With all of the subtlety of a 747 at takeoff, the New York Jets shook up the 2018 NFL Draft, shipping three second-round picks to the Indianapolis Colts to move up from No. 6 to No. 3 overall.
The early speculation is that normally conservative general manager Mike Maccagnan would only make a move this bold to acquire one of this year’s elite quarterbacks. It is also entirely possible that after signing veterans passers Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater in free agency, Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles are looking for more of an immediate impact from a player at a different position, like Penn State running back Saquon Barkley or North Carolina State pass rusher Bradley Chubb.
With the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks still in their pocket, the Cleveland Browns remain this draft’s power player. What the Jets decide to do at No. 3 overall, however, will have ripple effects felt throughout the rest of the draft, potentially pushing as many as six quarterbacks into the first round. That has only happened once before in league history — the legendary 1983 class that saw half of the first-round passers (John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino) wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So, with free agency and trades shifting the landscape, here is my latest projection on how the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft will shake out.
–1. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming*: Trading for Tyrod Taylor should not keep the Browns from drafting a quarterback they feel could be special. That is especially so if they feel Taylor gives them time to coach up a young talent. So, selecting Allen over more polished prospects would be a gamble that new GM John Dorsey feels has excellent potential upside. Further, no quarterback in this class better fits head coach Hue Jackson’s vertical offense or the challenges of a cold-weather environment. Allen’s 56.2 career completion percentage is worrisome but is not much lower than the numbers put up by former top three picks Matt Ryan (59.9) and Matthew Stafford (57.1) in college.
–2. NEW YORK GIANTS: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State*: The Giants ranked 31st in the NFL a year ago in scoring offense with just 15.4 points per game. It is easy to imagine that number jumping considerably with Barkley joining Odell Beckham, Jr. and Evan Engram to give Eli Manning the best set of weapons in the NFC East. Given the haul the Colts received in the Jets’ aggressive trade up, do not be surprised if the Giants ultimately trade out of this pick to satisfy another QB-desperate team.
–3. NEW YORK JETS: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA*: Surprised by the Jets’ aggressive strategy despite signing veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater? Don’t be. Considering their recent history — Mark Sanchez and Chad Pennington are the only quarterbacks to start the equivalent of two full seasons for the Jets since the turn of the century — Maccagnan and Bowles know full well how critical it is to find the right quarterback. Rosen is the most polished passer in this draft but his durability concerns require his future NFL team to have other starting-caliber options.
–4. CLEVELAND BROWNS (from HOUSTON TEXANS): Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State:
While the Browns’ quarterback woes have earned plenty of attention, their need for a pass rusher opposite last year’s No. 1 overall selection Myles Garrett is also a significant cause for concern. Garrett struggled with various injuries last season but still managed seven sacks, nearly double that of any other member of Cleveland’s defense. Chubb is a proven playmaker who enters the NFL with even better technique and consistency than the freakishly athletic Garrett, giving aggressive defensive coordinator Gregg Williams the tandem to terrorize opponents.
–5. DENVER BRONCOS: Sam Darnold, QB, USC*: General manager John Elway is saying all of the right things about free agent addition Case Keenum, but he may have difficulty passing up the long-term potential of Darnold, whose thick frame, accuracy on the move and poise has earned comparisons by some scouts to the Hall of Famer.
–6. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame*: The Colts’ decision to trade back is perhaps the best indication yet that the club is satisfied with Andrew Luck’s recovery. Acquiring three second-round picks (including the Jets’ 2019 selection) to move down three spots and still have arguably the best player in the entire draft available? That’s a huge win for the Colts, who could use Nelson’s size, athleticism and nastiness inside.
–7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Vita Vea, DT, Washington*: The Bucs’ best player — wideout Mike Evans — can dominate opponents because he is simply bigger and more athletic than the competition. GM Jason Licht may take that same strategy with Vea, with the 6-foot-4, 347-pounder absorbing multiple blockers and thereby boosting a pass rush that finished last in the NFL in sacks (22) in 2017.
–8. CHICAGO BEARS: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech: It is perhaps appropriate that Bears’ legendary middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was voted into Canton this year as Chicago could find itself in position to add a similar physical specimen in the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Edmunds, a freakish athlete, who at just 19-years old is still just scratching the surface of his potential.
–9. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama*: Fitzpatrick possesses an ideal blend of instincts, athleticism and size, which helped him line up wherever Nick Saban most needed him on a game-by-game basis at Alabama. Few will appreciate that versatility more than former Tampa Bay Pro Bowl safety (and current 49ers GM) John Lynch. Pair Fitzpatrick with Richard Sherman and suddenly it may be San Francisco that boasts the most formidable secondary in the NFC West.
–10. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State*: Despite boasting a terrific 1-2 set of edge rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, the Raiders featured one of the league’s leakiest secondaries in 2017 and finished with an NFL-low five interceptions. Ward is a true cover corner, blanketing receivers due to his exceptional quickness and speed.
–11. MIAMI DOLPHINS: Derwin James, SS, Florida State*: Coverage and open-field tackling were season-long issues for the Dolphins, which allowed one of the league’s worst touchdown-to-interception ratios in 2017, picking off just nine passes while surrendering 26 scores. After shaking off the rust from missing much of the 2016 season due to injury, James began living up to his billing as the “next Sean Taylor,” proving a difference-maker for the Seminoles.
–12. BUFFALO BILLS: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville*: The Bills’ bold trade of starting left tackle Cordy Glenn in order to move up in the draft is a thinly veiled plan to be in better position to take advantage of the talent in this year’s quarterback class. Jackson plays a similar style as former Bills’ starter Tyrod Taylor, relying upon his legs as much as his arm or eyes. He is younger, cheaper and has a higher upside, however — characteristics the Bills may consider with two first-round picks this season due to Kansas City’s trade up last year to nab their quarterback of the future, Patrick Mahomes.
–13. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia*: Following the splashy trade for Alex Smith, Washington might turn its attention to adding a quarterback on defense. Smith, the 2017 Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker, lacks ideal bulk but his speed to the flanks and in coverage makes him perfectly suited to today’s modern pass-happy NFL.
–14. GREEN BAY PACKERS: Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College: With an aging roster that still ranks among the best in the NFC, new general manager Brian Gutekunst may be looking to make a splash with his first selection. Landry’s numbers plummeted in 2017 after ranking among national leaders in sacks, tackles for loss and fumbles as a junior but his burst and bend off the edge is unparalleled in this class — attributes which Gutekunst may find appealing with Clay Matthews, Jr. and Nick Perry each struggling with durability concerns of their own.
–15. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: With Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer retiring, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim will be looking for new faces to spark Arizona’s passing game. Mayfield, shorter than ideal and coming from a spread offense that has not consistently resulted in NFL success, is not for everyone. But he is an undeniable playmaker and could be the dramatic shift Keim and the Cardinals are looking for while free agent addition Sam Bradford serves as a bridge.
–16. BALTIMORE RAVENS: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama*: Despite using multiple draft picks and investing in free agents, the Ravens’ receiving corps essentially remains a black hole for production with Baltimore ranking last (and by a significant margin) with just 5.7 yards per passing attempt in 2017. Filling a position of need with one last pick from his alma mater might be the perfect send-off for retiring general manager Ozzie Newsome.
–17. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama*: Veteran nose guard Brandon Mebane was a solid signing, but his best days are behind him. The Chargers — who ranked last in the league in 2017 by allowing 4.9 yards per carry — would likely jump at the chance to fortify the middle with the powerful (and aptly named) Payne.
–18. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU*: The Seahawks already spent their second- and third-round picks of the 2018 draft, landing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (Jets) and offensive tackle Duane Brown (Texans) in trades, leaving general manager John Schneider with essentially two choices here — either trade back to recoup picks or directly address the club’s anemic running game. The 5-foot-11, 218-pound Guice possesses the combination of burst, balance through contact and toughness Seattle has lacked since Marshawn Lynch left town.
–19. DALLAS COWBOYS: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan: Hurst’s draft stock is in flux after medical tests at the Combine indicated an abnormality with his heart, though it should be noted that a similar test did not keep the Carolina Panthers from making then-Utah defensive Star Lotulelei the 14th overall pick five years ago. The Cowboys have shown a willingness to gamble on medical red flags in the past and could see as the perfect interior complement to explosive edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence.
–20. DETROIT LIONS: James Daniels, C, Iowa: With starting center Travis Swanson exploring his options in free agency, the Lions could look to the draft for a replacement. Daniels possesses rare quickness and length for an interior offensive lineman, projecting as a Day One starter.
–21. CINCINNATI BENGALS: Marcus Davenport, DE, UT-San Antonio: Last year’s selection of speedy wideout John Ross proved yet again that the Bengals are more willing than most to gamble on athletic upside. While still quite raw, few offer more intriguing potential than Davenport, a 6-6, 264-pounder with 4.58 speed who could go earlier than many expect due to his own upside, as well as the relative lack of top-end edge rushers in this year’s draft.
–22. BUFFALO BILLS: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville*: Taking the strategy that if one former Louisville Cardinal is good, another can be even better, the Bills may opt for a rare double-dip. To be clear, Buffalo already boasts one of the better cornerback duos in the NFL with flashy first-year pro Tre’Davious White and veteran Vontae Davis. To topple the Patriots in the AFC East, however, teams must be able to match up with their slot receivers, as well, and Alexander possesses the agility and ball-skills to plug in immediately here.
–23. LOS ANGELES RAMS: Taven Bryan, DL, Florida: With the league’s most explosive offensive (averaged an NFL-best 29.9 points per game in 2017) and holes in the secondary patched with veterans, the Rams can afford to gamble on upside with Bryan, a freakish combination of strength and speed to complement star Aaron Donald.
–24. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Connor Williams, OT, Texas*: As long as Cam Newton is taking snaps in Carolina, the focus should be on adding massive maulers for the running game. While considered by most to be the top tackle in this year’s draft, Williams isn’t an elite prospect, struggling a bit with consistency prior to suffering a knee injury that shortened his 2017 season. When healthy, his size, balance and competitiveness as a run blocker could remind the Panthers of former longtime standout left tackle Jordan Gross.
–25. TENNESSEE TITANS: Will Hernandez, OG, Texas-El Paso: The fact that the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles made the NFC championship despite starting backup quarterbacks is a testament to their dominance at the line of scrimmage and a model many teams will be looking to duplicate. Plugging in a powerful run blocker like Hernandez on an offensive line already boasting Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin could give Tennessee a similarly unstoppable front.
–26. ATLANTA FALCONS: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia: The Falcons won’t have to look far for a perfect candidate to add toughness and athleticism to their offensive line with Wynn proving at the Senior Bowl that he is ready to move back inside to guard after starring at left tackle in 2017 for the SEC champion Bulldogs.
–27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State: Second-year wideout Michael Thomas emerged as one of the league’s best last season but adding another talented pass-catcher to this offense could make the Saints virtually impossible to defend. While not quite as big as former star Jimmy Graham (who considered re-signing in New Orleans before inking with Green Bay), Gesicki possesses a similar ability to attack the seam.
–28. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: The frightening spinal injury to star Ryan Shazier could force the Steelers to strongly consider investing an early pick at inside linebacker. Some will criticize Vander Esch as a one-year wonder at Boise State, but the same criticism also followed standout rookie T.J. Watt at Wisconsin. Like Watt, Vander Esch has the motor Steelers fans will love, as well as the length, athleticism and playmaking ability to earn a first-round selection.
–29. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State*: Give Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell kudos for his aggressive moves to build up the offensive line and pass-catchers in free agency, putting the Jaguars in position to take the best player available here. That could be a backup quarterback like Rudolph who can keep the pressure on recently extended incumbent starter Blake Bortles while also giving the franchise plenty of options moving forward.
–30. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: As long as Mike Zimmer is coaching the team, size and physicality will be a premium for future Vikings. McGlinchey lacks the athleticism to wow scouts during pre-draft workouts, but an old-school coach like Zimmer will appreciate McGlinchey’s size (6-foot-7, 312 pounds), toughness and consistency.
–31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa*: With pending free agent Malcolm Butler almost certainly leaving Foxboro, Bill Belichick will be on the lookout for another playmaking cornerback with Jackson — who led the country with eight interceptions in 2017 — a logical candidate for the perimeter.
–32. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama*: The Super Bowl champs boast one of the more complete rosters in the NFL but could use an intimidator in the back end. Harrison remains better against the run than the pass at this point, but he could be afforded a “redshirt” year with veterans Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod already in place in Philadelphia.