One Draft Prospect on Every NFL Team's Radar
With the college football regular season just about over, NFL scouts are also nearing the end of their many miles on the road and all those nights spent in Hampton Inns. The first wave of team meetings to set the draft board will be happening in December, and when they do, we'll also see a flood of rumors and reports coming out of each front office.
Before that happens, I wanted to open my own notebook and share what connections I've heard from area scouts, coaches, directors, general managers and agents as the scouting process moves to Step 2. Which teams are already connected to which players? That's what we're about to find out.
Going top to bottom on the projected draft board, here is one player with first-round talent I've heard each team linked to.
Cleveland Browns: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
Let me start this one off by saying the information from Cleveland should be taken with a grain of salt because I expect the coaches and much (if not all) of the front office to be fired. It doesn't matter who executive vice president Sashi Brown or head coach Hue Jackson like in December if they won't be making the pick in April.
Here's what I do know, though—Jackson likes Josh Rosen. I reported that Jackson liked Goff two years ago and that he liked Mitchell Trubisky last year as the best quarterbacks in their respective draft classes. That information proved to be accurate. This time around, that same source is telling me Rosen is Jackson's guy.
But again, that might not matter. According to a front office source, Jackson and his staff are already expecting to be fired after a disastrous 1-27 start in Cleveland. Will the next head coach also like Rosen? We'll see soon enough.
New York Giants: QB Sam Darnold, USC
The New York Giants benched quarterback Eli Manning this week, and the future of head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese are in question. For the Giants, an offseason of starting over seems inevitable.
Much like the Browns, it might not matter who I'm hearing the Giants like at the moment, because the folks making draft decisions might not be in the front office now. But one thing I've heard throughout the season is that the Giants' top decision-makers all do like Sam Darnold.
The USC quarterback isn't a lock to declare for the draft, but executives and scouts I've spoken with this season firmly believe he'll be a top-five pick if he does come out early. Darnold's accuracy, poise and football IQ are respected enough to overcome the turnover issues he's had this year.
San Francisco 49ers: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Now that the San Francisco 49ers have answered their quarterback question following their trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, they'll look to improve an offense that is lacking in elite playmakers and shore up a defense that's loaded with former first-round picks.
Team sources in San Francisco have told me all year long that Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is a rare prospect. Of course, I heard the same comments last year regarding Leonard Fournette, and they bypassed the chance to draft him in favor of defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. The 49ers like Barkley, but do they like him enough to pull the trigger at No. 3 overall?
The more likely scenario is the 49ers attempting to trade down again this year. Last April, they moved back one spot and allowed the Chicago Bears to draft Mitchell Trubisky. It wouldn't be a surprise if the 49ers auction off their pick to quarterback-needy teams this year.
Denver Broncos: OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
The Denver Broncos have major questions at quarterback, but general manager John Lynch may be hesitant to use another first-rounder on the position after spending one on Paxton Lynch in 2016. If Elway and Co. decide against drafting another quarterback in Round 1, they will have options elsewhere.
Spending a top-five pick on an offensive guard might not seem like a franchise-saving move, but Denver desperately needs a reliable left guard. Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson looks like one of the best prospects there in years. He may ultimately be a trade-down option if the Broncos decide to swap first-rounders with a team in need of a quarterback, but there's no doubt he'd be an instant-impact player.
Are the Broncos interested? One scouting department source I've spoken with said they have Nelson as the top-ranked offensive lineman in the class.
Indianapolis Colts: EDGE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
Everything the Indianapolis Colts do this offseason is based on the idea that either Andrew Luck will be back or the front office is happy with Jacoby Brissett as the interim starter. Once that's settled, general manager Chris Ballard will likely fire head coach Chuck Pagano and then aggressively work to improve a bad roster.
When Ballard took the Indianapolis job last offseason, a former co-worker of his told me he would go defensive back or pass-rusher in the first round of the 2017 draft. (The Colts selected Ohio State safety Malik Hooker.) Maybe it's too easy to connect the dots and think Ballard will love the pass-rushing talent in this year's crop.
Bradley Chubb is the top-ranked EDGE on my board, and he seems like the perfect fit for the no-nonsense Ballard. Plug him into either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and you have a monster outside pass-rusher with the strength and agility to be a 10-sack player.
Chicago Bears: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama or Courtland Sutton, SMU
Mitchell Trubisky looks like he'll pan out at quarterback, but to truly evaluate him or win with him, the Chicago Bears need a lot of help at wide receiver.
It's fairly obvious the Bears cannot ever count on oft-injured wideout Kevin White being a contributor. If the team happens to get something from him, it's a positive, but it isn't something the front office should bank on in 2018. Cameron Meredith looks like Chicago's best receiver coming back from injury next year, which means wide receiver is also the team's biggest need.
Sources in the Chicago scouting staff have told me the team is all about Calvin Ridley from Alabama, but no wide receiver is ranked highly enough on my board to be selected in the top 10. Ridley or SMU's Courtland Sutton have the skills to be No. 1 wide receivers in the NFL, but they might only be targets in a trade-back scenario.
Houston Texans: OT Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
Without their own picks in the first or second round of the 2018 NFL draft, the Houston Texans will be forced to build courtesy of a second-rounder from Seattle and their own picks in Rounds 3 through 5. That means missing out on priority players and trusting their scouting staff to find gems in what would currently be the second half of Round 2.
Mississippi State's Martinas Rankin is the kind of fit the Texans need at left tackle. Houston does have needs elsewhere, but getting a healthy Deshaun Watson back next season should point the front office in the direction of the offensive line. Rankin fits on scheme and value in Round 2.
It's early in the process, but I have heard from Texans sources that offensive line and cornerback will be areas they hope to address.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
There have been rumors this season that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers love LSU running back Derrius Guice as a mid-first-round option, but the player linked to them most often by coaching contacts and rival scouts in the last month has been Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick, who has played cornerback and safety with the Crimson Tide, would step in as the ideal versatile safety. If you watch Alabama play, you'll see him line up in the slot, over the top of the defense and even in the middle of the field as almost a nickel linebacker. He's blessed with rare football instincts that combine perfectly with top-notch athleticism.
If you liked Jamal Adams' intangibles and leadership last year, Fitzpatrick is that same kind of player, but he's even more impactful.
Arizona Cardinals: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
The Arizona Cardinals are another team linked to Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen.
Perhaps this one is too simple, but a source on the Arizona coaching staff told me earlier this year that the Cardinals loved Patrick Mahomes last year. Once he was gone, they weren't drafting a quarterback early. He also said the same folks love the potential and athleticism of Allen. That makes sense given the arm-strength similarities for the two quarterbacks.
Allen's draft stock is somewhat all over the place depending on who you ask, but I still think he's a top-10 pick. Once coaches and scouts are able to spend time with him and see his tools in person, it's hard to imagine teams with a need at quarterback passing on him.
New York Jets: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Here's one I reported several weeks back—a league source told me the New York Jets "love" Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. I double-checked with a source at the school and was told yes, the Jets have been in there more often and done more work on Allen than any other team.
Where there's smoke, there's fire.
The Jets are winning games with a tough defense and an offense that's making big plays, but doing so has ultimately put them out of the running for Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold. They're now in Allen territory, but they'd be a good fit for the big-armed gunslinger since they already have Josh McCown in place as a steady hand at quarterback until Allen is ready to play.
Washington: RB Derrius Guice, LSU
If the NFL draft were today, Washington would own the No. 11 pick in the first round. That's good enough to secure a top-tier offensive piece if the team finds a way to keep Kirk Cousins in town. If Cousins leaves for Denver, Jacksonville or the Giants, then Washington will be forced to spend an early pick on a quarterback.
For now, let's assume Cousins will be back. If that happens, a coaching source said the team regrets that former general manager Scot McCloughan could never find a true featured back. His attempt to make Matt Jones the No. 1 back failed, and the depth chart now has a hole in it.
Derrius Guice is a power runner who would fit Washington's style of football, but he's also athletic enough to handle Jay Gruden's scheme. Guice might be the most natural runner in the draft class, and he has the tools for a 1,200-yard rookie season behind this line.
Miami Dolphins: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Head coach Adam Gase and the Miami Dolphins will have a tough decision to make regarding quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the coming months, as they have an option to void his contract this offseason. With Tannehill coming off a torn ACL and not exactly living up to his six-year, $96 million extension prior to the injury, it wouldn't be shocking if the Dolphins to move on.
Enter Lamar Jackson.
Jackson is an electric dual-threat with the quick release and quick feet to make things happen on the edge of an offense. Folks in Miami have been vague about their exact plans this offseason—and one person on the scouting staff told me there could be shakeups there—but Jackson should be on their board as a great fit for what Gase wants his offense to do.
Cincinnati Bengals: OT Connor Williams, Texas
Despite spending early picks on Cedric Ogbuehi (first round) and Jake Fisher (second round) in the 2015 NFL draft, scouting sources in Cincinnati tell me the team is all about Texas left tackle Connor Williams as a fit in Round 1.
With Fisher's football future uncertain due to an irregular heartbeat procedure that put him on injured reserve, the Bengals are smart to investigate the incoming tackle class thoroughly. Williams, who did miss time this season with a knee injury, left Texas early and will skip the team's bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.
Adding Williams to the roster makes this front five much more athletic and versatile. Keep an eye on the potential of Fisher at center—a position my scouting source said the team likes him at.
Los Angeles Chargers: S Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
The safety position is a need for the Los Angeles Chargers, but most fans likely will wonder why this isn't a quarterback. According to a team source, Philip Rivers has basically shut down the team drafting a quarterback of the future. They could do it anyway, but that's what I'm basing this on.
Ronnie Harrison is the thumper of the Alabama secondary and compares favorably to Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks. You might remember current Chargers' defensive coordinator Gus Bradley once coached Chancellor. Those dots connect themselves.
Dallas Cowboys: DE Harold Landry, Boston College
The pass rush in Dallas hasn't been all bad this year thanks to DeMarcus Lawrence's huge production, but he's a free agent after this season and has had some off-field issues in the past. According to scouting and coaching contacts in Dallas, the team doesn't expect to be drafting in the middle of Round 1 again any time soon, so it will go after a premium position like pass-rusher while it can.
Harold Landry started off red-hot this season before an injury slowed him down some. He then dealt with double-teams as offenses realized they could scheme to stop Landry and make the rest of Boston College beat them. Looking ahead to the future, Landry would pair up well with 2017 first-rounder Taco Charlton, who is more of a power-rusher.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Simmie Cobbs Jr., Indiana
The Kansas City Chiefs don't own a first-round pick this year after trading up for Patrick Mahomes in last year's draft. With the team's first selection, it should be all about adding a weapon for Mahomes or fixing a secondary that's been awful outside of Marcus Peters this year.
Based on expected value in the second round and the talks I've had with scouting contacts in Kansas City, don't be surprised to see a wide receiver prioritized. Indiana's Simmie Cobbs Jr. would give Mahomes the sure-handed, big-bodied target the offense currently lacks.
Cobbs, who tore up Ohio State in Week 1 and had an overall solid season, has a chance to make a quick impact in the NFL as a post-up receiver. Teams looking for a poor man's Mike Evans should love him.
Oakland Raiders: LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Rashaan Evans isn't likely to last until the Oakland Raiders pick in the first round, but if he's there, general manager Reggie McKenzie should break a record for fastest pick made.
Evans, a true middle linebacker at Alabama, is exactly what this team has been missing. Tight ends tear up the Raiders in the passing game, and in the run game, they lack power between the tackles. Signing NaVorro Bowman in mid-October did shore up some of those issues, but he's also an aging linebacker with a lengthy injury history. Evans is a true long-term solution.
Raiders sources have said the team could go with an offensive tackle in Round 1, but when talking to a member of the coaching staff within the last month, he raved about Evans' play.
Detroit Lions: DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson
The Detroit Lions' defensive line has been a work in progress since Ndamukong Suh left. Ziggy Ansah hasn't been the guy we thought he could be early in his career due to injury, and the interior of the line needs juice.
Christian Wilkins has been overlooked at times on the talented Clemson defensive line, but he can be a star in Detroit next to A'Shawn Robinson. Wilkins, who has played defensive end and defensive tackle at Clemson, has the first-step quickness to beat NFL interior blockers and the instincts and intelligence to make smart plays when asked to stick to his assignment.
When prepping for this article, I texted a scout, "What will the Lions do?" He replied, "[Bob] Quinn is a Belichick guy. They're going DL."
Buffalo Bills: QB Sam Darnold, USC
With two first-round selections thanks to the 2017 draft-day trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills are perfectly positioned to move up and select a quarterback. And they would have to, based on the most recent draft order that has them selecting No. 16 and No. 19 overall.
All the way back in August, I started hearing from rival scouts that folks in Buffalo loved Sam Darnold. When rumors circulated that Darnold wouldn't want to go to Cleveland (which he squashed), a source connected to the Bills front office texted me to ask if the USC passer would rebuff the Bills.
Darnold won't be on the board for long—in fact he might be the first pick, if he declares—but there is serious smoke connecting the Bills to him.
Green Bay Packers: EDGE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
The Green Bay defense has been better than I expected this season, while guys like Damarious Randall have made major strides and the entire depth looks better. That said, the need for more speed and youth on the edge is obvious.
Clelin Ferrell is unlike anything the Packers have. He has the agility to rush standing up but has some power in his 6'5", 260-pound frame. Playing as the right defensive end on the Clemson line, Ferrell has also been asked to rush against the best tackles the ACC has to offer. Dating back to last year's national title run, Ferrell has shown he has all the goods to succeed.
Baltimore Ravens: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
The Baltimore Ravens went through a transition a few years back when the defense was getting old and slow and the front office had to completely retool things. That's how the offense feels right now. There are some young bright spots, but quarterback Joe Flacco looks particularly average and the wide receiver corps is in desperate need of an upgrade.
Calvin Ridley, if he's still on the board at pick No. 21, is a slam dunk for the Ravens. Not only does he play at Alabama—where general manager Ozzie Newsome played and loves to get talent from—but he's the type of route-running, sure-handed receiver the team needs. After blowing a first-rounder on speed in Breshad Perriman, going back to the smart money on a complete receiver in Round 1 should make fans and Flacco happy.
Atlanta Falcons: DL Dre'Mont Jones, Ohio State
The Atlanta Falcons have drafted and spent well in the last three seasons, which leaves them with a roster that doesn't have many glaring needs. One area where they can always use depth and could look to get younger and more athletic is at defensive tackle.
Ohio State's Dre'Mont Jones is a top-notch athlete with a dynamic skill set that would fit perfectly in Atlanta. Play him next to Takkarist McKinley and he's a threat as a 3-technique. Or slide him outside and let him match up his power against right tackles and see what type of bull rush he can provide. There's no limit to what Jones could do in this scheme.
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
The Jacksonville Jaguars are winning in spite of quarterback Blake Bortles. To win long-term and reach the team's potential, an upgrade at quarterback is needed.
Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone both come from the Bill Parcells coaching tree. The former Cowboys, Giants, Jets and Patriots coach had four rules for drafting quarterbacks that we should keep in mind for Jacksonville:
- He must be a senior
- He must be a graduate
- He must be a three-year starter
- He must have at least 23 wins
Mason Rudolph fits every one of those. The Oklahoma State senior checks the boxes in terms of the rules, intangibles and size. Where he might lack is his average arm and risky decision-making. If you placed him on a team with a dominant defense and great running back, though, he could get the job done.
Tennessee Titans: EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College
The Tennessee Titans are getting closer to reaching their playoff potential, but to take the team over the top, the defense needs more speed on the edges. After drafting Kevin Dodd in 2016 and getting limited production from him, it's time for the front office to look for a more athletic specimen to fill the stand-up rusher role.
Landry has the quickness to beat blockers off the edge and has shown the hips and flexibility to get low under the hands of offensive linemen and truly bend the corner. The Titans have that now in Brian Orakpo but need a much younger option long-term.
One coaching-staff contact told me he thinks they'll go defense early but wouldn't rule out another wide receiver to complement Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Rishard Matthews.
Seattle Seahawks: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
Offensive line, cornerback and defensive end were all mentioned as potential needs when texting with a Seahawks scout recently. So which is it?
The team traded for Duane Brown to take over at left tackle but could still use an upgrade at right tackle (especially if Germain Ifedi slides inside). Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey reminds me of Jack Conklin coming out of Michigan State and could be that type of player on the right side of the Seattle offensive line. He has struggled with speed rushers playing the left side, so locking him in at right tackle makes sense.
A cornerback like Isaiah Oliver or defensive end like Clelin Ferrell would also seem to fit what Seattle likes at the positions.
Carolina Panthers: WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
Watch the Carolina Panthers offense and it's not Kelvin Benjamin they miss, but Ted Ginn, Jr. The loss of speed up the seam has closed down rushing lanes for Cam Newton and his backs, now that safeties don't have to respect the go route.
One guy who can change that immediately is Texas A&M's Christian Kirk. With true deep speed and a solid 5'11", 200-pound frame, he was called "the Steve Smith of the SEC" by one scout I spoke with. Kirk's ability to stretch the field and make plays with the ball in his hands on short routes may have him coming off the board much sooner than this, but on paper, he looks like an ideal fit.
Los Angeles Rams: DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
After nailing the 2017 offseason, general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay can look at the 2018 draft and see the pieces to plug holes and round out a roster that looks to have Super Bowl potential. A front-office source recently nudged me in the direction of defensive end as a need, given the age and decline of Robert Quinn.
Sam Hubbard looks like a fit, based on what I've seen from the Ohio State right defensive end. Not only does he have great instincts, but he has the overall athleticism and power to handle blockers in the run game. Hubbard's a worker and would fit in great with a defense featuring Aaron Donald and Alec Ogletree.
The Rams would also go young at offensive tackle here for the future, but all signs right now point to a pass-rusher.
New Orleans Saints: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
How NFL teams will see Baker Mayfield will be the big story of January through April. He's cocky, brash and has some off-field issues that teams must investigate. He's also one of the most exciting players in college football and arguably the most improved quarterback in the country.
The New Orleans Saints face an offseason where Drew Brees will become a free agent, and there is no quarterback of the future on the roster. The front office has taken heat in the past for not thinking ahead and addressing Brees' limited future. This might be the year it finally taps his successor.
Mayfield being connected to the Saints isn't just about him being a short, athletic quarterback like Brees, but also about him having the dual-threat skills and accuracy to thrive in Sean Payton's scheme.
Pittsburgh Steelers: OG Billy Price, Ohio State
The Pittsburgh Steelers must live in fear that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will retire at any time. But for now, they have a solid developmental option in rookie Josh Dobbs. That keeps the Steelers away from quarterbacks on this list.
I have heard from scouting contacts in the AFC North that the Steelers might try to address the interior offensive line early in the draft. Maurkice Pouncey is under contract at center, but the team has an out after this season that could allow it to walk from him and go younger and cheaper with Ohio State's Billy Price. It could also keep Pouncey and draft Price to play left guard, where he has experience.
Price is an old-school mauler and a superb technician at center and guard. He's a throwback but would be a plug-and-play starter.
Minnesota Vikings: OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
The decision at quarterback between Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater has been fascinating in Minnesota—and for now it's working with Keenum taking the ball every week. Long term, the Vikings must make different plans though, and Bridgewater's status as a free agent complicates things. It's safe to assume for now that one or both will be back next year, though, so let's move on to the other needs.
The offensive line is always a need in Minnesota. That's not different this year at tackle, even though the front office put a bandage on the positions in free agency. Drafting is the way to fix an issue for the future though, and that's what the team should do, based on my talks with front-office sources.
Orlando Brown, Jr. is a massive tackle (6'8", 345 pounds) but has surprising agility and has caught the eye of NFL scouts. Some I've talked to even like him in the top 10 picks. I see him more in that late first round range due to some technical deficiencies in his pass-blocking, but he could still be the right tackle of the future in Minnesota as a late first-rounder.
Philadelphia Eagles: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
The Eagles have made an amazing run to the NFL's best record through 12 weeks and look like the NFC's team to beat. To stay on top of the mountain, vice president Howie Roseman needs to keep hitting home runs like he did in the 2017 offseason.
Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith shouldn't make it this far down the draft board on merit, but he's a little undersized (listed at 6'1", 225 pounds, but I've heard he's over 230) and that could turn teams away. It shouldn't, but it might. If so, the Eagles could have a linebacker corps that puts fear into opposing quarterbacks with Jordan Hicks, Smith and Mychal Kendricks in the base 4-3.
New England Patriots: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia or LB Malik Jefferson, Texas
Thanks to the trade that sent Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers, the New England Patriots sit right now with picks Nos. 31 and 35 in the 2018 draft. With those, Bill Belichick can rebuild a defense that's desperately needing talent.
Either Roquan Smith or Malik Jefferson would add a ton of speed to the New England defense. The idea of adding both works too, since Jefferson has shown himself to be a valuable pass-rusher at Texas. This might not be Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones all over again, but putting elite athleticism and the best linebacker in college (Smith) on this defense would change everything right away.
The Patriots have to start thinking about getting younger at quarterback after trading Brissett and Garoppolo away this season, but Belichick should think long and hard about loading up at linebacker then going after a quarterback late in Round 2.