2018 NFL Mock Draft
Last Updated: January 16, 2018
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
My friends over at DraftKings (similar name but very different than what I do) have some great fantasy sports games that give you a chance to put your skills to the test in a really fun way. I strongly recommend DraftKings; they have been an excellent business partner for me and have some very entertaining games. Give them a try and let me know what you think.
Note: The order of the teams still alive in the NFL playoffs is subject to adjustment depending on game outcomes.
2018 NFL Mock Draft
1. Cleveland Browns - Sam Darnold, QB, Southern Cal (6'3" 225) *
Opinions about this year's group of draft-eligible quarterbacks vary wildly. Cleveland, 1-31 over the past two seasons, absolutely must acquire a blue-chip quarterback in this draft, even with 22-year-old DeShone Kizer on the roster.
2. New York Giants - Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (6'3" 220) *
It has been suggested that Rosen will do his best to discourage the Browns from drafting him. I'm not entirely sold on that, but there would be some irony if the Giants ended up with an hier-apparent for Eli Manning who took a similar approach to the draft to what Manning did in 2004.
3. Indianapolis Colts - Bradley Chubb, DE/OLB, NC State (6'3" 275)
Several choices for the Colts here: an elite running back in the form of Penn State's Saquon Barkley, trade down and target an offensive lineman, or add a pass-rushing menace like Chubb. The 2017 Bronko Nagurski Award winner as the nation's best defensive college player, Chubb has tremendous athleticism and the size/strength to overpower pass blockers.
4. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans) - Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St. (5'11" 225) *
Barkley was a superstar out of the gate for the Nittany Lions as a true freshman in 2015, and while he appeared to be NFL-ready after the 2016 season, he wasn't draft eligible until now.
Browns fans might bristle at the notion of a high first-round pick being used on a running back after Trent Richardson, who had played so well at Alabama, turned out to be a colossal bust out of the 2012 NFL Draft. But that was multiple regimes ago for the Browns, and as always in the NFL, new management doesn't have to worry about making major changes that would have caused old management to lose face.
5. Denver Broncos - Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (6'2" 200) *
Opinions on Jackson are all over the place. There is no disputing he was a tremendous college quarterback, an exciting and electrifying playmaker with a cannon for an arm and great field vision to match his elite speed and elusiveness.
So, why isn't Jackson #1 with a bullet? There are concerns about a player with his frame being able to handle the weekly maulings that quarterbacks in the NFL are forced to endure. And, just as importantly, his accuracy is worrisome.
Jackson showed improvement with his completion percentage over his three years at Louisville, from 54.7% in 2015 to 56.2% in 2016 to 59.1% in 2017. But that's still below 60%, which is a problem, particularly for teams trying to decide between several intriguing but imperfect QB prospects.
6. New York Jets - Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma St. (6'4" 230)
It made me very happy that the apparent Jets Tanking of 2017 ended up not happening. NFL careers are relatively short and players aren't going to go into tranquilo mode to help their team's draft position for the following season.
But the Jets still need a high-level quarterback as they continue the rebuilding process, and Rudolph could end up being tasked with bringing the Jets back to greatness. His size/frame work to his advantage, as will his 65% completion rate in 2017.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College (6'2" 250)
Landry was an absolute menace for BC, an exceptionally adept pass rusher who collected 16½ sacks in 2016 and 22 tackles for loss overall, one year removed from 16 TFL. Landry's 2017 season ended in October after he suffered an ankle injury.
Presuming that Landry is able to fully recover and able to work out to the satisfaction of scouts, he could push Bradley Chubb for the designation as the first defensive player to come off the board in the 2018 Draft.
8. Chicago Bears - Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama (6'1" 190) *
The Bears have a considerable need at wide receiver, and it could work out very well for Chicago if Ridley is on the board at this spot.
9a. Oakland Raiders - Arden Key, DE/OLB, LSU (6'5" 240) *
A coin flip will determine whether Oakland or San Francisco gets this selection; the loser of the flip will receive the #10 selection in the draft.
Key looked like the favorite this time one year ago to be the first EDGE rusher off the board, but a down-tick in production combined with the perception that he showed up to camp out of shape in 2017 might cost him that opportunity.
But what Key has is an incredible knack for pressuring/sacking opposing quarterbacks, as he displayed in 2016 with 12 sacks. Key seemed to improve as the 2017 season wore on, particularly against Alabama, though he missed the last two games of this past season after needing surgery on an injured pinky finger.
9b. San Francisco 49ers - Sam Hubbard, DE/OLB, Ohio St. (6'5" 265) *
Hubbard ended his college career in style, collecting 2½ sacks against Southern Cal in their postseason exhibition game. There are some who think this would be high for Hubbard to go, but the premium placed on elite pass rushers in the modern NFL cannot be overstated.
11. Miami Dolphins - Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Alabama (6'0" 190) *
It would disappoint me for Fitzpatrick to fall out of the top ten, but I've been doing this for 15 years and have learned what I think should happen is immaterial. But even if pass rush mania causes him to drop, Fitzpatrick should be an excellent addition to the secondary of whichever team selects him.
12. Cincinnati Bengals - Connor Williams, OT, Texas (6'5" 320) *
Rule changes made for safety reasons tilted the sport of football sharply in favor of passing attacks. That also translated down to the college and high school game, to the point where offensive linemen are much less adept overall at run blocking fundamentals and often ill-suited to immediately transition to the NFL game.
Of course, the rule of scarcity means that the top offensive tackles, particularly the elite blind side defenders, are in turn that much more in demand. And Williams fits the bill on that, a rock-solid pass protector with excellent quickness and solid fundamentals.
13. Green Bay Packers - Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame (6'7" 310)
The Packers haven't had many opportunities to draft this high in recent years, but they would be well-served to upgrade their offensive line if a player like McGlinchey is on the board at this spot. He likely would have been a first-rounder in 2017, but with another year of experience and improvement at Notre Dame, McGlinchey would seem to be a strong match with Green Bay.
14. Washington Redskins - Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame (6'4" 330) *
Perhaps the 12-14 range is where we will see a run on offensive linemen happen. Nelson is an offensive guard with the skill-set to play multiple positions on the offensive line. There is obviously the giant question mark about what will happen in DC in 2018 with quarterback Kirk Cousins, and if he ends up elsewhere this could be a spot where the Redskins could look toward the quarterback position.
15. Arizona Cardinals - Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (6'1" 220)
As noted earlier, the quarterback pecking order for this draft is in flux. But I really like this pairing: with Carson Palmer's retirement, the Cardinals must find a replacement who is ready to go for 2018. Mayfield is below prototype height (I've seen 6'0" to 6'2" listed for him) and there are questions about his maturity. But he has a rocket arm and, just as importantly, he is remarkably accurate, with a 70%+ passing rate in each of the past two seasons.
Let me emphasize that last part: 71.0% in 2016 and 70.5% in 2017. I can't stress enough how rare that is from a major college QB with such a strong arm. The evaluation process with Mayfield should be one of the more interesting to watch play out over the next few months.
16. Baltimore Ravens - Derrius Guice, RB, LSU (5'11" 210) *
It went under the radar somewhat, but Alex Collins had success running the ball for the Ravens in 2017: 973 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, and six rushing TDs. They also will have Kenneth Dixon ready to return to the field after missing all of the 2017 campaign with a meniscus injury -- though Dixon getting pinched for PEDs multiple times does not help his case for the long-term.
As for Guice, he has tremendous potential, even though injury held him back in large part this past season. He's not a track speed guy, but he is fast and elusive and doesn't shy away from contact. Guice will need a strong showing at the NFL Combine and/or at LSU's pro day to earn first-round selection status, but there is no doubting his talent.
17. Los Angeles Chargers - Derwin James, SS, Florida St. (6'2" 210) *
Strong safety is somewhat of a dying breed in the modern NFL, particularly in favor of rover types or linebackers with strong pass coverage. But James is incredibly athletic, and he bounced back from a 2016 knee injury to stand out in a down year for the Seminoles, recording 84 tackles, including 5½ for a loss and a sack in 2017.
But there aren't many people out there who can run a sub-4.5 40 and bench press 450 pounds, and on top of the physical goods James plays in an almost instinctual way. The epitome of a plug-and-play, James should be able to contribute right away, and he could end up going much higher than this spot in part depending on just how aggressive the teams chasing quarterbacks are.
18. Seattle Seahawks - Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa (6'1" 185) *
The Legion of Boom was a fun gimmick name for the Seahawks' secondary, but overwhelming success at a given position in the NFL is ephemeral -- enjoy it while you can. Seattle had more cap latitude than most teams when Russell Wilson was stuck on that low-end rookie contract from 2012, and they certainly capitalized on that latitude.
But with Wilson making considerably more now (though he is drastically underpaid even now compared with what he could earn on the open market, and that's with him making a base $15.5M for 2018) the ability to retain players became more difficult for Seattle.
With all of that in mind, a defensive back in round one makes sense. I could see Seattle trading up to get Derwin James if he slides. But if not, going with a cornerback like Jackson, a unanimous All-American in 2017, would be a wise choice.
19. Dallas Cowboys - Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio St. (5'10" 190) *
Ward made the decision to sit out Ohio State's glorified postseason exhibition game, the Cotton Bowl, and I wonder if Jerry Jones might blacklist him out of spite because of that decision. That would be too bad, and I hope to see more NFL prospects stick it to college football's awful consolation prize/cash grab of non-playoff major bowl games in 2018 and beyond.
Also, remember that Ward saw first-hand what happened to Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith in January 2016 in the Fiesta Bowl, suffering a severe leg injury that nearly ended his career and caused him to fall out of the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
But I would like to think Jones wouldn't be so petty, not for a player like Ward who is so dynamic. His height is a negative, but he makes up for it with long arms, great technique, and a very physical style of play.
20. Detroit Lions - Dorance Armstrong, DE/OLB, Kansas (6'4" 240) *
Quite possibly the best prospect to come out of the University of Kansas since Aqib Talib in 2008, Armstrong is a pass-rushing menace. I realize this might seem repetitive, but I can't stress enough the overwhelming demand for elite pass rushers has only increased with the shift in importance of a strong passing offense and defense against the pass.
Armstrong, as you would imagine as a star on an otherwise moribund team (sorry KU fans -- it's basketball season, cheer up), was game-planned against heavily in 2017. But he had 20 tackles for loss, including 10 sacks in 2016, and while there are questions about his ability to shed blocks. Also, it's imperative that Armstrong coming in closer to 240 pounds than 225 to warrant first-round status.
21. Buffalo Bills - DaRon Payne, DT, Alabama (6'2" 310) *
The Bills are coming off their first visit to the NFL postseason since January 2000, the Music City Miracle game. 18 years is a long time to wait to erase a gut-punch loss like that, and while the Bills weren't able to get the win in Jacksonville in the wild card round, the ship appears to be pointed in the correct direction.
With back-to-back selections, the Bills will be in position to stock up with two high-end prospects, and going with a national champion defensive tackle standout like Payne would be a logical move.
22. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs) - Josh Sweat, DE/OLB, Florida St. (6'5" 250) *
One of the few disappointing things about my 2016 trip to Tampa, flying in from Nashville on a Saturday morning for an early kickoff after doing play-by-play for a high school broadcast the night before, is that neither Derwin James nor Josh Sweat played in the Florida State/USF game I attended at Raymond James Stadium. Though that game made me a believer in Dalvin Cook, so as always in life you have to take the good with the bad.
And ultimately it's his injury history that will cause other EDGE defenders to come off the board before Sweat, who suffered a torn ACL and dislocated of his left kneecap in high school. The reason he missed the 2016 USF game was because he needed "minor" surgery to trim his meniscus in that same knee.
This could end up being considerably higher than Sweat will go in actuality; it's just too early to know what the medicals and poking and prodding of the unpleasant pre-draft process will reveal. But when he was healthy, Sweat proved why he is so highly-regarded as a pass rusher, recording sacks in seven of the final eight games of FSU's 2016 season.
23. Los Angeles Rams - Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi St. (6'5" 315)
The Rams had a tough draw in the wild card round of the playoffs with defending NFC Champion Atlanta coming in and winning the first NFL playoff game held in the greater Los Angeles area going back to the early 1990s.
But the Rams look to be a serious contender in 2018, and the addition of a high-end offensive tackle would be beneficial. There are several options as far as offensive tackles go, but Rankin has the chance to make his case at the Senior Bowl. If he can demonstrate improved strength, which has been a concern, he could earn himself a first-round selection.
24. Carolina Panthers - Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU (6'3" 220) *
Carolina traded WR Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo mid-season, and replacing him with another tall playmaking receiver like Sutton would make sense.
25. Tennessee Titans - Malik Jefferson, ILB, Texas (6'3" 240) *
Titans GM Jon Robinson has done a wonderful job of building the Tennessee roster, and adding an inside LB like Jefferson, who has an unusual combination of great size and great athleticism, would seem to fit along those same lines. Jefferson was the 2017 Big 12 Conference Co-Defensive Player of the year, and his 110 tackles in 2017 are worth noting.
26. Atlanta Falcons - James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St. (6'0" 205)
Washington won the 2017 Biletnikoff Award, given to the country's top college wide receiver, as he posted some big numbers in Stillwater this past season. But Washington was no one-year wonder; over his four year college career, Washington had 4,472 receiving yards and 40 total touchdowns (39 receiving and one rushing) for Oklahoma State.
27. New Orleans Saints - Vita Vea, DT, Washington (6'4" 345) *
Vea is the top nose tackle prospect in this draft, and he would seem to be a good fit for the Saints. New Orleans has Tyeler Davidson in that spot now, but his low-end contract expires after next season.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers - Tremaine Edmunds, DE/OLB, Virginia Tech (6'5" 235) *
In my previous mock I had slated Clemson DE/OLB Austin Bryant here, but Bryant decided to return to school for another season. And Clemson not only has Bryant coming back, but he will be joined by fellow defensive line standouts Christian Wilkins and Clenin Ferrell on the front line returning to the Tigers for 2018. Their early season game in College Station, TX against Texas A&M should be intriguing, particularly with former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher now running the show for the Aggies.
Demand for elite defensive linemen with high-end pass rush skill was already through the roof. And with the Clemson trio all returning to college, it will force teams like the Steelers who might be considering an EDGE player late in round one to consider scenarios to trade up. But, absent that, a talent like Edmunds could be a nice fit.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars - Deontay Burnett, WR, Southern Cal (6'0" 170) *
The Jaguars have done a great job of building up a strong defense over the past two offseasons, and they have a top-notch RB in Leonard Fournette. They could use a high-production receiver like Burnett, who had 86 receptions for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017.
30. Minnesota Vikings - Brian O'Neill, OT, Boston College (6'6" 305) *
O'Neill earned 2017 All-ACC first-team honors, impressive in a season where he moved from right tackle to left tackle. His 37 consecutive starts hints at strong durability, and he would be a solid addition to a Minnesota team that is already quite stout.
There is also the issue of the Vikings having three quality QBs on its roster who all have contracts which expire after the season. There are some unique hypotheticals in play here, particularly if the Vikings end up winning the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
31. New England Patriots - Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming (6'4" 235) *
The Patriots have been absolutely incredible streak. Since 2002 they've only missed the playoffs once, in 2008, the season Brady was lost for the season in week one and Matt Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record... yet, incredibly, New England missed the postseason.
The NFL is designed to prevent this sort of thing from happening, with that powerful 8-8 magnet pulling teams toward one another as much as possible. That's because, as I've said many times before: the NFL doesn't sell football -- it sells hope. And they're exceptionally great at it.
Belichick beat the system with patience: take my 3rd rounder today for your 2nd rounder next year. Desperate general managers on the hot seat have no such luxury. Then the truly special Horse Whisperer skill Belichick has with troubled/disgruntled players kicked in, and that is where he is at his most masterful, trading select picks obtained via patience to acquire those special players with elite talent who are hard to deal with, moody, etc.
It didn't always work: Albert Haynesworth never regained his Titans-era form, and Chad Ochocinco was out of gas by the time he got to New England. But other times it made all the difference, from Randy Moss to Aqib Talib to LeGarrette Blount.
As for Josh Allen, he looks the part and has a strong arm, but his accuracy is a huge concern. But the reality is Tom Brady will turn 41 before the 2018 season starts, and while I want him to keep going as one of the few guys left in the league older than me, even with a healthy Brady the Patriots need to have a quality backup QB in place for 2018.
32. Philadelphia Eagles - Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M (5'11" 200) *
Another weapon for Carson Wentz? Why not? Kirk finished a solid run in College Station by breaking the Belk Bowl single-game receiving record with 13 receptions, and he has proven to be a consistent talent despite facing stout competition on a weekly basis.
* indicates player who had/has NCAA eligibility for 2018