The NFL draft is this week! After months of questions and speculation, we’ll have all the answers we crave in just a few days. We’ve been hearing leaks linking certain players to certain teams, but it is the season for window dressing, and organizations often try to send false signals so their rivals don’t know their true intentions. Let’s take a one final stab at first round mock, and this one will follow a much different trajectory then my previous two.
1) Cleveland Browns – RB Saquon Barkley (Penn State)
It may seem unfathomable that Cleveland would pass on a QB #1 overall, but in my opinion this is going to be a bold strategic play. The Browns own the first and fourth pick in the first round, and I believe their master plan was to land their QB of the future with the top pick, and add the draft’s biggest playmaker, Barkley, at 4. That doesn’t appear to be possible now, as we’ve been now hearing rumblings for weeks about how much the Giants love Barkley, and with him potentially going to the Meadowlands at #2, Cleveland may decide to just take him off the board from the get-go. And they’ll likely still be able to get the QB they want just a couple picks later. Read on.
2) New York Giants – QB Sam Darnold (USC)
I’ve been saying it for a month, but the Giants really are the team that will have the biggest impact on what happens the rest of the night. This pick basically comes down to if the Giants want to take a QB or not. If the answer to that question is yes, we’ve heard plenty of buzz about how Darnold is the one they most prefer. If the answer is no, they’ll have their pick between at minimum two of Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, or Quentin Nelson. I personally feel Nelson, the guard from Notre Dame, is the best fit for this team, and leaks have also been coming out for weeks that Barkley would be the pick if he’s available. If the Browns do take the Penn State running back ahead of them, passing on Darnold may just prove too hard to do, and the team will welcome their successor to Eli Manning to the Big Apple.
3) New York Jets – QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
This is a pick I’m going to have to see to believe, but at this point there’s been too much written about it to just discount the idea. According to multiple reports, Mayfield is the QB New York is in love with, and while I personally feel he’s easily the 4th best QB in the draft, and that his personality may not be a hit in the biggest media market in the world, this marriage looks almost inevitable unless the Jets leave the Heisman trophy winner at the altar.
4) Cleveland Browns –QB Josh Allen (Wyoming)
I’d thought Darnold was the man for Cleveland all throughout this process, but comments made by Browns’ GM John Dorsey this week certainly made you think twice about that theory. The gist of Dorsey’s media session was how valuable hand size is to play QB in the NFL, particularly in a cold weather city. Allen has the biggest hands of any of QB’s in this years’ class and he’s also got a cannon of an arm. If he is the signal caller Cleveland desires, taking Barkley first and him 4th is probably the only way they secure their dream draft combo.
5) Denver Broncos- DB Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)
Similarly to the Giants pick, Denver’s decision will have a profound impact on the rest of the night. Also similarly to the Giants, it comes down to QB or no QB. We’ve been unable to get a strong sense of what exactly their intentions are, but to me this is basically going to be UCLA’s QB Josh Rosen, or Fitzpatrick, who I believe would be the better and safer selection.
6) Indianapolis Colts- DE Bradley Chubb (N.C. State)
In my previous version of a mock draft I had the Colts trading out of this pick, and while that is still an option, the only way I see them doing it is if Chubb is off the board. Indianapolis has made their affinity for Chubb no secret, and they’ll assuredly take him at #6 if they can.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Denzel Ward (Ohio State)
A lot of draft boards have recently placed Ward ahead of Minkah Fitzpatrick in terms of secondary prospects, and the Bucs, desperate for help on the back end of their defense, will be thrilled to add him.
8) Chicago Bears – OG Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame)
In my first mock I had Chicago taking the talented linebacker Tremaine Edmunds with Nelson already off the board, but after placing the Notre Dame guard in the Windy City in my second version, I’m doing it a second consecutive time here. The Bears do need help at linebacker, but I’ve been saying Nelson is the best overall player in this draft for two months, and it will be an absolute steal for Chicago at #8.
9) San Francisco 49ers – S Derwin James (Florida State)
James has been my pick for the 49ers all along, and nothing is changing here. The playmaker takes his talents to the Bay.
10) Oakland Raiders – LB Roquan Smith (Georgia)
Just like with James and the Niners, Smith has been my unanimous choice for the team on the other side of the Bay Area three times, and it would be incredibly surprising for me if anything changed on draft day.
11) Arizona Cardinals (from Miami Dolphins) QB Josh Rosen (UCLA)
Here comes an absolutely fascinating point in the first round. If the draft has developed the way I’ve laid out this time, the Dolphins would find themselves in an unbelievably difficult situation here. In my first mock draft I had them taking Josh Rosen themselves, but in my second one I had DT Vita Vea heading to South Beach to plug the giant hole left behind when the team cut Ndamukong Suh just a few weeks ago. The issue facing Miami here will be if they decide to pass on Rosen, they know their arch rivals in Buffalo will pick him with the very next pick, and the UCLA QB could potentially haunt them for years to come, leaving the Dolphins open for immense criticism. In the end, I think Miami decides Vea is their guy, and they’ll get creative to attempt to land him, and prevent Rosen from heading to Buffalo. By making this swap with the QB desperate Cardinals, the Dolphins assure themselves of accomplishing the latter, and then they’ll cross their fingers Vea is still there at 15.
12) Buffalo Bills – LB Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech)
In this scenario the Bills and their fans would be absolutely devastated. For this draft to be successful for Buffalo they simply have to come away with one of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, or Baker Mayfield, but it’s easy to find a way they fail to land any of them. If this is the case on Thursday night the Bills will take the highest player on their board, and potentially make a reach pick for a QB with their second first rounder, #22.
13) Washington Redskins- CB Mike Hughes (Central Florida)
I went with CB Josh Jackson in the first mock draft, but Hughes in the 2nd, and nothing has changed since then. I like the former Central Florida DB in DC.
14) Green Bay Packers –DE Marcus Davenport (UTSA)
Davenport has long been linked to Green Bay, and let’s look for the Packers to make it official on Thursday.
15) Miami Dolphins (From Arizona Cardinals) –DT Vita Vea (Washington)
Miami doesn’t get burned by trading back. Still get their man at #15.
16) Baltimore Ravens –WR Calvin Ridley (Alabama)
This may be one of the easiest picks of the draft to stick with. Baltimore desperately needs more weapons for veteran QB Joe Flacco, and Ridley is the best WR in the draft. It’s a slam dunk.
17) Los Angeles Chargers –OT Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)
No changes here, Phillip Rivers gets a new blind side protector.
18) Seattle Seahawks –OG Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)
Seattle obviously needs to improve their ability to protect Russell Wilson, and in particular the interior of their line has been a problem. Sticking with them taking the former Bulldog, Wynn, to attempt to rectify that issue.
19) Dallas Cowboys – WR D.J. Moore (Maryland)
In my last mock I had the Cowboys taking Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, and in all honesty they still might. I personally believe Dallas has enough at receiver to win games right now, but the same can’t be said about linebacker where Vander Esch would be a day one starter. In the end though, following Dez Bryant’s much discussed release, I believe the Jones family just won’t be able to pass on Moore in hopes he can become their next decade long #1 receiver.
20) Detroit Lions- OT Orlando Brown (Oklahoma)
Detroit is a tough team to analyze in this draft as they could go several different positions, but I’m sticking to my selection from the last time, Orlando Brown, who can help the Lions right away in both run and pass blocking.
21) Cincinnati Bengals –OG Will Hernandez (UTEP)
Three mock drafts, and three times I’ve had the Bengals taking Will Hernandez at #21. Don’t let me down Cincinnati.
22) Buffalo Bills –QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
Everyone knows the Bills are desperate for a QB, and while Jackson is far from their first choice, particularly because of how similar he is to the departed Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo will have to take him here and hope the fans don’t riot too much.
23) Los Angeles Rams –LB Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State)
I started with the Rams taking Vander Esch in my first mock draft, and in the second I had him off the board to Dallas at #19. In this scenario he is still available, so I’m circling back with Los Angeles adding the talented tackling machine to help fill the hole left behind by the traded away Alec Ogletree.
24) Carolina Panthers- CB Josh Jackson (Iowa)
Carolina needs help on the outside on both sides of the ball, and while it is obviously possible they take a receiver, I’m having a late hunch they’ll take the edgy Jackson in hopes he can become their next version of Josh Norman.
25) Tennessee Titans –DE Harold Landry (Boston College)
Similarly to the Bills and Leighton Vander Esch, I had Tennessee taking Landry originally, had him off the board in the second mock, but with him still here this time, I love the former BC Eagle to Nashville.
26) Atlanta Falcons- DT Da’Ron Payne (Alabama)
The Falcons adore Da’Ron Payne and they’ll be devastated if he isn’t available with this pick. They will trade up to land him if it is necessary and feasible.
27) New Orleans Saints –TE Mark Andrews (Oklahoma)
The Saints are taking a tight end in the first round, that much we know. Or at least we’re pretty sure of. You could honestly convince me that any of Hayden Hurst, Mike Gesicki, or Dallas Goedert could be the pick over Andrews here, but I’m sticking with the former Oklahoma Sooner to be the selection, in hopes he can become a modern version of the connection Drew Brees had with Jimmy Graham.
28) Pittsburgh Steelers- LB Raashan Evans (Alabama)
In the two previous mocks I had Pittsburgh taking Louisville QB Lamar Jackson in an attempt to add a talented player to their QB room while simultaneously beginning to develop Ben Roethlisberger’s successor. With Jackson not available this time though, the Steelers take Evans, in an effort to begin filling the void Ryan Shazier’s devastating injury left on defense.
29) Jacksonville Jaguars –WR Courtland Sutton (SMU)
Sutton has the pick here for me all along, and nothing has changed. Done deal.
30) Minnesota Vikings- OT Connor Williams (Texas)
Another pick I’m making for the 3rd time, I love the Vikings adding Williams here to help protect prized offseason addition Kirk Cousins.
31) New England Patriots-QB Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)
When the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers in the middle of last season, it became obvious Bill Bellichick was going to be looking for a new QB to groom to succeed Tom Brady in this year’s draft. Taking Rudolph this high may be a bit of a stretch, but he almost assuredly would not be available when they make their 2nd round selection, and for that reason I have him heading to Foxborough.
32) Philadelphia Eagles- TE Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State)
Still love Goedert to Philly to help replace the departed Brent Celek and Trey Burton.