if they're confident Davis Webb can develop into the long-term starter.
So with the decision to pass on Rosen at No. 2, I'm going to explore what happens if some of these QB prospects don't blow up the pre-draft process and instead slip a bit further than expected. Most likely, they'll be moving back up in future versions of this mock. But what if a large portion of teams fill holes at the position via free agency and trade? Between Alex Smith, Nick Foles, AJ McCarron, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor and others, there should be plenty of options available in March, even if more-coveted quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees or even Case Keenum and Blake Bortles stay put.
It's not crazy to imagine a scenario where we only see two top-10 quarterbacks drafted. Let's see what that looks like now.
Below is the current draft order, which features a coin flip at No. 9 and 10 and the possibility of a swap at No. 31 and 32.
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. Gettleman showed in his time in Carolina how much emphasis he places on building a dominant rushing attack, and the Panthers have consistently been one of the teams that leans on the run the most. With no offensive linemen worthy of taking at No. 2, that makes Barkley a perfect fit should the team bypass a quarterback on Day 1. Barkley is right up there as one of the best prospects at his position -- and possibly No. 1 -- heading to the NFL in recent years
3. Indianapolis Colts
Bradley Chubb, DE/OLB, 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 seem to be doing 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. Logic dictates that the Jets should take a quarterback here, but this is a franchise that loves spending first-round picks on defensive players. In fact, the last offensive player they drafted in the first round was Mark Sanchez way back in 2009. I think the best-case scenario for this front office is for Fitzpatrick to drop to No. 6, but if he doesn't, Jackson makes for a nice consolation prize after leading the nation in interceptions this past season.
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
Arden Key, DE/LB, LSU. The Bears can save more than $11.5 million on their cap by parting ways with both Pernell McPhee and Willie Young, and going that route while using this pick on an elite talent like Key makes sense if they're confident his off-field red flags won't be an issue. The premier pass-rusher dealt with injuries himself in 2017, but he's impressed against top SEC talent and should be a constant sack threat in the NFL if he can stay on the field.
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
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Even though offensive guru Jon Gruden is in town, the Raiders should be targeting best defender available with this pick. The Raiders can save $14.5 million by cutting Sean Smith and David Amerson in the offseason, and if they can get T.J. Carrie re-signed after his standout year, having him, 2017 first-rounder Gareon Conley and the speedy Ward at the cornerback position instantly makes the Raiders younger, cheaper and flat-out better at an area of need.
11. Miami Dolphins
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. The Dolphins defense struggled at the second level last year, and adding Smith would give them a boost both in run defense, where Lawrence Timmons struggled, and pass defense, where Kiko Alonso graded out terribly. Smith would step in immediately on the weak side, pushing Alonso back to the middle, while playing on all three downs and making plays all over the field.
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
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. Will the Redskins get Kirk Cousins signed to a long-term deal? It's hard to imagine something finally giving way after years of stalled negotiations. The team can get by with franchise-tagging him one more time but they need a plan going forward if it's not going to be Cousins. Mayfield could go anywhere in the first round after winning the Heisman last year, but if he slips past the top six, interested teams should look to trade up ahead of No. 13 and grab him.
14. Green Bay Packers
Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College. The Packers have shown in the past that they're not afraid to move on from talented players if the price tag warrants it. Could that mean Clay Matthews and his non-guaranteed $11.4 million salary is shown the door? Even if he sticks around, improving the pass rush should be a key focus this offseason, and Landry is a beast to handle off the edge and figures to thrive in a 3-4, which new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will likely preserve in Green Bay.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Connor Williams, OT, Texas. In this scenario I'm projecting the Cardinals to figure out their quarterback situation ahead of the draft. Could they make a trade for an Alex Smith or Nick Foles? Could they sign a Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater rather than throw a rookie into the fire? I don't see why not. Offensive line was a clear weakness for the Cardinals this year, so if Williams checks out health-wise for the team after missing significant time this year with a knee issue, he'd be a big boost.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. Ozzie Newsome obviously loves to grab Alabama prospects in the draft, and here's a guy that also fills a major need for the team. Ridley is so much more than his pedestrian college stats suggest, and while teams will give him a pass for his production in that offense, he'll need to show the ability to bulk up a bit if he wants to jump into the top half of the first round. By placing him here, I think he'll check that box for teams just fine.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Vita Vea, DT, Washington. 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. Vea, a massive presence in the middle of a defensive line, will go a long way toward fixing that deficiency, while also providing enough quickness to penetrate into the backfield on some third downs.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. The thing to know about the Seahawks' first-round pick is that they currently don't have any picks on Day 2, so it makes the most sense for them to look to trade down a bit and pick up a second- or third-round pick to help address potential needs on the offensive line, defensive line and secondary. If they do deal down, Davenport should be a prime target to address a need at defensive end if Michael Bennett isn't brought back, which he seems to expect. That is, if someone earlier than here doesn't fall in love with the big edge rusher first.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. One year after drafting Taco Charlton to improve the defensive line, the Cowboys go back to the well to add one of the best defensive tackles in this draft class. Payne showed in the College Football Playoff how dominant he can be, and he'll be a huge boost for the Cowboys' rush defense while also having the ability to get pressure on the quarterback in passing situations.
20. Detroit Lions
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. The Lions go local with this pick and take a defensive tackle who had 31 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in his final three years at Michigan. Hurst doesn't have the size that teams are generally looking for in an interior defensive lineman, but his quickness more than makes up for that deficiency and makes him in particular a great threat rushing the passer on third downs.
21. Buffalo Bills
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. The Bills are a prime candidate to trade up to nab the quarterback they want, but if they instead stand pat and let the draft come to them, Edmunds makes a whole lot of sense for Sean McDermott, who is used to having stud linebackers after coming to Buffalo from Carolina. Edmunds has the speed to cover the field and is a weapon rushing the passer as well after racking up 30.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his final two years at Virginia Tech.
22. Buffalo Bills from Chiefs
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. As the pre-draft process unfolds over the next couple months, I'd be shocked if players like Mayfield, Allen and Lamar Jackson don't rise up the board. But it's also entirely possible there aren't many quarterback holes to fill by the time the draft rolls around, pushing down second-tier talent. That could benefit the Bills, who haven't been able to lure many big-name free agents to Buffalo. Allen is a raw prospect who could benefit from time on the bench in the pros, but he has as much upside as anyone.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn. With Trumaine Johnson heading to free agency unless the Rams can work out a long-term deal, cornerback should be a need for the team heading into the draft. Davis brings similar size to Johnson at the position, and if he runs well at the combine, he could end up much higher than this when all is said and done.
24. Carolina Panthers
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. The Panthers cut ties with one tall receiver when they shipped Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills, and now they replace him with the 6-foot-4 Sutton, who should go much higher than this if he tests well during the combine. Sutton put together back-to-back seasons of 1,000 yards and 10 TDs, and he scored 32 times in all in his three seasons with the Mustangs. He'll give Cam Newton a great replacement for Benjamin in the offense.
25. Tennessee Titans
Taven Bryan, DE, Florida. Jurrell Casey is one of the league's premier 3-4 defensive ends, but he could lose DaQuan Jones as a line mate due to free agency. Enter Bryan, who has drawn some lofty J.J. Watt comparisons. Don't expect him to reach Watt's level -- that's nearly impossible for anyone -- but Bryan should be an excellent fit as Casey's running mate.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado. The Falcons will likely be hoping a top defensive tackle falls to them at No. 26, particularly if they can get a massive run defender like Vea or Payne. With both off the board, they pivot to grabbing Oliver, a corner with good size and speed who would combine with Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to give the Falcons a great trio of cover guys while also serving as insurance in case either of the team's top two corners become too expensive to keep down the road.
27. New Orleans Saints
Malik Jefferson, OLB, Texas. The Saints should be happy with the play of Manti Te'o in the middle, but they need to surround him with more talent at the position. Enter Jefferson, a top recruit coming out of high school who has the sideline-to-sideline speed to stick on the weakside and play all three downs for the Saints on their young, rising defense.
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
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma. The Jaguars have an outstanding defense in place, so it would be surprising if they looked to that side of the ball with this pick. Brown is a massive presence at the tackle spot and worth trying at left tackle, where Cam Robinson struggled this season. If Brown succeeds, the Jaguars would be set up well with Brown and Jermey Parnell as the bookends and Robinson inside next to center Brandon Linder.
30. Minnesota Vikings
Billy Price, G, Ohio State. Assuming the Vikings figure out what to do with their free-agent quarterbacks heading into the draft, Price would be a great target for them as a potential replacement for Joe Berger inside. Price would be one of the better starting centers in the league, so the Vikings have the option of sticking him at the pivot immediately and having Pat Elflein compete at a guard spot. Or they could put Price at guard next to his former Ohio State teammate. Either way, it would be a boost for the offensive line.
31. Philadelphia Eagles
Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan. Okorafor should see his stock rise once he gets in a setting like the combine where his athleticism can be judged side-by-side with other top tackle prospects. It's easy to imagine a team falling in love with his projection and taking him higher than this, but if he's available, he'd be a great option to pair with Lane Johnson long-term at the tackle spot for the Eagles.
32. New England Patriots
Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State. Hubbard may not have the upside to one day lead the league in sacks, but that's not what Bill Belichick asks from his defensive linemen anyway. What Hubbard will definitely give you is an end-setter who can get into the backfield (30 tackles for loss, 17 sacks in his career) when needed. Throw him into the rotation and the Patriots would be getting positive value with this pick.