The NFL Draft is the bloodline for NFL teams where teams can change their championship fortunes in one off-season or turn their team into perennial losers with bad drafts. If you want an example of a team reversing fortunes in one NFL Draft, look no further than the 2017 New Orleans Saints. They were a team that was stuck in mediocrity with three consecutive seasons of (7-9). Last year, they added CB Marshon Lattimore, T Ryan Ramczyk, S Marcus Williams and RB Alvin Kamara in the NFL Draft. The result was an instantly improved roster, a NFC South Champion that went (11-5) and a playoff run that almost had them advance to the NFC Championship Game. They ended up losing 29-24 to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round on a game-winning touchdown with no time left on the clock by WR Stefon Diggs. That Draft should allow them to be a contender again this year and possibly for many years to come.
Conversely, a team that is on the mountaintop can come crashing down with bad drafts. Take a look at the 2007-2011 New York Giants. They made the playoffs three times and won two Super Bowls over the New England Patriots in the 2007 and 2011 seasons. They had made a lot of smart picks in the NFL Draft from 2004 to 2006 and found impact players that helped them win those two Super Bowls.
Things did not go as well after that and it slowly decayed the franchise. ESPN.com Mike Sando talked about this in a 2016 ESPN.com article. “”The players the Giants drafted since Jerry Reese became GM in 2007 combined to play a league-low 10,767 offensive and defensive snaps in the NFL this season. Other teams’ picks over the same span averaged 16,448 snaps per team, or about 53 percent more snaps than the Giants’ selections.”
That is stunning how badly they did in those drafts and they were able to survive that with a veteran team that was ready to win when Reese arrived in 2007. However, when you wonder why their team made only one playoff appearance from 2012 to 2017 and bottomed out with a (3-13) record this season, it was because of all the bad decisions they made in multiple drafts.
I am not a fan of weekly updated Mock Drafts, because I think it is a ridiculous exercise. We know there are going to be trades in the First Round, but we do not know what those will be until the NFL Draft. We do not know how the executives value each player, because they keep their Draft Boards concealed from the public. The opinion of the Cleveland Browns brass is way more important than what some Draft Guru believes they will do with their first pick. I also do not consider myself a Draft Guru, because I pay way more attention to the NFL game than the College Game. The big reason I like to study the NFL Draft as much as I do from January to April is that it helps me familiarize myself with the rookie players that are going to be potential Fantasy Football stars in 2018.
Furthermore, Super Bowls are won in the third through fifth rounds where teams find diamonds in the rough that change the direction of the franchise. While I love Mock Drafts, I do believe that they help perpetuate the belief by some fans that the first round is all that matters. Therefore, I try to do only three Mock Drafts. One is before the NFL Combine to have a frame of reference for where things stand entering the NFL Draft Evaluation process, one is after the NFL Combine when we see how fast and strong the players are without pads and the final one is about a week before the NFL Draft when we see how the players have done at their Pro Days and their individual meetings and work outs.
Here is my first NFL Mock Draft headed into the NFL Combine. I would like to thank CBS Sports.com, Walter Football.com and NFL.com who are three great resources that I use to help me put these Mock Drafts together.
1) Cleveland Browns (0-16) – UCLA QB Josh Rosen: Lots of players say they do not want to play somewhere, we’ll see if that becomes an obstacle for the Browns drafting Rosen. The Browns could also try to acquire some of the veteran players that may be available this year. They tried to trade for Cincinnati Bengals QB A.J. McCarron last year and they could explore signing the restricted free agent. They failed to trade for Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith, but that trade to Washington means that Washington QB Kirk Cousins will be available in free agency. They must find a long-term answer at quarterback this off-season and if they are going to use the NFL Draft, Rosen is my best quarterback pro prospect available in this draft.
2) New York Giants (2-14) – USC QB Sam Darnold: It feels like Darnold has slid a little bit this season, as he was expected by some to be the top quarterback prospect in this class. If the Browns do not go with Rosen, I do not believe he will make it past the New York Giants. The Giants cannot go into the 2018 season with 37-year old Eli Manning as their only starting quarterback. Manning may end up being a bridge quarterback this year or he may be traded or waived. Manning holds the cards there with his no trade clause. Regardless of what he wants to do in 2018, Rosen or Darnold make a lot of sense for the Giants as they look to start a new era of Giants football.
3) Indianapolis Colts (4-12) – Penn State RB Saquon Barkley: They could go defense in this spot, but I think they really need to bring some balance to this offense. QB Andrew Luck will hopefully be healthy in 2018, they need a running back that can take some pressure off him and Barkley is a special player that could carry the ball 20 times per game and average five receptions per game. He would give them a special player at a need position, as RB Frank Gore is turning 35-years old this year and he will likely not be with the team in 2018.
4) Cleveland Browns via Houston Texans (4-12) – Alabama S Minkah Fitzpatrick: The Browns were a disaster in the secondary last year and Fitzpatrick can play both cornerback and safety. If they take a quarterback with the first selection, it would benefit them to add some help in the secondary with their other Top-5 pick.
5) Denver Broncos (5-11) – Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield: I think his draft status is going to be volatile, he is either a player that is going to have his stock sore through the roof or it could crash through the floor. I have seen draft experts that think he could go to the Browns with the top pick. I have seen some that have him out of the first round. Mayfield has some great intangibles and leadership traits, but he also is a bit of a hothead and he needs to work on his mechanics. He also is a little shorter (6′ 1″) than many GMs prefer at the quarterback position, but I think he can overcome that issue with a strong showing through the draft evaluation process. The Broncos need a leader and a face of the franchise and if Mayfield impresses in the draft evaluation process, they are likely to take him or one of the other elite quarterback prospects.
6) New York Jets (5-11) – Wyoming QB Josh Allen: The Jets cannot go into 2018 with their quarterback situation. QB Josh McCown is a free agent and he would be a wonderful bridge and mentor for a young quarterback, but the two quarterbacks behind him are woefully inadequate and Allen would give them a quarterback that could make starts in the 2018 season or become the starter in 2019. If I were the Jets, I would resign McCown to be the bridge and draft a quarterback for the future with this pick.
7) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) – North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb: This guy just makes plays, he had 72 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, nine quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. He is 6′ 4″ and 275 lb. so he has the size to be an every down defensive end. He could go much higher than this, it just depends on how many quarterbacks go in the first six picks. Tampa Bay does not need a quarterback, so they would greatly benefit if there is a run on quarterbacks early and Chubb falls to them at the seventh pick.
8) Chicago Bears (5-11) – Southern Methodist University WR Courtland Sutton: He is a player that could shoot up the draft charts or go crashing down depending on his NFL Combine and Pro Day workouts. He has great size at 6′ 4″ and 215 lb. The Bears need someone on this offense that can scare defensive coordinators and he posted 62 receptions for 1,017 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. They could also go with secondary help in this spot, but I think they need to come away with a wide receiver early in this draft.
9) San Francisco 49ers (6-10) – Iowa CB Josh Jackson: The 49ers and Raiders will have a coin flip before the NFL Draft to decide draft order. I have the 49ers going first, I will update the Draft Order when the coin flip happens. Jackson has very good size at 6′ 1″ and 185 lb. and per Rotoworld.com, he led the FBS in interceptions with eight in 13 games, to go along with nearly 20 pass breakups. They could also look for a wide receiver or offensive line help in this spot, but I think Jackson is a player that would be a great value and help them at an area of need.
10) Oakland Raiders (6-10) – Georgia LB Roquan Smith: This team underachieved as much as any team in the NFL last year, but I do not think they will make wholesale changes on the offensive side of the ball. Jon Gruden was hired to improve that offensive scheme, so I think they will focus on the defensive side of the ball early in the NFL Draft and they will try to identify offensive depth later in the NFL Draft. Smith has great speed and he is good in both run support and pass coverage and he could help one of the worst linebacker units in the NFL.
11) Miami Dolphins (6-10) – Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson: This team has a number of need areas, but Nelson would give them a massive upgrade on the offensive line. He is a fairly safe pick, Walter Football.com says that he is viewed as the next Logan Mankins, who had a great career for the New England Patriots. The Dolphins would be ecstatic to find a player like that at the 11th pick.
12) Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) – Notre Dame T Mike McGlinchey: The Bengals have a lot of needs, but they had an offense that was loaded with playmakers at running back, wide receiver and tight end that finished 26th in points scored and 32nd in yards gained. That is not all QB Andy Dalton‘s fault, he cannot block the pass rushers and run stoppers. An offensive lineman that can start this year in this spot makes a lot of sense for them.
13) Washington (7-9) – Florida State S Derwin James: They really need help at the safety position and James would be someone that could help them immediately. He has great size at 6′ 3″ and 211 lb. and could help in both pass coverage and run support. There are concerns about torn cartilage in his left knee that caused him to miss the 2016 season. The NFL Combine and Draft Evaluation Process will be important; a bad performance there could cause his stock to drop. They could also go quarterback here, but I think the signing of Smith will allow them to go defense early and they can always take a flyer on a quarterback later in the NFL Draft, as they have a few years to develop a replacement.
14) Green Bay Packers (7-9) – Alabama WR Calvin Ridley: His statistics were not good, posting only 63 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns. That was more a product of playing with a quarterback that could not throw the ball well more than his ability. The Packers have needs on defense and the offensive line, but WR Jordy Nelson is entering the twilight of his career and their only reliable receiver last year was WR Davante Adams. They need more playmakers and Ridley would be an upgrade to a receiving unit that has struggled in recent years. Any position on defense is also a strong possibility.
15) Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown: They obviously need a quarterback, but this is a team that is built to win now. I would not be surprised Kirk Cousins or another veteran option ends up in Arizona and that would mean they could wait until the second or third round to address a quarterback for the future. Brown is a massive tackle at 6′ 8″ and 342 lb. I think there are too many concerns about his ability to handle speed rushers on the outside to make him a Top-5 pick at left tackle. At this spot, it would not be a disaster if they have to move him to right tackle or guard down the road, where he should easily be able to start for a decade if he commits himself to being a NFL player.
16) Baltimore Ravens (9-7) – Oklahoma State WR James Washington: He posted 74 receptions for 1,549 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. That is an incredible 20.93 yards per catch, making him one of the best deep threats in this NFL Draft Class. The Ravens could go running back or tight end here, but RB Alex Collins showed well in the second half of the season and they need a wide receiver more than a running back or tight end. The Ravens have neglected skill position players in recent years, they need to give QB Joe Flacco someone to throw the ball to downfield.
17) Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) – UCLA OT Kolton Miller: They really should have made the playoffs the way they played the final 12 games of the season and they would have had it not been for disastrous kicker issues in September that led to a (0-4) start to the season. They do not need to use a first round pick on a kicker and they really need to upgrade the offensive line. Last year, they drafted G Forest Lamp, but he tore his ACL in training camp. A healthy Lamp being paired with a first round tackle would be a nice upgrade to the offensive line.
18) Seattle Seahawks (9-7) – Western Michigan T Chukwuma Okorafor: This offensive line is a need of upgrades across the board and they neglected using the NFL Draft to add anyone of note last year. They did add T Duane Brown in a trade with Houston last year, but that should not stop them from adding another tackle in this draft. They also need help in the secondary to revamp the Legion of Boom, so defensive back could make sense at this spot.
19) Dallas Cowboys (9-7) – Michigan DT Maurice Hurst Jr.: He had a stellar season with 58 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 12 games. The Dallas Cowboys have a number of needs, but they really could use some help in the middle of their defensive line and Hurst Jr. would be a nice upgrade to their defense.
20) Detroit Lions (9-7) – DE / OLB Arden Key: Key is a player that could go in the Top-10, but there are character, medical and conditioning concerns that could cause his stock to fluctuate. I could see him being in my Top-10 in Mock 2.0, I could see him being out of the first round. The Lions need pass rush on the outside and he would be a major upgrade for them if he shows well in the evaluation process.
21) Buffalo Bills (9-7) – Alabama DT Da’Ron Payne: He is instant pass rush in the middle of the field. He had seven quarterback pressures and six defensive stops in the National Championship Game and he was a solid player on their defense all season. The Buffalo Bills could use some help in the middle of their defensive line and he would be a welcome addition to that defense.
22) Buffalo Bills via Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) – Louisville QB Lamar Jackson: The Bills need a quarterback and they can afford to take one in the first round that is a bit of a developmental project, because they have two picks in the first round. There has been talk about Jackson moving to wide receiver, but this is a player that had 7,203 yards passing and 57 passing touchdowns the last two years. He also has 3,172 rushing yards and 39 rushing touchdowns. There have been a lot of comparisons to former NFL QB Michael Vick and I think Jackson makes sense here for a team that needs to upgrade QB Tyrod Taylor.
23) Los Angeles Rams (11-5) – Ohio State CB Denzel Ward: They could use some help in the secondary and adding Ward would give them a very explosive player. He is a little undersized at 5′ 10″ and 191 lb., but he plays bigger than his height and should be a nice addition for the Rams in the back of the first round.
24) Carolina Panthers (11-5) – UTSA DE Marcus Davenport: Davenport is a freakish athlete rushing from the outside at 6′ 7″ and 255 lb. He is a talented edge rusher that is also solid in run support and would help their defense add pass rush while maintaining their stout play against the run.
25) Tennessee Titans (9-7) – UTEP G Will Hernandez: UTEP did not win a single game in 2017, but it had nothing to do with one of the best guards in the NCAA last year. The Titans run offense declined and they were not as good at guard in 2017. They could go edge rusher at this spot, but running the ball better in 2017 has to be a priority for this team.
26) Atlanta Falcons (10-6) – Washington NT Vita Vea: The Falcons may end up letting DT Dontari Poe leave in free agency this off-season, which would necessitate them adding a defensive tackle in the NFL Draft. Vea is 6′ 5″ and 344 lb. and he would have the size the Falcons would be looking for in the middle of their defense.
27) New Orleans Saints (11-5) – Florida State WR Auden Tate: This is not a great wide receiver draft, but the Saints could use a wide receiver opposite WR Michael Thomas and Tate is a big target at 6′ 5″ and 218 lb. They could also look to go with a tight end here or they could keep adding pieces on defense.
28) Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3) – Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds: They definitely need some help at linebacker, their team was not the same when LB Ryan Shazier went down with a serious spinal injury. NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah has compared Edmunds to Minnesota Vikings LB Anthony Barr. Edmunds can play inside or outside and would be a great addition to this defense. I can see him being much higher in my Mock 2.0 if he has a solid NFL Combine.
29) Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) – Oklahoma TE Mark Andrews: It is not an overly deep tight end class, but Andrews is a good one. He caught 62 passes for 958 yards and eight touchdowns. Andrews would be an improvement to an offense that lacked good tight end play.
30) Minnesota Vikings (13-3) – Texas OT Connor Williams: The Vikings need help on the offensive side of the ball and one of the places they need to upgrade is their offensive line. Williams had a knee injury this year and he will have to show that the knee will not be a problem at the NFL level, but he is one of the best offensive line talents in this draft.
31) New England Patriots (13-3) – San Diego State CB Kameron Kelly: Their secondary is not what they hoped it would be this year and Kelly played both cornerback and safety in college. At 6′ 2″ and 200 lb., I think he is a player that could shoot up the draft boards this off-season. They definitely need to think defensive help after their defense imploded in the Super Bowl.
32) Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) – Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver: The Eagles will not be drafting again until the fourth round, so they need to make this pick count. They could also trade down from this pick to acquire more draft picks. Oliver has a chance to shoot up draft boards, as he is a big corner at 6′ 1″ and 190 lb., but he is also a track athlete and could blow minds at the NFL Combine. The Eagles secondary could be better; Oliver would be an excellent addition to that unit.