2018 NFL Draft: Projecting where Saquon Barkley and 9 other best non-QB prospects will land
The ceiling/floor for the 10 best non-quarterback prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft
We are hours away from the 2018 NFL Draft and I don't know any GM or scout or head coach or well-connected agent representing top prospects in this draft who would even presume to posit that they know precisely how the top five of this draft will unfold.
This is the most confounding exercise in draft uncertainty, subterfuge, and just plain confusion that I have ever encountered. No one beyond Browns general manager John Dorsey and the team's ownership even knows what the first pick will be, let alone the four that will follow. There is all kinds of potential for blockbuster trades within the top five picks alone – the Giants, Browns and Broncos could all be serious trade candidates – and this is the wildest quarterback landscape I can ever recall.
We could easily see a record six quarterbacks selected in the first round alone and possibly four in the top five picks - or even top four picks; I couldn't entirely rule that out – and five in the top 15 selections is hardly out of the question as well. Thursday could be absolutely bonkers, and it's more likely than not that multiple quarterbacks will be selected via trade.
So, I'm going to set all of that aside for another day. And I'm going to focus on some things that may be a little easier to assess. I'm going to avoid putting anything else in print about this shapeshifting quarterback market and focus on the 10 non-quarterbacks I believe are most likely to go off the board. And I'll delay any quarterback projecting until my mock draft is complete on Thursday.
But there are some other things I believe, based on myriad conversations this week, are coming into focus. Obviously one unforeseen selection can cause a ripple that cascades through the entire first round and it only takes one shocker to send things in a direction few saw coming, but here is what I believe will constitute the ceiling (i.e. the highest a non-quarterback will be selected in the draft) and the floor (i.e. the lowest I could see this player going based on any permutations of the first round) for these particular players.
Saquon Barkley (ceiling 2; floor 7)
If I was doing a mock today I would slot him second overall to the Giants, but I would do so playing a hunch. I don't know that for a fact. I do not believe the Giants are in the quarterback market with this pick … but I wouldn't rule it out entirely, either. Bradley Chubb would make a lot of sense, too. But if this running back isn't helping to prop up Eli Manning, then I can't see him getting by Tampa – with Jacquizz Rodgers currently atop their running back depth chart – under any circumstances. And, again, I don't anticipate him getting beyond 2, much less the Browns at 4 (if they kept the pick and Chubb was gone).
Bradley Chubb (ceiling 2; floor 6)
As I noted, if he went to the Giants I would be less than shocked. It would make plenty of common sense and football sense and the top pass rusher in any draft will always have an opportunity to go quite high. And if the Browns stay at 4 and don't trade down and Chubb is there, I firmly believe that is the pick. And if they do trade down then he doesn't get past the Colts, who would have selected him third overall had they not traded down with the Jets a while back.
Quenton Nelson (ceiling 5; floor 8)
Too many people have told me this is a potential Hall of Famer for me to see him lasting long on Thursday. Sometimes the obvious pick is just the obvious pick and the Bears hired his position coach from Notre Dame and they need him and are trying to prop up Mitchell Trubisky and he doesn't get past them. And if the Broncos do indeed stay at 5, he would certainly be in play there as well. But with so many QBs going in the top four, I'll stick with 5-8 for his range.
Roquan Smith (ceiling 6; floor 9)
If Chubb is off the board then Colts GM Chris Ballard is likely picking between Smith and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, though Nelson might make him consider going on the offensive side of the ball. But this is a GM consumed with finally making this defense at least solid, it not feared, and Smith is more polished than Edmunds. But if Chubb goes to the Colts then the 49ers are in the same boat as the Colts – all in on a top linebacker, with Rueben Foster perhaps having played his last NFL game. And it would be Edmunds or Smith there, too.
Tremaine Edmunds (ceiling 6; floor 13)
Some people believe that Edmunds would actually be the pick over Smith at 6 for the Colts if Chubb is off the board. I wouldn't rule it out. But if someone else goes there, and if the Raiders were to take Vea over Edmunds, wanting to address their front four, then I can't see him getting past the 12th pick, because I have an incredibly hard time thinking the Bills will actually be making that pick. If they move up and the Browns drop down, Edmunds makes a ton of sense for them. If the Broncos drop down, Edmunds makes a ton of sense for them, too. And, well, if the Bills stay at 12 and take a QB and Vea is already off the board, then the Skins would jump on Edmunds, desperate for front 7 help.
Minkah Fitzpatrick (ceiling 7; floor 14)
Best coverage safety in the class and a potential difference maker in the pass-happy NFL is in play at multiple spots in the top 10. Tampa would be a good fit though I continue to hear another safety, Derwin James, is most likely the guy there. Fitzpatrick would be a great fit at 9 in San Francisco, and if linebackers go super high I could see him in the Bay, and if he doesn't go top 10 then Green Bay would be all over him at 14th overall. Packers need impact players in the secondary and his ball skills are elite.
Derwin James (ceiling 7; floor 17)
Again, I think he's going to Tampa. But if Barkley is still on the board there and if other teams want a free safety rather than an in-the-box safety/hybrid linebacker – like the 49ers or Skins and other teams in the 9-13 range would be – then James could actually experience a bit of a tumble. The Chargers would likely break his fall – though defensive tackles like Da'Ron Payne or Taven Bryan would merit serious consideration as well.
Denzel Ward (ceiling 9; floor 15)
The best corner in the draft – in the eyes of many – will be among the first 10 non-quarterbacks selected. But it could get interesting pinpointing where he lands. I don't see the Bucs going corner – again its safety there – but the 49ers, even after the Richard Sherman signing, could depending on how the board falls. And Miami has done a lot of work on him late in the game and if Vea is gone, Ward has a very strong chance to be their pick. And if that doesn't materialize and the Cardinals don't trade up for a quarterback, Ward would make a lot of sense. And if it's the Browns or the Broncos who drop down to 15, I don't see them passing on Ward if 14 other players went in front of him, either.
Vita Vea (ceiling 10; floor 13)
Everyone in this portion of the draft loves him. Teams picking in the top 10 aren't that deep into the defensive tackle market, but people in the know tell me Jon Gruden sees some Warren Sapp in Vea and he is desperate to provide some interior help for Khalil Mack. But Oakland might trade out, too, in which case Miami would pounce at 11 and the Skins would do flips if Vea was there, believing he could be truly special and thrive in multiple spots along the line. They've been easy to run on for years. Hard to imagine too many scenarios where Vea gets past them, and in this scenario Edmunds would have already gone to the Raiders or 49ers or Colts, all of whom are picking in front of the Skins.
Marcus Davenport (ceiling 11; floor 16)
Miami is likely taking Vea if he is there, or a corner like Denzel Ward, but I could conceive of a scenario where Davenport makes sense. As the second best pass rusher in this draft, he seems to be a guy who is going to go in the first half of the first round. And the Ravens, at 16, with their best/only reliable pass rusher being 36-years old (Terrell Suggs) are a natural fit. Baltimore is unlikely to be able to trade down from 16 for any real value, and while they could reach for a tight end or receiver or offensive linemen, Davenport doesn't get past them if they stay put I don't believe.
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