As the 2018 NFL draft creeps closer, front offices and coaches are busy weighing the risks and rewards of every prospect.
Is it better to sacrifice a bit of upside for what looks like a safer selection? Or should potential outweigh the possibility of a draft flop?
It's never easy to pass up tantalizing talent. But guessing wrong on a boom-or-bust future can have dire consequences to both the organization and the executives calling the shots.
Following this updated mock draft, we'll examine three of the most volatile potential first-rounders in this class and which clubs might be willing to roll the dice.
NFL Mock Draft: Round 1
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
2. New York Giants: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
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: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
8. Chicago Bears: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
9. San Francisco 49ers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
10. Oakland Raiders: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
11. Miami Dolphins: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
12. Buffalo Bills (via Cincinnati Bengals): Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
13. Washington Redskins: Derwin James, S, Florida State
14. Green Bay Packers: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
15. Arizona Cardinals: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
16. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
18. Seattle Seahawks: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
19. Dallas Cowboys: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
20. Detroit Lions: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
21. Cincinnati Bengals (via Buffalo Bills): Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
22. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs): Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
23. New England Patriots (via Los Angeles Rams): Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
24. Carolina Panthers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
25. Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry, LB, Boston College
26. Atlanta Falcons: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
27. New Orleans Saints: Arden Key, DE, LSU
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
30. Minnesota Vikings: James Daniels, C/G, Iowa
31. New England Patriots: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
One glimpse at Josh Allen shows he looks the part of a stud NFL passer. He's big, strong and mobile, and NFL Network's Mike Mayock called Allen the "biggest-arm quarterback" he's evaluated in a decade, per NFL.com's Chris Wesseling.
The stat sheet, though, paints a different picture of Allen.
While he wasn't exactly gifted elite receivers at Wyoming, his collegiate completion percentage of just 56.2 is cause for concern. Ditto for the fact he threw 21 interceptions in 25 games the past two seasons. And he was dreadful against Power Five foes Iowa and Oregon, completing just 50 percent of his passes and totaling three picks without a passing score in those games.
The weaknesses on Allen's scouting report at WalterFootball.com sound alarming—"accuracy issues, ball security, throws too many interceptions." Then again, his strengths column touts a "great skill set" plus "ideal size" and a "very strong arm."
He's a developmental project, which can be worrisome when he's almost certain to go high in this draft—possibly even first overall. But if he could have time to mature behind the likes of Tyrod Taylor in Cleveland or Eli Manning in New York, Allen has the tools to become the best signal-caller in this class.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
All due respect to Saquon Barkley and Baker Mayfield, but there wasn't a more electric player in college football the past two seasons than Lamar Jackson. He passed for more than 3,500 yards and rushed for better than 1,500 yards each of those campaigns, totaling 57 passing scores (against 19 interceptions) and another 39 touchdowns on the ground.
He boasts a special combination of elite athleticism and arm strength, a package that paints him as a Michael Vick clone. If that comparison sounds hyperbolic, just know that the former four-time Pro Bowler himself said Jackson is ahead of where he was in college:
So, where's the bust potential?
Well, Jackson needs mechanical tweaks to almost everything. His footwork, pocket presence and accuracy all have ample room for improvement. Even if he checks off those boxes, his slight build will make coaches cringe every time he takes a big hit—which could be often given the potency of his running game.
No quarterback prospect in this class is perfect, and Jackson's unique playmaking ability give him one of the draft's highest ceilings. But he'll need to land in a system that caters to his skills, so teams in need of an offensive identity—the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills come to mind—might make for the best fits.
Arden Key, DE, LSU
Had the draft come a year sooner for Arden Key, he might have generated top-five discussion. During his sophomore season of 2016, he tallied 11 sacks—2.5 more than 2017's top pick, Myles Garrett.
But Key's stock has been trending down over the last year. He took a leave of absence from LSU last spring for "personal reasons," then he had shoulder surgery that summer. He looked rusty—and heavy—upon his return, managing just 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in eight games as a junior.
He didn't help himself with a 4.85 40-yard dash time at the Tigers' pro day, but he's a quick and diverse pass-rusher. Mayock deemed Key "as talented a natural edge-rusher as there is in this draft" but added "the whole key for him is off the field," per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread.
At this point, the former LSU player isn't a lock to go in the first round. In fact, ESPN's Todd McShay has him falling to 51st. Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't even list Key in his latest two-round mock.
Key has first-round talent, though, and that could be enough to sway a pass-rush-needy team in his favor. The New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs all look like logical landing spots.
Statistics used courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.