I didn’t really want to do it, just because it’s never happened before. But as I passed this mock draft around to scouts and execs and coaches over the last few days, I didn’t get much pushback. In fact, I actually got some approval. So what we’ve got here: Quarterbacks going 1-2-3-4.
“I don’t think it’s too aggressive,” said one scouting director. “If you don’t go up and get them, you may never get one.”
You’ve been hearing that the class isn’t that good? Well, two years ago, there was supposedly no Jameis Winston and no Marcus Mariota. Then two teams traded up to get Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, and it’s fair to say that neither the Rams nor the Eagles regret it. Last year’s crop was considered even worse, yet three teams dealt up to find their quarterbacks, and Chicago (Mitch Trubisky), Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes) and Houston (Deshaun Watson) feel good about it now. Likewise, the race is now on. The Jets got up to 3, and that puts the pressure on quarterback-needy teams (Buffalo? Arizona? Denver?) to get into position to draft one of the top four.
With that in mind, we’re presenting our third mock of the football year and projecting trades for the first time. We have old Panthers staffmates Dave Gettleman and Brandon Beane doing business. We’ve also got the Broncos flip-flopping with the Browns, whose spot at 4 could wind up being a hot one for action.
Obviously, the caveat here is we’ve still got a month to go, and we’ll have a better idea (and more rumors and info from teams) when the next one of these rolls out in April. But for now, have at it . . .
1. Cleveland: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Darnold is not perfect, but he’s still a damn good prospect. And when GM John Dorsey is looking for a leader he’s comfortable tying his professional future to, I think this 20-year-old is the guy.
2. Buffalo (projected trade with N.Y. Giants): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The Bills have done a nice job building capital for a bold swing. This is one. Allen’s potential is limitless, and his big frame and arm are made for Buffalo, though he has a ways to go.
3. N.Y. Jets (from Indianapolis): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
I like the personality fit and on-field match between OC Jeremy Bates and Rosen, who’s seen as a “not for everyone” type of kid. He is the most evolved and natural passer in this group.
4. Denver (projected trade with Cleveland, owner of Houston’s pick): Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Denver had Mayfield at the Senior Bowl, and they have a starter, in Case Keenum, who lines up nicely with his style. So the Broncos throw another dart at the QB board.
5. Cleveland (projected trade with Denver): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Imagine that. Cleveland gets its quarterback at 1, moves out of 4, and somehow still lands the player most scouts regard as the best in the draft.
6. Indianapolis (from N.Y. Jets): Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State
This would be a great scenario for GM Chris Ballard—all those picks intact, and Chubb and Quenton Nelson still on the board. The tiebreaker between the two? Position value.
7. Tampa Bay: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Fitzpatrick is a more athletic, less physical version of Malcolm Jenkins who can play all over the secondary. If there’s a criticism, it’s that he’s maxed out. But he’s damn good already.
8. Chicago: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
I’ve had Denzel Ward here. But should Nelson fall this far, my guess is that new O-line coach Harry Hiestand, coming from Notre Dame, will make his opinion known.
9. San Francisco: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
I’m on record loving the fit for Edmunds in a Seattle-style defense, playing the role K.J. Wright does for the Seahawks and De’Vondre Campbell does for the Falcons. I’m sticking with that.
10. Oakland: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Another fit I’ve loved for a while, this is where “best player available” meets a crying need for a team. Smith has potential, as a middle linebacker, to emerge as the nerve center of a defense for a decade.
11. Miami: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
I flirted with putting Marcus Davenport here, but in the end, with Ndamukong Suh gone, Miami needs help on the interior more. Payne is a safe pick in this area.
12. N.Y. Giants (projected trade with Buffalo, owner of Cincinnati’s pick): Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
Word is the Giants love Barkley and Nelson, and I know dealing down isn’t in Gettleman’s history. But I think the offers will entice, and Davenport would be a good get at 12.
13. Washington: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward’s size knocks him down the board a little bit, with the league-wide trend being towards bigger corners. He’s too good to resist as a replacement for Kendall Fuller here.
14. Green Bay: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida
Green Bay tipped its hand with the offer sheet for Kyle Fuller—and it totally makes sense. Mike Pettine’s scheme demands man-cover corners. The fast-rising Hughes can be that guy.
15. Arizona: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
The signing of Sam Bradford puts a premium on getting better at tackle. And assuming Arizona can’t get up the board for a quarterback, Williams is a very logical pick in this spot.
16. Baltimore: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Ravens have plenty of issues finding long-term answers at receiver, and so Ozzie Newsome—with his final first-round pick as GM—goes to a familiar place to find one.
17. L.A. Chargers: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Gus Bradley’s defense could always use another monster up front, and adding the freakish Vea to a front that has Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Corey Liuget will be a problem for everyone else.
18. Seattle: Derwin James, S, Florida State
Opinions are split here. Some see a guy who’s more athlete than player, and point to effort issues last year. Others see a Kam Chancellor type who needed time to recover from his 2016 injury.
19. Dallas: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
With concern over Dez Bryant’s ability to run, Dallas suddenly has a need for an outside target. Sutton’s potential is tantalizing—those who’ve scouted him live have a pretty high opinion of him.
20. Detroit: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Alexander’s big week at the combine has propelled him into the first-round conversation, and the Lions need a corner to pair with Darius Slay.
21. Cincinnati (from Buffalo): Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
The Bengals already came away with their left tackle (Cordy Glenn) in dealing down 12 spots, which gives Cincinnati flexibility to add a piece elsewhere. And getting a solid pass rusher here is great value.
22. N.Y. Giants (projected trade with Buffalo): Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Nate Solder is in town, and the Giants have a decision to make on Ereck Flowers’ option, so the time seems right to add a long-term bookend for their new left tackle.
23. L.A. Rams: James Daniels, C/G, Iowa
Billy Price’s torn pec opens the door for Daniels to nudge past his Big Ten counterpart, and to the Rams—who have a long-term need at center, which happens to be a position Sean McVay values greatly.
24. Carolina: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
Goedert and South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst are neck-and-neck among the tight ends. Goedert, though, is a little younger (and therefore has a little more room for development), and makes sense with Greg Olsen at 33.
25. Tennessee: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Avery Williamson is gone, and Evans is just the kind of tone-setter Mike Vrabel could use to set an example of what he’s looking for in his first draft pick. Evans got better and better last year at Bama.
26. Atlanta: Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State
The Falcons need to get better inside, and so they’re willing to taken an injured Price, even if it means they won’t get him until camp. A strong roster without crying needs gives them that flexibility.
27. New Orleans: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
New Orleans’ tire-kicking of Suh tells you that they’re looking at adding a difference-maker on the defensive interior, and Bryan would give them a disruptive presence there.
28. Pittsburgh: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The void left by Ryan Shazier opens the door for Vander Esch, who’d be a very good fit in Keith Butler’s front, with the athleticism be the kind of sideline-to-sideline force Shazier was.
29. Jacksonville: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
You can use Kirk a million different ways, and my guess is OC Nathaniel Hackett would cook up a few. The ability to flip him the ball in the open field would also take some burden off Blake Bortles.
30. Minnesota: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Hurst’s heart condition might cause him to slip a little. But it doesn’t change the kind of player he is—the chaos-causing kind that Mike Zimmer really likes.
31. New England: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Miller is big and athletic and a little raw like Nate Solder was coming out in 2011, and I just don’t see where else the Patriots will be able to find a suitable left tackle to protect a 41-year-old Tom Brady.
32. Philadelphia: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
The Eagles are another team whose balanced roster gives them the chance to pluck the best available guy, and not pass on a corner with Oliver’s potential in this spot.
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