It’s time to stop messing around. This is the best guess at the exact players who will be drafted, including trades, in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday.
We did it.
We reached the end of mock draft season. You say you’re relieved, but aren’t you also a little bit sad? After all, come this time Sunday, we’ll know where every player in this year’s draft class is selected, and most of our mocked projections will have been so, so wrong.
You’re not supposed to fall in love with your mock drafts, because NFL teams never do what you want them to do. But with a mix of team needs, team preferences, relationships between front offices and more intangibles, this is the best way the board could fall in Round 1 for all parties involved.
No. 1, Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Days before Day 1 of the draft, we’re not buying into the Browns’ smokescreens. They’ve reportedly been in love with Josh Allen. They’re reportedly “definitely” still considering Baker Mayfield at No. 1. And yet when all is said and done, if Sam Darnold isn’t the pick for Cleveland at No. 1 I’ll eat my hat. Not only is Darnold the safest quarterback in this year’s class, with a completion percentage of 65 percent over his career at USC, but he’s also got the mental makeup to blossom into one of the league’s most dangerous passers — especially given his ability to make plays on the run. The Browns need a home-run here, and while nothing is a sure thing in this league, Darnold is their best bet.
No. 2, New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St.
I’m firmly of the mind that the New York Giants don’t go with a quarterback at this pick. Eli Manning is under contract with a no-trade clause through the 2019 season and a cap hit of $22 million in each year. Plus, he’s won that team two Super Bowls. No one would blanch at the Giants picking up their quarterback of the future to groom, but doing so at No. 2 seems aggressive given who they’ve already got under center. Don’t let the way departed coach Ben McAdoo treated Manning color your impression of how the franchise feels about him overall. If New York can get the best running back in the draft in Saquon Barkley, its three-headed monster on offense with Manning and wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who appears to be staying put for the season, could do some serious damage this year.
No. 3, New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
With Sam Darnold off the board, there’s a chance the New York Jets could go with Josh Allen here. But unlike the Browns, I believe the Jets’ reported interest in Mayfield all along has been legitimate. The Jets are looking for an accurate playmaker at the position around whom they can build their future, and for the red flags he may raise in other areas, Mayfield certainly fits the bill on those two things specifically.
No. 4, Buffalo Bills (mock trade with CLE): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
The Buffalo Bills see Josh Allen fall to No. 4 and simply can’t resist trading up from No. 12 to get him. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns presumably could be loathe to leave this spot — and, by extension, Bradley Chubb — but they’ve gotten their quarterback and are content to take the best available player at No. 12. Chatter before the draft is that the Bills will “find a way to draft Allen,” and in this scenario, they do.
No. 5, Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
The Broncos have to be thrilled if Bradley Chubb, arguably the best player in this year’s draft class, falls to them at No. 5 overall. Sure, they have other high-value positions they could have addressed here, such as quarterback and offensive line, but it’s nearly impossible to pass on someone with Chubb’s potential. Pairing Chubb with Von Miller is almost too tantalizing to pass up, and given that Shaquil Barrett could walk after this season, it’s a smart move for the future, as well.
No. 6, Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
This is a dream pick for the Colts and an obvious one. Anyone who isn’t projecting Quenton Nelson to the Colts if he’s still on the board is, in my opinion, getting a little too cute (or really, really wants to see him become a Chicago Bear). The Colts’ entire future rests on the health of Andrew Luck, and Andrew Luck’s health rests on remaining upright as much as possible. Nelson is almost a guaranteed future All-Pro.
No. 7, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derwin James, S, Florida State
Do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prefer Derwin James or Minkah Fitzpatrick? They’d surely love to be in the position of choosing between them, as they are here. My inclination is that the Bucs, looking to make a splash at strong safety, go with James to mitigate the disappointment of T.J. Ward. The Buccaneers allowed a league-worst 261 passing yards per game in 2017, which almost forces them to make this pick.
No. 8, Chicago Bears: Tremaine Edmunds, ILB, Virginia Tech
You wanted Quenton Nelson to be a Chicago Bear, I wanted Quenton Nelson to be a Chicago Bear, the Chicago Bears wanted Quenton Nelson to be a Chicago Bear — but with Nelson off the board, the Bears choose to give Vic Fangio a gift for the middle of his front seven. Edmunds, who boasts lightning-fast speed and the ability to cover sideline to sideline, has been rising dramatically this week, which is why the Bears are selecting him here.
No. 9, San Francisco 49ers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
The 49ers are thrilled with the way the board has fallen so far, particularly that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went with Derwin James — the better fit for their scheme — and left Minkah Fitzpatrick available for the 49ers — their better fit. Fitzpatrick’s versatility is what is going to ultimately sway San Francisco. He can play the slot with Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon lining up outside, or he can slide to free safety.
No. 10, Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, OLB, Georgia
Throughout the draft process and the ever-changing mock draft landscape, it’s always seemed like Roquan Smith is going to become an Oakland Raider. Jon Gruden is a wild card here, but Smith is the closest thing he has to a slam-dunk given the players available on the board.