2018 NFL Mock Draft: First-Round Predictions (early January edition)

The first quarterback taken in next April's draft could be a surprise

The number of football games — college or pro — is quickly dwindling and it won’t be long before we hit that long, long stretch known as the offseason. While there won’t be any actual football between the lines when that day comes, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any football because the 2018 NFL Draft is just around the corner.

With the regular season out of the way in the NFL and the draft order mostly set though, it’s never too early for a mock draft given what we’ve seen this year. Taking into account some early declarations and make a few assumptions about others, here’s a look at how picks 1-32 could play out next spring.

Draft order* is based on current NFL standings though the end of the regular season and the current playoff picture.

1. Cleveland Browns — Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

John Dorsey really controls this draft and it goes without saying that he could address the team’s biggest need right away by drafting a signal-caller. While there will be plenty of talk about bigger names from this class, something says the big and strong-armed Rudolph will be in the mix to go at the top.

2. New York Giants — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Eli Manning may or may not be back in New York but there seems like there’s little doubt that the franchise will be looking for his successor with a pick like this. New general manager Dave Gettleman may not want to pick a QB from this crop but Rosen (above, right) is the rare prospect that will get him on board with turning the card in early.

3. Indianapolis Colts — Quenton Nelson, OL, Notre Dame

Adding an explosive playmaker like Saquon Barkley would be fun to see but protecting Andrew Luck remains priority No. 1 for the Colts and their new coaching staff. Nelson is a plug-and-play Pro Bowler who will shore up the interior and keep those opposing defensive lines away from the quarterback.

4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) — Bradley Chubb, DL, NC State

Chubb (right) could go to Cleveland with their first pick but he still finds his way to the lake. He’ll form quite the tandem with Myles Garrett and give the Browns a pretty good, young pass rush.

5. Denver Broncos — Sam Darnold, QB, USC

John Elway lucks out in several ways and finds his quarterback of the future. Darnold has his flaws that could push him from sure-fire No. 1 down the board a bit but Broncos fans won’t complain after getting the quarterback of the future to land in their lap.

6. New York Jets — Vita Vea, DL, Washington

Gang Green fans are going to flip out after seeing who gets taken a pick before this but they’ll enjoy landing one of the most athletic defensive linemen to roll through the draft in a long time to pair up with Leonard Williams for several years.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

The Bucs have been offense-heavy in the draft the past few years but they won’t be able to avoid going defense in 2018 and especially not with one of the most polished defensive backs in years just sitting there ready to be picked.

8. Chicago Bears — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

There’s been a very smart game plan for teams with young quarterbacks: draft a bunch of offensive talent to surround them. The Bears need to add a quality pass catcher more than anybody and Kirk fits the bill perfectly.

9. Oakland Raiders — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Pretty much a no-brainer for the Raiders to add the best running back available and give Derek Carr a new best friend in the backfield after the Marshawn Lynch experiment didn’t quite play out as many in the Bay had hoped. Barkley’s (right) versatility could make him a rookie of the year candidate from the start.

10. San Francisco — Orlando Brown, OL, Oklahoma

The Jimmy Garoppolo. era has gone better than anybody could have imagined but the team is going to need to protect their big investment and Brown will be a nice way of addressing that as a block of granite on the outside.

11. Miami Dolphins — Mike McGlinchey, OL, Notre Dame

Seems like the Dolphins have been trying to address their offensive line needs each and every draft. McGlinchey is more polished than anybody they’ve picked in a while.

12. Cincinnati Bengals — Connor Williams, OL, Texas

A regime change could alter the draft process for the Bengals but there’s no doubt that offensive line is an area to address early in the spring. Andy Dalton won’t mind this pick at all as the team likely re-tools up front.

13. Washington Redskins — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

The Kirk Cousins era is TBD but if he goes, this could be a team that may move up to select a signal-caller. As it is, staying put and making a splash by grabbing the electric Heisman Trophy winner seems like it is just the kind of move Dan Snyder will make.

14. Green Bay Packers — Roquan Smith, LB Georgia

The Packers sit tight and land one of the best defensive players available while also shoring up their linebacking corps.

15. Arizona Cardinals — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The retirement of head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer gives the Cardinals two questions that must be answered sooner rather than later. Allen is a bit of a project but he’s got all the physical tools and could benefit a ton from landing in the desert without the pressure to play on Day 1.

16. Baltimore Ravens — Maurice Hurst, DL, Michigan

Tons of places to go when GM Ozzie Newsome goes on the clock but picking the best interior defensive lineman available is a pretty sound strategy. Hurst seems perfectly suited to play in a bunch of AFC North games every season.

17. Los Angeles Chargers — Derwin James, DB, Florida State

James probably should have been off the board already but the terrific defensive back lands in a great spot out in Los Angeles for a team that desperately needs a player on the back end of his caliber.

18. Seattle Seahawks — Joshua Jackson, DB, Iowa

This could be the offseason where the Legion of Boom gets broken up and Jackson is the type of physical, ball-hawk corner that would thrive on head coach Pete Carroll’s defense as a replacement for one of the team’s big names.

19. Dallas Cowboys — Denzel Ward, DB, Ohio State

Orlando Scandrick is likely gone and adding more defensive back help will still be a priority for the Cowboys given some of the quarterbacks they face on a regular basis. Ward has as high an upside as anybody and could wind up playing regularly at AT&T Stadium despite skipping the Cotton Bowl.

20. Detroit Lions — Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

The Lions have been searching for a bell-cow back for ages and Guice might be the best they can draft to fill that role in a long time.

21. Buffalo Bills — Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma

After ending such an epic playoff drought, the Bills don’t want to be in a one-and-done situation making the postseason. The Sooners’ pass rusher looks like just the right fit of need, talent and pick.

22. Tennessee Titans — Arden Key, LB, LSU

The Titans’ linebackers are getting older and this team doesn’t quite have the pass rush it would like despite being pretty solid on that side of the ball. Key has top-five talent getting off the bus but could slide after a disappointing 2017 season with a lot of injuries.

23. Atlanta Falcons — James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

Imagine having to face Julio Jones on the outside and Washington (right) lining up in the slot next to him. Opposing defensive coordinators may pull their hair out while Matt Ryan does fist pumps.

24. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City) — Chukwuma Okorafor, OL, Western Michigan

Picking a quarterback could be an option depending on how the Tyrod Taylor question gets answered over the next few weeks but the team’s bonus pick in the first round would be better spent on somebody to protect whoever’s behind center and Okorafor is up to the task.

25. New Orleans Saints — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Talk about a perfect fit and not just when it comes to a smaller stature quarterback replacing another. Some folks might not like Mayfield’s attitude and moxie but Sean Payton will embrace it and love it.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars — Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma

The Sooners go back-to-back because the Jags need to find a tight end that can be a big factor in the passing game. Andrews won’t win any awards for his blocking but he’ll be a vertical threat and a QB’s best friend.

27. Carolina Panthers — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Cam Newton still needs some help at receiver and Ridley could be a match made in football heaven with his ability to run routes and threaten defenses. This duo could be so potent on the field that the former Auburn star could even learn to like somebody from the Tide.

28. Los Angeles Rams — Will Hernandez, OL, UTEP

Bringing in Andrew Whitworth was a move that paid off huge dividends for one of the biggest turnarounds in the league over in Los Angeles. The team could continue stocking the offensive line by grabbing one of the best guards in the country to keep opening things up for Todd Gurley and protecting Jared Goff.

29. Pittsburgh Steelers — Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

Jefferson has been one of the top linebackers in the country since he arrived on the 40 Acres and his athleticism will allow him to be flexible enough to stay on the field all the time in the NFL. The Steelers need to upgrade at this position in a big way this offseason and the Longhorns’ linebacker fits the bill.

30. Minnesota Vikings — Harrison Phillips, DL, Stanford

Phillips (right) could turn into a real steal given how versatile he is in the middle of a defense and that’s especially the case this late in the first round. Head coach Mike Zimmer loves him some Pac-12 defenders and might get another good one here.

31. Philadelphia Eagles — Dorian O’Daniel, LB, Clemson

O’Daniel has not gotten the press his defensive line does with the Tigers but he’s perfectly suited to playing in space in today’s NFL. His athleticism will be a big selling point once he gets to the Combine and he’d fill a big hole in that Eagles defense.

32. New England Patriots — Clelin Ferrell, DL, Clemson

Bill Belichick has had some pretty good defenses but has had issues finding a quality edge rusher. Ferrell fits the bill though and he can probably get a good recommendation about him from his old pal Nick Saban.

*Picks 1-20 are set with the exception of Nos. 9 and 10. Oakland and San Francisco will flip a coin to break the tie. Picks 21-32 will be determined as the playoffs progress culminating with the outcome of Super Bowl LII.

— 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.