Way-too-early 2018 NFL Mock Draft: In loaded QB draft, top passers go 1-2-3
A total of five signal callers come off the board in the top 32 in our early 2018 NFL Draft forecast
It's never too early to start looking ahead, and that's exactly what we're doing with our first 2018 NFL mock draft of the "new" NFL year. Let's be upfront here: This is an exercise in futility because there is a lot of college football to be played and a lot of scrutiny that is going to fall on a draft class that could feature some exceptional quarterbacks.
Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen will be put under the microscope this coming year, particularly after we saw the 2017 NFL Draft feature three quarterbacks taken in the first round, each the result of a pretty expensive draft-day trade.
The prospects in next year's draft are considered to have substantially higher upside and there are plenty of teams who still need quarterbacks.
We'll use the order provided by reverse engineering SportsLine's projected win totals for the 2017 season. (Don't you dare find me on the Internet and complain about your team's pick number. That's not the point of this exercise.)
But I'm going to intervene a little here: The model actually projects the Rams to win the fewest games (four) and the Bears the third-fewest games (five). I'm sliding them to fourth and fifth in the draft order, because if either of those teams was up top right now we would see a massive trade take place. And that's a little wild, even for my tastes. Plus, Super Bowl odds released by Bookmaker.eu have the Browns, 49ers and Jets as the teams with the worst odds, so it's a fair compromise.
And the result is the top three teams in the draft pulling the trigger on a quarterback, giving us the first trio of quarterbacks up top since 1999 when Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith were taken. Yet another reminder that it's never a guarantee when you're drafting a quarterback.
Leave your thoughts in the comments or tweet me @WillBrinson.
Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California: The Browns drafted DeShone Kizer with a second-round pick (No. 52) in the 2017 NFL Draft, but if Darnold has a 2017 season like the second of half of 2016, the Browns won't hesitate to draft him. He turns 20 this summer.
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: The 49ers did not solve their quarterback quandary in the 2017 draft. The question is whether they will have signed Kirk Cousins in free agency. For now we're giving them a quarterback.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: For the first time since 1999, three quarterbacks are drafted with the first three picks. This is a pretty unlikely outcome, because someone with a quarterback will be worse than one of these teams or one of these quarterbacks will struggle, but right now if these three teams had top picks, they would take these guys in this order or close to it.
4. Los Angeles Rams
Arden Key, LB, LSU: An 11-sack season has folks expecting big things out of Key in Ed Orgeron's defense this year. Long and athletic, he can rush standing up or with his hand in the ground. Wade Phillips would have fun with this guy.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: The Bears invested big in Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft and the next year should be about building around him. That starts with a talented wideout in Ridley, who should explode this year without ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard on the roster.
Derwin James, S, Florida State: There are some concerns about the meniscus tear James suffered last year, but if he'd played the whole season he would be in consideration for the top spot here given what he did as a freshman. He can play all over the secondary and is dominant against the run.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas: Former Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year is moving back to outside linebacker after he struggled some during the 2016 season. He still managed nine total sacks the last two years, and if he explodes his draft stock could skyrocket.
Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson: Perhaps best known for being very, ahem, handsy, Wilkins is a versatile force on Clemson's defensive line who racked up 3.5 sacks and nine passes defensed last year while also catching a touchdown.
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Smaller (5-foot-11) receiver with lethal speed and joystick moves. He saw his total yardage stats drop last year (1,009 to 928) as Josh Reynolds really exploded, but his catches (80 to 83) and touchdowns (7 to 9) went up.
Mike McGlinchey, OL, Notre Dame: This pick is still up in the air depending on what Blake Bortles does, but for now we'll assume Doug Marrone fixes him and the Jaguars go in a different direction. A big Catholic offensive lineman feels like a Coughlin pick.
11. Buffalo Bills
12. Indianapolis Colts
Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama: The Colts poured resources into the defense during this last draft and offseason as a whole. They will probably keep doing it. Fitzpatrick finished 2016 with six picks and comes from the cornerback factory that is Alabama.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: The Eagles invested in Donnel Pumphrey during this draft, but now they're interested in getting a workhorse. Barkley rushed for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns last year.
Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State: The Saints didn't bother really addressing defense (they almost didn't even take Marshon Lattimore) but double dip here on the Buckeye defensive train to grab a guy with 16 sacks the last two years.
15. Denver Broncos
Vita Vea, DL, Washington: With Denver going after Garett Bolles this year it's possible they feel comfortable with the offensive line by next season. So here they get a massive human with the ability to improve their run defense.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: A mobile enough quarterback with a big arm, Rudolph will get questioned for playing against Big 12 defenses, allowing him to throw to a lot of open receivers. But the Redskins might be in a bad spot when it comes to the quarterback position and might be willing to dabble here.
17. New York Giants
Connor Williams, OL, Texas: The Giants didn't think it was very important to upgrade the offensive line during the 2017 draft, and if they end up with the 17th pick, they're going to wish they had. Born and raised in Texas, Williams is big, strong and can drive people off the ball. He would help Eli Manning immediately.
18. Tennessee Titans
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU: The Titans spent an early pick on Corey Davis in 2017's draft, but adding another top-flight receiving option will only make Marcus Mariota more dangerous. Sutton put up 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore and there is an impressive history of wide receivers coming out of offenses coordinated by Chad Morris.
19. Oakland Raiders
Cameron Smith, LB, USC: Capable of piling up tackles (160 plus in his first two years with the Trojans), Smith is also a ballhawk for his size and generated three interceptions as a true freshman in 2015. He recorded four passes defensed last year, too.
Luke Falk, QB, Washington State: Our fifth quarterback of the draft! The Cardinals were a candidate to draft a quarterback early and whether or not Carson Palmer is coming back for 2017, they're going to need to plan for the future.
Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State: Slightly down year for Hubbard after a monster freshman season, but it was just the sack numbers that dipped. Don't be stunned if he comes out with a huge year and makes 21 look like a joke.
22. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans)
Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State: McFadden slid into the Seminoles secondary as a starter in his sophomore season and casually recorded eight interceptions. This would be a tremendous haul for Cleveland.
Da'Ron Payne, DL, Alabama: They could be looking to improve the interior of their defensive line next year and Payne would be a plug-and-play starter.
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: The Kelvin Benjamin weight rumors are very concerning right now in Charlotte, and it could ultimately lead the Panthers to try and find some additional help at the wideout position.
26. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs)
27. Dallas Cowboys
Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State: An incredibly active player who can do a ton in the pass rushing game, Sweat is an explosive athlete who would help this defense get after the passer.
28. Atlanta Falcons
Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama: Just another hard-hitting human being to add to this Falcons defense, which is not-so-slowly becoming a really scary unit.
29. Baltimore Ravens
Clelin Ferrell, DL, Clemson: The Steelers like to draft pass rushers early and this would fit, although if the redshirt sophomore makes the same jump he made last year (zero to six sacks) then he won't be available here.
31. Seattle Seahawks
Orlando Brown, OL, Oklahoma: Since the Seahawks didn't improve their offensive line in the 2017 NFL Draft, we'll give them a mammoth offensive lineman in the first round here. Good chance they trade out, too.
Porter Gustin, LB, USC: The Patriots will probably trade out of this pick (I can see the future!) but in the event they stay here, it wouldn't be surprising to see them get a highly productive linebacker, who had 68 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2016.
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