With less than a week before the Browns kick off the 2018 NFL draft, there are seemingly more unknowns than ever before. Typically, by this point, it’s not difficult to hone in on at least a few picks. This year? No clue. Nothing makes sense and everything makes sense, all at the same time.
Are the Josh Allen-to-Cleveland signals a ruse? Do they love a quarterback this year, as opposed to the last two years when they didn’t “love” Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson? What will the Giants do at No. 2 and how crazy does it get if the Browns don’t take a quarterback at No. 1? They have to (right???) but which one?
The uncertainty should make for a compelling Thursday night. In the meantime, here’s the final mock for the 2018 NFL draft. And it includes a few unexpected twists.
1. Cleveland Browns — Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Darnold has been pick No. 1 and my QB1 through the entire draft process and that’s not going to change. There’s been a ton of smoke around Josh Allen at this spot, but Darnold is a better option. As such, there’s no reason to deviate.
2. New York Giants — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
GM David Gettleman will entertain calls from now until his 10-minute time limit expires Thursday night. Just before the timer hitting zero, he will have his guys in Arlington write down Barkley’s name and submit that pick. Mike Maccagnan, GM of the QB-hungry Jets, will sweat out those 10 minutes knowing Gettleman will listen to offers the entire time but he’ll be spared the anxiety when the Giants take Barkley. With Darnold — the quarterback the Giants seem interested in — off the board, Gettleman locks in on Barkley and changes the complexion of this offense for the next eight to 10 years.
3. New York Jets — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
The Jets have done plenty of homework on Mayfield and this pick does make some sense. GM Maccagnan drafted Christian Hackenberg, a true drop-back, old-school pocket passer, in 2016 and he hasn’t sniffed the field in two years as a Jet. When you’ve made a mistake, the next decision is usually the polar opposite and Mayfield is that.
4. Cleveland Browns — Bradley Chubb, Edge, N.C. State
With Barkley off the board, teams will call GM John Dorsey looking to move up for one of the remaining three top quarterbacks. He can let those calls go to voice mail. He’s got plenty of draft ammunition to stay in this spot and draft the best edge player in this class. Chubb on one side and Myles Garrett on the other for the next seven to eight years? Business is about to pick up in the AFC North with these two young uber-beasts getting after it from each edge.
*TRADE* 5. Miami Dolphins from Denver — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The Dolphins have done a significant roster cleanse in anticipation of adding the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. Rosen isn’t full of warm and fuzzies but head coach Adam Gase has worked with mercurial sorts and made it work. Ryan Tannehill was not a Gase or Mike Tannenbaum selection and he was injured for all of 2017. After what’s gone on in Miami, it feels as if the reboot is nearly complete with Rosen’s selection.
*TRADE* 6. Chicago Bears from Indianapolis — Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
The Bears have foundation pieces on the offensive line with Kyle Long and center Cody Whitehair. Beyond that duo, upgrades are certainly welcome and necessary. And Nelson is more than just an upgrade; he’s the best player in this draft. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows Nelson well, having coached him at Notre Dame before Hiestand joined the Bears in early 2018. Moving up to No. 6 ensures they’ll latch onto the best interior lineman in this and many other drafts.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Derwin James, S, Florida State
This makes absolute sense when looking at the Buccaneers’ safety depth chart, or lack thereof. James did turn down a visit and workout with Tampa Bay, apparently, and others as well. Will that reflect poorly on him inside the Tampa Bay war room? Regardless, the Buccaneers need a bit of Florida State flavor on that side of the ball, especially in the secondary. James can provide the swagger and playmaking skills that’ll remind you of the late, great Sean Taylor.
*TRADE* 8. Indianapolis Colts from Chicago — Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
The Colts have nine picks entering the night but after dealing with the Bears, they’ve racked up a couple more Day 3 picks and a third-round pick next year (at least that’s the package I’d want to move back in the deal with Chicago). The Colts’ roster needs a continued overhaul and GM Chris Ballard needs to hit doubles, triples or home runs with more than 50 percent of this draft class. Smith is certainly a home run, especially at No. 8. Ballard worked his magic, turning the No. 3 pick into Smith, two additional second rounders in 2018, a pair of Day 3 picks in 2018, a 2019 second and a 2019 third … all to move down five spots. Crazy thing is Ballard might have taken Smith at No. 3 had he stayed in that spot. If quarterback Andrew Luck is healthy and Ballard strikes gold with the majority of his picks, the Colts will get right back in the AFC mix in the next couple of years.
*TRADE* 9. New England Patriots from San Francisco — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
The 49ers and the Patriots have dealt with one another in the recent past and it seemed to work out for the 49ers pretty well. So Bill Belichick calls San Francisco GM John Lynch to see if he’ll reciprocate and he does. The Patriots give up Nos. 23 and 31 to move up to No. 9 to add one of the best athletes in this draft class. The Patriots’ defense struggled all year long against athletic and versatile offenses (the Chiefs, Texans, Panthers and Eagles come to mind) due in large part to not being able to match up with opposing athleticism. Edmunds gives them a Jamie Collins-type player that the Patriots have lacked since he was traded to Cleveland. There are no offensive tackles worth taking at this spot, so the Patriots lock in on Edmunds.
10. Oakland Raiders — Vita Vea, Defensive lineman, Washington
The Raiders added five defensive backs and three linebackers in free agency. On Day 1, it’s time to bolster the defensive front with one of the most interesting linemen I’ve studied. Vea was once a 280-pound running back in high school, so he’s plenty athletic to play any defensive line position. The late Al Davis would’ve run to Arlington to draft a player of his size that can run the way Vea can.
*TRADE* 11. Denver Broncos from Miami — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
The Dolphins were willing to part with their second-rounder this year and next to move up six spots to get their quarterback. Consequently, John Elway was more than happy to take that deal, which gives Denver Nos. 11, 40 and 42, plus and an additional second-round pick next year. Part of the calculation here is that Denver doesn’t see one of the top quarterback prospects as the next QB — particularly with Case Keenum now onboard — so this pick is more about the value of a player than it is a distinct need. Cornerbacks Chris Harris and Bradley Roby can hold their own, but beyond them, there’s not much depth and Roby is only signed through this season. Ward is the best cover guy in this draft and, in the AFC West facing Derek Carr, Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers six times a year, three cover guys are a necessity, not a luxury.
12. Buffalo Bills — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
GM Brandon Beane will work the phones early in the draft to see if he can make a sweetheart deal with a team above him, especially with two first-round picks to offer in a trade. Once the Buccaneers get on the clock with Allen still on the board, they’ll stop offering knowing that Allen could fall to them at 12 with the less QB-needy teams in front of them. The cannon-armed Allen won’t start immediately, but he’ll be expected to take the reins from AJ McCarron in due time.
13. Washington Redskins — Minkah Fitzpatrick, S-Nickel, Alabama
The Redskins have a plethora of options here but Fitzpatrick is the best player remaining on the board. Every level of the defense could use an upgrade and Fitzpatrick can step in at a number of different spots on the third level. Keep an eye on Da’Ron Payne (Alabama DT) or Vea if he’s still on the board.
14. Green Bay Packers — Marcus Davenport, Edge, Texas-San Antonio
There are some around the NFL that think Davenport won’t get out of the top 10. He has as high a ceiling as any player in this draft and the Packers love seeing him at this spot. The Packers have tried a number of different options on the edge opposite Clay Matthews, but Davenport may be the most talented of the bunch.
15. Arizona Cardinals — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
If four quarterbacks go off the board within the top ten picks, the Cardinals may need to make a move up the board to nab Jackson. Landing in Arizona is a great situation for Jackson and one in which he’s forced to play earlier than the other rookies in this draft. Sam Bradford has played seven games or fewer in three of the past five years and hasn’t played 16 games in a season since 2012. Jackson would certainly see the field in 2018 in Arizona.
16. Baltimore Ravens — D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Former Cowboys star Dez Bryant could play a role in this selection if he does sign in Baltimore. After being shown the door in Dallas, the Ravens have shown interest in the Pro Bowl star. Even if Bryant signs in Baltimore, the Ravens would be wise to find a young dynamic weapon to team with Bryant and newly signed Michael Crabtree. Moore was the Receiver of the Year in the Big Ten and would be a consistent play-making weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco.
17. Los Angeles Chargers — Isaiah Wynn, G-T, Georgia
For some reason, Wynn hasn’t received the publicity of other offensive linemen in this draft class. He can play guard or tackle, which makes him a valuable piece for any line. Quite frankly, he’s the best offensive lineman in this draft class not named Quenton Nelson. The Chargers will get Forrest Lamp back after tearing his ACL. Furthermore, they signed Mike Pouncey to play center. Add Wynn at either guard spot or tackle and this offensive line could be one of the best in the AFC in due time.
*TRADE* 18. Indianapolis Colts from Seattle — Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
The Colts package two of their second-round picks (still leaving one on the board) to move up from the second round to nab Miller. Seattle needs to replenish the roster with more picks and jumps on the deal. The Colts haven’t protected Andrew Luck well since he arrived in 2012, but it hasn’t been due to a lack of resources. It’s just been the wrong resources. Miller isn’t quite worth this pick, but the Colts need help up front, yet again, and Miller has a ton of upside. He should start from Day 1 on the right side opposite Anthony Castonzo.
19. Dallas Cowboys — Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
The Cowboys’ receiver depth chart was thin before Dez Bryant was released and even more so after. Sutton is a poor man’s Julio Jones who can excel in catch-and-run situations and the deep game. He’s got size, speed and ball skills, plus he’s not going to be a locker room issue, which should be comforting for Jerry Jones and company.
20. Detroit Lions — Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
The Lions haven’t had a bona fide three-down back capable of churning out 100-yard games regularly since Barry Sanders. Guice is an angry runner with receiving ability out of the backfield. This offense can’t go another year with such paltry efforts from the running game. Guice will team with LeGarrette Blount, forming a Lightning and Thunder situation in Detroit. Finally, a running game in Motown.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
The Bengals have traditionally taken a player from one of the five power conferences in the first round and the Bengals need plenty of help on the defensive line next to Geno Atkins. Payne checks both of those boxes and should start immediately for Teryl Austin’s defense.
22. Buffalo Bills — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Bills must be thrilled to add the dynamic Ridley to the receiver corps. The Bills really only have two options at receiver and one of them (Zay Jones) has had some personal issues this offseason. Ridley is as pro-ready as any receiver in this draft, not to mention the fact that Buffalo’s offensive coordinator Brian Daboll coached Ridley last year at Alabama. The Bills get their quarterback for the future and Ridley with their two first-round picks.
*TRADE* 23. San Francisco 49ers from New England — Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College
The 49ers couldn’t get to the quarterback in 2017, finishing the season with only 30 sacks. Landry certainly helps put a dent in that situation with his ability to rush the edge. He’s the most polished pass-rusher in this draft and immediately becomes San Francisco’s best option to get to the quarterback.
24. Carolina Panthers — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
After losing guard Andrew Norwell to the Jaguars in the offseason, Will Hernandez would make a ton of sense with this pick, but the Panthers can find a guard in a deep interior line group in later rounds. Jackson has top 15 talent and the Panthers have a need at the cornerback position. Jackson becomes even more important for an NFC team that faces Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and Mike Evans six times a year.
25. Tennessee Titans — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
The Titans lost Avery Williamson to free agency and need a defensive playmaker. Losing Landry to the 49ers two picks prior was difficult but Evans can do a little bit of everything at any linebacker position in any scheme. He can play the run well on first down, cover backs and tight ends on second down and potentially rush the quarterback off the edge on third down. Versatility was a hallmark of new head coach Mike Vrabel as a player and it’s certainly an asset he desires in his players.
26. Atlanta Falcons — Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
Bryan couldn’t be more different than Dontari Poe, but after Poe departed in free agency, Bryan satisfies an interior defensive need for the Falcons. He’s more disruptive up the field as a true 4-3 three-technique. A Bryan-Grady Jarrett combination will cause a ton of headaches for centers and guards in the NFC South.
27. New Orleans Saints — Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
This was a tight decision between Gesicki, Hayden Hurst (South Carolina) and Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State). It wouldn’t be surprising to hear the Saints’ scouts and coaches talk themselves into Gesicki because he reminds them more of Jimmy Graham, who thrived alongside Drew Brees for years. With Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Michael Thomas on the roster, the Saints are really only missing one offensive puzzle piece and Gesicki is it.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers — Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State
Vander Esch’s medicals must be pristine for the Steelers to make this selection. His agent noted he was not required to return to Indianapolis for medical rechecks. If the Steelers are confident he’s healthy, he’s a perfect fit for a defense that lost Ryan Shazier late in 2017. At 256 pounds, he’s as athletic as any inside linebacker we’ve seen in quite some time. But, after losing Shazier to a spine injury, they’re going to need to see an A++ medical situation before writing Vander Esch’s name down.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
It’s clear the Jaguars have established an identity on offense. They’re going to run the football, relying on Leonard Fournette running behind a strong offensive line, which will include the former Irish all-American. McGlinchey will eventually take over at right tackle and complete the Jaguars’ offensive unit for the foreseeable future.
30. Minnesota Vikings — Connor Williams, G-T, Texas
The Vikings started their offensive line reconstruction in 2017, signing tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and drafting center Pat Elflein. However, it was clear in the NFC championship game that there’s still renovation work to be done on that quintet. Enter Williams. There’s not an opening at tackle but Williams would be an upgrade at either guard position.
*TRADE* 31. San Francisco 49ers from New England — Christian Kirk, slot WR, Texas A&M
The one aspect that stands out about Jimmy Garoppolo is his quick release. He gets rid of the ball as quickly as any quarterback in the NFL. So why not provide him with a potential 75-80-catch-a-year option in the slot? Kirk has no diva qualities, is going to be a consummate professional and will be the most reliable option in the 49ers’ passing game upon arrival.
32. Philadelphia Eagles — Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
The Dakotas will love the Eagles if this happens. A Bison throwing to a Jackrabbit? Oh, it’s a Dakotan’s dream, no? Regardless, the Eagles made good use of all three tight ends in 2017, but lost two of the three this offseason. Goedert’s receiving ability, combined with Doug Pedersen’s innovative offensive mind, could be a match made in heaven. Or Philly.
John Harris contributes to The Washington Post’s NFL draft coverage. He is the sideline reporter and football analyst for the Houston Texans and owner of footballtakeover.com.
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