2018 NFL Mock Draft: 1st-Round Predictions Ahead of Free Agency

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley looks on during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Before players and front-office executives start mingling in the two-day legal-tampering window before NFL free agency officially starts, it's time to update the first-round mock draft board.

The Cleveland Browns went into Madden mode with a flurry of deals between Friday and Saturday, which clarifies their stance on certain positions and opens up some intriguing possibilities for the No. 1 overall pick.

General manager John Dorsey's transactions will produce a ripple effect through Day 1 of the draft. How will the New York Giants handle the second pick after Cleveland makes its choice or decides to trade back?

Will we see quarterbacks slide early in the first round?

As the rosters stand, take a look at some reasonable projections for three teams making selections within the top five spots.

             

2018 NFL Mock Draft 1st-Round Projections

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC 

2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

4. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans): Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

5. Denver Broncos: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA  

6. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

8. Chicago Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

9. San Francisco 49ers: Derwin James, S, Florida State

10. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia 

11. Miami Dolphins: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia

12. Cincinnati Bengals: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

13. Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

14. Green Bay Packers: Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA

15. Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

16. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama 

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

18. Seattle Seahawks: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

19. Dallas Cowboys: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama 

20. Detroit Lions: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

21. Buffalo Bills: QB, Josh Allen, Wyoming

22. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs): James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

23. Los Angeles Rams: Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College

24. Carolina Panthers: Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa

25. Tennessee Titans: Ronald Jones II, RB, USC

26. Atlanta Falcons: Braden Smith, OG, Auburn

27. New Orleans Saints: Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

30. Minnesota Vikings: Billy Price, OG, Ohio State

31. New England Patriots: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Tegray Scales, LB, Indiana

                 

Cleveland Browns Select QB Sam Darnold at No. 1

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 03: USC quarterback Sam Darnold talks with Ken Zampese of the Cleveland Browns during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Dorsey acquired quarterback Tyrod Taylor and traded signal-caller DeShone Kizer in separate deals, which made a few people wonder about Penn State product Saquon Barley as the No. 1 overall pick.

It's not happening.

As great as Barkley could become in the NFL, the quarterback takes precedence over every position. Unless the Browns extend Taylor during the season, his contract voids at the end of the year, per Spotrac.

The Browns will field Taylor as a one-year rental while their quarterback-in-waiting holds the clipboard for a year. Dorsey won't hesitate to select USC prospect Sam Darnold with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. 

Even though Darnold chose not to throw at the NFL Scouting Combine, two years of tape at USC provides enough visuals for Cleveland to feel comfortable taking him atop the draft. 

Though Barkley has become the most popular pick, logic should take over. The Browns don't have their potential franchise centerpiece. They'll choose Darnold and hope he ends the constant turnover at the position.

           

New York Giants Select RB Saquon Barkley at No. 2

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley looks on during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Unlike Cleveland, the New York Giants have a capable, though short-term, starting passer on the depth chart. Two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning still has two years left on his deal. While it's possible for another quarterback to follow Darnold in the draft order, Big Blue goes with Barkley to elevate a rushing offense that's been non-existent over the past few seasons.

Despite Manning's struggles during the previous term, he didn't have much help from the rest of the offense. The Giants ground attack ranked 26th. The team's top-three wideouts suffered injuries that kept them out simultaneously, with superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. missing 12 games.

Tight end Evan Engram, who led the team in touchdown catches with six, comes off a productive rookie year. Assuming Beckham and Sterling Shepard stay healthy, Big Blue's offense should see a vast improvement. 

General manager Dave Gettleman could add the final touch with a potential transcendent running back in the backfield. Barkley, along with the receiving parts, should put this offense in the top 10.

All of the sudden, Manning, at 37 years old, would flourish with ample offensive weapons at his disposal. As a ball-carrier, receiver and blocker, Barkley could enter the league as an instant star sharing the New York-New Jersey spotlight with Beckham.

           

Denver Broncos Select QB Josh Rosen at No. 5  

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 03: UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen throws during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Watch out for movement in this spot. The Buffalo Bills traded Taylor, and it's unlikely the team wants to see Nathan Peterman so soon after his five-interception performance during the previous season. 

For now, let's take a look at the Denver Broncos in the No. 5 spot. Executive vice-president of football operations John Elway has interest in quarterback Case Keenum, per 9News reporter Mike Klis, but don't rule out a combination strategy at the position, especially with UCLA's Josh Rosen still available.

Rosen dealt with injuries during college, but there's no question about his ability to play the position at a high level up to this point. It seems Elway swung and missed on Paxton Lynch, but it's not going to deter him from taking another opportunity to select a franchise player for the foreseeable future.

The UCLA prospect looked polished at the combine and came off as a more competitive player than Darnold, who didn't throw at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Some fans want to avoid signing Keenum for big bucks and drafting a quarterback with the fifth overall pick, but it's not a guarantee Rosen will remain available in this spot. The Broncos should cover all their bases—sign a veteran and draft a top prospect if he's on the board.

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