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2018 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions for Most Tantalizing Early-Round Prospects

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 6, 2018

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield throws during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

With under three weeks remaining before the 2018 NFL draft, this is about the time mock draft-fatigue starts to set in.

We're kidding, of course. There is no such thing.

At this point on the football calendar, mock drafts are no less important to survival than air and water. Even if no one can predict the future—hooray for inexact science!—looking at enough of these educated-guessing games can reveal important trends in terms of prospect values and possible team targets.

Sounds useful enough, right? Glad you agree.

Let's dig into our fictional one-round draft, then, and spotlight some of this class' most tantalizing players.

                 

2018 NFL Mock Draft: Round 1

1. Cleveland Browns: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

2. New York Giants: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

3. New York Jets (via Indianapolis Colts): Sam Darnold, QB, USC

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

5. Denver Broncos: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

6. Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

8. Chicago Bears: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

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

10. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

11. Miami Dolphins: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

12. Buffalo Bills: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

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: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

18. Seattle Seahawks: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

19. Dallas Cowboys: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida

20. Detroit Lions: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA

21. Cincinnati Bengals (via Buffalo Bills): Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

22. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs): Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

23. New England Patriots (via Los Angeles Rams): Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

24. Carolina Panthers: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

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

26. Atlanta Falcons: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

27. New Orleans Saints: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

30. Minnesota Vikings: James Daniels, C/G, Iowa

31. New England Patriots: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

32. Detroit Lions: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

                   

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

How's this for intoxicating—over the past two seasons, Saquon Barkley totaled 3,801 yards from scrimmage and 43 touchdowns. Oh, he also added 18 kick returns for good measure, averaging 27.8 yards and another two scores.

There isn't a better prospect in this class, and it really isn't close. But Barkley won't be the first name called on draft night because it's deems his position is less important than the one under center.

Barkley had the greatest game film of any player in this class, then basically became Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl (or, for the younger crowd, Michael Vick in Madden 2004) at the combine:

NFL Research @NFLResearch

Penn State RB Saquon Barkley at 2018 Combine: - Stronger than Joe Thomas - Quicker than DeSean Jackson - Faster than Devin Hester - Jumps higher than Julio Jones @PennStateFball https://t.co/usgR6vJvOn

Barkley is quick and elusive but also strong and powerful. He's a scoring threat on every play, regardless of where or how he's used. There's toughness, competitiveness and high character all here.

Playing running back will deny him the chance of going No. 1, but his scouting reports essentially read like giant billboards with flashing lights declaring him the best pro prospect.

                 

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

What's your biggest worry with Baker Mayfield? If your answer was anything football-related, there's probably a strong counter argument against it.

If it's about his size (or lack thereof), it didn't stop him from passing for 4,627 yards with a 70.5 completion percentage and 43 touchdowns en route to winning last season's Heisman Trophy. 

If it's his "gunslinger" mentality, just know he threw fewer interceptions the past three seasons (21) than Sam Darnold did in the last two (22). That's also the same number Josh Allen coughed up the past two years, and five fewer than Josh Rosen gave away in his three seasons as a Bruin.

If it's Mayfield's competitive fire, good luck trying to build around a player who doesn't have one. If it's the fact he's less athletic than Lamar Jackson, that's a problem you'll find in every quarterback not named Lamar Jackson.

Need more reasons to like Mayfield? Lance Zierlein of NFL.com noted his strengths include being "accurate on all three levels" and that he "rises to the occasion." Oh, and the New England Patriots reportedly have an "affinity for Mayfield," per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, and the organization has been effective when it comes to evaluating passers (see: Brady, Tom and Garoppolo, Jimmy).

                

Derwin James, S, Florida State

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Let Derwin James be the first to apologize for any pools of drool left behind at Lucas Oil Stadium following his combine performance. It's not his fault scouts tend to go gaga when they see a 6'2", 215-pound safety run 4.47 in the 40, spring to a 40" vertical and soar to an 11' broad jump.

James, an AP All-American second-teamer last season, has the versatility needed to thrive in today's league. He can cover receivers, tight ends and running backs, and he cold-cocks ball-carriers coming out of the backfield.

More tantalizing than his current form, though—which was good enough to tally 84 tackles (5.5 for loss) and two picks last season—is the fact the 21-year-old is nowhere near his ceiling.

"Derwin is still learning so he has a sky-high projection if his play can catch up to the talent," an NFC scouting director told Zierlein.

It wouldn't be shocking to see James emerge as the top defender in this draft, even if several are selected before him.

                  

Statistics used courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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