We may be in the midst of March Madness but the NFL takes a back seat to nobody when it comes to the wild week of free agency and the opening of the new league year. The player movement has been eye-opening across the entire NFL and the result has led to some big shakeups for many teams’ draft boards — to say nothing of a major trade in the top 10.
Taking into account everything from team needs to free agent signings, here’s a look at how picks 1-32 could play out at AT&T Stadium in April.
1. Cleveland Browns — Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The trade for Tyrod Taylor allows the team to draft a quarterback knowing he won’t be thrown into the fire. Despite all the Josh Allen talk and the stock arrow pointing upwards on Josh Rosen, Darnold remains the top signal-caller on most draft boards and seems like he’s still the guy new Browns general manager John Dorsey is targeting atop the draft.
2. New York Giants — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
It will be mighty tempting for new general manager Dave Gettleman to pair prized free agent left tackle Nate Solder with the best guard in the draft in Quenton Nelson. Still, the fan base will clamor for the best player in the draft and somebody who can still have a huge impact short and long term for the franchise. This is a team making moves to win now and Barkley can help that happen in New York.
3. New York Jets (from Indianapolis) — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
That sure seemed like a lot of picks to give up in order to swap spots with the Colts but the front office is not going to pass on the potential to get the long-term quarterback of the future. Both Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater will allow for a redshirt year but it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Jets draft Rosen and he plays sooner rather than later.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) — Bradley Chubb, DL, NC State
That big contract handed out to offensive tackle Chris Hubbard seems like it would rule out using this kind of pick on Quenton Nelson but don’t completely rule it out. A trade down seems like a big possibility (hello again Buffalo?) but if the Browns stay put they can nab the best pass rusher available and have Chubb form an envious young tandem with Myles Garrett.
5. Denver Broncos — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Another team that could move down, corner Denzel Ward also may be in play for the Broncos here after the departure of Aqib Talib. Fitzpatrick (right) is still the most polished defensive back in the draft though and his versatility will allow him to float all over the back end in a division with some strong-armed quarterbacks.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from New York Jets) — Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
The lack of splashy additions in free agency shows that general manager Chris Ballard is going to build this team slowly but surely. That starts up front and landing the best offensive lineman in the draft is a good start for a team that has not protected Andrew Luck at all since he arrived in town. Plus, a Notre Dame kid making the trip down to Indy doesn’t hurt either.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward seems like the top guy in the draft in terms of being a pure cornerback and while the Bucs did bring back Brent Grimes, this addition could allow the team to have a nice young combo with former first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves. Marcus Davenport also will get a look if the team prioritizes a pass rusher.
8. Chicago Bears — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
General manager Ryan Pace has added weapons on offense through free agency and he can still find some bargains later on in the draft so addressing the defense seems like priority No. 1 in the first round. Edmunds might have the highest upside of any defender available and would form quite the tandem opposite Leonard Floyd.
9. San Francisco 49ers* — Vita Vea, DL, Washington
General manager John Lynch can go a number of different directions with this pick but Vea might be, literally, too big of a player to pass up. He could solidify an already solid defensive line with another impact player out of the Pac-12 and free up Reuben Foster even more.
10. Oakland Raiders — Derwin James, DB, Florida State
Jon Gruden may be known as an offensive mind but even he knows the Raiders’ secondary needs a lot of work if they want to compete in 2018. Enter James, who can line up all over the field and might be a Week 1 starter at nearly any spot in the back four. Plus the former FSU star has the perfect attitude for a team like Oakland.
11. Miami Dolphins — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
This just makes too much sense as the franchise would love the buzz that comes from landing the Heisman winner as well as finding the long-term replacement for Ryan Tannehill. Mayfield won’t have to play right away but he’s got the attitude and arm to fit in well with Adam Gase and the offense.
12. Buffalo Bills (from Cincinnati) — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Let’s face it, nobody has declared they’re going after a quarterback more than the teams in New York state and especially so with the aggressive move by the Bills to move into the top 12. They may not be done yet but Allen (right) has prototypical size and mobility plus the arm strength to make it work in the swirling winds of Buffalo. AJ McCarron will allow him to take his time to develop before eventually being the new face of the franchise.
13. Washington Redskins — Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
Jonathan Allen has already been campaigning for the team to add another Crimson Tide player along the line and Payne would check off boxes in terms of filling a big need up front. He’ll be good right away against the run in a division where that is a priority to stop and can develop into a nice pass rusher down the road.
14. Green Bay Packers — Marcus Davenport, DL, UTSA
While Davenport is a little raw, he’s got a ton of upside off the edge. Muhammad Wilkerson signed a short-term deal so the UTSA product could eventually take over there or be a potential long-term replacement for Nick Perry as well.
15. Arizona Cardinals — Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
Sam Bradford may have just been signed but he’s both injury-prone and on a shorter deal. While the team has needs all over the board, Rudolph probably won’t be available when the team picks in the second round and his strong arm could be a great fit in the desert down the road.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Good things come to those who wait as the Ravens have another top talent land in their laps in the middle of the first round. Though adding more pieces on offense will be a priority this draft, the front office won’t be able to pass up a player like Smith (right), who can provide sideline-to-sideline coverage and add to an already stout defense.
17. Los Angeles Chargers — Will Hernandez, OL, UTEP
The Chargers have quietly turned a weakness into a strength the past two years and landing center Mike Pouncey further solidifies the interior of the line. Matt Slauson seems like he won’t return as a free agent so Hernandez could not only provide a Week 1 starter but a quality young player to build around up front.
18. Seattle Seahawks — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
The Legion of Boom is no longer and the rebuilding Seahawks have needs all over but Alexander has just the kind of instincts and length to get the Seattle front office enamored with him. While he might not be an immediate replacement for Richard Sherman, he’ll certainly be viewed as one down the road and his ability to press makes him a great fit in the Pacific Northwest.
19. Dallas Cowboys — Connor Williams, OL, Texas
Jerry Jones would love to make a splash pick in front of the home fans like adding Calvin Ridley to the team but he could get talked out of that by making a prudent choice in Longhorn Connor Williams. One of the top tackles available, he could fortify the league’s top unit at right tackle and allow La’El Collins to slide to left guard (while providing some insurance for Tyron Smith’s back too).
20. Detroit Lions — Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
It’s no secret that new head coach Matt Patricia needs some help in the trenches and Bryan could contribute early on in the middle of the defense to help take some pressure off the recently tagged Ezekiel Ansah. The former Gator still is just scratching the surface of what he can do athletically and would be a nice infusion of youth up front for Detroit.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Buffalo) — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
The team did help solidify their linebacking corps through free agency with Preston Brown but he’s only on a one-year deal and at some point the team will need to have somebody to turn to whenever Vontaze Burfict inevitably leaves the lineup (as in the four games he could be suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy). Evans can play all over the field and would provide flexibility as a rookie before becoming the guy at linebacker for the Bengals.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City) — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Crimson Tide go back-to-back in the draft and the Bills get the best wide receiver in this year’s class. Ridley (right) would not only be a nice complement to Kelvin Benjamin but also could allow the team’s new quarterback(s) to grow with the excellent route runner.
23. Los Angeles Rams — Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
It’s been a great offseason for veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and he gets another toy to play with in the athletic Broncos linebacker. He should be able to provide a bit of a pass rush out of the linebacking spot while also fitting into a variety of sub-packages as somebody who can cover tight ends.
24. Carolina Panthers — Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
The failed signing of Bashaud Breeland in free agency highlighted the dire need for help in the secondary and Hughes could be a Week 1 starter for the team given his coverage skills. The Panthers would know better than anybody about any off-the-field issues but the fluid corner has the potential to play all over in a variety of coverages early on in Carolina.
25. Tennessee Titans — Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
Landry seems like just the kind of gritty, productive edge rusher that new head coach Mike Vrabel would love to add to the defense. He won’t face the pressure of being needed as an immediate starter but could add to his moves by learning from veterans like Derrick Morgan or Brian Orakpo.
26. Atlanta Falcons — Billy Price, OL, Ohio State
This is a deep draft for interior defensive linemen so finding a Dontari Poe replacement could happen on the second day. The Falcons do need to upgrade the interior line and Price could slot in as a rookie starter at guard while providing a little insurance in case Alex Mack opts out after this season.
27. New Orleans Saints — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
It wouldn’t take long for Kirk to get on the same page as Drew Brees and the veteran quarterback will love the way the Aggies receiver runs precise routes. He would provide a terrific complement to Michael Thomas on the inside and boost the return game alongside Ted Ginn Jr.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers — Ronnie Harrison, DB, Alabama
It’s no secret that the Steelers will be looking to upgrade the secondary this offseason after that early playoff exit and Harrison fits the mold of what the team will look for at safety. While he can roam the back end well, it’s his ability to provide run support and enforce the middle of the field that the team will really enjoy in the tough AFC North.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
There’s no major pressing issue for the Jaguars to address with their first-rounder but trading up to find a replacement for middle linebacker Paul Posluszny remains on the table. There’s a bit of a question mark at right tackle though and McGlinchey would provide immediate depth while also looking like the eventual successor to Jermey Parnell.
30. Minnesota Vikings — Isaiah Wynn, OG, Georgia
After winning the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, the Vikings will no doubt be looking to protect their big investment by shoring up the offensive line in this draft. Wynn is all but assured of kicking inside to guard and it wouldn’t be surprising for him to be a Week 1 starter there given how well he moves.
31. New England Patriots — Brian O’Neill, OT, Pitt
O’Neill showed off his athleticism at the Scouting Combine and he could be an ideal replacement for the departed Nate Solder. He’ll tick off all the boxes in terms of size and movement for Bill Belichick and may be forced into the lineup quite early as a rookie given the team’s current options at either tackle spot.
32. Philadelphia Eagles — Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
The team was no doubt prepared for the loss of Trey Burton and could fill his spot with Hurst, who would add to an already potent offense that likes to attack the middle of the field. Some teams might be a little scared off by the former pro baseball player being a little older than most prospects but the Super Bowl champs will actually see that as a benefit for a guy who can contribute right away.
*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.