2018 NFL Mock Draft: Pre-Wild Card Round Predictions for 1st-Round Prospects

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2018

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

January is always a big month for the NFL because college underclassmen will officially declare for the draft, bringing some clarity to things after months of speculation about what might happen. 

It's also a big month for 12 NFL teams because they are on a journey to win the Super Bowl when the postseason begins. Even as they fight for a championship, their scouting departments are hard at work evaluating the next wave of talent coming into the league. 

With more than three months until the draft begins on Apr. 26, here's an early mock projecting how things will shake out in the first round. 


1st-Round Mock Draft

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. Denver Broncos: Connor Williams, OT, Texas

6. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

8. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

9. Oakland Raiders: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

10. San Francisco 49ers: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

11. Miami Dolphins: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

12. Cincinnati Bengals: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

13. Washington Redskins: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

14. Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

15. Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

16. Baltimore Ravens: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

18. Seattle Seahawks: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

19. Dallas Cowboys: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

20. Detroit Lions: Arden Key, DE, LSU

21. Buffalo Bills: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson

22. Atlanta Falcons: Derwin James, SS, FSU

23. Tennessee Titans: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

24. Carolina Panthers: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

25. Buffalo Bills (via KC): Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

26. New Orleans Saints: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

27. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

28. Los Angeles Rams: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

29. Pittsburgh Steelers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Alabama

30. Minnesota Vikings: Billy Price, OL, Ohio State

31. Philadelphia Eagles: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

32. New England Patriots: Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama


Team Under Most Pressure: Cleveland Browns

Ralph Freso/Associated Press

The Cleveland Browns are easy to single out because they just finished an 0-16 season and have won one game in the past two seasons, but there's more that makes it essential for them to it on the draft. 

Thanks to their deal with the Houston Texans during last year's draft, which led to Deshaun Watson ending up in Houston, the Browns have two of the top four picks. They got their defensive anchor last year, with Myles Garrett selected first overall. 

Offense has to be their focus early this time around, and they picked a good draft to address that side of the ball. 

Quarterback is the obvious choice for Cleveland at No. 1, with USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen the top two candidates. 

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Rosen has "privately expressed concern" about ending up with the Browns. That didn't deter him from declaring for the draft, but Cleveland's front office will have to do its homework to determine if he is going to be a fit for the franchise. 

Darnold didn't have the banner 2017 season anyone was hoping for. The Trojans star had 22 turnovers during his sophomore campaign, including three in the team's 24-7 loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

There is still a lot of development ahead of Darnold, but Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports believes he has more upside than Rosen:

"His 'highs' are almost unfathomable for a quarterback at his age with his relative lack of experience. Can NFL coaches guide his maturation? If so, he can develop into a perennially elite signal-caller at the pro level. Is he genuinely "ready" to be that type of quarterback as a rookie? Most likely not. Darnold's talent level is on par with Jameis Winston and, in some areas, Andrew Luck."

The Browns can afford to let Darnold develop. There's nowhere for this franchise to go but up after a winless season. 

After finding their quarterback with the top pick, the Browns can do him a tremendous favor by adding the best pure playmaker in the draft by selecting Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. It's a case of taking the best player available on the board who fills a need and eases the pressure on a young quarterback. 


Best Fit: Calvin Ridley to Chicago Bears

Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

After the Chicago Bears drafted their quarterback of the future last year, it's imperative the team gets Mitchell Trubisky help to speed up his development. 

The Bears will automatically get a boost in 2018 when Cameron Meredith, who led the team with 66 receptions and 888 yards two years ago, returns from the torn ACL he suffered during a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans in August. 

Pairing Meredith with Alabama star Calvin Ridley would give Trubisky two legitimate playmakers on the outside to create big plays and open up the field for an offense that finished 29th in scoring last season. 

USA Today's Luke Easterling noted in his draft profile on Ridley that the Crimson Tide wideout has the skills to be an impact player early in his professional career. 

"Alabama's run-heavy attack has a history of hiding explosive playmakers in the passing game (Julio Jones, O.J. Howard), and Ridley is next in line," Easterling wrote. "A sharp route-runner with dangerous deep speed, Ridley is a constant threat to beat defenses over the top, or after the catch."

Despite finishing last in the NFC North in each of the past four seasons, the Bears aren't far away from being a potential playoff contender. With all of the problems on offense last season, their defense finished ninth in points allowed and 10th in yards. 

Trubisky is the key to leading the turnaround, so doing everything possible to put him in a position to succeed has to be the top priority. Ridley is the best receiver in the class and a perfect fit.


Biggest Surprise: Josh Allen to Washington Redskins

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Quality starting quarterbacks so rarely become free agents in the NFL, let alone change teams, that this offseason is notable for the number of potential signal-callers who could be up for grabs. 

Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Drew Brees and Sam Bradford are among the QBs whose contracts expire after this season. The San Francisco 49ers have not made their desire to retain Garoppolo a secret after he posted a perfect 5-0 record after taking over as their quarterback.

Brees told XTRA 1360-AM he wants to stay with the New Orleans Saints (h/t Kirstie Chiappelli of Sporting News) after winning an NFC South title in 2017. 

Cousins is the biggest name who could be on the move. The Washington Redskins could give him the franchise tag for the third straight season, but that would cost them $34.5 million, per ESPN's John Keim. 

Washington does project to have $52.5 million in 2018 cap space, per Over the Cap, so it can be done if the front office has no plans to significantly address other needs. 

If the Redskins let Cousins go, they could add a quarterback early in the draft to avoid completely falling apart. 

Wyoming signal-caller Josh Allen came into the year as a potential candidate to be drafted No. 1 overall. His stock took a tumble after poor showings in big games against Iowa, Oregon and Hawaii, in which he threw for a total of 330 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and completed under 50 percent of his attempts (41-of-83). 

Benjamin Allbright of Mile High Sports Radio had this assessment of Allen's present talent and future potential:

Benjamin Allbright @AllbrightNFL

I look at the QBs in this draft, and I ask myself "which one has the smallest gap between who he is now, and who he can be in the NFL?" and the answer is clearly Baker Mayfield. The answer for furthest is Josh Allen. Doesn't mean he never gets there, just furthest to go.

Any team that drafts Allen should sign a stop-gap quarterback for 2018 so he doesn't have to play as a rookie. 

It's hard to convince fans that a first-round draft pick shouldn't play, especially if it's a quarterback for a bad team, but there are some instances when it is the correct call. 

Allen didn't face top-tier competition every week playing at Wyoming. He's behind the development curve compared to other first-round quarterbacks, but his 6'5" frame, arm strength and athleticism are catnip for NFL scouts.