Most Ideal Landing Spots for 2018 NFL Draft's Top Prospects
Where will the top players in the NFL draft be playing next year? That's what a mock draft is for. This article is to talk about where they should be playing as a best fit.
In every draft class there emerges a handful of players where the fit is so perfect it actually elevates their status post-draft. Kareem Hunt to Kansas City or Deshaun Watson to Houston with Bill O'Brien as his head coach are a few examples of players going to the most ideal landing spot for their career. On the other hand, there are players ultimately doomed by their destination. Would DeShone Kizer be struggling if he'd been drafted by the Houston Texans instead of the Cleveland Browns?
Taking into account scheme fit, environment, existing rosters and player personalities, here are the most ideal landing spots for the top 15 players in the upcoming draft.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers
I said in the intro this isn't a mock draft, but this pick could actually happen now that the San Francisco 49ers have a quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. With what's expected to be a top-five pick, the Niners could be in a prime spot to land the draft's best player—Saquon Barkley.
Why is San Francisco a good fit for Barkley? Starter Carlos Hyde is set to become a free agent this offseason, and while the 49ers do have the money to re-sign him, Barkley is an upgrade in every way. In Kyle Shanahan's offense, Barkley's vision and speed would dominate running inside and outside zone. He's also a threat as a pass-catcher, which is another big boost for the 49ers offense.
Many will point out that Shanahan's dad, Mike, never drafted running backs early and could generate 1,000-yard seasons from unknowns. Kyle might have that same gift, but he'll also recognize a rare talent when he sees one. If you thought Devonta Freeman looked good in the Shanahan offense, wait until you see Barkley.
2. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Best Fit: New York Giants
Sam Darnold has the coolness, poise and talent to succeed in a market where attitude and personality are so important. If you have a bad game in New York, it's a much bigger story than if you have a bad day in Indianapolis or Houston. More than any other city, the media market in New York will chew up and spit out players who can't handle pressure.
Darnold can handle pressure—both on and off the field. He's at his best in close games and running a two-minute-drill offense. He's incredibly poised, athletic and has the confidence to go to a team like the New York Giants and be ready to take Eli Manning's place as the franchise quarterback.
If Darnold could succeed in New York, he's the next face of the NFL.
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Alabama
Best Fit: New England Patriots
OK, I know this isn't going to happen, but we're talking best fits. Minkah Fitzpatrick in Bill Belichick's defense would be the most fun I've had watching a defensive back in the NFL in a long time.
Fitzpatrick is an elite defensive back with true versatility to play cornerback, slot, free safety over the top or strong safety walked into the box. Put that versatility with a coach who knows how to match up defenders and take away an offense's best player, and it's going to be fun. Imagine Belichick having Fitzpatrick over the top on coverage of Antonio Brown in the playoffs. Or blitzing Deshaun Watson off the edge in a nickel package. There's no limit to the ways a smart defensive coordinator could deploy him.
4. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Best Fit: Los Angeles Chargers
Want to sell tickets to Chargers' games? Put Josh Rosen in at quarterback.
A local boy from Manhattan Beach and the star quarterback at UCLA, Rosen has the talent and personality to pack the seats at the StubHub Center and secure a solid NFL future if he can have success with the Chargers. And this is a team that needs a quarterback of the future, as Philip Rivers is nearing the end of his career. And while Rivers and Rosen in the same quarterback room might be interesting, there's no doubt that keeping Rosen in Los Angeles would be a boost to the team's popularity.
On the field, Rosen would be fine in Anthony Lynn's offense. He's tough in the pocket, has a beautiful deep ball and throws with touch, timing and accuracy to all levels of the field. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and Melvin Gordon would also give Rosen a stud cast to work with on offense.
5. Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Best Fit: Indianapolis Colts
If I had to pick one player in the 2018 NFL draft to have my back in a fight, it would be Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson. With zero second thoughts. Why am I telling you this? Because that's the kind of toughness general manager Chris Ballard will want to install on his offensive line.
Nelson would be Andrew Luck's personal protector at left guard just like he'd be mine in that hypothetical alley brawl. At 6'5" and 330 pounds, Nelson has the size to play tackle but could also be looked at as a plug-and-play starter at either guard spot.
It's impossible to say how Nelson would look in the Colts offense because I expect Chuck Pagano and his staff will be fired after this season, but rest assured that Nelson has the tools to fit any NFL scheme.
6. Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
Best Fit: New York Jets
The New York Jets need a quarterback—I know—but remember, this isn't about need, it's about fit. And looking at Kacy Rodgers and Todd Bowles' defense, Bradley Chubb is a perfect fit as an outside linebacker opposite Jordan Jenkins and would instantly be the team's best outside pass-rusher.
Chubb is a powerful, agile pass-rusher with excellent technique and a hip roll that will excite scouts when they see him bend the edge. In the Jets defense, he'd be unleashed in front of a young secondary that can cover (hello, coverage sacks) and next to a defensive end in Leonard Williams who can draw the attention of offensive linemen.
Chubb might not solve the Jets' quarterback question, but he would be the answer at outside linebacker.
7. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Best Fit: Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders put a Band-Aid on the need at linebacker by signing veteran NaVorro Bowman, but the team still has a huge need for a rangy 'backer who can stop the run, get after the quarterback on blitzes and play in pass coverage. For Oakland, there's no better fit than Roquan Smith. And for Smith, the Raiders are a perfect fit for his style of football.
Smith is one of the hardest hitters in college football and would be openly embraced by the old-school, smashmouth football fans in the black hole. But he's also smooth and athletic and represents exactly what new-school defensive coordinators need in the position. And given the opening at defensive coordinator in Oakland, it's hard to say what the scheme will be next year, but Smith is a scheme-versatile linebacker with excellent tools for any NFL defense.
8. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Best Fit: Los Angeles Rams
Connor Williams is an athletic left tackle prospect with the natural gifts to be a top-10 pick. Some evaluators I've spoken to throughout the draft process are down on Williams because he may lack length in his arms (he's not been measured, it's an estimate) and his lower body technique isn't always strong. Where I differ is that Williams is an explosive mover who has great instincts and a mean streak. So where's the best fit for him?
Andrew Whitworth has been a rock at left tackle but is 36 years old. He's not the long-term answer at the position. In an ideal world, the Rams could draft Williams and let him either learn playing guard or learn on the sideline. Then he could be the replacement at left tackle in 2019. The Rams' fast-paced, wide-open offense is perfect for Williams' athleticism.
9. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Best Fit: Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens were great when the defense was tough and the running game was the key to the offense. They'd be smart to get back to that style of football (instead of expecting Joe Flacco to win games on his own). One way to do that is by grabbing a player who they are a perfect fit for.
Derrius Guice is a tough, physical, mean running back, but he's also balanced, elusive and fast. In that way he's the total package and is the type of player you can build an offense around. And while he might not have the speed or receiving stats that Saquon Barkley has, Guice might be the more natural runner and is without a doubt the more physical of the two.
10. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Best Fit: Arizona Cardinals
Josh Allen has a big right arm, is a great athlete at 6'5" and 240 pounds and is full of raw potential just waiting to be molded. The best fit for him to learn and grow as a quarterback? That's with Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals.
Allen to the Cardinals would give him time to sit and develop without being rushed onto the field. His situation is very similar to that of Patrick Mahomes last year—and Mahomes went to a perfect landing spot with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he has been able to sit behind Alex Smith and learn. For Allen, it's less about learning an NFL playbook or how to call a play in the huddle and more about cleaning up some bad habits in his footwork that came from playing behind a poor offensive line.
Given Arians' preference for strong-armed, athletic quarterbacks, he and Allen are a match made in football heaven.
11. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Best Fit: Green Bay Packers
Here's one of those situations where fit and need are actually perfect for the player and the team. When Alabama's Rashaan Evans looks ahead and starts thinking about where he would best be able to make his mark, the Green Bay Packers have to stand out.
The Packers' 3-4 scheme is great for Evans, who locks down the middle linebacker spot in the Alabama 3-4. He's also athletic enough to stay on the field when the Packers go to nickel and dime packages to match up with three and four wide receiver sets.
In Green Bay, the Packers have an explosive, exciting offense, but to get Aaron Rodgers another ring, it'll be the defense that needs to get them there.
12. Derwin James, SS, FSU
Best Fit: Denver Broncos
An athletic, playmaking strong safety with the size to stack up in the box and the speed to chase tight ends and running quarterbacks, Derwin James is a physical freak. And while James might not be a top-five pick or is too rich for the Broncos to spend their first-rounder on given his position, this is about his ideal fit.
Why Denver? Throw James into a secondary with Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, and he won't be asked to be the man right away. He'll also be free to roam more in that defense and can utilize his rare athleticism and natural talents all over the defense. Unlike some schemes where James would be asked to play a post safety role, in Denver he'd be free to dominate with matchups.
13. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Best Fit: Detroit Lions
Watching the Detroit Lions on Saturday, it was hard not to think about how well an athletic, big defensive end prospect would fit in on the line. And for Clemson's Clelin Ferrell—who would be a great fit in Detroit's scheme—this is also a great fit for him professionally.
The Lions are a solid organization, but Ferrell would also get to walk into a lineup that features a space-eating defensive tackle in A'Shawn Robinson. Being able to line up with Robinson taking the attention of two blockers every play gives an outside rusher like Ferrell an easier day at work. Current defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is also creative enough to get the most out of Ferrell's athleticism playing right defensive end.
14. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Best Fit: Dallas Cowboys
Most kids grow up either loving or hating the Dallas Cowboys, but for Alabama's Calvin Ridley, this would be a dream landing spot in terms of scheme fit, the talent already on the roster and his ability to become a superstar with the star on his helmet.
Ridley, my top-ranked receiver in the class, has the route-running skills and speed to be the replacement for Dez Bryant long-term. He would also be sliding into an offense that already features Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and a very good offensive line. Oh, and you get to play for Jerry Jones and potentially become a star on the NFL's most marketable team?
Sounds pretty good.
15. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Best Fit: New Orleans Saints
Why New Orleans? Not only is quarterback of the future a need for the Saints, but head coach Sean Payton already has an offense built for Drew Brees with a good offensive line in place, a star wide receiver in Michael Thomas and a two-headed running back approach with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Mayfield wouldn't need to be a plug-and-play quarterback here, but he could be.
There are always going to be the comparisons between Mayfield and Brees due to their similar size (Mayfield is listed at 6'1") and how well both throw outside the pocket and on the move. Also, unlike Russell Wilson, Mayfield isn't an explosive, quick-twitch athlete and would be a seamless fit in the offense Payton has designed for Brees.