NFL Mock Draft 2018: 1st-Round Projections and Top Underrated Prospects

Richard Janvrin@@RichardJanvrinFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2018

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 11:  Equanimeous St. Brown #6 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish warms up during a game against the Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on November 11, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

With the 2018 NFL draft coming up at the end of April, it's time we start taking a closer look at these NFL hopefuls and prospects.

Even if a player is taken in the first round, he can still be underrated.

We see it every year—players we don't expect to be taken in the first round go there, and while fans for that team may roll their eyes, they can still prove to be a success.

A prime example is Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick, who was drafted No. 31 overall in the 2013 draft.

At the time, it was looked at as a reach, but now the move looks like a no-brainer.

That's what you call underrated.

We'll look at three underrated players who are projected to go in the first round in the mock draft below.


NFL Mock Draft: Round 1

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

2. New York Giants: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

3. New York Jets (via Indianapolis Colts): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

4. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

5. Denver Broncos: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

6. Indianapolis Colts (via New York Jets): Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama

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

9. San Francisco 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

10. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

11. Miami Dolphins: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

12. Buffalo Bills (via Cincinnati Bengals): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

13. Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

14. Green Bay Packers: Derwin James, S, Florida State

15. Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

16. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

18. Seattle Seahawks: Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia

19. Dallas Cowboys: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

20. Detroit Lions: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

21. Cincinnati Bengals (via Buffalo Bills): Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

22. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs): Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

23. Los Angeles Rams: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA

24. Carolina Panthers: Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame

25. Tennessee Titans: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida

26. Atlanta Falcons: Connor Williams, OL, Texas 

27. New Orleans Saints: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland 

30. Minnesota Vikings: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

31. New England Patriots: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State


Underrated Prospects 

Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

When you look at the 2018 linebacker class a few names come to mind. These include Roquan Smith, Rashaan Evans and Tremaine Edmunds.

But one name that doesn't get brought up as much as those three players is Boise State product Leighton Vander Esch.

Starting with his athletic profile on MockDraftable, it doesn't take much to realize this guy has some elite qualities, ranking in the 85th percentile or higher in the 20-yard shuttle, three-cone drill, broad jump, vertical jump, arm length, wingspan, weight and height.

Phew. That's a lot.

However, Vander Esch gets a little flack for only being a one-year starter at Boise State. 

Another common criticism of Vander Esch is his ability to shed blockers. But with that said, he has the athletic ability that you cannot teach.

In the end, Vander Esch might benefit from taking a reduced role in his first year to get more filled out.

In this mock, he's set to go No. 19 to the Cowboys. He'd be a great fit there and can also take it easy in year one behind Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee.

Both Lee and Smith have a history of injuries, so it's possible Vander Esch could see the field more than we could anticipate in his rookie season.

Either way, he's a great fit for the Cowboys, who ranked 25th in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) against tight ends in 2017, per Football Outsiders.


Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame

The old axiom when it comes to wide receivers is simple: You can't teach tall.

That applies to "EQ" St. Brown, who stands north of 6'4".

Matt Harmon of NFL.com and the Fantasy Footballers took a look at the wide receiver through the lens of his Reception Perception series and found traits of St. Brown's that we should not overlook.

Harmon found that (in the six games he sampled), though St. Brown is a taller receiver, he's able to separate from opposing defensive backs on a 73.7 percent success rate.

He also lined up all over the field in 2017, from each receiver position—this could be a plus to prospective NFL teams.

Now, St. Brown is also the product of a faulty offense in 2017. The quarterback play just wasn't there, and he didn't put up incredible numbers.

There are not many mock drafts out there that will have St. Brown landing inside the first round, but he's just as good as any receiver in this class.

He's underrated because he comes from Notre Dame and didn't put up All-American-like numbers.

Landing inside the top 25 in this mock going to the Panthers, St. Brown will be a part of an offense that could desperately use him.

While they have tight end Greg Olsen, running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Devin Funchess, there really isn't that dominant, tall, lanky outside presence at wide receiver to take the pressure off the high number of targets we can see heading Olsen's and McCaffrey's way.

St. Brown should go in Round 1.


Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State

If you look at NFL draft Twitter, Sweat is talked about ad infinitum.

Draftniks all over the internet ooze over his athletic ability and knew about Sweat months ago.

However, Sweat doesn't get enough credit for his actual football ability.

His measurables—specifically his wingspan—allow for him to get around opposing offensive linemen and get to the quarterback.

Sweat suffered a gruesome injury in high school—he dislocated his knee. In fact, he said he almost lost his leg due to the injury.

We saw a similar situation play out during the 2017 NFL season with Bears tight end Zach Miller against the New Orleans Saints.

Landing with the Eagles, Sweat may not need to be a contributor from the get-go, but he'll make a pass rush and front seven that much richer with talent as a rotational player for the time being.

He ran a ridiculous 40-yard dash time in the low 4.50s.

Enough with the medical concerns. Give Sweat the first-round respect he deserves.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.