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2024 NFL mock draft (Version 1.0): Projecting the first round after top 18 picks come into focus

It’s finally that time of year.

No, not the NFL playoffs. Mock draft season. After the end of the regular season Sunday, the top 18 picks are set for when the first round begins April 25 in Detroit.

There’s plenty of intrigue at the top, with the Chicago Bears receiving the No. 1 overall pick courtesy of last year’s blockbuster trade with the Carolina Panthers. What the Bears decide to do will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the draft, with quarterback-needy teams in the Washington Commanders and New England Patriots waiting right behind them.

With the help of Tankathon, which projected the final draft order based on expected playoff results, here are The Baltimore Sun’s projections for the first round:

1. Chicago Bears (via Carolina Panthers): Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

With coach Matt Eberflus expected to return, doesn’t it make sense for the Bears to bring back quarterback Justin Fields and continue to build around him? He showed enough flashes in his third season to believe the addition of a standout wide receiver such as the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Harrison could take this offense to the next level. There’s also the locker room dynamic to consider, with many players advocating for Fields’ return. Chicago has a tough decision on its hands, but neither Caleb Williams nor Drake Maye showed in their final college seasons that they’re locks to be better than Fields.

2. Washington Commanders: Caleb Williams, QB, Southern California

Washington, on the other hand, should not think twice about drafting a quarterback. Sam Howell’s poor play down the stretch — he finished with a league-leading 21 interceptions and was sacked 65 times — helped push the Commanders up the draft board to pick his successor. The 6-1, 215-pound Williams, a former high school star in the Washington area at Gonzaga, brings both the talent and star power this franchise has lacked for a long time.

3. New England Patriots: Drake Maye, QB, North Carolina

There seems to be no debate about what the Patriots should do with this pick after Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe produced some of the worst quarterback play in the league. The question is whether Bill Belichick will be around to coach the new face of the franchise. The 6-4, 230-pound Maye can be too aggressive sometimes, but he has the size, athleticism and arm strength to become a great player.

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4. Arizona Cardinals: Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

If the Cardinals miss out on Harrison, Nabers is a fine consolation prize. The 6-foot, 200-pound receiver is explosive and would give quarterback Kyler Murray the consistent big-play threat Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore have often failed to deliver in recent seasons.

5. Los Angeles Chargers: Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

The Chargers will have a new coach and general manager when they make this pick, so it’s anyone’s guess what the incoming regime will prefer. But for a team that has holes all over its roster, Alt would be a smart selection. The 6-8, 322-pound left tackle is a cornerstone type of player who could protect quarterback Justin Herbert for a long time.

6. New York Giants: Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State

Just how committed are the Giants to quarterback Daniel Jones? General manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll have said all the right things, but actions speak louder than words. New York might come to regret passing on a quarterback here, but it doesn’t matter who’s throwing the ball if the offensive line doesn’t improve. The 6-6, 317-pound Fashanu oozes potential as one of the youngest prospects in this draft class. Putting him at right tackle would kick underperforming 2022 first-round pick Evan Neal to guard, perhaps solving two problems at once.

7. Tennessee Titans: Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

With quarterback Will Levis taking over for Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry likely on his way out, the Titans need playmakers to reshape their offense. The 6-4, 240-pound Bowers has been one of the nation’s best pass catchers, regardless of position, since he first stepped on the field as a freshman at Georgia.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU

With the firing of coach Arthur Smith, the Falcons will have a new identity on offense next season. That likely means the end of Desmond Ridder’s rocky audition at quarterback. The 6-4, 210-pound Daniels would be able to grow alongside talented young playmakers such as wide receiver Drake London, running back Bijan Robinson and tight end Kyle Pitts.

9. Chicago Bears: Dallas Turner, EDGE, Alabama

Here’s the other benefit to the Bears passing on quarterback at No. 1: They can add talent on both offense and defense with their top two picks. The 6-4, 245-pound Turner is an incredible athlete who can take some attention away from star edge rusher Montez Sweat and strengthen an ascending defense.

10. New York Jets: JC Latham, OT, Alabama

The Jets are all-in on quarterback Aaron Rodgers next season, and that means protecting him to avoid another catastrophic injury. The 6-6, 335-pound Latham, a two-year starter at right tackle for the Crimson Tide, has the size and strength to step in immediately on either side of the line.

11. Minnesota Vikings: Jared Verse, EDGE, Florida State

With Danielle Hunter headed for free agency and few capable replacements behind him on the roster, improving the pass rush should be one of the Vikings’ top priorities (assuming quarterback Kirk Cousins returns). The 6-4, 248-pound Verse has been one of the nation’s best edge defenders over the past two seasons after transferring from Albany to Florida State.

12. Denver Broncos: Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson

Quarterback is certainly in play for the Broncos after they benched Russell Wilson, but is coach Sean Payton going to want to build his offense around a rookie? Pairing the 6-2, 185-pound Wiggins with star cornerback Patrick Surtain II would help shore up one of the league’s worst defenses.

13. Las Vegas Raiders: Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the 6-3, 216-pound Penix, who suffered two season-ending knee injuries in college and throws with an unusual left-handed sidearm delivery. But there’s no arguing with the results, as he led Washington to the national championship game in his sixth season with an FBS-leading 4,648 passing yards. The Raiders need to take a big swing at quarterback to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and Herbert in the AFC West.

14. New Orleans Saints: Amarius Mims, OT, Georgia

The Saints’ offensive line was a disaster this season, entering Week 18 ranked 25th in the league according to Pro Football Focus. To make matters worse, star right tackle Ryan Ramczyk might not return because of a cartilage defect in his knee. The 6-7, 330-pound Mims is raw and doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he has the physical tools to become a dominant player.

15. Indianapolis Colts: Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

If the Colts bring back pending free agent Michael Pittman Jr., they have a bright outlook at wide receiver. But if he leaves, the position becomes a glaring need. The 6-3, 215-pound Odunze has top-end speed and can make contested catches, giving young quarterback Anthony Richardson a big-play threat alongside standout rookie Josh Downs.

16. Seattle Seahawks: Troy Fautanu, OT/G, Washington

With guards Damien Lewis and Phil Haynes entering free agency and right tackle Abe Lucas struggling to stay healthy, the Seahawks’ offensive line is in dire need of reinforcements. The 6-4, 317-pound Fautanu played two seasons at left tackle for Washington but could be a standout guard at the next level.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars: Keon Coleman, WR, Florida State

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence deserves plenty of blame for the Jaguars’ late-season collapse, but he could use more help from his receivers. Christian Kirk is set to return from injury, but Calvin Ridley is entering free agency, potentially opening a hole on the outside. The 6-4, 215-pound Coleman has the size, strength and contested-catch ability this offense has lacked from its smaller receivers.

18. Cincinnati Bengals: Jer’Zhan Newton, DT, Illinois

If the Bengals don’t feel comfortable re-signing Tee Higgins to a big contract or bringing him back on the franchise tag, wide receiver vaults to the top of the offseason priority list. Defensive line is a big need as well, especially if D.J. Reader signs elsewhere. The 6-2, 295-pound Newton is the rare interior lineman worthy of a top pick because of his pass-rushing potential.

19. Green Bay Packers: Cooper DeJean, CB/S, Iowa

The Packers’ secondary needs help just about everywhere. Enter the 6-1, 209-pound DeJean, who has experience at outside cornerback but could also thrive as a deep safety or slot defender. His versatility, athleticism and instincts — not to mention his game-breaking skills as a punt returner — should make him a highly sought-after prospect.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bo Nix, QB, Oregon

A reunion with quarterback Baker Mayfield seems likely after he led the Bucs to the NFC South title, but that doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t plan ahead. The 6-2, 213-pound Nix, 23, is only five years younger than Mayfield, but his eye-popping numbers, athleticism, arm strength and intangibles make him a worthy first-round pick who could take over as the starter sooner than later.

21. Arizona Cardinals (via Houston Texans): Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama

The Cardinals have had a revolving door at cornerback in recent seasons and have yet to find a reliable starter. The 6-1, 195-pound McKinstry has the talent and experience to help solidify coach Jonathan Gannon’s defense.

22. Los Angeles Rams: Laiatu Latu, EDGE, UCLA

Latu’s production alone makes him worthy of being a top-10 selection, but he’s not an exceptional athlete and has medical concerns after suffering a neck injury that ended his career at Washington before making a return at UCLA. Still, the 6-4, 265-pound Latu has been the most productive pass rusher in the country over the past two seasons, and the Rams would likely pounce on that potential.

23. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State

The Steelers have a solid building block in rookie right tackle Broderick Jones, but left tackle Dan Moore Jr. does not look like a long-term solution. The 6-6, 325-pound Fuaga is an exceptional run blocker who can help set the tone for a Pittsburgh offense that started to find its identity late in the season.

24. Miami Dolphins: Graham Barton, G/C, Duke

With left tackle Terron Armstead struggling to stay healthy and right guard Robert Hunt entering free agency, there are some question marks on the Dolphins’ offensive line. The 6-5, 314-pound Barton started two seasons at left tackle but projects as a standout guard or center at the next level.

25. Philadelphia Eagles: Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama

The Eagles’ track record under general manager Howie Roseman is clear: premium positions only in the first round. The 6-foot, 196-pound Arnold has standout athletic traits and good instincts, recording five interceptions this season. With Darius Slay and James Bradberry perhaps on their way out, Philadelphia might need immediate help at corner.

26. Kansas City Chiefs: Brian Thomas Jr., WR, LSU

It’s clear that the Chiefs can’t enter 2024 with the same group of receivers after they dropped more passes than any other team in the NFL. The 6-4, 205-pound Thomas emerged as one of the nation’s best deep threats this season, averaging 17.3 yards per reception and leading the country with 17 touchdown catches.

27. Houston Texans (via Cleveland Browns): Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo

DeMeco Ryans’ defense made tremendous strides in his first season as coach, but it’s nowhere near a finished product, especially in the secondary. The 6-foot, 196-pound Mitchell forced more incompletions (36) over the past two seasons than any other cornerback in the country, according to PFF.

28. Detroit Lions: Bralen Trice, EDGE, Washington

With brothers Romeo and Julian Okwara and veteran Charles Harris headed for free agency, the Lions need another pass rusher to pair with Aidan Hutchinson. The 6-4, 267-pound Trice would be a perfect fit for coach Dan Campbell with a relentless and aggressive play style that led to 76 quarterback pressures this season, according to PFF.

29. Buffalo Bills: Leonard Taylor III, DT, Miami

The Bills could lose a lot of talent on the defensive line in free agency, including tackle DaQuan Jones and edge defenders Leonard Floyd and A.J. Epenesa. The 6-3, 305-pound Taylor is a former five-star prospect who’s still a bit raw but flashes rare explosiveness for his size.

30. Dallas Cowboys: Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma

With 33-year-old left tackle Tyron Smith and center Tyler Biadasz entering free agency and right tackle Terence Steele struggling this season, the Cowboys have some question marks on the offensive line. The 6-7, 327-pound Guyton needs some refinement, but he moves incredibly well for his size and has the tools to become a longtime starter.

31. San Francisco 49ers: Kingsley Suamataia, OT, BYU

The 49ers don’t have many holes to fill on one of the league’s best rosters, but they could stand to upgrade along the offensive line. The 6-6, 315-pound Suamataia is only 21 years old and needs time to develop, but he would be a scheme fit in San Francisco and could be an early standout with his physical tools.

32. Ravens: Adonai Mitchell, WR, Texas

The Ravens have their long-coveted playmaker in rookie receiver Zay Flowers, but the depth behind him is uncertain. Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor are pending free agents, and 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman has been inconsistent. The 6-4, 196-pound Mitchell, nicknamed “AD,” played for Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken at Georgia before transferring to Texas and could be a dangerous red zone threat for quarterback Lamar Jackson.