2018 NFL Mock Draft: Matt Miller's Way-Too-Early Predictions
Let's have some fun.
The 2017 draft is just in the rearview mirror, but already fans and analysts are looking ahead to next year. As Bill Belichick would say, "We're on to 2018."
The early look at next year's class shows a group at quarterback with the potential to go early in the draft. Wyoming's Josh Allen is a bigger Patrick Mahomes, UCLA's Josh Rosen has been considered a top-five player from the minute he signed out of high school and USC's Sam Darnold emerged last year by putting the Trojans on his back and immediately improving the team.
That's great news for NFL teams after a quarterback class many didn't consider great just saw three players drafted in the top 12 picks. Of course, this is an early look and takes into account perceived team needs before free agency and before players develop or regress. As for the college talent listed here, the top juniors and seniors in the nation are included in the mock draft.
A lot will change in the next year as these players put more film out and further develop their bodies, and as we dig into who they are and how they play. This is a first-look mock draft with none of the players having been fully scouted.
Draft order courtesy of OddSharks Super Bowl odds and adjusted for playoff seeding.
1. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson
It's easy to assume the Browns would consider a quarterback in this slot with what's expected to be a pretty good class, but after grabbing DeShone Kizer in the second round, it would be a surprise for Hue Jackson and Co. to turnaround and draft another quarterback here. It's not impossible, but not likely right now.
Few positions will get actual consideration for the top pick in the draft. Since 1997, every No. 1 pick has played quarterback, left tackle or pass-rusher. That trend holds this year with big man Christian Wilkins from Clemson coming to the 3-technique spot on the Cleveland defensive line. At 6'4" and 310 pounds, Wilkins' first-step quickness and overall athletic ability are insane.
This isn't the biggest need in Cleveland, but the chance to pair Wilkins with Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah and Danny Shelton is too good to pass up.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The Pick: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
During the 2017 draft process, before the underclassman deadline, I wrote a mock draft that had Josh Allen going No. 3 overall to the Chicago Bears. That was based on my film study of him and on the word of NFL scouts and personnel men I talk to. Allen ultimately returned to school—a decision I praised—and will enter the 2018 class as my top quarterback prospect.
That word prospect is important. It means he's still being studied and watched and developed. Allen made some wildly questionable throws and decisions last year, but he's also blessed with an incredible arm and great athleticism at the position. If Patrick Mahomes can be drafted No. 10 overall, Allen can be drafted in the top handful of picks. Allen, at 6'5" and 222 pounds, is exactly what scouts look for in terms of size, strength and athleticism. He has to continue to develop and cut down on interceptions, but the tools are there. And if this draft taught us anything, it's that teams will gamble on tools.
The 49ers may make a huge push to sign Kirk Cousins in next year's free-agent class given his connection to Kyle Shanahan, but until that happens, they have to be considered the favorites to draft a quarterback.
3. New York Jets
The Pick: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Forget any talk that the running back position has been devalued in the NFL after two straight seasons of backs coming off the board at No. 4 overall. Next year, Saquon Barkley has a chance to do them one better.
The New York Jets may be looking at a Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold here next season; it all depends on if we see Christian Hackenberg and how he looks. Right now, no one outside the Jets' facility knows how he's developed throughout his redshirt rookie season. Given the potential there, I have the team passing on a quarterback for a dynamic running back that can change an offense immediately.
Barkley has amazing vision and balance and is a complete package of everything you want in a back. He's more Ezekiel Elliott than Leonard Fournette and will be my early pick for the Heisman.
4. Los Angeles Rams
The Pick: OT Connor Williams, Texas
The Rams' 2017 draft class was all about giving Jared Goff weapons on offense with a tight end and wide receiver coming off the board first. In the 2018 draft, the team will have a chance to right a wrong with Greg Robinson coming off the books at tackle and Connor Williams on the board.
Given Andrew Whitworth's age (35) and two-year contract, the Rams will be looking for a tackle of the future soon. Williams is among the cleanest pass protectors in the college game over the last five seasons. He's also pro-ready, having been asked to play often in a true blindside role.
Williams will be playing in his third offensive system as a junior, which could stunt his development some, but he's athletic, tough and has the awareness you want in a left tackle. The biggest question mark right now is how much the Texas offense's quick passing scheme helps him.
5. Chicago Bears
The Pick: S Derwin James, FSU
Derwin James might be the best player in the country next season, but as we just saw with Jamal Adams and as we saw the year before with former Seminole Jalen Ramsey, defensive backs are rarely drafted in the top few picks. Instead, teams like the Chicago Bears can get a massive playmaker with pick No. 5.
James is a versatile safety, similar in many ways to Adams, and has the size and speed to be a ball hawk in the box or over the top of a defense. James did tear his MCL in Week 2 of the 2016 season, so there's a possibility he's not back to 100 percent this fall, but after taking a medical redshirt he does have three seasons of eligibility left. James isn't a lock to enter the 2018 draft.
The Bears missed out on the chance to draft Budda Baker or Marcus Maye when they traded back in Round 2. Grabbing James would fill the largest remaining hole on the roster.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
Josh Rosen has some of the prettiest mechanics you'll see from a college quarterback. In fact, his pocket movement and release remind me of Andrew Luck. The real question is if he'll continue to develop after missing almost all of the 2016 season with an injured throwing shoulder.
Rosen isn't for everyone. He's opinionated and not afraid to speak his mind on anything—including the NCAA not paying college athletes. It's easy to see older general managers not liking his style, but the young guns in the NFL should be fine with him as long as he can convince them he loves football. Don't be surprised if Rosen gets the "too smart" label.
On the field, the kid is impressive with a 6'4", 210-pound frame and beautiful arm. He has to cut down on interceptions, but you can already see the decision-making and ball placement of a potential No. 1 overall pick.
The Jaguars have to figure out if Blake Bortles is the guy or not. Everything seen up until now points to him not being the answer, and he's easy to move on from after the 2017 season if the team doesn't pick up his fifth-year option.
7. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: DL Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama
It's crazy to think that Alabama's best defensive lineman last season might not have even been a full-time starter, but Da'Shawn Hand has already turned the heads of NFL scouts with his 6'4", 280-pound frame and plus athleticism.
The Bills will be playing a 4-3 defense with new coach Sean McDermott. They desperately need to start getting younger as Kyle Williams ages and to get more consistent given Marcell Dareus' issues. Hand's ability to crash gaps and beat blockers one-on-one will make him a scout's favorite.
As is always the issue with Alabama players, we'll have to wait and see if Hand is beat up physically or if he's maxed out from a technique standpoint, but the early tape on him is strong.
8. Los Angeles Chargers
The Pick: QB Sam Darnold, USC
The Los Angeles Chargers could have drafted a quarterback of the future in the top 10 of the 2017 draft and it wouldn't have been a surprise. With Philip Rivers one year older in this mock draft, the time is now to get a successor in place.
Sam Darnold may end up QB1 when it's all said and done. He's a tough kid in the pocket with a good arm and impressive placement. The biggest question coming from the nine-game starter is a throwing motion that is unorthodox. But the Chargers have the most unorthodox passer in the NFL, and he's been great since his first snap.
Darnold has much to prove as he takes the starting job for a full season, but his upside and leadership are already impressive after he took over the USC program with a 1-2 record and led it to a Rose Bowl win.
9. Detroit Lions
The Pick: EDGE Arden Key, LSU
The Lions addressed the defense with two selections at linebacker and one cornerback early in the draft but still have a need for a pass-rusher opposite Ezekiel Ansah. If Arden Key is dialed in for 2017, he has a chance to shoot way up draft boards.
Key, who briefly left the football team this winter before returning, will have to prove his commitment to the game before teams are ready to hand over top-10-pick money to him. That said, his pass-rushing ability off the edge is great. With 12.5 TFLs and 11 sacks last season, Key was a wrecking ball against SEC quarterbacks.
Teams looking at Key will see an athlete capable of standing up and playing outside linebacker or putting his hand in the dirt and attacking as a 4-3 end if he's able to bulk up his 6'6", 231-pound frame. The easy comparison here is Chicago Bear Leonard Floyd.
10. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: LB Malik Jefferson, Texas
The New Orleans Saints wanted Reuben Foster in the 2017 draft and just missed out on him when the San Francisco 49ers traded up one spot to land him. In 2018, they can get a similar athlete with fewer concerns in Malik Jefferson.
Jefferson was a highly recruited linebacker for Charlie Strong's Texas program. But as the team struggled the last two seasons, Jefferson never seemed to find a fit in the defense and had some minor injury issues that contributed to flat play. The athleticism is absolutely there on tape and in drills. Now is the time for Jefferson to put it all together for Tom Herman's Texas team.
It's easy to watch Jefferson and see a young Jaylon Smith, but he needs a 2017 season like Smith had in 2015, when he went from athlete to attacker at linebacker and put himself on the map as a legitimate No. 1 overall player before injury.
11. Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
The early top cornerback in next year's class comes from Alabama and has a different look and skill set than any other corner that's come out of Tuscaloosa under Nick Saban. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a smooth cover man with the hip speed and instincts to profile as a shutdown cornerback on the outside.
Fitzpatrick, at 6'1" and 203 pounds, has the ideal size and toughness you expect from Alabama, but his tape shows a much more fluid athlete than former teammate and first-round pick Marlon Humphrey. Fitzpatrick may not test as fast in the 40-yard dash, but his functional athleticism and timing on hip turns and breaks in routes are much better.
The Eagles bypassed a cornerback early in the draft—focusing instead on defensive end—and head into 2017 with a big need at the position.
The Pick: RB Derrius Guice, LSU
If you liked Leonard Fournette in this year's draft, get ready for Derrius Guice. The LSU back took over for Fournette when he was hurt and carried the load well. Guice, at 5'11" and 222 pounds, isn't the big back Fournette is and has a more of a slicing, speedy style of running.
Guice certainly looks the part on film. He's quick to hit the hole and brings more in the passing game than Fournette did. He also has the big-play speed to pull away from defenders once he sees daylight.
Washington waited until late in the draft to grab a running back, taking power back Samaje Perine of Oklahoma. Guice is the type of do-it-all runner that comes in and takes the No. 1 job.
13. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
Laremy Tunsil looks to be the long-term left tackle for the Miami Dolphins, which opens up a hole at right tackle that Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey is perfectly suited to fill.
This need could shift to guard, depending on how 2014 first-rounder Ja'Wuan James plays and if he's starting at right tackle, but on paper, it makes sense to kick James inside to guard and draft a high-caliber tackle like McGlinchey for the right side.
The Dolphins are building a serious front seven on defense and have weapons on offense. Shoring up the offensive line will open as the No. 1 need for the team's 2018 plans.
14. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi were both promising draft prospects not that long ago, but both have to prove their ability to play as starters in 2017 with Andrew Whitworth now in Los Angeles and Kevin Zeitler's help on the right side relocated to Cleveland.
Orlando Brown is a massive human being at 6'8" and 340 pounds. The son of former NFL player of the same name, he'll lock down the left side of the Oklahoma offensive line again in 2017. Brown's weight and athletic ability are the biggest questions he'll face from scouts coming through Norman. He's built like more of a right tackle, but that could be a need for the Bengals depending on how well Ogbuehi develops.
Brown is a project still, and if he's not able to move well enough to pass-protect in the NFL, he could easily slide down the board.
15. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: WR Deon Cain, Clemson
The Ravens opted to go cornerback in Round 1 after the big three receivers (Corey Davis, Mike Williams, John Ross) were off the board. That makes this the clear-cut top need of the team heading into the 2018 off-season.
Deon Cain is the next stud Clemson wide receiver prospect ready for the NFL draft. He's a legit first-round talent with the downfield speed and hands to pair perfectly with the big arm of Joe Flacco. He's not like former teammate Mike Williams as a big-bodied target. At 6'1" and 210 pounds, he might be most similar to another former Clemson receiver—DeAndre Hopkins.
A renewed focus on the defense throughout this past offseason has Baltimore in good shape for the future. Expect the 2018 offseason to swing toward reloading the offense.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: OT Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
Throughout the draft process, myself and colleague Michael Felder talked about the need to improve the offensive line in Tampa Bay—notably at right tackle. The Bucs can do that with Clemson's Mitch Hyatt.
Hyatt is well-versed in pass protection and has looked good kicking out defenders in the Clemson run game. The junior tackle may need to add a little more bulk for the NFL, as his 6'5", 295-pound frame is a tad light, but his athleticism and awareness as a blocker have already caught my eyes when scouting Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman.
Hyatt, heading into the season, has the highest ceiling of any offensive tackle not named Connor Williams.
17. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: LB Jerome Baker, Ohio State
A Ryan Shazier-like prospect at linebacker, Jerome Baker has excellent speed and agility playing off the ball. In the Titans scheme, he's an ideal inside linebacker. But to play that role, Baker may need to bulk up and add size to his 225-pound frame.
With Avery Williamson in place as the thumper in the team's 3-4 defense, Baker would be a plug-and-play pick at the other inside spot. The team did draft UCLA's Jayon Brown in the fifth round, but the number of Round 5 players who go on to lock down a starting job is pretty small. Baker would be an athletic upgrade over Brown and has more potential to have an impact against the run and in coverage.
18. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
The Cardinals didn't get the chance to draft a quarterback early in the 2017 first round, and they don't get a chance here either. What the team can do is grab a wide receiver to begin learning under Larry Fitzgerald and be someone to eventually take his place as the top threat in the offense.
After a draft focused heavily on defense, the Cardinals look loaded up for a run in the NFC West. That leaves the offense looking thin for the future, though, with Carson Palmer and Fitzgerald nearing the end of their careers. Assuming Palmer can hang on a little longer—and the team must think that given its lack of urgency in grabbing a quarterback—putting Sutton on the roster allows John Brown and Jaron Brown to stretch defenses on the inside.
Sutton would have had a Round 1 grade if he declared early for the 2017 draft. At 6'4" and 215 pounds, there's some A.J. Green to his game.
19. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: EDGE Josh Sweat, FSU
Chris Ballard was phenomenal in his first draft as general manager in Indianapolis, making the moves on defense to put the Colts back into contention in the AFC South. In the 2018 offseason, Ballard will likely want to address his offensive line, but at pick No. 19 overall in this draft, he's faced with a lack of value on the board.
One thing I know about Ballard is he'll always go with value. That's why edge-rusher Josh Sweat gets the nod here. It doesn't hurt that pass-rusher is a major need here too.
Sweat is 6'5", 250 pounds and has the ideal length, flexibility and quickness to crash the edge of an offensive line from the outside linebacker spot. He's raw but already has the tools and production to be a potential top-20 selection.
20. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: OT Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
A slight reach based on my 2018 big board (coming Tuesday), but the need is so great the Minnesota Vikings can afford to gamble on a left tackle with the upside of a starter.
Rankin, who came to Mississippi State from the JUCO ranks, redshirted in 2015 before taking the tackle job in 2016. He's raw still but has the size (6'5", 307 lbs) and athleticism to rise up boards with another strong season. Some scouts I talked to this season thought he might have entered the 2017 draft with a top-50 grade.
That's the kind of potential the Vikings can get behind. Rankin, if he continues to develop and play as well as he did in 2016, could be the long-term answer at left tackle this team so desperately needs.
21. Buffalo Bills (from Chiefs)
The Pick: S Marcus Allen, Penn State
Thanks to a draft-day trade that allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to move up and select Patrick Mahomes, the Bills are back on the clock with selection No. 21 overall.
After finding a starting defensive tackle earlier, the Bills can focus on improving a safety position that fell apart over the last few seasons due to free agency, injuries and age. Marcus Allen, a playmaking strong safety, can come in and give the group a boost right away. Allen plays a ton of Cover 2 at Penn State, which has helped him become a versatile safety with the skill set to play in the box or deep in coverage.
The Bills didn't address safety or defensive line in the 2017 draft—arguably the two biggest needs—and so far in this 2018 draft, they've checked both boxes.
22. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: DL Dre'Mont Jones, Ohio State
The Carolina Panthers have Kawann Short locked up until 2021 and drafted Vernon Butler in the first round of the 2016 draft, but general manager Dave Gettleman can't help himself when it comes to defensive linemen. Dre'Mont Jones can be the team's answer to the impending free agency of Star Lotulelei.
At 6'3" and 280 pounds, Jones is a quick-step pass-rusher with the moves to slice between blockers and make splashes in the backfield. He has the tools to be a dynamic pass-rusher in the mold of a Geno Atkins.
Jones will be just a redshirt sophomore after the 2017 season, but NFL scouts are already taking notice of his ability.
23. Denver Broncos
The Pick: CB Tarvarus McFadden, FSU
The selection of Garett Bolles in Round 1 filled the Broncos' biggest need. Now general manager John Elway can start making selections to cycle new, young, cheap talent on defense.
Tarvarus McFadden has excellent size at 6'2" and 198 pounds. He also has the speed to turn and run with wide receivers on the outside of the defense. The idea is that Bradley Roby eventually replaces Aqib Talib here, with McFadden coming in to play opposite him with Chris Harris roaming in the slot to make plays against three-wide receiver sets.
With Aqib set to turn 32 after the season, it's time for the cornerback position to get an infusion of youth.
24. New York Giants
The Pick: LB Cameron Smith, USC
General manager Jerry Reese never seems to value the linebacker position, but this ranks as the No. 1 need for the New York Giants (again) heading into the season. One pick like Cameron Smith can change that.
Smith is all over the field at middle linebacker, throwing around his 6'2", 245-pound frame and playing like an NFL defender. A three-year starter, Smith is plug-and-play material. There may be questions still about how well he'll test, but his film shows a 'backer that's an attacker against the run and super aware in pass coverage. That's exactly what the Giants need but refuse to draft.
25. Cleveland Browns (from Texans)
The Pick: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor might be good enough to sneak by in 2017, but by the 2018 draft, the Cleveland Browns have to be serious about adding a legitimate No. 1 cornerback. Slipping to pick No. 25, Denzel Ward might be that guy.
Ward, at 5'10" and 185 pounds, is a little smaller than the last three Ohio State cornerbacks we've seen go in the first round, but coaches are already talking about his ability and ball skills. Some may knock his lack of playing time and experience, but that's a hard argument when the two starting cornerbacks were just drafted at Nos. 11 and 24 overall, respectively. Ward has the quickness and instincts to be an NFL player and could continue the Ohio State line of first-rounders at cornerback to three straight years.
26. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
The right guard spot was a top need for Atlanta in the 2017 offseason. They may have filled that need with fourth-rounder Sean Harlow, but it's more likely he's a swing player and that right guard opening will be open again next year. Quenton Nelson would slam the door shut on it.
Nelson was rumored to come out this season, according to NFL scouts, but wanted to return to school and improve his play. He's already showing exceptional awareness and power at the guard position. He's a natural mover and can play with the power to kick defenders out in the run game. His feet are also a great fit for Atlanta.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville
If you liked Sidney Jones in this draft, keep an eye on Jaire Alexander from Louisville. He's a similar technician, and while he hasn't yet shown the complete game that made Jones a top-15 player before his injury, the potential is there.
The Steelers like Artie Burns a lot at one cornerback spot and added a solid nickel cornerback in Cameron Sutton, but they must keep getting younger and faster at the position on the outside. A trio of Burns, Sutton and Alexander is what you need to match up with teams like Cincinnati that will throw A.J. Green, John Ross and Tyler Boyd on the field together this season.
28. Seattle Seahawks
The Pick: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Speed on offense is always going to be a want in Seattle. In Calvin Ridley, the Seahawks may see a younger, healthier version of Percy Harvin.
Ridley is best off the ball and has the speed to shake a tackler and then outrun the defense to pay dirt. He's incredibly fluid and has exceptional quickness when asked to throttle down and then restart his engines. Ridley routinely runs free and he shows that same speed when tracking the ball down the field. The Alabama offense was so run-heavy that Ridley hasn't truly been featured, but that could change in 2017 with the emergence of Jalen Hurts at quarterback.
The Seahawks have a solid crew at receiver already, but adding Ridley can put them over the top. And giving Russell Wilson more weapons is never a bad idea.
29. Oakland Raiders
The Pick: LB Azeem Victor, Washington
It's mind-boggling that the Raiders didn't address the linebacker position early in the 2017 draft. You can go ahead and pencil this one in as the team's top need for next year.
Azeem Victor will be coming back from a broken leg in 2017, but when healthy last year, he was very impressive as the captain of the ship on a very talented Washington defense. He's an attacker coming downhill but has the quicks to play in space and drop into coverage against tight ends. That's exactly what the Raiders needed and still don't have following a draft that focused on improving the secondary.
A young wide receiver prospect wouldn't be a bad move here either depending on how the team sees Seth Roberts as a long-term option.
30. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: OL Mason Cole, Michigan
The 2017 draft looks like a very good one for the Green Bay Packers, but there still remains a need on the interior of the offensive line. Aaron Rodgers is special enough at quarterback to make it work with a subpar interior group in front of him, but investing in the offensive line is a move Ted Thompson should make.
Mason Cole is a pro-ready center at Michigan but has the size, skill and strength to play any of the three inside spots on an offensive line. He's an exceptional power blocker but has also shown himself to be valuable getting upfield to take on linebackers in the run game. His best pro position is likely at center, but there's no reason he can't be a fixture at guard too.
31. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: S Armani Watts, Texas A&M
After a year in which the secondary was heavily depleted by free agency, the Dallas Cowboys spent picks in Rounds 2, 3, and 6 addressing the back end of the defense. More help is needed.
The trio of Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie and Marquez White at cornerback is an impressive investment in the position, and safety Xavier Woods is a good project coming out of Louisiana Tech that might have a shot to become a starter. But relying long-term on a sixth-rounder isn't a solid bet right now. Going after a safety like Armani Watts adds more talent and a higher ceiling at strong safety next to Bryon Jones.
There's no danger in going young in the secondary like Dallas has done, especially if you believe in your coaches. Throwing Watts into the mix would give the safety position the enforcer to pair with Jones' athleticism.
32. New England Patriots
The Pick: LB Harold Landry, Boston College
By this time next year, the Patriots may have once again traded away all their picks, but for now they do own the No. 32 spot in the order. With it, they have a chance to add a young combo linebacker who has the skills to rush the quarterback or line up off the ball and take on the run game.
Harold Landry flashed hard in 2016 and was at one point on my list of potential 2017 draft underclassmen. He opted to return to school and now has a shot to get into the first round if he can continue to build on his three-down skills. His 16.5 sacks last season, a school record, already proved that Landry gets the job done off the edge.