2018 NFL Mock Draft: Early Predictions for Top 32 Prospects

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistDecember 29, 2017

Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold (14) passes against Stanford during the second half of the Pac-12 Conference championship NCAA college football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The 2018 NFL draft features one of the most intriguing prospect classes in years with a strong mix of skill-position talent and high-ceiling quarterbacks, who always drive discussion because of the position's importance. 

There's no denying the value and impact of offensive linemen, but it's hard to get excited about a draft class when discussing pass protection and run blocking. 

Having a draft class that could feature as many as five first-round quarterbacks, including the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley and pass-rushing stars Clelin Ferrell and Bradley Chubb, it's not hard to be excited about the marquee value this year's group possesses. 


2018 NFL Mock Draft (Order Based on Current Record)

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
2. New York Giants: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
4. Cleveland Browns (via HOU): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
6. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
7. New York Jets: Derwin James, S, Florida State
8. San Francisco 49ers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
9. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
10. Cincinnati Bengals: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
11. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
12. Miami Dolphins: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
13. Arizona Cardinals: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
14. Green Bay Packers: Arden Key, DE, LSU
15. Washington: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
16. Los Angeles Chargers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
17. Dallas Cowboys: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
18. Buffalo Bills: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
19. Detroit Lions: Harold Landry, LB, Boston College
20. Seattle Seahawks: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
21. Tennessee Titans: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
22. Atlanta Falcons: Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State
23. Baltimore Ravens: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
24. Carolina Panthers: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
25. Buffalo Bills (via KC): Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
26. New Orleans Saints: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
28. Los Angeles Rams: Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
29. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
30. Minnesota Vikings: Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
31. New England Patriots: Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

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Sam Darnold, QB (Projected No. 1 to Cleveland Browns)

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans warms up during pregame warm ups prior to the start of the Pac-12 Football Championship Game against the Stanford Cardinal at Levi's Stadium on December 1, 2017 in Santa Clara, California.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

For all of their struggles on the field, especially over the last two seasons, the Cleveland Browns are the most fascinating team in the 2018 draft thanks to potentially having two of the first five picks. 

Drafting Myles Garrett No. 1 overall last year looks like a fantastic pick thus far. This year's goal has to be finding a long-term solution at quarterback, with USC's Sam Darnold getting a slight edge at this point. 

There isn't a clear front-runner among the draft-eligible quarterbacks at this point. B/R's Matt Miller has Darnold in the No. 1 spot at the position on his latest big board. ESPN's Todd McShay has UCLA's Josh Rosen as his No. 1 overall player. 

Rosen becomes complicated for the Browns because ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Christmas Eve the Bruins star prefers the New York Giants and "would be hesitant" to leave school if he thought Cleveland was going to take him. 

Since the Browns have to take someone at quarterback, Darnold seems like a strong fit at this point. He didn't have the other-worldly 2017 season that was expected after throwing 31 touchdowns in 10 games as a freshman last year. 

Darnold didn't exactly fall off a cliff during his sophomore season with 3,787 yards and 26 touchdowns. He had some turnover problems with 12 interceptions and nine fumbles that will have to be corrected. 

Miller offered some context for Darnold's turnovers with this assessment from November:

"Stats need background, and for Darnold, the tape shows an accurate, poised, smart quarterback who is hitting his rhythm well with a young USC offense around him. And remember—last year at this time, a lot of people were upset about Deshaun Watson's interception numbers. He looked pretty good in his rookie NFL season before injury."

The Browns are essentially starting from scratch. The easiest way to drive optimism is with a young, promising quarterback. Darnold will be their great hope for the future as soon as he steps on the field in 2018. 


Josh Allen, QB (Projected No. 6 to Denver Broncos)

IOWA CITY, IOWA- SEPTEMBER 2:  Quarterback Josh Allen #17 of the Wyoming Cowboys warms up before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on September 2, 2017 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.  (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
Matthew Holst/Getty Images

If there is a season for Denver Broncos general manager John Elway to finally hit on a quarterback, it is in 2018 because the window for this defense to keep playing at a high level is closing. 

Paxton Lynch, a first-round pick in 2016, was supposed to be groomed as the long-term answer at quarterback. He's appeared in four games and couldn't beat out seventh-round draft pick Trevor Siemian for the starting job in training camp in each of the past two seasons. 

Since the position needs to be addressed before the Broncos start next season, the draft will be their best course of action. Spotrac projects them to have $31.5 million in cap space this offseason, making it difficult for them to make a serious play for a top-tier free agent like Kirk Cousins. 

Josh Allen, like Lynch two years ago, is a project who may not yield results right away because Wyoming rarely played against the highest level of competition. 

Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout had this assessment of what Allen's evaluation process could look like over the next four months:

Dane Brugler @dpbrugler

Josh Allen is scouting catnip - best way I can describe it. Elite physical traits (size, athleticism, arm strength), but currently undeveloped in several critical areas of playing QB at a high level. https://t.co/CmPAPSRNj1

Allen's stats aren't going to catch anyone's eye. He completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 1,812 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions in 11 games this season. 

It's hard not to get caught up in what the 21-year-old will look like working out in front of scouts. He's listed at 6'5" and 240 pounds on Wyoming's official athletic website. 

Looking at Allen's physical gifts and overall performance, one obvious comparison is Jay Cutler when he came out of Vanderbilt in 2006. He had a 57.2 career completion percentage in college before dazzling scouts at the NFL combine with a 4.77-second 40-yard dash and tremendous arm strength. 

Comparisons to Cutler in 2017 don't exactly elicit loud cheers from fans. Allen has a long road ahead of him to become a star quarterback. The Broncos need to figure out a solution at the position this offseason, or they will be at risk of drafting in the top 10 for many years to come. 


Roquan Smith, LB (Projected No. 11 to Oakland Raiders)

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 07:  Roquan Smith #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs plays against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

After getting lost in the quarterbacks in this year's draft, let's shift to the other side of the ball to see what makes Roquan Smith such a special talent. 

The Georgia linebacker racked up multiple awards in 2017, including being named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and winning the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker. 

ESPN's Mel Kiper had Smith listed at No. 15 on his big board, highlighting his versatility on the field as one reason for the lofty ranking:

"At 6'1", 225 pounds, he's extremely athletic. He can get sideline to sideline in a hurry. A season after having 95 total tackles and five tackles for loss, Smith is up to 113 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sackswith potentially two more games to go. He can blitz up the middle or off the edge, and I think he could play inside or outside linebacker. He's just a fun player to watch."

The Raiders are desperate for help on defense. Khalil Mack remains one of the most productive outside linebackers in the NFL with 10.5 sacks and three passes defensed, but there's only so much one star-level player can do to mask all the deficiencies Oakland's defense has. 

Cornerback is the Raiders' biggest need—they rank 30th in opponent completion percentage and are tied for last with five interceptionsbut there's something to be said for going with the best player on the board.

Pairing Smith and Mack, two linebackers who have the speed to play in coverage and strength to defend the run, will give Oakland a foundation to build around as it seeks a return to the postseason in 2018. 

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