The NFL and college football are different. This shouldn't come as a shock to anybody who has followed either sport, yet it seems to catch people by surprise around this time every year. That's because it's NFL Draft season, and that's the time of year when the differences between the two levels are the most evident.
As they should, NFL teams look at college players as prospects, and while their production on the college level matters, the most important thing is how they project at the next level.
On the other side, you have those who watched certain players dominate on the college level, but they don't have that same appeal to NFL teams, and it confuses the college fan. The greatest example of this in 2018 is Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and has been one of the best players on the field the last few seasons, as well as one of the most exciting. At the NFL level, however, some teams like Jackson as a quarterback, while others wonder if a move to wide receiver might be the best spot.
That's an insane notion to the college fan, but it's not all that different from what college teams do every single year in recruiting. To NFL teams Lamar Jackson is like that 5-star athlete that a college is recruiting. Sure, he played QB in high school, and he was great at it, but he could be great at other spots too and possibly has better odds of being great elsewhere. He's talent that can still be molded.
Well, I'm not smart enough to know what's best for any particular player or team, but I do know college football pretty well, and I know the NFL too. So I've put together a mock draft for the college football fan to understand. Instead of choosing which players I believe NFL teams will take, I mocked a draft in which the NFL teams drafted the best college players. I took into account the particular team's needs and the players that were the best at fulfilling those during their college career.
Some spots don't look all that different from your typical NFL mock draft, while some will cause NFL fans to scratch their heads. Here's how the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft might look if teams were drafting based solely on their needs and a player's college production.
Once again: This is not how I think Round 1 will go. This is simply an exercise in what happens when you consider the landscape solely from a college production standpoint.
1. Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Mayfield won the Heisman in 2017 and had one of the greatest college careers of all time. His passer efficiency ratings in 2016 (196.4) and 2017 (198.9) are the greatest of all time.
2. New York Giants
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: 13,175 total yards and 119 total touchdowns in three seasons (only two as the full-time starter) with the Cardinals. He also did this while playing behind an OL that was below average at best, and in an offense that required him to stand there and wait for routes to develop.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: With questions about Andrew Luck's health going forward the Colts would benefit from adding one of the most versatile backs in college football to shoulder the load on offense. Barkley's a highlight reel.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans)
Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama: Fitzpatrick doesn't have the same kind of counting stats that other corners have, but he's brilliant in coverage and versatile. He was the best player on Alabama's defense by a wide margin, which is saying something because have you seen Alabama's defense?
5. Denver Broncos
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: NFL teams question his arm strength, but have they considered Rudolph's arm just might be a little tired after throwing for 13,618 yards and 92 touchdowns in his Oklahoma State career?
6. New York Jets
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State: Barrett compiled 12,697 total yards and 147 touchdowns while being one of the more efficient QBs at the college level. He obviously won't go in Round 1, but he's had the career of a top quarterback.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State: Chubb garnered more attention this season, but he's the same player he has been for a couple of years. He finishes his college career with 25 sacks and 54.5 tackles for loss. The Bucs could use that.
8. Chicago Bears
9. San Francisco 49ers
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa: Jackson blew up his junior year, picking off eight passes in 2018, returning two for touchdowns. He had 18 passes defended in total and also forced a fumble. Still a little raw, however, as he began his career at WR and didn't move to defense until last year. He seems to be a quick study, though.
10. Oakland Raiders
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia: The first LB off the board here is likely the same one who will be drafted first by an NFL team. Roquan Smith had a huge 2017 season, tallying 137 tackles and 6.5 sacks as he helped lead Georgia to the title game, but he was strong in 2016 as well. He had 95 tackles as a sophomore.
11. Miami Dolphins
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame: The Dolphins need help on the interior of their offensive line, and I don't remember a college guard I thought was better than Quenton Nelson. It's not just his talent, but his instincts. He sees things developing that boggles my mind. Talented, smart and mean. What more could you ask for in an offensive lineman?
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma: Brown has been the starting left tackle on one of college football's most prolific offenses the last few years. If he protected Baker Mayfield's blindside, he could protect your quarterback's, too.
13. Washington Redskins
14. Green Bay Packers
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Edge, Oklahoma: The Packers need help at both DE and OLB, so why not draft a guy who has done both at Oklahoma? Okoronkwo has been a beast the last two seasons, notching 17 sacks, 146 tackles and 29 tackles for loss.
15. Arizona Cardinals
16. Baltimore Ravens
Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State: The Ravens wanted Anthony Miller, but will have to settle for Michael Gallup. Not a bad consolation prize considering Gallup caught 176 passes for 2,685 yards and 21 touchdowns in two seasons at Colorado State.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Derwin James, S, Florida State: The Chargers may have a more pressing need on their offensive line, but they just can't pass up the value of Derwin James after he slides this far. James is a Swiss Army Knife of a defender. He tallied 186 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 15 TFL, three INT, 15 passes defended and two forced fumbles in 26 games at Florida State.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State: Ward doesn't have great interception totals, but that's more due to the fact opponents didn't want to test him than his ability. He defended 24 passes the last two years when they did dare throw to him, and he's a lockdown corner. Something the Seahawks could use as the Legion of Boom ages.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia: Kiser had some numbers that leave you shaking your head as a LB for the Cavaliers. In three seasons as a starter he amassed 393 tackles (10.6 per game), 19 sacks, 33.5 TFL, eight forced fumbles, 12 passes defended and an interception.
20. Detroit Lions
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA: While not playing in the national spotlight at UTSA, Davenport has long been productive with the Roadrunners. In his three seasons as a starter, he had 19 sacks as well as 35 TFL. He also knocked down eight passes while forcing six fumbles. This is excellent value for the Lions at this spot in the first round.
21. Buffalo Bills
Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa: He has a name the evokes thoughts of a shootout in an old western, and the game of somebody who would be of use to a team in need of help at LB. In four seasons at Iowa, Jewell had 433 tackles. He also had 10 sacks and 28 TFL but might be even better in coverage considering he had six interceptions and 26 passes defended as well.
22. Buffalo Bills from Chiefs
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: With their LB need addressed the Bills can now take a bit of a risk with their second pick of the first round. Rosen was productive when on the field for UCLA, throwing for 9,340 yards and 59 touchdowns in 30 games, but the problem is he only played 30 games in three seasons. Still, the talent is there to go with the production.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville: Alexander only played in six games in 2017 due to injury, but he was one of the most productive corners in the country in 2016.
24. Carolina Panthers
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU: Sutton has the size and frame that NFL teams are going to love -- and falls in line with what the Panthers have drafted in recent years -- but he also has the numbers. In three seasons as a receiver (he came to SMU as a defensive back in 2014) he caught 193 passes for 3,193 yards and 31 touchdowns.
25. Tennessee Titans
26. Atlanta Falcons
Will Hernandez, G, UTEP: Not well known to the casual college fan, Hernandez has been one of the best guards in the country the last couple of years. He was named to the CBS Sports All-America second team, as well as the AP All-America second team, but everybody knows the CBS Sports one is more prestigious.
27. New Orleans Saints
Duke Ejiofor, DE, Wake Forest: Ejiofor blew up as a starter with the Demon Deacons the last two years. Since the start of 2016, he's picked up 17.5 sacks and 34 TFL in 24 games. His 24 career sacks rank eighth amongst all ACC players since 2005 (Bradley Chubb's 25 ranks sixth).
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama: Doesn't have the ridiculous tackle numbers a few other LBs have, but 126 tackles, 10 sacks, 17.5 TFL, five passes defended and two forced fumbles the last two years is still pretty good.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Minnesota Vikings
Connor Williams, OT, Texas: Williams missed most of the 2017 season with a knee injury, but was a consensus All-American in 2016. He came to Texas as a three-star recruit yet quickly took over a starting job on the Longhorns offensive line, becoming the anchor of the unit.
31. New England Patriots
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: Quenton Nelson gets most of the attention on the Notre Dame offensive line -- and deservedly so -- but the man lined up to his left wasn't a slouch with the Irish. The two of them next to one another opened up quite a few holes as the Irish rushed for 269.3 yards per game in 2017.
32. Philadelphia Eagles
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech: NFL scouts look at Edmunds as an unfinished product, but he was pretty damn productive with the Hokies already. In the last two years, he had 202 tackles, 10 sacks, and 30.5 TFL.