Here it is. My first foray at predicting the first round of the NFL Draft. After careful analysis, a lot of research and some discussion with colleagues who cover the NFL for a living, I have come up with what I hope is a best guess at how it will all go down on April 26 from Dallas.
As a side note, my daughter’s birthday is also on the 26th, making it an even better night for this fan of the pigskin.
Understand this is not a consensus of what the staff writers here at The Inscriber Digital Magazine think. Just a sports writer who hopes he knows a thing or two about the NFL.
There will six quarterbacks taken in the first round. I did not include any potential trades, as they have not happened. But, I did include the most recent trade between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams. Expect the unexpected, with teams moving up and down the draft board to add the best pieces to their ever-changing puzzles.
So, let’s stop stalling and give you what you have been waiting for. Here is my crack at the first round of the NFL Draft.
- Cleveland Browns – Josh Allen, Quarterback, Wyoming – I do not like this pick, but I see it coming to fruition with each passing day. The New York Jets’ trade to move up to three make Cleveland taking a quarterback with the top pick a necessity. Allen may have the best arm of any of the top prospects, but I also see him a lot like Jay Cutler. How quick will coach Hue Jackson be to pull starter Tyrod Taylor despite saying the rookie on the roster would sit and learn for a year? If Allen is the pick, then the New York Giants’ draft strategy changes and the Jets are smiling all the way to the bank.
- New York Giants – Sam Darnold, Quarterback, USC – Aside from Carson Palmer, name a Trojans quarterback who has been successful for an extended period of time recently in the NFL? Darnold could come out of this draft as the best prospect and the one who could get to a Super Bowl the quickest. The Giants will have Darnold sit and learn from Eli Manning, who I think still has a few years left in the tank. The Giants could also be tempted to take edge rusher Bradley Chubb of North Carolina State or grab Saquon Barkley to help the running game.
- New York Jets – Josh Rosen, Quarterback, UCLA – The Jets brass rush the name to the podium to make their selection as they hoped and prayed Rosen would still be available with the third pick. When New York sent the pirate’s booty to the Indianapolis Colts for this pick, there was no doubt a signal caller was the selection. Some may have thought it would be Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, but Rosen’s talent will suit the Jets’ offense well while Mayfield would be a reach this high in the draft. From Joe Namath to Richard Todd to Ken O’Brien to Mark Sanchez to now Rosen.
- Cleveland Browns – Saquon Barkley, Running Back, Penn State – I am not enamored of this pick either. Cleveland has many holes to fill and could get better value by trading out of this spot and still having a chance at grabbing Barkley. While he is considered the best running back prospect this season, drafting Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama to help the secondary or Quentin Nelson for the offensive line or even Chubb to bookend pass rush with Myles Garrett all makes sense. Derrius Guice or Nick Chubb will be available in the second round. Still, the Browns continue to add weapons on offense.
- Denver Broncos – Baker Mayfield, Quarterback, Oklahoma – The Broncos throw out all kind of smokescreens and still grab a quarterback. Mayfield is still a reach here, but will sit behind Case Keenum, who was signed in the offseason. For everything Mayfield can be, his off-field issues are still a concern for me and his lack of size could be an issue. He is not Drew Brees and still may be out of the league in five years. Also, the Paxton Lynch experiment in Denver is officially over if Mayfield is the pick of John Elway.
- Indianapolis Colts – Bradley Chubb, Defensive End, North Carolina State – The Colts sweat it out and get the man they wanted all along. Chubb gives the Colts and new head coach Frank Reich a solid pass rusher or outside linebacker who will serve as a building block on this defense. The trade with the New York Jets brought the Colts a ransom they will use to restock both sides of the football. The moves this offseason coupled with the return of Andrew Luck mean the days ahead are bright in Indianapolis and the NFL.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Defensive Back, Alabama – The Buccaneers made offseason moves to improve the pass rush and now will focus on helping the secondary as well. Fitzpatrick is a top-five talent and the best defensive back on the board. I thought the Browns may throw a swerve in here and grab him, but the Bucs are happy he “fell” to them here. He and Vernon Hargreaves are nice building blocks for the future. The pass rush may be insane with the addition of Jason Pierre-Paul, but the secondary could be a nice surprise this season.
- Chicago Bears – Quentin Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame – My rationale here is the team must improve the offensive line to protect Mitchell Trubisky. Nelson was ranked by some experts as the third best prospect coming out of college. That’s a steal here. The Bears did some nice things to improve their passing game and should be solid with the run game. There was some thought Denzel Ward would fit for their needs in the secondary. Nelson is one of those “plug and play” guys who will be a mainstay on the offensive line for the next decade.
- San Francisco 49ers – Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Georgia – This was a toss up between Smith and FSU defensive back Derwin James. Smith can play on the outside or in the middle and helps the 49ers front seven immediately. He can be a stay at home linebacker to help the running game or could cover a tight end or running back out of the backfield. The bottom line is Smith figures to be a three-down linebacker who could also be used as a pass rusher up the middle in some schemes. He may be slightly undersized, but that won’t stop him from being dominant at his position in the NFL.
- Oakland Raiders – Derwin James, Defensive Back, FSU – The pick has Raiders written all over it. The Raiders need a heavy hitter in their secondary. James was used all over the field at FSU, even as a pass catcher and punt returner. He will be one of those special players who turns out to be the best athlete in this draft class. James will become another defensive back in the same mold as Jake Tatum, Michael Haynes, Lester Hayes and Rod Woodson. He may also be used in the return game. I like his ability to blitz the quarterback from the outside. A solid first pick in the new Jon Gruden era in Oakland.
- Miami Dolphins – Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech – OK, here’s the rub. The Dolphins could be in the market for a quarterback. Does Adam Gase pull the trigger on Lamar Jackson, or does he take another position of need? Edmunds has nice size, can play inside and out and is a solid pass rusher in blitz packages. Could he be everything Zach Thomas used to be in South Florida? The Dolphins made changes with their defense this offseason. Edmunds would be a nice start to a new chapter in Miami history.
- Buffalo Bills – Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Louisville – This is the right pick, but there are a few similarities I’d like to point out here. Jackson and former Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor have some of the same skill set. Jackson in time will be a better signal caller, but the inaccuracy issues that plagued him in college are not going to just go away. Jackson is an exceptional athlete who must learn to allow plays to develop and stay in the pocket and trust his receivers. Also, pass rushers will be quicker and stronger, so he must not rely on his athleticism alone or he will get eaten alive. Personally, I don’t think he is in the league five seasons.
- Washington Redskins – Denzel Ward, Defensive Back, Ohio State – In all this mayhem, someone had to tumble out of the first 10 picks. Ward wins the award. There is plenty to like about Ward’s game and his coverage skills. It’s the kind of pick that makes a decent Redskins’ secondary better. Ward is the second or third best defensive back in this draft, depending on who is grading players. He comes from a school known for producing NFL-caliber coverage players. He is another one of those “plug and play” studs who will do well in Greg Manusky’s scheme. He could help in kick coverage as well.
- Green Bay Packers – Vita Vea, Defensive Tackle, Washington – Many have Vea slotted here. I am no different. The Packers still have Aaron Rodgers and could look to draft a wide receiver in this slot (Calvin Ridley of Alabama), but the defensive needs beef up front. He is mammoth at 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds and could plug the middle of the Packers’ line. Dom Capers was fired from his post as defensive coordinator. Former Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine takes over the post and will have a wide body to build around in the middle. Vea’s low center of gravity and thick torso will make it difficult for him to be pushed back from his stance. I nightmare for NFL centers and guards.
- Arizona Cardinals – Mike McGlinchey, Tackle, Notre Dame – The Arizona Cardinals were one of those teams that wanted a quarterback, but their top choices are all off the board. Arizona signed Sam Bradford in the offseason, but he is one of those “bridge” players. The Cardinals may also look at wide receiver and offensive line. Steve Wilks, the new man in charge, takes the best tackle on the board. McGlinchey has all the makings of a lineman who has a 10-year shelf life in the NFL and will not only protect Bradford’s blindside, he will also help in the run game.
- Baltimore Ravens – Da’Ron Payne, Defensive Tackle, Alabama – The Ravens’ head coach Jon Harbaugh may be on the hot seat going into the 2018 season. The team may look to take a quarterback as well, but the Ravens don’t have the stroke to move up in the first round. Payne is one of those big bodies like Vea and in this case, he fits well with Harbaugh’s 3-4 scheme. The Crimson Tide are known for producing productive defensive linemen. Payne is another one who comes off the assembly line and steps in and plays within a system. He is a perfect fit for what the Ravens want to do in 2018.
- Los Angeles Chargers – Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, Boise State – The Chargers need help at linebacker, defensive tackle and safety. Vander Esch is one of those players who continually move up draft boards and could be a top-15 selection before all is said and done. I love his ability to play inside and out and could wind up becoming the best linebacker from this drat class in five years. At 6-foor-4 and 256 pounds, he could be an outside rusher or used inside as a run stuffer. He was the 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and figures to be one of those Boise State players who make an immediate impact in the NFL.
- Seattle Seahawks – Jaire Alexander, Cornerback, Louisville – The Seahawks are a team in transition. Richard Sherman is released and signs with the 49ers. Earl Thomas could be on the way out as well. Head coach Pete Carroll will look to revamp the defense with Alexander, a cornerback who has solid coverage skills and is a heavy hitter. Lance Zierlein compares him to Teez Tabor. He could be an asset in the return game and could see time on either side of the defense. He has great speed and is a physical player, something the Seahawks have prided themselves on having the past few seasons.
- Dallas Cowboys – Isiah Wynn, Guard, Georgia – The Cowboys once vaunted offensive line is in need of some help. After Dallas used the offseason to add wide receivers to the passing game, finding more pass protectors and run blockers is at the top of the list. Wynn is a fast riser on draft boards and should be a middle to late first round pick. Wynn was instrumental in helping the Bulldogs rushing attack. Wynn could play either side of the line and may play center if needed. Dallas will once again use running back Ezekiel Elliott early and often in the team’s offensive game plan.
- Detroit Lions: Harold Landry, Defensive End, Boston College – Landry is one of those Boston College linebackers who will excel on the next level. The Lions could also go tight end in the first round, but as a pass rusher, Landry is the second-best talent on the board. Landry can play with a hand on the ground or standing up on the outside as an edge rusher. New head coach Matt Patricia wants to make a splash with his first pick. Finding a possible 10-sack performer would do that.
- Cincinnati Bengals Will Hernandez, Guard, UTEP – I love Hernandez’s intangibles. A mauling guard who can push the interior offensive line backward. Watching Hernandez’s footwork at the NFL Combine was impressive. He is massive and could play either side of the line. Hernandez has been quickly moving up draft boards and may be off the board when Cincinnati makes it selection. Hernandez has a chance to be the best at his position in the next three seasons. His light feet and power off the snap are something the Bengals need in re-establishing their run game.
- Buffalo Bills (via Kansas City Chiefs): Courtland Sutton, Wide Receiver, SMU – The Bills find their franchise quarterback with their first pick and a top end wide receiver with their second first round pick. It’s funny how draft stocks work. Sutton was once thought to be a top-10 selection. He is still he best wide receiver in this draft class, but it’s also a down year for pass catchers. Buffalo is smart to find both players in the same year to become a solid duo for the future. Buffalo made the NFL playoffs in 2017. They may take a step back in 2018 and then move forward in 2019.
- New England Patriots – Mason Rudolph, Quarterback, Oklahoma State – Boom! And a big one at that. I spoke about this yesterday and now it has come to fruition. With the Oklahoma State quarterback on the board, the New England Patriots, by virtue of a trade with the Rams, find Tom Brady’s successor. The best thing is like Jimmy Garoppolo before him, Rudolph can sit and learn a system, step in when needed and shine from the start. Honestly, I would have loved to have seen him in Jacksonville, but this makes so much sense, it would not shock me if indeed it does really happen.
- Carolina Panthers – D.J. Moore, Wide Receiver, Maryland – This is as much a need pick as anything. The Panthers must kind another threat for Cam Newton. Moore is one of those players whose stock has risen since the Combine and would be a nice fit in the Carolina offense. At 6-foot and 210 pounds, Moore runs a 4.42-40 and his speed on the outside would help open the running game. The Panthers must do a better job with their wide receivers. The 2017 Big Ten Receiver of the Year and first-team all-conference selection stood out despite catching passes from four different quarterbacks last season.
- Tennessee Titans – Dallas Goedert, Tight End, South Dakota State – Hear me out on this one. Delaine Walker is still one of the better tight ends in the game, but finding a complement and eventual replacement is something the Titans could use. I believe Goedert will be a top 10 tight end in three seasons and will be brought along slowly with a chance to start if the Titans go to a two-tight end set. He can catch and block and has the look of a bigger wide receiver. It’s one more dimension added to the Tennessee offense.
- Atlanta Falcons – Maurice Hurst, Defensive Lineman, Michigan – Dontari Poe exits and enter Hurst. A wide body who fills the gap nicely. While Hurst isn’t the biggest of tackles, he stays square against double-teams and his get-off and hustle outside the box helped him make 34 stops, 11.5 for loss, and 4.5 sacks as a junior. He has a chance to be very good on a decent defensive line. With Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley playing on either side, this could be a solid pickup for the Falcons’ defense.
- New Orleans Saints – Calvin Ridley, Wide Receiver, Alabama – He is sitting there and the New Orleans Saints bite. If the Saints cannot find Drew Brees’ successor in the first round, then why not find another toy for the offense? Ridley and Michael Thomas would be a sick combination and would spread defenses trying to stop them. This helps the run game as well. With this addition, the Saints could be the highest scoring offense in the NFL in 2018. He’s also a punt returner waiting to happen for coach Sean Peyton.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – Rashaan Evans, Linebacker, Alabama – Evans has Steelers written all over him. After the loss of Ryan Shazier last season, I had put this selection in the back of my mind. Evans lasts this long in the first round and finds a team that will take advantage of his intangibles. Evans can play in the middle or move all over the field. A motor that won’t stop – and I swore to myself I would not use that cliché, but it fits him perfectly in the Pittsburgh system. NFL teams that draft well find players to replace great players. The Pittsburgh Steelers just did that.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Hayden Hurst, Tight End, South Carolina – This is a pick I know will make my friend Craig Spillert happy. But it wasn’t for him. The Jacksonville Jaguars don’t have huge holes to fill, rather they must find solid players to come in and play. Years of drafting at the top of the first round and solid free agent moves the past three seasons have made them a contender. Hurst is an older player who will catch footballs and block and resembles Dallas Clark in a lot of ways. If Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is the starter, his average catch is only above seven yards a reception. Hurst makes this unit better.
- Minnesota Vikings –Taven Bryan, Defensive Tackle, Florida – His NFL Combine showcase helps Bryan get into the first round. The Vikings could still look at wide receiver or secondary help, but Bryan may be too good to pass up. Per Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, Bryan has been compared to JJ Watt, minus the explosion. He can line up anywhere on the line, which makes him exactly what head coach Mike Zimmer wants in a player. Bryan makes the Vikings defense which was great last season exceptional this season.
- New England Patriots – Kolton Miller, Tackle, UCLA – I know this looks like a copycat pick from Mel Kiper, but Miller is a pure Bill Belichick player. Just like Logan Mankins years ago, Miller is one of those players who slips into the last part of the first round, steps into the offensive line and plays for the next 8-10 seasons. At 6-foot-9 and 310 pounds, there is room for him to grow. Miller steps into the spot created by the loss of Nate Solder and gives the Patriots a body guard for Tom Brady’s blind side.
- Philadelphia Eagles – Mike Hughes, Cornerback, UCF – There are some off-field issues to be concerned about, but Hughes would be a good fit on a veteran team that is looking for the best player available. The Eagles figure to be right back in the thick of the NFL Super Bowl race and strengthening the back line of defense is always a good thing given the receivers they face in the NFC East. Solid move to close out the end of the first round. Hughes should also be able to help Philadelphia in punt returns and kick coverage.