— By Dane Brugler, The Sports Xchange —
After the underclassman deadline expired Monday, the next step of the NFL Draft process is to add about 100 underclassmen to this draft class. Then there is the scouting all-star circuit, followed by the Combine and a series of pro days and individual workouts.
Arguably the deepest position in this year’s draft class, cornerback, also is the most well-represented position in this mock draft scenario. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick is a near lock for a top-10 pick and Ohio State’s Denzel Ward shouldn’t have to wait much longer to hear his name.
The next three corners in this mock draft: Iowa’s Josh Jackson put himself on the first-round radar with his ball production in 2017, UCF’s Mike Hughes emerged as a lock-down player for the undefeated Knights, and Louisville’s Jaire Alexander put together strong tape that gives off a Joe Haden vibe.
1. Cleveland Browns — Sam Darnold, QB, USC
The Browns’ search for a long-term answer at quarterback will continue into the offseason. Darnold’s turnovers stand out, but so do his intangibles, passing instincts and ability to move the pocket and create plays. Three months before the draft, Darnold is the current favorite to go No. 1 to the Browns.
2. New York Giants — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
The Giants don’t expect to be drafting in the top three very often and with the future of Eli Manning very much up in the air, the Giants should target the quarterback of the future. Rosen is far from a clean prospect, but his natural passing skills and arm talent are starter quality.
3. Indianapolis Colts — Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State
Entering his second draft, Colts’ general manager Chris Ballard has plenty of holes to fill. The defense lacks impact players on the edge who can put pressure on the quarterback, but Chubb would change that. The N.C. State pass rusher is a strong candidate to be the first non-quarterback drafted.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Houston) — Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
With a league-low 13 takeaways on the season, the Browns lack playmakers in the secondary. Regardless if he is playing cornerback, free safety or nickel, Fitzpatrick has the intelligence, leadership and physical skill-set to be a game-changer.
5. Denver Broncos — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Denver has major question marks at quarterback and there are obvious connections to make between the Broncos and the Wyoming quarterback. In a controlled setting like the Senior Bowl, Allen has a chance to shine under the direction of the Broncos’ coaching staff, and it is fair to assume that John Elway will be intrigued with his elite physical traits.
6. New York Jets — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
With three quarterbacks off the board in this scenario, the Jets could look to Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. However, a playmaker like Barkley still on the board would be hard to pass up.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
The Buccaneers need to do some reshuffling and upgrading on the offensive line. An offensive guard in the top seven picks isn’t a sexy selection, but Nelson is arguably the best player in the 2018 draft class and would help stabilize Tampa’s interior protection.
8. Chicago Bears — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Chicago lacks playmakers on the outside at cornerback and needs to find upgrades this offseason. Ward lacks ideal height, but his feet, hips and eyes are what make him a potentially special cover man.
9. San Francisco 49ers — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Combining the talents of Smith with Reuben Foster would remind 49ers’ fans of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Smith would be drafted to be the starting WILL linebacker, but with Foster’s injury history and off-field concerns, he would also provide insurance.
10. Oakland Raiders — Vita Vea, DT, Washington
The Raiders have one of the weakest interior defensive-line units in the AFC and need to upgrade from the inside out on defense. At 340 pounds, Vea is a rare player with the power to handle double-teams and athleticism to chase down ballcarriers on the perimeter.
11. Miami Dolphins — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Quarterback and offensive line are options here, but the Dolphins also need to make upgrades on the defensive side of the ball, including at linebacker. Edmunds has the size of a defensive end, but moves more like a safety and displays the budding instincts to be a future NFL Pro Bowler.
12. Cincinnati Bengals — Connor Williams, OT, Texas
The Bengals need to address offensive tackle this offseason, possibly with this pick. After putting together first-round tape in 2016, Williams had a roller coaster 2017 season, starting with a poor September followed by a mid-season knee injury and then a strong finish.
13. Washington Redskins — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
After drafting an Alabama defensive lineman in the first round last year (Jonathan Allen), the Redskins could repeat the recipe this April. Payne moves very well for his size and has the upper body power to bully blockers, allowing coaches to line him up at various positions.
14. Green Bay Packers — Marcus Davenport, DE/OLB, Texas-San Antonio
With the future of Clay Matthews Jr. in a Packers’ uniform in doubt, Green Bay will be looking to add another pass-rush option to the arsenal. Davenport is a good-looking athlete with a hoops background and the potential to be a difference-maker.
15. Arizona Cardinals — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
The quarterback position is currently a question mark on the Cardinals’ depth chart and Mayfield is one of the possible answers. He would present a considerable change from the retired Carson Palmer, but that is not exactly a bad thing.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Ravens have only two wideouts with 20-plus catches this season (Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin) and need to add a young playmaker to help quarterback Joe Flacco. Ridley offers NFL-ready route-running and the play speed to create — both before and after the catch.
17. Los Angeles Chargers — Derwin James, SS, Florida State
Picking a safety this high in the draft would buck the trend of what the Chargers usually do in the first round, but James has the athletic profile and NFL ceiling that should force the front office to think outside the box.
18. Seattle Seahawks — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
One of the break-through prospects this season, Jackson was No. 1 in ball production (26 passes defended, eight interceptions), and he offers the size, length and instincts that fit well in Seattle.
19. Dallas Cowboys — Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Most Cowboys fans weren’t thrilled with a Michigan defensive lineman in the first round last year, but they should be intrigued if Dallas goes back to Ann Arbor to upgrade the defensive front. Hurst is a disruptive three-technique prospect who offers the quickness and power to surge through gaps and make plays in the backfield.
20. Detroit Lions — Billy Price, C, Ohio State
The Lions drafted an Ohio State offensive lineman (Taylor Decker) in Bob Quinn’s first draft as general manager and he could return to Columbus for another one. Price is a day one starter at either center or guard and will help stabilize the interior of Detroit’s line.
21. Buffalo Bills — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
The Bills need to make some changes on the offensive line. McGlinchey has experience on both sides of the offensive line and could help inside at guard if needed with his power as a run blocker.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City) — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
The Bills traded for Kelvin Benjamin and drafted Zay Jones in the second round last year, but there is still a need for a playmaker like Kirk. The former Texas A&M receiver would also be an immediate upgrade as a return man.
23. Los Angeles Rams — Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida
Regardless if Trumaine Johnson returns beyond this season, the Rams need help at the cornerback position. Hughes, who is at his best in press-man coverage, emerged this past season as one of college football’s top cover men and returners.
24. Carolina Panthers — Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
The Panthers have some questions on the offensive line and one of the answers could come at this pick. Brown blocks out the sun with his size, which also limits his movement, but he does just enough to get the job done.
25. Tennessee Titans — Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
Tennessee’s defensive front hasn’t created enough pressure on the quarterback, making pass rusher a likely option here. Hubbard thrives with his athleticism and intelligence to break down the edge and cause disruption.
26. Atlanta Falcons — Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
With Dontari Poe currently on a one-year deal, the Falcons could be in the mix for a versatile defensive tackle in the early rounds. Phillips was a one-man wrecking crew at the nose for Stanford with 103 tackles, which led all FBS defensive linemen.
27. New Orleans Saints — Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State
New Orleans has struggled to fill the shoes of Jimmy Graham since he departed via trade. Goedert has Pro Bowl potential with his athleticism for his size.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers — Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama
The Steelers have dealt with several issues in the back half of the defense all season, something that was obvious in the loss to the Jaguars. Adding a player with Harrison’s downhill speed and toughness would be a good start to rebuilding the Pittsburgh image on defense.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars — Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
With Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee both free agents, the Jaguars will potentially be in the market for an athletic big man for the outside. Sutton is unpolished in several areas, but he plays like a power forward on the football field.
30. Philadelphia Eagles — Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
With Jason Peters coming off ACL surgery and turning 36 years old in the offseason, the Eagles would be wise to upgrade the offensive tackle position. Okorafor is still in the development phase, but his traits have NFL scouts drooling, boasting impressive movements for his 330-pound frame.
31. Minnesota Vikings — Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
The Vikings have one of the NFL’s top defensive units, but are always looking to add depth in the trenches. Bryan is still figuring things out, but his athletic movement skills for a three-technique jump off the screen.
32. New England Patriots — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
With the future of Malcolm Butler in New England up in the air, the Patriots will be doing homework on this year’s cornerback class. Alexander lacks elite size, but he puts himself in position to make plays on the ball.