The 2017 NFL draft will reach its conclusion Saturday evening after 253 picks, seven rounds and a growing number of trades. While some teams bolstered their playoff hopes in recent days, others can already begin their 2018 draft prep 12 months in advance.
Don't be surprised if the concept of tanking, which has become a controversial rebuilding tactic in the NBA and NHL, creeps into the NFL this fall. The presence of at least two coveted quarterbacks—USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen—will give middling franchises incentive to lose.
Let's check out an extremely early look at some of the players who could populate the first round of the 2018 draft one year from now. That's followed by a closer look at a trio of the top prospects, including the two aforementioned signal-callers.
2018 Round 1 Mock Draft
|2018 NFL Draft: Predictions for Entire First Round|
|1||Cleveland Browns||Sam Darnold, QB, USC|
|2||New York Jets||Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA|
|3||San Francisco 49ers||Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama|
|4||Los Angeles Rams||Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame|
|5||Chicago Bears||Arden Key, DE, LSU|
|6||Jacksonville Jaguars||Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State|
|7||New Orleans Saints||Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson|
|8||Buffalo Bills||Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville|
|9||Detroit Lions||Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State|
|10||Los Angeles Chargers||Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M|
|11||Miami Dolphins||Derwin James, SS, Florida State|
|12||Washington Redskins||Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming|
|13||Cincinnati Bengals||Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State|
|14||Philadelphia Eagles||Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State|
|15||Tennessee Titans||Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama|
|16||Baltimore Ravens||Malik Jefferson, OLB, Texas|
|17||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson|
|18||Buffalo Bills (from KC)||James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State|
|19||Minnesota Vikings||Derrius Guice, RB, LSU|
|20||Carolina Panthers||Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame|
|21||Arizona Cardinals||Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State|
|22||Indianapolis Colts||Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah|
|23||Denver Broncos||Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama|
|24||New York Giants||Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State|
|25||Cleveland Browns (from HOU)||Da'Shawn Hand, DT, Alabama|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU|
|27||Atlanta Falcons||Vita Vea, DT, Washington|
|28||Pittsburgh Steelers||Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama|
|29||Oakland Raiders||Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College|
|30||Green Bay Packers||Cameron Smith, ILB, USC|
|31||Dallas Cowboys||Adonis Alexander, CB, Virginia Tech|
|32||New England Patriots||Jake Browning, QB, Washington|
Breaking Down Top Picks
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
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The Browns got nice value by grabbing Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer late in Round 2 after he was in the conversation for top QB in the 2017 class for a while. He should be starting by the middle of his rookie campaign, if not earlier.
Kizer's success will determine whether or not Cleveland is drafting at the top again. If he succeeds, the team will slide down the board a bit, but the position will no longer be its biggest need. If he struggles, it should be in a position to take a new face of the franchise.
Darnold turned a lot of heads during his first season as the Trojans' starter. He completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions across 13 games. He also tallied 250 yards and a pair of TDs on the ground.
The California native told Paul Myerberg of USA Today he knows he'll be inside an intense spotlight all season, but plans to keep his mind on the task at hand.
"I'm not worried about the hype or anything like that," he said. "But yeah, I definitely realize that there is hype. I'm not blind to that. You've really got to put that in the rear-view mirror and focus on what's ahead of you."
The Browns' struggles trying to land a reliable quarterback are well-documented and explain why they own the league's second-longest playoff drought at 14 years. Landing the first pick again would go a long way toward finally filling the crucial void.
2. New York Jets: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The Jets are a prime tank candidate. Quarterback is the team's biggest need, but they spent the first two days of the 2017 draft bolstering their defense with a pair of safeties (Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye) and adding a weapon in wide receiver ArDarius Stewart for their future QB to use.
Those decisions make it appear New York is focused on improving its roster everywhere but the most important position. The front office knows problems under center will ensure the team contends for a high draft pick, even if the roster is making positive strides elsewhere.
If the plan is executed properly, and the Jets don't win some meaningless December games to screw things up, they could turn things around quickly. Drafting Rosen could represent the final piece of the puzzle to getting back into playoff contention and beyond.
"My motto this year is [to] get one percent better every day and compound interest that," Rosen said. "At the end of the road, you find yourself a lot further ahead than you really thought you would have been."
The Bruins quarterback possesses an incredible amount of raw talent and his physical tools are equally impressive. Staying healthy is essential, however, because his on-field decision making still needs work after throwing 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions across his first two years.
3. San Francisco 49ers: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
It wouldn't come as a shock if the Niners made it three straight quarterbacks to open the 2018 first round depending on how things play out over the next year. If not, they'll probably still be looking to upgrade an offense that finished 31st in total offense last season.
Ridley has emerged as one of the most reliable receivers in college football since arriving at the Crimson Tide in 2015. He's accumulated 161 catches for 1,814 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns across 30 games in Bama's run-oriented offensive attack.
He's also got the straight-line speed necessary to beat defenses over the top, even if the numbers don't illustrate that facet of his game. His average of 11.3 yards per carry is more a function of the Alabama scheme than a lack of downfield ability.
Alex Byington of the Montgomery Advertiser noted the receiver is focused on adding more of the intangible factors in what could be the final season of his collegiate career.
"I would say I'm now the leader of the wide receiver group," Ridley said. "I want to take that role on and not only to my group but my team, and be one of the captains on the team. That's what I feel like I need to do."
The 49ers added Pierre Garcon to lead the receiving corps during the 2017 campaign. There are plenty of question marks behind him on the depth chart, though. Ridley could arrive to give them a solid one-two punch before eventually moving into a high-volume No. 1 role.