The draft kicks off on Thursday night, with one of the most loaded classes I’ve seen come through in years finally getting the opportunity to join the ranks of greats before them on the national stage. I’m sure you’ve seen countless mock drafts by now, but this one is going to be a little bit different- as I’m going to start from the bottom and work my way back towards the top, as well as through in my opinion on who each team should take in addition to who they will actually take. There’s bound to be some movement in the first ten picks, a few cries from a disappointed fanbase and certainly a harsh reaction towards Rodger Goodell walking up to the podium, but for now, here’s how I see things shaking out when the bell tolls:
- Oakland Raiders
Will pick…Marcus Davenport, defensive end, Texas-San Antonio
Don’t get me wrong, Davenport has serious upside- evident through his position as the fifth best defensive end behind the country on Pro Football Focus. His durability, missing only four snaps the entirety of last season, and his football intellect make him an extremely intriguing prospect for Oakland. They’re in desperate need for someone on the opposite side of Khalil Mack, a former defensive player of the year and one of the best at the position when he isn’t facing triple teams on every single down, and Davenport can provide that leverage. Despite the size of his school, he’s one of the more prepared players in this draft and I can’t see any reason why defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wouldn’t want to take him.
Should pick…Derwin James, safety, Florida State University
The only reason Davenport wouldn’t go here is because of…. well, Khalil Mack. Or maybe it has something to do with their terrible secondary. Oakland had one of the worst pass coverages in the league last season, finishing 26thin the category and allowing nearly 250 yards per outing. With the addition of James, a player who was projected to be one of the top players taken in mock drafts earlier this fall, I believe he can provide both the ball skills and coverage ability to bring consistency to the position for the Raiders. Pairing him with former first round pick Karl Joseph in the back end should give Mack more time to rush the passer this season and return to his award-winning numbers from years earlier- a scary sight for opposing quarterbacks.
9. San Francisco 49ers
Will pick…Roquan Smith, linebacker, Georgia
Rueben Smith. If this guy had his head on straight, this pick wouldn’t even be close to happening. With the news that a potential domestic assault conviction could be coming in the next couple months for Foster, San Francisco is once again hurting for depth at the inside linebacker position. Look for Smith, who registered 137 tackles on Georgia’s route to the national championship last season, to fill that empty void in the middle of the defense. He fits the mold of former Niners greats like Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman and would be a great choice here at number nine. Let’s hope the decision actually pays off this time.
Should pick…Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Alabama
I can hear the fantasy picks being made already, as the combination of Jimmy Garropolo at quarterback, Calvin Ridley at receiver and Kyle Shanahan at head coach is sure to make defensive coordinators out west tremble in fear for years to come. Ridley is the undisputed best receiver in this draft class, and I think it would be foolish for the Niners to pass up the talent he has at the spot. Unless you can give up this pick for Julio Jones (I love the rumor mill), John Lynch needs to make this move and give himself a fast, durable and Pro-Bowl caliber slot receiver for the next decade. With the likes of Marcus Peters and Aquib Talib joining the Rams this offseason, San Francisco will need all the offensive firepower they can get- and if anyone can put together the pieces, it’s certainly the genius chess master that is Shanahan.
8. Chicago Bears
Will pick… Denzel Ward, cornerback, Ohio State
The Bears overpaid for a relatively average cornerback in Kyle Fuller just a few weeks ago, matching an offer sheet handed down by the Green Bay Packers that I’m still thankful never came to fruition. They recognize that their needs on the defensive side of the ball outweigh the offense right now, and I can see defensive coordinator Vic Fangio making the steal of the draft all the way down at number eight. Ward is an incredible athlete, shooting up draft boards since workout started this offseason and thoroughly impressing a multitude of general managers across the league. He led a solid defensive effort during his time in Columbus, and I think would make a great (albeit stronger) athlete at the position than Fuller in Chicago.
Should pick… Quenton Nelson, offensive guard, Notre Dame
Someone needs to protect second year quarterback Mitch Trubisky in Chicago, and the blue blood prospect Nelson would be the ideal fit for molding a new, young core on the offensive line. With running back Jordan Howard emerging as a talented back last season and the addition of receiver Allen Robinson in March, Chicago seems poised to take the next step- but first needs to provide a very large security blanket in the trenches. Many analysts believe Nelson is the safest pick in the draft, and with the last few years full of flops in Chicago, it only makes sense that general manager Ryan Pace decides to pull the trigger on him. As long as they don’t take the second coming of Kevin White, Bears fans should breathe a sigh of relief.
7.Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will pick… Minkah Fitzpatrick, cornerback, Alabama
Fitzpatrick is a flat-out stud. I’ve gone back and forth on him and Ward for a few weeks now, but I just can’t find a way to move Fitzpatrick any lower than seven. He was an incredible leader for Nick Saban and the Tide, following in the footsteps of defensive backs like Landon Collins and Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, while also showcasing his immense talent at the safety position in his two seasons in Tuscaloosa. Tampa Bay wants to win right now; and in my opinion Fitzpatrick gives them the best opportunity to do such. He won’t be able to press massive receivers like Julio for fifty snaps per game, but his flexibility (playing six positions for the Tide) will give the Buccaneers the utility knife they desperately need on the back half of their defense.
Should pick…Minkah Fitzpatrick, cornerback, Alabama
This pick seems locked in to me. The only way I see any significant change would be a trade.
6. Indianapolis Colts (pick from New York Jets)
Should pick…Quenton Nelson, offensive guard, Notre Dame
Andrew Luck will (hopefully) be fully healthy for the duration of the season next year, and that means it’s time for general manager Chris Ballard to give him some help up front. If he’s available, look for Indianapolis to take the prospect with Hall of Fame potential at six. He’s already living in Indiana, went to Notre Dame and can shore up the holes that caused Luck’s lingering injuries over the past two seasons. Unless they decide to trade down with a team in search of a quarterback and pick up a few more picks, I think this would be the only logical decision for the Colts. Get your massive guard early on, then fill out skill positions in the next few rounds. Ballard has been saving pick for years now, and it looks like it’s time to use them.
Will pick…Quent0n Nelson, offensive guard, Notre Dame
Like Fitzpatrick, this deal (if the Giants or Browns don’t pull a quick one here) is virtually finished. I could see Buffalo trying to offer the Colts more picks in order to jump up six spots, or maybe Arizona hoping the likes of Rosen or Mayfield will fall a little bit- but for now I think this is a homerun for the Colts. Pair Nelson up with center Ryan Kelly, and they can run the ball just about anywhere. It should give Luck more time in the pocket and let him become the player we’ve all envisioned him being since he was drafted six seasons ago
5. Denver Broncos
Should pick…Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma
Paxton Lynch was a failure for Denver, there’s no denying that. Yet, I have faith that an organization led by one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time can find the right guy to lead the franchise towards the future- and I firmly believe that guy is Mayfield. He has some attitude issues and a bit of a cocky persona, but his poise in the pocket and his accuracy is undeniable. Sports analysts (not looking at you Colin Cowherd) think his off the field antics make him an undraftable prospect this high yet giving him weapons in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will allow him to grow into the formidable quarterback he is capable of becoming. Yes, I do understand that Denver just signed Case Keenum to a two-year contract; but as showcased in the NFC Championship game not all fairy tales can last forever. Baker would be a shocking yet interesting choice here at number five and I’d love to see Elway pull it off.
Will pick… Bradley Chubb, defensive end, North Carolina State
Bradley Chubb is without a doubt a solid choice at the defensive line position and pairing him together with Von Miller would be a crazy combination for opposing quarterbacks for years to come. Chubb would bring an immediate impact to a Denver team that lost some pieces in the secondary this offseason and could help bring more press to a defense that took a slight step back from their historic numbers of seasons past. A lot of people have Denzel Ward going at this spot in order to make up for the absence of Aquib Talib, but the duo of Chris Harris and Bradley Robey are more than capable of stepping up to the challenge. Look for Chubb to wreak havoc when Miller draws a double team and prepare yourself for more sacks in the Mile High.
4. Cleveland Browns
Should pick…Bradley Chubb, defensive end, North Carolina State
A combination of last year’s first overall pick Myles Garrett and Chubb on both sides of the defensive line? It sounds like a franchise mode decision in Madden, but it could actually happen. Within three years, they would form one of the best defensive fronts in football and could certainly aid Cleveland in their quest to become relevant once again. I pray to the football gods that John Dorsey doesn’t decide to trade this pick away, as it would be just the splash they need in order to stabilize their roster. Chubb is a generational talent, and the Browns would be lucky to take him with the fourth overall pick- just a few picks after they draft a quarterback.
Will pick…Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State
He’s certainly a phenomenal athlete, and running backs taken in the first round over the past two seasons (Ezekiel Elliot and Leonard Fournette) have definitely proven their worth in turning around struggling franchises. The Browns don’t have much of an offensive line after losing left tackle Joe Thomas to retirement, but in Barkley’s case I don’t see it making much of a difference in just how effectively he will translate to professional football. He should provide firepower out of the backfield (in both the rushing and receiving game) and provide a multitude of options besides receivers Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon for the new rookie quarterback. Despite this class being extremely deep at the position, Barkley is a transcendent talent capable of being a star in the league for many seasons to follow. His selection will be a happy day for Browns fans (or what’s left of them) all over the nation and should translate to more wins in the near future.
3. New York Jets (trade from Indianapolis Colts)
Should pick…Josh Rosen, quarterback, UCLA
Rosen, despite many questions about his personality and intelligence as of late (how someone can be “too smart” to be successful in football?) is the logical choice here for the Jets. You can’t rely on the likes of Teddy Bridgewater and his reconstructed knee to lead your franchise out of the gutter, while also still needing to address several other issues within your roster. Rosen is the most pro-ready quarterback in this year’s group and poses as the most prepared individual to take the next step. Todd Bowles is a defensive minded head coach who needs to focus on other potential prospects in later rounds to flesh out his round, so taking a franchise quarterback right away seems like the best idea moving forward. They gave up two picks to Indianapolis to get up to number three; and quarterback is the only thing they had in mind while doing it.
Will pick…Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma
Death, taxes and the New York Jets making terrible decisions. It’s a tale as old as time. This is one of the few picks in my mock draft that I truly hate but can’t seem to see being avoidable. According to multiple reports, the Jets love Baker. They think his personality and style will easily mesh with the big city atmosphere of New York, while the west coast flair of Rosen may not work very well with the media markets over on the east coast. Not only am I concerned of Mayfield’s ability to handle playing in New York (lots of police to run from), but I also don’t think he has the arm strength to be successful with receivers like Robbie Anderson and newly added teammate Terrell Pryor. I’d rather see Josh Allen end up here, but unfortunately the Jets will stick to the status quo and make another regrettable decision with an early draft pick.
2. New York Giants
Should pick… trade with Buffalo (swap picks), Buffalo takes Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming
Yes! We have our first trade of the draft coming right away at the second pick; and it’s a logical decision that would certainly benefit both teams. Buffalo desperately needs a quarterback, since I feel like I could throw the ball better than Nathan Peterman, and the fact that AJ McCarron has done nothing to prove himself on the big stage. Allen, despite his small school and concerning completion percentage, has an unbelievable rocket arm- something that should fare well in the cold and blustery winds of Buffalo come December. His durability will be a big factor in this decision…and have I mentioned that he’s tall? New York gets to move down and (rightfully so) receives a few more picks in compensation for giving up the second spot. I firmly believe that they don’t want to anger Eli by drafting his successor yet and feel like gaining more players should help them return to their perennial Giants form. I have no clue who they’ll take with the twelfth overall pick, but I trust in general manager Dave Gettleman’s slow rebuilding.
Will pick…trade with Buffalo (swap picks), Buffalo takes Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming
This is a done deal to me. I can’t see anything else happening here except the potentiality of the Giants deciding to trade with another team searching for a quarterback (Arizona most likely). The odds of that happening feel slim, as I think Arizona will land Rosen later on in the first.
- Cleveland Browns
Should pick (and will pick) … Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC
This has been the subject of debate and speculation for months, with virtually every single analyst swapping who the Browns will select first overall on a near daily basis. To me, this move is exactly what the Browns need to do in order to turn around their franchise- and saw it coming since the day John Dorsey refused to leave Darnold’s workout despite heavy rain. Giving him two of the best receivers in the league should give him a great opportunity to grow into his role of franchise quarterback and providing him with Barkley in the backfield creates quite a problem for opposing defenses. Dorsey is a smart man, evidenced through his time with Green Bay, and I believe he has the right idea behind making the Browns not suck anymore. All of you Josh Allen lovers, Baker fanatics and even Rosen believers out there can forget about anyone else being taken, this is the guy whose name will be called first on Thursday evening on Dallas.