The college football season is just about in the books which means it’s a good time to look around the corner at the fast-approaching 2018 NFL Draft.
While we don’t yet know the exact order clubs will be picking in or how the rest of the NFL campaign will play out, it’s never too early for a mock draft given all that we’ve seen already on both the college and the pro side of the game. Taking a look ahead and doing a little projecting when it comes to underclassmen declaring (or not), while also figuring out how top prospects stack up down the stretch and speculating on each NFL team’s specific needs, here’s a look at how picks 1-32 could play out next spring.
Draft order is based on current NFL standings (entering Week 14) and the current playoff picture.
1. Cleveland Browns — Bradley Chubb, DL, NC State
USC quarterback Sam Darnold opts to stay in school to the dismay of the Browns so they take the best player available and go back-to-back defensive ends with the No. 1 overall pick. Myles Garrett has been a terror since joining the lineup and needs a running mate to keep boosting the pass rush and Chubb, the best defender available, fits that bill.
2. New York Giants — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Nobody knows who or even what position the Giants are going to be targeting with a new coaching staff and a new front office not even in place yet but an Eli Manning replacement figures to be at the top of the list after the recent fiasco with the franchise mainstay. Rosen has the talent and mental makeup to be the first quarterback taken and his attitude might be just what the team is looking for at the position going forward.
3. San Francisco 49ers — Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
This team needs help all over but protecting Jimmy Garoppolo becomes priority No. 1 in the draft after seeing how poor the protection was late in the season. Nelson is the top offensive line prospect in the draft and figures to be the Week 1 starter at guard to help out a team that must contend with the Rams’ and Seahawks’ defensive lines twice a year.
4. Denver Broncos — Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
John Elway quickly realizes that Paxton Lynch isn’t the answer and decides to hit the reset button completely on offense by bringing in Rudolph to be the quarterback of the future. He fits the style of offense the team wants to run better than most and that strong downfield arm will be key in a place like Denver.
5. Indianapolis Colts — Derwin James, DB, Florida State
The Colts need help all over and take the best player on the board available in James, who can be an impact player right away at safety and team up with Malik Hooker when he returns to form the best young safety tandem in the league.
6. Chicago Bears — Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
After investing in Mitchell Trubisky last season, the Bears will need to invest in some protection for their franchise quarterback so he’s not getting hit every other time he drops back. Brown would be a huge — literally — addition to the line and can help set the edge when the team looks to establish the run too.
7. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Despite drafting DeShone Kizer early last season, it still seems pretty apparent the Browns could be back looking for another quarterback early in the draft this year. While everybody will immediately think this is Johnny Manziel part II for the franchise, Mayfield is the most efficient college signal-caller ever and has the moxie to handle the pressure that comes with this job.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Fitzpatrick brings the versatility of being able to play corner, safety or slide inside in a nickel package, really enhancing his value to a team like Tampa Bay. Either way, he’s one of the best defensive players in the draft and might be the most polished as well.
9. Arizona Cardinals — Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Bruce Arians and the front office still need to address the quarterback position going forward but they might not love anybody enough to take them in the top 10. Instead the Cardinals opt to bulk up the offensive line by adding the steady Williams up front.
10. New York Jets — Arden Key, DE, LSU
This roster has holes all over and could really use some upgrades on offense but the team will opt instead to go with the potential of the LSU star off the edge to help boost the defense instead. Key’s ability to stand up or put his hand on the ground will help him see the field early in a number of different packages and if he can get it all together (and stay healthy), he has Pro Bowl potential.
11. Washington Redskins — Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Everything the franchise does in the draft will probably be based off what happens with Kirk Cousins but in this case they just take the best wideout in the draft by going back to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and plucking Sutton out of SMU. He’ll be a nice foil to the similar Josh Doctson and be able to open things up for Jamison Crowder too.
12. Miami Dolphins — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Even if the team decides to bring back Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, his injury history suggests that they need to be exploring options under center and that could lead them right into the arms of the Heisman Trophy winner. Jackson has improved significantly as a passer and even if he doesn’t start right away, has tons of upside and the bonus of being from the area.
13. Cincinnati Bengals — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
This could be an offseason full of massive change for the franchise but no matter what moves are set to be made, it’s very apparent that they need some help along the offensive line. McGlinchey is one of the top tackle prospects and is represents a really good value at this point in the draft.
14. Los Angeles Chargers — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Philip Rivers still has his fastball and figures to be throwing passes for the Chargers through the end of his contract. Still, it’s not hard to see the team get a little anxious about the future and the raw talent that Allen has makes this a fascinating pick. He can be groomed to be the successor behind Rivers and then transition into the starting role in 2020 when they move into the new stadium (in addition to providing injury insurance).
15. Dallas Cowboys — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Jerry Jones can’t contain himself at the good luck he has when seeing Smith drop into his lap. While Dallas could explore options at receiver this early, it figures to be a defense-heavy draft and the Georgia product checks off a lot of boxes for the team as somebody to play next to Sean Lee as well as provide a possible replacement long term for their oft-injured captain.
16. Oakland Raiders — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Defensive needs should be the priority but the Raiders, as they often do, just fall in love with what Barkley can do with the football and his potential impact on the offense. Who knows how long Marshawn Lynch will be around but the talent is just too good to pass up at this spot.
17. Detroit Lions — Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick have been solid options for a while running the football but the team has lacked a true bell-cow back for years. Guice would solve that right away and he’s no stranger to sharing carries if he needs to before ripping off big runs. This is a position that the Lions simply haven’t been able to get right but they do with this pick in order to take a little pressure off Matthew Stafford.
18. Buffalo Bills — Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma
You’ve got to be thinking that the two first-rounders the Bills have will be packaged to move up for a quarterback but they could answer that question through free agency. That still leaves a lot of areas where the team needs upgrades and adding an edge rusher as talented as Okoronkwo makes a lot of sense.
19. Green Bay Packers — Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
Ted Thompson could go after corner or offensive line help but Miller is perhaps the most polished receiver in the draft and would make Aaron Rodgers really happy given how good he is at running crisp routes and attacking the ball. Given the contracts of several of the team’s current wideouts, it seems like Miller could be a plug-and-play replacement for somebody like Randall Cobb.
20. Atlanta Falcons — Vita Vea, DL, Washington
A safety like Texas’ DeShon Elliott could also be an option but Dan Quinn will probably stop at nothing to ensure he drafts Vea once he sees what he can do in person. The numbers from 2017 don’t tell the whole story on the Huskies’ star but his blend of size, speed and strength is the rarest of the rare.
21. Buffalo Bills (From Kansas City) — Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Out goes Marcel Dareus and in comes his potential replacement in Hurst. It’s as simple as that as Buffalo looks to reload and get younger up front.
22. Baltimore Ravens — Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Baltimore needs help at every skill position on offense and the likely Heisman runner-up fits the bill in a lot of ways to solving the running back position for a team where it’s vitally important. He’s got home run stuff every time he touches the ball and general manager Ozzie Newsome will probably fall in love (pardon the pun) with the kid once he spends 10 minutes with the super smart Stanford tailback.
23. Seattle Seahawks — Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State
Seattle has been in search of offensive line help for what seems like decades. Rankin is the best available to help protect Russell Wilson but don’t be shocked if general manager John Schneider winds up moving back to pick up additional picks and still wind up with a guy like this.
24. Tennessee Titans — Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
It’s no secret that Tennessee needs to generate more of a pass rush and some aging veterans on the roster don’t help much. Enter Ferrell, who has been a monster on that Clemson defense and is still only scratching the surface at what he can do given his athleticism and length.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Assuming the Jaguars address the Blake Bortles situation by finding an upgrade in free agency, getting the new guy at quarterback another big weapon could be the move. Enter Kirk, who is a game-breaker at receiver and as a return man and could be a perfect replacement if Marqise Lee ends up departing.
26. Carolina Panthers — Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
The opportunity to add a pass rusher like Landry is just too irresistible at this spot. Though his senior season wasn’t what he wanted it to be due to injuries, Landry could have an immediate impact getting after the quarterback as a rookie.
27. Los Angeles Rams — Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa
We’ll see what happens with regards to the Trumaine Johnson situation but adding an option like Jackson could be the move either way. His style could fit well in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ system and you only need to flip on tape of the Ohio State game to see why.
28. New Orleans Saints — Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
The New Orleans defense has played a lot better than expected this year but upgrading the linebacking corps figures to be a huge priority going into the draft for the front office. Jefferson seems like a perfect fit from nearby Texas give his range in coverage and how well he fills gaps stopping the run.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers — Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State
Martavis Bryant seems like he’s ticketed out of town whenever the Steelers’ season is over and Ateman figures to be a pretty capable replacement with a lot better attitude.
30. Philadelphia Eagles — T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin
Joe Walker has been solid for the NFC favorites recently but finding some upgrades at linebacker could be the route the team takes with so much of the roster set to return next season. A Badgers linebacker went to a Keystone State team with the 30th pick last year and we could see something similar play out in 2018.
31. Minnesota Vikings — Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
Questions loom large at quarterback going forward but either way the Vikings should be looking to boost the offensive line play early and often come draft time. Hernandez could be the second-best guard available and is one of those draft sleepers that keep sneaking his way up into the first round.
32. New England Patriots — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Bill Belichick probably can’t believe that Ward fell this far to him but he’ll take it. Defensive line help could be in play (such as Stanford’s Harrison Phillips) but the team will quickly turn in the card to grab the Buckeyes corner and instantly upgrade the secondary.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.