The first mad-rush of free agency is complete, so we have a little better idea of what are the draft needs for all 32 NFL franchises. Things will still be happening in free agency over the next few weeks, but it seemed like a good time to break out my first mock draft of the season.
In this projection of the first round, I did not include any trades. I know there will be some, and I am fairly certain the Buffalo Bills will be involved in some way. That said, in my projection, they probably end up getting exactly what they want by not moving.
As for the Miami Dolphins, staying put at the number 11 position basically gave them a board full of defensive prospects, with several of those fitting exactly what the team needs.
And, with that intro, the Cleveland Browns are on the clock
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
I originally had the Browns selecting a quarterback here, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense for them to take Barkley, ensuring that they pick up the top runner in the Draft, then wait three picks to grab the quarterback, since one of the top prospects is guaranteed to still be on the board. Remember a few years ago when running back was so under-emphasized that there was discussion of whether a team should ever take a first-round running back? Now, we have one that could be selected first overall.
Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
The Giants have to figure out how to protect Eli Manning, even more than they need to find a replacement for Manning. Nelson as the top lineman in the Draft makes a ton of sense here.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Trade up to the third overall position only makes sense if you are going after a quarterback. Which one of the quarterbacks screams New York? Mayfield. We go with Mayfield as the first quarterback off the board.
4. Cleveland Browns
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
And then the run of quarterbacks begins. Following Mayfield, the Browns land the quarterback that they likely would have taken with the first overall selection.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Case Keenum will join the Broncos this year, but it does not seem like that is a longterm solution. He is locked in fairly well for two years, but grabbing Rosen now and letting him sit for a year - even as the “ready now” quarterback of the group - would allow him to develop and be ready if Keenum falters.
Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
Indianapolis is moving to a 4-3 defense, and they need to bolster their pass rush. Adding Chubb aids in that switch and accomplishes the increased pass rush.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
Chubb could be the Buccaneers’ top target, but with him off the board. adding secondary help would be a solid move. The Buccaneers could look to have Fitzpatrick play primarily at safety, but move him to cornerback in big-nickel packages, and he could ultimately become the corner replacement for Brent Grimes.
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
Offensive line was my first thought here, but Nelson is off the board. That leaves pass rusher as the most likely option for this pick, and Davenport, despite coming from UTSA, should be able to fill that role immediately.
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Richard Sherman helps the 49ers’ secondary, but they could use more. Grabbing a player like Ward, who can move inside to cover the slot but also has the skills to be an outside corner.
10. Oakland Raiders
Derwin James, S, Florida State
Linebacker seems like the Raiders’ top priority this year, but having James available becomes too tempting to ignore. He can grow into a true safety while providing immediate support to the linebackers as an in-the-box safety.
11. Miami Dolphins
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
At this point, the Dolphins basically have multiple options that could make sense. Smith gives the team a linebacker who should be plug-and-play from day one, and can cover tight ends. Edmunds and Vea are also options here, and any of the three would make for a great first-round selection for Miami.
12. Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The Bills are likely in the quarterback sweepstakes in this year’s Draft, and Darnold falling to them here with the 12th pick would be a perfect situation. They likely will need to trade up into the top ten to make sure they have a shot at one of the top passers, because there are teams later in the Draft who would likely look to jump up there if Allen - or any of the passers - start falling like this.
Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Washington needs to find a run-stuffer in the middle of their defense, someone who can plug holes and dominate. They could also use some pass rush ability up the middle of the line. Enter Vea, who has way too much talent and potential to still be on the board at this point, and fills everything the Redskins need in their first-round pick.
Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
The Packers continue to build their secondary with another first-round cornerback pick, in this case a raw Hughes who has all of the potential they could want in a defensive back. He was a big part in UCF’s undefeated season, and he will continue to carry his physicality into the NFL. He would also give the Packers a returner option.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Sam Bradford signed with the Cardinals this year, which likely means they have to find a quarterback of the future. There has been so much discussion of Jackson needing to move to wide receiver or that he is not NFL ready, both of which seem like ridiculous analysis. The Cardinals pick up a quarterback who should be able to step in if Bradford cannot go, but also a quarterback who could spend time on the bench learning.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
There are two positions that immediately come to mind when thinking of the Ravens and the Draft: tight end and linebacker. Both are needs this year, and Edmunds immediately fills one of those. He should be able to fit any linebacker role, providing flexibility to the Ravens’ defense.
Connor Williams, T, Texas
Adding an offensive tackle to upgrade the line and better protect Phillip Rivers is the most likely move for the Chargers. Los Angeles could look to move him inside, playing either center or guard. No matter where the Chargers choose to play him, Williams should upgrade the offensive line immediately.
18. Seattle Seahawks
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
The Legion of Boom has been dismantled in Seattle, with the Seahawks now needing to replace Richard Sherman. Alexander may end up being a nickel corner in the long run, but he has the physicality and the coverage skills for the Seahawks to push to the boundary and expect to see success. Injuries in 2017 are a concern, but if he is fully healthy, Alexander would be a good fit with the Seahawks.
19. Dallas Cowboys
Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
Payne is seen as a run-stuffing defensive tackle, but he is underappreciated as a pass rusher, and probably will continue to get better as he continues to develop. That could be exactly what the Cowboys want when they come up on the clock.
20. Detroit Lions
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Jackson did not have the greatest Combine performance, and he only has one year of starting experience, but he has good size and the potential to become a really good ball-hawking cornerback in the league.
Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
Cincinnati needs to address their offensive line, and look who is sitting perfectly on the board for them. Hernandez, according to NFL.com, compares to Richie Incognito - which is a pretty good comparison when you are considering interior offensive linemen.
22. Buffalo Bills
James Daniels, C, Iowa
This pick would not belong to the Bills if they were to make the trade up discussed earlier, but at this point, they would be able to fill their need at center after landing their franchise quarterback.
23. Los Angeles Rams
Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
Los Angeles adds a pass rusher who uses his speed and athleticism to get after opposing quarterbacks. He needs time at the NFL level to add strength and multiple rush moves, but he should be able to come in and have an impact immediately.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Panthers need to add to their receiving corps, and Ridley is about as NFL ready as a rookie receiver can be. He should come in and immediately become a target favorite for Cam Newton.
25. Tennessee Titans
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
If either of the two picks ahead of them in this mock are still on the board, those seem to be the right fit for the Titans. Hurst would give them an explosive defensive tackle who can penetrate through the middle of the line of scrimmage. His heart issues at the Combine will have to be cleared before the Draft.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Hurst would make sense for the Falcons, but he is now off the board. Instead, the Falcons look to create some separation for Julio Jones with the addition of Kirk, a solid possession type receiver coming out of the slot.
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
A quarterback could be in play here as the Saints look to find Drew Brees’ heir apparent, but they need to address their linebacker corps, and Evans is a bonus sitting here on the board.
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Le’Veon Bell’s contract/franchise tag will eventually come to a head, and the Steelers cannot look a gift-horse in the mouth with a potential work-horse running back sitting on the board just asking to be selected.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The Jaguars need to fill Paul Posluszny’s role following his retirement. A three-down linebacker, he may need some time to grow into an NFL body and role, but he should be able to serve as the middle linebacker for the Jaguars for the future.
Note: Previously, Rashaan Evans was projected to the Jaguars, making him selected twice in the mock. Re-looking the end of the mock draft, Vander Esch makes sense for the Jaguars, meaning no other picks changed.
Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
Kirk Cousins is moving over to the Vikings this year, so it is time to work to protect him. Wynn gives the Vikings a piece in that effort.
Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Nate Solder is with the Giants now, and Tom Brady needs to be protected.
Ronald Jones, RB, USC
Jay Ajayi is the lead man in the backfield in Philadelphia now, but they could need a complimentary back who can carry some of the load. Jones gives the Eagles exactly what they need to go with Ajayi.