Thor Nystrom

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2018 NFL Mock Draft

Friday, June 2, 2017


 

 

The order below was based on the Westgate’s Super Bowl odds.

 

1. San Francisco 49ers – USC QB Sam Darnold

 

San Francisco bypassed Mitchell Trubisky, Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in last week’s NFL Draft. If the 49ers fail to acquire Kirk Cousins, they'll be shopping for a signal-caller early in next year's draft. Fortunately, the 2018 quarterback class has the makings to be the best we’ve seen in several years. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Darnold, the preseason Heisman favorite, has a prototypical frame and pinpoint accuracy. He flashed a big arm and functional mobility in a pro-style scheme in leading the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory last year.

 

2. Cleveland Browns – Florida State S Derwin James

 

The Browns have invested premium picks in the last two drafts on quarterbacks. Assuming either Cody Kessler or DeShone Kizer shows flashes of developing into a long-term starter next season, Cleveland would have the luxury of focusing on other needs. James, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound field-flipper, would team with Jabrill Peppers to give the Browns one of the league’s best safety duos for years. With DEs Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah forcing hurried decisions by opposing quarterbacks, a ball-hawking safety with All-Pro ability like James will have plenty of interception opportunities. James' skills mesh perfectly with Peppers'. The latter is extremely versatile but had only one interception in three years at Michigan. With Peppers playing closer to the box, James would be free to roam.

 

3. New York Jets – UCLA QB Josh Rosen

 

No franchise is as brazenly tanking 2017 for a shot to be first in line for the 2018 quarterback crop. The Jets needed a quarterback in the worst way but reportedly weren’t sold on any of the 2017 first-round signal-callers. They elected instead to ignore the position altogether and will roll into next season with Josh McCown backed up by draft flops Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. After regressing amidst a shoulder injury-plagued sophomore season, Rosen will have to bounce back healthy and productive to have a shot at the top-three. There's so much to dream on here, but of course the Jets' Hackenberg fantasy turned into a frightful, hallucinatory experience in short order. For what it's worth, the guess here is that Rosen bounces back big in 2017.

 

4. Los Angeles Rams – LSU EDGE Arden Key

 

I can’t see the Rams devoting a top-five pick to a quarterback so soon after sacrificing their last two first-rounders (and more) to acquire Jared Goff. Any signs of progress should buy Goff one more season under center, and considering the season he just had, it’s all but guaranteed that he’ll improve in 2017 (the upgrades to his supporting cast and the coaching staff's offensive brain trust will help too). Instead, Los Angeles uses this pick to take a growing 6-foot-6, 255-pound freak of an edge rusher (Key began college in the 220s). Immediately upon setting the LSU single-season sacks record in 2016 (12), Key took a leave of absence from the program. It only lasted a few months, and he tweeted last week that he’s not considering sitting out his junior campaign. SEC quarterbacks wish he’d reconsider.

 

5. Chicago Bears – Alabama CB Minkah Fitzpatrick

 

The Bears desperately need a cornerback, but didn’t draft one last week, in part because they were short on picks after trading up to acquire Mitchell Trubisky. Chicago declined Kyle Fuller’s fifth-year option and only signed Prince Amukamara to a one-year deal. Fitzpatrick, a better prospect than former teammate Marlon Humphrey (a 2017 first-round pick of the Ravens), profiles as a shutdown NFL corner. Nick Saban moved Fitzpatrick to safety last season, but the 6-foot-1, 201-pound Fitzpatrick said he’s more comfortable at corner and that'll be his long-term position. The 6-foot-1, 201-pounder clocked a 4.44-second 40-yard dash this spring.

 

6. New Orleans Saints – Wyoming QB Josh Allen

 

For the past few years, the Saints have flirted with adding a legitimate long-term heir to Drew Brees. That task has been deferred time and time again, but by this time next year Brees will be within months of his 40th birthday. Allen drew dark horse first-round buzz over the winter but decided to return to Laramie. Allen has warts—he threw 15 interceptions last year—but he’s big (6-foot-5, 222 pounds), athletic and creative. He isn’t quite the gun-slinging risk-taker that Pat Mahomes is, but Allen wouldn’t be out of place playing craps at Mahomes’ table in Las Vegas.

 

7. Buffalo Bills – Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

 

The Bills heavily scouted this year’s quarterback crop but ultimately decided not to invest a premium pick in a signal-caller (Buffalo took Nathan Peterman in Rd. 5). Buffalo could save about $10 million on Tyrod Taylor’s 2018 cap number ($18.08 million) by releasing him, so Taylor will have to win over new Bills coach Sean McDermott to stick around. If he can’t, Jackson, a prospect in the rich man’s Taylor vein, could be an option.

 

There is more variance to Jackson’s NFL projection than with any other prospect mentioned in this article. If he makes big improvements in the pocket next season, he could be the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 over Darnold and Rosen. If he doesn’t, he’ll probably return to Louisville for another season. The upside is a right-handed Michael Vick, as Clemson HC Dabo Swinney called Jackson last year. Jackson is three inches taller than Vick, but he must add weight to his rail-thin frame. Ridiculously athletic, the 6-foot-3 Jackson ran a 4.34-second forty this spring during the Cardinals' athletic testing.

 

8. Los Angeles Chargers – Clemson DT Christian Wilkins

 

The 6-foot-4, 300-plus pound Wilkins can wreck your game plan from the inside or the outside. He was good as a freshman for the national runners-up and great as a sophomore for the national champions, earning All-American honors. Another step forward could stamp his ticket into the top-10. San Diego didn’t address its defensive line in the 2017 NFL Draft until Rd. 7. They’ll do so far sooner in 2018.

 

9. Jacksonville Jaguars – Texas T Connor Williams

 

The Jaguars just added RB Leonard Fournette and T Cam Robinson in the first two rounds and picked up Blake Bortles’ fifth-year option. They’ll likely be in the market for another Bortles helper in the 2018 draft, whether that be up front or on the perimeter. A starter since the day he stepped foot on campus, Williams is arguably college football’s best offensive lineman. D’onta Foreman came out of nowhere to run for over 2,000 yards last season running behind this nimble, hostile left tackle. Robinson most likely isn't a long-term left tackle solution. Neither is Branden Albert, who'll turn 34 next season and is currently bickering with management about his contract.

 

10. Cincinnati Bengals – Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard

 

The Bengals are getting long in the tooth on the defensive front. Keeping Hubbard in the state of Ohio would allow Cincinnati to move on from Michael Johnson and give Carlos Dunlap a worthy running mate off the edge. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Hubbard was named a freshman All-American by USA Today in 2015. He regressed to only three sacks last season as a redshirt sophomore, but is still, to be fair, learning on the job. A freak athlete, Hubbard was a safety in high school and moved to linebacker during his redshirt year. The upside is immense, and this early projection is a roll of the dice that he’ll make his star turn in 2017.

 

11. Washington Redskins – Penn State RB Saquon Barkley

 

If Kirk Cousins is still on the roster this time next year—far from a sure thing but go with me—Washington is going to want to add an offensive playmaker early to compliment him. The Redskins made a nice value play on Samaje Perine in Rd. 4 this year, but he and Rob Kelley are better suited to be the thunder to a superior runner’s lightning. Barkley is that lightning, an electrifying talent with burst through the hole, elusiveness in the open field and tackle-breaking strength in the box. He heads into his junior season looking like a better NFL prospect than Leonard Fournette.

 

12. Tennessee Titans – Washington DT Vita Vea 

 

The Titans are running out of needs because they've drafted so well in recent years. The enormous Vea, a dominant run defender comped to Haloti Ngata, is a tremendous athlete for his size (6-foot-5, 332 pounds). Would you believe he played some running back in high school? If Sylvester Williams doesn't pan out, Vea would make a lot of sense.

 

13. Detroit Lions – Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk

 

The Lions have lacked a true No. 1 receiver since Calvin Johnson retired. Kirk has been shredding the SEC since he stepped foot on campus and would give Detroit a lightning-quick weapon on the perimeter. His addition would allow Golden Tate to shift to the slot.

 

14. Miami Dolphins – Alabama S Ronnie Harrison

 

The Dolphins picked up T Ja'Wuan James’ fifth-year option after the draft and selected Utah G Isaac Asiata during it, so they seem fortified enough up front to devote this pick to helping out the secondary. Harrison was a little overshadowed by the Crimson Tide’s draft-eligible stars in the secondary last season, but he’ll break out into the national spotlight this fall. He’s a big-hitter with plus-range.

 

15. Philadelphia Eagles - Notre Dame T Mike McGlinchey

 

It’s time to start looking for a long-term replacement for Jason Peters, who’ll be 36 at this time next year. The 6-foot-8, 312-pound McGlinchey is a prototypical franchise left tackle prospect who received a first-round grade from the NFL Draft advisory board over the winter before deciding to return to campus.

 

16. Carolina Panthers – Oklahoma T Orlando Brown

 

Carolina only devoted one pick to fortifying its offensive line last week, taking Western Michigan G Taylor Moton with the No. 64 pick. Brown, the son of the late Orlando “Zeus” Brown, is a 6-foot-7, 340-pound mauler who’s started the past two seasons at left tackle for the Sooners but probably profiles better as a stud NFL right tackle. Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine often ran through gaping holes created by this road-grading tackle.

 

17. Indianapolis Colts – Texas OLB Malik Jefferson

 

It’s a new year with a familiar refrain: After taking S Malik Hooker, CB Quincy Wilson and DE Tarell Basham with his first three picks in 2017, GM Chris Ballard continues to rebuild the defense by taking the class’ premier linebacker prospect. Because of his inconsistencies in Austin, Jefferson enters 2017 as a high-variance prospect. His talent is on par with any draft-eligible defender in the class, but he’ll have to play to it to hear his name called on Day 1 of the 2018 draft. I’m guessing he will: Jefferson’s defensive teammates were out of position so often last year that you can forgive the freelancing of a player who probably felt like it was his responsibility to make every play. Jefferson was also playing out of position. Tom Herman and crew are shifting Jefferson back to outside linebacker this fall.

 

18. Baltimore Ravens – Alabama WR Calvin Ridley

 

Once again, GM Ozzie Newsome is being lauded for sticking to his board and taking the best available player throughout the 2017 NFL Draft. Deservedly so. But the Ravens left last week’s draft without a receiver, making that position Priority No. 1 next offseason. Newsome loves his Crimson Tide prospects, adding two more last week (Marlon Humphrey and Tim Williams). Ridley was clocked at a 4.43-second 40-yard dash during Alabama’s spring workouts.

 

19. Cleveland Browns (from Houston Texans) – SMU WR Courtland Sutton

 

Cleveland snagged this pick in the Round 1 swap that enabled the Texans to move up the board for Deshaun Watson. The Browns are willing to gamble on upside in the draft, as the selections of TE David Njoku, QB DeShone Kizer, T Roderick Johnson and DT Caleb Brantley illustrated last week. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Sutton fits the swing-for-the-fences mantra, and he’d be a tremendous long-term tag-team partner for Corey Coleman. Big and athletic, Sutton shredded the AAC for a 76-1,246-10 line last season. Sutton probably would have been an early Day 2 pick had he entered the 2017 draft. He could catapult into the top-10 with another monster season and a strong showing at the NFL Combine.

 

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – LSU RB Derrius Guice

 

The Bucs flirted with drafting FSU RB Dalvin Cook in Rd. 1 before calling an audible to stop TE O.J. Howard’s tumble down the board. One year later, they may have a shot at Guice, who some believe was the Tigers’ best running back last season even when Leonard Fournette was healthy.

 

21. Minnesota Vikings  - Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson

 

After trading their most recent first-round pick for Sam Bradford and then using their top 2017 selection on Dalvin Cook, the Vikings were only able to add one immediate starter to the woeful offensive line in the 2017 draft (Pat Elflein in Rd. 3). Nelson is the premier guard prospect in the 2018 class heading into the season.

 

22. Arizona Cardinals – Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph

 

Like New Orleans, Arizona has flirted over the past few years with adding an ace quarterback prospect to intern behind a veteran. The Cardinals surprisingly didn’t take a quarterback in last week's draft, setting the stage for them to use an early-round pick on a signal-caller in the talent-rich 2018 class. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Rudolph’s frame is nearly identical to the 37-year-old Carson Palmer’s. PFF College has ranked Rudolph as a top-10 collegiate quarterback in each of the past two years—including No. 2 in 2016—and as a top-five deep-ball thrower in both 2015 and 2016.

 

23. Buffalo Bills (from Kansas City Chiefs) – Boston College DE/OLB Harold Landry

 

The Bills picked up this selection in the Draft Day trade that allowed the Chiefs to move up to take Patrick Mahomes. Buffalo took Lamar Jackson earlier in this exercise, so they may want to add an ace prospect for Sean McDermott’s defense here. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Landry probably would have been an early Day 2 pick if he’d entered the 2017 draft. Instead, he returned to the Eagles to wreak havoc on ACC quarterbacks one more time. Last year, Landry led the ACC with 16.5 sacks. He profiles as either a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB at the next level.

 

24. New York Giants – Georgia RB Nick Chubb

 

If Chubb stays healthy in 2017, he’s going to be a first-round pick. As a freshman in 2015, he dropped 1,547 yards (7.1 ypc) and 14 touchdowns on the SEC. A year later, he was averaging over eight yards per carry before tearing his PCL. Chubb was clearly getting his sea legs back under him last season, but even while limited he ran for 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 3.7 yards after contact per rush, per PFF College.

 

25. Denver Broncos – North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb

 

A run on Chubbs! This Chubb, Bradley, briefly considered going pro after the season and would have been a late first-rounder or early second-rounder if he had. Chubb has accrued 31.5 tackles for loss and 15 sacks over the past two seasons. PFF College also charted his work against the run as top-notch. That site grades Chubb as the No. 4 returning edge defender in the nation.

 

26. Atlanta Falcons – Oklahoma State WR James Washington

 

Mason Rudolph’s favorite toy, Washington is a lid popper who’d create more space for Julio Jones and Atlanta’s ancillary offensive weapons. In his last two years, Washington has averaged 20.5 and 19.4 yards per reception, respectively. In both campaigns, he topped 1,000 yards (1,380 last year) and finished with exactly 10 touchdowns. Washington could join Rudolph in New York for the Heisman ceremony following next season, just as archrival Oklahoma sent its QB-WR1 duo of Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook to New York this past season. As for Washington’s NFL projection, he’ll need to test well in Indy to have a shot at the first round because the 6-foot, 205-pounder’s game is so dependent on long speed and acceleration, ala Will Fuller.

 

27. Oakland Raiders – USC ILB Cameron Smith

 

I thought that the Raiders might address their linebacker need in Rd. 1 last week. Instead, Oakland waited until Rd. 5, which means they’ll probably be in the market for LB help next offseason. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Smith, who’s been starting since his freshman year, is one of the nation’s best. He’s strong against the run and gifted in coverage.

 

28. Seattle Seahawks – Clemson T Mitch Hyatt

 

The Seahawks have more work to do along the offensive line. A former five-star recruit, Hyatt has started since his true freshman campaign, including in each of the past two national title games. In this past one, he tantalized the NFL with a slick showing against Alabama’s procession of future NFL front-seven monsters. Hyatt, an All-ACC selection in both seasons on campus, allowed only two sacks over nearly 1,000 snaps last year.

 

29. Pittsburgh Steelers – Florida State CB Tarvarus McFadden

 

The Steelers needed more secondary help than they drafted last week—CB Cam Sutton in Rd. 3 and Utah S Brian Allen in Rd. 5—which means they’ll be devoting plenty of resources this fall to scouting the 2018 class’ corners and safeties. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound McFadden would suit their needs. Big and athletic, McFadden is a lockdown collegiate corner.

 

Last year, he tied for tops in the nation with eight interceptions, winning the Jack Tatum Award and finishing as a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award. McFadden missed the spring game following January surgery on a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He played through the injury last year, and it isn’t expected to threaten his availability for summer camp.

 

30. Green Bay Packers – Alabama DL Da’Shawn Hand

 

Hand is an athletic, powerful lineman who will finally break out for the Crimson Tide this fall. Over the past few years, he’s been overshadowed by star defensive linemen A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, Jarran Reed and Dalvin Tomlinson. Because of the depth of Alabama’s line, Hand was forced into a rotational role. That’ll change in 2017.

 

“How hungry am I? Wooh. Woooooh. To be honest, man, I don’t even know how to answer that question,” Hand told Rivals this spring. “That’s how hungry I am. It’s immeasurable, for real.” The 6-foot-4, 282-pound Hand, a former state champion wrestler and top-overall football recruit, completed 42 reps of 225 pounds on the bench all the way back in March 2015, when he was coming off of his freshman season. If he plays up to his tools this fall, I've projected him too low.

 

31. Dallas Cowboys – Louisville CB Jaire Alexander

 

The Cowboys fired four bullets at their shoddy secondary in the 2017 draft—Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Marquez White—after using their first-round pick on DE Taco Charlton. The team is still searching for a true No. 1 corner, and Alexander could profile as one if he improves as much this coming year as he did last season. PFF College ranked Alexander as the No. 4 corner in the nation last season. On 61 targets, Alexander picked off five balls and broke up eight. He also acquitted himself well in tackling and as a punt returner. The 5-foot-11 Alexander ran a 4.32-second forty this spring.

 

32. New England Patriots - Utah DT Lowell Lotulelei

 

The baby brother of Panthers interior cog Star Lotulelei (No. 14 overall pick in 2013) could displace the aging Alan Branch as the starter next to Malcolm Brown. Lotulelei, who’s been an All-Pac 12 selection in each of the past three seasons, pondered entering the 2017 draft. Assuming minor on-field improvements and strong testing numbers at the NFL Combine, he has a good chance to be a 2018 first-rounder.

 

 

Best prospect left by position:

 

QB – Washington State’s Luke Falk

RB – USC’s Ronald Jones

WR – Clemson’s Deon Cain

TE – Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli

T – Mississippi State’s Martinas Rankin

G – Florida G/T Martez Ivey (moving from guard to tackle this year)

C – Michigan’s Mason Cole

DT – Michigan’s Maurice Hurst

DE – Florida State’s Josh Sweat

ILB – Wisconsin’s T.J. Edwards

OLB – Ohio State’s Jerome Baker

CB – Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson

S – Penn State's Marcus Allen

 

Unlisted prospect with the most riser potential by position:

 

QB – Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham

RB – Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough

WR – Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown

TE – Stanford’s Dalton Schultz

T – Washington’s Trey Adams

G – Ohio State's Billy Price

C – LSU's Will Clapp (shifting from guard to center this year)

DT – Texas A&M’s Daylon Mack

DE – Ole Miss’ Marquis Haynes

ILB – Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds (he’s actually an OLB but I had to sneak him onto this list)

OLB – Alabama’s Christian Miller

CB – USC’s Iman Marshall

S – Pitt’s Jordan Whitehead

 



Thor Nystrom is a former MLB.com associate reporter whose writing has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to Rotoworld's college football writer on Twitter @thorku.
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