With NFL Training Camps officially underway, it’s time for some early predictions for next year’s draft!
1) New York Jets – QB Sam Darnold, USC
The New York Jets are in full-rebuild mode. Darnold is a young, talented passer who can provide an immediate upgrade over Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. Scouts will hopefully look past his unorthodox throwing motion and value his arm talent, pocket presence, and leadership. USC’s pro-style offense will make his transition to the NFL smoother than recent QB prospects. Reports have surfaced claiming that Darnold may stay at USC for 2 more years, but for now, he is the pick.
2) Chicago Bears – DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson
Christian Wilkins is a good fit in blanks defense as a versatile and athletic player who can slide to different positions along the defensive line. The Bears are in position to simply take the best player available as their roster lacks overall talent. An explosive first step and immense power will allow the Bears to improve as a unit.
3) San Francisco 49ers – OT Connor Williams, Texas
By this time next year, all indications point to Kirk Cousins leaving D.C. for the Bay Area. If this does in fact happen, the Niners would be wise to invest in a Tackle to keep him upright. Connor Williams has all the tools scouts look for in a franchise tackle. He is strong, athletic, and has great balance. He can have success as a rookie if he cleans up his technique with his feet and hand usage.
4) Cleveland Browns – S Derwin James, FSU
The Cleveland Browns will continue to add defensive talent with the selection of Derwin James. James is a fluid athlete who has the speed and recognition to track down the football in the air or on the ground. James and 2017 first round pick Jabrill Peppers could make a dynamic duo on the back end of the Brown’s defense.
5) Los Angeles Rams – DL Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama
Alabama’s long line of talented defensive linemen to enter the NFL will continue with Da’Shawn Hand. Hand is a monster of a man, standing at 6’4” and 280 lbs. Hand is extremely powerful at the point of attack and is surprisingly nimble. Pairing Hand with Aaron Donald would make the Ram’s defensive line a force for years to come.
6) Buffalo Bills – CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
The Bills lost CB Stephon Gilmore this off season to the New England Patriots on a megadeal. Ronald Darby is a talented young corner in his own right, but he won’t be able to hold down the fort alone. Enter in Minkah Fitzpatrick, the long Alabama corner. Fitzpatrick was an All-American last season and showed the potential to be a lock down corner in the NFL. Scouts will want him to clean up his technique, but he outplayed this year’s no. 14 overall pick Marlon Humphrey, so the Bills would love to add Fitzpatrick to their secondary.
7) Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
Through three seasons, Blake Bortles has shown an erratic play style that results in plenty of interceptions and inaccurate throws. Although the Jaguars decided to pick up his 5th-year option for the 2018 season, they shouldn’t pass on Josh Rosen. As a former 5 star recruit out of high school, Rosen has lived up to the hype and impressed through 2 seasons at UCLA. Rosen’s throwing mechanics and footwork are top notch, and he consistently makes good throws into tight windows. If his shoulder can return to full health, Rosen should be a top 10 pick and lead the Jags into the future.
8) Detroit Lions – RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
The Lions sure wish they had selected David Johnson instead of Ameer Abdullah in the 2015 draft. Instead, Detroit has struggled to run the ball the past few seasons as Abdullah and Riddick are ineffective options. Saquon Barkley is the easy solution. Barkley has enough talent to continue the recent trend of a running back going in the top 5. Barkley isn’t a physically elite athlete, but his shiftiness and elusiveness are better than any runner in this year’s class and possibly several prior classes. Barkley can offer the Lions a missing element that they have missed since the days of Barry Sanders.
9) Baltimore Ravens – OT Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
For whatever reason, the Baltimore Ravens allow all of their talented offensive linemen leave in free agency. Kemechu Osemele and Ricky Wagner have been pro bowlers lost to other teams in consecutive offseasons. Clemson’s Mitch Hyatt can step in on day one and play guard or tackle. He displays smooth athleticism and good footwork but may need to add strength to his frame. Nevertheless, the Ravens should prioritize rebuilding the offensive line to protect Joe Flacco.
10) Los Angeles Chargers – QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Phillip Rivers will be 38 years old by the beginning of the 2018 season. He is no longer a top QB in the league and led the league in interceptions last season. Allen is arguably the most talented of this year’s crop of QBs. Athletic with a rocket arm, he reminds many of a more polished Patrick Mahomes. If he can clean up his mechanics and improve his accuracy, the Chargers will love to let Allen grow along with the team’s young core of offensive weapons.
11) Arizona Cardinals – WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
Future Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald’s play is assuredly on the decline and he may even retire after this season. John Brown hasn’t shown enough to give the Cardinals confidence to make him their No. 1 receiver and is better suited to play in the slot. Courtland Sutton boasts impressive size at 6’4’’ and 218 lbs, but he also has great speed and is a fluid athlete. With Sutton, the Cardinals will get a special talent who has the potential to fill to Fitzgerald’s absence in the offense.
12) New Orleans Saints – EDGE Arden Key, Boston College
It should be no surprise that the New Orleans Saints are selecting a defensive player in this mock. Seemingly every year, analysts and fans talk of the Saints’ horrible defense and how to fix it. Remember when Junior Galette was piling up sacks for the Saints? That year, 2013, the New Orleans Saints were a top 5 defense in yards allowed and total points scored. Honestly, the Saints could go anywhere on defense with this pick and get a boost, but LSU’s Arden Key may help the Saint’s defense turn the corner the fastest. Key is lighting quick off the line and creates a ton of QB hurries and sacks. A dynamic pass rusher like Key can fill a huge hole and relieve pressure on the underwhelming secondary.
13) Washington Redskins – QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Will Kirk Cousins be a Redskin next season? Right now, the answer is clearly no, as he has rejected all offers from the organization. Assuming Cousins is gone, Washington will need to add a passer in the draft or free agency to replace him. With the top 3 Quarterbacks off the board, the Skins go with Mason Rudolph. There is a lot to like about Rudolph, starting with his solid 6’5’’ and 235 lbs frame. He’s coming off a great season with the Cowboys, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns to a mere 4 interceptions. There are some issues with his mechanics and he comes from an Air Raid scheme that will have scouts worried about his transition into the NFL. Overall, Rudolph is a reach at No. 13 overall, but every team that doesn’t have their franchise Quarterback will make questionable decisions to go get QB who could be the future.
14) Cincinnati Bengals – OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
The Cincinnati Bengals lost their two best offensive linemen this offseason. Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler will be difficult to replace. The Bengals are slotted to start Jake Fischer and Cedric Ogbuehi at their Tackle spots who both played Right Tackle last season and were both benched at times. Enter Mike McGlinchey, a strong Tackle from Notre Dame. He is the best run-blocking tackle in the draft and also excels in pass protection. McGlinchey should be a no-brainer for the Bengals if he is still there at pick 14.
15) Miami Dolphins – CB Zaire Alexander, Louisville
As of now, the Miami Dolphins are scheduled to start Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard at their cornerback positions. Maxwell’s play does not his high cap number and might be cut after the season. Howard showed promise last season as a rookie, but he would still be the third or fourth corner on most other teams. It’s time for the Dolphins to invest in a first round shutdown corner. Louisville’s Zaire Alexander can provide an immediate upgrade at the position. He is long and super quick, two traits that will separate him from the pack. Alexander makes a lot of sense for Miami as they attempt to rebuild their secondary.
16) Indianapolis Colts – RB Derrius Guice, LSU
How is Frank Gore still in the NFL? It seriously feels like he is 40 years old. In actuality, Gore will be a 35-year-old free agent after the 2017 season and despite his decent production, the Colts will most likely look to move in a new direction. 2016 4th round pick Marlon Mack should see some playing time this upcoming season, but the Colts should invest larger draft capital in their next workhorse back. Derrius Guice has the same mentality as a runner that allowed Gore to have success in the NFL. Guice may not be the most gifted athlete, but he is an amazingly tough runner who refuses to go down without a fight. Guice also has the burst to pull away from defenders on long runs. Guice’s talent should be evident by the LSU coaching staff often giving him the same amount of carries as Leonard Fournette, who was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. The Colts can make their offense a more balanced attack with the addition of the dynamic Guice.
17) Carolina Panthers – EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College
The Panthers are a good enough team to sit back and take the best player available. BC’s Harold Landry may be the most talented player left on the board and also can fill a need in Carolina. The Panthers have a couple studs in their front 7 including linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis as well as lineman Kawaan Short. The team could use a dangerous outside pass rusher to funnel the running game into the linebackers and ease the pressure on its young secondary. Landry is a long, fluid athlete who is raw in terms of his moves, but has the talent to be special. The Panthers should put Landry on the edge and watch him contribute immediately.
18) Denver Broncos – MLB Malik Jefferson, Texas
The Broncos will have to revamp their defense if they want to get back to the Super Bowl. The losses of LB Danny Trevathan and DL Malik Jackson have shown. Malik Jefferson can fill a void at linebacker next to starter Brandon Marshall. Jefferson compares athletically to last year’s second round pick Jaylon Smith out of Notre Dame. If Jefferson can have similar production as Smith’s breakout season, the Broncos will snatch him up and bring some youth to the defense.
19) Philadelphia Eagles – DE Tyquon Lewis, OSU
The Eagles have a talented front 7 already as it stands, but it can become even more of a strength with the addition of Tyquan Lewis from Ohio State. Lewis is a physical end who is coming off a season where he was named first team all Big Ten Conference and the Defensive Lineman of the Year award in the Conference. Instead of trying to improve the secondary with this pick, Philly may want to make their defensive line an elite group of talent with the selection of Lewis. Slot him in next to the likes of Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox and this defense could be special.
20) Seattle Seahawks – CB Tarvaris McFadden, FSU
The “Legion of Boom” had not only Richard Sherman but also Brandon Browner, who was arguably a top 20 corner at that time. Since their Super Bowl season and Browner’s exit, The Seahawks have struggled to find a true No. 2 corner next to Sherman that can hold his own. Tarvaris McFadden has the prototypical size at 6’2’m and skills to find success next to Sherman in Seattle’s press bail scheme. Especially with rumors this offseason that Sherman might be on the trading block, McFadden should be the pick for the Hawks here.
21) Tennessee Titans – MLB Jerome Baker, OSU
The Tennessee Titans have the outside appearance of a Super Bowl contender, but their defense likely will hold them back. Cornerback and Linebacker are two likely positions that the Titans will look to add with this pick. With no corners of value on the board, Tennesse should go with Jerome Baker. He was terrific last season for the Buckeyes, finishing as the team’s second leading tackler. Baker has a knack for making big plays in big games. He had a 68-yard pick six against Oklahoma and recorded 15 tackles against Michigan. The Titans should look for Baker to overtake Avery Williams and strengthen the defense.
22) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – EDGE Josh Sweat, FSU
Can you ever have enough pass rushers in the NFL? Last year’s selection of edge rusher Noah Spence proved to be a wise move as he racked up 5.5 sacks in limited work. Adding Josh Sweat to the mix can only improve the pass rush. Sweat was overshadowed this past season by teammate Demarcus Walker, but he is now in the NFL. Sweat should be able to match production with his natural talent this season and be a first round pick.
23) Minnesota Vikings – OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
The Vikings’ offensive line struggled last year to protect Sam Bradford and to open up holes for the running backs. The Line has improved a bit this offseason, but the Vikings shouldn’t hesitate to upgrade at Tackle with Orlando Brown. Brown has a massive frame, standing at 6’8” and 345 lbs. He needs to add quickness with his feet, but he has more than enough strength to dominate in the NFL. If Brown can clean up his game, he can come in and be a good starter on the Minnesota line.
24) Dallas Cowboys – DL Dre’Mont Jones, OSU
It seems like the Cowboys’ defensive ends are always suspended, hurt, or just no good. It’s time for Dallas to try again with Dre’Mont Jones out of Ohio State. Jones is big, athletic end who can win with speed or power. He should improve this year with more experience under his belt. Jones is the smart and safe pick for Dallas with this pick.
25) Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans) – S Marcus Allen, Penn State
The Cleveland defense is coming along surprisingly nice. The front seven has a lot of young talent and some solid vets too. The next order of business should be to improve the secondary. We’ll have to see how Jabrill Peppers does at Safety during his rookie season, but the Browns should want to add another safety anyway. Allen would fit nicely next to Peppers as a ball hawking field general. He also has proven to be a great tackler for the Nittany Lions. The Browns should look to make their defense more well rounded with the selection of Marcus Allen.
26) Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs) – WR Deon Cain, Clemson
For whatever reason, the Buffalo Bills declined Sammy Watkins’ 5th-year option for the 2018 season. If they decide to let him walk in free agency, 2017 second rounder Zay Jones will honestly be the only talented wide receiver on the roster. Here, the Bills will test their luck on a different Clemson receiver: Deon Cain. Cain is a 6’1” receiver with elite speed. His route running and hands are great as well. He could easily go higher in the first round, but teams will knock him for some minor off-field concerns. The value is still incredible at 26th overall, so Cain should be the pick for a Buffalo team that is preparing to move on from Sammy Watkins.
27) Green Bay Packers – OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
The Green Bay Packers usually have a strong offensive line to protect the league’s best quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The losses of pro bowler guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton in consecutive seasons should make the Packers consider addressing the position in the draft early. Quenton Nelson has the tools and talent to come in and start at guard day 1 for Green Bay. He excels in the passing game, which naturally fits what the Packers want to do on offense. Green Bay should be thrilled if Nelson is still on the board for them come draft night.
28) Atlanta Falcons – WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Taylor Gabriel and Mohammed Sanu are decent players, but Julio Jones is the only true receiving threat to opposing defenses. Bama’s Calvin Ridley can change that for the Falcons. Ridley has started since his Freshman year and has torn up SEC defenses. He is a great route runner and is super elusive in the open field. Ridley could make Atlanta’s offense even more dangerous.
29) Oakland Raiders – MLB Cameron Sutton, USC
The Oakland Raiders defense does not live up to their potent offense. Linebacker play and cornerback play are two big reasons why this defense can’t consistently get stops. Cameron Sutton is the best tackler in college football. He may not be the most athletic player, but he gets the job done very well.
30) Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Denzel Ward, OSU
The Steelers have enough talent to make it to and win the Super Bowl. If they can’t make it happen, the defense will be the first area to blame. Artie Burns is a good cover guy, but behind him, the corners on the Pittsburgh roster are old and not too talented. Denzel Ward may get knocked for his 5’10” frame, but he has great instincts and speed for a corner. He’ll be a great value and need pick here.
31) New England Patriots – S Armani Watts, Texas A&M
The Patriots may trade their first round pick in 2018 because they have proven the last two seasons that they don’t need it. If they keep it though, New England should go with the best player available. Armani Watts is an athletic, physical safety who does well in pass coverage and can come up and make tackles. Watts can instantly be a solid rotational safety for the Pats.
32) New York Giants – OT Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
Ereck Flowers has been a disappointment for the Big Blue ever since being a top 10 pick in 2015. The Giants haven’t replaced him yet, but one can assume that the Giants will look to improve their left tackle spot soon. Martinas Rankins could be a possible solution. With Rankins, the Giants would basically be taking another project tackle who has all the tools, but not production yet. Even if he doesn’t start, Rankins will provide depth behind a subpar offensive line.