2018 NFL Mock Draft: Doug Farrar's Final 1st-Round Predictions
Over the years, the one NFL truism you could count on was that smart teams build through the draft, and that franchises too reliant on free agency were being penny-wise and pound-foolish. But two factors have changed that, and it's why teams are so much more active in free agency and trades.
First, the consistent increase of the annual salary cap allows teams to take more calculated risks with established players without enduring multiyear hits in their depth charts. Second, the current CBA rules preventing preseason training at an extensive level naturally have evaluators and coaches looking for players who've already shown their abilities at the NFL level.
In a recent article by Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Rams vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff discussed how difficult it is to take a college player and turn him into a productive NFL asset with limited practice and meeting time. That's a complaint you hear all around the league these days, and it certainly informed Snead's all-in approach in free agency.
So, the executives and coaches who are able to identify the prospects who best fit their schemes and need the lowest transition time will be very much ahead of the game. That's where the draft is now especially important—as a competitive advantage to organizations who can beat the system with schematic matching.
In that spirit, this mock draft focuses on players and teams who seem to be tactical and organizational fits in the long term—rather than on immediate needs or best-player-available philosophy—with the occasional surprise pick thrown in, because you never know what NFL teams are going to do when they're on the clock. That's a truism that will remain as long as there's an NFL.
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Browns head coach Hue Jackson has to know that after an 0-16 season in 2017 that featured a lot of dismal quarterback play, he'd better be able to parlay his reputation as a "QB Whisperer" for whoever the team takes as its next franchise face. Sam Darnold has mechanical issues, to be sure, but he's got the cleanest slate of any quarterback in this draft class, and in many ways, he's the most pro-ready.
That makes Darnold an easy and appealing pick for new general manager John Dorsey, who laid out his criteria for a quarterback in his first predraft press conference in his new position.
"The only thing I really care about is do guys win?" Dorsey said, per Jeff Schudel of the News-Herald. "Does he have accuracy? Does he have a strong arm? Can he throw the ball in the red zone in tight windows? Can he drive the ball? At the end of the game, does he win? That's what I look for."
Darnold has those characteristics now, and when he cleans up his footwork, he's going to be even better. A recent tape study made it clear that when he's mechanically sound, he can elude pressure both in and out of the pocket and make some truly spectacular throws. It's then Jackson's job to clean up the things that need fixing, which should be comparatively easy.
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
New Giants general manager Dave Gettleman made two things clear in his recent predraft presser, per the team's media department: He knows that he must take a player with amazing potential with the second overall pick, and he believes that the right running back can make his entire offense—including an offensive line that has taken more than its share of hits over the last few seasons—better.
In that mindset, Gettleman has no trouble with the idea of taking a back like Saquon Barkley this high, calling the Penn State alum an obvious talent.
"I think that the devaluing of the running back is really a myth," he continued. "If you have a great running back, he immediately makes your quarterback better, your offensive line better and your passing game. So, I don't believe in it. It's how you evaluate the players, how we value them, how we rate them and then you go on from there."
Gettleman already got his requisite "hog molly" (what he calls offensive linemen) when the Giants signed former Patriots tackle Nate Solder to a four-year, $62 million deal with $35 million guaranteed. It's not hard to read the tea leaves here.
Whether Barkley is the back who can make Big Blue's line transcendent is another matter. One could make the argument that LSU's Derrius Guice runs more consistently with power through contact. Barkley provides a playmaking factor from the backfield and as a receiver, which would make him an incredibly valuable addition to an offense that may have to get its big plays from spreading its talents out wide and challenging defenses horizontally.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis Colts): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Some believe that the Jets have set their sights on Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield with the third overall pick; some think it's just a smoke screen. What we know is that the Jets traded up to get someone, and while Mayfield does fit offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates' West Coast-based offense with his mobility and ability to create plays outside of structure, I would add concerns that Mayfield had a lot of easy throws in college, and he may take a while to adjust to the tighter windows in coverage that the NFL presents.
When watching Josh Rosen's tape, there are fewer concerns. Yes, his injury history is a bit daunting, but Rosen very clearly shows that he reads the entire field well, understands advanced concepts in ways that will prepare him for the pros and has the athleticism to bring the Jets' passing offense to a level it hasn't seen in a long time.
If he can stay healthy, and the Jets front office doesn't balk at Rosen's proclivity for speaking his mind (a ridiculous conceit, to be sure), Rosen might be the best quarterback this franchise has had in decades.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans): Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
With the retirement of left tackle Joe Thomas, the Browns are in need of an outstanding blindside protector for their next franchise quarterback. Right now, Shon Coleman is the starting left tackle, and the third-year man from Auburn will have a tough row to hoe if he's going to come near Thomas' legendary quality of play.
A more suitable solution might be this: Take current left guard Joel Bitonio, who played left tackle at Nevada, and let him give it a shot. Arm-length concerns sent Bitonio to the inside when he hit the NFL, but he has the agility and adaptive skill to make a go of it.
This would leave a hole at left guard that would be filled estimably by Nelson, who I believe is the best overall player in this class, regardless of position. Michigan's Steve Hutchinson and Stanford's David DeCastro are the two best college guards I've watched prior to the 2018 class; Nelson is the perfect hybrid of those two in that he has Hutchinson's malevolent desire to dominate every defender he squares off with and DeCastro's combination of physical strength and adherence to top-level technique.
Nelson should be a 10-year starter from the moment he arrives at the facility.
5. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
When composing a mock draft, there are picks you think teams should make and picks you think teams will make—never mind how many reservations you may have about the player. Josh Allen fits the "big guy/big arm" prototype beloved by so many NFL evaluators that it may not matter that he has trouble reading advanced defense and that his accuracy is clearly an issue.
Broncos EVP John Elway has made it pretty clear that he values big guys with big arms; never mind the ancillary concerns. He selected Brock Osweiler out of Arizona State in the second round of the 2012 draft and Paxton Lynch out of Memphis in the first round in 2016.
Allen fits the suit and impressed Elway at the senior bowl.
"He's big, he's strong, he's got a strong arm and he can move around," Elway said of Allen in Mobile, Alabama, per Mike Klis of 9News. "Yeah, I like any quarterback who has all that. And plus, he's been very good here throwing the ball. He's got all the tools to be a great player."
Given Elway's ability to talk himself into rocket-armed guys—perhaps he's trying to find a version of himself as a player, and good luck with that—Allen with the fifth pick would not be a surprise. The upside of Allen and Lynch in Denver's quarterback room is that in the short term, Case Keenum can provide veteran acumen, if not the same atomic hose.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from New York Jets): Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Second-year general manager Chris Ballard knows that, with the bare cupboard given him by predecessor Ryan Grigson, he's apt to hit a home run in talent upgrades at just about any position. What he's got right now at cornerback adds up to a lot of potential but very few sure things.
Rashaan Melvin was one of the best cover cornerbacks in the 2017 season before a wrist injury cut his season short, but he signed with the Raiders in the offseason. Pierre Desir has all the measurables but hasn't yet put it together.
Ballard needs a sure thing at that position, and there are few surer bets than Denzel Ward, the former Ohio State star who absolutely pops off the tape with his trail speed and pure athleticism. At 5'11", 183 pounds, Ward will occasionally lose battles to bigger receivers on jump balls, but for the most part, you're going to have to throw a perfect pass to get it by him. Per Jordan Plocher of Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks amassed a 52.9 passer rating when targeting Ward, who allowed just 20 catches on 57 targets.
Ward can play outside at a premier level, and he can also move inside to the slot. In today's NFL, such versatility is crucial, and Ward does it all at a pace that would have him established as the epicenter of Indy's secondary in a big hurry.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derwin James, S, Florida State
To put it bluntly, the Buccaneers' safety situation is a mess. Chris Conte has had trouble covering for years, T.J. Ward was not re-signed after a disappointing season and a charge of marijuana possession. While free safety Keith Tandy has shown potential at times, this secondary isn't going anywhere until it can nab a true center fielder with the speed and agility to cover downfield, as well as the mindset to create havoc when facing opposing ball-carriers.
Derwin James certainly fits the bill. Not only can he tackle and blitz well, but he's a very good intermediate-and-deep cover man and can work the middle of the field as a slot and linebacker-depth defender. At 6'2", 215 pounds, he's big enough to deal with tight ends and has the agility to run and adjust with slot receivers.
Ward still has a bit of development as a deep coverage man, but the potential is all there, and the Bucs desperately need someone with his alpha style on and off the field.
8. Chicago Bears: Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio
Last season, the Bears struggled to maintain consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which was a major problem for Vic Fangio's defense. Interior lineman Akiem Hicks was a major force for the second straight season, leading the squad with 8.5 quarterback takedowns, but outside linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to pick up just 4.5 sacks in an injury-abbreviated season.
What Fangio needs is a pass-rusher who skirts the line between Floyd's athleticism and Hicks' strength. Marcus Davenport, fresh off a senior bowl week in which he appeared dominant against tougher competition than he faced at times in college, would be a perfect addition.
He had 8.5 sacks in 2017, and PFF has him with 52 total pressures in 257 pass-rushing snaps. He ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at the scouting combine at 6'6", 264 pounds, and while there are some raw aspects to his game at this point—he needs to get lower in his stance to create leverage, and like many collegiate pass-rushers, he doesn't yet know how to use his hands to separate—it wouldn't be a big surprise if Davenport was the first end taken off the board.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
The 49ers posted only 10 interceptions in 2017, just two more than co-leaders Kevin Byard of the Titans and Darius Slay of the Lions. In Robert Saleh's defense, derived from Seattle's Cover 1 and Cover 3 concepts, it's required that at least one of San Francisco's cornerbacks has the size, speed, technique and aggression to lock up with top receivers and negate big plays.
That player isn't likely on the roster right now unless former Seahawk Richard Sherman is able to get back to pre-injury status, which is why Josh Jackson would be a very appealing pick. The 6'0", 196-pounder put up eight interceptions last season after registering no picks in the previous two years. That may have some wondering if Jackson is a one-year wonder, but once he graduated from sub-package status and learned to become a true trail-and-travel defender to both sides of the field, the tape made it very clear that he possesses the attributes common to the most prolific press and aggressive corners in the league.
With this pick, the 49ers may have the current Richard Sherman and the next Richard Sherman in the same secondary. Not a bad upgrade.
10. Oakland Raiders: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
The Raiders have spent a ton on veteran cornerbacks over the last couple of seasons, only to find that the one guy in the rotation who could consistently play at an above-average level was T.J. Carrie—who played outside a lot in 2017 and has now signed with the Browns.
Signing former Colts cornerback Rashaan Melvin to a one-year deal certainly helps, and the hope is that 2017 first-round pick Gareon Conley will improve after limited snaps last season. But if Team Gruden is to further improve a secondary that has been sucking wind for a while now, a solution or two will have to come through the draft.
Through three seasons in Alabama's defense, Minkah Fitzpatrick proved to be the very model of the modern defensive back. He played multiple positions in Nick Saban's advanced schemes—everything from linebacker to blitzer to slot to outside to safety—and did it all at a very high level, amassing 110 solo tackles, 5.5 sacks, nine interceptions for four touchdowns, 24 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
New Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther likes to run aggressive fronts with smart zone coverage in the back seven, and few draft prospects in this class, regardless of position, show the kind of functional versatility Fitzpatrick does.
11. Miami Dolphins: Tremaine Edmunds, ILB, Virginia Tech
Tremaine Edmunds certainly has an NFL pedigree—his father, Ferrell, played tight end with the Dolphins and Seahawks from 1988 to 1994, making two Pro Bowls along the way. The Dolphins could do a lot worse in this draft than to give the younger Edmunds the same chance to impress at a different position. The team's linebacker situation is disastrous at this point, and while he's very raw, Edmunds displays the potential to be a truly unique player.
At 6'4", 253 pounds, he brings amazing athleticism for his size, and while his on-field instincts are very much a work in progress, he can outrun many of his mistakes. On those occasions where his diagnostic skills match up with his physical abilities, he's as dominant a front-seven defender as any in this class. He projects well as a 4-3 linebacker, but don't be surprised if a smart defensive coordinator makes him an edge-rusher in certain situations—Edmunds has all the tools to do that as well.
12. Buffalo Bills (from Cincinnati Bengals): Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Right now, the Bills' quarterback rotation consists of the relatively unimpressive AJ McCarron and second-year man Nathan Peterman, who pitched five interceptions in one game in his rookie season. Trading Tyrod Taylor to the Browns for the 65th overall pick seemed a fait accompli—the Bills never seemed convinced that Taylor was their long-term guy—and that move, combined with a very thin depth chart at the position, makes the need for a franchise quarterback all the more evident.
Baker Mayfield isn't a perfect quarterback prospect, but he looks like a pretty good fit with new Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who comes from an Alabama system in which he was creating schemed openings for receivers catching passes from mobile, creative quarterbacks. Mobile and creative are two things that certainly describe Mayfield—at 6'1", 215 pounds, he's learned what Drew Brees, Michael Vick and Russell Wilson learned before him about moving the pocket to create throwing lanes that mitigate his height.
And while he had more than his share of easy throws in Oklahoma's system, Mayfield has also proven that he can make stick throws into tight windows, whether he's under pressure or not.
13. Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, NT, Washington
In 2017, the Redskins selected Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen in the first round because the team had a major need for improvement in its run defense. Allen lasted just five games in his rookie season before injuries took hold, and the resulting Washington front couldn't stop anybody against the run, ranking dead last in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards, allowing 4.91 line yards per rushing play—nearly half a yard per carry more than the Patriots, who ranked 31st.
Getting Allen back on the field will be huge for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, but this team desperately needs a hole-plugger right up the middle who can soak up double-teams and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Vita Vea proved through three seasons with the Huskies that he's just that kind of player. At 6'4", 347 pounds, he has all the strength and leverage you'd want when facing combo blocks, and when he gets off the snap quickly, he can be incredibly disruptive, with a surprising short-area speed element to his game.
14. Green Bay Packers: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
New Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has a fairly big job ahead of him—to return production and aggression to a defense that has regressed over the last few seasons. Pass rush is part of the problem; Clay Matthews hasn't had a double-digit sack season since 2014, and while Nick Perry has improved as an edge guy, his 11-sack season in 2016 stands out as a possible outlier.
What Pettine really needs is a defensive lineman adept and athletic enough to bend the edge and bring an inside counter, with the strength and leverage to win as an occasional tackle on obvious passing downs.
I don't rate Bradley Chubb as highly as some do as a pure pass-rusher—he tends to disappear at times despite two 10-sack seasons in a row—but I really like him as an every-down lineman who can face up against the run and bring hits and hurries into the backfield. Because he displays advanced hand-fighting technique in comparison to most college defenders, Chubb looks like a guy Pettine could install right away to great effect, and these are the kinds of defenders the Packers need.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
With the release of Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals and new head coach Steve Wilks will need a versatile playmaker in their secondary. In addition, there's a need for a long-term starter at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson.
The Cardinals could kill two metaphorical birds with one stone if they picked a former Cardinal to be a current one: Jaire Alexander, who played in just six games last season with multiple injuries but has proven to be one of the best and most versatile defensive backs in this class on tape at optimal health. Alexander brings top-level speed to the position—he can run with any receiver—and he has the recovery skills to make a difference by taking the ball away. Alexander picked off five passes in his lone year as a full-season starter in 2016.
When you add in his return ability and a skill set that seems perfect to kick inside to the slot when necessary, Alexander might be the Peterson bookend the Cards have been seeking for years.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
Joe Flacco hasn't been the quarterback he used to be over the last couple of seasons, which has had general manager Ozzie Newsome doing a lot to surround Flacco with the kind of talent that can mitigate his recent regressions. Signing Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead basically gives Flacco a new threesome of starting targets.
The glaring need is still for a tight end—Benjamin Watson was Flacco's most prolific target at the position last year, but he signed with the Saints in the offseason, and the Ravens need a younger, long-term solution in Marty Mornhinweg's ball-control offense. Mike Gesicki blew up the scouting combine, clocking a 4.54 40-yard dash at 6'5", 247 pounds, and maxing out all the other drills.
He's no workout wonder, though—Gesicki left the Nittany Lions as the program's tight end leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns (129, 1,481, 15). He's a smooth route-runner who has learned to get open in short areas with his movement skills. While he's nobody's top-ranked blocker, Gesicki could provide much-needed matchup issues in this offense.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
In Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, the Chargers have one of the most incendiary pass-rushing duos in the NFL. The linebacker position is far less stocked with stars and far more questionable as a result. Jatavis Brown has shown a lot of potential when healthy, and Hayes Pullard proved to be a tackle magnet on the inside last season, but this is a team in need of a truly practiced and instinctive playmaker at the linebacker position, especially in nickel and dime defenses.
There's no question that Roquan Smith would become that kind of player for the Chargers in a big hurry. Calling him "undersized" at 6'1", 236 pounds is to exhibit a misunderstanding of the requirements of the position in the modern NFL. Teams need faster, lighter linebackers who can patrol the entire field with maximum agility, and Smith has all the physical characteristics a defensive coordinator could ask for. What makes Smith special, though, is his uncanny ability to be where the ball is—he's at the right place at the right time so often, he looks like a pro already.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
There are few more obvious needs of improvement in a position group than Seattle's offensive line, but it's possible that head coach Pete Carroll believes the pieces he has can be brought into potential by new line coach Mike Solari. Whether that's true or not, it would indicate that the Seahawks won't automatically reach for a blocker in the first round as they've done in recent years.
A second but equally pressing need is for a consistent defensive tackle who can create pressure and stop the run with equal aplomb. Seattle struck out with Michigan State's Malik McDowell and traded for Sheldon Richardson, who turned out to be a rental after signing with the Vikings in the offseason.
Hurst would be a perfect fit for a defense that wants its interior linemen to disrupt at all times, and he'd probably go higher were it not for his medical history—he left the scouting combine with a heart condition but was cleared to work out at Michigan's pro day, and he wasn't asked to take a medical re-check. If teams are convinced that the condition is something Hurst can play with as he did at Michigan, he's an absolute game-wrecker on the field—and Carroll has never shied away from taking risks in the draft.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Releasing Dez Bryant to free up $8.5 million in cap space was something the Cowboys needed to do—over the past few seasons, Bryant has not shown the explosiveness or consistency he displayed once upon a time. Still, the move leaves a rather large void at the top of Dallas' receiving corps. Former Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns is a quality addition, but he's more a second outside receiver who can be great in the slot, especially in the red zone. Terrance Williams struggles with consistency, and Cole Beasley is a slot guy.
If it's speed and dynamism the Cowboys want with their top receiver, Courtland Sutton could provide that. He brought in 76 receptions for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016, following that with 68 catches for 1,085 yards and 12 scores in 2017. A physical receiver with better-than-average speed in short spaces and the ability to fight back against aggressive cornerbacks, Sutton potentially presents the kind of presence Bryant once did.
20. Detroit Lions: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
When the Lions signed veteran back LeGarrette Blount to a one-year, $2 million contract in March, new head coach Matt Patricia (who watched Blount carve up enemy defenses from 2014 through 2016 while he was on New England's coaching staff) found it hard to contain his excitement.
"I think he's a guy that's extremely hard to tackle," Patricia said of Blount in late March, per the team's official site. "He's a large man coming downhill. He also has the ability to get outside and get to the edge and now if you can get him out in those situations it's a whole different level of problem."
That's true, and Blount could provide much-needed power to Detroit's running game on a short-term basis. For the long term, its hard to find a better power back in this class than Derrius Guice, who ran through injuries in 2017 and still collected 1,251 yards and 11 touchdowns on 237 carries.
His 2016 tape shows a different level of explosiveness, and based on his postseason workouts, he could be on his way back to his best form. Guice would alter the Lions offense, which has been looking for a true power back for years, for the long term.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo Bills): Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia
Acquiring former Bills tackle Cordy Glenn does a bit to reinforce a Bengals offensive line still smarting from the lack of development shown by 2015 picks Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher (a heart condition also took Fisher off the field in 2017). Cincinnati's guard situation isn't much clearer right now, and with new coordinator Bill Lazor wanting the offense to be more "multiple," per quarterback Andy Dalton, protection is a clear and glaring need.
Quenton Nelson may be the best guard in this class—heck, he may be the best guard in any class in this millennium—but it would be unwise to sleep on the potential of Georgia's Isaiah Wynn. As Pro Football Focus pointed out per its own charting, Wynn gave up just four sacks, two hits and 20 quarterback hurries...in his entire collegiate career—1,104 total snaps.
Moreover, he's excelled at both guard and tackle, kicking outside for the 2017 season. While he projects better as a guard at the next level, he could have a parallel with longtime Bengals standout Andrew Whitworth, who alternated between guard and tackle over his career in Cincinnati. Wynn has the strength, attitude and technical expertise to excel at multiple positions in the NFL, and the Bengals need help at all of them.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs): DJ Moore, WR, Maryland
Now that the Bills have their ostensible franchise quarterback in the person of Baker Mayfield (per this mock, at least), general manager Brandon Beane would be well-advised to give his rookie some receiver options from the same draft class. In 2017, Deonte Thompson led Buffalo's receivers with 27 catches on 51 targets for 430 yards and one touchdown. Zay Jones, Buffalo's second-round pick last season, found himself demoted and ineffective in the NFL, catching 27 passes on 74 targets for 316 yards, two touchdowns and an absolutely abysmal 36.5 percent catch rate. Veteran Kelvin Benjamin caught just 16 passes on 27 targets for 217 yards and a touchdown after he was traded from the Panthers in late October, and Benjamin's ceiling as a big possession receiver is pretty clear.
Even if Jones is able to develop into a complementary receiver—and the jury is very much out on that—the Bills have to do more at the position to give Buffalo's quarterback a better chance to succeed. That's where DJ Moore comes in. He's used to doing a lot with a little—per NFLDraftScout.com, he's the first receiver from a Power Five conference to amass over 1,000 receiving yards when catching passes from a primary quarterback who threw for less than 1,500 yards since North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks in 2008.
Moore is a burner off the snap who can play outside and in the slot, though his size (6'0", 210) may have the Bills looking to move him inside more often than not. Wherever they may put him, Buffalo could really use a target with Moore's pure athletic potential.
23. New England Patriots (from Los Angeles Rams): Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
It's not that the Patriots' passing game fell apart when Julian Edelman was lost for the 2017 season to a torn ACL—it would take a lot more than the loss of one receiver, no matter how indispensable, to have things blow up in Tom Brady's face. But Brady definitely missed his most reliable and intelligent option route-runner last season, as well as one of the best short-to-intermediate receivers in the game, regardless of team. My guess is, Bill Belichick will stock up to make sure Brady doesn't have to experience that loss on the field again.
If that's the case, Calvin Ridley is the perfect pick. A nuanced route-runner with a great understanding of how to set defenders up in combo routes and pick plays, Ridley isn't the biggest or fastest receiver in this class, but he looks very much like the receiver who will do the most good for a team that runs all kinds of advanced route concepts. That's the Patriots to a T, and Ridley, who worked in a run-happy offense at Alabama, could see his statistics and opportunities explode in the NFL.
24. Carolina Panthers: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
We could argue all day about the feasibility of Norv Turner's passing offense in the modern NFL—while most of the league is transitioning to the three-step and quick five-step game, Turner still parties like it's 1993, with heavy doses of deep drops and play-action plays that take time. In the pocket, time requires protection, and unless Cam Newton wants to be running for his life on every play after he takes those deep drops, the Panthers are going to have to come up with an adequate replacement for Andrew Norwell, one of the best guards in the league, who signed a mammoth contract with the Jaguars in free-agency.
Will Hernandez isn't the best pass-protecting guard in this class, but he's an exceptional run-blocker and power-pusher, with exceptional understanding of how to create leverage with his 6'2", 327-pound frame. He will need work on blocking on the move, but as a dominant mauler in a phone booth, only Quenton Nelson matches him in this class. Hernandez would pair with Trai Turner to form the most physically imposing guard tandem in the league.
25. Tennessee Titans: Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, Boise State
Losing Avery Williamson in free agency to the Jets puts new Titans head coach Mike Vrabel a bit behind the eightball when it comes to the kinds of linebackers Tennessee has preferred over the last few years. Williamson is a heady player in space with the ability to blitz from multiple gaps, and he would often pair with outside linebacker Brian Orakpo to create some of the most effective A-gap blitz packages in the NFL.
Based on his college tape, Leighton Vander Esch would be a perfect replacement and may be able to do even more than Williamson over time. An outstanding pass defender who seems to instinctively understand the routes he's facing, Vander Esch would give the Titans a ton of help in short to intermediate coverage. He's also a quick blitzer who sees and analyzes gaps quickly, and while he may have a bit of work to do as a run-stopper, he's got the skill set that defines the modern inside linebacker.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
The Falcons have a need for a strong, run-stopping defensive tackle to pair with Grady Jarrett and his penetrative skills, and head coach Dan Quinn is one of the league's more creative coaches when it comes to assembling lines. So, don't automatically assume that, just because they're replacing Dontari Poe, they're going to go with a 340-pound nose tackle. Quinn recently said, per the team's official side, that he's intrigued by the depth of this tackle class.
"There's a lot of big guys that can really move," Quinn said in March. "Having that kind of versatility where a guy can penetrate, get up field. Those are things that I really look for at that position. So when I kept going down the list, there's a number of guys that [I said], 'OK, this guy looks like he has the traits [that make him] ready to help right now.'"
Many analysts, including B/R's Matt Miller, are penciling Taven Bryan in as Atlanta's first-round pick, and the match makes sense. At 6'5", 291 pounds, Bryan doesn't fit the prototype of the traditional nose tackle, but in Quinn's system, he doesn't really have to—all he has to do is disrupt. The Falcons can get a hole-plugger later in the draft. Bryan is still putting his game together, but he can generate pressure from the tackle and end positions, he's potentially devastating when pressed to perform stunts and line games and he could make for some real problems for opposing interior linemen in concert with Jarrett.
27. New Orleans Saints: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
While the Saints got a ton of meaningful defensive production out of their excellent 2017 draft—specifically from cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams—but the team's pass-rush productivity is one-sided at best at this point.
End Cameron Jordan led the team with 13 sacks, and second-year safety Vonn Bell finished second with 4.5. Veteran OLB Alex Okafor is a decent rotational option when healthy, but the Saints really need to draft a guy who can step in, create pressure and eventually show the stuff to be Jordan's successor.
Harold Landry led the NCAA with 16.5 sacks in 2016 and only fell off to five last season because of injuries and a supporting cast that allowed opponents to focus on him. When he's zooming off the edge with clear space in a defense where blockers have to focus on more than one player, he's a potentially devastating addition to any defense; and he might just put New Orleans' defense over the top.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
Last season, the Steelers finished with a 13-3 record—a successful season in theory, though their divisional-round exit at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars had to sting. Their defense was solid, especially in the front seven, but the performances of their cornerbacks were a bit lacking. Mike Hilton proved to be pretty effective in the slot, but neither Joe Haden nor Artie Burns was a world-beater.
While there will surely be a temptation to select an athletic linebacker in the first round to replace the injured Ryan Shazier, cornerback could be seen as an equivalent need at this point if the Steelers are to keep pace with the AFC's top offenses.
Mike Hughes was one of the major catalysts in the Knights' undefeated season. He's a physical defender with great speed and the absolute mentality that any ball thrown in his area is his—or at the very least, won't belong to the receiver in question.
On 66 targets last season, per Cam Mellor of Pro Football Focus, he allowed 34 receptions for 301 yards, and just 67 after the catch. Hughes can be fooled at times by quick receivers running angular routes in short to intermediate areas, but once his assignment starts getting vertical, there may not be a cornerback in this class who's better at trailing downfield and forcing incompletions and interceptions.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
This seems like a weird pick on its face if you take into account that the Jaguars gave quarterback Blake Bortles a three-year, $54 million contract extension in February with $26.5 million guaranteed. Bortles took steps forward in his development last season, but he still hasn't proven that he can be a top-level guy over time. Basically, what the Jaguars did was lock their current franchise quarterback up in the short term on a deal they can wriggle out of pretty easily after the 2019 season—at that point, per Over The Cap, the salary-cap cost to release him is just $5 million.
So, it's not out of the question that Jacksonville could be in the market for a developmental quarterback who can provide splash plays now and possible franchise-tilting play in the future. Lamar Jackson could be just that player; he's the most athletic player at quarterback to come into the NFL since Michael Vick, he's a big play waiting to happen as a runner and a passer, and once he learns to throw more consistently with his lower body and ideal mechanics, he could be a truly special player.
Even in 2018, when you look at the power-running and RPO aspects of Jacksonville's offense, and their effectiveness with Bortles as the quarterback, it's fun to imagine how much more dynamic they could be with Jackson as a factor that no defense wants to deal with.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Donte Jackson, DB, LSU
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is in an enviable position—when you look at his team from position to position, it's tough to find a glaring weakness. And with the addition of quarterback Kirk Cousins—assuming Cousins can be lifted in performance by new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo—the Vikings have the look of a Super Bowl contender. As such, Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer can hang back and take the best player on their board with very little worry about specific need.
The transition between slot cornerback Terence Newman, who will turn 40 in September, and Mackensie Alexander, who has come on well in performance but it still putting it all together, should make for interesting discussion in the Vikings' draft room. If they stay at this pick instead of trading down, it would be fascinating to see what Donte Jackson would look like in a defense that is already stacked from front to back.
The 5'10", 178-pounder, who ran a hand-timed 4.28 and official 4.32 40-yard dash at the combine, plays that fast on the field and has excelled at outside cornerback, slot defender and free safety. Some may think it's a luxury pick, but when you've built your team as well as the Vikings, luxury picks can turn into indispensable players pretty quickly.
31. New England Patriots: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Losing left tackle Nate Solder to the Giants in free agency was a blow to Bill Belichick's team, but it made sense to avoid matching Big Blue's four-year, $62 million offer with $35 million guaranteed. Solder isn't the best at his position in the business, especially in pass-protection, and Belichick is smart enough to have that disparity between performance and finance as somebody else's problem. Still, this leaves a void at the spot where Tom Brady's blind side is protected—a fairly important issue.
Kolton Miller, the hyper-athletic UCLA left tackle, has been mentioned as a potential Pats pick before and he recently visited the team. Like Solder when he came out of Colorado, Miller needs some developmental work in his pass sets—his kick-steps can be especially choppy, which leaves him vulnerable to speed-rushers—but he checks all the athletic boxes, and there isn't a better coach to mold him than New England's Dante Scarnecchia. Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle are the candidates to replace Solder in the short term, so Belichick might take the shot on athletic potential and let the fundamentals work themselves out.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
One of the primary reasons the Eagles were able to take the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history was the surprising play of usual right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai in the postseason after starting left tackle Jason Peters suffered a torn ACL in October. Vaitai took his lumps on the left side through the regular season but ramped up his game when it counted the most.
Peters will play in 2018, but he turned 36 in January and it may be time to select his replacement over time. Vaitai is a very good swing tackle, but a team this good, built this well, can't have major questions at that position.
The 2018 tackle class is relatively weak, which means that the Eagles could wind up with the best in the group with the final selection of the first round, and Mike McGlinchey could be that guy.
He has great upper-body strength and the agility to create consistent pass sets, though his athletic ceiling may be relatively low if he's not able to improve his footwork and the consistency of his hand punch, which keeps defenders at bay. Offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland is one of the more underrated position coaches in the NFL, and he can work with McGlinchey in 2018 while Peters is dominating opponents as usual.