The 2018 NFL Draft is just a week away and if it wasn’t obvious by now that the league has shifted to a pass-happy approach, it soon will be.
Expect runs on quarterbacks, the blockers tasked with protecting them and edge rushers to provide most of the excitement in the first round. The surprises could come with the running backs, including for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who may see LSU’s Derrius Guice as the perfect backup option to Le’Veon Bell, currently embroiled in his latest holdout.
With just one final update coming the morning of the draft, here is how I foresee the first 32 picks of the 2018 draft.
–1. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Sam Darnold, QB, USC: An argument could be made for any of the top-rated quarterbacks to lead off the NFL Draft, but none of them check more boxes than USC’s Darnold, who combines prototypical physical size and talent to go along with ideal intangibles for the position. Darnold may wind up essentially redshirting his first season as he plays caddy to veteran Tyrod Taylor, but fans in Cleveland should be excited … their long-awaited franchise quarterback is finally on the roster.
–2. NEW YORK GIANTS: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: General manager Dave Gettlemen signaled the direction the Giants might be going with this pick back in March when he awarded former Patriots Pro Bowl left tackle Nate Solder a four-year $62 million contract, including $35 million guaranteed, the biggest deal for an NFL offensive lineman. That’s why immediate impact prospects like Barkley (or N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb) ultimately make more sense than drafting a quarterback to groom behind Eli Manning. Add Barkley to a unit that already features Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard, and the Giants suddenly have the playmakers to compete with any offense in the NFL.
–3. NEW YORK JETS: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: Signing veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater provide the Jets options but 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 — GM Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles know full well how critical it is to find the right quarterback. What Mayfield lacks in stature, he more than makes up for with his competitive fire and playmaking instincts. He makes all the sense in the world for an offense and franchise desperate for a headliner.
–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: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: Sure, the Broncos signed Case Keenum in the offseason but that two-year deal won’t stop John Elway from gambling (again) on a big, athletic quarterback with a cannon for an arm. But don’t worry Denver fans, despite what you might have read elsewhere, Allen is not the second coming of Paxton Lynch. While his 56.2 career completion percentage is worrisome, it 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. Further, Allen showed improvement and poise in wow performances at the Senior Bowl and Combine, something the Broncos would know better than most after coaching him in Mobile.
–6. INDIANPOLIS COLTS: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame: With all due respect to the obvious defensive needs on the roster, the state of the franchise rides on surgically-repaired quarterback Andrew Luck bouncing back next season. Protecting him with Nelson — the consensus top offensive lineman in this draft and a future Pro Bowler — might be the best “Welcome Back” present GM Chris Ballard could provide.
–7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Derwin James, SS, Florida State: The Bucs overhauled their defensive line to create more of a pass rush but the secondary still could use an infusion of playmakers. Plugging in a versatile athlete like James into a deep patrol tasked with handling divisional weapons like Devonta Freeman (Falcons), Alvin Kamara (Saints) and Christian McCaffrey (Panthers) makes sense.
–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. Pairing Fitzpatrick with Richard Sherman means San Francisco might suddenly boast 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: Vita Vea, DT, Washington: The release of costly defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh provided the Dolphins with cap relief but left the roster weak at defensive tackle. Vea offers a similarly freakish combination of size, power and athleticism as Suh but comes at a much cheaper price.
–12. BUFFALO BILLS Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: The Bills might have to make a deal to move up to land one of the top four quarterbacks in reality but with no trades allowed in this projection, they get lucky that one of them — arguably the best of them — falls into their lap. Rosen, who proved bigger and more athletic at the Combine than expected, is the most polished passer in this draft, boasting the quick release, velocity and accuracy that could one day earn him trips to the Pro Bowl. His stock is thought to be slipping, however, as some have concerns about his intangibles and struggles with durability at UCLA, where he missed action in two of his three years as a starter.
–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.
–15. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: The Cardinals may very well opt for a young quarterback here but adding the draft’s smoothest receiver would also be a swift step to sparking the passing attack. A polished route-runner with excellent explosiveness, Ridley could feast upon the one-on-one coverage he’d earn playing opposite Larry Fitzgerald before ultimately replacing him as the Cardinals’ go-to target along with star running back David Johnson.
–16. BALTIMORE RAVENS: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: There is some buzz recently in the scouting community linking Jackson to the Ravens, which have finished near the bottom of the NFL in passing each of the past five season since Joe Flacco guided the club to a title five years ago. Out-going general manager Ozzie Newsome might take extra satisfaction in knowing that the Ravens have their future at quarterback in place before he retires. Jackson is a remarkable talent but remains quite raw in comparison to the other top-rated passers in this class.
–17. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Rashaan Evans, OLB, Alabama: The Chargers are likely to address the front seven after ranking last in the league in 2017, allowing 4.9 yards per carry. With quality depth at defensive tackle well into Day Three, GM Tom Telesco may see Evans’ physicality and versatility as the perfect first step towards addressing this concern.
–18. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia: The Seahawks already used their second- and third-round picks of the 2018 draft, trading for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (who has since left for Minnesota) and offensive tackle Duane Brown, leaving general manager John Schneider with essentially two choices here — either slide back to recoup picks or directly address one of the club’s biggest concerns. Wynn’s ability to play either tackle or guard would likely appeal to a team with all sorts of issues up front.
–19. DALLAS COWBOYS: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: While adding an explosive receiver to replace Dez Bryant would probably bring the loudest cheers from the thousands of Cowboys fans attending this year’s draft, the smarter move might be first addressing its injury-prone linebacker corps with Vander Esch, an ascending prospect and one of the few remaining three-down ‘backers in this draft.
–20. DETROIT LIONS: Marcus Davenport, DE, UT-San Antonio: Defensive-minded head coach Matt Patricia is going to be expected to help boost a pass rush that ranked 20th in the NFL a season ago in sacks despite playing half their games against some awful NFC North offensive lines. The Lions could see a lot of the same moldable traits in Davenport that have helped Ziggy Ansah develop into one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL — when he is healthy and complemented with other talent.
–21. CINCINNATI BENGALS: James Daniels, C, Iowa: The Bengals allowed last year’s starting center Russell Bodine to leave, leaving this position to be filled either via the draft or perhaps asking incumbent right guard Trey Hopkins to slide over. With the agility and length to project as a starter at any of the three interior line roles, Daniels would fill a need and provide terrific value to the Bengals here.
–22. BUFFALO BILLS: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: The Bills gained draft capital by trading away Cordy Glenn but do not currently appear to have the players on the roster to handle losing its best blocker. Capable of helping at either left or right tackle, McGlinchey could be a plug-and-play replacement.
–23. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (via RAMS): Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA: Proving that there is more than one way to make his future Hall of Fame quarterback happy, Bill Belichick nabs a massive, long-armed left tackle to take the place of Solder with the selection picked up in the Brandin Cooks trade. Miller is a polarizing prospect, but his height, length and athleticism would fit well in New England’s pass-heavy scheme.
–24. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU: The Panthers’ offense is expected to focus more on Christian McCaffrey in 2018, but that doesn’t mean the club should ignore its previous strategy of surrounding Cam Newton with big pass-catchers, especially if Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olson’s threats of retirement are being taken seriously. Like Devin Funchess (a free agent next season), Sutton wins with his height and physicality, potentially giving Carolina twin towers on the outside to complement its speed inside.
–25. TENNESSEE TITANS: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State: New head coach Mike Vrabel may only have to look to his alma mater to find the Titans’ next “big” win from the Big Ten, with Hubbard talented enough to provide Tennessee with a similar boost off the edge that former Michigan and Michigan State standouts Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin have provided blocking on it. Overshadowed throughout much of his career at Ohio State, Hubbard possesses the size, athleticism and work ethic to ultimately prove a better pro than collegiate player, intangibles that Vrabel will no doubt love.
–26. ATLANTA FALCONS: Taven Bryan, DL, Florida: The Falcons boast one of the better young defensive tackles in the game in Grady Jarrett but have little besides him on the roster. Jarrett’s ability to disrupt from the interior would be that much more effective with a complementary threat like Bryan, whose raw talent likely would intrigue Dan Quinn, a former defensive line coach at Florida.
–27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: Even after re-signing monstrous wideout Brandon Coleman, the Saints may opt to draft another big pass-catcher here with all of the top tight ends still on the board. Powerful and a proven difference-maker, Payne may offer too much value to let slip any further, however.
–28. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU: Every draft has a surprise and the Steelers could be in position to provide this year’s shocker. As expected, Le’Veon Bell opted not to attend the Steelers’ voluntary mini-camp. While the issue likely will be resolved in plenty of time for Bell to star again for Pittsburgh in 2018, GM Kevin Colbert may opt to have his Super Bowl contender prepared with a powerful and determined back up option, just in case.
–29. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland: Moving on from Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Julian Thomas and Marcedes Lewis means that pass-catcher jobs in Jacksonville are literally up for grabs. Built more like a running back than a traditional receiver at 6-0, 210 pounds, Moore could be the perfect slant and screen game weapon to penalize defenses loading the box against the run.
–30. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Connor Williams, OT, Texas: The retirement of longtime starting right guard Joe Berger further muddies the offensive line charged with protecting splashy free agent signee Kirk Cousins. Williams has the frame and physical playing style to handle any of the four exterior positions, offering the team a lot of flexibility.
–31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa: With Malcolm Butler now in Tennessee, Bill Belichick will be on the lookout for another playmaking cornerback. Jackson — who led the country with eight interceptions in 2017 — is a logical candidate for the perimeter.
–32. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville: With a stacked roster, the Super Bowl champions are in the enviable position of being able to take the best player available or trade out. With Patrick Robinson moving on (and more potential than production among the other corners on Philadelphia’s current roster), GM Howie Roseman could fall for Alexander’s fit as a potential immediate help at nickel.