Happy Draft Day Eve, football fans!
Last year was one of the most enjoyable drafts I can ever remember covering and this year has been the exact opposite. Nevertheless, on the eve of my favorite day of the year, I’m as excited as ever.
I particularly enjoyed studying last year’s class for the exceptional top-end talent and depth at running back, and while this class is quite similar in that regard, completing a mock draft has proven painstaking because of the quarterbacks ruining all the fun. Some may say the speculation over the top five quarterbacks enhances the draft build-up and adds excitement, but I find it tiresome. I just can’t get on board with this crop of signal callers being what they’re chalked up to be.
Baker Mayfield is the only quarterback in this class I feel 100% confidence in becoming “the guy” for a franchise. His perceived lack of size just fuels him to be great and the mental makeup and physical tools are all there despite the lack of prototypical build. He’s an “it” guy through and through. Beyond him, I am intrigued by the upside of Lamar Jackson and the smooth arm talent of Mason Rudolph. Conversely, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen give me the same feeling that Kevin Costner’s character gets as the GM of the Browns in “Draft Day” from the supposed can’t-miss quarterback prospect. Both have plenty of ability – though I’d argue less than they’re given credit for – but in different ways each gives me a pervasive bust feeling I can’t shake. Josh Allen is perhaps the toughest evaluation. He’s likeable and he’s faced adversity and responded well. But can he consistently hit a moving target? Or read NFL coverage schemes? If only he had Mayfield’s poise and accuracy he’d be a slam dunk No. 1 pick. But I suppose if Mayfield had Allen’s 6-5, 237-pound body you could say the same about the Heisman Trophy winner.
With a bad taste in my mouth from the quarterbacks about to be reached for tomorrow, I decided to approach things differently than I did last April. I treated that mock in the “traditional” sense by trying to predict what teams might do based on their needs and what would make sense for each team’s roster construction (you can see that here, btw, to judge my credibility). Given how teams are going to chase quarterbacks I have little faith in, however, that approach proved no fun. Instead, I decided to play the universal GM. For the following two-round mock I made each pick trying to consider what is best for the franchise at each selection, using my player evaluations and philosophies on team construction to guide every decision. So, given that, you won’t see nearly as many trades as I expect to happen. Philosophically, I’m in favor of trading down far more than moving up, which as the GM for both teams becomes problematic. Still, trading is necessary to get guys you want and/or need.
One last twist: for the first round I included in parentheses under each pick the player I am guessing will actually be selected in that spot, by the team currently picking in that spot. Sometimes my GM moves align with what I think will actually happen. Most of the time they don’t.
I’m sure there will be some surprises here, so feel free to blast me on Twitter for any selections you deem terrible: @Hoover_L_A
- Cleveland Browns – Baker Mayfield, QB (Oklahoma)
– There is no more complete playmaker at the quarterback position in this class and certainly no better competitor. The natural leadership traits and enthusiasm Mayfield plays the game with will be contagious as the Browns undergo a culture change and overtake supremacy in the AFC North.
- New York Giants – Saquan Barkley, RB (Penn State)
– Barkley’s NFL floor is multiple Pro Bowls. His ceiling is the most dynamic skill player in the league and an MVP trophy. Regardless of who is under center Odell Beckham and Barkley will make Big Blue hard to keep off the scoreboard.
- New York Jets (from Indianapolis) – Sam Darnold, QB (USC)
– The passer possessing the second-best touch and accuracy behind Mayfield, this SoCal product can get a great tutorial from coach-in-waiting Josh McCown before getting the reins by roughly Week 10.
- Cleveland Browns – Bradley Chubb, DE (North Carolina State)
– If the Browns had not overpaid guards Kevin Zeitler and Joel Bitonio it would be almost impossible to not draft Barkley and Quentin Nelson with their first two picks just to see how beautiful that pairing would be for years to come. As it stands though, the Browns get to add the draft’s best defensive talent. It’s closer than people think between Chubb and Derwin James, but Cleveland decides to form an awesome pass rushing duo with Myles Garrett and slow passing attacks at the release instead of the catch point.
- Denver Broncos – Quenton Nelson, OG (Notre Dame)
– The Broncos unloaded their best tailback for two reasons: 1.) they can get a much less expensive upgrade in this draft class & 2.) it really doesn’t matter who is running the ball behind the best interior offensive lineman to enter the league this century.
- Buffalo Bills (from Indianapolis via NY Jets) – Josh Allen, QB (Wyoming)
– After two moves to get inside the top-10 the Bills get the biggest armed quarterback to brave the frigid Buffalo weather since Jim Kelly was running the K-Gun offense. Allen is an extreme longshot to fill those Hall of Fame shoes, but if he can speed up his processing and hone his accuracy, he can become the franchise quarterback the Bills have been seeking for more than two decades since Kelly called it quits.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Derwin James, S (Florida State)
– Think of the different targets the Buccaneers must defend in the NFC South. Whether it’s Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey creating mismatches out of the backfield or Julio Jones and Michael Thomas demanding safety help, James is the best defender in the draft uniquely skilled to check any of them. He’s Eric Weddle instincts with Patrick Peterson athleticism.
- Chicago Bears – Tremaine Edmunds, LB (Virginia Tech)
– Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio is going to love getting to coach up a raw chess piece like Edmunds. He can play anywhere in the second level of the Bears’ 3-4 defense and is equally capable of blowing up backfields or shadowing the divisions’ top middle of the field targets like Jimmy Graham, Golden Tate and Randall Cobb.
- San Francisco 49ers – Minkah Fitzpatrick, S (Alabama)
– The 49ers can’t resist the chance to add a leader to the back seven of their defense that combines exceptional football IQ, top notch athleticism and unshakeable character. Fitzpatrick has the tools to track Todd Gurley out of the backfield and also limit Russell Wilson on scramble drills. He’ll prove a pivotal chess piece for San Fran’s improving defense.
- Oakland Raiders – Roquan Smith, LB (Georgia)
– Two words: Gruden. Grinder. “The Black Hole” sorely lacks a defensive running mate for Khalil Mack, but Smith will provide that sideline to sideline presence in the back seven to clean up any action that gets past the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.
- Miami Dolphins – Da’Ron Payne, DT (Alabama)
– Payne will make offensive lineman miserable for a long time at the next level and become the enforcer Miami lacks after they jettisoned Ndamukong Suh.
- Indianapolis Colts (from Buffalo via Cincinnati) – Isaiah Wynn, OG (Georgia)
– The Colts have a ton of holes in their front seven and guys like Marcus Davenport, Leighton Vander Esch and Vita Vea are extremely tempting, but the franchise will rise and fall on the health of one player and one player only. Wynn is the second best offensive lineman in this class and possesses the powerful anchor and nimble feet to keep inside rushers out of Andrew Luck’s face.
- Washington Redskins – Vita Vea, DT (Washington)
– The Redskins were dead last versus the run in 2017 and the top tailbacks in the division are a murderers’ row of runners – Ezekiel Elliott, Saquan Barkley and Jay Ajayi. Vea is a perfect partner to put at the nose tackle next to Jonathan Allen and give Washington a chance to bottle up these studs.
- New England Patriots (from Green Bay) – Josh Rosen, QB (UCLA)
– Bill Belichick is trying to outsmart the league, as per usual. Rosen slides out of the top-10 and into an abbreviated Jimmy Garoppolo role. A sharp study who does his best with timing, rhythm throws, Rosen will sit for a year or two behind a legend before pairing with eventual head coach Josh McDaniels to continue playing “The Patriot Way.”
- Arizona Cardinals – Anthony Miller, WR (Memphis)
– Bold statement time: Miller is the best wide receiver entering the league since the class of 2014. The self-made former walk-on who re-wrote Memphis receiving records can do it all. His calling card may be his superb route-running which allows him to separate from coverage with a combination of suddenness, deception and pure effort, but Miller also possesses strong hands at the catch point, open-field elusiveness and the relentless nature required to become an All-Pro. Filling a huge hole on the Arizona roster, this pick gives the All-World Larry Fitzgerald someone to hand the torch to when he finally calls it quits.
- Baltimore Ravens – Leighton Vander Esch, LB (Boise State)
– With a first round pick the first year the Ravens were in Baltimore, GM Ozzie Newsome took a linebacker named Ray Lewis that turned out okay. In his final draft running the club, Newsome will snag Baltimore’s next great linebacker, a player who is the football doppelganger of another backer entering the Hall of Fame with Lewis this summer: Brian Urlacher.
- Indianapolis Colts (from LA Chargers via Buffalo) – Mike McGlinchey, OT (Notre Dame)
– This is an “all-in” move by the Colts to finally and effectively protect Luck. McGlinchey is a behemoth and will be an excellent bookend tackle opposite Anthony Castonzo. With the ridiculous front sevens of Jacksonville and Houston in the division, adding McGlinchey and Wynn is a mission-critical type of move.
- Carolina Panthers (from Seattle) – Marcus Davenport, DE (UTSA)
– The Panthers throw out their draft plan for Round 1 when Davenport slides and leapfrog Detroit and Green Bay to steal a pass rusher with the potential to be among the league’s best in a couple years. Davenport’s technique is highly inconsistent now, but a year of Julius Peppers’ tutelage will help tap into the immense upside his size, length and Jadeveon Clowney-esque athleticism offer.
- Dallas Cowboys – Courtland Sutton, WR (SMU)
– Sutton is never going to run routes with the precision of a Calvin Ridley, but the 6-foot-3 target has flashes of Alshon Jeffery when he simply bodies defensive backs down the field and in the red zone.
(Leighton Vander Esch)
- Detroit Lions – Isaiah Oliver, CB (Colorado)
– In an NFC littered with top-notch receivers and Aaron Rodgers in the division, you can’t go wrong adding the draft’s best cover corner. While Denzel Ward may be more fluid changing directions than Oliver, what separates the two is the latter’s elite length that allows him to both recover if he’s beaten and win in more contested catch situations.
- Cincinnati Bengals – James Daniels, C (Iowa)
– The Bengals were 31st in rushing offense, an inexcusable stat given the undeniable talent of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Daniels proficiency as a zone-blocker with supremely quick feet will be a huge upgrade to a devastatingly bad offensive line. Fantasy owners take note when ranking Mixon.
- Los Angeles Chargers (from Indianapolis) – Taven Bryan, DT (Florida)
– The Bolts were 31st in rushing defense in 2017 and allowed a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry. Bryan doesn’t provide the bulk of a stereotypical run-stuffer, but his lightning first step and heavy hands will have him living in backfields as he becomes more seasoned. With Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the edges, the Bolts’ defensive line will be a nightmare for offensive lines.
- Green Bay Packers (from New England via LA Rams) – Harold Landry, OLB (Boston College)
– This class has plenty of corner depth and the best way to disrupt a passer starts at the point of attack. With Clay Matthews in his twilight years and zero depth behind Nick Perry, snagging a guy with Landy’s ability to bend and blow by offensive tackles is a must.
- New York Giants (from Seattle via Carolina) – Lamar Jackson, QB (Louisville)
– How’s this for some future fireworks in the “Big Apple?” Surrounded by Barkley, Beckham and Evan Engram, Jackson will look like Randall Cunningham 2.0 in a loaded offense capable of burning defenses in too many ways to count. Even Eli Manning’s most loyal supporters will want to see Jackson before the end of 2018.
- Tennessee Titans – Rashaan Evans, LB (Alabama)
– Evans is a ball magnet who can knife into the backfield on delayed blitzes just as well as he can track, chase and bury tailbacks on the perimeter. He’ll complement 11-year vet Wesley Woodyard and eventually replace him as the leader of Tennessee’s defense.
- Atlanta Falcons – Calvin Ridley, WR (Alabama)
– The last time the Falcons had a 1,000-yard receiver not named Julio Jones was in 2013, when Jones missed 11 games. Getting Mr. Jones a true No. 2 will go a long way towards raising this offense back to Super Bowl caliber. Ridley may never match Roddy White’s peak, but he’ll make a hell of a “Robin” to Jones’ “Batman.”
- New Orleans – Hayden Hurst, TE (South Carolina)
– If you’re going to go all-in with Drew Brees, you’ve got to give him the one thing he’s lacked since Jimmy Graham was shipped out of town. Dallas Goedert has higher upside, but the soon-to-be-25-year-old Hurst has more to offer now as both a pass catcher and a more refined, more willing blocker who won’t have to leave the field as much for New Orleans’ run-pass options.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – Denzel Ward, CB (Ohio State)
– Ward’s lack of size makes him better suited to start his career as a slot corner, and without a linebacker worthy of replacing Ryan Shazier available in this spot, the Steelers go with the next best chess piece to take down the Patriots, who welcome Julian Edelman back this year.
- Jacksonville Jaguars – Justin Reid, S (Stanford)
– The Jaguars weakest link on a loaded defense is no more with the addition of a highly instinctive safety with all the physical traits and excellent football IQ to make plays at either safety position.
- Minnesota Vikings – Jaire Alexander, CB (Louisville)
– The Vikings do need added protection for their new $84 million man, but with mostly developmental offensive tackles on the board and the top guards gone, they go best player available. Alexander is a silky-smooth corner who will instantly be the second-best playmaker in Minnesota’s secondary behind Harrison Smith.
- New England Patriots – Kolton Miller, OT (UCLA)
– Speaking of developmental offensive tackles, Miller is one who possesses the highest upside. Chances are top-notch offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia can get him there, so the Pats pull the trigger on Nate Solder’s successor.
- Philadelphia Eagles – Derrius Guice, RB (LSU)
– It’s not just a luxury pick for the Eagles to grab Guice, a physical, shifty runner who fits well within their offensive scheme. Jay Ajayi will be a free agent after this season and command a contract Philly now won’t have to pay him.
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- Cleveland Browns – Josh Jackson, CB (Iowa)
– With Garrett and Chubb forcing duress throws from quarterbacks on the regular, this ball hawk is going to continue the thieving ways he established last year as the nation’s leader in interceptions at Iowa.
- Seattle Seahawks (from NY Giants via Carolina) – Will Hernandez, OG (UTEP)
– No more Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman or Michaell Bennett. Kam Chancellor may be forced into retirement with a neck injury. The Seahawks identity officially revolves around Russell Wilson. Adding a people-mover with a mean streak like Hernandez will allow the offense to better protect their franchise while also getting back to the smash mouth, ground-oriented style that originally helped lift them to the NFC’s elite.
- Cleveland Browns (from Houston) – Geron Christian, OT (Louisville)
- Los Angeles Chargers (from Indianapolis) – Mason Rudolph, QB (Oklahoma State)
– Rudolph is this draft class’s Derek Carr. He processes defenses quickly and throws as pretty a ball as you can find among the quarterback prospects, but gets downgraded to a second-round pick largely because of the spread offense and targets he benefited from in college. The Chargers aren’t complaining, of course, as they tab him as the heir to Philip Rivers.
- Indianapolis Colts (from NY Jets) – D.J. Moore, WR (Maryland)
– No, Moore was not supposed to make it out of the first. Yes, the Colts are thrilled he did. His route running needs work, but Frank Reich can scheme him open and let Moore do the rest with his electric ability after the catch.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sony Michel, RB (Georgia)
– Fantasy owners rejoice! Michel lands in a high-powered offense that is completely devoid of running back talent. Combining plus vision with a decisive style and terrific contact balance, Michel is a great bet for 1,200-plus scrimmage yards in a backfield that didn’t have anyone hit half that last year.
- Chicago Bears – Connor Williams, OG (Texas)
- Denver Broncos – Uchenna Nwosu, OLB (USC)
– In a class light on edge talent, Denver finds a gem in Nwosu who piled up eight sacks in his final six games at USC. Ultra-quick and with a low center of gravity at 6-2, Nwosu can leave offensive lineman punching at air in pass protection.
- Oakland Raiders – Mike Hughes, CB (UCF)
- Miami Dolphins – Dallas Goedert, TE (South Dakota State)
– The football gods reward Miami for staying patient in the quarterback race and let a desperately needed game-changing tight end fall into their laps.
- Green Bay Packers (from New England) – Carlton Davis, CB (Auburn)
- Washington Redskins – Frank Ragnow, C (Arkansas)
- Green Bay Packers – Billy Price, OG (Ohio State)
- Cincinnati Bengals – Brian O’Neill, OT (Pittsburgh)
- Arizona Cardinals – Donte Jackson, CB (LSU)
- Indianapolis Colts (from LA Chargers) – Maurice Hurst, DT (Michigan)
- Indianapolis Colts (from Seattle via NY Jets) – Nick Chubb, RB (Georgia)
– Chubb offers more support for Luck in the form of a foundation back who is basically Jordan Howard with better long speed. The former Bulldog will pair with the shiftier Marlon Mack to form a duo that can wear down defenses and balance a Colts offense that’s relied too heavily on the pass since the days of Edgerrin James.
- Dallas Cowboys – Harrison Phillips, DT (Stanford)
– After seeing the Giants and Eagles add stud rushers in the first round, Dallas’ need to add beef in the middle of their defense is heightened. Phillips won’t spend a ton of time in an opponents’ backfield, but he’s got a powerful base that can anchor and free up Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith to clean up plays.
- Detroit Lions – Rashaad Penny, RB (San Diego State)
- Baltimore Ravens – Mike Gesicki, TE (Penn State)
– Gesicki is being added here to change that narrative that Baltimore can’t draft quality pass catchers. With outrageous athletic measurables, he is a receiving specialist with the upside of a young Jimmy Graham.
- Buffalo Bills – Austin Corbett, OG (Nevada)
- Kansas City Chiefs – Lorenzo Carter, OLB (Georgia)
– The Chiefs’ first pick is an insurance policy for Justin Houston’s health and Dee Ford’s contract.
- Carolina Panthers – D.J. Chark, WR (LSU)
– The Panthers drafted speedster Curtis Samuel in the second round last year and added Torrey Smith in a trade earlier this year, but the latter is past his prime and the former is coming off major ankle surgery to repair ligament damage. Cam Newton is not old, but he’s no longer young either. There’s no such thing as enough weapons for him and Chark’s 4.3-speed will serve as an ideal complement to Devin Funchess’ possession role.
- Buffalo Bills – James Washington, WR (Oklahoma State)
– A physical deep threat, the Bills need someone who can get downfield for Allen’s cannon arm.
- Tennessee Titans – Josh Sweat, OLB (Florida State)
– The risk is real but the rewards could be worth it if Sweat can get past a brutal knee injury that limited him at Florida State. The former 5-star recruit is an unparalleled athlete when 100% healthy. Mike Vrabel will bet on that being the case by the time Sweat needs to replace Brian Orakpo or Derrick Morgan in the 2019 starting lineup.
- Atlanta Falcons – Tyrell Crosby, OG (Oregon)
- San Francisco 49ers – Christian Kirk, WR (Texas A&M)
– Garoppolo needs more toys if he’s going to live up to the ginormous contract the 49ers handed him. And it sure doesn’t hurt to add a dynamic return man when it’s been seven years since your franchise has returned a kickoff or punt for a score.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – Josey Jewell, LB (Iowa)
– Jewell will not replicate what Shazier could do for Pittsburgh. He’s nowhere near that type of athlete, but his ability to diagnose plays keeps Jewell in position and on time to make stops. His reliability in the middle will be much welcomed for a defense that hopes to stop Leonard Fournette this year.
- Jacksonville Jaguars – Ian Thomas, TE (Indiana)
- Minnesota Vikings – Rasheem Green, DE (USC)
- Green Bay Packers (via New England) – DaeSean Hamilton, WR (Penn State)
– The Packers have had great success finding wideouts in the second round – Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams all paid major dividends. Hamilton could be the next in line. There’s little that’s exceptional about the former Nittany Lion, but he’s a mature route-runner who knows how to shake coverage and he will be where Aaron Rodgers wants him to be when he wants him to be there.
- Cleveland Browns – Jessie Bates, S (Wake Forest)
- Indianapolis receives the 12th, 22nd and 121st selections from Buffalo in exchange for the 6th and 178th.
- Green Bay receives the 23rd, 43rd and 63rd selections from New England in exchange for the 14th, 76th and 207th. Green Bay also receives New England’s 2019 fourth round selection.
- Los Angeles Chargers receive the 22nd, 36th and 221st selections from Indianapolis in exchange for the 17th and 48th.
- Seattle receives the 24th and 85th selections from Carolina in exchange for the 18th and 146th.
- Seattle receives the 34th and 69th selections from New York Giants in exchange for the 24th and 168th. Seattle also receives New York Giants’ 2019 second round selection.