The 2018 NFL Mock Draft series breaks down draft-eligible players and projects the picks with which players will be selected. In this exercise, I take into account team need, the tendencies of each team’s decision makers, the general hype players have in the scouting/draftnik community, and the overall talent of each player. It’s important for daily fantasy players to know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece covers Round 1 of the 2018 FantasyLabs NFL Mock Draft, which we will regularly update as more information comes available.
1. Cleveland Browns: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Redshirt Junior | 6’5″ and 240 Pounds | Born May 21, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Quarterback, Defensive Line, Linebacker
The Browns need a franchise quarterback, and they have the No. 1 pick. They’re drafting their guy.
Some draft analysts say that Allen is comparable as a non-major conference prospect to Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz. That might be true, but the available data don’t support that stance: Allen has great size, but not every big quarterback from a middling program becomes an NFL starter. Exhibit A: Paxton Lynch. While Allen has the body of a prototypical passer, he doesn’t have the accuracy. In his three collegiate seasons as a starter (from first to last), Roethlisberger completed 63.3, 63.3, and 69.1 percent of his passes. In his two starting seasons, Wentz had 63.7 and 62.5 percent completion rates. Allen, though, has rates of 49.0, 56.0, and 56.3 percent — and his first season was at Reedley Community College. Think about that: Allen didn’t complete even 50.0 percent of his passes at junior college. In a draft-focused edition of the Daily Fantasy Flex, Matt Waldman says that Allen is a mannequin: He might look the part, but he’s not real. Even so, Allen looks like the type of quarterback Browns GM John Dorsey tends to like, and the Browns have two picks in the top five.
2. New York Giants: QB Sam Darnold, Southern California
Redshirt Sophomore | 6’4″ and 220 Pounds | Born June 5, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Quarterback, Offensive Tackle, Running Back
The Giants need an eventual successor to quarterback Eli Manning. With the No. 2 pick, they have the opportunity to select a premium prospect who could be with the team for a decade.
After sitting out his first year on campus, Darnold was a star for USC in 2016, completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He regressed in 2017, completing ‘just’ 63.1 percent of his passes for 4,143 yards and 26 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Although he dropped to 8.5 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) from 9.0, his 2017 mark was still solid, and a 0.5 AY/A drop isn’t all that drastic. On the whole, the USC passing offense was still a top unit last year. Per Football Study Hall, in 2016 the Trojans were fourth in Passing S&P+ (135.0) and fifth in passing success rate (51.2 percent). In 2017 they were 11th (123.9) and 10th (47.3 percent): Darnold was a little less consistent and dynamic last year than he was the year prior, but he was still good — especially for a young second-year Power Five starter. At a minimum, he has pro-level arm talent and good mobility, averaging 2.3 yards per carry (including sacks) for his career. In a quarterback class loaded with underclassmen who have declared early, Darnold is the best.
For more, see Darnold’s player profile.
3. Indianapolis Colts: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Junior | 5’11″ and 230 Pounds | Born February 7, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Wide Receiver, Running Back
It’s not hard to find productive running backs later in the draft, and the Colts have far bigger needs at other positions, but Barkley is a near-universal top-six pick in recent mock drafts across the industry, and owner Jim Irsay (a couple days after Barkley declared for the draft) suggested that quarterback Andrew Luck would benefit from having a back that could be to him what Edgerrin James was to Peyton Manning — except “bigger, faster, and stronger” (per Zak Keefer of the Indy Star). Maybe this time when the Colts invest a first-round pick in a running back taken No. 3 overall, that guy won’t turn into Trent Richardson.
It’s unclear if any team picking near the top of the draft is willing to use a first-rounder on a running back, but Barkley as a prospect is no less impressive than the backs selected with top-10 picks in the past few years.
- Leonard Fournette (2017, 1.04)
- Christian McCaffrey (2017, 1.08)
- Ezekiel Elliott (2016, 1.04)
- Todd Gurley (2015, 1.10)
In fact, Barkley is more impressive than all of them: He’s a better receiver than Fournette and bigger than McCaffrey. Unlike Zeke, he produced as a freshman. Unlike Gurley, he’s not entering the NFL fresh off an ACL tear. Based on his age, size, and production, Barkley is the best pre-combine running back prospect of the past decade.
For more, see Barkley’s player profile.
4. Cleveland Browns: DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
Senior | 6’4″ and 275 Pounds | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Quarterback, Defensive Line, Linebacker
Chubb is a consensus top-10 pick and probably the best edge defender and pass rusher in the class. He would pair nicely as a bookend player with last year’s No. 1 overall pick defensive end Myles Garrett.
5. Denver Broncos: QB Josh Rosen, California-Los Angeles
Junior | 6’4″ and 218 Pounds | Born February 10, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Quarterback, Offensive Line
The Broncos just spent a first-rounder two years ago on Paxton Lynch — and that’s why they have the No. 5 overall pick. They need a quarterback who can start right away, and Rosen is the most pro-ready passer in the draft.
As of Jan. 12, Rosen was a +100 favorite to be the first quarterback selected in the 2018 draft, but Browns GM John Dorsey before he was hired reportedly labeled Rosen as a “stay away” prospect because of his attitude. Most years, though, Rosen would be a strong candidate to be the first quarterback off the board and is almost certain to be selected in the top 10 (if not the top five). As a high-schooler Rosen was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country, and at UCLA he opened his first season as the team’s starting quarterback. For a true freshman in a Power Five conference, Rosen was outstanding, completing 60.0 percent of his passes for 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns. As a sophomore he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury that limited him to six games, but as a junior he had a solid if unspectacular campaign, completing 62.5 percent of his passes and setting several other career-high marks: 3,717 yards passing, 26 touchdowns, and 8.4 adjusted yards per attempt. Before the 2017-18 bowl season, he was No. 3 in NFL Media’s college quarterback rankings.
For more, see Rosen’s player profile.
6. New York Jets: DE Arden Key, Louisiana State
Junior | 6’6″ and 265 Pounds | Born May 3, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive End
Todd Bowles is a defensive head coach, and the team struggled to create pressure in 2017, ranking just 25th with a 5.8 percent adjusted sack rate (per Football Outsiders). With the three top-tier quarterbacks off the board Baker Mayfield could be in play, but this feels early to draft a short quarterback. Key is a boom/bust prospect given that he dealt with a shoulder injury last season and temporarily left the team in the spring for reasons unreported, but he’s a physically gifted player who had 12 sacks as a sophomore. The Jets drafted defensive tackle Leonard Williams with the No. 6 pick just a few years ago. Next to Williams, Key has double-digit sack potential.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Junior | 6’1″ and 202 Pounds | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Defensive End, Cornerback, Running Back
Most mock drafts have Fitzpatrick as a top-eight selection, No. 1 cornerback Brent Grimes is a free agent and about to turn 35, and the team is thin in the secondary. Ideally the Bucs would be getting a pass rusher with this pick, but no available edge defender fits the draft range, and Fitzpatrick still addresses a position of significant need. A rangy player, Fitzpatrick has an uncertain NFL projection, but I expect he’ll be converted to a full-time corner. As we’ve recently seen with Jalen Ramsey, Marshon Lattimore, and even Tre’Davious White — all of whom finished 2017 with top-four PFF cornerback grades — getting an elite shutdown cover man in the first round can transform a defense. Fitzpatrick played only 13 snaps on the outside in 2017 (per PFF), so his ability to transition immediately to corner is uncertain, but he’s the hands-down top defensive back on the board.
8. Chicago Bears: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Junior | 6’1″ and 190 Pounds | Born December 20, 1994 (Age: 23) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Wide Receiver, Offensive Line, Cornerback
The Bears are desperate to get a No. 1 wide receiver for ‘franchise’ quarterback Mitchell Trubisky — so desperate that they might overdraft one. Ridley is universally projected to be a top-20 pick, but he could sneak into the top 10.
As a prospect, Ridley is more of a ‘player’ than a ‘producer.’ Even though Ridley just finished his true junior season, he’s already 23 years old, which is ancient for someone only three years out of high school. Even so, Ridley is widely deemed to be the best receiver in the class. Given that he entered college as a five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 1 high school wide receiver, he has been considered a future first-rounder for a while — but Ridley looks unlike a lot of successful Day 1 selections from previous seasons. Over the last 25 years there have been only three first-round wide receivers to turn 24 as rookies and weigh less than 200 pounds (in other words, to be old and small). This limited cohort performed well in the NFL, but its members were also way more productive in college than Ridley, who in 2017 had 63 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games.
- Marvin Harrison (1996, 1.19): 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games as a senior
- Joey Galloway (1995, 1.08): 1,004 yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games as a junior
- O.J. McDuffie (1993, 1.25): 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games as a senior
Ridley’s age and size on their own probably aren’t as negative as people will make them out to be — but his lack of production at his age and size is troubling.
For more, see Ridley’s player profile.
Note: The 49ers and Raiders will flip a coin to determine who picks first in Round 1.
9. San Francisco 49ers: OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Senior | 6’5″ and 330 Pounds | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Wide Receiver, Offensive Line, Cornerback, Defensive End
Given the players available, the 49ers might not be in a spot to address the receiver position with a top-10 pick, but they can draft the first offensive lineman off the board and upgrade their passing and rushing attacks. It’s rare for guards to be selected so high, but many scouts reportedly consider Nelson to be a Logan Mankins-esque player worthy of a top-five pick. A dominant run blocker and agile pass blocker, Nelson would pair well with aging left tackle Joe Staley.
10. Oakland Raiders: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
Redshirt Junior | 6’1″ and 192 Pounds | Born April 3, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Cornerback, Linebacker, Offensive Tackle, Defensive End
The defensive back hierarchy after Fitzpatrick isn’t sorted out yet, but Jackson is likely to be a first-rounder and one of the top players selected at his position. Blessed with good hands — he spent some time in college playing receiver — Jackson led the FBS in 2017 with eight interceptions, three of which came in an epic performance against Ohio State. Last year quarterbacks had just a 35.0 passer rating when throwing into his coverage, which was good for a top-five mark (PFF).
11. Miami Dolphins: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
Junior | 6’1″ and 225 Pounds | Born May 27, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Offensive Guard, Linebacker, Running Back
The Dolphins grab the draft’s top off-ball linebacker in Smith, who could transform a defense. Built like a hard-hitting safety, Smith has been compared to Lavonte David and Patrick Willis. Great against the run and good in coverage, Smith will instantly upgrade a linebacking unit that last year didn’t have one player with a PFF grade above 55.0.
12. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Connor Williams, Georgia
Junior | 6’6″ and 315 Pounds | Born May 12, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Offensive Line, Linebacker, Quarterback
In 2017 the Bengals lost left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler via free agency, and those defections haunted them all season, as the offensive line was 24th in adjusted line yards and 20th in adjusted sack rate (Football Outsiders). Here the Bengals start to rebuild the unit. Draftniks are split as to who the best offensive tackle in the draft is — Williams, Mike McGlinchey, or Orlando Brown — but enough sharp talent evaluators view Williams as a top-12 prospect that I’m going to take their word on it.
13. Washington Redskins: S Derwin James, Florida State
Redshirt Sophomore | 6’3″ and 215 Pounds | Born August 3, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Quarterback, Linebacker, Safety, Wide Receiver
Assuming the Redskins get their situation with quarterback Kirk Cousins figured out — although that’s not a safe assumption to make — I see James as fitting the right combination of need and talent. In 2017 the Redskins were 29th against the rush in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), and they also allowed the fourth-most receiving yards in the league to tight ends. Big enough to play in the box and fast enough to play in coverage, James could help on both counts. The No. 1 defensive back in the nation as a five-star recruit in 2015, James was a future-rounder from his first college game.
14. Green Bay Packers: CB Denzel Ward, Florida State
Junior | 5’10″ and 191 Pounds | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Cornerback, Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, Defensive End
The run on defensive backs comes to an end. The Packers defense ranked 26th in pass DVOA in 2017 and specifically 32nd against No. 1 wide receivers. Not one Packers corner — except for hybrid safety/slot defender Morgan Burnett — had a PFF coverage grade of even 70.0. Ward is small, but he’s reported to be fast (4.31-second 40 time). Physically comparable to Jason Verrett, Ward has the potential to be a shutdown corner.
15. Arizona Cardinals: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Redshirt Senior | 6’1″ and 220 Pounds | Born April 14, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Wide Receiver
The Eagle — or the Cardinal, in this case — has landed. Over the last decade only one quarterback under 6’2″ has been drafted with a first-round pick, and that guy turned into the dumpster fire that was Johnny Manziel. Even so, there are enough quarterback-needy teams to make Mayfield’s selection on Day 1 highly probable. Our draft projection of Mayfield might even be conservatively low: Many recent mock drafts have him going no later than No. 13, and almost all have him as a first-rounder. With the retirement of Carson Palmer, the Cardinals are in the market for a franchise quarterback, and that’s what Mayfield is.
If all that mattered in prospect evaluation were college production, the 2017 Heisman winner would easily be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. OU’s passing attack in 2017 ranked first in both Passing S&P+ and success rate (per Football Study Hall). Mayfield is the only player in the 14-year history of ESPN’s Total QBR metric with two seasons above 90.0. A four-year starter, Mayfield in his three final seasons had an absurdly elite mark of 11.9 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) — and he improved each season, posting a 6.3 AY/A as a freshman, 10.4 as a sophomore, and 12.3 and 12.9 as a junior and senior. With a 96.2 overall grade, Mayfield was PFF’s No. 1 offensive college football player in 2017, ranking first with an 82.6 percent adjusted completion rate, 134.8 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards, and 105.3 passer rating under pressure.
For more, see Mayfield’s player profile.
16. Baltimore Ravens: WR Courtland Sutton, Southern Methodist
Redshirt Junior | 6’4″ and 216 Pounds | Born October 10, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Wide Receiver, Tight End, Running Back
Sutton fills a huge need for the Ravens and is considered a first-round talent by most draftniks. Jeremy Maclin turns 30 in May and is a candidate to get cut. Mike Wallace turns 32 in August and is a free agent. Breshad Perriman has been an exquisite bust to this point and seems unlikely to be with the team beyond 2018. Sutton could easily lead the team in all receiving categories as a rookie.
With good size and great college production, Sutton is in an elite cohort. Of all the first- and second-rounders to enter the NFL over the last decade, here are the big-bodied wide receivers (at least 6’0″ and 200 pounds) with multiple 1,000-10 receiving seasons in college.
- Corey Davis (2017, 1.05)
- Josh Doctson (2016, 1.22)
- Amari Cooper (2015, 1.04)
- Sammy Watkins (2014, 1.04)
- Davante Adams (2014, 2.53)
- Justin Blackmon (2012, 1.05)
- Michael Crabtree (2009, 1.10)
As a multi-year spread-system producer who relies more on size and technique than speed, Sutton is highly comparable as a prospect to Adams and Crabtree — except he’s bigger. He might not have a great career, but Sutton is unlikely to be a Laquon Treadwell-level nonentity. Sutton should be an NFL starter within his first season.
For more, see Sutton’s player profile.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
Grad Student | 6’8″ and 315 Pounds | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Offensive Tackle, Quarterback, Linebacker
A locked-in first-rounder, McGlinchey is an impressive physical specimen with great athleticism for his size. Capable as a run and pass blocker, McGlinchey started his career in college as a right tackle before shifting to the blind side for his two final seasons. Outside of aging left tackle Russell Okung, the Chargers didn’t have one starting offensive lineman with a PFF grade above 55.0. McGlinchey could start immediately at right tackle as he’s groomed to be Okung’s eventual replacement.
18. Seattle Seahawks: OT Orlando Brown Jr., Oklahoma
Redshirt Junior | 6’8″ and 345 Pounds | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Offensive Tackle, Quarterback, Linebacker
Seattle’s offensive line last year was 31st in adjusted line yards and 26th in adjusted sack rate. The Seahawks need a big upgrade — and Brown is big. Some scouts are unsure about Brown as a first-rounder because he’s more of a mauler than a technician, but he’d pair well with left tackle Duane Brown as a bookend to the offensive line early in his career and could eventually move to the left side as his skills improve. The son of a longtime NFL offensive lineman, Brown is raw, but he has the innate talent to be a 10-year starter.
19. Dallas Cowboys: LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Senior | 6’3″ and 234 Pounds | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Linebacker, Defensive Tackle, Cornerback, Tight End
The Cowboys defense wilts whenever the aging Sean Lee misses a game, Anthony Hitchens is a free agent, and a college knee injury has reduced Jaylon Smith to a shell of his former self. The Cowboys need help at the position, and Evans is an all-around off-ball big-and-fast playmaker who can contribute immediately as a run and pass defender. A five-star recruit in high school, Evans exits college the same way he entered it: As one of the best linebackers in the country.
20. Detroit Lions: RB Derrius Guice, Louisiana State
Junior | 5’11″ and 218 Pounds | Born June 21, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Running Back, Defensive End, Offensive Guard, Linebacker
There are a number of edge defenders and linebackers the Lions could select here, but they actively need a running back: Ameer Abdullah is in the last year of his contract and is not a lead back, and Theo Riddick is a small pass-catching specialist. Guice could give the Lions their first true workhorse in 15 years.
When he got to Baton Rouge in 2015, Guice was a five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 2 high school back. As a true freshman he played behind stud running back Leonard Fournette, but as a sophomore he led LSU with 183 carries for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, as Fournette (ankle) missed five games and struggled through much of the season with an injury. In his six 2016 games as the lead back, Guice averaged a studly 178.7 yards and 2.2 touchdowns from scrimmage. Over the last decade, there have been nine workhorse-sized backs to enter the league as either first- or second-rounders and to play as 21-year-old rookies (per Pro Football Reference). All of them (except for last year’s rookie) have had at least one NFL season with 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Here are the nine backs and their best seasons.
- Joe Mixon (2017, 2.48): 913 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage
- Ezekiel Elliott (2016, 1.04): 1,994 yards, 16 touchdowns
- Todd Gurley (2015, 1.10): 2,093 yards, 19 touchdowns
- Le’Veon Bell (2013, 2.48): 2,215 yards, 11 touchdowns
- LeSean McCoy (2009, 2.53): 1,624 yards, 20 touchdowns
- Beanie Wells (2009, 1.31): 1,099 yards, 10 touchdowns
- Darren McFadden (2008,1.04): 1,664 yards, 10 touchdowns
- Rashard Mendenhall (2008, 1.23): 1,440 yards, 13 touchdowns
- Jonathan Stewart (2008, 1.13): 1,272 yards, 11 touchdowns
Guice will be drafted at the precocious age of 20 and will almost certainly be selected no later than the second round.
For more, see Guice’s player profile.
21. Buffalo Bills: DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
Junior | 6’2″ and 308 Pounds | Born May 27, 1997 (Age: 20) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Quarterback, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker
The Bills could draft Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson here, but given their treatment of Tyrod Taylor in 2017 it seems as if they’d prefer a pocket passer to a running quarterback. The Bills need significant help on the interior of their defensive line. Without Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Marcel Dareus, whom they traded away in the middle of the season, the Bills allowed 146.1 yards rushing per game; with him, 79.2. HC Sean McDermott’s defense needs a player to anchor the unit, and Payne is a big-time run stuffer with an underappreciated ability to apply pressure up the middle as a pass rusher and to play multiple techniques along the line.
22. Buffalo Bills: DE Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio
Senior | 6’7″ and 255 Pounds | Born September 4, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Quarterback, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker
The Bills find a big-bodied and athletic edge defender to pair with the productive but smallish and aging Jerry Hughes. Davenport spent his college career hidden at UTSA in Conference USA, but he had 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 11 games last year and has been invited to the Senior Bowl. If Davenport has a strong pre-draft process, he could be drafted in the first half of Round 1.
23. Los Angeles Rams: OT Chukwuma Okorafor, Western Michigan
Senior | 6’6″ and 330 Pounds | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Cornerback, Offensive Line, Linebacker, Defensive End
The Rams offense was improved in 2017 thanks to the addition of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan. It’s important for the offensive line to stay strong, but Whitworth is 36 and right tackle Rob Havenstein is entering the final year of his contract. Okorafor is a big-bodied multi-year dominator with experience on both sides of the line: He provides immediate depth to the position now and could be the eventual successor to Whitworth and/or Havenstein.
24. Carolina Panthers: OT Kolton Miller, California-Los Angeles
Redshirt Junior | 6’8″ and 310 Pounds | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, Defensive End
Left tackle Matt Kalil was abominable in 2017 with a 50.8 PFF grade, and right tackle Daryl Williams is entering a contract year. At a minimum the Panthers need depth at the position, and Kolton has experience at both left and right tackle and the height to add more bulk as quarterback Cam Newton‘s future blindside protector.
25. Tennessee Titans: DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
Redshirt Junior | 6’5″ and 265 Pounds | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Defensive End, Offensive Guard, Tight End
Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan will be 32 and 29 next year, and 2018 is their last season under contract. The Titans need depth at the position, and Hubbard is a raw big-and-fast edge defender who could benefit from a year under the veterans as a supplementary pass rusher before taking over as a three-down player in 2019.
26. Atlanta Falcons: DT Vita Vea, Washington
Redshirt Junior | 6’5″ and 340 Pounds | Born February 5, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Defensive Tackle, Offensive Guard, Safety
The Falcons stop Vea’s slide down the draft board. A locked-in first-rounder, Vea could go much earlier in the draft, but some teams might prefer Payne to Vea as an interior defender, and many teams will likely choose to address other positions of need first. Built like a nose tackle but blessed with elite athleticism, Vea could be a force in the middle for the Falcons defense, which could lose defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett to free agency in 2018 and 2019.
27. New Orleans Saints: C/G Billy Price, Ohio State
Redshirt Senior | 6’4″ and 312 Pounds | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Interior Offensive Line, Quarterback, Wide Receiver
In 2017 the Saints had perhaps the best offensive line in the league, ranking second with 4.93 adjusted line yards and a 4.0 percent adjusted sack rate. Even so, Andrus Peat (leg, ankle) struggled in his transition from tackle to guard (46.9 PFF grade) before being placed on Injured Reserve, and 2018 could be his last year with the team if they decline his fifth-year option. Center Max Unger also struggled (50.5 PFF grade), and he turns 32 years old in April. Price provides immediate and versatile depth, as he started for three years as a guard before transitioning to center as a senior. A consensus All-American and the winner of the 2017 Rimington Trophy as the best center in college football, Price has the potential to start as a rookie.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Junior | 6’5″ and 250 Pounds | Projection: Round 1
Team Needs: Linebacker, Quarterback, Safety
Pro-Bowler Ryan Shazier (back) might not play football again, and he is entering the final year of his contract anyway. Edmunds could be a capable replacement. He hasn’t gotten much hype yet, but draftniks are expecting him to blow up the combine. A hybrid linebacker who is fast enough to play in the middle against the run and pass and big enough to rush the quarterback off the edge, Edmunds is a natural fit for Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense as an all-around playmaker. It also doesn’t hurt that he has NFL bloodlines as the son of a two-time Pro-Bowl tight end in Ferrell Edmunds.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: TE Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Redshirt Junior | 6’5″ and 254 Pounds | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Tight End, Offensive Line, Quarterback, Wide Receiver
The Jags should draft a quarterback to replace Blake Bortles, but they probably won’t. He ‘led’ them to the AFC Championship, and the only quarterback on the board who fits the draft range is Lamar Jackson, who is intriguing but almost certainly not ready to start as a rookie. Instead, they draft a tight end to give Bortles another viable pass catcher and to replace the ancient Marcedes Lewis, who in three 2017 playoff games had just four receptions and 21 yards on seven targets. With a legit tight end able to exploit matchups in the middle of the field, the Jags might have beaten the Patriots in the postseason.
Over the past two years the NFL has been lucky to see several top-tier tight end prospects enter the league.
- 2017 (1.19): O.J. Howard, Alabama
- 2017 (1.23): Evan Engram, Mississippi
- 2017 (1.29): David Njoku, Miami (FL)
- 2016 (2.35): Hunter Henry, Arkansas
Andrews could be the next tight end to enter the NFL as a top-40 pick. A four-star wide receiver recruit, Andrews redshirted in 2014 as he changed positions, but in his first year of action he immediately made an impact as a red zone weapon, finishing second on the team with seven receiving touchdowns (behind No. 1 wide receiver Sterling Shepard) even though he had only 19 receptions. The next year he progressed within the offense: He again finished second with seven touchdowns receiving (behind No. 1 wide receiver Dede Westbrook), and he also finished third with 489 yards and fourth with 31 receptions. With Shepard, Westbrook, and pass-catching running back Joe Mixon all in the NFL in 2017, Andrews broke out in his final season, leading all Sooners pass catchers with 62 receptions and eight touchdowns and placing second with 958 yards. A smooth route runner with the size to be a competent blocker and the ability to line up all over the formation as a mismatch player, Andrews won the 2017 John Mackey Award, which is given to college football’s most outstanding tight end.
For more, see Andrews’ player profile.
30. Minnesota Vikings: DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan
Grad Student | 6’2″ and 280 Pounds | Born May 9, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Quarterback
Even though Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater are all slated to be free agents in 2018, the odds are that the team will find a way for one (maybe even two) of them to return. Instead of drafting a quarterback, the Vikings address the defensive side of the ball with a stud All-American interior lineman. Defensive tackles Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen are both slated to be free agents next season, and Pro Bowl nose tackle Linval Joseph could use an upgraded partner in the middle of the line. A strong run defender and pass rusher, Hurst in 2017 led all college players with a PFF grade of 96.8. As good as the Vikings defense was in 2017 — it was the only unit to finish top five against the pass and the rush (per Football Outsiders) — it could be even better in 2018 with Hurst.
Note: This mock draft is being released before the Super Bowl. I’ve determined the order of the two final teams by consulting their current odds to win the Super Bowl.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
Senior | 6’0″ and 205 Pounds | Born April 2, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver, Linebacker, Cornerback
The Eagles would like to find an eventual successor to Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus Peters (knee, IR), who will be 36 this season, but five offensive tackles are already off the board. Washington, though, is a nice consolation prize as a long-term receiver to pair with quarterback Carson Wentz. The Eagles have gotten good production this year from their wide receiver unit, but Torrey Smith was one of the league’s weakest starting receivers (43.0 PFF grade), Nelson Agholor could be gone after 2018 if the team refuses his fifth-year option, and the bench has little depth. The Eagles could bring in someone to compete with cornerback Jalen Mills, who allowed a league-high nine touchdowns in his coverage in 2017 — and Auburn cornerback Carlton Davis fits in the draft range — but the team has so few true needs that it’s almost impossible to anticipate what they’ll do. Given that Wentz is an MVP-caliber player and HC Doug Pederson is an offensive guy, the team could lean toward a player capable of directly helping the quarterback.
Washington is just the latest in a long line of Big 12 wide receivers to dominate college football before entering the NFL.
- Dede Westbrook: 2016 Biletnikoff winner
- Corey Coleman: 2015 Biletnikoff winner
- Josh Doctson: 2015 Biletnikoff finalist
- Kevin White: 2014 Biletnikoff finalist
- Stedman Bailey: 2012 Biletnikoff finalist
- Terrance Williams: 2012 Biletnikoff finalist
- Justin Blackmon: 2010 & 2011 Biletnikoff winner
- Ryan Broyles: 2010 & 2011 Biletnikoff finalist
- Jordan Shipley: 2009 Biletnikoff finalist
- Michael Crabtree: 2007 & 2008 Biletnikoff winner
- Jeremy Maclin: 2008 Biletnikoff finalist
- Dez Bryant: 2008 Biletnikoff finalist
- Jordy Nelson: 2007 Biletnikoff finalist
The 2017 Biletnikoff award winner as the nation’s top receiver, Washington had an impressive college career. As a sophomore he had the first of three straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving, and in 2017 of all the wideouts in college football he had the best combination of yardage and touchdowns with 1,561 and 14 in 13 games.
For more, see Washington’s player profile.
32. New England Patriots: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Junior | 6’3″ and 211 Pounds | Born January 7, 1997 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Team Needs: Cornerback, Quarterback, Defensive End
Oh, baby. To quote Robert Kennedy, “I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?'” The Pats have never drafted a quarterback with a pick this high in the Tom Brady era — but Brady has also never been 40 years old before: The Pats need a quarterback behind Brady other than (or in addition to) Brian Hoyer. The Pats could draft a defensive player here, but since they have San Francisco’s second-rounder via the Jimmy Garoppolo trade they can afford to pass on defense in the first round, draft a backup and possible heir to Brady, and then select a defender 10-12 picks later. While Jackson might be unpolished, he could develop on the bench for a few years behind Brady, and as a dual-threat player he’s not dissimilar from quarterback Jacoby Brissett, whom New England spent a third-round pick on just two years ago. If the Patriots like what they see when scouting Jackson, they absolutely could draft him in the first round to ensure they get their guy.
In 2016 Jackson won the Heisman at the age of 19, becoming the youngest player in history to win the award. Precocious for a prospect, Jackson is perhaps the Deshaun Watson of this year’s draft class: A highly productive and athletic dual-threat Davey O’Brien-winning Atlantic Coast Conference three-year starter who, despite having difference-making talent and decent size, is not likely to be a top-10 pick. The question with Jackson is whether his style of play will translate to the NFL. Whereas Watson completed 67.4 percent of his career pass attempts and had ‘only’ 1,934 yards rushing, Jackson has a completion rate of just 57.0 percent and rushed for 4,132 yards. Watson is a passing quarterback who can run; Jackson is a running quarterback who is still learning to pass. In that sense, as a prospect he is less similar to Watson than he is to Michael Vick (56.0 percent completion rate in college). Vick retired from the NFL with a subpar 56.2 percent completion rate, but he was a six-time QB1 in fantasy and 61-51-1 as a starter. Even if Jackson fails to develop into a league-average passer, he could have a productive career as a quarterback.
For more, see Jackson’s player profile.
Potential First-Round Players Not Included
- Ronnie Harrison (Safety), Alabama
- Carlton Davis (Cornerback), Auburn
- Harold Landry (Defensive End), Boston College
- Taven Bryan (Defensive Tackle), Florida
- Malik Jefferson (Linebacker), Texas
Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports