2018 NFL Draft: Predicting the Biggest Surprise Picks of the 1st Round

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2018

2018 NFL Draft: Predicting the Biggest Surprise Picks of the 1st Round

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Surprises have paved the path to the 2018 NFL draft, hinting at even bigger head-turning affairs once the first round gets underway Thursday. 

    Fans have already seen epic trades involving the draft, such as the New York Jets' early leap into the top five. They've also seen the Buffalo Bills get aggressive in moving up, shipping away a top-flight offensive tackle (Cordy Glenn) to make it happen.

    Free agency offered other surprises. Trumaine Johnson and Kirk Cousins expertly weaved through franchise-tag purgatory and put ink to deals sure to have an impact on all future negotiations for players. Major names such as Richard Sherman and Dez Bryant have or will join new teams, shifting the makeup of the league.

    The first round of the draft will only continue the stunning trends. This is a class with six possible first-round quarterbacks and the first crop of superb offensive line talent to hit the NFL in some time.

    The usual natural developments such as prospect free falls or unknowns coming off the board early will happen as always. That's a product of having a limited view of how the NFL really thinks.

    Below, let's take a stab at some of the biggest shockers set to unfold in the first round as a trade-happy league thirsty for quarterback play cracks its knuckles and gets ready to start the draft from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Cleveland Browns Select Baker Mayfield First Overall

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Leave it to the Cleveland Browns, a team that has struggled to find a franchise quarterback since 1999, to throw a wrench into what most think about this draft.

    While the Browns could play it safe with a Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen first overall, Baker Mayfield is more alluring from an upside standpoint.

    Mayfield, 6'1" and 215 pounds, isn't a sheer pocket passer in the sense he's stuck there. Minimums of 78 rushing attempts with five touchdowns in each of his last three seasons say this well enough. There aren't completion percentage issues here like there are with a Josh Allen, either—Mayfield hit on a 70.5 clip in 2017, throwing for 4,627 yards and 43 touchdowns against six interceptions.

    It's not hard to see why the Browns might want a shiny option here and not something more traditional. Benjamin Allbright of 104.7 FM Denver has heard Mayfield is in play at No. 1, and Rotoworld's Josh Norris noted: "Scot McCloughan, who was brought in by [Browns GM] John Dorsey for at least one draft meeting, previously stated Baker Mayfield 'hands down' is his top QB in the 2018 class."

    Grabbing a versatile prospect who can sit and learn from Tyrod Taylor seems like a smart connection.

Broncos Select Saquon Barkley Fifth Overall

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    One of the easiest narratives to make is the Denver Broncos grabbing a quarterback and calling it a first round. Fans know the draft is never so simple, especially this year when even No. 1 isn't predictable.

    Taking a quarterback would make sense, even after Case Keenum's arrival. The Broncos skidded to a five-win season a year ago while Trevor Siemian threw 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

    Adding Keenum isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch. And while Keenum won some games last year while throwing for 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions on a 67.6 completion percentage, one can't shake the feeling it had more to do with the system.

    Rather than add another quarterback to the mix, why not perfect the system? Saquon Barkley, he of 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns on a 5.9 per-carry average last year, is the way to make a system work. 
    And his dipping to No. 5 is a surprise in itself thanks to a run on quarterbacks. 

    An NFL general manager put it bluntly enough to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein: "You don't screw up the special ones when you are a talent evaluator. This guy is special. Any concerns you file on him just feels like nitpicking to fill out the report." 

    The Broncos especially have a need at running back after cutting C.J. Anderson, though don't tell that to general manager John Elway, according to Kyle Fredrickson of the Denver Post: "It's a deep running back class. It's hard to predict where they're going to end up, but it is a deep class," he added. "We feel good about the fact that we'll be able to get a good one."

    That's exactly what a guy looking to draft Barkley would say days before the draft.

Bills Trade Up to Select Josh Allen Sixth Overall

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    Margaret Bowles/Associated Press

    Remember those Bills mentioned in the intro? They aren't done yet.

    The Bills didn't go through all of this effort to get close and watch as an AFC East rival like the Miami Dolphins jump them for a quarterback prospect they like and might have to face for the next five-plus years.

    Look for the Bills to package their other first-round pick (No. 22) to jump above the Dolphins at No. 11 so they can secure Josh Allen.

    Allen scares some, and rightfully so, but he has a Ben Roethlisberger-esque frame (6'5", 237 pounds) with a booming arm. He's a slide candidate thanks to various problems, including a 56.3 completion percentage in 2017 at Wyoming.

    Former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky pointed out one major issue with Allen's game while on a podcast with The MMQB's Peter King:

    "And then the second thing—I saw this at the combine, and it made me go watch all his tape again. But when he was throwing at the combine, he was staring at his receivers. And I was like, well, that's a bad habit, and it's a habit you can create just trying to be better at accuracy. So, I watched all his tape, and that showed up on tape a bunch where he would just stare at receivers when he catches the snap."

    When there is a run on quarterbacks, the Bills will still want to get in on the action and give AJ McCarron some competition. For the Bills, it's about believing the issues causing Allen to drop are fixable and banking on a team like the Indianapolis Colts wanting to move down again at a fair price.

Dolphins Select Mason Rudolph

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Dolphins aren't necessarily desperate to select a quarterback in the first round.

    But while the Dolphins still have three more years invested in the 29-year-old Ryan Tannehill, he only threw for 2,995 yards and 19 touchdowns against 12 interceptions over 13 games in 2016 before missing all of last year with a left knee injury.

    With quarterbacks flying off the board and the front office trying hard this offseason to remake the culture, the decision-makers might think it wise to take a gamble on upside before attacking needs in the remainder of the draft.

    Said upside comes in the form of Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, a 6'3", 235-pound prospect who threw for 4,904 yards and 37 touchdowns with only nine interceptions last season. He added another 10 rushing scores as well.

    Critics will point to a spread-option attack and a so-so arm, at least compared to someone like Josh Allen. But for CBSSports.com's Chris Trapasso, the similarities to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott are striking: "Rudolph isn't as twichy as Prescott but is an underrated scrambler and deft pocket-mover. Both naturally keep their eyes up when drifting away from incoming pressure and can be useful in short-yardage situations on read-option keeps."

    The Dolphins will see much of the same and have the patience to groom Rudolph for a few years, if not boast one of the best pieces of trade bait in the NFL at the same time.

Patriots Trade Up to Select Lamar Jackson

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    Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

    It's all about the quarterbacks when it comes to surprises this year, as it is with most classes.

    Louisville's Lamar Jackson might be the most polarizing in the class, hence silly suggestions of his playing wideout for the first time in his career. Jackson's stock has been that of a top-20 prospect the whole time as a quarterback, and it isn't changing now.

    Let's not pretend it's hard to see why, either. Jackson is a bit thin at 6'2" and 216 pounds, but he's smart about taking hits in the open field, where more often than not he's looking like the second coming of Michael Vick while winning games on his lonesome. In 2017 alone, he threw for 27 touchdowns with 10 interceptions and ran for another 18 scores.

    Here's where the New England Patriots come into play: They had an official visit with Jackson late in the draft process and came away "intrigued and impressed," according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Granted, this sounds like a smokescreen Bill Belichick would throw out there for some unknown reason, but the Patriots do have an aging (and amazing) quarterback under center and dealt Jimmy Garoppolo.

    The Patriots are innovative enough to tailor the offense around Jackson's talents, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the league. The run on quarterbacks will make it necessary for the Patriots to leverage their two first-round picks (Nos. 23 and 31) to move up in front of a team such as Arizona Cardinals (15) and Baltimore Ravens (16).

    It's the sort of shocking move fans should come to expect from the brass out in Foxborough.

Redskins Select Derrius Guice

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Pair the ho-hum nature of this defensive class with the exploding-in-importance nature of running backs, and one of the biggest surprises is bound to be the guy taken after Barkley.

    Which in this case is LSU's Derrius Guice.

    Guice isn't often cited as a guy coming off the board early in the first round, which is odd for a prospect who can play an every-down role. Over the past two seasons, Guice posted 1,250-plus-yard efforts on the ground with double-digit touchdowns. He also showed some versatility as a receiver with 18 catches for 124 yards and a pair of scores in 2017.

    It's the 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on a 7.6 yards-per-carry average an LSU assistant coach wants the NFL to pay attention to though, according to Zierlein: "Don't waste your time on 2017 film because he wasn't even back up to his top speed until the bowl game. He will be the same player he was in 2016. If you had a grade on him after last year, you should use that."

    The Washington Redskins have to love the idea of adding a potential every-down back in the Marshawn Lynch mold who can even out an in-need-of-balance attack with Alex Smith under center. This is a team that rushed for 3.6 yards per carry last year with a hodgepodge of guys like Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson, Rob Kelley and Kapri Bibbs and got six rushing scores from its backs all year.

    The Redskins are a major sleeper to pluck Guice off the board.