2018 NFL Mock Draft: Latest Projections for Elite 1st-Round Prospects

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2018

Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold prepares to throw a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State in Pullman, Wash., Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Young Kwak/Associated Press

The 2018 NFL draft is quickly approaching, and speculation surrounding the top prospects is rampant.

This year's draft has the potential to be one of the most entertaining in recent years because of the talent at the quarterback position, with at least three prospects likely to land in the top 10.

The Cleveland Browns sit atop the draft and are desperate for a new signal-caller, but it remains a three-man race for the top selection among UCLA's Josh Rosen, USC's Sam Darnold and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield.

A lot will change between now and April 26, but here's an early look at where the top quarterbacks could land, along with the rest of the first-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 (from HOU): Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

5. Denver Broncos: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

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

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

8. Chicago Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

9. *San Francisco 49ers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

10. *Oakland Raiders: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

11. Miami Dolphins: Derwin James, S, Florida State

12. Cincinnati Bengals: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

13. Washington Redskins: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

14. Green Bay Packers: Arden Key, DE, LSU

15. Arizona Cardinals: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia

16. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

18. Seattle Seahawks: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

19. Dallas Cowboys: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

20. Detroit Lions: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA

21. Buffalo Bills: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

22. Buffalo Bills (from KC): Billy Price, G/C, Ohio State

23. Los Angeles Rams: Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn

24. Carolina Panthers: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

25. Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College

26. Atlanta Falcons: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

27. New Orleans Saints: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

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

30. Minnesota Vikings: Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State

31. New England Patriots: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

*49ers and Raiders selection order will be determined by coin flip at NFL Scouting Combine.

     

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

There has been plenty of speculation that the Browns are trying to acquire a veteran quarterback this offseason, but even if they land a vet, that shouldn't preclude them from using the No. 1 pick on a quarterback.

In fact, the Browns' intentions at No. 1 could potentially be what is leading them to pursue a veteran.

If the Browns intend to take Josh Rosen, the most NFL-ready quarterback in this class, it probably wouldn't make sense to invest heavily in a free agent. Rosen is ready to play immediately, so the Browns shouldn't overspend just to land someone who will soon be relegated to backup duties.

If the Browns intend to target Sam Darnold, however, it could make sense to spend on quarterback capable of leading them through the 2018 season.

Darnold struggled with his mechanics throughout his college career, and he'll need to refine his technique to become a more consistent passer in the NFL. It's difficult for players to adjust their mechanics while playing because as soon as they're faced with pressure, it's instinct to revert back to what feels most comfortable. So playing Darnold too soon may actually slow down his development.

Additionally, Darnold struggled handling pressure in college, especially when he was confined to the pocket.

CFB Film Room recently shared Darnold's stats when facing pressure, and the numbers in the pocket raise a serious red flag:

Darnold's struggles under pressure are understandable given the fact that 2017 was his first full year as USC's starting quarterback. But that's all the more reason to ease him in at the NFL level.

     

2. New York Giants: Josh Rosen

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Giants still have Eli Manning under contract, and there's been no indication that the team intends to part ways with the two-time Super Bowl champ. But that doesn't mean it won't look to the future with this selection.

New York actually found itself in a similar situation in 2004—the year the Giants acquired Manning.

Despite having Kerry Collins under contract and just a few years removed from a Super Bowl berth, the Giants decided to trade for Manning, who had been drafted No. 1 overall by the Chargers.

Collins certainly didn't have the career Manning has had since, but he wasn't washed up yet either. He would go on to play eight more seasons in the league and made a Pro Bowl appearance in 2008 while helping lead the Titans to a 13-3 record.

That decision to acquire Manning was an indication that the Mara family, who own the Giants, understand landing an elite quarterback prospect is a rare opportunity.

Rosen may be forced to sit behind Manning for a year or two, but he would be ready to take the reigns whenever called upon.

     

6. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Attempting to project a landing spot for Baker Mayfield is difficult because it will almost certainly be influenced by free agency.

The Broncos and Jets are among the favorites to land Mayfield, but they're also both expected to enter the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes this offseason and could target other veterans such as Case Keenum or Sam Bradford.

Whoever comes up short in the free-agency bidding process then becomes a likely destination for Mayfield.

At this very early stage of the process, the Jets look like a good bet for Mayfield simply because they appear to be the least desirable destination for free agents. New York's roster is still in rebuilding mode on both sides of the ball, so it would be understandable if Cousins and others spurned its offers.

If that scenario plays out, however, Jets fans shouldn't feel discouraged. Mayfield's mobility and accuracy make him an elite prospect who could quickly surpass the quarterbacks in this year's free-agent market.

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