NFL Mock Draft
Every Monday morning a staff writer from Gridiron Experts will take a stab at the 2018 NFL Draft. Some will include trades, some will extend into the 2nd or 3rd round but our goal is to make Mondays all about Mock Drafts. We kick things off with Sam Mathews’ Mock Draft for FEB 12th 2018
1. Sam Darnold | QB | USC
Darnold is still raw, but he is a well-rounded, competent, and physically-built QB. His throws are quick and accurate, and he is surprisingly nimble in the pocket. Fumbling issues aside, Darnold is the ideal QB prospect for Cleveland to build around. His accuracy, velocity, and football IQ will only improve with NFL mentorship and experience. Josh Rosen is also an option here, but the Browns have expressed qualms about his injury history and off-the-field issues.
2. Josh Rosen | QB | UCLA
New York Giants
Rosen is the best pure passer in the 2018 QB class and is a day one starter. His anticipation is excellent and he makes precision throws with ease. Pat Shurmur will love Rosen’s quick release and competitive personality in New York. It’s possible Rosen sits behind Eli Manning next season, but it’s also clear that the Giants are looking for a successor. Rosen is too good of a prospect to pass on here.
3. Saquon Barkley | RB | Penn State
Barkley is one of the best running back prospects of the past decade and the best player available in the draft. Frank Gore is 34 and Marlon Mack does not look like a three-down replacement. Everyone thinks the Colts will draft N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb here, but I believe they will give Andrew Luck a powerful new weapon to work with instead. Barkley is too enticing of an offensive piece for this anemic offense to trade back.
4. Minkah Fitzpatrick | S | Alabama
Able to play corner or safety, Fitzpatrick can address two of Cleveland’s needs in the secondary. Further, Fitzpatrick is a beautiful fit for Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams’ press-man coverage scheme. Slotting Fitzpatrick in at free safety would give the Browns a playmaking ball hawk in the secondary. It would also allow them to move Jabrill Peppers to strong safety, where his skill set is best utilized and he is most comfortable.
5. Quenton Nelson | OG | Notre Dame
Previously, I wrote that the Broncos would have a difficult time signing Kirk Cousins. Jimmy Garoppolo’s five-year, $137.5 million contract won’t make that any easier. But for the sake of variety, I’m assuming the Broncos convince Cousins to take a slight pay discount to play on a roster loaded with talent. That opens the door for them to draft Quenton Nelson to protect him. The Broncos front office is in love with Nelson, and for good reason. He’s a plug-and-play Pro Bowler with the potential to become a franchise All-Pro for the next decade. Slotting Nelson in at right guard also allows Denver to move Ron Leary over to left guard, where he is more comfortable. A line comprised of Matt Paradis, Leary, Nelson, and Garett Bolles (with anybody other than Donald Stephenson at right tackle) would easily be the best Cousins has ever played behind.
6. Baker Mayfield | QB | Oklahoma
New York Jets
With the Denver Broncos out of the Quarterback hunt, the Jets are able to draft a much-needed franchise QB. Mayfield is my favorite QB prospect in the 2018 class and will provide the Jets’ young defensive leader, Jamal Adams, with a fiery counterpart on offense.
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7. Bradley Chubb | DE | N.C. State
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chubb’s fall ends here, with the Buccaneers sprinting to the podium to select him. Chubb is arguably the top prospect in the draft and will provide an immediate pass-rushing presence for a Buccaneers defense that ranked dead-last in the NFL in yards allowed per game.
8. Denzel Ward | CB | Ohio State
Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are both free agents. Ward is slightly undersized but is an excellent tackler and ball hawk who tied Marshon Lattimore for the most pass break-ups at Ohio State two years ago. His footwork and burst are exceptional at his position. Ward is a great centerpiece for Matt Nagy to build Chicago’s young defense around. Receiver is another need for Chicago, here, but I expect them to address that hole in free agency.
9. Tremaine Edmunds | LB | Virginia Tech
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco is in dire need of linebackers to pair with rookie phenomenon Reuben Foster. Their depth is also mediocre at the position and Foster missed six games last year and could be suspended for part of next season. Edmunds is great against the run but also has range. In college he would even line up against slot receivers, which is a talent San Francisco would love to employ. At only 19, Edmunds could also move to defensive end in a few years. Cornerback is another obvious choice here, but I think San Francisco will acquire someone like Aqib Talib in free agency.
10. Roquan Smith | LB | Georgia
Smith didn’t miss a single tackle last season and was the best linebacker in college football. He can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense and is excellent in coverage. Oakland’s linebacker group was one of the worst in the NFL last season and their best talent, NaVorro Bowman, is a free agent. Smith will immediately contribute and having him blitz with Khalil Mack is a terrorizing prospect for the rest of the AFC West.[the_ad id=”73965″][the_ad id=”63198″]
11. Isaiah Wynn | OT | Georgia
Wynn played left tackle at Georgia but projects as a guard in the NFL. He has excellent balance, hand strength, and knee-bend. His technique and footwork are fluid and ideal for blocking on the inside. That makes Wynn an ideal pick for the Dolphins, who have one of the worst guard pairs in the league. Wynn blocking next to Mike Pouncey would revitalize their offensive line and give them depth at the tackle position as well.
12. Connor Williams | OT | Texas
I like Cincinnati to take FSU’s Derwin James here and find a franchise safety, but their offensive line is simply too poor to pass on Connor Williams. The loss of Andrew Whitworth to Los Angeles devastated their offense and Andy Dalton’s best seasons have been played behind capable linemen. Injury problems aside, Williams is the ideal size for an NFL left tackle and is the most gifted one in the 2018 draft class.
13. Da’Ron Payne | DT | Alabama
Pairing Payne with former teammate Jonathan Allen on the defensive line will greatly improve Washington’s lackluster run defense. Payne is a run-stifling nose tackle who can rush the passer and evade double teams. A powerful raw athlete, he is often favorably compared to the Ravens’ Brandon Williams. Payne was also a respected leader for the Crimson Tide, which is exactly the presence Washington needs on defense.
14. Josh Jackson | CB | Iowa
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay’s safety group is solid but its defense needs better coverage from its cornerbacks. Kevin King looked good in his rookie season but couldn’t stay on the field, and Green Bay once again finished outside the top 20 pass defenses. Mike Pettine will love the Packers drafting Jackson, college football’s top defensive back in 2017. His playmaking ability, size, and fluidity make him an ideal #1 corner.
15. Josh Allen | QB | Wyoming
With Alex Smith off the market, the Cardinals are even farther away from finding a new starter to replace Carson Palmer. Allen had poor stats in college but has enticing arm strength and potential. He won’t be a day one starter, but Arizona can groom him while they rebuild their offense and eventually replace Larry Fitzgerald.
16. Calvin Ridley | WR | Alabama
The Ravens lack a true #1 receiver and Mike Wallace will be 32 and a free agent next season. Ridley isn’t a physical wideout but is a speedy homerun hitter who gives the Ravens’ 29th ranked pass offense a necessary deep threat. It also doesn’t hurt that Ozzie Newsome historically likes to select Alabama players in the draft.[the_ad id=”73518″][the_ad id=”61518″]
17. Vita Vea | DT | Washington
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers gave up the second most rushing yards per game last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Vea ranked in the top 10 in college football in run stopping and pass rushing during his junior season. He is deceptively fast for a player of his size and possesses strong lateral range at the nose tackle position. Vea rushing up the middle with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the outside will be a deadly combination for the Chargers.
18. Mike McGlinchey | OT | Notre Dame
McGlinchey isn’t the fastest tackle prospect in the draft, but he is the perfect size for an NFL lineman. Seattle has finally found a good starting left tackle after trading for Duane Brown, but Germain Ifedi has been awful at right tackle. The Seahawks can put McGlinchey, who has positional experience, at right tackle and move Ifedi to guard. He will bring needed run-blocking strength and versatility to one of the worst offensive lines in football.
19. Courtland Sutton | WR | SMU
Dez Bryant’s future in Dallas is up in the air, but regardless of whether the Cowboys choose to cut him, it’s clear that he’s not the #1 receiver he once was. Enter Sutton, a similarly dominant wideout with physicality and speed. He needs to work on his route-running and separation, but dominates defenders with his catch radius and height. Able to line up outside or in the slot, Sutton is the perfect young receiver for the Cowboys to pair with Dak Prescott.
20. Rashaan Evans | LB | Alabama
Tahir Whitehead is likely to leave in free agency, creating a hole at linebacker for Detroit. Even if Whitehead does decide to stick around, the Lions need to upgrade their pass rush. Evans brings exceptional closing speed and coverage as a day one starter. He also provides Detroit with needed depth and versatility that will pair nicely with 2017 first round pick, Jarrad Davis. Defensively-minded Matt Patricia will love molding a talented and young linebacker core during his first season as head coach.
21. Marcus Davenport | DE | UTSA
It’s very possible Buffalo trades Indianapolis or Cleveland for their first round pick to circumvent Denver and New York and draft a QB. But because of the unpredictability of free agency, I’m going to assume the Bills sign a veteran such as Case Keenum or Sam Bradford, which opens the door for them to improve on both sides of the line in the draft. Davenport is a premier pass rusher who accumulated eight sacks last season. He is also an excellent run stopper who will help the Bills fill the void created by the departure of Marcell Darius.
22. Orlando Brown | OT | Oklahoma
The Bills desperately need a center to replace Eric Wood, but drafting someone like Billy Price is a reach in the first round. Dion Dawkins showed promise as a rookie at left tackle, but right tackle has always been an issue for the Bills and Jordan Mills is pedestrian at best. Enter Brown, the perfect NFL right tackle. He lacks quick feet but is a tremendous athlete who mauls in the run game. Pairing him with Ducasse on the right side, with Richie Incognito and Dawkins on the left side, will give Buffalo one of the best, young offensive lines in the NFL.
23. Derwin James | S | FSU
Los Angeles Rams
Before last season, James was projected to be a top-10 pick. Injuries and a comparatively poor sophomore year have caused him to fall. James can play safety and corner and combines powerful size and and speed with explosive blitzing ability. He was also the highest graded safety in college football last year. With the contracts of Lamarcus Joyner and Cody Davis set to conclude, James will be a centerpiece for Sean McVay to build a new secondary around.
24. Mike Hughes | CB | UCF
The Panthers are still searching for a replacement for Josh Norman and their secondary is the weakest part of the team. Wide receiver is a need as well with the departure of Kelvin Benjamin, but I anticipate Curtis Samuel will step into a larger starting role. Hughes is a quick and fluid corner with great range and ball awareness. He isn’t as physical as a traditional #1 corner, but he makes up for it with strong press coverage. Hughes will start for the Panthers immediately and help shore up a leaky secondary unit.
25. Maurice Hurst | DT | Michigan
DaQuan Jones is a free agent and Sylvester Williams’ best days were as a Bronco. Tennessee’s biggest offseason priority will be improving their defensive line, and drafting Hurst is an excellent way to accomplish that. Hurst is small but quick and generates pressure with elite explosiveness off the line. He gives the Titans a penetrating tackle on the interior.
26. Harrison Phillips | DT | Stanford
Dontari Poe may not be in Atlanta next year and the Falcons need to strengthen their defensive line. Phillips suffocates the run and exhibits impressive range for a tackle of his size. His pass rushing isn’t as strong as that of other prospects but he still frequently disrupts double teams and accrued 7 sacks during his two seasons in Palo Alto. The Falcons will appreciate his presence on the interior.
27. Arden Key | LB | LSU
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans took a step forward on defense this year, but they are still weak at linebacker. With Alex Anzalone set to return from injury next season, the Saints need to find talent to pair with him. Key is a polarizing prospect who comes with his fair share of off the field issues, but his upside is tantalizing. The Saints will have plenty of time to thoroughly vet the local Key, who gives them needed size and explosiveness at linebacker.
28. Leighton Vander Esch | LB | Boise State
Unfortunately, Ryan Shazier will not be playing football anytime soon, and even before his untimely injury, the Steelers needed to upgrade at inside linebacker. Vander Esch possesses formidable size, coverage ability, and tackling technique. He has only started for one season, and is a raw prospect, but has the potential to develop into a franchise linebacker for the Steelers.
29. Lamar Jackson | QB | Louisville
Jackson is a tremendous athlete who put up video game numbers during his time in Louisville. The Heisman winner needs to work on his accuracy, but was able to improve his pocket presence and mechanics during his junior season. Blake Bortles has been inconsistent at best, and though he will be returning to Jacksonville in 2018, the Jaguars have yet to rule out a QB competition. Like Josh Allen, Jackson has incredible upside if his raw talents are refined, and pairing him with Leonard Fournette would give Jacksonville one of the best run offenses in the league.
30. Will Hernandez | OG | UTEP
Minnesota successfully redesigned its offensive line last offseason, but starting guards Joe Berger and Nick Easton are both free agents. Hernandez had an exceptional performance at the Senior Bowl, and projects as a day one starter at guard. His speed and flexibility make him an explosive lineman, but he nonetheless exhibits outstanding body control. It is therefore unsurprising that Hernandez only surrendered two pressures during his two years at UTEP. He will anchor Minnesota’s run game for the next decade.
31. Isaiah Oliver | CB | Colorado
New England Patriots
Malcolm Butler will not be in a Patriots uniform next season and Eric Rowe was gashed by Alshon Jeffery in his stead. Oliver is a physical specimen with speed, ball awareness, and tackling ability. Bill Belichick also loves multi-sport athletes, and Oliver is a former decathlete. But the former track star may not even be available when the Patriots pick if he has an impressive showing at the combine, as many predict he will.
32. Harold Landry | OLB | Boston College
The Eagles have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL. But their linebacker depth is unimpressive, and Nigel Bradham could leave in free agency. Landry is an ideal replacement. He is a great finisher who immediately upgrades the Eagles’ pass-rush and gives them needed depth at defensive end. His range, tackling ability, and burst also make him a versatile addition to Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 defense. Landry is the exact type of raw, multifaceted athlete that Howie Roseman has prioritized during his time in Philadelphia.
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Sam recently graduated college and works in consulting. He loves philosophy, cryptocurrency, and fantasy sports of all forms. Sam is despised by his fantasy football league mates for his unhealthy obsession with the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2016 draft class and his tendency to blame all of his problems on John Elway. A devoted Broncos fan, Sam also avidly supports the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Princeton Tigers.