The countdown has entered the final stages and the 2018 NFL Draft is finally ready to kick off in Dallas. After months of scouting, it’s time to make the draft board reality for every franchise and start turning in the card for the next step in filling out their roster for the upcoming season.
Taking into account everything from positional needs to free agent signings to the coaching staff, here’s a look at how picks 1-32* in the first round could play out at AT&T Stadium Thursday night.
1. Cleveland Browns — Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Darnold (above, right) has been the consensus top quarterback for nearly two years in this draft and there’s not been anything to change that. After an offseason full of talk, the Browns finally get their quarterback of the future and general manager John Dorsey makes the biggest step toward turning around the franchise.
2. New York Giants — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
The Nittany Lions star likely carries the top grade on just about every team’s board out there but it’s the Giants who will land him to add an instant starter for an offense on the rebound. Ownership might drive this selection a little but nobody in the building or among the fan base will complain.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis) — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The team thoroughly evaluated Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Rosen (right) knowing they could get one from that trio and is extremely happy to land the Bruins signal-caller. The Heisman winner will be given strong consideration here but ultimately it’s Rosen who’s the better fit in New York.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) — Bradley Chubb, DL, NC State
There will be a ton of interest in trading for this pick from teams that want Baker Mayfield and it wouldn’t even be surprising if the Colts extract something out of Denver to ensure that selection. By staying put however, the team gets the best defensive player in the draft and a truly top-notch tandem of edge rushers by adding Chubb to a defensive line that already boasts Myles Garrett.
5. Denver Broncos — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
By all indications, Mayfield won’t drop past the fifth pick (no matter if it’s Denver, Arizona or Buffalo). John Elway will listen to offers but will have no qualms grabbing the team’s long-term starter and enlivening the offense after he learns under Case Keenum.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from New York Jets) — Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
Denzel Ward will be given a strong look here as well (not to mention trading back again) but the Colts need a building block along the offensive line in the worst way and Nelson will be one of the highest graded players in the draft this year. It may not be sexy or above-average value to grab a guard this high but you can’t go wrong with a mauler in the middle to help the offense — and it doesn’t hurt he comes from up the road in Notre Dame either.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Derwin James, DB, Florida State
GM Jason Licht has no issue drafting a Seminole from down the road given his prior history in Tampa and this one will go a long ways toward shoring up that defense. James can play up in the box so he’s an instant starter in nickel packages at either corner or as a hybrid safety and just the kind of long-term leader the team needs on that side of the ball.
8. Chicago Bears — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
Maybe the best assistant hire of this coaching cycle was Matt Nagy grabbing the esteemed Harry Hiestand to coach the Bears’ offensive line. He turned out a number of top tackles at Notre Dame over the years and brings his latest protégé with him to the team because the current offensive line is a mess. McGlinchey can probably start on the right side protecting Mitchell Trubisky before flipping over.
9. San Francisco 49ers — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
John Lynch basically said Reuben Foster’s days are numbered and will be settled once the courts get done with him so this is obviously a position of need. Beyond that though, Smith (right) is a terrific sideline-to-sideline player that would be the choice anyway given his leadership qualities at the spot.
10. Oakland Raiders — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds might have the highest upside of any front seven player in this draft and would be a perfect fit to land in Oakland and be mentored by guys like Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
11. Miami Dolphins — Vita Vea, DL, Washington
It just makes too much sense to replace Ndamukong Suh with somebody who is just as big and athletic in the middle of the defense. Vea is still young and not quite as polished as Suh was coming out of college but his potential is similar.
12. Buffalo Bills (from Cincinnati) — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The team may very well need to go up and get Allen but the most polarizing prospect in the draft could very well be the guy in Buffalo. His arm and escapability give him the long-term upside the team needs and if anybody can bring him along, it’s two guys who saw Cam Newton every day up close as a youngster in GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott.
13. Washington Redskins — Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
When you play Eli Manning, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz twice a year, you’re going to need to rush the passer well and Davenport would instantly be able to provide some added juice for Washington in that area. The combination of losing Trent Murphy, Ryan Kerrigan getting older and Preston Smith entering a contract year means the UTSA product could be a long-term replacement off the edge too.
14. Green Bay Packers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
It would be a little surprising to see Fitzpatrick slip this far down but the Packers won’t complain about getting top-10 value here. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will love to have somebody with this kind of instincts and versatility.
15. Arizona Cardinals — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
They may trade up to grab a quarterback but it doesn’t seem like they’ll reach for a wideout or offensive lineman if they stay put. Ward is a top-10 talent so there’s excellent value here and he can be mentored by Patrick Peterson. Calvin Ridley might be a perfect Larry Fitzgerald replacement but he won’t be rated nearly as high as the Ohio State corner.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
The team has been increasingly linked to Heisman winner Lamar Jackson but GM Ozzie Newsome wants to get back to the playoffs a bit more than securing the long-term QB in his final year. Keep an eye out for TE Dallas Goedert as an option if the Ravens move back but Evans is somebody the team likes and Newsome wouldn’t mind adding yet another Crimson Tide guy to the roster.
17. Los Angeles Chargers — Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
The team has some top-notch pass rushers but could improve against the run. Enter Payne, who is as polished in that area as a defensive lineman can be in this draft and likely one of the last players to carry a first-round grade at this pick for the front office. It wouldn’t be shocking if this pick was flipped with the Ravens’ above in order to land Evans.
18. Seattle Seahawks — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
It’s no secret the team needs to replace Richard Sherman and start to rebuild the once vaunted secondary. Alexander has all the traits the coaching staff wants at the position and would have gone much higher had he been fully healthy last season. Instead he finds a great landing spot to develop.
19. Dallas Cowboys — Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
With the draft at JerryWorld, it would be surprising if the Cowboys stayed at No. 19 and didn’t try and make some big move up the board. If they stay put though, Vander Esch would fill a more pressing issue for the team at linebacker given Sean Lee’s injury history and the departure of Anthony Hitchens. The former Boise State star seems like a perfect fit in today’s NFL given all that he can do even if some teams might be scared off by a medical issue.
20. Detroit Lions — Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
The team added LeGarrette Blount to the roster but that’s a short-term move to boost one of the worst rushing attacks in the league. Guice will be able to establish himself as a starter relatively quickly, keeping the chains moving to take the pressure of the defense and Matthew Stafford.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo) — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The only thing interesting about the Bengals is watching A.J. Green do his thing and ownership may very well like to inject some life into the franchise by taking the Heisman winner from 90 minutes down the road. The coaching staff may not be over the moon about the decision but it would possibly buy them another season or two and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor used to be Chip Kelly’s quarterbacks coach in the league so he could put some packages in to utilize Jackson (right) this year.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City) — Harold Landry, DL, Boston College
Landry is much closer to the guy who put up 16.5 sacks as a junior than his injury-plagued 2017 campaign. The team can find offensive help in later rounds but could benefit from the instant pass rush that Landry provides as he fine tunes his skills into a potential Pro Bowler.
23. New England Patriots (from Los Angeles Rams) — Connor Williams, OL, Texas
Bill Belichick has a ton of needs and even with this additional first rounder from shipping Brandin Cooks out west, it wouldn’t be shocking if the team moved back to stockpile more picks. Williams could start at either tackle spot right away for the team and is getting overlooked after some injuries in his final season with the Longhorns.
24. Carolina Panthers — James Daniels, OL, Iowa
It will be tempting to snag a corner or Calvin Ridley with this pick but the value of Daniels is too hard to ignore. He’ll step into the departed Andrew Norwell’s shoes before eventually being the guy to replace Ryan Kalil at his more natural position at center.
25. Tennessee Titans — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Not a pressing need after spending a 2017 first-rounder on Corey Davis but finding a complement to him and Rishard Matthews would be a nice bonus for Marcus Mariota and you can’t argue with the value of landing Ridley in the bottom of the round. The offensive core is already pretty good and certainly a group that could get even better with the former Tide star benefiting from a very accurate quarterback.
26. Atlanta Falcons — Taven Bryan, DL, Florida
It’s a deep draft among interior defensive linemen but Bryan is just a tailor-made fit for Dan Quinn that the former Florida coach has no issue sprinting to turn in the card for this Gator.
27. New Orleans Saints — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
It’s clear that the team has a two-year window with Drew Brees at quarterback and this is a pick to maximize that and get back to the Super Bowl. Kirk might be the most polished receiver in this class and will provide a big boost over the middle of the field.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers — Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
This seems like a prime spot to trade out of the first round with a team still on the hunt for a quarterback. The Steelers will certainly be looking to shore up the secondary or grab some Le’Veon Bell insurance but Goedert (right) is an athletic option at tight end who could boost the passing game underneath in Big Ben’s final few years.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars — Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
The Jaguars are a team built on high-upside players and he has a chance to be the big physical guy on the outside. He won’t stretch defenses but he’ll be a reliable target for Blake Bortles and also is a good blocker in the run game as well.
30. Minnesota Vikings — Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP
He’s a little shorter than you would ideally like but would plug right into the starting lineup in Minnesota and help protect Kirk Cousins while also providing a big boost in the run game.
31. New England Patriots — Josh Jackson, DB, Iowa
Belichick only needs to call up Urban Meyer to find out just how good of a player Jackson is. He only has one year as a starter under his belt but his instincts are rare and he could be the answer at nickel for a team that needs to get younger on the back end.
32. Philadelphia Eagles — Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
This is the team’s lone top-100 pick in the draft so it seems like a sure thing they’ll move down and try to gather some more capital on day two. Miller will have a chance to provide some insurance at the tackle spot before eventually taking over for the aging Jason Peters.
*San Francisco won the coin toss with Oakland and will pick ninth. The Raiders have the 10th pick.
— 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.