2018 NFL Mock Draft: Predicting where the quarterbacks will land

USC quarterback Sam Darnold

Now that two of the biggest quarterback shoes have dropped, we have a better idea of how that dynamic will play out during the spring. All 32 teams have now also transitioned fully to the offseason after the Eagles’ upset win over New England in Super Bowl LII. Starting with the NFL Scouting Combine coming up here soon and free agency shortly after that, player movement is going to be the name of the game around the league.

We’ll definitely have a better understanding of how this year’s draft will unfold following free agency. But for now, there’s a general idea of what teams will be looking at. In this specific mock, we have six quarterbacks going in the first round. We also project one top-end running back prospect to fall a bit lower than he should. From there, playoff teams address perceived problems with potential long-term fixes while a downtrodden Browns squad looks for a fix on each side of the ball. Here’s our latest 2018 NFL Mock Draft.

1. Cleveland Browns: Josh Rosen, quarterback, UCLA

Josh Rosen

It’s clearly time for Cleveland to bite the bullet and actually exhaust a top-round pick on a quarterback. In a class that’s filled with potential franchise signal callers, that time is now. DeShone Kizer isn’t the guy. The Browns have five picks in the first three rounds. Rosen is the most gifted natural passer in the draft and fits Hue Jackson’s offense better than the other top-end options. He can sit for a season while the Cleveland builds up the talent around him on offense.

2. New York Giants: Sam Darnold, quarterback, USC

New York is in a much different situation than Cleveland in that it has a starter-caliber quarterback on the roster. Though, we have no idea how much longer Eli Manning will play for. Following a disastrous season, the Giants find themselves in uncharted territory with a selection in the top five. The team just recently hired quarterback guru Pat Shurmur as head coach. Really, the stars are aligning for them to add a quarterback. Darnold is a project. He started for just two seasons at USC. But there’s no real reason to believe the Giants will pass up on him here. It makes too much sense to get that line of succession going immediately.

3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, North Carolina State

We could have gone Saquon Barkley. After all, Frank Gore is on his last legs and will hit free agency. We also could have provided Andrew Luck with that dominant offensive lineman in Quenton Nelson. Instead, look for GM Chris Ballard to address one of the largest weaknesses on this roster. Not a single Colts defender racked up as much as six sacks last season. Chubb is by far the best EDGE rusher in the draft. Team him up with 2017 first-round pick, safety Malik Hooker, and the Colts have two solid building blocks on defense.

4. Cleveland Browns: Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive back, Alabama

This scribe thinks Cleveland should double down in the backfield with Barkley here. But Browns general manager John Dorsey has other thoughts. Boasting three second-round picks, the first-year GM can afford to wait it out until Day 2 for a running back and other skill-position players. It’s in this that we project Cleveland will attempt to duplicate what the Jaguars did with Jalen Ramsey in the 2016 NFL Draft. It will do so with a player in Fitzpatrick that offers similar skill sets. Most have Alabama’s best defensive player from the past two seasons slated to play safety. Though, he could also work very well as a physical boundary corner. It’s a perfect fit for the Browns as they look to rebuild a secondary that’s struggled a great deal in recent years.

5. Denver Broncos: Quenton Nelson, guard, Notre Dame

John Elway is not going to bite the bullet and add a quarterback at five. This would be akin to the GM admitting that the Paxton Lynch selection a couple years ago was a major mistake. Instead, we’re projecting Denver to add a veteran signal caller. If so, look for the team to build up its offensive line in front of that unnamed quarterback. Nelson is not only the best offensive linemen in the draft, he might simply be the most dominant all-around player. A true grinder in between the tackles, he’s equally as good in pass protection as he is in run blocking. In picking Nelson, the Broncos find a perennial All-Pro caliber player at a position that’s being valued more than it has in the past. It’s a no-brainer.

6. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma

Baker Mayfield

Mayfield in the bright lights of Broadway is pretty much the media’s dream come true. His personality might be off-putting to some. And that’s fine. But it would work well within a Jets organization that simply has not had this type of star power in decades. At 6-foot-1, Mayfield is a bit undersized for a quarterback at the NFL level. Then again, ask Russell Wilson and Drew Brees how that worked out for them. The former Heisman winner also boasts the quickest release and the best accuracy in the class. Heck, he can even start out of the gate if that’s what the Jets prefer. It would be a perfect marriage.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Jackson, cornerback, Iowa

Does a team that’s proven to need widespread help on both sides of the ball exhaust a top-seven pick on a running back? That’s the biggest question surrounding Tampa Bay when it comes to the draft. We highly doubt that’s going to happen, especially with the team spending its No. 1 pick on quarterback Jameis Winston a few years back. The idea here is to add to a defensive secondary that has been mishandled from a personnel standpoint in recent years. Despite being greenish in terms of playing time at corner, Jackson’s ball skills are among the best we’ve seen come down the pike in some time. He boasts All Pro upside and is ready to start out of gate. Teaming him up with fellow youngster Vernon Hargreaves would be absolutely huge for the Bucs’ pass defense.

8. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Alabama

Chicago traded two picks to move up one spot for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky during the 2017 NFL Draft. It hired an offensive-minded head coach in Matt Nagy to help the young quarterback progress after a disastrous rookie season. Heck, Nagy hired former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich to head the team’s offense. It’s now all about Chicago getting a true No. 1 receiver for Trubisky to toss the rock to. Despite failing to put up awe-inspiring stats in Alabama’s run-first offense, Ridley is that guy. He also boasts elite-level route-running skills, has great hands and owns a pretty solid catch radius for a receiver that stands at just 6-foot-1. Ridley will jump up the boards throughout the pre-draft process and will likely end up going in the top 10. If so, Chicago has to pounce on him.

9. San Francisco 49ers: Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State

We had a bit of a problem slotting Barkley in before No. 9. The issue here is that industry insiders believe the media is higher on Barkley than NFL teams. That seems to suggest that he won’t follow the likes of Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette as recent top-five picks from the running back position. Even then, Barkley enters the pre-draft process as pretty much the most talented skill-position player in the class. His dynamic ability at Penn State is by now well known. The All-American adds a tremendous receiving skill set to go with elite-level athleticism, vision and power from the backfield. With Carlos Hyde set to become a free agent, look for San Francisco to pounce on the idea of adding Barkley to a backfield that already includes recently-extended franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Remember, this is also the same front office that flirted with the idea of selecting Leonard Fournette No. 2 overall last year.

10. Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, linebacker, Georgia

Whether it’s along the defensive line, at linebacker or in the secondary, Oakland needs help on all three levels of its defense. That’s where Smith and his elite sideline-to-sideline play-making ability would be a perfect fit here. There’s some who will conclude that Smith was the best pure football player in the nation last year. That’s a sentiment we find difficult to counter. Playing against the best of the best in the SEC, he recorded 137 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. What makes Smith so fundamentally special is that he adds great coverage ability and field recognition from the linebacker spot. Not only would he be an upgrade with Khalil Mack in the front seven, Smith’s presence would help the Raiders’ lackluster secondary out a great deal. It’s a perfect fit.

11. Miami Dolphins: Denzel Ward, cornerback, Ohio State

Miami yielded a 94.8 passer rating to go with 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions to quarterbacks last season. Youngster Xavien Howard might have progressed into a starter-caliber corner with a few tremendous outings. But there’s not a whole bunch behind him on the depth chart. Will Cordrea Tankersley ever morph into a plus-level starter on a good defense? We’re not too sure. In Ward, the Dolphins would be adding a physical boundary corner that has proven to be successful going up against stronger wide receivers in college.

12. Cincinnati Bengals: Derwin James, safety, Florida State

James is a true cover-high safety. Sure he can perform at a high level in run support and has the capability of going up against tight ends. But we love what he can do with his hips and athleticism against slot receivers. This makes the former five-star recruit a perfect fit in a Bengals defense that struggled to an extent within the hashes last season. He would be a major upgrade over current free safety George Iloka, giving Cincinnati a solid young defensive back trio to go with William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard.

13. Washington Redskins: Courtland Sutton, wide receiver, SMU

Now that the Redskins have invested a ton of cash in Alex Smith, it’s time for the team to do what it couldn’t do for Kirk Cousins. Get him some actual top-end receiving weapons on the outside. After watching both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon move on in free agency prior to last season, the team just didn’t have anything of substance to work with. Sutton could very well be that guy. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he’s built in the mold of former Texas A&M prospect Mike Evans. It’s that big body that enables Sutton to boast a huge catch radius — something a weaker-armed Smith desperately needs to succeed. Sutton’s strong arms will also come in handy when Smith needs to find a go-to option on third downs. This really is a match made in heaven.

14. Green Bay Packers: Tremaine Edmunds, linebacker, Virginia Tech

New Packers GM Brian Gutekunst has noted that the team will be more proactive in free agency than it was on the past. So things will assuredly change between now and the draft. But at this point, Green Bay’s primary needs are at running back, linebacker and in the secondary. A high riser, Edmunds fits what this team needs at linebacker. He has tremendous sideline-to-sideline capabilities and can drop back into coverage from the inside. Someone of his ilk teaming up with Blake Martinez at middle linebacker would do wonders for the Pack. Not only that, it may enable the team to actually use Clay Matthews as an EDGE guy on a near full-time basis.

15. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming

Fans and some in the media might not like Allen’s tape. He has struggled against better competition and last season saw the strong-armed quarterback put up just 1,812 yards with 16 touchdowns in 11 games. Not great numbers. Though, NFL teams are said to be smitten with his crazy strong arm and ability to fit the ball into small windows. Allen also impressed big time during Senior Bowl week. As a project quarterback, he’s going to be a year or two away from making an impact. That’s fine. Following the retirement of Carson Palmer, Arizona will be adding a veteran to the mix. This makes it easy for the team to select Allen for 2019 or 2020.

16. Baltimore Ravens: Connor Williams, offensive tackle, Texas

Allen might have been the pick here if we didn’t have Arizona nabbing him up. Instead, have Baltimore doubling down on an offensive tackle in the first round for the second time in three years. Ronnie Stanley has been good at left tackle the past two seasons. Adding someone of Williams’ ability — a player that can start at right tackle out of the gate — would be huge for this squad. Injuries continued to plague Baltimore’s offensive line during the 2017 season. If the team is indeed sticking with Joe Flacco under center, why not give him two franchise bookends to work with?

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Orlando Brown, offensive tackle, Oklahoma

Having won nine of their final 12 games last season, the Chargers head into this offseason in a good spot. They have a nice mix of young talent and veteran leadership, and there’s only a few areas the team needs to address. One of them is left tackle, where Russell Okung held down the fort last season. He’s not a long-term option. The 6-foot-8, 360-pound Brown is. He’s a mauler that does a darn good job fending off more athletic edge rushers. With 2017 draftees Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp in the mix, this would create a tremendous trio along the Chargers’ offensive line.

18. Seattle Seahawks: Derrius Guice, running back, LSU

Pete Carroll has continued to talk about the need for Seattle to find a consistent rushing attack. In no way did that come close to happening last season after quarterback Russell Wilson led the team in rushing with less than 600 yards. Even with the Seahawks likely looking to retool their suddenly aging defense, this has to be a major area of focus in the offseason. In a normal draft, Guice would be the clear-cut No. 1 back. He has the athleticism to run outside the tackles and the physicality to be a three-down back. It’s a perfect fit for a team that simply needs to get back on track on the ground. Acquiring him in the second half of the initial round would also be a pretty darn big coup.

19. Dallas Cowboys: Ronnie Harrison, safety, Alabama

We absolutely love what Dallas did at corner in the draft last year, adding Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie to the mix. They should be the team’s starters out on the boundary for the next several seasons. It’s in this that the team now looks for that combo safety to team up with them. Harrison will make an initial impact as an in the box safety, but has both the athleticism and ball skills to play free safety moving forward. It’s an area the Cowboys have struggled in for some time now. He might immediately be a an upgrade over Xavier Woods. But the idea would be to move Harrison to single high and enable former first-round pick Byron Jones to move inside to slot corner.

20. Detroit Lions: Sony Michel, running back, Georgia

The last time Detroit had a 100-yard rusher was all the way back in November of 2013. Ameer Abdullah has yet to prove himself to be a three-down back in this league. And the Lions are left relying way too much on franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford. It’s time Detroit bites the bullet and exhausts some capital on this position. Even with Barkley and Guice off the board, there’s a tremendous option available to new head coach Matt Patricia. That comes in the form of a running back in Sony Michel, who averaged a whopping 7.9 yards per rush last season. He also comes in at a bulky 215 pounds (for his size) and could be the three-down back Detroit has been missing. Add in plus-level pass protection ability, and he’s a great fit behind Stafford in the Lions’ backfield.

21. Buffalo Bills: Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville

Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson has a lot of pressure on his shoulders heading into college football Week 1

Think Tyrod Taylor with a much better arm. That’s exactly what this former Heisman winner is. Sure the media might be higher on Jackson than NFL teams, but the talent level is most definitely here. Day 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft will not pass without a team taking on this project. Why not Buffalo? The Bills are going to move on from Taylor this offseason. They’re not interested in paying the big bucks for Kirk Cousins. So the next feasible option is either trading up in the first round or waiting to see who falls to them at 21. Here, they get someone who can sit for a year or two before taking over as the starter for a franchise that’s coming off its first playoff appearance since Jackson was two.

22. Buffalo Bills: Vita Vea, defensive tackle, Washington

Buffalo struggled big time after the team moved defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville back in October, yielding 150-plus rushing yards in seven of its final 10 games. That needs to change right now. What better way to fix these issues than adding the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the class in the form of this 340-pound giant? It’s almost impossible to block Vea in one-on-one situations, which also opens up the edge for pass rushers. If there were more of a premium at this position, Vea would go top 10. Instead, he lands with Buffalo as potentially the steal of this mock.

23. Los Angeles Rams: Donte Jackson, cornerback, LSU

Having moved corner E.J. Gaines prior to the start of last season, Los Angeles was banking on fellow corner Trumaine Johnson to continue with Pro Bowl caliber performance. He did just that, potentially pricing the defensive back out of the Rams’ market in free agency. That’s going to be the biggest question for this up-and-coming team during the spring. Can it afford to pay Johnson the $15-plus million he’s set to earn on the open market? We don’t think so. That’s where a seasoned player like Jackson comes into play. He played a huge role for LSU as a freshman back in 2015, only to see himself as the face of the team’s secondary over the past two seasons. He can immediately step in and be a Day 1 starter in Wade Phillips’ defense.

24. Carolina Panthers: Christian Kirk, wide receiver, Texas A&M

It became apparent this past season that Cam Newton needs another reliable receiver to target. Too often, the former MVP was left relying on running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen in the passing game. If Carolina wants to take the next step to conference title contention, that’s going to have to change. Kirk would be a perfect supplement to what the big-bodied Devin Funchess brings to the table. The former Aggie could come in immediately and start in the slot, enabling Carolina to also use last year’s second-round pick, Curtis Samuel, more in an offensive weapon type of role. Kirk has the ability to get off the line against the press and can use plus-level route-running ability to give Newton that valuable target from the slot. He’s a natural fit here.

25. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, linebacker, Alabama

Evans’ athleticism and agility was masked a bit by Alabama’s swarming defense last season. But make no mistake about it, he’s akin to Reuben Foster in that he can make plays from sideline-to-sideline. He also possesses tremendous length and an ability to shed blocks at the point of contact. That’s something Tennessee’s defense has been missing for some time now. As a first-round pick, this former Crimson Tide standout would come in and start immediately inside for the Titans. It’s potentially the one piece this otherwise talented young defense needs to take the next step.

26. Atlanta Falcons: Dallas Goedert, tight end, South Dakota State

Despite seeing major regression on offense last season, the talent is still there for these Falcons. It’s now all about offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian putting it all together. That should include Atlanta doing whatever it can to give former MVP Matt Ryan a consistent target at tight end. It’s simply something he has not had since Tony Gonzalez retired. Not yet a household name, Goedert is the top tight end in the class, and it’s not necessarily that close. The small-school product has the frame (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) to take on blockers at the next level. He can also line up at fullback, as an in-line tight end and out wide. An offensive weapon. That’s the one piece Atlanta was missing on offense last season.

27. New Orleans Saints: Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA

We flirted with the idea of adding a quarterback of the future behind Drew Brees. But the future is now for New Orleans after narrowly missing out on an NFC Championship Game appearance last season. Fresh off seeing Marshon Lattimore earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, we’re going to mock an elite EDGE rusher to join him on the Saints’ defense. With a 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame, Davenport has the length to cause fits from a hands-down position at the next level. Teaming him up with the underrated Cameron Jordan could make this Saints defense one of the best in the game. It’s a natural fit.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State

Mason Rudolph

Ben Roethlisberger reportedly wants to play through his current contact, which will expire following the 2019 season. That doesn’t mean the Steelers are going to sit idly by without finding a long-term replacement for Big Ben. The team probably would have preferred someone of Josh Allen’s ilk, who reminds us of a young Roethlisberger. Instead, the team goes with a player in Rudolph that has drawn mixed reviews since closing up shop on his college career. He boasts tremendous arm strength, but can also struggle with accuracy and mechanics. That’s where working behind Big Ben for a few years could work wonders.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Billy Price, guard, Ohio State

Some have Price more situated to play center at the next level. And while that’s a distinct possibility, we view him more as a road grader in the NFL. This dude is an absolute mauler from the interior of the offensive line. He’s quick off the line, has freakish strength and plays at a much lower pad level then we’d expect from someone who has yet to suit up in the NFL. The Jags could use this type of bullish interior lineman in front of Leonard Fournette. It just makes too much sense.

30. Minnesota Vikings: Will Hernandez, guard, UTEP

This is pretty much the same situation as Jacksonville. The idea would be to get that bullish guard to open up lanes for young running back Dalvin Cook. It’s one of the few areas Minnesota struggled in last season. And it will be absolutely key to upgrade at guard in the offseason. Hernandez will see a huge spike in value once the NFL Combine gets going. At that point, we’ll likely see him mentioned more in the first round. Dude is an absolute beast inside, and would fit well with what the Vikes have built along their offensive line.

31. New England Patriots: Ronald Jones, running back, USC

Dion Lewis is a free agent and is almost certain to move on for bigger bucks on the open market. Rex Burkhead is also a free agent this coming March. While New England has in the past failed to value running backs at a high clip, that time surely has passed. We saw first hand in the Super Bowl that Tom Brady still has a ton left in the tank. Why not provide him with that multi-dimensional threat at running back? Jones is a home run option every time he touches the ball and has an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s a perfect fit in Josh McDaniels offense. And with an extra second-round pick following the Garoppolo trade, New England can afford to go running back here.

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Mike Hughes, cornerback, Central Florida

One of the fastest risers in the NFL Draft, there’s some who now believe Hughes should be the second or third corner off the board. A press cover corner, Hughes fits what Jim Schwartz does on defense. He’s physical at the line and already boasts top-end ball skills. Still a bit raw, the Eagles seem to be a perfect destination for him. He can sit behind the likes of Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills for the next couple seasons, and eventually take over as the team’s No. 1. There’s Pro Bowl ability waiting to be untapped here. With the coaching in Philly, we can’t imagine a better fit.