2018 NFL Mock Draft: Predictions for Prospects Vaulting into Opening Round

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistApril 20, 2018

KNOXVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 18:  Donte Jackson #1 of the LSU Tigers in action against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

We are now less than one week away from the NFL draft, and the rumors are starting to pick up, giving us a bit of clarity as to how the first round will play out. 

While teams almost never tip their hand directly, legitimate rumors do leak out during these final days leading up to the draft, primarily because teams start talking to each other. For example, let's say the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills are talking about a potential trade for the No. 4 pick. In order for those talks to progress, the Browns would need to be up front with the Bills about who they're taking at No. 1. 

While this is just an example, these types of conversations are how the majority of draft rumors spread at this time of year and why it's safe to assume a portion of them are true. Of course, guessing which ones are true and which ones are just smoke is easier said than done. 

Based on the rumors swirling around the league, here's a look at how the first round could play out on Thursday, followed by a closer look at a few prospects who have risen during the draft process and could slide into the late first round. 

             

1. Cleveland Browns: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

2. Buffalo Bills (projected trade from NYG): Sam Darnold, QB, USC

3. New York Jets (from IND): Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

4. New York Giants (projected trade from CLE): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State 

5. Miami Dolphins (projected trade from DEN): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA 

6. Indianapolis Colts (from NYJ): Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

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. Denver Broncos (projected trade from MIA): Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

12. Cleveland Browns (projected trade from BUF, via NYG): Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

13. Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

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

15. Arizona Cardinals: Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College

16. Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

18. Seattle Seahawks: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

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

20. Detroit Lions: Marcus Davenport, Edge, UTSA

21. Cincinnati Bengals (from BUF): James Daniels, C, Iowa

22. Cleveland Browns (projected trade from BUF, via NYG): Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama 

23. New England Patriots (from LAR): Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

24. Carolina Panthers: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

25. Tennessee Titans: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

26. Atlanta Falcons: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

27. New Orleans Saints: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Reid, S, Stanford

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

30. Minnesota Vikings: Connor Williams, OT, Texas

31. New England Patriots: Donte Jackson, CB, LSU

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

            

Kolton Miller, UCLA

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

UCLA's offensive line kept Josh Rosen running for his life, so it's somewhat surprising to see a Bruins lineman getting first-round hype. 

Kolton Miller, who attempted to protect Rosen's blind side in 2017, has risen during the draft process due to his raw physical tools despite a shaky college career.

At 6'9" with 34" arms, Miller has the length teams covet in an offensive lineman. Those measurements, plus his athleticism, makes him a talented athlete that some NFL coaches will believe they can mold into a left tackle. 

Since Miller will likely struggle early in his career, teams who can afford to redshirt him for a year may be most interested. The Panthers still have Matt Kalil at left tackle and Darryl Williams on the right side, so Miller wouldn't need to be forced into action until he's ready. 

Other teams who could draft Miller in first round: Vikings, Patriots, Eagles.

            

Taven Bryan, Florida

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 01:  Taven Bryan #93 of the Florida Gators watches from the sideline during a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan didn't generate a ton of statistics in college, but he consistently flashed the ability to get into the backfield and disrupt the offense. 

The Gators turned Bryan loose on nearly every play, allowing him to fly into the backfield with reckless abandon. This gave him the chance to showcase his explosion off the snap but also may have stunted his growth. 

Bryan lacks discipline on the field and runs himself out of plays just as often as he disrupts them. This made him a frustrating prospect to watch in college, but the flashes of dominance he showed are why he has a chance to sneak into the late first round. 

Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has done a fantastic job developing young defensive prospects in recent years and Bryan could be his next project. 

Other teams who could draft Bryan in first round: Falcons, Bengals, Jaguars

          

Donte Jackson, LSU

Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

As recently as five years ago, LSU cornerback Donte Jackson would likely not have been viewed as a potential first-rounder. Due to his lack of size, he will be seen as strictly a slot cornerback by many teams. However, in this era of spread offenses, the slot cornerback has become a starter and is nearly as valuable as those who play on the outside. 

Jackson's elite speed and natural agility gives him the skill set to stay with smaller, quicker receivers in the slot. Additionally, his ability to stay with receivers down the field could make him an option to shift outside in certain matchups where his lack of height may not be a disadvantage. 

Bill Belichick is among the all-time greats in terms of shifting his personnel around to find the favorable matchups, and Jackson would give him another tool to rebuild his depleted secondary. 

We all saw how much New England suffered without Malcolm Butler on the field in the Super Bowl, and the addition of Jackson could potentially help fill that hole. 

Other teams that could draft Jackson in first round: Eagles, Falcons, Vikings

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