As you're reading this, NFL players are going back to work. They've packed their comfy clothes, their special pillows and their Microsoft Surface tablets and are reporting to or have reported to training camp.
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For some, like the Kansas City Chiefs, that means cramming 90 players into a tiny college campus in St. Joseph, Missouri, where players and staff sleep in dorm rooms. Other teams stay home and give players the comfort of a team hotel. Some lucky players even get to stay in their own homes during training camp.
No matter where you're resting your head after a long day of practice, treatment and film study there's no mistaking that football is back. Sure, there aren't actual games being played for another six weeks, but training camp matters for players looking to secure a job or win a role on a team.
As NFL camp kicks off, there really is no better time to update the NFL draft landscape. The summer months let us all relax a little and see the families, but now it's time to kick it into high gear and start seriously planning out what the next nine months of NFL draft prep look like. For me, that starts with an updated mock draft.
Normally you'll see me post that the mock draft order is based on Las Vegas Super Bowl odds. That's no fun. For this mock draft, I went through and predicted every game in the 2017 NFL season. The draft order below is based on those predictions (which will be fully released closer to Week 1).
The names below are my early look at the best available in college and how they project and fit into the NFL right now. Much can and will change based on player improvement, injuries and even some who fail to live up to the perceived potential.
Let's get started:
|2018 NFL Mock Draft|
|1. Jets||QB Josh Allen, Wyoming|
|2. Browns||QB Sam Darnold, USC|
|3. Bears||DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson|
|4. Rams||OT Connor Williams, Texas|
|5. Bills||QB Josh Rosen, UCLA|
|6. Panthers||DE Arden Key, LSU|
|7. Saints||DE Harold Landry, Boston College|
|8. 49ers||RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State|
|9. Jaguars||S Derwin James, FSU|
|10. Dolphins||CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama|
|11. Eagles||RB Derrius Guice, LSU|
|12. Broncos||LB Jerome Baker, Ohio State|
|13. Redskins||DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson|
|14. Cardinals||CB Tarvarus McFadden, FSU|
|15. Falcons||S Ronnie Harrison, Alabama|
|16. Browns (via Texans)||WR Courtland Sutton, SMU|
|17. Vikings||OT Brian O'Neill, Pitt|
|18. Ravens||WR Deon Cain, Clemson|
|19. Bengals||DL Dre'Mont Jones, Ohio State|
|20. Colts||OLB Porter Gustin, USC|
|21. Giants||OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame|
|22. Buccaneers||DL Da'Ron Payne, Alabama|
|23. Lions||DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State|
|24. Chargers||C Billy Price, Ohio State|
|25. Titans||DE Dorance Armstrong, Kansas|
|26. Bills (via Chiefs)||WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M|
|27. Seahawks||CB Kevin Toliver, LSU|
|28. Steelers||CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State|
|29. Packers||LB Malik Jefferson, Texas|
|30. Raiders||LB Cameron Smith, USC|
|31. Cowboys||DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State|
|32. Patriots||CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville|
- Three quarterbacks in the top five picks shows just how strong the Big Three could be this year. Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen all have top-pick potential.
- There are two running backs in the top 15 picks. That's partially due to the talent of the players and the NFL's change in thinking. Running backs are truly instant-impact rookies, and both players would make major contributions in Year 1.
- Defensive end Arden Key has top-five talent, but teams must scrutinize off-field concerns after he left the LSU team briefly and then had offseason shoulder surgery.
- The defensive back group is loaded. Again. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James and Ronnie Harrison are all special talents.
- Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson has all-world athletic talent and character, but he has to be a more consistent playmaker this year. If he does that, he's a top-10 pick.
Here's what else is going on this week:
- Top five seniors for 2018's draft
- Cam a bad fit for his own offense?
- La'el Collins gets paid
- Gary Kubiak the scout?
The Scout's Report
—Is Cam Newton a fit in his new offense? Jonathan Jones, writing for Sports Illustrated, did wonderful reporting on the new Panthers offense and how Cam will fit in it. With fewer deep balls and a reliance on quicker, shorter passes (that require more touch and accuracy), an NFL quarterback coach I spoke to feels Cam isn't a fit: "They're trying to make him something he's not to protect him and because the [offensive] line is s--t. I don't see it working."
—La'el Collins was a top-20 player on my 2015 NFL draft big board. However, he ultimately went undrafted after a woman once connected to him romantically was found shot and killed and Collins was wanted for questioning by the police. Collins was never a suspect, but the cloud hanging over his head caused NFL teams to back off. The Dallas Cowboys swooped in after the draft and signed Collins as a free agent. Now, two years later, they've given him a two-year extension worth $15.4 million, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
—Gary Kubiak retired as head coach of the Denver Broncos at the end of last season for health reasons. Now, six months later, he's back as a member of the scouting staff. This is a great move for both parties, as Kubiak gets a job with less stress and time commitments but still remains close to the game.
—Texas left tackle Connor Williams is my top-ranked offensive lineman for the 2018 draft at this stage. Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated had a fantastic story on Williams' rise from a 3-star recruit to the best tackle in college.
—Jaylon Smith was my No. 1 overall player in the 2016 NFL draft before he tore his knee up in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Jerry Jones agrees, according to his pre-training camp press conference. Smith will be participating some in camp as he continues to make his way back from the knee injury.
—Don't read too much into this, but ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson says Cody Kessler will open training camp as the starting quarterback. I expect Brock Osweiler and DeShone Kizer will be given every chance to win the job.
—Good Guy of the Week: Odell Beckham Jr., who flew to Texas to visit a young fan with cancer.
5 Names to Know
Here are my early top five seniors for 2018's draft class.
5. Mike Gesicki, Tight End (Penn State)
The Penn State offense revolves around running back Saquon Barkley, but tight end Mike Gesicki makes the passing game go. He's an athletic pass-catcher at 6'5" and 252 pounds, with the traits to be an All-American and the top tight end drafted.
4. Bradley Chubb, Edge-Rusher (North Carolina State)
Bradley Chubb posted 21 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks in 2016. He'll get more attention from offensive coordinators this season, but the tape shows an athlete with the length, power and burst to constantly frustrate high-level offensive tackles.
3. Mike McGlinchey, Tackle (Notre Dame)
Notre Dame offensive linemen are well-coached and NFL-ready coming out of college. Mike McGlinchey is no different. Had he entered last year's draft, McGlinchey would have carried a Round 2 grade on my board. With another solid season, he has a chance to be a top-20 pick.
2. Billy Price, Center (Ohio State)
Billy Price is everything you want in a center prospect. He's lined up at guard previously but is shifting inside to center as a senior. Price plays with a mauling, mean style reminiscent of former first-rounder Ryan Kelly of Alabama. Price, like Kelly, has a great chance to be a Day 1 pick.
1. Harold Landry, Edge-Rusher (Boston College)
When the 2018 draft gets here, Harold Landry may be the top-ranked defensive player on the board. One NFL scout I spoke to this week said Landry is the only senior with a Round 1 grade on their summer board. There will be questions about his length at a listed 6'3", but his first step is unreal.
5. Training camp battles are some of the most fascinating moments of the summer months. Here are a few battles I'm watching (predicted winners in bold)
- Houston Texans quarterback battle—Deshaun Watson vs. Tom Savage
- Dallas Cowboys cornerback battle—Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Nolan Carroll
- Denver Broncos quarterback battle—Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch vs. Chad Kelly
- Detroit Lions left tackle battle—Corey Robinson vs. Greg Robinson
- Cleveland Browns quarterback battle—Cody Kessler vs. Brock Osweiler vs. DeShone Kizer
4. A definite scare went through the Cleveland organization when Myles Garrett went down in OTAs. But head coach Hue Jackson said the foot sprain he suffered then is no longer an issue and he's "ready to go" for training camp, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com.
Garrett was the top-ranked player in the 2017 draft for good reason. His impact in the Cleveland 4-3 defense, run by coordinator Gregg Williams, should be seen immediately. My prediction for Garrett: 11 sacks and a Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
3. Last year, while watching Hard Knocks, I kept waiting for the camera crew or team to talk about the absence of running back Tre Mason. Same this summer while watching All or Nothing on Amazon. And again, nothing on Tre Mason.
Thankfully, B/R's Tyler Dunne covered the story of the former third-round pick and stud running back who disappeared last offseason and is just now resurfacing as a free agent. Mason is trying to make an NFL comeback, but until this story, his name was one I hadn't heard in a year. Of course, the first step in making a comeback is letting teams know you're interested.
Mason's story is an interesting one. If teams feel his off-field issues are behind him, his talent is enough that he can be an impact player again.
2. While you're reading this, I'm on my way to Alaska for 10 days. That means no Scouting Notebook next week and a fill-in host on Stick to Football. I'll be back with a new podcast on August 9 (with guest Peter King) and a new Scouting Notebook on August 10.
1. Stick to Football Episode 15 is ready for your download! We're joined this week by co-host Marshal Miller (Mello) to preview the 2018 NFL draft's defensive back class, answer your questions in #DraftonDraft and talk about the nightmare that is Last Chance U head coach Buddy Stephens.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.