Almost all of the Scout Camp series so far has focused on the evaluation of players, with very little focus (if any) being placed on where they are likely to be drafted; this piece stands in stark contrast to those before it. This piece doesn’t aim to judge the quality of the following picks, but with only a day to go before the first round of the draft, attempts to predict what will happen on Thursday night based on statements made by various NFL associates, insiders and other sources. With several days left until the draft, some teams right at the top are likely to still be undecided as to where they wish to go with their picks; this is a situation very much in flux. However, for whatever it’s worth, here is how I predict the first round of the 2018 NFL draft will play out. I’ll be excited to see your reactions – after all this draft is meant to be mocked.
1. Cleveland Browns; Sam Darnold, QB USC
The Browns, despite their public ‘support’ of Tyrod Taylor, are almost certain to take a quarterback with one of their two first round picks, and while Josh Allen has been rumored at the top spot in recent weeks, Darnold offers a more reasonable expectation of elite production – while he might not be the polished player that Josh Rosen is, he will be able to learn behind Tyrod (at least during training camp until he is named the starter) in an offense that will likely make the most out of his ability to make plays out of the pocket.
THREE WAY TRADE! Giants send second overall pick to Buffalo in return for the 22nd and 65th overall pick from Buffalo and the sixth overall pick from Indianapolis, who get the 12th, 53rd and a 2019 second round pick from Buffalo.
2. Buffalo Bills; Josh Allen, QB Wyoming
The Bills really, really need a quarterback and have put themselves somewhat in a corner by trading away Tyrod Taylor. This (12, 22, 53, 65 and a 2019 second rounder) is a ton to give up in order to get their guy, but as they don’t pick until 12, they could well be forced into a trade like this in order to get one of the players they like, and a three-team trade is an idea that has been floated by Daniel Jeremiah in recent days as they likely don’t have the assets to convince the Giants to move all the way down to 12. Allen has a huge ceiling, even if his floor is very low and is somebody who has received very positive reports coming out of Buffalo.
3. New York Jets; Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
That makes three straight quarterbacks to start the draft, as the QB-needy Jets select a QB who they have been linked to a lot in recent weeks. Mayfield is extremely highly regarded by some, and could come in and start for a team earlier than some of the more developmental quarterbacks in the class. The Jets haven’t had a good quarterback for at least a decade, and while there is some hope in New York about Teddy Bridgewater making a full return from injury, it is hardly a leap to imagine them taking their top remaining QB here, especially having given up so much to trade into the top three.
4. Cleveland Browns; Saquon Barkley, HB Penn State
Having got their quarterback at one, the Browns will almost certainly try to get the best player available at four, and most seem to have Barkley as that guy. Cleveland will hope that he can give them a centerpiece running back with the ability to be a dominant force in the passing game as well; there are other directions they could go with this pick, including trading down for the right price, but Barkley does seem to be the popular choice to be the first position player off the board.
TRADE! Broncos send the fifth overall pick to Arizona in return for the 15th, 47th and 97th picks and a 2019 third rounder.
5. Arizona Cardinals; Josh Rosen, QB UCLA
Arizona is another QB-needy team, as while Sam Bradford has quietly been one of the best QBs in football while healthy over the past few seasons, he has struggled to remain on the field and is certainly in the back half of his career at this point. Denver could like somebody enough to take them at five, but this draft doesn’t offer much in terms of generational talents and having already got their QB in Case Keenum, they will likely find it hard not to add additional picks in order to address a number of needs on both sides of the ball. Rosen is not only the best pure thrower in the draft, but has a similar style to Sam Bradford who they obviously like.
6. New York Giants; Quenton Nelson, G Notre Dame
Gettleman gets his hog mollie, and while Nelson might not be the perfect guard prospect some seem to think he is, one thing he has in spades is power; with Mike Shula and Gettleman back together in New York, this team looks to get back to a power running game in order to take pressure off Eli and to open up some deep passing patterns down the field. Nelson would likely be an immediate replacement for Justin Pugh and would suit Gettleman’s focus on building from the trenches.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Bradley Chubb, DE NC State
Tampa needs to improve its defense on almost every level and they will likely be ecstatic to take the player that is widely regarded to be the best edge player in the class; Chubb is a prototypical 4-3 defensive end who should be an immediate feature against the run with enough pass rushing ability to be seen as a true three-down player. The Bucs may be tempted to take a secondary player here or, should the QB class not go quite so quickly, they are another team that might be willing to listen to trades, but Chubb would likely be seen as a real win for the Bucs at seven.
8. Chicago Bears; Roquan Smith, ILB Georgia
The Bears are slowly building a very good defense and this pick could well be used on whoever they think is the best remaining defensive player; that could be a number of players including Edmunds, Ward or James, but Smith is probably the safest of those picks. He doesn’t look to be a Luke Kuechly game changer, but he will be able to be an immediate contributor at linebacker for a Bears team that will be looking to make strides in the second year of their rebuild.
9. San Francisco 49ers; Derwin James, S FSU
Kyle Shanahan is all too aware of the importance of matchups and Derwin James is a matchup weapon. San Francisco’s offense has seen significant focus so far this offseason, but the defense wasn’t especially good either last year. Despite investing a lot of high picks on their defensive line, they have limited talent behind that – James could be somebody they move around a lot early on in order to find his ideal position.
10. Oakland Raiders; Denzel Ward, CB Ohio State
The Raiders secondary has been terrible for the most part in recent seasons, and with the offense likely going to go as far as Derek Carr can take them, they will likely be limited by their defense once again in 2018; it wouldn’t be shocking to see them target anywhere on defense with this pick, but corner is an obvious need, and many will regard getting Ward at ten as good value.
11. Miami Dolphins; Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS Alabama
The Dolphins are in need of a lot of pieces as they looked to rebuild once again, having failed to to turn their free agency spending sprees of recent years into anything substantial. One area they really struggled with last year was the secondary, both in terms of coverage and run support; Fitzpatrick can come in and compete at corner, with the ability to play multiple safety roles if needs be. There are a number of other ways the Dolphins could go with this pick, but most boards would have Fitzpatrick as the top player available at this point.