Boris selects Darnold, Barkley to go 1-2 in his mock draft
The 2018 NFL Draft is now just hours away, and make no mistake about it, anticipation and unpredictability is at an all-time high.
The underlying theme of this year’s draft centers on quarterbacks, where at least five passers will be chosen in the first round (the most since 1999). However, the sequence in which this much-lauded group of signal-callers comes off the board has the potential to drastically change the complexion of the entire draft. Making things even more interesting is the fact that there’s nothing close to a consensus on which quarterback is the top player at his position.
As always though, I’m here to offer some insights and opinions on this year’s first round with the release of my 2018 final mock draft, which has become an annual staple of the Times News for the past 18 years and has been ranked as the most accurate mock draft in the industry over the past seven years according to www.thehuddlereport.com.
So, without further ado, here’s how I see things unfolding tonight (before the first trade blows it all up):
1. Cleveland Browns – Sam Darnold (QB, USC)
For the second straight year, the Browns have the pick of the litter at the top of the draft board, but that’s what happens when you have only one win in the past two seasons. With two picks in the top four (the first time that has happened since Washington picked second and third in 2000), Cleveland can take a major step forward with turning around their fortunes. While I would personally be inclined to select Saquon Barkley here, I think Cleveland will opt for the quarterback of their choosing. Just who that might be though is completely up in the air, as the Browns front office has kept this thing completely under wraps. Ultimately, I think the pick comes down to Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield. Allen has been picking up a lot of momentum in the past 48 hours, but my gut is telling me it’s a smokescreen and Darnold is their guy.
2. New York Giants – Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
Assuming Cleveland takes a quarterback first overall, I think the draft starts at No. 2 with the Giants and whatever they decide to do. Saquon Barkley or defensive end Bradley Chubb can help them the most right now, but if they fall in love with a quarterback who they think can be their franchise guy for the next ten years, that has to trump everything else. I also think that the Giants will use 9:59 of their allotted 10 minutes to see if any team is willing to trade up to this spot; however, GM David Gettleman doesn’t have a history of making draft day deals. If he was willing to take Christian McCaffrey at No. 8 last year when he was with the Panthers, I think he’d be more than willing to take the best player in the draft (Barkley) with this pick. Then again, they just let Jason Pierre-Paul walk, so you can’t totally rule out Chubb.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis Colts) – Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma)
The Jets traded up from No. 6 to No. 3 for one reason and one reason only – to secure their next franchise quarterback. For weeks, the scuttlebutt in draft circles has been that Baker Mayfield is their guy, but I think they’d have some serious decisions to make if Sam Darnold falls to them. Either way, I truly believe this pick will come down to one of the two. Since I’m mocking Darnold to Cleveland, it’s Broadway Baker to the Big Apple.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans) – Bradley Chubb (DE, North Carolina State)
In the perfect scenario, I think Cleveland is hoping that Saquon Barkley falls to them here (and he will if the Giants don’t select him), but if Barkley is off the board, I think the Browns have a few options. I believe picks 4-8 might be the “sweet spot” for teams looking to trade up for a quarterback (Buffalo, Arizona, etc.). Currently, the Browns have four picks in the Top 35 and they can add to that total by dealing this pick. If someone wants to come up for a quarterback, they’d possibly want to get ahead of Denver at No. 5. However, if Cleveland stays here, Bradley Chubb would make the most sense. Pairing Chubb with last year’s No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett would give the Browns a pass rush they haven’t seen in Cleveland in decades.
5. Denver Broncos – Quentin Nelson (OG, Notre Dame)
Case Keenum signing with the Broncos does not take them out of the quarterback sweepstakes. When Denver coached in the Senior Bowl, they specifically requested Baker Mayfield to be on their team. A lot has happened since January, but you still have to keep that in the back of your mind. If John Elway isn’t enamored with any quarterbacks that are still on the board at this point, the safest pick would probably be to pivot to Notre Dame offensive guard Quinton Nelson. Denver desperately needs to improve its blocking. Some might say this is too early to draft a guard, but Washington selected Brandon Scherff at No. 5 several years ago and that panned out pretty well. Denzel Ward would also fill a huge need at corner and the Broncos apparently love him.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from New York Jets) – Roquan Smith (LB, Georgia)
The Colts might be stuck between a rock and a hard place with this pick, because the guy they truly want is North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb. If Chubb slides this far, the Colts will be doing back flips. However, no matter what happens, the Colts are still winners since they picked up three second round picks from the Jets by moving back just three slots. Indianapolis might not be done trading either, as I could see them dealing back again, hoping that they might be able to obtain Roquan Smith a few picks later. Quenton Nelson would also be very tempting here as Andrew Luck needs all the protection that he can get.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Derwin James (S, Florida State)
Tampa Bay averaged just 3.7 yards a carry a year ago, so the ideal scenario would be if the Buccaneers can land Quenton Nelson to help improve a stagnant running game and keep Jameis Winston properly protected. However, if Nelson is gone, then Tampa Bay can look to address their woeful secondary and safeties like Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick could be strong possibilities. James is a physical playmaker that can help take the Buccaneers defense to new heights.
8. Chicago Bears – Denzel Ward (CB, Ohio State)
With Josh Allen and Josh Rosen still on the board, Bears GM Ryan Pace will probably be calling every quarterback-needy team, hoping to trade back and swing a deal for more picks. If I predicted trades in my mock draft, I would have them trading with Buffalo, as the Bills would come up for Josh Allen. However, if they have to make a pick here, you better believe it will be on the defensive side of the ball. Drafting an edge rusher like Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds, a cornerback like Denzel Ward, or a playmaking safety like Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James will all be strong considerations. Even though they just gave two substantial contracts to cornerbacks this offseason, the Bears are apparently smitten with Ward.
9. San Francisco 49ers – Minkah Fitzpatrick (S, Alabama)
Due to legal issues, the 49ers can’t count on Rueben Foster to play middle linebacker this season or perhaps ever again, which could really force the 49ers into drafting for need instead of value (linebackers Tremain Edmunds or Roquan Smith fit the bill). However, Minkah Fitzpatrick makes a lot of sense as well, as he is a versatile back that can play slot corner or safety. That might be very appealing to San Francisco GM John Lynch, a former Pro Bowl safety in his own right.
10. Oakland Raiders – Mike McGlinchey (OT, Notre Dame)
The Raiders can go in a lot of different directions with this pick. If they want to look offense, then Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey makes a ton of sense, since starting tackle Donald Penn is getting long in the tooth (35 years old). Defensively, Oakland can look at inside linebackers (Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmonds), safeties (Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James) or cornerback (Denzel Ward). Ultimately, I think this all boils down to who is left on the board by the time the Raiders pick. If there is still a top quarterback available, this might also be prime trading territory, as teams may want to jump ahead of Miami and Buffalo. Arizona might be one of those teams, and Josh Rosen might still be on the board.
11. Miami Dolphins – Tremaine Edmunds (LB, Virginia Tech)
The Dolphins have been linked to Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen, but it doesn’t sound like they’ll be trading up for a quarterback. The two players Miami has its sights on are linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Roquan Smith. Edmunds will be targeted earlier in the first round by teams like the Bears and 49ers, but if he slides this far, I would have a hard time thinking the Dolphins would pass on him. One fun fact about Edmunds is that his father Ferrell was a two-time Pro Bowler for the Dolphins back in 1989-90.
12. Buffalo Bills (from Cincinnati Bengals) – Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming)
I have to believe that part of the reason the Bills made this trade with Cincinnati was to better position themselves for making another trade on draft day – specifically for a quarterback. Let’s face it, the Bills don’t have a NFL-caliber quarterback on the roster, so they need to select one early in this draft. They now have ammunition to package picks and move up into the top 10 if they so choose, but regardless, they have to come out of the first round with a new franchise quarterback. Will that be Josh Allen, Josh Rosen or Lamar Jackson?
13. Washington Redskins – Vita Vea (DT, Washington)
From Washington to Washington, Vea to the Redskins could be the worst kept secret in this year’s NFL draft. Whether it happens or not is another question, but all indications are that the Redskins what to beef up their interior run defense with this pick. Vea is 347 pounds and will do wonders for a Jay Gruden defense that finished dead last in run defense last year. Alabama nose tackle Da’Ron Payne will also be another consideration to clog up the middle.
14. Green Bay Packers – Jaire Alexander (CB, Louisville)
This is a difficult pick to predict because of the changing of the guard in the Green Bay front office (from Ted Thompson to Brian Gutekunst). The Packers greatest needs are at outside rusher and cornerback. Defensive end Marcus Davenport could be very enticing here, as he probably has the most upside of any player left on the board. However, the cornerback position is nothing but question marks across the board in Green Bay. A cornerback like Denzel Ward, Jaire Alexander or Josh Jackson makes complete sense here.
15. Arizona Cardinals – Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
The Cardinals are a key piece of the quarterback puzzle in this year’s draft, as they are rumored to be one of the teams seriously looking to trade up for a signal caller. Arizona doesn’t have the draft capital to make a substantial move up into the first round, but they still might be able to move up a few picks if one of the quarterbacks slide out of the top 10. In this scenario, I could see a trade with Oakland being a potential option. Other positions the Cardinals could look to as fallback options are wide receiver and defensive line.
16. Baltimore Ravens – Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
Almost every mock draft I’ve seen has Baltimore selecting a wide receiver here. I just don’t buy it. The Ravens added Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead this offseason, giving the position group a major facelift. While I do think Baltimore will draft another wide receiver, I just don’t know if it will be in the first round. Instead, Ozzie Newsome (in his final year as Baltimore’s GM) might go out with a bang and send shockwaves through the league by selecting a quarterback. The Joe Flacco era is reaching the end of its line, and the Ravens need a playmaker to revitalize a stagnant offense. The biggest playmaker in this draft – Lamar Jackson – may just be what the doctor ordered.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – Da’Ron Payne (DT, Alabama)
The Chargers have a great defense, but one area of weakness is in the interior of its defensive line where the team ranked second to last in the league in run defense last season. Payne has the ability to be a massive disrupter inside and pairing him with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the edges would make San Diego’s defensive line a force to be reckoned with. Vita Vea would also be a worthy selection if he fell this far.
18. Seattle Seahawks – Isaiah Wynn (OL, Georgia)
This is a difficult spot to predict because I would be stunned if the Seahawks didn’t trade out of this pick. As it stands right now, they don’t have a pick on the second day (Friday) and don’t pick again until No. 120. Seattle has tons of holes to fill and they can only do that by accumulating more picks. The areas that I think the Seahawks will target are offensive line, defensive line, running back and wide receiver. For now, I will set my sights on the offensive line where Isaiah Wynn can play multiple positions (guard or tackle) and help better protect Russell Wilson and ignite a suspect running game.
19. Dallas Cowboys – Leighton Vander Esch (LB, Boise State)
Dallas will need to replace Dez Bryant at some point in this draft, but I don’t believe it will be with its first round pick. In recent years, the Cowboys defense has fallen apart when Sean Lee has been out of the lineup and to make matters worse, Anthony Hitchens signed on with Kansas City during the offseason. Linebacker is a huge need for the Dallas, and from everything I’m hearing, they love Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. A wide receiver like D.J. Moore or Courtland Sutton could be a possibility though and don’t rule out a sleeper pick like defensive tackle Taven Bryan.
20. Detroit Lions – Marcus Davenport (DE, UTSA)
The Lions really need to upgrade their front seven on defense, as aside from Ezekiel Ansah, the cupboard is pretty bare. For me, this pick boils down to an edge rusher like Marcus Davenport from Texas-San Antonio or Boston College’s Harold Landry. If Detroit wants to address the interior of its line, Florida’s Taven Bryan would be an ideal option. The Lions have a lot of different ways to go with this pick, but I think it’ll be defense when all is said and done, and the upside of Davenport is too much to pass up.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo Bills) – Frank Ragnow (C, Arkansas)
The Bengals did a great job of addressing their most pressing needs in the offseason by trading back nine picks to obtain left tackle Cordy Glenn from Buffalo and then signing linebacker Preston Brown, who led the NFL in tackles last year. This opens up the draft board tremendously for Duke Tobin and company. However, the offensive line was so bad last year, that reinforcements are still needed up front. A lot of mock drafts have James Daniels or Billy Price slotted to the Bengals, but I’m going with another center – Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs) – James Daniels (C, Iowa)
Whether the Bills package this pick to move up for a quarterback remains to be seen, but one thing I know is that Buffalo needs to address its offensive line if its new quarterback wants to have any chance at success. This past offseason the Bills lost three starters on their offensive line – Cordy Glenn, Alex Wood and Richie Incognito. Buffalo also has a need a middle linebacker (to replace Preston Brown), but offensive line has to be a priority. The Bills should have some options here, and my advice is to take the best blocker available.
23. New England Patriots (from Los Angeles Rams) – Kolton Miller (OT, UCLA)
The Patriots are notorious for trading back and acquiring more picks, so you know something might be brewing when they trade back into the first round, which now gives them two of the top 31 selections. Could a quarterback be in play here? You better believe it! If the Patriots are targeting a particular signal caller, they now have some ammunition to go up and get him, but since I don’t predict trades in my mock draft, I’m going to keep the Patriots here where they will look to address their biggest immediate need – left tackle. With Nate Solder bolting to the Giants, they Patriots need a blind-side protector, and Kolton Miller reminds me a lot of Solder. As for that quarterback, stay tuned…
24. Carolina Panthers – D.J. Moore (WR, Maryland)
Carolina may have somewhat addressed its wide receiver need in free agency, but Cam Newton could still use more weapons around him. D.J. Moore reminds me a lot of Steve Smith and the Panthers are currently lacking a true No. 1 receiver. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Carolina looks to the tight end pool with this pick, such as Hayden Hurst. If it’s not an offensive skill position player, the next most pressing need would probably be cornerback.
25. Tennessee Titans – Harold Landry (DE, Boston College)
Mike Vrabel knows a thing or two about rushing the passer, and he also knows that his team needs a new generation of edge rushers, whether that is a defensive end or an outside linebacker. Leighton Vander Esch, Sam Hubbard, Rashaan Evans and Harold Landry are just a few names that will be up for consideration. I’ve had Landry mocked to the Titans for a while now, so there’s no point in changing. Any of those names would be sound additions in Tennessee though.
26. Atlanta Falcons – Taven Bryan (DT, Florida)
Atlanta’s defense was incredibly soft late in the season, so the Falcons know they need to shore up the position. One name that has been really linked to the Falcons though is Florida’s Taven Bryan. Bryan could go as high as No. 19-20, but if he’s still around late in round one, I would think the Falcons would be ecstatic. I also wouldn’t rule the Falcons out as a team that is willing to trade up to get its man. If Atlanta opts to go elsewhere, it might be an interior offensive lineman.
27. New Orleans Saints – Calvin Ridley (WR, Alabama)
The Saints signed Cameron Meredith earlier this month, so wide receiver is no longer a “must.” However, there is always room for playmakers in Sean Payton’s offense, and if Ridley falls to the back end of the first round, you’d have to believe he’d be given consideration. Last year, the Saints where primed to select Patrick Mahomes as the heir-apparent to Drew Brees, but the Chiefs foiled their plans by jumping ahead of them. It’s no secret that the Saints are looking for their next quarterback, so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Saints had Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph on their radar. Other options might be a linebacker (Rashaan Evans) or tight end.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers – Rashaan Evans (LB, Alabama)
The Steelers are desperate to find a replacement for inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and they might be able to do that with this pick. Pittsburgh is said to be high on Leighton Vander Esch, but I have to believe Rashaan Evans will be in the conversation as well. Both players will address a huge need. However, this year’s linebacker class is deep, so the Steelers may opt to wait at the position. If they go in another director, I wouldn’t rule out a cornerback or even former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Big Ben won’t be around forever.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars – Hayden Hurst (TE, South Carolina)
Kudos to Jacksonville on an incredible season, but if the Jaguars want to get over the hump, they need to give Blake Bortles more weapons, and a good place to start might be at wide receiver or tight end. Allen Robinson is now in Chicago so a wide receiver like D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley or Courtland Sutton makes sense. At tight end, the Jaguars recently signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins in free agency, but Hayden Hurst – a Jacksonville native – is as good of an in-line blocker as he is a receiver and can help challenge defenses down the middle of the field. There are other gifted tight ends in this class, but Hurst is the best blocker that can also help set the edge for Leonard Fournette.
30. Minnesota Vikings – Will Hernandez (OG, UTEP)
The Vikings made a splash this offseason with the signing of Kirk Cousins and now they need to protect their new quarterback. Minnesota could theoretically be in the market for a center, guard or tackle, but obtaining a right guard strikes me as the most prudent thing to do. I think Will Hernandez would be a perfect fit for the Vikings at this point in round one, but with a deep offensive line class, Minnesota could decide to wait at the position. If they do, they might look to cornerback (a position that Mike Zimmer loves to draft early) or even a playmaking tight end.
31. New England Patriots – Mason Rudolph (QB, Oklahoma State)
If the Patriots want to find Tom Brady’s successor, they can surely do it with one of their two first round picks. Securing a left tackle and maybe some depth at linebacker would be tops on the priority list, but a quarterback can’t be that far off. They could possibly trade up for Josh Rosen or hope Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph falls to them. Rudolph fits the New England profile though and if six quarterbacks go in the first round, it’ll be the most quarterbacks drafted in the first round since that now famous class of 1983, which included Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly.
32. Philadelphia Eagles – Derrius Guice (RB, LSU)
If I had to make a pick for the Eagles, it would be that they don’t make a pick at all. Due to making trades with the Browns and Bills over the course of the past year, the Eagles don’t pick against until Saturday (fourth round, No. 130). They need to acquire more picks and I would be surprised if they didn’t trade out of this spot. There will also be a huge demand for this pick because all first round draft choices carry a fifth-year option in their contracts, so that is an important incentive to any team wishing to trade up to get a player they cover. However, if the Eagles stayed and made a selection, running back just may be the way to go. The Eagles lost LeGarrette Blount to free agency and Jay Ajay is entering the final year of his contract with suspect knees. Guice (or Georgia’s Sony Michel) would be a home run threat to compliment Corey Clement.