As promised, the series finale of my NFL postseason series, here is my first NFL Mock Draft. Now a lot is expected to change between now and April. Some of these guys I select to be drafted may even return to school and not even be in the Draft. The top 20 picks are pretty much set in stone (I think there’s a tie breaker between the Raiders and 49ers for the 9th and 10th picks that has yet to be decided). Also, for picks 21-32, since those aren’t solidified yet, I’m going to order them based on their current playoff seeding, but keep in mind that those slots are more than likely going to change based on how the playoffs work out. I will also not being projecting trades, though I may mention if a trade is a possibility. I’m going to provide explanations for each pick, so here goes nothing.
1. Cleveland Browns-Josh Rosen-QB-UCLA
This could be a bit controversial because Rosen has gone on the record stating that he does not want to play for the Browns and that he would rather fall down the draft board a little bit and play for the right team. We could see wind up seeing a similar situation to what happened in 1983 with John Elway and the Colts or 2004 with Eli Manning and the Chargers if Rosen gets taken by the Browns. Knowing this, perhaps the Browns could continue to build draft capital and trade this pick to a QB-needy team desperate for one of the top 2 arms. In fact, I think the Broncos at 5 could try and move up and send the Browns an absolute haul. With their newly acquired pick, the Browns could take a chance on someone like Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield with the 4th or 5th pick. But for now, as it is, I think Rosen is the top pick, though I wouldn’t be surprised come April if it’s another team making that pick.
2. New York Giants-Sam Darnold-QB-USC
A lot of people have hopped on the “Sam Darnold is Overrated Bandwagon” after getting his ass kicked by Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. I am not one of them. While I have been critical of his delivery and propensity for turnovers, I think Darnold will be fine given more talent around him. I don’t think returning to school to develop would have been the best idea because there really isn’t much of a supporting cast at USC right now to help him grow like there would be in the NFL. Especially a team like the Giants, where he’d have a healthy ODell Beckham and a continuously developing Evan Engram to throw to. I think Darnold made the right decision by declaring for the Draft. Granted the Giants will also need to solve their offensive line problems, but this isn’t the class to do it. I think free agency would be a better bet.
3. Indianapolis Colts-Connor Williams-OT-Texas
This might be a bit of a reach because Connor Williams is merely the best of a weak tackle class, however the need for the Colts is so great that it trumps overall value. Williams is talented, sure, but he missed most of the year with a knee injury, which is something that has haunted the Colts the last few years. But Indianapolis NEEDS offensive line help. They gave up the most sacks in the NFL last year and have been a big reason why Andrew Luck has yet to reach his potential and missed the entire 2017 season due to injury. I wouldn’t be surprised if they trade down to settle for a similar talent in Mike McGlinchey and build draft capital, much like I think the Browns could.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans)-Saquon Barkley-RB-Penn State
The Browns need playmakers. Period. Aside from Josh Gordon, there is nobody on their offense that opposing defenses really need to worry about. Isaiah Crowell isn’t a bad runningback, but he’s not the difference-maker the Browns need to get them over the top. Saquon Barkley could be that back. I think wide receiver is a bigger need, as Josh Gordon needs a battery-mate to take some of the pressure off and Corey Coleman can’t seem to stay healthy, but I think the Browns would be better off waiting until the second round for a guy like DJ Moore or Simmie Cobbs. Barkley reminds me a bit of Ray Rice in that he’s not the biggest guy, but he packs so much punch and can be so quick in his cuts that it really doesn’t matter. Plus he hasn’t openly stated that he doesn’t want to play for the Browns, so that’s a positive.
5. Denver Broncos-Josh Allen-QB-Wyoming
This could be a fallback option if the Broncos can’t strike a deal for the top 2 picks and are forced to remain at number 5. While I don’t think Josh Allen is a finished product by any means, I do think he has all the potential in the world. Whether the Broncos are going to be able to develop that talent remains to be seen. I think they’ve gotten the most out of Trevor Siemian but Paxton Lynch has been a major disappointment and we’ve all seen what Brock Osweiler can do in a starting role, so quarterback is really what’s holding this team back from returning to contention. But don’t be surprised if the Broncos also go for a free agent acquisition or some kind of trade (Kirk Cousins, perhaps?).
6. New York Jets-Bradley Chubb-EDGE-North Carolina State
The Jets’ approach to the Draft has typically been “best player available.” Chubb isn’t my best available player at this stage, but that’s mainly because my highest ranked player from my initial big board, Minkah Fitzpatrick, is a safety; a position that the Jets have a plethora of young talent at. However, I’m of the belief that a team can never have too many pass rushers and the Jets could use a guy like Bradley Chubb to wreak havoc on offensive lines. They have a ton of holes on offense, but aside from the guys I have already being taken, there is nobody worth this draft slot on that side of the ball. I think they’ll start addressing the offense in round 2.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minkah Fitzpatrick-S-Alabama
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the top player on my big board, yet I have him going 7th to the Buccaneers. That’s just the way the Draft shakes out sometimes. The Buccaneers ranked last in yards allowed in 2017 and can use an upgrade pretty much anywhere on the field. I could also see this pick being Boston College pass rusher Harold Landry, however I think Fitzpatrick’s versatility will earn him the Bucs’ preference. He can play both corner and safety and I’ve seen him play up on the line of scrimmage at times (and seen him cause problems in the backfield to boot!). Fitzpatrick could add a much-needed boost to this Bucs defense that’s a long ways away from the days of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch.
8. Chicago Bears-Harold Landry-EDGE-Boston College
Harold Landry is one of the quickest and fastest defensive linemen I’ve ever seen, which is something the Bears need more of. Leonard Floyd is a nice player, but aside from him there isn’t much of a pass rush to speak of. Chicago’s secondary played reasonably well in 2017 but an improved pass rush could help them out immensely. Enter Landry, who led the nation in sacks in 2016 and actually managed to show improvement in 2017. I think he could be a big lift for the Bears defense.
9. Oakland Raiders-Arden Key-EDGE-LSU
Arden Key’s a little raw, but he is oozing with talent. He kind of reminds me of Aldon Smith given his skinnier frame and elite athleticism. I watched some highlights on him and he has a tendency to disappear from games at times, but I think the right coach can get the most out of him. Enter Jon Gruden, who appears to be the next Raiders head coach. Gruden is a guy who has a history of firing up his team and getting the most out of his guys. Plus, Key will have Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin to learn from as this Raiders defense looks to improve on a very unimpressive 2017 season.
10. San Francisco 49ers-Mike McGlinchey-OT-Notre Dame
Watching Jimmy Garoppolo play well with the 49ers is like watching my son succeed. That’s why is pains me when I see him get drilled by pass rushers while trying to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. He needs a better offensive line so that he can go through his reads more easily. A lot of scouts think McGlinchey would be better at right tackle as opposed to left, where he played in college, and that’s probably where the biggest hole on the 49ers offensive line is. At least, when I watch Garoppolo highlights it is. McGlinchey can step in day one and protect Garoppolo for at least the next 10 years.
11. Miami Dolphins-Derwin James-S-Florida State
Derwin James showed a lot of promise as a freshman before getting injured and missing most of his sophomore season, then having a disappointing junior season in 2017. However that talent would emerge in flashes and I think given the right circumstances, he can reignite the spark that had scouts so excited for him when he was a freshman. James is a similar type of player to Jamal Adams of the Jets, who went 6th overall last year, in that he’s a traditional all-around safety in the mold of Brian Dawkins who can not only cover well, but bring the boom. The Dolphins need a guy like this roaming the secondary, as they really lack an enforcer away from the defensive line.
12. Cincinnati Bengals-Quenton Nelson-OG-Notre Dame
Quenton Nelson is probably the safest pick in this year’s class, as he consistently goes up against top competition on the defensive line and puts up great performances. Plus, I find that top-end guards tend to transition to the NFL really well. The Bengals need someone like that badly. After the departure of Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati’s offensive line was a mess and was a big part of the team’s struggles offensively. Nelson won’t fix their problems by himself, but he could become this team’s version of Zack Martin.
13. Washington Redskins-Courtland Sutton-WR-SMU
This one was kind of tough because Calvin Ridley is also a very viable option here and I’m not 100% sold on Courtland Sutton’s ability to transfer from playing at SMU to the pros. I think he has the highest ceiling of any of the receivers in this class, as he reminds me a lot of Alshon Jeffery, but I also think he has the lowest floor, as he never really had to face any top-caliber corners. The Redskins need more receivers. Josh Doctson is still figuring out how to play in this league and Jamison Crowder can’t be your top guy if you hope to compete in the NFC East. If Sutton can have the type of impact I think he’s capable of, the Redskins will be right back in the hunt for a division crown.
14. Green Bay Packers-Derrius Guice-RB-LSU
Overall I thought Derrius Guice was kind of a disappointment in 2017. As Leonard Fournette’s backup for the first couple years of his college career, Guice showed to practically be his counterpart’s equal, as he would torch defenses on days that Fournette couldn’t go. Perhaps it was for a similar reason to Todd Gurley in 2016 as to why Guice didn’t have the breakout year I hoped for, as he was his team’s only real option on offense, allowing defenses to stack the box to stop him. Nonetheless, he still finished with over 1000 yards rushing on the season and could provide a huge boost to a running game in Green Bay that has had its struggles since Eddy Lacy’s rookie year.
15. Arizona Cardinals-Baker Mayfield-QB-Oklahoma
With the retirements of head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer, the Cardinals may be in a state of panic, as they appear to be in limbo. They need a new quarterback and they need him now because the ACL-less Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert aren’t going to cut it for the long haul. Baker Mayfield is a guy I think has an extremely high ceiling but an extremely low floor. We saw a bit of both in Oklahoma’s Rose Bowl defeat against Georgia. When Mayfield was on, like in the first half and fourth quarter, the vaunted Bulldogs defense stood no chance at stopping him. When he was off, like he was in the third quarter, he played like how I would in that spot. There’s plenty of talent on offense in Arizona and I think this could be a great spot for Mayfield to land depending on who the Cardinals’ brass decides on for their next head coach.
16. Baltimore Ravens-Calvin Ridley-WR-Alabama
Calvin Ridley is a lot of peoples’ favorite receiver in the 2017 class, and he might even be mine, too. However he doesn’t do a whole lot that really stands out to me. He’s got good hands, good route running skills, and he’s reasonably quick. But there isn’t really anything that just makes you say “wow!” However, a team in need of a good receiver like the Ravens probably won’t care too much about “wow” factor as long as he can move the sticks. Ridley has kind of been kept under wraps since Jalen Hurts became the starting quarterback and Alabama became a more run-heavy offense (they’ve always been run-heavy, but under Hurts it feels like it’s gone up a notch). With a guy with an arm like Joe Flacco, I think Ridley can unlock his full potential.
17. Los Angeles Chargers-Rashaan Evans-ILB-Alabama
Rashaan Evans has battled injuries throughout the year but when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best linebackers that have come out in a while. He’s not as polished as Reuben Foster was coming out last year, but he does a lot of things similarly to the young 49ers stud. For a team that missed out on the playoffs, the Chargers surprisingly don’t have that many holes. Ideally, I think they’d like to get someone opposite Keenan Allen, but I’d give Mike Williams a chance to get healthy before pulling the trigger on another guy this early. I think the Chargers can afford to go with the best on the board and for me, that’s Evans.
18. Seattle Seahawks-Denzel Ward-CB-Ohio State
Denzel Ward is a guy I’ve gone back and forth on. He didn’t impress me in the season opener against Indiana, but he was lights out against Wisconsin. Granted, he was on Simmie Cobbs much of the night against Indiana and Wisconsin doesn’t have anybody near that caliber, but still, holding any opponent to zero catches when targeting you is something special, which is what Ward did on the Big Ten’s biggest stage. Offensive line is still the biggest need for the Seahawks, but I don’t see any quick fixes in this class worth spending a high pick on so I think solidifying their secondary should be a priority. Shaq Griffin looks like he could be a solid player, but after him and Richard Sherman, there isn’t a whole lot in terms of long-term ability. The Seahawks’ secondary was super inconsistent after Sherman and Chancellor went down for the season and adding a guy like Ward could make Pete Carroll a little more comfortable with their depth.
19. Dallas Cowboys-Maurice Hurst-DT-Michigan
Maurice Hurst is a guy I want to highlight on future scouting segments so I won’t go into TOO much detail about why I like him so much, but just know now that he’s probably the best defensive tackle in the nation in my opinion and I think he could really help the Cowboys, who once again dip into the Michigan well after taking two Wolverines defenders with early picks in last year’s Draft (Taco Charlton and Jourdan Lewis). Dallas could be losing DeMarcus Lawrence to free agency and they’ll need other guys to pick up the slack in case Taco Charlton doesn’t develop the way they hope. This pick could be Clemson’s Clellin Ferrell if they aren’t confident in him, however.
20. Detroit Lions-Ronald Jones II-RB-USC
The Lions have no ground game whatsoever. Ameer Abdullah has struggled in the feature back role and I think he’s better suited as a change of pace guy. Theo Riddick is purely a pass catching option. They really lack that one guy that can carry the load. Ronald Jones II can do that and then some. He kind of reminds me of a bigger Alvin Kamara with his skills not only as a runner, but as a receiver running routes. Watch his performance against Texas early in the season to see what I mean. He could be the feature back the Lions haven’t had since Barry Sanders.
21. Buffalo Bills-Lamar Jackson-QB-Louisville
I’m not in love with Lamar Jackson as a passer, I’d be a lot more intrigued by his potential if he were to convert to wide receiver, where I think is where teams can best utilize his abilities for the long term. However the former Heisman trophy winner does bring a lot to the table in terms of athleticism and he did improve his passing game from 2016-17, so it’s not unreasonable to think he can continue to grow in an NFL system. The Buffalo Bills clearly don’t envision Tyrod Taylor as their future, hence why he was randomly benched for Nathan Peterman midseason. Jackson plays a similar type of game to Taylor so they won’t have to adjust their playbook too much to accommodate his skillset like they might have to with a less mobile quarterback like Mason Rudolph. Plus the Bills already have a guy like LeSean McCoy at runningback, who could form a DEADLY read-option combination with Jackson.
22. Atlanta Falcons-Da’Ron Payne-DL-Alabama
Da’Ron Payne was the star of Alabama’s Sugar Bowl semifinal win over Clemson, as he had an interception AND a touchdown reception as a 310-pound defensive tackle. That’s the big man’s dream right there. Payne is also an excellent run stuffer, which could be very useful for a team like the Falcons, who currently employ Grady Jarrett and had to release Ra’Shede Hageman amidst domestic violence charges. Jarrett is set to become a free agent after the 2018 season, so establishing a running mate or potential heir would be beneficial in clogging the middle of the defense for the foreseeable future.
23. Tennessee Titans-Clellin Ferrell-EDGE-Clemson
The Titans are fairly old on the pass rushing front, as both Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are hovering around the age of 30 (Orakpo is 31, Morgan is 28). Both are also set to become free agents after 2018, heightening the need for an heir. Ferrell isn’t a finished product, but he’s super athletic and can really benefit from learning from the veteran pass rushers.
24. Carolina Panthers-Orlando Brown-OT-Oklahoma
The Panthers have always been in need of offensive linemen, though in 2017 they weren’t too bad, though Cam Newton was sacked 35 times, tied for 9th in the league. You’d like to bring that number below 30 if you can help it and if you’re going to grab an impact tackle in this Draft, you have to pull the trigger right now because after Orlando Brown there is a pretty steep drop-off in offensive line talent. Brown is pretty raw, but he is so freaking huge (6’7 340 pounds) that you can’t help but take a chance on him. He was Baker Mayfield’s chief protector at Oklahoma and helped Rodney Anderson rush for over 1000 yards.
25. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs)-Christian Kirk-WR-Texas A&M
Time to give Lamar Jackson a new toy to play with. Bills receivers had a pretty rough year in 2017, even after the acquisition of Kelvin Benjamin from the Panthers, as Antonio Brown outpaced their entire group by himself. They’ve got some size to them, as Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, and Zay Jones are all at least 6’2, but they lack that quick route runner that can act as kind of a safety blanket. Enter Christian Kirk. What he lacks in size (5’11 201 pounds), he makes up for in quickness and agility. No matter who is quarterbacking the Bills in 2018, I’m sure they’d love to have this guy in the slot.
26. New Orleans Saints-Christian Wilkins-DL-Clemson
Christian Wilkins was a guy a lot of people had in their preseason top 10 players, but he kind of fell off as the season went along, with some experts leaving him out of the first round altogether. I watched footage from the Auburn game and I can kind of see why Wilkins might have fallen off. He doesn’t really do anything particularly special. His technique is good, but I think he lacks the ideal strength you want out of your interior linemen, though I will admit, watching that tape, he improved in that as the game went along. But he is pretty quick and athletic and I think with a few more trips to the weight room, he could become a dangerous force. The Saints don’t have a single hole on their team that I can see so they can afford to draft and stash a guy like Wilkins and bank on his development.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars-Ronnie Harrison-S-Alabama
Quarterback is the biggest need for the Jaguars, but given that Blake Bortles is set to hit free agency after this season, you would need that quarterback to start immediately and none of the remaining QBs are day one starters. I think the Jaguars will franchise tag Bortles before looking for a potential replacement (though he has looked really good these last few weeks). They could also go receiver here, but I think they’ll get another defender to add to that ruthless defense like Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison. Barry Church is up there in age and finding another enforcer-type in the secondary could help turn the Jaguars defense from a really exciting one to an all-timer. Harrison’s hit in the photograph above was one of my favorite plays from the Iron Bowl, as Kerryon Johnson was trying to make his way for the pylon before getting earholed by Harrison.
28. Los Angeles Rams-Joshua Jackson-CB-Iowa
Joshua Jackson led all of college football with 8 interceptions and the Rams could use a ball hawk like that at corner. Trumaine Johnson has been in the perpetual franchise tag so finding a potential successor could be in the Rams’ benefit. Jackson played with Chargers rookie standout Desmond King at Iowa so one would be forgiven for thinking he could provide a similar boost to an already strong defense. Plus, like with pass rushers, I feel that one can never have too many good corners.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers-Malik Jefferson-LB-Texas
I disagree with a lot of scouts on Malik Jefferson when watching footage. I read that he’s super athletic and he’d be best suited as an edge defender. Watching that footage, I didn’t think Jefferson looked that athletic, though I did like his technique a lot and he looked like he had a solid future as an off the ball linebacker. He rarely ever goes for the risky knockout hit, he consistently wraps up, and he’s pretty good in zone coverage (his man coverage leaves some to be desired). The Steelers could be in need of an inside linebacker soon. Vince Williams was a revelation this season, but the scary injury to Ryan Shazier could be career threatening and the Steelers may need to find a guy to fill the potential void.
30. Minnesota Vikings-Vita Vea-DL-Washington
A guy built like Vita Vea should not be as quick as he is. He’s 6’5 340 pounds but he moves like a guy 100 pounds lighter. Analysts, myself included, seem to be all over the map about where his projected value is and I think how he does at the Combine could be a huge barometer as to where he might end up. My main beef with him is I think he has a slow get-off. When I watched some of his early-season highlights, it seemed like the ball would be snapped, a whole second would pass by, and then he’d break out of his 3-point stance. If he can work on anticipating the snap, he’ll be unblockable. As if the Vikings need another impact defender, though I think defensive tackle is a weak spot for them. Sharrif Floyd is a really good player, don’t get me wrong, but he’s often injured and the Vikings fear they may have seen the last of him in the NFL. Plus, current starters Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson will each be in their 30’s next season, so getting younger at that position seems to be the wise move.
31. Philadelphia Eagles-Isaiah Oliver-CB-Colorado
On paper, it seems that the Eagles’ weakest position would be runningback and Kerryon Johnson, Bo Scarbrogh, or Damien Harris could all be the pick here. However they seem to have found a way to make it work so I don’t think they will go that route. Instead, I think they go with the big corner in Isaiah Oliver. I only watched footage of one game on Oliver, I don’t even remember who they were playing, but he never got beat once in coverage by any receiver. He doesn’t appear to be particularly fast, but that’s not really his game a la Richard Sherman. I think he could struggle against smaller, shiftier receivers, but in a division with bigger receivers like Dez Bryant, Josh Doctson, possibly Courtland Sutton based on this mock draft, and ODell Beckham, a big corner to match up is a must.
32. New England Patriots-Mason Rudolph-QB-Oklahoma State
Patriots fans, settle down. I can explain. Quite frankly, I think the Patriots’ biggest needs are edge defender and potentially cornerback, depending on what happens with Malcolm Butler. If there isn’t a guy they like when they pick, I fully believe they will trade out of the pick. However I’m not projecting trades, so they have to stick here and in this mock I have them drafting a potential successor for Tom Brady. Bill Belichick is always grooming quarterbacks and they’ve all been used as trade pieces in the past. In fact, I thought Jacoby Brissett was far more raw than Mason Rudolph is when the Patriots took him in the third round of the 2016 Draft and he was able to start an entire season for the Colts. Rudolph has some pretty good arm talent, which I highlighted in my scouting quarterbacks blog, he just comes from a system that transitions pretty poorly to the NFL. However if he lands with the Patriots, I think he will be in the perfect situation to develop. Who better to learn from than Tom Brady and what better offense to work with than the Patriots? Plus, if Brady continues to play well into his 40’s and Rudolph impresses in practices and preseasons, the Patriots could have another trade chip on their hands.
That’s it for my first mock draft of the year. Let me know what you thought of it in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.