- It’s still too early to say what’s going to happen in April, but we ran our first-round projection by scouts from eight NFL teams to try to get as close as possible
Teams have a pretty good idea of what they think of draft prospects right now—but combine week, starting Tuesday, is a turning point.
After combine, they’ll have full medicals to go along with what’s been built up on scouting reports over the last couple of years. After combine, the GMs and head coaches will be able compare their impressions from interviews with the players to what area scouts came back with from campus visits. And after combine, they’ll have some testing numbers to confirm that fast guys are fast, and strong guys are strong.
So yes, there will be winners and losers in Indianapolis, but teams are now coming out of draft meetings with early boards set and consensus starting to come together within their building on who should fall where. And it’s with that backdrop that I’m going to give you my second mock of this draft season (here’s the November version).
As always, this isn’t based on any evaluation of mine, it’s based on discussions with decision-makers and evaluators across the NFL—and four months of reporting from having done The NFL Draft Column in the fall. With that background, I put together a mock on Sunday, and vetted it with guys from eight teams. Over that time, I rearranged it three times, and finally came up with this. Enjoy!
• THE ORIGINAL ‘DRAFT BIBLE’ AND BILL POLIAN ON LAMAR JACKSON: The book every owner had at the first draft in 1936, plus an old, stale controversy, mock draft roundup and Quenton Nelson in the YouTube highlights of the week.
1. Cleveland: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Drafting a quarterback high has a lot to do with comfort level, and I think John Dorsey will find himself most comfortable with Darnold—despite his funky delivery—because of his off-the-charts intangibles.
2. N.Y. Giants: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
I’ve put Josh Rosen in this spot consistently. Why did I move him out? My feeling is, in the end, Allen will be a better personality fit with Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur.
3. Indianapolis: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State
Chubb might be the safest pick in the draft (though that can be the kiss of death, ask Aaron Curry), and he fulfills Chris Ballard’s desire to get more athletically imposing at a premium position.
4. Cleveland (from Houston): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Barkley is the draft’s best player, but the non-premium position makes him a wild card. I like the idea of pairing him with a rookie quarterback, like Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott two years ago.
5. Denver: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The fifth and sixth picks could hinge on where Kirk Cousins lands. I’m going with a Case Keenum/Rosen pairing in Denver, and this could be a grand slam. Rosen is the most gifted QB in this year’s crop.
6. N.Y. Jets: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
This is assuming the Jets get Cousins. Nelson is a generational guard prospect, widely considered better than fellow Irish alum Zack Martin at the same stage. And he’ll bring nastiness.
7. Tampa Bay: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
What you’re getting here is a Malcolm Jenkins-type player—corner/safety versatility that’s incredibly valuable in today’s NFL—and a front-of-the-program guy.
8. Chicago: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The only knock on Ward is that he’s short. Outside of that? He’s worthy to carry on the rich recent lineage of Buckeye DBs going pro. And Vic Fangio will love his ability to play man.
9. San Francisco: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds came on my radar late in the season. He’s a freak, built for the K.J. Wright/De’Vondre Campbell role in the Niners’ Seattle-style scheme.
10. Oakland: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
The Raiders would be lucky in this scenario—their biggest hole would be filled by the best available player. Smith is a heat-seeking sideline-to-sideline linebacker who could man the Oakland middle for a decade.
11. Miami: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Call this a hunch. Senior Bowl week once again showed teams Mayfield’s bravado isn’t for everyone, but I like the match with Adam Gase. Ryan Tannehill is turning 30 and has $0 guaranteed left on his deal.
12. Cincinnati: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
All eyes were on Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton last year, but Cincinnati’s biggest problem was the decline of its offensive line. This NFL legacy helps them fix it.
13. Washington: Marcus Davenport, EDGE, Texas-San Antonio
So I really wanted to put Davenport higher than this—and believe he’ll go before 13. Just watch. The converted receiver from a mid-major school will put on a show in Indianapolis.
14. Green Bay: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
New coordinator Mike Pettine covets corners who can man receivers up, and that’s the rangy Jackson’s specialty. Once a receiver, Jackson is just scratching the surface of his potential.
15. Arizona: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
New coach Steve Wilks is coming from Carolina, where a dominant defense was built up the middle with stout interior defensive linemen. And Payne is a great value at 15.
16. Baltimore: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Williams is coming off a knee injury, but was very highly thought of at the beginning of the year. If he’s right, the Ravens can bookend him with Ronnie Stanley for years to come.
17. L.A. Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Protecting an aging Philip Rivers is paramount, and Russell Okung is 30. That makes McGlinchey a good candidate to come in as a right tackle/eventual successor at left tackle.
18. Seattle: Derwin James, S, Florida State
James is an incredible athlete and tough as nails, but he didn’t come back from his 2016 knee injury at the level he played at as a freshman. That said, he could be Seattle’s next Kam Chancellor.
19. Dallas: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
There’s a lot of buzz around what this 340-pounder might show athletically in Indianapolis. And a big couple days certainly could bump him higher than this.
20. Detroit: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
Landry was well regarded coming into 2017, and had a good, not great final year at BC. But he’s still solid, and seems like Matt Patricia’s kind of player (as well as Ziggy Ansah insurance).
21. Buffalo: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
I’ve had Sutton higher than this. I’ve since heard teams were a tad disappointed in his 2017 season. But he’s got huge potential, and is both Sean McDermott’s kind of receiver and person.
22. Buffalo (from Kansas City): Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Marcell Dareus is gone and Kyle Williams is 34 with an expired deal. Yes, Hurst is short, and may not quite look the part. But he produces, and fits the KK Short role in McDermott’s D.
23. L.A. Rams: Billy Price, C, Ohio State
Center is vital in Sean McVay’s offense, and John Sullivan filled the role ably last year. But Price has the head and the physical mentality to be an ideal long-term solution there for the Rams.
24. Carolina: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Oliver is another player who came on my radar late, and fits the NFL’s desire for longer corners. And the Panthers could use a potential star at the position.
25. Tennessee: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Evans closed the year on fire for the champion Tide, and could pair with or replace impending free agent Avery Williamson.
26. Atlanta: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
While there are some questions about his instincts, Bryan has all the athleticism and toughness that Dan Quinn looks for in his defensive linemen, and gives the Falcons a layer of depth there.
27. New Orleans: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
The Saints have fewer pressing needs than they’ve in a while, allowing them to add another young slash weapon to their offense who will also juice to their return units.
28. Pittsburgh: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Le’Veon Bell’s gigantic tag number complicates negotiations on a long-term deal, and Guice would give the Steelers a logical heir to the throne.
29. Jacksonville: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Unless they deem a QB worthy of going here, the Jags help the one they already have with the most pro-ready receiver in the draft. It’s sensible given Allen Robinson’s uncertain future.
30. Minnesota: Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
I’m really thinking Key will fall out of the first round, and could keep on falling. He has a lot of off-field questions to answer, and wasn’t great on the field last year. His potential, though, is limitless.
31. New England: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The Patriots need pieces in the front seven, and Vander Esch would give them insurance for Dont’a Hightower, as well as perhaps his eventual replacement.
32. Philadelphia: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Jason Peters is 36 and expensive, and the Eagles have shown steadfastly that they want to keep Lane Johnson on the right side. So they get a year ahead on left tackle by plucking Miller here.
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