2018 NFL Mock Draft
Last Updated: November 22, 2017
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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Note: this draft order is based on the inverted list of Super Bowl odds, slightly modified toward the back-end to more accurately reflect draft slotting for playoff teams.
2018 NFL Mock Draft
1. Cleveland Browns - Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (6'3" 220) *
It has been a sad comedy carousel at quarterback for Cleveland since the Browns returned to the NFL. And while it's entirely too soon to pass judgment on 2017 second-round selection QB DeShone Kizer, it's hard to fathom the Browns not cleaning house yet again if Hue Jackson can't turn things around in the stretch run of the season.
You could argue Penn State RB Saquon Barkley for this spot, though you would think Cleveland would trade down if that was the plan. And I'm not entirely sure the sting of former #3 overall selection Trent Richardson being a bust as a Browns RB is gone from Cleveland, even with that being multiple regimes ago.
2. San Francisco 49ers - Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St. (5'11" 225) *
The 49ers made a deadline deal with the Patriots to acquire QB Jimmy Garoppolo, and realistically if they are in this spot, you would figure San Francisco would look to trade down and perhaps acquire some 2018 picks in the process.
Barkley is a special player, and with incumbent starting RB Carlos Hyde slated to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, Barkley could be an idea choice to replace him if Hyde signs elsewhere.
3. New York Giants - Sam Darnold, QB, Southern Cal (6'3" 225) *
There is no guarantee that Darnold, a redshirt sophomore, will leave USC to enter the 2018 NFL Draft. And what the future holds for Eli Manning at QB remains to be seen; Manning will turn 37 in January, though in this era elite quarterbacks are proving they can play at a high level beyond the age of 35.
It's a potentially tricky situation: no team wants to run off a quarterback who won multiple Super Bowls for them, but salary cap restrictions punish those who manage with nostalgia rather than an eye to the future. And if you doubt the importance of the backup quarterback position in the modern NFL, you simply haven't been paying attention.
4. Denver Broncos - Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Alabama (6'0" 190) *
Fitzpatrick is the top defensive player on many boards, a free safety with high-end talent and production. Denver hasn't been in position to use a top in the top 20 going back to the 2011 draft, and Fitzpatrick would be an excellent blue-chip talent to add to its secondary.
5. Indianapolis Colts - Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame (6'7" 310)
There are several high-profile offensive tackles from which to choose at this spot. McGlinchey was a likely 2017 first-rounder who opted to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, and with the relatively scarcity of top-tier offensive tackles on the open market, this could be a good chance for Indy to improve protection for a (hopefully) fully-healed Andrew Luck.
6. Chicago Bears - Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma (6'7" 360) *
There are plenty of possibilities here for the Bears, but Mitchell Trubisky could use improved pass protection. Part of the projection of so many offensive tackles going so high in this draft is in part linked to the shift away from NFL-style blocking by high school and college teams that run prominently out of the shotgun or pistol formation.
7. Los Angeles Chargers - Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (6'2" 200) *
I'll have more on Lamar Jackson in a forthcoming column, but he is perhaps the most polarizing prospect of the bunch at this point. What the Chargers opt to do here will depend in large part on what Philip Rivers decides to do. Rivers turns 36 next month, and while he is under contract through 2020, Rivers will have to decide if the money is worth another year of long commutes, physical wear-and-tear, and time away from his (large) family.
8. Cincinnati Bengals - Derwin James, SS, Florida State (6'2" 210) *
At this point it appears Alabama FS Minkah Fitzpatrick is the most likely safety to come off the board first, though he might be pushed for that designation by James, the top strong safety prospect on many boards.
It's hard to know what the Bengals will do if they are unable to turn things around. This is the final year in the contract of head coach Marvin Lewis, who is in his fifteenth season as HC of the Bengals. Most coaches aren't allowed the opportunity to coach that long with earning a single playoff victory, and Lewis is 0-7 in the postseason during that time.
But most teams don't have an owner who doubles as the general manager. And that is the case for the Bengals with 82-year-old Mike Brown, who unlike other GMs doesn't have to worry about being fired. But, no matter who is coaching in 2018, the Bengals should benefit from a talent like James.
9. Oakland Raiders - Bradley Chubb, DE/OLB, NC State (6'3" 275)
There are some who see Chubb as the top defensive player in this draft, even above Minkah Fitzpatrick. Chubb is very skilled at shedding blocks and collecting tackles for loss, but he has a rep for working hard and having a strong motor -- you won't catch him taking plays off. Chubb played both defensive end and outside linebacker during his time with the Wolfpack, and he should be able to fit well in any standard NFL defensive scheme.
10. Arizona Cardinals - Connor Williams, OT, Texas (6'5" 320) *
Much like the Giants and Chargers, the Cardinals face the uncertainty of having an effective-but-aging quarterback with Carson Palmer. The Cards have Palmer under contract through next season, but Palmer will turn 38 next month and is out for the season with a broken left arm.
Williams missed seven games this season for the Longhorns with a knee injury. But he has recovered and should have an opportunity to show off his skills down the stretch. The Longhorns running game suffered considerably this season in games without Williams, and it was notable how quickly it improved in Williams' first game back at West Virginia.
11. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans) - Martinas Rankin, OT, Miss. St. (6'5" 315)
The versatile Rankin would seem to be a good fit with the Browns, who will have Joe Thomas returning from a triceps tear in 2018 in the final year of his contract. Rankin can play a variety of positions on the OL and should be able to help the Browns right away.
12. New York Jets - Arden Key, DE/OLB, LSU (6'5" 240) *
This past off-season saw the Jets slash its roster, cutting ties with some long-term standouts and fan favorites. It almost felt like something out of the NBA, not tanking but putting out as mediocre of a roster as possible to in theory improve draft position for the following year.
But the NFL doesn't work that way, not with non-guaranteed contracts and the ephemeral nature of an average player's career. The Jets have plenty of holes to fill, but after taking a hard pinch this season on salary cap hits, the team should be in position to acquire plenty of young talent.
As for Key, he is remarkably adept at pass rushing and very quick. His run-stopping isn't nearly as developed, but that doesn't matter in the modern NFL like it would have 15+ years ago. And I can't emphasize this next part enough: there is an insatiable demand for players with high-end pass rush talent in the NFL, and if Key runs on the faster side of expectations at his pro day, he could end up being long gone by the time the Jets go on the clock.
13. Washington Redskins - Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M (5'11" 200) *
Terrelle Pryor signed a one-year deal with the Redskins prior to the start of the 2017 season, but he has not performed to expectations based on his play in Cleveland last season and has been hobbled by an ankle injury.
Washington used a first-round selection in 2016 on WR Josh Doctson, but that won't necessarily preclude them using another first-rounder on a wide receiver here. Kirk's tremendous speed and shiftiness makes him an appealing prospect, and his kick-return skill could allow him to produce right away for whichever team drafts him.
14. Miami Dolphins - Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame (6'4" 330) *
There was talk one year ago of Nelson being a first-round talent as a redshirt sophomore, but much like his Fightin' Irish teammate Mike McGlinchey, the allure of another year at Notre Dame won out over starting his pro career in 2017.
Nelson would seem to be a great fit for the Dolphins, who must provide as much protection as possible next season for QB Ryan Tannehill, who suffered a partial tear to his left ACL in late 2016 and then a full tear of it during training camp.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College (6'2" 250)
As I noted with Arden Key, there is tremendous demand for top-tier pass rushers in the NFL. Landry would seem to fit best as a 3-4 OLB, which might be tricky with the Bucs running a 4-3 set. But there are ways to work around that, particularly for someone like Landry with such a knack at tracking down opposing QBs.
16. Baltimore Ravens - Derrius Guice, RB, LSU (5'11" 210) *
For as much attention as Saquon Barkley has received, and rightly so, there has been plenty of attention also paid to another top prospect: Guice. Baltimore could use an upgrade at running back and Guice would certainly qualify to that end. An ankle injury prevented Guice from truly showcasing his talents in 2017, but he nonetheless managed to amass north of 1,000 yards rushing for a second consecutive season in Baton Rouge.
Write-ups for the second half of this mock are coming soon. Happy Thanksgiving!
-Lou Pickney, 11/22/2017 7:10 p.m. CST
17. Dallas Cowboys - Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama (6'1" 190) *
18. Green Bay Packers - Sam Hubbard, DE/OLB, Ohio St. (6'5" 265) *
19. Buffalo Bills - Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson (6'3" 310) *
20. Seattle Seahawks - Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio St. (5'10" 190) *
21. Tennessee Titans - Vita Vea, DT, Washington (6'4" 345) *
22. Detroit Lions - Tyquan Lewis, DE/OLB, Ohio St. (6'3" 265) *
23. Atlanta Falcons - Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn (6'1" 205) *
24. Los Angeles Rams - James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St. (6'0" 205) *
25. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs) - Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming (6'4" 235) *
26. Jacksonville Jaguars - Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU (6'3" 220) *
27. Carolina Panthers - Austin Bryant, DE/OLB, Clemson (6'4" 265) *
28. Minnesota Vikings - Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan (6'2" 280)
29. Pittsburgh Steelers - Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama (6'2" 310) *
30. New Orleans Saints - Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama (6'2" 215) *
31. New England Patriots - Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa (6'1" 185) *
As I've noted for some time now, it's exceptionally difficult to figure out what Bill Belichick and the Patriots will do in the draft.
32. Philadelphia Eagles - Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida St. (6'1" 200) *
* indicates player with NCAA eligibility for 2018