This will be a fascinating draft for quarterbacks, with opinions all over the board for virtually every quarterback in consideration to be taken in the first round. In fact, it wouldn’t be shocking to see as many as four or five teams come out of the draft feeling like they got their top option at the position.
It’s a little early to start mocking trades, but I really like the idea of the Giants moving up one spot to secure Josh Rosen if the Browns decide to let it leak that he’s their top option, despite his hesitance to play in Cleveland. The Browns already have plenty of draft ammunition thanks to the work of the deposed Sashi Brown, but there’s nothing wrong with scooping up some more, especially if they have the opportunity to land future picks by dropping just one spot.
Below is the current draft order, which could feature some alterations after pick No. 24.
1. Cleveland Browns
Sam Darnold, QB, USC. I expect the Browns to scout this QB class thoroughly and take whichever guy they settle on at No. 1, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising if they brought in a bridge QB while their new franchise signal-caller develops. Give the Browns an Alex Smith/Sam Bradford type for 2018, plus Darnold and another blue-chipper at No. 4, and things start to get interesting for the perennial punching bag.
2. New York Giants
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. The Giants should attack their offensive-line issues aggressively, but picking this high in this draft, a quarterback should be priority No. 1 if the right one is on the board. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Giants work out a trade to move up one spot, especially if we start to hear reports of the Browns leaning toward the UCLA QB despite his disinterest in playing in Cleveland. The period of time between the combine and the start of free agency is going to be fascinating for this team; imagine if the Giants move up to No. 1 and also trade Eli Manning to a team like the Jaguars during the first week of March.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. Barkley is likely the top talent in the draft this year and a decent bet to go No. 1 overall despite the position he plays. The Colts will be looking for a new bell-cow back despite there being no proof that Frank Gore isn’t a warlock who has defeated the slow march of time, and if Barkley is there at No. 3, he could be the top name on the board for the Colts. It wouldn’t be too shocking to see them go pass-rusher or offensive lineman either.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans)
Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Alabama. Fitzpatrick is the perfect free safety for today’s game, and he’s versatile enough to play center field or come down in the box as needed. His coverage abilities are also good enough to try him at cornerback, and whichever teams drafts him should seriously consider going that route. In Cleveland, he gives the Browns coverage ability at the safety position, something they’re desperately missing. Trust new GM John Dorsey to know how much of a difference an elite free safety can make after he hit a home run with Eric Berry in 2014.
5. Denver Broncos
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame. The Broncos clearly need to do something about the QB position, but they shouldn’t force it if one of the top two prospects doesn’t fall to No. 5. The smart thing would be to add a veteran as a short-term starter and then use a Day 2 pick on a quarterback like Josh Allen or Mason Rudolph to develop, with the option of trading back into the first round for either. No. 5 overall is high for a guard, but Nelson is likely one of the top-five players at any position in this class. Put him on a line with Ronald Leary, Matt Paradis and a developing Garett Bolles, and you’re putting whoever is at QB in a better position to succeed.
6. New York Jets
Arden Key, DE/LB, LSU. The Jets have needs up and down the roster, so expect them to go best player available with this pick. In terms of talent, that should be Key, who has the ability to be a special pass-rusher on the outside despite dealing with various injuries throughout the season. The Jets are always interested in adding cornerstones to their defense, and Key should fit right in with Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams to give the team one of the rising defensive units in the game, provided the Jets aren’t scared away by his off-field red flags.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. The Buccaneers could go one of a few ways with this pick, nabbing Barkley if he makes it out of the top six or fortifying the offensive line by finally upgrading over Donovan Smith. But when you’re looking at both value and need, Chubb is the perfect fit at No. 7. He’s a dominant edge-rusher that gives high effort on nearly every play. With 10 sacks and more than 20 tackles for loss in each of his last two seasons for NC State, he’s the perfect guy to come in and take the Bucs defense to another level.
8. Chicago Bears
Christian Wilkins, DE, Clemson. If the Bears re-sign Mitch Unrein, or if Key or Chubb make it to No. 8, the Bears are probably going to go in a different direction. But with how the board plays out here, Wilkins would seemingly be a great fit as a 3-4 base end that can kick inside in nickel downs and be just as effective getting into the backfield. New coach Matt Nagy may want to give Mitchell Trubisky a new No. 1 weapon, but that strategy makes most sense after a trade down. Any team targeting a quarterback may want to give Chicago a call if their desired prospect is still on the board here.
9. San Francisco 49ers
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. The 49ers landed a franchise quarterback in a deadline deal with the Patriots, and that provides the freedom to go any number of directions with this pick. Here, they get a potential shutdown cornerback to add to a young, improving secondary. Between Jackson, 2017 third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon and K’Waunn Williams, the 49ers would have the ability to match up with most passing games on the back end.
10. Oakland Raiders
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State. Even though offensive guru Jon Gruden is in town, the Raiders should be targeting best defender available with this pick. The Raiders can save $ 14.5 million by cutting Sean Smith and David Amerson in the offseason, and if they can get T.J. Carrie re-signed after his standout year, having him, 2017 first-rounder Gareon Conley and the speedy Ward at the cornerback position instantly makes the Raiders younger, cheaper and flat-out better at an area of need.
11. Miami Dolphins
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson. Consider this more of a value play than filling an immediate need. Ferrell is coming off a great performance against Alabama that caps a season that included 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. With Cam Wake on the tail end of his career, Ferrell gives the Dolphins someone to pair with Charles Harris and provide pass rushing off the edge for the foreseeable future.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. The Bengals have to come out of this draft with a better plan for their offensive line after the disaster of 2017, and McGlinchey is a great step in the right direction. He has proven himself against some of the country’s best edge-rushers during his Notre Dame career, and he’ll improve both the pass- and run-blocking for a team that desperately needs it. This would be a great spot for the Bengals to trade down as well and pick up multiple picks to address the line.
13. Washington Redskins
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming. Will the Redskins get Kirk Cousins signed to a long-term deal? It’s hard to imagine something finally giving way after years of stalled negotiations. The team can get by with franchise-tagging him one more time but they need a plan going forward if it’s not going to be Cousins. Allen needs some work before he can step onto an NFL field, but his upside is tantalizing enough for a team that can redshirt him for a year to grab him.
14. Green Bay Packers
Derwin James, SS, Florida State. The Packers drafted Josh Jones in the second round in 2017 to take over for Morgan Burnett after the latter left in free agency, but Jones didn’t put enough on tape to just be handed the job this offseason. Considering the great value the Packers get with James here, relegating Jones to a reserve role long term makes sense. James should be a great fit as an in-the-box safety to complement Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the Packers’ defensive backfield.
15. Arizona Cardinals
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. It’s possible the Cardinals could have their QB of the future locked up before the draft, but if they decline to hand a big-money contract to someone in free agency, they should be positioned to grab someone in the second-tier of signal-callers this year after just missing out on the top three names in the last draft. Jackson seems to be a polarizing prospect that could come off the board in a wide rage of possibilities, but if no one ahead of this spot falls in love with the former Heisman winner, I think this could be his floor.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. Ozzie Newsome obviously loves to grab Alabama prospects in the draft, and here’s a guy that also fills a major need for the team. Ridley is so much more than his pedestrian college stats suggest, and while teams will give him a pass for his production in that offense, he’ll need to show the ability to bulk up a bit if he wants to jump into the top half of the first round. By placing him here, I think he’ll check that box for teams just fine.
17. Los Angeles Chargers
Vita Vea, DT, Washington. The Chargers have a pair of beasts on the edge to rush the passer, but too many times this year they were done in by the run, giving up a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry as six opponents topped 150 rushing yards against them this season. Vea, a massive presence in the middle of a defensive line, will go a long way toward fixing that deficiency, while also providing enough quickness to penetrate into the backfield on some third downs.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA. The thing to know about the Seahawks‘ first-round pick is that they currently don’t have any picks on Day 2, so it makes the most sense for them to look to trade down a bit and pick up a second- or third-round pick to help address potential needs on the offensive line, defensive line and secondary. If they do deal down, Davenport should be a prime target to address a need at defensive end if Michael Bennett isn’t brought back, which he seems to expect. That is, if someone earlier than here doesn’t fall in love with the big edge rusher first.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma. The offensive line is obviously one of the Cowboys‘ strengths, but it’s also not without its weak spots. La’El Collins struggled at the right tackle spot this year, and bringing in an excellent right-tackle prospect would allow him to kick inside and improve the two weaker spots on an otherwise outstanding line. Brown might not be able to handle the best speed rushers in the league, but he should serve as a long-term starter at right tackle and give the Cowboys line the boost it needs to get back to dominance.
20. Detroit Lions
Roquan Smith, OLB, Georgia. If this draft happened 10 years ago, Smith would be a near-certainty to be taken in the top 10, but with the de-emphasizing of the linebacker position in the draft nowadays, he could make it down to No. 20, where the Lions would be smart to spend a second straight first-round pick on a linebacker. Smith has outstanding speed at the position, and he should immediately replace free-agent Tahir Whitehead as a difference maker at the second level for Detroit.
21. Buffalo Bills
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. Given that the Bills have back-to-back picks at 21 and 22, it’s entirely possible they shoot up in the draft to grab a Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen. But if they stand pat, Mayfield is likely the best they can hope for to address the position if they move on from Tyrod Taylor during the offseason. Mayfield has an excellent arm and should be a good fit in Rick Dennison’s offense in Buffalo, though he’s far from a finished product and will likely go through some growing pains in Year 1.
22. Buffalo Bills from Chiefs
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan. The Bills traded Marcell Dareus during the season and Kyle Williams is a free agent. That makes defensive tackle one of their major needs heading into the offseason. If the Bills aren’t put off by Hurst’s size, which comes in a little small for his position, I expect him to be the pick here. He should be a scheme fit, and his quickness has the chance to overwhelm interior offensive linemen at the next level.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn. With Trumaine Johnson heading to free agency unless the Rams can work out a long-term deal, cornerback should be a need for the team heading into the draft. Davis brings similar size to Johnson at the position, and if he runs well at the combine, he could end up much higher than this when all is said and done.
24. Carolina Panthers
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. The Panthers cut ties with one tall receiver when they shipped Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills, and now they replace him with the 6-foot-4 Sutton, who should go much higher than this if he tests well during the combine. Sutton put together back-to-back seasons of 1,000 yards and 10 TDs, and he scored 32 times in all in his three seasons with the Mustangs. He’ll give Cam Newton a great replacement for Benjamin in the offense.
25. Tennessee Titans
Taven Bryan, DE, Florida. Jurrell Casey is one of the league’s premier 3-4 defensive ends, but he could lose DaQuan Jones as a linemate due to free agency. Enter Bryan, who has drawn some lofty J.J. Watt comparisons. Don’t expect him to reach Watt’s level — that’s nearly impossible for anyone — but Bryan should be an excellent fit as Casey’s running mate.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
Connor Williams, OT, Texas. The Jaguars would be wise to bring in a potential franchise left tackle after watching Cam Robinson struggle at the position this year, and Williams could fit the bill. Some analysts think he’s a lock for the top 10, while others can’t imagine him being taken in the first round. In the end, his potential on the blind side is too great for the Jaguars to pass on.
27. Atlanta Falcons
Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama. The Falcons benefited from the great play of Dontari Poe after signing him as a free agent last year, but that was just a one-year deal and Poe should be able to cash in this offseason. Payne brings the same potential, both as a massive presence inside on the defensive line and occasionally on offense. Though nose tackles aren’t hot commodities in the draft, Payne is well worth being a first-round pick, especially after his College Football Playoff performance.
28. New Orleans Saints
Malik Jefferson, OLB, Texas. The Saints should be happy with the play of Manti Te’o in the middle, but they need to surround him with more talent at the position. Enter Jefferson, a top recruit coming out of high school who has the sideline-to-sideline speed to stick on the weakside and play all three downs for the Saints on their young, rising defense.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers
Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama. The inside linebacker position tragically became one of need when Ryan Shazier suffered a catastrophic injury against the Bengals during a Monday night game. While Shazier focuses on his health, the team must find an answer inside. That could come in the form of Evans, a versatile linebacker who can cover in the passing game but take on blockers while attacking the running back as well.
30. Philadelphia Eagles
Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA. It’s not a lock that Jason Peters is the same player after suffering an ACL and MCL tear in 2017, which is a major injury for any player not to mention a guy who will be 36 when the 2018 season begins. Whether Peters returns or not, the Eagles should be thinking long-term about the tackle spot, and that means drafting a quality right-tackle prospect like Miller and shifting Lane Johnson to the left side.
31. New England Patriots
Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College. Bill Belichick, here’s your new Jamie Collins. While Landry is nowhere near the run defender as Collins, he would give the Patriots a boost in getting after the quarterback, which they showed is a concern by bringing in linebacker James Harrison late in the season. Landry can give them that type of player regularly moving forward and should be an excellent chess piece for the Genius.
32. Minnesota Vikings
Billy Price, G, Ohio State. Assuming the Vikings figure out what to do with their free-agent quarterbacks heading into the draft, Price would be a great target for them as a potential replacement for Joe Berger inside. Price would be one of the better starting centers in the league, so the Vikings have the option of sticking him at the pivot immediately and having Pat Elflein compete at a guard spot.