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2018 NFL Mock Draft: Early 1st-Round Predictions for Next Year's Top Prospects

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2017

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02:  Quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans looks to pass the ball against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the 2017 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2017 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The 2017 NFL draft may have just ended, but it's never too early to look ahead to the 2018 edition with another college football season on the horizon.

In this case, though, the mock isn't going to focus heavily on pegging team needs. It's simply too early in the process. Rather, the exercise at this stage can be used as a general outline to peg players' draft stocks in advance of the 2017 college football season. 

As a housekeeping note, keep in mind the projected order below was generated using Super Bowl 52 odds, courtesy of OddsShark. In other words, the team owning the worst odds is slotted in at No. 1, while the team with the best odds is at No. 32. 

2018 NFL Mock Draft (Round 1)
PickTeamPlayer
1Cleveland BrownsSam Darnold, QB, USC
2San Francisco 49ersJosh Rosen, QB, UCLA
3New York JetsSaquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
4Los Angeles RamsChristian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
5Chicago BearsMike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
6Jacksonville JaguarsJosh Allen, QB, Wyoming
7Buffalo BillsMinkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
8Los Angeles ChargersArden Key, EDGE, LSU
9Detroit LionsChristian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
10New Orleans SaintsDerwin James, S, Florida State
11Philadelphia EaglesCalvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
12Washington RedskinsDerrius Guice, RB, LSU
13Miami DolphinsHarold Landry, OLB, Boston College
14Cincinnati BengalsOrlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
15Baltimore RavensSam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
16Tampa Bay BuccaneersTarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State
17Tennessee TitansMalik Jefferson, LB, Texas
18Arizona CardinalsMason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
19Indianapolis ColtsMitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
20Minnesota VikingsQuenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
21Carolina PanthersJordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh
22Kansas City ChiefsJosh Sweat, DE, Florida State
23New York GiantsBo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
24Denver BroncosTyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State
25Houston TexansByron Cowart, DL, Auburn
26Pittsburgh SteelersLamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
27Oakland RaidersCourtland Sutton, WR, SMU
28Atlanta FalconsBradley Chubb, DE, NC State
29Seattle SeahawksDa’Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama
30Green Bay PackersMike Weber, RB, Ohio State
31Dallas CowboysRonnie Harrison, S, Alabama
32New England PatriotsDa’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Author's projections

Sam Darnold, QB, USC

USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold is already considered the prize of the 2018 draft class, and the 2017 college football season hasn't even started yet. 

However, that label isn't without merit. 

Darnold put on a show during his redshirt freshman season in 2016, throwing for 3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also led a spectacular come-from-behind effort to hand USC thrilling 52-49 Rose Bowl win on Jan. 2.

As a result, Darnold is the odds-on favorite (+300) to win the Heisman Trophy. Louisville quarterback, and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson clocks in at No. 2 with odds of +600, per OddsShark.  

Furthermore, Darnold was so impressive in 2016 that he reportedly had the NFL Scouting Combine buzzing this March, according to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah:

Daniel Jeremiah @MoveTheSticks

Text from NFL exec-- biggest talk at Combine, and it's not close--USC QB is rare. (It's tough to ignore him when you're studying other guys)

"This isn't a big surprise," Jeremiah said, per NFL.com's Dan Parr. "Personnel executives have spent the last month or so watching a ton of tape. When you're studying draft-eligible defenders against USC, (Darnold) jumps off the screen. He only has one year of college playing experience, but he's clearly captured the attention of NFL evaluators."

Assuming Darnold can keep things rolling for the Trojans in 2017, he should maintain his status as 2018's No. 1 prospect.  

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02:  Running back Saquon Barkley #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions runs with the ball against the USC Trojans during the 2017 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2017 in Pasadena, Califor
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

When it comes to running backs in the class of 2018, the line starts behind Penn State's Saquon Barkley. 

The Nittany Lions tailback has been a revelation since he debuted in 2015, and he continued to raise his profile as a sophomore to the tune of 272 carries for 1,496 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 28 passes for 402 yards and four scores.  

And, like Darnold, Barkley erupted in the Rose Bowl to throttle up big boards everywhere. In the three-point loss, Barkley totaled 249 yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage, including a 79-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that left several USC defenders grasping at thin air. 

"He has some juice, man," former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said, per the Central Daily Times' John McGonigal. "He showed a little bit of everything. He showed his burst. He showed his vision, his cutting ability, the way he breaks through arm tackles, and then the speed at the end. He's definitely a guy that everyone will be watching."

A legitimate Heisman candidate (+1200, per Odds Shark) and three-down presence who should threaten 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 2017, Barkley looks like the clear No. 1 running back in next year's draft. 

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU 

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 12:  Derrius Guice #5 of the LSU Tigers watches a replay during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Tigers defeated the Razorbacks 38-10.  (Photo by W
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Not to be forgotten at running back is LSU's Derrius Guice, however.

Although he was overshadowed by Leonard Fournette at times in 2016, Guice showed why he should be a legitimate first-round consideration for teams in need of fresh legs in the backfield.  

In 12 appearances as a sophomore, Guice rushed 183 times for 1,387 yards—good for 7.6 yards per carry—and 15 touchdowns. He also topped 250 rushing yards against Texas A&M and Arkansas last year, which put him in some esteemed company, according to the SEC Network on Twitter: 

SEC Network @SECNetwork

- Bo Jackson - Herschel Walker - Moe Williams - Derrius Guice The only players in SEC history to have multiple 250-yard rushing games. https://t.co/70BOxAQGsO

Perhaps more jaw-dropping was the way in which Guice piled up yards in one of those signature performances.

As Pro Football Focus' Gordon McGuinness noted, "Against Arkansas he forced seven missed tackles on 21 carries, rushing for 252 yards, including one that went for 96 yards. He averaged 5.6 yards after contact per carry in that game, forcing everyone to stand up and take notice."

Guice may not be as well-rounded as Barkley, but he certainly has the talent worthy of a first-round selection. 

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