NFL Mock Draft 2018: 1st-Round Projections and Receiving Prospects on the Rise

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2018

Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki (88) runs after catching a pass during Penn State Pro Day in State College, Pa., Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

The pass-catching options in the 2018 NFL draft aren't getting a ton of attention as the big day nears.

It's not hard to see why considering five or six quarterbacks could come off the board in the first round thanks to a combination of scarcity and the importance of the position. Offensive line is also quite strong this year after a long drought, and it's getting harder to find quality players there, so wideouts have taken something of a backseat.

That doesn't mean it's a bad class for wideouts and tight ends. Plenty of mid-round guys like James Washington, D.J. Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown and Anthony Miller could help make it one of the stronger classes in recent memory.

But at the top? Only a few guys figure to break into the first round Thursday as teams address other positions that don't come around as often.


2018 NFL Mock Draft

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1. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

2. New York Giants: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

3. New York Jets: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

4. Cleveland Browns (via Houston Texans): Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

5. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

6. Indianapolis Colts: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derwin James, S, Florida State

8. Chicago Bears: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

9. San Francisco 49ers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

10. Oakland Raiders: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

11. Miami Dolphins: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

12. Buffalo Bills: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

13. Washington Redskins: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

14. Green Bay Packers: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

15. Arizona Cardinals: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

16. Baltimore Ravens: Harold Landry, DE/OLB, Boston College

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

18. Seattle Seahawks: Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia

19. Dallas Cowboys: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

20. Detroit Lions: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

21. Cincinnati Bengals: James Daniels, OL, Iowa

22. Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs): Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

23. New England Patriots (via Los Angeles Rams): Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

24. Carolina Panthers: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

25. Tennessee Titans: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

26. Atlanta Falcons: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

27. New Orleans Saints: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Davenport, DE/OLB, UTSA

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

30. Minnesota Vikings: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

31. New England Patriots: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia


10. Oakland Raiders: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

SMU's Courtland Sutton continues to sit at or near the top in most rankings fans will be able to find.

For good reason too. Sutton checks in with good size at 6'4" and 218 pounds and didn't have any problems drawing attention to his film in the first place thanks to 1,000-yard seasons and 22 total touchdowns over his last two years.

On film, Sutton ran a variety of routes in college and made life easy on his quarterback. He looks like something of a possession receiver with a big catch radius, which is something teams won't mind having if he can keep developing alongside near-instant production.

As Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram captured, there are those around Sutton who think the upside is huge:

Drew Davison @drewdavison

#Cowboys WR coach Sanjay Lal on SMU's Courtland Sutton: "He can catch the ball like no other. He’s got a huge catch radius. ... Then, he's coachable." https://t.co/HczXVzt6gg

It's something the Oakland Raiders bank on in the mock draft above. Sutton seems like a Jon Gruden pick who can come in and join the coach's new-look rotation at the position featuring Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson, eventually taking over as the No. 1 in a few years.

To start, Sutton could simply make life easier on quarterback Derek Carr, who needs reliable options capable of hanging on to the ball for the offense to be successful.


13. Washington Redskins: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Alabama's Calvin Ridley is one of the only guys challenging for the top pass-catching option in the draft.

Ridley standing out in Alabama's run-heavy attack is impressive in the first place. So is his 967 yards and five touchdowns a year ago on only 63 catches, meaning he had an average of 15.3 yards per reception.

What fans will hear about Ridley more than anything, though, is his best-in-class route running. There's no higher honor in this regard than finding out NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares him to Marvin Harrison in his scouting report.

We can tack on strong praise from an NFC general manager for good measure, per Zierlein: "I haven't seen them all yet, but I doubt anybody in this class will touch him at that position. You wish he was a little bigger and stronger, but he can get open on just about any route you want. I still think he's a step below where Amari Cooper was coming out."

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

“He’s the only one that can [get open].” So, why is can’t-miss WR prospect Calvin Ridley not getting the love he deserves? https://t.co/Y5OHysqXYV https://t.co/bQBKcX6NNH

Ridley slips to the Washington Redskins in the mock above, as team fit and personality are still big factors in where the chips fall. It's a great situation, though, as new Redskins quarterback Alex Smith needs good timing on routes from his guys.

Those Redskins already added Paul Richardson in free agency, yet they aren't assured strong long-term production from guys like Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson. Ridley bridges the gap, giving the team five years of upside at a premium position.


24. Carolina Panthers: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

One or two tight ends could come off the board in the first round, though the league's never-ending pursuit of upside could mean Mike Gesicki is the only lock.

The Penn State product certainly has upside, something we learned at the combine when he ranked among or topped his position in every drill. His 40-yard dash came in at 4.54 seconds, and numbers like a 41.5-inch vertical and 4.1 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle—not to mention 11.33 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle—meshed well with his film.

Gesicki was rather quiet at Penn State, last year catching 57 passes for 563 yards and nine touchdowns. But it was more the offense than him, as he still displayed a huge catch radius and an ability to climb the ladder and beat defensive backs for the ball—it only helps he's 6'5" and 247 pounds.

This catch illustrated by the Atlanta Falcons says it all:

Atlanta Falcons @AtlantaFalcons

Here's why Penn State TE Mike Gesicki could be our first-round pick. Prospect Profile ➡️ https://t.co/C1RIwDV7BW https://t.co/ym6iv7jtU3

It's the Carolina Panthers banking on the upside in the above mock. Gesicki arrives and instantly boosts quarterback Cam Newton's cast of weapons in the red zone and short-yardage situations, giving him another option and keeping defenses honest.

Viewed through a long-term lens, Gesicki is a natural top tight end for an offense once he develops, and there are maybe one or two better veterans to learn from while developing than Greg Olsen.


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