2018 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions After First Week of Free Agency
The future is now, and NFL teams aren't waiting until next month's NFL draft to better position themselves for a potential franchise-saving prospect. Instead, free agency served as a catalyst for significant draft maneuvering, and quarterbacks drove the market.
After missing out on Kirk Cousins, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings, the New York Jets knew they weren't situated well to obtain their signal-caller of choice with the sixth overall pick. So, general manager Mike Maccagnan orchestrated a deal with the Indianapolis Colts to acquire the third overall selection, and the organization now has a much better opportunity to land an elite field general.
The Buffalo Bills also made a move by flipping the 21st overall pick and left tackle Cordy Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals for the 12th overall selection, likely in an attempt to be better positioned for a run at a quarterback prospect.
These trades showed the complementary process of roster-building. Free agency fills the gaps. Nailing the draft is paramount.
This year, a quarterback (or three) will lead the way.
1. Cleveland Browns: QB Sam Darnold, USC
The Cleveland Browns have waited a long time for this moment.
General manager John Dorsey positioned the Browns well to take any of the quarterback prospects with the No. 1 overall pick by trading for Tyrod Taylor, who has already been proclaimed the 2018 starter.
Taylor will provide a buffer for the incoming signal-caller. Sam Darnold, for example, won't turn 21 years old until June. He's not a polished prospect, yet he presents arguably the highest upside. But with a veteran behind center, the Browns won't be forced to play a rookie. Nor should they.
Darnold is an athletic playmaker (7,229 passing yards, 57 touchdowns, 22 interceptions in two seasons) who can work from the pocket and excels outside of structure. He looked like the No. 1 overall pick before the 2017 campaign, and his talent hasn't changed between then and now.
2. New York Giants: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
When the Jets called teams with a top-three draft pick to inquire about the possibility of a trade, it would appear the New York Giants rebuffed any such overtures.
Two possible reasons why general manager Dave Gettleman wasn't willing to move the second overall pick: either the Giants are enamored with a quarterback prospect or Gettleman wanted much more in return than the Colts received (the sixth overall pick and three second-round selections).
The Giants haven't owned a top-five selection since they drafted Philip Rivers in 2004 and traded him with picks to the then-San Diego Chargers for Manning. Finding another franchise quarterback should be their priority.
Josh Rosen is the most advanced passer of the incoming prospects and has shown a strong understanding of pro-style concepts, reads and the nuances of the position. His drawbacks include a worrisome injury history, including shoulder surgery and two concussions since the end of the 2016 campaign, and poor mobility.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis Colts): QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
The Jets completed a trade with the Colts to secure the third overall pick without knowing whom the Browns or Giants will select. In this scenario, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen are off the board, which leaves the Jets to take either Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield or Wyoming's Josh Allen.
These two quarterback prospects are diametric opposites. Mayfield is undersize yet extremely efficient and won the 2017 Heisman Trophy, whereas Allen is a ball of unmolded clay with every physical tool an NFL team wants. Mayfield is the better choice and scheme fit.
Jeremy Bates' promotion to offensive coordinator signals a need for a precision passer who can excel in a timing offense. Allen is not that quarterback; Mayfield most certainly is. The 22-year-old signal-caller provided the two most efficient seasons in FBS history. His ball placement, ability to handle any situation and pocket creativity tops any other available prospect's. He's the perfect passer for the Jets.
Too many questions surfaced regarding Mayfield's height (6'1") and attitude throughout the draft process. Neither are shortcomings, though. They're what make Mayfield a competitive and fiery leader, and he'll take that massive chip on his shoulder to the Big Apple.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans): DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina St.
The Browns couldn't have hoped for a better situation after the Jets traded for the third overall pick. Cleveland will have its choice of quarterbacks with the first pick and will likely be in a position to land the top non-quarterback prospect with the fourth selection.
Even though the Browns already have Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah at defensive end, the defense finished last in 2017 with 142 pressures from its front seven, according to Pro Football Focus.
The reigning ACC Defensive Player of Year finished second in major college football last season with 26 tackles for loss. Chubb also tied for second among draft prospects with 55 pressures, per PFF. Chubb isn't quite the prospect Garrett was a year ago because he's not quite as explosive or flexible off the edge. But he is more refined and better against the run than Garrett was.
Great quarterback play and consistent defensive pressure drive the NFL's best teams. The Browns hope to get both with their first two selections.
5. Denver Broncos: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Denver Broncos eneral manager John Elway won't be forced to select a quarterback with the fifth overall pick after the signing of Case Keenum in free agency and with Paxton Lynch, a 2016 first-round pick, still on the roster. However, the opportunity to select the most physically gifted quarterback prospect, whom the team already knows after coaching him at the Senior Bowl, will be too tempting.
Elway may see a little of himself in Josh Allen. He's big, athletic, strong-armed and in need of long-term development. Allen won't be thrust into the starting lineup, though. The Broncos coaching staff can slow-play his progression.
With the proper development, Allen could be the best quarterback in this class. But it will take time. Wyoming offensive coordinator Brent Vigen acknowledged his former protege is an unfinished product.
Allen must continue to improve his footwork, decision-making and pocket presence. He'll also need to understand he won't be relied upon to make every play. Far too often, Allen pressed because he needed to do so on a talent-deficient team. He won't be able to get away with many of the same throws or scrambles against professional defenses.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from New York Jets): RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Andrew Luck's health is the driving force behind every Colts decision. Two ways exist to protect the franchise quarterback next season: either the team invests heavily in its offensive line, or it can obtain a top-notch running back prospect to provide a more potent rushing attack.
Owner Jim Irsay prefers one of those approaches.
"You put [Luck] on that field, healed up, and you put an Edgerrin James—maybe that's bigger, faster and stronger—and let this man continue to do the job that he's already begun to do, this is going to be a special place to be and a special place to play," Irsay said in January, per the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer.
Only one running back, Saquon Barkley, fits that description among the incoming class.
Barkley is a 233-pound back with 4.40-second 40-yard dash speed. Running back simply doesn't hold the same value as other positions, and Barkley could fall as a result, even if he is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has the size to run through defenses and plenty of speed to run past them. And he may be even more effective as a receiver.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need help everywhere along their defense after they finished last in total defense, pass defense and sacks in 2017. Since no defensive end holds a high enough draft grade to be considered at this juncture, the secondary will be the priority.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is made for today's game. He's a hybrid defender and shouldn't be boxed into one position. The reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation's best defensive back can play free safety, strong safety, nickel linebacker, outside corner and nickel corner. He did all those things at Alabama, yet he described covering the slot as his "optimal position."
Nickel corner is a starting spot in today's game—NFL teams were in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) 57 percent of the time last season, per ESPN's Ron Jaworski. The Buccaneers don't have a true nickel corner on the roster with Robert McClain testing free agency.
Fitzpatrick is more than just a talented defensive back; he's a culture-changer. According to NFL Network's Kimberly Jones, several NFL people said the 21-year-old's combine interview was their favorite. His hard work, attention to detail and willingness to demand the best from himself and his teammates could be the driving force behind a revival of the Tampa Bay defense.
8. Chicago Bears: G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Much like Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson can make an argument he's the top overall talent in this year's class, yet positional value will hold him down to a degree. Only three true guards—Jonathan Cooper, Chance Warmack and Chris Naeole (other offensive tackles converted to guards later in their career)—have been chosen among the top 10 picks in the last 29 years. Nelson will be the fourth.
But Nelson's still not expected to go quite as high as his talent suggests. The 2017 All-American is a dominant force along the interior. He's a bulldozer in the running game, a technically sound pass-blocker and a good athlete who is always cognizant of his surroundings.
The Chicago Bears have a hole at left guard after they declined Josh Sitton's option. The team's familiarity with the prospect is important as well. Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows Nelson better than anyone in the league after coaching him the last four seasons.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace already supplemented the offensive skill positions in free agency. The 6'5", 329-pound Nelson has the potential to be a franchise building block, even as a guard.
9. San Francisco 49ers: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
Richard Sherman's signing may be the San Francisco 49ers' most noteworthy defensive deal of the offseason, but they're far from settled in the secondary. A bookend is required. After spending multiple first-round assets on the defensive line recently, San Francisco can concentrate on building up the back end of its defense.
Denzel Ward is the best pure cornerback in this year's class, with exceptional hip fluidity in his backpedal through his turn and well into his downfield coverage. At 5'10" and 191 pounds, Ward doesn't necessarily fit the physical profile to play corner in the Seattle Seahawks-style system Robert Saleh deploys. Yet the defensive back has decent length with 31¼-inch arms, according to Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson.
In fact, Ward's measurables are nearly identical to those of the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marshon Lattimore.
Furthermore, Sherman's reliability after suffering a torn Achilles tendon only a few months before his 30th birthday should be questioned. A healthy Sherman paired with Ward would make last year's 22nd-ranked pass defense instantly better. Even if Sherman never returns to form, the 20-year-old Ward has a chance to become a top-flight cover corner.
10. Oakland Raiders: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Since the Oakland Raiders seem intent on running the organization like Al Davis once did in the 1990s, Tremaine Edmunds makes the most sense.
First, there may not be another height-weight-speed player quite like him in this year's class. Edmunds is a 6'5", 253-pound off-ball linebacker with 4.54-second 40-yard dash speed. To place those numbers into context, Brian Urlacher, who played safety at New Mexico, ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at 6'4" and 258 pounds.
Second, the Raiders don't have a starting-caliber middle linebacker on the roster. NaVorro Bowman is a free agent, and neither Cory James nor Marquel Lee proved to be the answer last season.
Finally, Edmunds is only 19 years old, yet he registered 215 tackles, 32.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks over the last two seasons.
The physical traits and production are obvious. Davis would have fallen in love with Edmunds even though he's still learning the position and needs to become more comfortable working in space. The linebacker's best football is still ahead of him as long as he's coached well and the team is willing to work through his early mistakes.
11. Miami Dolphins: DT Vita Vea, Washington
Ndamukong Suh's signing didn't work out like the Miami Dolphins envisioned when the organization made him the highest-paid defender in NFL history. Without Suh, the Dolphins are quite young along the defensive interior and lack a difference-maker.
At 6'4" and 347 pounds, Vita Vea is a massive interior presence. He may not be Suh, but his traits are reminiscent of Dontari Poe's. Like Poe, Vea is powerful yet uncommonly nimble for an individual his size. The 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year registered 44 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss during his first year as a full-time starter in 2017.
Vea struggles with technique and leverage, yet his natural athleticism allowed him to play multiple positions within the Huskies defense (and special teams). According to Pro Football Focus, Vea played at least 108 snaps last season at each of defensive end, nose tackle and 3-technique.
The Dolphins had to move past Suh for financial reasons. Vea's selection would make that decision far more palatable.
12. Buffalo Bills (from Cincinnati Bengals): LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
Without a viable quarterback prospect on the board, head coach Sean McDermott can land his version of Luke Kuechly to quarterback the Bills defense.
Comparing Roquan Smith to Kuechly may be unfair even though their games are quite similar. Kuechly came out of Boston College as a highly instinctive sideline-to-sideline defender who struggled to take on and shed blockers. Smith is nearly identical to that description with the kind of range that's rare among even the best linebackers. He is actually a step faster than Kuechly, with a 4.51-second 40-yard dash time, though Smith weighed in at 236 pounds to Kuechly's 242.
Buffalo's offseason points toward McDermott trying to build the Bills defense in the same manner as the one he led as the Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator. Star Lotulelei's signing was one example. Pairing him with Kyle Williams along the interior will provide Smith plenty of room to run at middle linebacker.
According to Pro Football Focus, Smith led all FBS defenders through the regular season with 70 tackles and 37 run stops without a missed tackle. The Butkus Award winner recorded 137 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks overall.
13. Washington Redskins: S Derwin James, Florida State
Derwin James is an underappreciated prospect. If he's viewed as a cornerback by some teams, he could go much higher. As a safety, he'd lose some value. The Washington Redskins hope it's the latter since they could land a superior prospect and fill a team need at the same time.
James entered the 2017 campaign as a possible top-five talent even after suffering a season-ending meniscus tear in the second game of the 2016 season. Instead of building on that momentum, the Florida State coaching staff played him closer to the line of scrimmage as a hybrid linebacker-defensive back.
What's best for the team isn't always best for the individual, though, and James showed everyone why during the predraft process. The 6'3", 215-pound defender ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, posted a 40-inch vertical leap and added an 11-foot broad jump at the combine.
James' athleticism means he can line up outside the numbers or over the slot to cover wide receivers. Free and strong safety are options as well.
14. Green Bay Packers: CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville
The Green Bay Packers are searching far and wide for cornerback help. Any help.
The organization traded Damarious Randall to the Browns, and neither Morgan Burnett, who lined up as a nickel corner last season, nor Davon House re-signed. Three starters from last year's defense gone in a blink. Green Bay hasn't acquired any replacements, either.
Right now, the Packers secondary is comprised of safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Josh Jones with Quinten Rollins, Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pipkins, Herb Waters and Kevin King at cornerback. New coordinator Mike Pettine needs more secondary talent for the Packers to improve upon last year's 23rd-ranked pass defense.
Jaire Alexander dealt with multiple injuries during his junior campaign and became the forgotten man among top cornerback prospects. Now healthy, Alexander has been outstanding during predraft workouts, with a 4.38-second 40-yard dash and top-notch fluidity in drills.
Green Back lacks anyone on the roster with Alexander's natural coverage skills or attitude. He's physical and has good ball skills. Alexander may not be the biggest (5'11", 192 lbs) or most polished cornerback, but he's exactly what the Packers need.
15. Arizona Cardinals: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
The Arizona Cardinals may have lucked into a tremendous young quarterback prospect, even if Lamar Jackson doesn't fit the mold of Sam Bradford or Mike Glennon. Jackson is not a traditional pocket passer; he's something more.
Bradford and Glennon are merely placeholders. The Cardinals needed short-term options, though, since they didn't have a single quarterback on the roster at the start of the new league year. Bradford's injury history is long and well-documented. Meanwhile, Glennon's attempt to become a starter with the Bears failed miserably.
To put Jackson's last two seasons into context, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner recorded 7,203 passing yards (just 26 fewer than Sam Darnold) while running for 405 more yards than Saquon Barkley.
That there's room for development is obvious. The two-time ACC Player of the Year must work on his base and driving through the football to become more accurate. Arizona may be able to land someone special without having to trade up, and he could develop within its quarterback-friendly scheme.
16. Baltimore Ravens: DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA
A team can never have too many talented pass-rushers. The Baltimore Ravens already feature Terrell Suggs, but he will be 36 years old in October. Matthew Judon, Za'Darius Smith and Tyus Bowser combined for 14.5 sacks last season. However, none of them are as talented as Marcus Davenport.
At 6'6" and 264 pounds, Davenport has the physical tools to be a top-10 overall pick. Yet he's far from a polished product. Davenport showed explosiveness with a 4.58-second 40-yard dash and 10'4" broad jump.
The 2017 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year registered 55 tackles and 8.5 sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Davenport finished his final season on campus with 51 quarterback pressures and 33 defensive stops. He achieved those numbers in only 11 games.
Considering Davenport requires further development of his pass-rush moves and even getting more comfortable in a three-point stance, his output was impressive. General manager Ozzie Newsome could use his final first-round pick before retirement on a high-upside pass-rusher to provide the Ravens with Suggs' long-term replacement.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: DT Da'Ron Payne, Alabama
The Los Angeles Chargers must plug the sieve known as the middle of their defense. Anthony Lynn's squad finished next to last in run defense in 2017 and last in yards per carry allowed. A stout presence is needed in the worst way, because the Chargers can't allow their dynamic edge defenders, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, to go to waste.
Da'Ron Payne is the most consistent run defender in this year's class. His strength at the point of attack is overwhelming. When Payne consistently fires off the ball, he's nearly impossible to block.
But there's the catch. The 2018 Sugar Bowl Defensive MVP isn't always a disruptive presence. Partly that's because of Alabama's system—the coaching staff wants its interior defenders to demand double-teams so the linebackers can make plays. Even so, Payne could have been more consistent in re-establishing the line of scrimmage.
The Chargers don't have anyone as big or athletic along their front. At 6'2" and 311 pounds, Payne ran a 4.95-second 40-yard dash and showed how well he moves during combine drills. He can become the focal point the Los Angeles defense lacks.
18. Seattle Seahawks: G Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
The Seahawks received an offseason facelift after years of roster decay. One problem remains the same, though. The offensive line still isn't any good, and the organization hasn't made any moves of note to improve the trenches.
Isaiah Wynn's potential addition would help solidify the left side of the Seattle front. With veterans Duane Brown at left tackle and Justin Britt at center, the Seahawks can slide Wynn in at left guard and then worry about the unit's right side.
Wynn converted from left guard to left tackle as a senior and excelled. At 6'3" and 313 pounds, he's a natural fit along the interior. The versatile blocker plays with exceptional balance and almost always manages good run fits and square pass sets. He is quite difficult to beat because he's a patient blocker...until he needs to bury an opponent. He's also athletic enough to excel in the Seahawks' zone blocking-heavy scheme.
A consistent and well-coached offensive lineman is exactly what Seattle needs after it's relied on multiple projects during the last few seasons.
19. Dallas Cowboys: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
The incoming wide receiver class is underwhelming. Only one or two prospects are even considered first-round prospects. That doesn't matter as long as a franchise selects the right prospect.
But that has been hard to do recently, with an awful three-year stretch of first-round draftees: Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, Phillip Dorsett, Corey Coleman, Will Fuller V, Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell, Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross.
Calvin Ridley's preparedness should separate him from that group and would boost the Dallas Cowboys. Most wide receivers don't come into the league knowing how to run a full route tree or beat press coverage. Ridley may not be the biggest (6'0", 189 lbs) or fastest (4.43-second 40-yard dash) target, but he understands how to run routes and create separation.
Ridley is far more advanced than most, which should allow him to make an impact in Year 1—unlike all but one of the previously mentioned wide receivers. The two-time national champion's abilities to get open and serve as a downfield threat will be welcome additions in Dallas, where both skills are at a premium.
20. Detroit Lions: DE Harold Landry, Boston College
Harold Landry is a top-10 pass-rusher. But there's more to an evaluation than one particular skill set, even if that skill set holds more value than most.
The Detroit Lions are in desperate need of a bookend to Ezekiel Ansah. The exact look of Matt Patricia's defense has yet to be seen. Even so, the team's need to improve its push rush is well known. Landry is an interesting potential fit since he's projected as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 front.
The 6'3", 252-pound defensive end is fluid and flexible off the edge, yet he's not powerful at the point of attack. As a result, Landry isn't a consistent edge-setter. This may prevent a team from making him an every-down player early in this career. Plus, there are health questions after he suffered an ankle injury in 2017.
The Lions offense remains intact with quarterback Matthew Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. The defense will be remade in Patricia's image. The head coach's vision should include a pair of talented pass-rushers.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo Bills): C Billy Price, Ohio State
The predraft trade between the Bengals and Bills could result in a pair of new offensive line starters in the Queen City. Left tackle Cordy Glenn will step in after the Bengals lacked a competent blindside starter.
After the departure of center Russell Bodine, who started every game for the Bengals over the last four seasons, the Bengals should draft Billy Price. He's the best available center, and no team should pass on an opportunity to select him in the first round simply because he suffered a partially torn pectoral during the bench press session at the combine.
"I have no bruising, which is huge for me," Price said the day after the injury, per Alain Poupart of the Dolphins site. "I woke up this morning and looked down there like, 'Thank God.' No bruising, no issues in that sense. Yeah, I'm definitely happy. It's definitely something minor. It's not something that's going to make me lose time or impact me going forward in the season."
Price is expected back before the start of training camp, according to ESPN.com, so the Bengals can feel secure in knowing they'll have a new starting left tackle and center courtesy of the Bills.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs): QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Six quarterbacks in the first round may be a stretch, but the Bills aren't in a position to land one of the top four prospects. Of course, Lamar Jackson was available earlier. However, Buffalo already gave up on Tyrod Taylor because its coaching staff prefers a traditional pocket passer.
Mason Rudolph is considered a fringe first-round prospect. He's more likely a Day 2 selection, but the Bills are desperate. AJ McCarron's presence does provide some flexibility. The 27-year-old McCarron will be given an opportunity to start after signing a two-year, $10 million contract. That deal, however, doesn't guarantee the veteran anything.
Nathan Peterman isn't the future, whereas Rudolph could be.
The 6'5", 235-pound gunslinger led all FBS quarterbacks last season with 4,904 passing yards and tied for fourth with 37 touchdown passes. Rudolph left Oklahoma State as the program's all-time leading passer with 13,618 yards. He can deliver the football with uncanny timing and touch, especially on deep passes. His struggles come in the intermediate areas and against pressure.
23. Los Angeles Rams: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
The Los Angeles Rams' second line of defense hasn't received nearly as much attention as the defensive front or secondary. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib's acquisitions gave Wade Phillips the defensive backfield he wants. Meanwhile, the Rams are on the short list of teams for free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The front office hasn't provided the linebacker corps any help at all. In fact, the opposite happened since general manager Les Snead traded Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn while veteran leader Connor Barwin remained unsigned.
The 6'4", 256-pound Leighton Vander Each would provide more size alongside Mark Barron without the group losing any athleticism. In fact, Vander Esch is a superior athlete with a 4.65-second 40-yard dash, 39.5-inch vertical, 10'4" broad jump, 6.88-second three-cone drill and 4.15-second short shuttle.
Vander Esch started just one season but quickly developed into the 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year with 141 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He's an overly aggressive defender who can and will overrun plays. But a coach will work with someone who needs to throttle it back a bit.
24. Carolina Panthers: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
A player's situation often dictates whether he's successful at the professional level. The team, coaching staff and system are all major factors in an individual's development.
Josh Jackson has the best ball skills of any defender in this year's class. Yet he showed how much he struggles even with a simple backpedal at the combine. Iowa used a zone-heavy defense in which Jackson wasn't asked to consistently pedal and cover in man situations. Instead, his length, eye discipline and ability to drive on or high-point the football came into play.
Jackson's eight interceptions and 26 defended passes led the FBS. But Jackson won't fit into any system. He needs to be in a situation similar to the Hawkeyes' scheme. Carolina leans on a zone-heavy approach that once made Josh Norman into the game's best cornerback.
After the trade of Daryl Worley to the Philadelphia Eagles, Jackson can enter the Panthers lineup as James Bradberry's running mate.
25. Tennessee Titans: LB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
New Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel knows exactly how valuable talented edge-rushers are. After all, he and Willie McGinest were two of the core pieces that helped lead the early teams of the New England Patriots dynasty. Now, he can start his career as a head coach by building his defense in a similar fashion.
Lorenzo Carter is an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker because of his experience playing in the system. However, his status as a potential first-round pick is dependent on his raw physical tools. At 6'6" and 250 pounds with 4.5-second 40-yard-dash speed, a 36-inch vertical and 10'10" broad jump, the numbers point toward an explosive pass-rusher.
But Carter can contribute in other areas at the start of his career.
The Titans already have a pair of capable edge-defenders in Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. Neither is as fluid as Carter, and they will be free agents after the 2018 campaign. Carter is more comfortable dropping into space than the veterans, while they're both better moving forward. Orakpo and Morgan can teach the rookie a few tricks of the trade before he replaces one of them a year from now.
26. Atlanta Falcons: G Connor Williams, Texas
The Atlanta Falcons are staring at long-term problems along the offensive line if they don't address the situation now.
When right guard Chris Chester retired after the 2016 campaign, the Falcons knew replacing him could be difficult. Their 2016 sixth-round pick, Wes Schweitzer, won the job and started all 16 games. Schweitzer provided up-and-down performance, and the position could use more competition.
Age is a concern along the rest of the offensive interior. Left guard Andy Levitre will turn 32 years old in May and is entering the final year of his contract. Center Alex Mack will turn 33 in November. Meanwhile, left tackle Jake Matthews will play the 2018 campaign on the final year of his rookie contract.
One draft pick can't solve all these issues. Connor Williams' potential addition can help at multiple positions, though. Williams is an outstanding athlete whom some have listed as the top offensive tackle prospect. But his lack of length (33-inch arms) may push him inside. Williams can compete with Schweitzer to start and possibly replace Matthews down the road if the 2014 first-round pick tests free agency.
27. New Orleans Saints: WR D.J. Moore, Maryland
The New Orleans Saints once featured a plethora of wide receivers. The roster, however, looks decidedly different now than it did just two seasons ago. Here are the Saints' top five leaders in receiving yards from 2015: Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Benjamin Watson, Marques Colston and Brandon Coleman. New Orleans traded Cooks, didn't re-sign Watson and released Coleman, and Colston retired.
Sean Payton's passing offense is now built around Michael Thomas and deservedly so since Thomas became the first receiver in NFL history with 200 receptions in his first two seasons, per Randall Liu of the NFL.
The 32-year-old Tedd Ginn Jr. finished second among the team's wide receivers with 53 receptions for 787 yards in 2017. No one else on the roster managed more than 10 receptions last year as Payton shifted the offense toward his running backs. Both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are adept receivers.
D.J. Moore can bring the element once expected of Cooks. No, Moore isn't as fast as Cooks, but the 2017 Big Ten Receiver of the Year is a good athlete who fights for every yard and can line up in the slot or out wide.
Quarterback Drew Brees is 39 years old. Give him as many weapons as possible to maximize his final years.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: S Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
The Pittsburgh Steelers decided their secondary needed an overhaul. The organization released veterans William Gay, Robert Golden and Mike Mitchell at the start of the new league year and signed Morgan Burnett, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
While Ronnie Harrison may seem redundant following the addition of Burnett, he isn't.
Harrison provides the Steelers defense with schematic flexibility. The 6'2", 207-pound defensive back can play both free and strong safety. Last season, he primarily served as the play-caller in Alabama's secondary and as the last line of defense. His presence will allow the Steelers to lean heavily on big nickel situations.
Sean Davis can start at free safety and still play some nickel corner. Burnett can help offset Ryan Shazier's loss by moving into the box in sub-packages as a nickel linebacker, or play some nickel corner himself. Meanwhile, J.J. Wilcox provides depth, or the Steelers can release the veteran at minimal cost.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State
The Jacksonville Jaguars clearly marked tight end as a need entering free agency given their signings of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul. But neither should prevent them from selecting the class' top tight end prospect, Mike Gesicki.
Financially, the organization isn't invested too heavily in Seferian-Jenkins or Paul. While they each signed two-year deals, they're both guaranteed little beyond the 2018 season.
Gesicki is a glorified wide receiver listed as a tight end. He isn't expected to be an in-line option like Seferian-Jenkins early in his career. The 22-year-old prospect needs time to develop those skills.
But the 6'5", 247-pound target provides an instant mismatch in the passing game due to his size and outstanding athleticism. Gesicki finished first or second among tight ends in every combine drill. He is an immediate red-zone threat and matchup problem in a Jaguars offense that lacks size among its wide receiver corps aside from the newly signed Donte Moncrief.
30. Minnesota Vikings: C James Daniels, Iowa
Don't be fooled by James Daniels' positional designation. Pat Elflein is the Vikings' starting center. But the offense needs help at both guard spots, as Nick Easton is still available in free agency and Joe Berger is pondering retirement, per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press.
Daniels began his collegiate career by playing guard and offensive tackle before making the switch to center as a sophomore. The 6'3", 306-pound lineman is an outstanding athlete, and he excels with his reach blocks, getting to the second level and working in space. He shouldn't have any problem moving back to guard, either.
"James is a hell of a developmental prospect, if you will," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said, per Land of 10's Scott Dochterman. "In my mind, he could go and play guard for anybody next year, just about anybody in the league.
"I don't know if I've ever coached a more talented center prospect," Ferentz added. "That includes my time in the NFL. He's got some skills that are just really unusual. And he's a really intelligent guy."
The Vikings checked off their two biggest needs in free agency by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Fortifying the middle of the offensive line is logical to maximize Cousins' effectiveness.
31. New England Patriots: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
Nate Solder left a 6'8", 325-pound-sized hole in the Patriots' lineup when he decided to sign with the Giants and become the NFL's highest-paid offensive lineman.
Solder's exorbitant deal pointed to a pair of issues. First, NFL teams are far more comfortable paying established veterans instead of waiting to draft incoming blockers, many of whom may not be ready to slide into lineups right away. Second, this year's offensive tackle class appears to be poor overall.
Now, New England must find a replacement to protect a soon-to-be 41-year-old quarterback's blind side without getting him killed.
At 6'8" and 309 pounds, Mike McGlinchey is one of the few line prospects who physically fills the void Solder left. The two-time Fighting Irish team captain started 39 straight games, and he's the best of a bad group. His value normally would skyrocket as a result, but concerns linger about his overall athleticism.
McGlinchey isn't as fluid or nimble as Solder, but he's a technically proficient run- and pass-blocker with enough length to address the Patriots' biggest problem area.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Mike Hughes, Central Florida
The reigning Super Bowl champions—continue to soak it in, Philly fans—don't have many holes to address as the draft nears. Cornerback is one position where the league's deepest team still needs some help, though.
Patrick Robinson's emergence provided stability to an Eagles secondary that needed time to jell due to multiple moving parts at cornerback. The veteran defensive back developed into the unit's primary slot defender and experienced a career year in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. However, Robinson left Philadelphia to sign with the Saints in free agency, leaving a vacancy in the slot.
Mike Hughes' skill set should allow him to slide inside for the Eagles. Hughes is physical at the line of scrimmage and makes life difficult on receivers trying to release. His ball skills are also impressive even though he started only one season for the Knights.
Plus, the 5'10", 189-pound defensive back adds further value as a returner. Hughes averaged 31.8 yards per kickoff return last season with a pair of touchdowns and 16.6 yards per punt return with another score.