Game of the Week: Steelers vs. Chiefs Preview

steelers-vs-chiefs-sm

The Chiefs came into week one with one of the toughest tests in the AFC, playing against a stacked, veteran squad led by the perennially underrated Philip Rivers and the ferocious pass-rushing duo of Ingram and Bosa. Even before the game was played, one of those three factors was erased with Joey Bosa’s foot injury forcing him to miss the game. It’s arguable just how much that loss affected the outcome of the game, but it has to be noted that the Chargers pass rush was significantly less effective in a game that was much closer than the ten-point spread indicated.

On the other side, the Steelers struggled to get anything going offensively outside of the consistent ground attack of James Connor against a highly talented Browns defense. It wasn’t too big of a surprise, what was a surprise was how streaky Roethlisberger was, considering he paired three bad interceptions with a poor completion percentage (56), touchdown number (1) and a solid yardage mark (335). His Total QBR of 22.8 showed a player that mainly struggled against a tough challenge. What that means going forward into the season, and especially into week 2 against a much weaker Chiefs defense remains to be seen.

Ultimately, the key to this game is number ten of the Chiefs. If Tyreek Hill can be as effective this week as he was last week, the Steelers will struggle to keep up in a track meet. If the Steelers pool their resources into stopping Hill, logic and a look at the Chiefs skill positions suggests that the production could come from elsewhere, with Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, DeAnthony Thomas and DeMarcus Robinson all capable of breaking out if given the opportunity.

Of those options, Hunt appears to be the most likely beneficiary of the extra attention Hill will warrant, Stretching a Steelers defense vertically which already struggles in the middle with the subpar linebacker play is a strategy the Browns already successfully employed in week 1. With an even more potent downfield passing game from the Chiefs, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers being able to reign in Hunt if he finds a few creases.

However, the Chiefs offensive line is not very good. The 7 qb hits allowed and 3.9 ypc the Chiefs were able to rack up in week 1 are much more indicative of the Chiefs skill on the line than the only one sack allowed. Mahomes’ mobility obviously offsets some of these potential struggles in pass protection, but the poor protection will yield more sacks going forward and that could start this week against a team that racked up seven sacks and 12 qb hits.

The Steelers D-line in particular has a decided advantage, with the front three of Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave and Cam Heyward challenging the thoroughly underwhelming Chiefs trio of Andrew Wylie, Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff. That could clog run lanes, which will make it hard for Hunt to get going at the beginning of runs and offset the relative weakness at the linebacker level. Expect plenty of tackles for loss for the Steelers, and some splash runs from Hunt to form an overall respectable stat line, similar to that of Ezekiel Elliott last week against the Panthers.

Steelers Chiefs Football

Of course, the X-factor here is Mahomes, and breaking down his spectacular 2018 debut is the key to understanding how this matchup might play out. While Mahomes was excellent at extending plays and downfield passing, he struggled with chemistry to any receiver not named Hill, and it was especially concerning that he couldn’t get all-pro tight end Travis Kelce involved. Take away the deep pass completions (20 plus yards), and this is Mahomes’ stat line: 10 of 22, 78 yards, 2 TD and a sack. In the first half in particular, he was a putrid 4 of 11 for 23 yards and a sack outside of the 20-plus yard pass completions. It should be noted that the 2 TD’s were on one-yard shovel passes, so they were essentially handoffs. All of this is not to take away from Mahomes’ performance as he was an incredible 5 of 5 for 178 yards and 2 TDs on throws 20 yards or more down the field, it’s to show that some of the essential aspects of being an NFL QB (short and intermediate accuracy) are areas where Mahomes continues to struggle.

On the other side, while Roethlisberger struggled in week 1, it was against a vastly superior defense from top to bottom. The fact is, the Chiefs just allowed a comparable quarterback in Philip Rivers to throw for over 400 yards, and that includes a bad drop from Travis Benjamin that would have been a TD of over 50 yards. There will be room for Roethlisberger to throw it down the field, where the only player that could potentially hang with Antonio Brown is Chiefs corner Kendall Fuller. However, that leaves Juju Smith-Schuster, Justin Hunter, and perhaps rookie James Washington free license to tear up the relatively weak Chiefs secondary.

Antonio Brown, Phillip Gaines, Daniel Sorensen

This is a game script that could look like a track meet at times, but the inefficiencies for both offenses should get in the way and keep it relatively reasonable. I expect the inexperience of Mahomes and the Steelers’ advantage in the secondary and the trenches to offset the potential strong running game that Kareem Hunt could enjoy. It will be close, but the Steelers will roll towards the end.

Prediction: Steelers 33 Chiefs 24

Season Record: 1-0

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Game of the Week: Saints vs. Bucs Review

Sometimes in this league, one play can change everything. It’s a mental game after all, at its core, and it is this mental aspect which is often mistaken for in-game “momentum”. This was the case in the stunner in the Dome Sunday. The Saints defense allowed 41 points to the Bucs, at least in large part due to the fact that the Bucs believed they could.

It was the fifth play of the Bucs first offensive drive, right around midfield, safety Marcus Williams was playing single high, with some underneath and middle zones. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson streaks past Patrick Robinson who settles into a zone in the flat, running past linebacker Alex Anzalone who settles in the middle. Fitzpatrick uses his eyes to manipulate Williams into a false step which gives Jackson a clear path past the last line of what figured to be an improved Saints pass defense: touchdown.

Jackson touchdown

This followed a highly impressive opening drive by the Saints, who marched down the field themselves, in about four minutes, to score the game’s opening touchdown on a 5-yard Alvin Kamara touchdown run.

But for Williams, there had to be some familiarity. His last drive ended the exact same way, him failing as a last line of defense and allowing a touchdown. A strong offseason, a renewed focus, everything was supposed to be different this season. This Saints defense were pushovers no longer. And yet, the fifth play left some creeping doubts.

On the other side, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, bolstered by a strong group of skill position playmakers and a stout offensive line, was told all offseason how his team would finish last in the NFC South after presumed starter Jameis Winston was suspended the first three games for an incident with an uber driver.

After the big play, this young Saints defense had to be a little rattled. They’ve seen this story before, just last year when another wily veteran quarterback carved them up in week 1 last year. On the other side, it had to feel like vindication for a unit that was embarrassed in their last visit to the Dome, a 30-10 Saints victory in which receiver Mike Evans was so frustrated, he took a harder-than-necessary shot on cornerback Marshon Lattimore in retaliation to Lattimore poking Winston.

Make no mistake about it, this game was personal, for a lot of people involved. Fitzpatrick now had the confidence to uncork several deep shots and tight-window throws. The receivers, having seen Jackson’s breakthrough fed off the energy. Wide receiver Chris Godwin’s insane diving grab for a first down on an early third down in the first quarter illustrated this. As did Godwin’s touchdown, beating near-perfect coverage by cornerback Ken Crawley.

Throughout the day, Jackson beat Crawley twice on deep routes, once for a touchdown. Mike Evans constantly got the better of Lattimore in their one-on-one matchups. The exclamation point coming when Evans streaked by Lattimore, who lost his footing and allowed his first career touchdown. Miscommunications between safeties Williams and Kurt Coleman didn’t help on either of those touchdown catches, as both corners were one-on-one with no safety help.

Evans

To make those touchdowns happen required pinpoint deep ball accuracy, after nailing the early touchdown, Fitzpatrick’s deep ball touch and accuracy was nearly flawless. He only missed one shot play in the entire game, an unprecedented success rate.

It certainly helped that Fitzpatrick’s quick trigger effectively eliminated the Saints pass rush, which finished with zero sacks and two quarterback hits. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton explained it well: “You have to disrupt the timing of the passing game on one end or the other.”

Fitzpatrick not only had a masterful performance through the air, he was highly efficient on the ground, constantly scrambling to turn neutral and negative plays into positives.

The Saints offense with Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas leading the way, was highly efficient as well, outside of Thomas’ fumble, drop and running back Mike Gillislee’s fumble. The mistakes happened at bad times, as all three resulted in what might have been at least a ten point swing, and potentially as much as 21 points.

Thomas fumble

The script turned quickly into a track meet, which has been a bit of a specialty in the Payton-Brees era, but those mistakes compiled a lead for the Bucs that was ultimately insurmountable.

It all started with that one play, that well-designed, well-thought out, ego-shattering, reality-inducing deep strike. Fitzpatrick and the Bucs offense never looked back, and the Saints defense in particular, could never stop looking back.

 

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Game of the Week: Bears vs. Packers

gb v c

Let’s set the scene Sunday Night: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers glances at the play clock, a typically expressionless face a bit haggard and covered in a thin layer of sweat. He sees the clock ticking down, 10…9…8… He’s waiting in a shotgun formation, trips receivers to the right, his favorite target Davante Adams isolated on the left, where Bears precocious star corner Kyle Fuller has been blanketing him the entire game.

To this point, Rodgers has tasted turf too many times, that’s why he has running back Jamaal Williams next to him: to buy him the extra time he needs on this last-ditch attempt on 4th down from the 20-yard line. The scoreboard reads Packers 13 Bears 17, but Rodgers has been here before. He knows how to take care of business in these situations.

So, how did we get there? How did the little brother Bears push Rodgers to his absolute limit? With a ferocious young defense, boosted by the addition of a superstar pass rusher and an offense with far too many playmakers to be blanked completely.

The signature on the 4 year, 42-million-dollar contract by DT Eddie Goldman effectively serves as an exclamation point for a front seven that is not only peppered with top of the line talent, but has no discernible weak point among the starters.

Up front, the aforementioned superstar Khalil Mack bookends an extremely talented 3-man defensive line including Goldman, Akiem Hicks coming off a career year, and former third round pick Jonathan Bullard. Rushing from the other end is Leonard Floyd, a man who was a top ten pick and has a seven-sack season on his resume. Behind that stout five is a pair of linebackers that might be unmatched in the entire league in terms of athleticism: Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith.

Expect this group to rough up the Packers relatively weak o-line (David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga are the only above-average starters). Goldman, Bullard and Hicks will look to clog the running lanes and make life uncomfortable for Rodgers if he tries to step up in the pocket. As a result, I expect Jamaal Williams to have a relatively quiet and frustrating week 1.

Rodgers, of course, has the ability to get outside the pocket and typically thrives once he’s there. He’s especially good at finding top receiver Davante Adams in those situations, as Adams is one of the more physical and savvy receivers in the league. He, and his Packers counterparts in Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb have a tough draw in this Bears secondary which is also stacked with young up and coming talent: Kyle Fuller is the star, but Prince Amukamara is a rock-solid number two, while Bryce Callahan is highly efficient in the slot and should matchup well against the veteran Cobb.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

One of the biggest advantages for the Bears figures to be their safeties against the Packers tight ends. Jimmy Graham was once a field stretching monster between the twenties, in addition to his considerable redzone prowess. No longer: Graham couldn’t consistently find the field in Seattle due to his major deficiencies in the running game. He’s also lost a step, and with it, his ability to separate down the field consistently and pick up yards after the catch. He’s always struggled against physical and athletic safeties and the Bears have a pair of them in Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos. If Graham affects this game, it most likely will have to be on back shoulders and slants from around the ten-yard line to go.

The Packers field an impressive front seven in their own right, headlined by the incredibly tough defensive tackle combo of Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, so the Bears may also struggle to find yards up the middle with consistency. However, their linebackers may struggle with run fits, as a rookie, in Oren Burks is in line to start. As such, off tackle runs, and a more horizontal ground game figure to be a wise gameplan for a Bears squad that features two very strong and versatile options to attack what figures to be an improved Packers defense.

The Packers’ predominantly veteran presence in the secondary could make it very difficult for young quarterback Mitch Trubisky and coach Matt Nagy to get this highly promising offense off the ground consistently. Expect Trubisky to target tight end Trey Burton early and often to try to exploit safety Kentrell Brice, new to the starting lineup after Morgan Burnett left for the Steelers this offseason. Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller may also find openings against whoever lines up in the slot (Davon House or Jaire Alexander).

All of this adds up to a low scoring, defensive slug fest where heavy pass rush, punishing run defense, and strong secondary play dominate the day. Both teams will find their openings, and in the scenario I mentioned above, there’s a very small number of players I trust more than Rodgers to get it done. Win or lose, though, the Bears will be highly dangerous as long as they remain relatively healthy. They have a much stronger roster overall than the Packers and could push them for second place in this division by season’s end.

Prediction: Packers 20 Bears 17

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Day 2 (Round 2 and 3) Live Grades

33. Cleveland Browns: Austin Corbett, G, Nevada

Grade: B-

I love adding to the offensive line and Corbett was a fast riser in the process leading up to the draft. However, Will Hernandez was still on the board, so I have to question the move a bit. I’m expecting a running back next for the Browns.

 

34. New York Giants: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

Grade: A

Fantastic. A road grader to open big-time holes for Saquon Barkley. Gettleman has a solid draft plan to this point and I’m quite impressed. I always had Hernandez in the first round, so this is excellent value. He’s no slouch in pass protection either.

 

35: Cleveland Browns: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Grade: B

There’s that running back, and this is a fine value for the player at this spot. The Browns apparently loved Rashaad Penny, so they’re clearly trying to build a power running game. Chubb was better earlier in his college career, but a knee injury ultimately cost him a lot of his burst. We’ll see if he can regain that in his pro career. Right position, but I would have expected Guice here, who I think is a better value.

 

36: Indianapolis Colts: Darius Leonard, LB, SC State

Grade: B-

I’ve heard some seriously good things about this player, and he could develop brilliantly, but it’s strange that the Colts passed on some of the players that are inexplicably sliding. Linebacker was undoubtedly a need.

 

37. Indianapolis Colts: Braden Smith, G, Auburn

Grade: A-

Wow, the Colts are very serious about building a pocket for Luck to step into. Smith fits the range here, though he has limitations in his game that could cause him to struggle with the best pass rushers. I like the idea of doubling up on interior lineman in this very strong class.

 

38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronald Jones II, RB, USC

Grade: B-

I’m cool with this pick, though I like Guice a little better as a player. This was certainly a position of need, but I think the Bucs really overlooked an opportunity to improve their awful secondary by taking a player like Justin Reid or Josh Jackson here.

 

39. Chicago Bears: James Daniels, C, Iowa

Grade: A

I’ve been critical of Ryan Pace’s drafts and free agency management in the past, but I love the offseason he’s putting together and Daniels here is a steal. Certainly the best interior lineman available and was a borderline first rounder. Heck of a draft so far and an upgrade at C that allows Cody Whitehair to kick out to guard, where he looks much better as a player.

 

40. Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Grade: A

I love the Broncos being proactive with refueling their secondary, and giving Case Keenum another big bodied, highly talented target. Sutton was a first round talent, so this is a steal. The Broncos have needs elsewhere, but this was definitely also a need, so I have no problem at all with it. Great pick.

 

41. Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry, DE/OLB, BC

Grade: A

Regardless of Vince Young’s absolute botching of the pick (Shazier did better), Landry is an excellent choice, as I had him going to the Titans in the first round. Well worth the trade up. This guy is one year removed from a 16.5 sack season, and his drop in production for 2017 could be due to lingering injuries. He’s an outstanding talent here in the second.

 

42: Miami Dolphins: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

Grade: B-

Gesicki was not the best tight end available, that honor belongs to Dallas Goedert, who inexplicably still hasn’t gone. Gesicki is, however, an athlete on the level of Evan Engram from last year’s draft. We’ll see if he has the same type of production as a rookie, but I like this pick pretty well regardless. Gesicki’s also not much of a blocker, so the Dolphins can’t keep him on the field for every down.

 

43. Detroit Lions: Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn

Grade: C+

Kerryon Johnson is a fine player, and at a huge need position, but the Lions had a chance to grab Derrius Guice here, which would have been a massive steal. Strange choice.

 

44. San Francisco 49ers: Dante Pettis, WR, Washington

Grade: C

Yikes. I like Pettis, but Anthony Miller and Christian Kirk are still on the board and both are better values here. This is even worse because they traded up. Do not like this pick much.

 

45. Green Bay Packers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

Grade: A+

This is the first major steal of the draft. Jackson is a one year starter at Iowa, but in that one year he had eight interceptions and caused an opposing QB rating lower than if all QBs had thrown at the dirt instead of him on every play. Another player that had one year starting from last year’s draft? Marshon Lattimore. Jackson is a stud, and the Packers were very smart to double up on corner. By the way, I had the Packers taking Jackson in the first round, so obviously I love the value.

 

46. Kansas City Chiefs: Breeland Speaks, OLB, Ole Miss

Grade: C

This dude is a tweener and those guys tend to struggle at the next level. He has some serious talent, but there is just as serious a question mark for where he fits in this, or any, NFL defense.

 

47. Arizona Cardinals: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Grade: A+

This is the second major steal of the draft. I love what Kirk brings as a runner after the catch and he brings a dynamic element to this Cardinals offense that it’s been lacking. He’s also a capable player in kick and punt returns. He was a first round talent, so I love the value.

 

48. Los Angeles Chargers: Uchenna Nwosu, LB, USC

Grade: B-

I understand this pick more than I like it. Linebacker was a huge need, but this is a bit of  a reach. Nwosu struggles in pass coverage, which limits his ceiling as a pro. The Chargers were kind of bullied into this pick by the board, but should have waited and taken a better prospect here, maybe an O-lineman

 

49. Philadelphia Eagles: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Grade: A+

This is probably the biggest steal of the draft so far. The Eagles jumped ahead of the Cowboys to steal a tight end that has fallen way too far. Witten just retired, so Goedert would have made sense for them. The Eagles had bigger needs, but Goedert was too good to pass up.

 

50. Dallas Cowboys: Connor Williams, G/T, Texas

Grade: A

Williams has all the potential to develop into a stalwart. His 2017 tape is rough, but his 2016 was that of a future all-pro at the position. Excellent value here, and tackle was a big area of need for the Cowboys. Love it.

 

51. Chicago Bears: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

Grade: A

Ryan Pace’s coming out party continues with another outstanding addition to a fully revamped receiving core. The commitment to surrounding Trubisky with talent is clear and this draft has already made the Bears significantly better. That’s the job, and Pace is doing it like a master.

 

52. Indianapolis Colts: Kemoko Turay, DE/OLB, Rutgers

Grade: B

This is a slight reach at a position of need, so I understand it. I like Turay as a prospect, but think he fits better in a 3-4, which the Colts are moving away from under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Turay has the potential to be a sack specialist, which would be welcome in Indy, so I’m totally fine with this pick overall.

 

53. Tampa Bay Bucanneers: MJ Stewart, CB, North Carolina

Grade: B

He’s a first round talent with off-the-field issues. Hardly the sure thing the Bucs needed in the secondary. He could work out, but he could also flame out, so I don’t love it despite the solid player at the position of need.

 

54. Cincinnati Bengals: Jessie Bates III, S, Wake Forest

Grade: A

This is a true center fielding safety, and a great replacement for Reggie Nelson (though 1 season late). I like Bates a lot and expect him to start immediately. Obviously, that’s great value in the second round.

 

55. Carolina Panthers: Donte Jackson, CB, LSU

Grade: A

Great value for this speed demon of a corner. His game is a bit unrefined, but his potential is through the roof, and he’s more polished than Jalen Collins was a few years ago. This was a position of need after the departure of Daryl Worley.

 

56. New England Patriots: Duke Dawson, CB, Florida

Grade: C-

There are many better corners still available in this draft, and Dawson is considered a borderline third round pick. I’m sure he’ll work for the Patriots because they’re the Patriots, but this is early for a physical intimidator in the slot without significant playmaking ability.

 

57. Oakland Raiders: PJ Hall, DT, Sam Houston State

Grade: B+

I’m big into this player, who’s a small school gem with pass rush ability from the interior of the defensive line. That’s a rare breed, so the pick makes sense, but this might be like 10 picks too early, so it’s not a slam dunk for me. This was a big time area of need though.

 

58. Atlanta Falcons: Isaiah Oliver, CB, West Virginia

Grade: A

Wow, great pick. Oliver was definitely a first round talent, though he has scheme limitations due to his struggles in zone coverage. For the Falcons, he’s excellent depth and might be a starter this year. Not at all shabby in round 2.

 

59. Washington Redskins: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Grade: A

This is a big-time steal for a team that desperately needed more talent at the position. Wonderful pick, and far too long of a tumble for Guice. Guice does everything well, and he’s a seriously feisty runner.

 

60. Pittsburgh Steelers: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

Grade: B-

This makes too much sense as a replacement for Martavis Bryant, but the Steelers still have some big-time holes on their roster, and I view Washington as a third round prospect. This is a great situation for him to come to, so he might maximize his value, much like Juju Smith-Schuster did last year.

 

61. Jacksonville Jaguars: DJ Chark, WR, LSU

Grade: A

To me, Chark is a first round talent, and he showed it by destroying the competition at the Senior Bowl. He’s a burner, but he’s more than that with great hands and natural route running. This is an outstanding selection for the Jags and fills one of their few remaining needs as a redzone threat with his size.

 

62. Minnesota Vikings: Brian O’Neill, OT, Pittsburgh

Grade: A-

This feels like a perfect fit for the range, and I love the idea of the Vikings bolstering their oline. O’Neill is also extremely athletic, so his upside is tremendous. This isn’t a steal, so it gets marked down a half grade. Make no mistake though, this pick is excellent.

 

63. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn

Grade: A+

The MJ Stewart pick makes more sense now, and Davis is a big-time steal here. He’s a borderline first round talent, and we’re nearing the end of the second round. Heck of a player, at a position which was their biggest need going into the draft.

 

64. Indianapolis Colts: Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State

Grade: C-

Wow, this isn’t Sam Hubbard? That’s pretty shocking. Lewis is the slightly inferior prospect and there are much better ends available. Lewis flashes ability, but has little upside.

 

Gone to see Avengers: Infinity War. I will return.

Draft Night Eve Mock Draft

1. Cleveland Browns: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Josh Allen

In no way do I agree with this pick. If I were GM of the Browns, Allen would not be on my draft board at all. I am of the camp that believe accuracy is innate, and Allen is not accurate. His career completion percentage in college, against Mountain West competition primarily, hovers around 56%.

I understand how scouts and executives can fall in love with Allen’s rocket arm, demeanor, and ideal quarterback size. I don’t understand how they could overlook such poor tape as Allen put up in 2017. The fact, though, is that Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plains Dealer indicated Allen would be the pick. I trust that source, and Allen has been in the running since the Senior Bowl anyway.

 

2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Saquon Barkley

To me, this is GM Dave Gettleman’s mark on this team. Jonathan Stewart is not the answer and he knows that. He knew he was in optimal position to come away with as good a running back as one could hope to find at the college level. Barkley doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses as a prospect, and his combine numbers are absolutely insane. The Giants need help on the offensive line, but Barkley should be able to help mask those weaknesses.

 

3. New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Sam Darnold

The Jets love Baker Mayfield, but I’m sure they never imagined Darnold would be available. He has less question marks to his game than Mayfield and represents the lowest risk in the draft. The Jets take the layup here, and are ecstatic about it.

 

4. Cleveland Browns: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

Bradley Chubb

Chubb is a premium player at a premium position, easily the best available at this spot. Everyone seems to forget that Emmanuel Ogbah is a pretty solid option opposite Myles Garrett, but Chubb’s value here makes too much sense, as does bolstering a strength position which could help improve the defense as a whole.

 

5. TRADE Arizona Cardinals: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (Broncos receive Cardinals 2018 1st, 2nd (40), 3rd (71), 2019 2nd, 5th)

Rose Bowl Game - Oklahoma v Georgia

PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 01: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners throws a pass during the 2018 College Football Playoff Semifinal Game against the Georgia Bulldogs at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The Cardinals covet Mayfield more than any QB in this draft, make no mistake, and the trade makes sense for a team that can afford to let Mayfield learn at his own pace and take over the franchise whenever he’s ready. As for the Broncos, they also like Mayfield a lot, but the value of the trade is too good to pass up, and the middle of the first round is an excellent value spot in this draft.

 

6. Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

Quenton Nelson

While Nelson might be the most impressive and safest prospect in this class, he plays guard so I don’t see a way he makes it into the top 5 where he belongs. A dominator on the interior of the line, with the nasty demeanor, incredible play strength and technical proficiency of an NFL veteran, Nelson should line up next to Ryan Kelly and give Andrew Luck a clean pocket to step into for the first time in his career.

 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama

Minkah Fitzpatrick

Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) during the NCAA college football game against the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 in Atlanta. (Ric Tapia via AP)

The Buccaneers have a plethora of needs, a big reason they’re picking in the top 10, but secondary may just be their most dire, with 35-year-old Brent Grimes once again grading out as their best corner. 2016 1st rounder Vernon Hargreaves took a step back last season and there’s no guarantee he’ll improve going forward, and the Bucs safety position has been a black hole for years. Fitzpatrick will fit somewhere and brings the kind of talent they haven’t seen since Aqib Talib.

 

8. Chicago Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Denzel Ward

This is a fit between player and team that I’ve liked since very early in the process. Ward is the best corner in the draft, with the kind of mirroring skills that define the top corners in the NFL. He’s a perfect long-term running mate for Kyle Fuller and should help mask some of the deficiencies on a talented-yet-incomplete Bears defense.

 

9. San Francisco 49ers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Roquan Smith

Word is, the 49ers view Roquan Smith as a player that can replace Reuben Foster if the allegations against him prove true. Even if they’re proven false, he would be a perfect complement to Foster as an adept pass coverage specialist where Foster is an instinctive penetrator in the run game. This pick just makes sense.

 

10. Oakland Raiders: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Tremaine Edmunds

Edmunds is the type of dynamic athlete that the Raiders seem to favor in their defensive rebuild, and could grow into a player that’s far and away the best player at the second level of their defense in the last decade. At worst, he’ll be pretty good, and that’s better than what they had last year.

 

11. Miami Dolphins: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington

Nov 25, 2017; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive lineman Vita Vea (50) pressures Washington State Cougars quarterback Luke Falk (4) during the second quarter at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Ndamokung Suh is gone, and the Dolphins have to be ecstatic to find such an imposing presence to replace him on a rookie salary. Vea has all the potential to become a top 5 defensive tackle in this league with his unique blend of size, speed and pass rush ability.

 

12. Buffalo Bills: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

NCAA Football: California at UCLA

Nov 24, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen (3) throws a pass under pressure from California Golden Bears guard Tony Mekari (97) in the second quarter during an NCAA football game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rosen is widely considered the most polished passer and pro ready QB in this draft. His medical causes him a tumble, as do questions about his leadership and love for the game, but I can’t think of a better landing spot

 

13. Washington Redskins: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

Da'Ron Payne

A perfect running mate for last year’s pick Jonathan Allen, Payne brings an imposing force to the middle of the Redskins defensive line, as a run-stopper with attitude. He has the potential to develop as a pass rusher after an impressive showing in the college football playoffs.

 

14. Green Bay Packers: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

Josh Jackson

Jackson brings something the Packers secondary distinctly lacks, playmaking ability. With eight interceptions in his one season as a starter in college, and boasting ideal size for a press man corner, Jackson can be the retcon for the Packers biggest mistake of the last 5 years: letting Casey Hayward walk in free agency.

 

15. Denver Broncos: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

Mike McGlinchey

With years of impressive tape, NFL bloodlines, a polished game and ideal size, McGlinchey is the top tackle in a weak class for the position. The Broncos need a replacement for the departed Russel Okung, and (more accurately) Ryan Clady. Case Keenum should be given every opportunity to succeed on a relatively cheap contract for the next couple of years and McGlinchey is a good step in that direction.

 

16. Baltimore Ravens: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan

Sep 24, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley (26) rushes on Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (73) in the second half at Michigan Stadium. Michigan 49-10. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Ravens have Brandon Williams, and need help on the offensive line, but Pro Football Focus grades Hurst as the third best player in the draft, and while some teams have downgraded him for various reasons, his game compares favorably to Aaron Donald. The Ravens will not pass up on such staggering value at this stage.

 

17. TRADE Dallas Cowboys: Derwin James, S, Florida State (Chargers receive 2018 1st, 3rd (81))

Derwin James

In the wake of injury and a slightly less impressive 2017 season, coupled with the dwindling value on safeties at the NFL level that I’ve outlined in previous mocks, I think James is the most logical player to tumble. He is, however, a top ten talent in this draft at a position of dire need for the Cowboys after allowing Barry Church to walk in free agency last offseason and the talk of Byron Jones converting back to corner. The Chargers move down makes sense as most evaluators agree that the strength of value in this draft is on day 2.

 

18. Seattle Seahawks: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

Will Hernandez

A big, athletic mauler, Hernandez is exactly the type of player that can help the Seahawks convert back to the power running scheme that worked so well for them between 2012 and 14.

 

19. TRADE New Orleans Saints: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA (Chargers receive S Vonn Bell, 2019 2nd)

Marcus Davenport

To bolster one of the few weak spots on the roster, the Saints unload a promising young player at a position where they paid Kurt Coleman starter money to play alongside Marcus Williams. Vonn Bell is a fantastic addition for the Chargers and should thrive in a role that should include more man-to-man coverage opportunities in an aggressive defensive scheme. Davenport is the perfect complement to Cam Jordan as an ultra-athletic, big bodied edge player and fits the type of player the Saints covet at the position. There is a big dropoff in talent at the position after the first round, so the Saints felt the need to be aggressive here and get their man.

 

20. Detroit Lions: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

Leighton Vander Esch

2017 first rounder Jarrad Davis needs a running mate, and Davenport is off the board, so Vander Esch perfectly fits a need with the best player available. In two years, the Lions turn a position of extreme weakness to one of strength.

 

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas

Frank Ragnow

Ragnow has been compared to Max Unger, the Bengals need that type of player desperately as their talented offensive line from the early 2010’s has been completely gutted through free agency.

 

22. Buffalo Bills: DJ Moore, WR, Maryland

DJ Moore

Moore is a physical intimidator that can add an edge to a receiving corps that seriously lacks intensity (not to mention talent). Pairing Rosen with Moore should bring noticeable added points per game to this Bills offense.

 

23. New England Patriots: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

Mike Hughes

Hughes is a complete corner, and an excellent replacement for the departed Malcom Butler. The Patriots have plenty of needs, but Hughes maintains one of their biggest strengths, boasting one of the most impressive secondaries in the NFL.

 

24. Carolina Panthers: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

Harold Landry

Some evaluators suggest ignoring Landry’s injury-riddled 2017 campaign, and focus on a seriously impressive 12 sack season in 2016. I don’t believe in ignoring entire years, but I do believe in anomalies, and I think the upside for Landry causes the Panthers to jump on a potential outstanding pass rusher to pair with Mario Addison.

 

25. Tennessee Titans: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

Sam Hubbard

With NFL veteran hand usage, and ideal edge setting size, Hubbard makes a ton of sense opposite Brian Orakpo for a team that believes it’s on the cusp of a deep playoff run.

 

26. TRADE Pittsburgh Steelers: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (Falcons receive Steelers 2018 1st, 3rd (92))

Lamar Jackson

Jackson is a player that needs time with NFL coaches to tap his enormous potential, and the Steelers give him an ideal opportunity. The Falcons aren’t in ideal position for their needs, so a move down the board makes sense, as does the Steelers jumping the Chargers who might have pounced on the tumbling Jackson.

 

27. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

AllState Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Alabama

NEW ORLEANS, LA – JANUARY 01: Rashaan Evans #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide breaks up a pass intended for Hunter Renfrow #13 of the Clemson Tigers in the first quarter of the AllState Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

A player of Evans caliber is an excellent find at a position of dire need (where Hayes Pullard is their starter), and it’s even better with all the draft capitol and players the Chargers have picked up as they slid down the board. Evans is just scratching the surface as a player, and has the downhill motor that makes sense in the speedy, aggressive Chargers defense.

 

28. TRADE Denver Broncos: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State (Falcons receive 2018 2nd (40), 3rd (99), 2019 6th)

Mason Rudolph

The Broncos see extreme value in the fifth year option for a player that has ideal size and excellent college production to go with solid intangibles. Rudolph has more upside than Case Keenum, so it makes sense to snag him here, but I don’t love how much they had to give up to do it since they have numerous positional needs. The Falcons don’t love the players they’ve found available in the late first round and stockpile for better value. They can afford to, with a highly talented roster across the board that needs depth.

 

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

courtland sutton

An ideal replacement to the departed Allen Robinson, and a much-needed redzone threat for a team that will likely become too predictable trying to cram it up the middle with Leonard Fournette.

 

30. Minnesota Vikings: Billy Price, G/C, Ohio State

Billy Price

After a pectoral injury at the combine, Price tumbles a bit, and the Vikings aren’t complaining as they go back to the Ohio State well they plumbed so effectively last year with excellent rookie Pat Elflein. Price has familiarity with the aforementioned Elflein, which should only help solidify an offensive line that was one of the few weaknesses on a hugely talented roster.

 

31. New England Patriots: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Calvin Ridley

After a weak-ish combine, Ridley has tumbled quite a bit, but he is widely considered the best route runner in this draft and represents outstanding value as a perfect fit for Josh McDaniels’ system.

 

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Connor Williams, T/G, Texas

Connor Williams 1

Much like Landry, Williams drops because of a disappointing 2017 season, unlike Landry, Williams is being selected as the final pick in the first round and won’t be asked to start right away. This is the perfect spot for the Eagles to take a risk that could pay off brilliantly as Williams has all the potential to be the perfect bookend for Lane Johnson.

 

Scouting Report: Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold, USC

6’4 225 lbs

Tape Viewed: 2016 v. Cal, 2017 v. Washington State, 2017 v. Ohio State

 

OVERVIEW

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Ohio State vs Southern California

Make no mistake, Sam Darnold is a very good quarterback prospect coming out of USC, despite a fall-off in production and some very poor tape at times in 2017.

What sets Darnold apart from most is his willingness and ability to consistently try to place balls in the tightest of windows. He throws his receivers open, and threads the needle with the best of them. While this is an ideal mindset for a franchise quarterback, it has led to a significant uptick in turnovers in 2017. To take his game to an elite level, he must learn situational aggressiveness and read the field better from the pocket.

While Darnold is outstanding in much of the macro elements of playing quarterback, the devil is often in the details. He needs serious help on his footwork and windup. The long windup in particular directly led to a strip sack against Cal in 2016. There have been incremental improvements in both areas this past season, but he also stands to improve in manipulating the defense with his eyes, more subtle pocket movement, and identifying blitzes and hot routes.

Essentially, Darnold is a college quarterback. He’s raw, and will need time to develop before potentially becoming an above average NFL starter. It’s hard to envision Darnold becoming a top 5 quarterback at the next level, but he could turn in a decade’s worth of competent signal calling and, in the right situation, win a ring or two.

 

PASSING

Accuracy: 12 out of 15

When he misses, Darnold tends to miss high, regardless of where he is throwing on the field. That is mainly due to his below average footwork, clean that up, and he has the arm talent to make every throw on the field.

 

Power: 4 out of 5

While Darnold’s power is competent to make NFL throws and hit on deep balls, his velocity is not blistering, and he might struggle in the NFL trying to get the ball downfield beyond 45 yards.

 

On the run: 5 out of 5

Darnold is a natural passer on the run, this points to his outstanding arm talent. He can drive it in the tightest windows when on the run, as his footwork doesn’t get in the way. He’s also clearly more comfortable outside the pocket.

 

Consistency: 8 out of 10

Usually, what you see is what you get with Darnold, and that’s a healthy dose of good and bad. He’s got all of the passing prowess in the world, but struggles to manipulate defenses and can sometimes press and make bad decisions. Against better defenses, he tends to play a little worse, which is nothing out of the ordinary.

 

Field General: 16 out of 20

While Darnold shows flashes of ability in this area, it’s definitely not at an elite level. He’s ahead of spread offenses, or one read and runs, but it’s clear that he sometimes doesn’t see the field and locks in on his first read, as evidenced by the pick six he threw in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl against Ohio State.

 

Athleticism: 3 out of 5

Darnold will never be considered a plus athlete and likely won’t run many (if any) designed runs at the next level, but when asked of him, he runs with authority and determination and has decent enough balance.

 

Pocket awareness: 9 out of 10

Clearly, he has that innate sense of pressure, and makes adjustments, my main gripe is in the nuance, sometimes he runs himself out of trouble to get himself in more trouble. He’ll need to learn how to use micro-movements like side steps and shoulder turns to throw off defenders in the pocket or he’ll make some bad plays worse at the next level.

 

Poise: 8 out of 10

As referenced before, Darnold seems to be very comfortable when a play breaks down, and actually seems to thrive when throwing off-platform. The main concern is his ability to diagnose the blitz presnap, identify the hot read or adjust protection accordingly.

 

Clutch: 4 out of 5

Anyone who watched the Rose Bowl in 2016 against Penn State knows what Darnold is all about. The guy is a gamer and often takes his game to the next level under the brightest lights and in the biggest moments. There are some high profile letdowns on tape in crunch-time however. The entirety of the Ohio State and Notre Dame games, as well as the game-losing strip sack against Washington State spring to mind.

 

Size: 5 out of 5

Darnold looks rock solid as a player, with the ideal frame for a quarterback.

 

Reliability: 10 out of 10

No off-field issues to speak of, seems to genuinely love football, and hasn’t missed a game to injury yet in his career. He will be available on Sundays should his team need him.

 

Total Prospect Rating: 84 out of 100

 

Pro Comparison: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions

Sam Darnold

The more I watched of Darnold’s tape, the more I saw the pure grit and determination that exemplifies Stafford’s game. While not considered consistently among the elite, Stafford’s arm talent is second to none, and Darnold has similar ability. Like Stafford, Darnold has all the intangibles one could hope for from a franchise quarterback, but both are also prone to bone-headed mistakes when trying to rally their teams.

Mock Draft 1.0

  1. Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

6′ 233 lbs

Saquon Barkley

It’s time for the Browns to add a dynamic athlete to the backfield, one that teams will be forced to gameplan against, regardless if it’s Tyrod Taylor, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield or some other quarterback taking snaps. Barkley has a similar all-around skillset to Ezekiel Elliott, who brought an entirely different dimension to the Cowboys two years ago. Barkley will not make it to the Browns next pick, so jumping on him here makes the most sense in a draft where there is no consensus top player.

Team Needs:

  • Running back
  • Safety
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Quarterback
  1. New York Giants: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

6’5 329 lbs.

Quenton Nelson

Do I think the Giants will be this intelligent? Not necessarily, but new GM David Gettleman is known to build a running game first, as opposed to Jerry Reese who built a running game never. The word out of New York is that Eli will remain the quarterback this year which, while a mistake, eliminates the likelihood of a player like Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen here.

Nelson himself is an outstanding prospect, perhaps the best guard prospect I’ve ever seen. Watching his tape, it just looks easy for him, and I can’t point out a single flaw in his game. He’s a technician, has ideal size, and outstanding athleticism. He’s just as good in pass-blocking as run-blocking. Putting Nelson on this line will immediately improve a mediocre Giants offense and it is the right move. Will Gettleman make the right move? I’m betting on it, albeit accidentally.

Team Needs:

  • Offensive Tackle
  • Offensive Guard
  • Quarterback
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  1. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State

6’4 269 lbs

Bradley Chubb

The way people are talking about Chubb, he reminds me of when Khalil Mack came out a few years ago. If that’s the kind of player he is, the Colts should jump on him immediately regardless of greater needs on the offensive line. It’s likely that Nelson would be the pick here if he were available, but Chubb is arguably the best defensive player in the draft and fits the MO of second year GM Chris Ballard.

Team Needs:

  • Offensive Tackle
  • Offensive Guard
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive End
  • Cornerback
  1. Cleveland Browns from Houston Texans: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

5’10 191 lbs.

Denzel Ward

Denzel Ward is the top corner available after he blazed a 4.32 at the combine and already had outstanding tape. He reminds me of Chris Harris and that type of impact could mean the world for a Browns defense loaded with talent and on the cusp of contention.

I view Minkah Fitzpatrick as more of a safety, and I’ve noticed a decline in the market of safeties in both free agency and the draft in recent years (Jamal Adams notwithstanding) so I would be extremely surprised if Fitzpatrick or James were the pick here, even with their outstanding potential.

Team Needs:

  • Running back
  • Safety
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Quarterback
  1. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

6’5 233 lbs.

Josh Allen

This is a case where fit trumps who’s actually on the board at this point. Josh Allen is not the best QB in this class, and he may not be the fifth best, but John Elway has been trying to draft himself for years. To me, this is just another at-bat.

Allen has serious potential, an outstanding arm, and moxie to compete against higher competition which he displayed in the senior bowl. Case Keenum is a nice bridge quarterback, but the Broncos would be smart to start developing a future starter.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Tight End
  • Runningback
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Cornerback
  1. New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

6’3 220 lbs.

Sam Darnold

Here’s another team with a massive need at the game’s most valuable position even after resigning Josh McCown. Darnold has the potential to be a solid starter at the next level, which would be a massive upgrade at the postion for a Jets team mired in mediocrity for years. More importantly, Darnold can be a symbol of hope for a success-starved fanbase and a catalyst for a team that should continue to play hard for its coach.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Cornerback
  • Running back
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive End
  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA

6’6 265 lbs.

Marcus Davenport

The Bucanneers really need a running back, as I don’t buy Peyton Barber as a starter, but their defense was so disappointingly poor last year, that the opportunity of adding a dynamic athlete like Davenport to an already promising pass rush featuring Noah Spence and Robert Ayers can’t be passed up. Davenport is the best player at a position of need, and may be the best available player period at this juncture.

Team Needs:

  • Running back
  • Defensive End
  • Safety
  • Cornerback
  • Offensive Tackle
  1. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

6’0 189 lbs.

Calvin Ridley

The Bears also have serious deficiencies at each level of their defense, despite a bevy of promising young playmakers on that side of the ball. What they really need is to support the growth of their young quarterback by providing him with NFL-level talent to throw to. Even after signing Allen Robinson, they could still use more talent. Forget the combine, Calvin Ridley is a polished route runner with great hands and adequate NFL speed. He’s exactly the kind of quarterback friendly target Trubisky needs, and reminds me a lot of Michael Crabtree, who was integral to Derek Carr’s development.

Team Needs:

  • Defensive End
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Wide Receiver
  • Tight End
  1. San Francisco 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia

6’5 250 lbs.

Tremaine Edmunds

Wow, the word from this kid is wow. 19 years old. 6’5 250 lbs, with the ability to excel in both pass coverage and run defense. The sky really is the limit for this kid, though having said that, he may not look brilliant on the field in his first year and whoever drafts him is drafting him on talent and potential and will have to be patient. The 49ers have a serious problem on their hands in the middle of the defense if Reuben Foster can’t get out of his own way with his off-the-field problems. Edmunds can be a worthy insurance policy if it doesn’t work out with Foster, and form an awesome tandem with him if it does.

Team Needs:

  • Wide receiver
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  • Defensive End
  • Offensive Tackle
  1. Oakland Raiders: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

6’8 312 lbs.

Mike McGlinchey

This pick is based on the idea that the Raiders never value their need at linebacker as highly as they should (although it is dire). I believe the weakness of that offensive line has always lied on the right side, where a move like this will allow them flexibility to move around their assets. Donald Penn may not be the option at left tackle he once was, but this could be a perfect transition whenever McGlinchey and Penn are ready to switch spots. As for McGlinchey himself, playing next to Kelechi Osemele should mask nearly all of his minor issues.

Team Needs:

  • Linebacker
  • Wide receiver
  • Defensive tackle
  • Cornerback
  • Right tackle
  1. Miami Dolphins: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

6’4 226 lbs.

NCAA Football: California at UCLA

Do I think Rosen lasts this long? Maybe. I definitely think two of the top four should survive the top ten, whoever they are. This isn’t a premium QB class by any stretch, although I do expect the usual trading frenzy to affect the top half of this first round. Because this is a non-trading mock draft, we’ll stick with the current order and in this scenario, I think the Dolphins jump at the chance to reset their quarterback position with a promising (and more pro-ready than Ryan Tannehill is now) talent in Josh Rosen.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Right tackle
  • Linebacker
  • Tight End
  • Running back
  1. Cincinnati Bengals: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

6’0 230 lbs.

Roquan Smith

Smith could fall, due to the medical red flag that popped up during the combine. We don’t have extensive details on the issue, but a similar injury (paired with concerns about his ability to diagnose offenses) caused Reuben Foster to fall last year. I view Roquan Smith as perhaps the surest thing in the draft not named Quenton Nelson, and worthy of a top 5 pick if fully healthy. I’m splitting the difference here, and the Bengals would be ecstatic to add a playmaker of his caliber after getting by with journeymen like Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey in recent years.

Team Needs:

  • Tight End
  • Left tackle
  • Right Tackle
  • Left Guard
  • Linebacker
  1. Washington Redskins: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

6’3 218 lbs.

courtland sutton

The Redskins swung and missed bringing Terrele Pryor in to help compensate for the loss of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. They need to keep swinging, because Alex Smith has virtually no one to throw to right now. I’m honestly quite surprised about the lack of excitement surrounding Courtland Sutton. His height weight speed combination is ideal and he was highly productive in college. There are questions about his ability to separate, but I think an accurate thrower like Alex Smith is just what Sutton needs to maximize his potential early in his career.

Team Needs:

  • Wide receive
  • Offensive line
  • Linebacker
  • Safety
  • Cornerback
  1. Green Bay Packers: Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

5’10 189 lbs.

Mike Hughes.jpg

Even before the Packers dealt Damarious Randall to the Browns, this move made a ton of sense. This is an opportunity to infuse a stale as day-old-pizza secondary with some young playmaking talent for new GM Brian Gutekunst. Hughes was a big reason why UCF was able to complete an undefeated season last year. He’s an ascending player that should only get better with NFL coaching and already has all the athletic gifts one could want in a corner.

Team Needs:

  • Pass rusher
  • Center
  • Tight End
  • Cornerback
  • Safety
  1. Arizona Cardinals: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

6’1 215 lbs.

Rose Bowl Game - Oklahoma v Georgia

I think Mayfield has all the potential to be the best in this class. He reminds me a bit of Sam Bradford (who incidentally just signed a one-year deal here) coming out with his outstanding completion percentage and the fact that they’re both from Oklahoma. Mayfield has the added bonus of not being made of glass and having plus athleticism to boot. Forget his height, and forget the long list of quarterbacks that haven’t made it at 6 foot and under, Mayfield, like Brees, Wilson, Doug Flutie and Fran Tarkenton before him, is the exception to the rule.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Offensive tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  • Linebacker
  • Safety
  1. Baltimore Ravens: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

5’10 200 lbs.

Christian Kirk

I love me a true polished route runner. You can see just how much a player like that can transcend an offense by looking no further than Adam Thielen in Minnesota. Kirk has that kind of ability, though I think he compares a bit more to Jarvis Landry. He’s what Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense has been missing for years.

Team Needs:

  • Wide Receiver
  • Right tackle
  • Offensive guard
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  1. Los Angeles Chargers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama

6’1 215 lbs.

Minkah Fitzpatrick

If you’re curious why Minkah Fitzpatrick would fall this far, you’re right to be because he probably won’t. I’ve explained earlier that I believe the safety position is being devalued, and Fitzpatrick has very little game experience as a corner. Some team will fall in love with his potential and combine numbers, and he’ll probably end up with a team in some kind of trading scenario. With no trades and as the board falls, I couldn’t find a place where fit met need until here with the Chargers. Fitzpatrick, if he does make it this far, could transcend a defense that’s already threatening to be one of the most exciting units in the NFL headlined by the pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

Team Needs:

  • Right tackle
  • Center
  • Linebacker
  • Safety
  • Defensive tackle
  1. Seattle Seahawks: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

6’1 192 lbs.

Josh Jackson

After jettisoning Richard Sherman (finally), and with the secondary rebuild already begun last season, pairing the ultra-athletic Shaq Griffin with a true ball-hawk like Jackson would be a coup. The Seahawks will need to find some answers at safety as the Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor connection seems destined to be broken, but with this pick, they will complete an impressive two year reset at one of the game’s most important positions.

Team Needs:

  • Tight end
  • Right tackle
  • Guard
  • Defensive end
  • Cornerback
  1. Dallas Cowboys: Derwin James, S, Florida State

6’3 215 lbs.

Derwin James

The Cowboys haven’t had an elite athlete at the safety spot since Darren Woodson, and it’s time to remedy that situation with a player whose stock fell just enough from last season for the Cowboys to reap all the benefits. Without his heart condition, Maurice Hurst would have been the pick, but the Cowboys can’t afford to pass on another elite secondary player after Choosing Ezekiel Elliott over Jalen Ramsey in the 2016 draft.

Team Needs:

  • Safety
  • Defensive tackle
  • Wide receiver
  • Left guard
  • Tight end
  1. Detroit Lions: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

6’4 347 lbs.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington

The ideal cut-and-paste replacement for Haloti Ngata, who will likely share a rotation with him for the next couple of years. Vea will help Ziggy Ansah maximize his massive potential and free up lanes for last year’s top pick Jarrad Davis to attack the running game. In short, he’ll make the whole defense better with his impressive athleticism and even more impressive size.

Team Needs

  • Linebacker
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  • Tight End
  • Guard
  1. Buffalo Bills: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

6’2 282 lbs.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan

Hurst doesn’t fall too far due to the heart condition, since I believe he’ll be ready to contribute for a defense immediately and should play at least through his first contract. It’s the team that wants to sign him in free agency five years from now and make the highest paid defensive player that will need to worry. Hurst’s ability can’t be overstated and he’s an ideal replacement for the departed Marcel Dareus precisely because they’re not the same type of player. Hurst is a penetrator and will add a pass-rushing edge to the middle of the Bills defense that they’ve been needing for years to disrupt Tom Brady’s rhythm.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Tackle
  1. Buffalo Bills from Kansas City Chiefs: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

6’5 235 lbs.

Mason Rudolph

And for their second pick, a quarterback who has been underrated throughout the process. Few quarterbacks are as natural with the deep ball as Rudolph is, but his massive production in the Oklahoma State offense suggests he gets it to all areas of the field effectively. Rudolph also has ideal NFL size, and that makes for a welcome change for Brandon Beane, Sean McDermott and company who struggled with the limits of their offense with Tyrod Taylor as a starter.

Team Needs:

  • Quarterback
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Cornerback
  • Linebacker
  • Tackle
  1. Los Angeles Rams: Arden Key, OLB, LSU

6’6 238 lbs.

Arden Key

This is perhaps the most natural fit for me of any of the first round picks. Wade Philips gets his true 3-4 OLB and elite pass rusher in Arden Key, who (if he keeps his nose clean) should be able to benefit from the elite talent around him. The defense the Rams are building is starting to look scary, and adding a top 10 talent like Key without having to trade up following a playoff season has to be considered a serious win for GM Les Snead.

Team Needs:

  • Inside Linebacker
  • Outside Linebacker
  • Tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  • Running back
  1. Carolina Panthers: Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia

6’2 300 lbs.

Isaiah Wynn

The Panthers simply have to replace Andrew Norwell to keep that running game moving forward. It won’t go otherwise, and a roadgrader like Wynn should pair with the rest of the Panthers interior line nicely to form an intimidating power running game. Of course, they’ll also need to consider adding an every down runner at some point this offseason, as I don’t think McCaffrey is a true workhorse.

Team Needs:

  • Guard
  • Tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive tackle
  • Cornerback

 

  1. Tennessee Titans: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

6’3 252 lbs.

Harold Landry

It’s been far too long since the Titans had a high-impact pass rusher at the end spot. Brian Orakpo was past his prime by the time he arrived. Landry may not have the best tape in 2017, but it’s worth the chance late in the first round that he can regain his 2016 form.

Team Needs:

  • Defensive end
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  • Guard
  • Tight End
  1. Atlanta Falcons: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

6’2 311 lbs.

Da'Ron Payne

Don’t get me wrong, I like the talent at defensive tackle in this year’s draft. There are some excellent players, but the needs and fits caused some highly talented players to slide and the Falcons are happy to grab a cheap, young replacement for Dontari Poe as Dan Quinn continues to build a talented and exciting young defense to compete with some challenging and complex offenses in the NFC.

Team Needs:

  • Guard
  • Defensive tackle
  • Free Safety
  1. New Orleans Saints: Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa

6’1 235 lbs.

Josey Jewell

I think I might be onto something here, as I feel New Orleans likes to throw curve balls and the end of the first round is where lines start to get blurred. I believe the Saints are candidates to trade up for defensive talent, but Josey Jewell perfectly fits the high football IQ, competitiveness and desire the Saints have come to all-but-require in their players. I believe he’s a highly underrated prospect and the Saints, should they choose to go this direction, will be rewarded handsomely.

Team Needs:

  • Defensive End
  • Tight end
  • Linebacker
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Wide Receiver
  1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

6’4 256 lbs.

Leighton Vander Esch

This is a case of perfect fit after the devastating, and very unfortunate, injury to Ryan Shazier (among the most exciting young linebackers in the game prior to his injury). Vander Esch may not have played against the strongest competition in the mountain west, but he was a production machine and flashed elite traits, which combined with his ideal size make him a highly enticing gamble at the end of the first round.

Team Needs:

  • Linebacker
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive Tackle
  • Cornerback
  • Quarterback
  1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

6’6 250 lbs.

Dallas Goedert

The Jags offense needs more sure-handed targets for Blake Bortles to throw to. With plenty of talent on the defensive side, the Jags find a player here at the bottom half of the first round that has the potential to be one of the best playmakers coming out of this class.

Team Needs:

  • Wide Receiver
  • Tight End
  • Quarterback
  • Tackle
  • Linebacker
  1. Minnesota Vikings: Conor Williams, OT, Texas

6’5 320 lbs.

Connor Williams

The Vikings fully revamped their offensive line after mighty struggles in 2016, now it’s time to start building on that foundation with a young stud like Conor Williams. Adept in both pass protection and run blocking, and with ideal size, I expect to see the more dominant 2016 Williams than the 2017 variety which struggled at times.

Team Needs:

  • Tackle
  • Guard
  • Cornerback
  • Strong Safety
  • Running back
  1. New England Patriots: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida

6’4 291 lbs.

Taven Bryan

Make no mistake, somebody will be trading up to get Lamar Jackson, and I expect that to happen with this pick. Stay tuned for my trade-filled post free agency mock for all of that action. As it stands now, Taven Bryan looks like he could be a physical stud in the mold of Dominique Easley (who the Patriots drafted in about this spot a few years ago). The Patriots need more talent in the front 7 to continue to maximize their Super Bowl window.

Team Needs:

  • Tackle
  • Defensive End
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  • Wide Receiver
  1. Philadelphia Eagles: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

6’3 234 lbs.

AllState Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Alabama

Evans falling this far seems surprising, but guess what? Surprising things always happen on draft day. Evans is rough around the edges and may not be quite ready to contribute from a technique standpoint as a starter. He is, however, a good pickup for a team with two established starters in Hicks and Kendricks, and represents very good value.

Team Needs:

  • Linebacker
  • Tackle
  • Defensive End
  • Cornerback
  • Wide Receiver