Will Cleveland finally find its next franchise quarterback in this draft?
While the world has been focused on the lead in to Super Bowl LII, the rest of the league has been firmly zeroed in on the upcoming NFL draft with the conclusion of the Senior Bowl down in Mobile, Alabama. It won’t be long before the calendar says it’s time to head to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine either and things seem to be settling down on the coaching news front as teams far and wide get everything settled for draft season to truly enter the next phase.
Taking into account everything from team needs to potential free agent signings, here’s a look at how picks 1-32 could play out at AT&T Stadium this spring.
1. Cleveland Browns — Sam Darnold, QB, USC
GM John Dorsey will thoroughly evaluate every quarterback in the draft before settling in on Darnold, who has all the tools to be a Pro Bowler at the position. With the team likely bringing in a veteran at the position, the USC product will have plenty of time to learn from Hue Jackson as a rookie in a manner not unlike the last Trojan to go No. 1 in Carson Palmer.
2. New York Giants — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Picking this high offers the Giants a rare opportunity to draft a QB of the future but the front office makes the decision that this team can still win now. That includes drafting the highest-graded offensive player available in Barkley (above, right), who is a dynamic threat out of the backfield and ticks off all the boxes you’re looking for when you want to boost the run game as well as the pass game.
3. Indianapolis Colts — Bradley Chubb, DL, NC State
With enough quarterbacks still on the board, chances are high that the new Colts brain trust pulls a Bill Belichick and trades back to add more picks. If Indy stays put though, it’s going to be hard to pass up the best defensive player in the draft in Chubb, who will help provide a pass rush to a team that desperately needs one and provide a young building block in the trenches for the team.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
The Browns go with the best player left on their board and that just so happens to be Fitzpatrick, a jack-of-all-trades who could fill a spot at safety next to last year’s first-rounder in Jabrill Peppers or slot in at corner, becoming especially dangerous as the team’s option in the nickel against pass-happy offenses.
5. Denver Broncos — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
John Elway and the Broncos coaching staff got a long look at Mayfield (right) as his coach at the Senior Bowl and are probably pretty comfortable with everything about the Heisman Trophy winner on and off the field as a result. He can jump in right away as a starter and his toughness will win over a lot of fans early on in the Mile High City.
6. New York Jets — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The Jets may entertain trading up in order to ensure they can get a signal-caller the caliber of Rosen, as he can be a day one starter for the team and the face of the franchise in short order. He will have no issues handling the New York media spotlight and can keep the team’s momentum going after a better than expected 2017 campaign.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Marcus Davenport, DL, UTSA
It’s an understatement to say that the Bucs need an edge rusher and they find one in one of the draft’s biggest risers in Davenport. Though he’s a small-school kid who will have to transition to playing with his hand in the ground more, he has everything you look for in terms of height/weight/speed and tremendous upside. Being mentored by Gerald McCoy will be a big plus for Davenport landing in Tampa too.
8. Chicago Bears — Denzel Ward, DB, Ohio State
The team can find Mitchell Trubisky some weapons at wide receiver through free agency and in later rounds but finding a corner to replace one (or both) of Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller is pressing. Ward doesn’t have the height that some may want but he’s aggressive and does an excellent job in both press and off coverage. He’ll slide in and earn playing time early, possibly as a rookie starter in Chicago.
9. Oakland Raiders — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Edmunds (right) is going to blow up at the NFL Scouting Combine given how he can move at that size, which is a good way to get on the radar of one Jon Gruden. He’s still extremely young so his upside is off the charts and he could be the sideline-to-sideline guy that the Raiders are looking for to help shore up their defense.
10. San Francisco 49ers — Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame
It will be tempting to use this pick and grab somebody like Calvin Ridley but protecting Jimmy Garoppolo is as important as finding him better targets. Nelson might be the highest-graded guard to come out of college in decades and one of the more polished offensive linemen you’ll find. His toughness in the run game will further help the offense in paving the way for the team’s big backs too.
11. Miami Dolphins — Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
Kenyan Drake really flashed down the stretch for the team but there’s still a big need at running back going forward for an offense that will be in transition in more ways than one. Jones can run between the tackles well and has the kind of speed that can take it to the house as well. He is not a liability in the passing game like others and the home run threat he brings is too much for the team to ignore.
12. Cincinnati Bengals — Connor Williams, OL, Texas
The Bengals are going to get linked to every offensive lineman available between now and the actual time the team goes on the clock — rightfully so given how the unit struggled and what they have to replace going forward. This year’s tackle class isn’t quite as good as some in recent memory but Williams has the size and strength to fill a spot early for the team.
13. Washington Redskins — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Zach Brown seems like he’ll be fully exploring free agency so the team needs a rangy linebacker who can go sideline-to-sideline to help contain some of the offenses Washington sees on a regular basis in the NFC East. Smith might have been the best player in the recent College Football Playoff and would fit in well given his instincts he’s shown so far.
14. Green Bay Packers — Derwin James, DB, Florida State
Morgan Burnett could find a new home in free agency and James could be a ready-made replacement for him if they don’t want to make him the nickel corner right away. It’s possible the team could also see the Seminoles star being a hybrid linebacker too but even with front office shakeup, the Green Bay strategy of grabbing the best player available remains the same and that’s James at No. 14.
15. Arizona Cardinals — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
New head coach Steve Wilks’ biggest recruiting job this offseason will be on Larry Fitzgerald but no matter what the franchise cornerstone decides to do, it’s time to start planning for a successor at the position and there’s one perfectly suited in Ridley (right). The team could address the quarterback position later in the draft or through free agency but they would be wise not to miss an opportunity to grab a route runner like this.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Breshad Perriman has been a disappointment since being drafted in the first round three years ago and he could be cut in a complete re-tooling of the Ravens’ receiving corps this year. While a tight end like Hayden Hurst could also fill a need, Sutton has all the measurables to lineup on the outside and make plays as a reliable target that can pull down passes from Joe Flacco.
17. Los Angeles Chargers — Orlando Brown, OL, Oklahoma
The team still has to address what happens after Philip Rivers retires at quarterback but as their second half surge showed, this is still a team capable of competing to win right now. Brown could be plugged in at right tackle to boost a decent unit, helping set the edge for Melvin Gordon while also keeping Rivers more upright.
18. Seattle Seahawks — Mike McGlinchey, OL, Notre Dame
McGlinchey was considered a first-rounder after the season he had for the Irish at left tackle but he would be a better fit early in his career at right tackle, which just so happens to be where the Seahawks have a bit of an opening. That would allow new line coach Mike Solari to kick Germain Ifedi back to right guard and settle things down in front of Russell Wilson.
19. Dallas Cowboys — Vita Vea, DL, Washington
Jerry Jones may very well have to trade up in order to ensure he lands a talent like Vea, who is absolutely massive but has the athleticism of a much slimmer defensive lineman. If the Cowobys can plug him in the middle and franchise (or sign long term) DeMarcus Lawrence, they would be pretty nasty along the defensive line after a few years of not getting much push up front.
20. Detroit Lions — James Daniels, OL, Iowa
Toughness and versatility seems to be a requirement to get picked by general manager Bob Quinn and to play for somebody like future head coach Matt Patricia. Daniels might be the top center prospect available in the draft but given how well he blocks and how athletic he is, he can slot in at left guard if the team needs him to early on.
21. Buffalo Bills — Maurice Hurst, DL, Michigan
After surprisingly trading away Marcell Dareus last year, the Bills will no doubt be on the hunt for a replacement in the draft. Hurst will be another big body in the middle of the defense but his ability to get up field with such explosiveness will really set him apart and make him an impact player early on.
22. Buffalo Bills — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The Bills landed this pick from Kansas City, who used their pick last year to select a raw but super talented quarterback to be the future of the franchise. Fittingly, the Bills do the same in landing Allen (right), who certainly needs to work on his accuracy but has all the physical tools to be the guy under center in 2019 and beyond.
23. Los Angeles Rams — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
The Rams luck out to be in position to grab somebody like Jackson, who is super smooth as a corner covering down field. He’s extremely smart and might have the best ball skills out of this entire class of defensive backs the ways he tracks down the football and takes it the other way.
24. Carolina Panthers — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Cam Newton needs weapons and Kirk fits the bill to a T as perhaps the most polished wideout in the draft. Not only will he be a great route runner that will be an impact player from Week 1 but he’ll team up with Christian McCaffrey to give the Panthers the best return unit in the league.
25. Tennessee Titans — Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Delanie Walker was fantastic this past season but he’s getting up there in age. Hurst will provide another safety valve for Marcus Mariota in the passing game and the offense could use his skill set to add more some creative ways to get him the football.
26. Atlanta Falcons — Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
Payne just won a national title in the Falcons’ home stadium by disrupting multiple running lanes and applying pressure to the quarterback in the face of double-teams. Something says he could do more of the same in Atlanta going forward.
27. New Orleans Saints — Arden Key, LB, LSU
The Saints have been looking to find somebody to complement Cameron Jordan and they might not have to go far to find somebody to fill that role with Key (right) playing in nearby Baton Rouge. While he has all the physical tools in the world to be a top-tier pass rusher in the league, New Orleans will have to make sure he’s healthy and focused enough of landing in this spot.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers — Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
The team has to be tired of all the Le’Veon Bell contract talk that seems to be a distraction throughout the regular and offseason. Drafting Michel would be a nice insurance policy on their star back going forward but he also would make for a heck of a complement as a guy who can hit a home run between the tackles as well as be a threat out of the backfield on pass plays.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars — James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
If Marqise Lee departs in free agency, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Jaguars to replace him by adding another Biletnikoff Award winner from the state of Oklahoma who can run very fast and is a better route runner than people give him credit for.
30. Minnesota Vikings — Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia
Outside of figuring out the quarterback spot, upgrading the offensive line figures to be one of the areas the Vikings look to upgrade. Wynn is all but assuredly going to kick inside to play guard and he could be a starter right away as a rookie who develops into an All-Pro down the road with how well he handles rushers of all shapes, sizes and speeds.
31. Philadelphia Eagles — Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The Eagles have survived several injuries at linebacker yet still made it to the Super Bowl thanks to the play of Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham, who have covered up for the loss of several guys inside. While one of those two might be gone in 2018, finding a guy who can cover tight ends as well as close off running lanes in the middle is going to be a big priority and the surprisingly athletic Vander Esch fits that bill well.
32. New England Patriots — Isaiah Oliver, DB, Colorado
Just about everybody is pegging the Super Bowl as the farewell to Pats corner Malcolm Butler, who will draw plenty of interest in free agency. Oliver seems like just the kind of under-the-radar pick that Bill Belichick could use as a replacement given how well the former Buffalo standout mirrors wideouts and how comfortable he is in a mix of coverage schemes.
*Picks 1-30 are set with the exception of Nos. 9 and 10. Oakland and San Francisco will flip a coin to break the tie. The winner of Super Bowl LII will pick last (No. 32) and the runner-up will receive the 31st 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.