After an intriguing start to free agency, the NFL calendar is accelerating toward the 2018 draft. The Cleveland Browns have been on the clock since September of last year and the only real question is whether they finally will select a quarterback with their first overall pick.
One significant trade during the NFL’s free agent frenzy may have solidified the draft strategy for a number of teams at the top of the draft, including that of the Browns. When Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard decided to trade down with the New York Jets, it more than likely locked in quarterbacks at 1-2-3. Which teams make those selections are still up in the air, but the Jets will be one of them. Here is the second version of our 2018 mock draft, with trades built in. (And here is the first, from February.)
1. Cleveland Browns — Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Recently acquired Tyrod Taylor may not see himself as a bridge quarterback, but that’s what he’s going to be. That said, a Taylor-Darnold combination bodes well for the Browns in the near term and the future.
Taylor can generate some excitement and wins early, while Darnold sits and learns. Some have surmised that the Browns should select running back Saquon Barkley (Penn State) and take a quarterback with the No. 4 pick, which they also own, but given the Jets’ move up the draft board, the Browns must draft a quarterback at No. 1 to guarantee they get their top choice instead of their third.
More than likely, the Browns can lock up Barkley at No. 4, or perhaps even defensive end North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb but they can’t afford to pass on another quarterback for the third year in a row.
*TRADE* 2. Buffalo Bills (from New York Giants) — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
After the Jets gave up three second-round picks to move up three spots, the trade-up price tag became clear for the Bills. The two first-round picks, Nos. 12 and 22, are attractive to Giants GM David Gettleman, who made moves this offseason to win now and not draft a quarterback at No. 2. The thought here is that Bills GM, and former Gettleman underling, Brandon Beane calls his former boss to make the deal to trade up to draft a franchise quarterback.
The Bills signed former Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron but the situation is similar to the one in Chicago last year. After giving Mike Glennon a ton of money, the Bears drafted Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2. In other words, McCarron got his news conference and some money but Rosen will eventually start and be the face of the Bills franchise for the foreseeable future. Rosen is the most natural passer among the top quarterback prospects and appears to be the best fit for the Bills.
3. New York Jets — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The Jets decided to make a splash during the free agent signing frenzy, moving up to No. 3. Colts GM Chris Ballard was more than ready to add a slew of second-round picks to his roster for moving down just three spots. Meanwhile, the Jets will have a shot at one of the top three quarterbacks on their board and Allen is the choice. He’s a gun-slinging, confident leader who has impressed consistently in all he’s done this offseason.
The Jets won’t have to rely on Allen immediately after the signings of Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater. Being able to sit and learn bodes well for Allen’s future, but if the Jets start slow, Jets Coach Todd Bowles will feel the pressure to get Allen on the field.
4. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans) — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
I gave long and hard consideration to cornerback Denzel Ward (Ohio State) at this spot. Why? Look at the Browns’ depth chart. They can’t go into the season with Jamar Taylor, Michael Jordan, Terrance Mitchell, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and T.J. Carrie at that position and feel good about it. That said, Barkley is clearly the best player available at a spot of need. Sure, Carlos Hyde was signed but Barkley might be a transcendent player. The Browns can focus on cornerback at the top of the second round, eyeing perhaps Carlton Davis (Auburn) or Isaiah Oliver (Colorado).
5. Denver Broncos — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
The Broncos didn’t have to trade up to snatch the quarterback they spent a week with down in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl. John Elway signed Case Keenum and said he was the guy he wanted, but look at Keenum’s contract — it’s only for two years and worth significantly less per year than other franchise quarterbacks. It doesn’t exactly look like Elway went all-in financially on the supposed guy he wanted.
Now, if Elway has convinced himself that Keenum is, in fact, ready to take another massive step as a starting quarterback, he could find some protection for Keenum, selecting guard Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame). But, Mayfield is too attractive to pass up and will become the face of the Broncos franchise, for better or worse.
*TRADE* 6. Chicago Bears (from Indianapolis) — Quenton Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame
The Bears moved up one spot last year to ensure they got their quarterback of choice. This year, it’s a two-spot move to nab Nelson. The Colts are more than pleased to deal with the Bears to acquire additional picks to bolster their limited roster. Bears new head coach Matt Nagy hired former Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who coached Nelson for four years. The Bears jettisoned longtime veteran guard Josh Sitton in the offseason, so Nelson moves right into the starting lineup and remains there for the next 10 to 12 years.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Bradley Chubb, Edge, N.C. State
The Bucs saw Nelson falling right into their laps but the Bears made the aggressive move up. However, Chubb is still on the board and provides a dynamic force out on the edge. The Bucs signed Vinny Curry after he was released in Philadelphia and are hoping Noah Spence can turn the corner, figuratively and literally. But Chubb is an immediate plug-and-play edge rusher to help the Bucs’ ineffective pass rush (only 22 sacks last year).
*TRADE* 8. Indianapolis Colts (from Chicago) — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
After twice trading down (per our mock), the Colts pick up three second-rounders from the Jets and another second rounder from the Bears. Among the trade chaos, Ballard is able to land a player he’s had his eyes on all along.
In the AFC South, Edmunds is a great fit, given Jacksonville’s reliance on the run game and mobile quarterbacks in Houston and Tennessee. Ballard could ultimately parlay the No. 3 pick into Edmunds and three or four top-50 picks on Day 2. If Ballard hits on those picks, the Colts can get back in the mix in the AFC South.
9. San Francisco 49ers — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The 49ers added Richard Sherman a day after he was released by Seattle and drafted Ahkello Witherspoon in the third round in 2017. That said, Ward can step right in and compete on a defense that must face Jared Goff (Rams) and Russell Wilson (Seahawks) twice a season. The 49ers may consider linebacker Roquan Smith (Georgia), given the off-the-field issues with Reuben Foster. In the end, GM John Lynch will decide on a Sherman-Witherspoon-Ward troika at cornerback.
10. Oakland Raiders — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
The Raiders are thrilled to see Smith on the board and it’s an easy decision for GM Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Jon Gruden. The Raiders lacked a true three-down, difference-making linebacker for years but Smith changes that immediately. The addition of Tahir Whitehead helps the cause, but that won’t stop them from drafting Smith at No. 10.
11. Miami Dolphins — Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The Dolphins released Ndamukong Suh, opening a massive hole in the middle of the defense. Vea may be a two-down player initially, but he’ll eventually become a three-down threat and prove his versatility to the AFC East.
*TRADE* 12. New York Giants (from Buffalo) — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Gettleman, historically, has focused on the front seven with his first-round draft picks and the best front seven player remaining on the board is a good one. Payne can play up and down the line of scrimmage, although he’s not quite as adept rushing the passer. Gettleman bolstered his offensive line, signing left tackle Nate Solder and guard Patrick Omameh in free agency. In the draft, he can focus on improving the interior of his defensive front.
13. Washington Redskins — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
The Redskins’ secondary is a prime spot for Fitzpatrick. Former starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland won’t be back and the safeties (Deshazor Everett and D.J. Swearinger) aren’t going to the Pro Bowl any time soon. And who knows what happens with Su’a Cravens now that he’s returned after stepping away from the game last season. Fitzpatrick is still on the board due to the fact that some teams don’t see an exact fit in their defense. On the other hand, the Redskins have openings, plural, one of which Fitzpatrick can fill.
14. Green Bay Packers — Marcus Davenport, Edge, Texas-San Antonio
The Packers aren’t exactly young at the edge positions. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry aren’t graybeards, but they’re certainly not as explosive and dynamic as they once were. Davenport is a bit of a project, but it’s hard to pass up on a highly skilled, yet raw, pass-rusher at this spot.
15. Arizona Cardinals — Derwin James, Safety, Florida State
The Cardinals released Tyrann Mathieu in part due to a scheme change with new head coach Steve Wilks taking over. James is the complete opposite of Mathieu from a height/weight/speed perspective, but his ability to make plays all over the field is highly attractive to a first-year coach.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
In a perfect world where there are multiple first-round offensive tackle prospects, McGlinchey wouldn’t be the first one off the board. This isn’t one of those years, though. The former Notre Dame product played right tackle opposite current Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley. As such, GM Ozzie Newsome reunites the two Irish tackles and bolsters the edges with the top tackle on the board.
17. Los Angeles Chargers — Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State
The name may not be familiar to Chargers fans, or many others, but he’s one of the most complete and impressive athletes in this draft class. At 252 pounds, Vander Esch put on an athletic display at the combine and solidified his spot in the first round. In Los Angeles, the Chargers lack a playmaking linebacker next to Denzel Perryman and the former Boise State linebacker fits the bill.
18. Seattle Seahawks — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
The Seahawks’ draft history says they’ll bypass cornerback in the first round, but there’s a gaping hole opposite Shaquill Griffin. Jackson is the exact match in terms of height/weight/speed at cornerback that the Seahawks covet, not to mention, this is about the right spot for Jackson in this first round.
19. Dallas Cowboys — Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
Bryan is a prototype, penetrating 3-technique player and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will love his disruptive quickness up the field. The Cowboys need to add to the receiver arsenal and there’s a thought that they’ll look at some offensive line help due to Jonathan Cooper’s departure. But Bryan is the type of game-changing interior player that Marinelli covets and the Cowboys need.
20. Detroit Lions — Will Hernandez, Guard, UTEP
The Lions have lacked a competent running game for years, so drafting the second-best interior player in this draft seems like a no-brainer. Hernandez has heavy hands and strikes with bad intentions. He has some work to do to become a high-level pass-protector, but he’s more advanced in that area and won’t be a liability as he matures into one of the best young interior players in the NFL.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — Isaiah Wynn, Guard/Tackle, Georgia
The Bengals traded for left tackle Cordy Glenn, a Georgia product who was thought to be a tackle/guard prospect when he was drafted in 2012. Sounds familiar in that Wynn was a tackle in college but is more suited to play guard. Unfortunately, he is coming off labrum surgery right after the Senior Bowl. He should be ready by camp and should slide right into the spot next to Glenn or Jake Fisher. Heck, he might even replace Fisher. There are five spots up front and Wynn will start at one of them.
*TRADE* 22. New York Giants (from Buffalo) — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Giants acquired both Buffalo first-round picks in our aforementioned trade. So, sitting at No. 22, Gettleman throws everyone a curveball, selecting Jackson. The former Heisman Trophy winner didn’t wow anyone at the combine but with two picks in this round, the Giants can take a bit of a flier on a player the likes of which Giants fans have never seen. He can learn alongside Eli Manning as he learns new head coach Pat Shurmur’s offensive scheme.
23. Los Angeles Rams — Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama
The Rams traded for Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. They already had Aaron Donald on the roster. It would appear there are no holes on this defense, but the Rams traded inside linebacker Alec Ogletree to the Giants, leaving a void in the middle of the unit. Evans is an exquisite fit for Wade Phillips’s defense. He has some versatility and can stay on the field for all three downs. He’s not going to be as immediately productive as Ogletree but he’ll be a key figure in this talented defense for a while.
24. Carolina Panthers — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Panthers have a clear need at receiver and Ridley is the best fit at this spot. I considered Christian Kirk, but Carolina drafted Curtis Samuel last year to fill a similar role. Ridley is a more complete option to complement Devin Funchess on the outside.
25. Tennessee Titans — Arden Key, Edge, LSU
Boom or bust. There’s really no in between for Key in the NFL. He came to the combine focused, in shape and seemingly healthy. Those were not words used to describe him in his final year-plus at LSU. When he was right during his college career, he was as dominant as any defensive player in this draft. Head coach Mike Vrabel helped turned Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney into disruptive edge players during his time in Houston and Key will be his latest pet project.
26. Atlanta Falcons — Christian Kirk, Slot WR/Returner, Texas A&M
The Falcons lost Taylor Gabriel in free agency and don’t have a ton of depth at receiver behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Kirk could be an interesting fit given his ability to play in the slot and also return punts and kicks. The more I think about this fit, the more it makes sense.
27. New Orleans Saints — D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
The Saints apparently had interest in bringing Jimmy Graham back to New Orleans, but lost out to Green Bay. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Saints Head Coach Sean Payton push for a tight end at this spot. He’s best served, though, locking in on Moore, who will be Drew Brees’s new best friend. Moore does a little bit of everything and his stock has risen after a stellar 2017 season and 2018 combine performance.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers — Ronald Jones, RB, USC
The Steelers could use some inside linebacker help due to the loss of Ryan Shazier. They could eye an athletic tight end who gives Ben Roethlisberger options down the field. But the Le’Veon Bell franchise tag situation has been sticky in the past and will be again. Even if Bell gets a long-term deal, Jones is a fit alongside the star running back. Last year, Bell had 406 touches and could use some help to lessen the punishment he endures. Enter Jones.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars — Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
The Jaguars signed all-pro guard Andrew Norwell and allowed receiver Allen Robinson to leave in free agency. That was a clear sign that the Jaguars’ offensive identity is going to revolve around running back Leonard Fournette and this offensive line. Receiver could be in play at this spot as well, but Miller makes even more sense, given the direction of this organization. His athleticism tested off the charts at the combine and he’ll eventually be an upgrade from Jeremy Parnell.
30. Minnesota Vikings — Connor Williams, Guard/Tackle, Texas
The Vikings started their reconstruction on the offensive line last season, signing tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and drafting center Pat Elflein. The guard position is still lacking, though, and Williams could be a fantastic fit. There are questions about his length and size as an NFL tackle, but if he can pack on 10 or 15 more pounds, he can transition inside and start immediately.
31. New England Patriots — Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
The Patriots value versatility and Landry is the most complete 3-4 outside linebacker in this draft. Since losing Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, the Patriots lacked a disruptive edge player on the roster, outside of James Harrison, added late in the 2017 season. Landry is a true outside linebacker who can stay on the field for all three downs, but thrive as a pass-rusher in the future.
32. Philadelphia Eagles — Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
The Eagles were tight-end rich in their run to the Super Bowl. But longtime Eagle Brent Celek was released and Trey Burton signed with the Bears. Zach Ertz is still in the fold, so drafting a tight end isn’t exactly a necessity. Gesicki, though, is similar to Ertz in that he can play unattached as a receiver and excel in the Eagles’ unique and varied offensive scheme. An Ertz/Gesicki combination wouldn’t quite be of a Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez caliber, but, in a similar manner, the offensive possibilities would be endless.
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