Editor’s note: Eric Edholm is a senior writer at ProFootballWeekly.com, a publication that pioneered independent draft analysis 50 years ago. For the most in-depth scouting reports available, click on the prospects’ names below in the mock draft.
Quarterbacks have gone 1-2-3 in the NFL draft only twice since the merger — in 1971 and 1999. Never have they gone with the first four picks. The first scenario is a possibility; the second can’t be ruled out.
Following the dramatic trade moving the New York Jets up to the third overall pick, and the Indianapolis Colts sliding to No. 6, it sets up the possibility of quarterbacks going with each of the first three picks in the 2018 NFL draft — and possibly with the fourth overall selection if the Cleveland Browns move down from that spot. Either way, the Denver Broncos have to be QB candidates as well at the No. 5 spot, even after they signed Case Keenum.
Here’s how things line up less than five weeks from Round 1 of the draft in this post-free agency mock draft.
1. Cleveland Browns — USC QB Sam Darnold
The way teams are aggressively seeking quarterbacks this year, the Browns can’t afford to get cute and pass on a QB here. So why Darnold? General manager John Dorsey has said he wants a winner with physical traits, intangibles and accuracy. Darnold checks those boxes, even after taking a step back statistically last season, and he can wait in the bullpen until he’s ready while Tyrod Taylor starts.
2. New York Giants — UCLA QB Josh Rosen
Everything new GM Dave Gettleman has done to this point suggests the Giants are building around Eli Manning for one more run in his twilight. The Giants also currently have only five selections and a lot of holes to fill. That would suggest a pick of Saquon Barkley or Quenton Nelson, ready-made non-quarterbacks, or a trade down. Expect the Giants to field calls for this pick.
However, with the Jets moving to No. 3, can the Giants afford to pass on Rosen? Gettleman told NFL Network that the Giants “can’t make a mistake” on this pick if they stay here, so we’ll give them the QB most ready to adjust to the NFL. If not the Giants, another team might try to move up for Rosen (or possibly Wyoming’s Josh Allen) here.
3. New York Jets (from Colts) — Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
Jets GM Mike Maccagnan has attended the pro days of all the top quarterbacks (Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield) and plans to attend Josh Allen’s on Friday. It stands to reason following the dramatic trade that one of them will be a Jet. Teddy Bridgewater is on a one-year deal. Josh McCown will be a highly paid mentor. Plus, teams don’t mortgage so much in a trade for, say, a running back.
If there ever was a player born to play just off Broadway, it’s Mayfield. He has the guts to handle the spotlight and is a good fit with offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who has been lauded for working with highly confident QBs (think Jay Cutler) in the past. Rosen also fits the mold too, if he’s here.
4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans) — Florida State DB Derwin James
Our first stunner. As noted above, the Browns could deal this pick to a team seeking QB help. But it would involve passing on Saquon Barkley — and others. This possibility for general manager John Dorsey might not make Browns fans happy.
Cleveland isn’t bent on using a top pick on a runner and instead would consider one of the elite do-it-all defensive backs — either James or Minkah Fitzpatrick — if it stays here. The Browns also would have a shot at one of them if they slid down a few picks.
Why James over Fitzpatrick? He’s a bit longer and more athletic and has perhaps more of a take-charge personality who can help change the culture. Both players are fantastic.
5. Denver Broncos — Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson
Much like how John Elway preemptively pivoted to sign QB Case Keenum when it became clear Kirk Cousins wasn’t coming to Denver, it appears the Broncos are exploring trade-down options. Sure, they could draft Josh Allen (whom they coached at the Senior Bowl) and develop him behind Keenum. But isn’t Allen what Paxton Lynch was hailed to be a few years ago?
If they stay here, Nelson is about as sure a pick as they can make. The Broncos’ offensive line has been bad since John Fox got fired, and a Nelson-Garett Bolles combo could give them a nice foundation on the left side. If the Broncos move down, they might target a wide receiver, but there’s not one worth taking this high.
6. Indianapolis Colts (from Jets) — North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb
What a dream scenario for general manager Chris Ballard, who boldly moved down and still would get a top-five talent. Why Chubb here over Saquon Barkley? The Colts can use one of their three second-round picks on a running back. The dropoff from Barkley to other top-50 backs isn’t as massive as from Chubb to any pass rusher available in Round 2. The Colts would have a hard time passing on a charismatic, high-energy, high-production QB hunter to help out the young secondary.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
This pick, for months, has come down to whichever top-rated defensive player was remaining on the board. But in this unexpected scenario, the Bucs shouldn’t be afraid to pivot if they feel Barkley is special. Tampa was too pass-heavy last season, and the RB production (long run of 36 yards, long catch of 34) was brutal. After passing on Dalvin Cook last year, the Bucs would be getting a more athletic runner and receiver here.
8. Chicago Bears — UT San Antonio DE Marcus Davenport
The Bears still have a few notable needs, even after a productive free agency cycle. Pass rusher might be the biggest one among them. General manager Ryan Pace’s past three first-round picks (all top-11 selections) have all been high-upside players with elite athleticism who might not be ready to make major contributors immediately. That’s Davenport to a tee.
Aaron Lynch can be the bridge rusher for one year until the 21-year-old project is ready to flourish. The Bears won’t find any rushers with Davenport’s upside in lower rounds.
9. San Francisco 49ers — Virginia Tech LB Tremaine Edmunds
The sudden uncertainty of Reuben Foster’s status following two offseason arrests might increase the need to get linebacker help, even as his legal process is plays out. Besides that, Edmunds fits the prototype of the long, freakishly athletic defender the 49ers seek. He turns 20 in May and can develop into one of the draft’s best overall players. If Foster escapes trouble, there’s no problem finding room for both of them on the field at the same time.
10. Oakland Raiders — Ohio State CB Denzel Ward
The Raiders badly need cover corners, and pairing Ward with his former OSU teammate (Gareon Conley) could upgrade the secondary in a jiffy. Seeing Ward here on the board is surprising until you remember that the other corner from that 2016 Buckeyes secondary, Marshon Lattimore, stunningly fell to No. 11 a year ago.
New Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther could use Ward in the slot to start and move him outside in time. Another consideration here would be a big body up front who can free up Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, which is why Vita Vea was considered here.
11. Miami Dolphins — Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
An unexpected slide for Fitzpatrick benefits the Dolphins, who suddenly would have some long, athletic and aggressive DBs to combat Tom Brady and two possible first-round QBs landing with the other AFC East teams. And yes, the Dolphins will look seriously at drafting a quarterback of their own.
Short of that happening, they land a top-10 player in Fitzpatrick who can play safety, slot corner and even a dime LB spot. Defensive back isn’t a huge need with Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald, Cordrea Tankersley and Xavien Howard in place. But the Dolphins need to stop overreaching for needs and take difference-makers. If they go linebacker, Georgia’s Roquan Smith would be an excellent choice, too.
12. Buffalo Bills (from Bengals) — Wyoming QB Josh Allen
It’s not hard to imagine head coach Sean McDermott falling for a guy like Allen, who has big hands and cold-weather experience, plus the arm to cut through the Western New York winds. But it’s equally as hard to imagine Allen being a realistic Year 1 option, so Bills fans might have to get used to the idea of A.J. McCarron running the show while Allen is groomed.
Allen is a project, but here’s the salty rub: The Bills likely won’t be able to get him here at No. 12. This mock reflects the player who makes the most sense for Buffalo, but it almost certainly must trade up for him. An expensive project at that.
13. Washington Redskins — Washington NT Vita Vea
The Redskins have hosted a bunch of free-agent defensive linemen this offseason but have signed none of note. That’s not good news for one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL last season, so even if they add veteran DL help, more is needed. Vea is a massive run stuffer who fits the bill for what’s missing up front. Pair him with Jonathan Allen and Matthew Ioannidis up front, and there will be improvement. The Redskins recently re-signed Mason Foster and Zach Brown, so an inside linebacker feels unlikely here.
14. Green Bay Packers — Iowa CB Josh Jackson
The Packers traditionally have sought ballhawks and playmakers at corner, and even with a reshuffled front office and a new defensive coordinator, those things still hold true. They also haven’t shied away from projects with the size and athletic template they seek at the position. That’s Jackson, who has only one year of starting experience but intercepted eight passes. He’s long enough to play press-man under coordinator Mike Pettine and hits the athletic benchmarks the Packers desire.
15. Arizona Cardinals — Alabama WR Calvin Ridley
The Cardinals are in no-man’s land in the draft and with their roster. Their team was one of the oldest in the NFL last season, have Larry Fitzgerald nearing the end, let Tyrann Mathieu go for nothing and swapped out Carson Palmer for Sam Bradford. What’s the vision here?
Let’s assume they realize the dearth at receiver, and drafting Ridley would give them a sophisticated talent who can be a WR2 in Year 1 and take over that mantle for Fitzgerald in 2019. The other receivers on the roster: J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams, Brittan Golden, Rashad Ross and Carlton Agudosi. That’s not so hot.
16. Baltimore Ravens — Iowa C James Daniels
Seeing Calvin Ridley go a pick earlier might not make the Ravens happy, but general manager Ozzie Newsome — in what’s likely his final draft in command — can go back to his roots to find offensive help. Iowa head coach (and former Browns/Ravens assistant) Kirk Ferentz and Newsome go way back, so Newsome likely would get excellent insight on Daniels, an underclassman who has Pro Bowl potential.
Free agency and retirement gutted the Ravens’ offensive line over the past few seasons, so Daniels likely would be pegged to start immediately. Baltimore’s drafts have been defense-heavy in recent seasons, especially at the top.
17. Los Angeles Chargers — Georgia LB Roquan Smith
Smith falling this far would be just shy of a miracle, as he might be one of the eight or 10 best pure football players in this draft class. The Chargers could use a tone-setter inside who can play three downs, even if Smith is on the small side. He’s the type of player whom the Chargers might be willing to move up a few spots to get, similar to what they did a few years ago to land Melvin Gordon.
18. Seattle Seahawks — Michigan DT Maurice Hurst
The Seahawks’ molting continues with one of the best interior rushers in this draft class. The concern with Hurst is that his health status is unclear following a heart issue that was detected at the NFL scouting combine. If he’s cleared, Hurst should be a top-25 selection — and he’d fill the void left by the free-agent departure Sheldon Richardson. The Seahawks have dipped into the Wolverines’ program for three draft picks the past three years.
The Seahawks are more likely to trade down from this spot. They don’t currently pick after this spot until the fourth round (selection No. 120), so look for them to field trade calls and try to nab Hurst — or another top defender — a bit lower.
19. Dallas Cowboys — Boston College DE Harold Landry
Maurice Hurst might be on the Cowboys’ radar as well, and there are some receivers and offensive linemen who could interest them. Short of that they could help the pass rush with a player such as Landry, whose value is down after the projected top-10 pick entering last season wasn’t the same player in 2017 because of an ankle injury.
Yes, they took Taco Charlton a year ago in Round 1, but the Cowboys might need to buttress the possible loss of Demarcus Lawrence in 2019 if he has another big season and outprices himself in Dallas. The same could be said for offensive guard Zack Martin, but expect him to get an extension before Lawrence (two back surgeries, one big season so far) does.
20. Detroit Lions — Florida DT Taven Bryan
The Lions need to find pressure any way they can. Bryan might not be a polished run defender, and his overall game requires refinement in general. But his interior rush skills are fantastic, and new head coach Matt Patricia should take a shining to the Wyoming-born son of a Navy Seal and find a role for him. The NFC North suddenly is loaded with QB talent, and the Lions have to be far better at sacking all that talent.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Bills) — Alabama LB Rashaan Evans
Moving out of the upper part of the draft, the Bengals still might wait to fill their biggest need at center. Instead, they fill another potential void at linebacker. The Bengals could move on from Vontaze Burfict following his positive PED test, and free-agent signing Preston Brown can play inside and outside.
So can Evans, whom head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin were on hand to watch at Alabama’s pro day. There was a lot of chatter about Reuben Foster going to the Bengals last year, but Evans would bring some of the same skills, minus the off-field issues.
22. Buffalo Bills (from Chiefs) — Georgia OG Isaiah Wynn
This pick belongs to the Bills — for now. They might be forced to relinquish it in any trade up to secure a QB. But if they keep it (or can find a way to move up from one of their two second-round picks) they might want to find an interior blocker such as Wynn, a college left tackle who could be a Day 1 starter at guard in the NFL.
23. Los Angeles Rams — Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch
Another trade-down candidate (notice a theme here?), the Rams figure to upgrade their run defense one way or another this offseason following the trade of Alec Ogletree. Undersized Mark Barron is good at what he does, but Wade Phillips needs a bigger between-the-tackles linebacker to fill in the leaks. Vander Esch has only one year of starter’s tape but has flashed tremendous upside in his 256-pound frame.
24. Carolina Panthers — Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver
They tried to fill their starting cornerback job opposite James Bradberry through free agency, but signee Bashaud Breeland failed his physical and the deal was voided. Oliver might be a better option. His extremely long arms and good athleticism can be used to combat the NFC South’s king-sized receivers: Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and Mike Evans.
25. Tennessee Titans — Alabama NT Da’Ron Payne
They can upgrade inside. Payne anchored one of the country’s best run defenses, and the Titans actually stopped the run well last season. But Payne would give Mike Vrabel a Rock of Gibraltar in the middle to help free up Jurrell Casey a bit and let the Titans have some different combinations up front. This isn’t a huge need, but Payne would be great value at this stage of Round 1.
26. Atlanta Falcons — Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
Not sure there’s a defensive lineman here the Falcons might consider. Instead, they take Kirk, who fills the much-needed slot role. Mohamed Sanu is a very reliable role player, but Kirk would give them an added dimension. This front office respects the Alabama program greatly, and when Crimson Tide DBs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison were asked who the toughest player they faced was, they both said Kirk. He can help give the Falcons’ stagnant return units a boost and supplant a very replaceable Andre Roberts there. Maryland WR D.J. Moore is another name to watch.
27. New Orleans Saints — South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert
Something tells me the Saints won’t end up picking here. There have been whispers for weeks they could try to move up and see what it takes to take a QB such as Baker Mayfield. Short of that, landing an athletic tight end such as Goedert would make sense. They tried hard to bring back Jimmy Graham and overspent badly on Coby Fleener.
The Saints, who have gone defense in three of four first-round picks the past three drafts, could give Drew Brees another big target in his twilight. For a small-school prospect, Goedert can still be useful right away. The Saints were shockingly bad on third downs last year, especially late in the season.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers — Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
Just a gut feeling here. Ben Roethlisberger’s contract runs out after the 2019 season as he creeps into his late 30s. Yes, they drafted Joshua Dobbs last year, but the Steelers might want to double up there. Head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert were at Rudolph’s pro day, and new Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is steeped in the spread offense — a derivation of which Rudolph ran at OSU.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars — Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Another gut feeling here … and another (mini) QB run at the bottom of Round 1. Blake Bortles’ contract extension allows the team to bail on him in a year or two if things go south — just long enough for Jackson to be ready. He’d be a fun player in a system featuring Leonard Fournette and Dede Westbrook, and the Jaguars can continue adding receivers to help stretch the field and showcase Jackson’s fascinating skills. It just needs a little time to percolate.
30. Minnesota Vikings — Texas OL Connor Williams
Great value here. Williams could be groomed as the heir at either tackle spot or inside at guard. He’s a gnarly competitor who fits the mold of a Mike Zimmer-coached team and could be a steal coming off an injury-plagued 2017 season. The Vikings know they must protect their biggest investments. That would be Kirk Cousins.
31. New England Patriots — Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey
The Patriots might have options to replace Nate Solder, but none is making anyone salivate. They can’t assume 2017 draft pick Tony Garcia can come back from blood clots (and losing 40 pounds) and be ready to take that job. Likewise, Cole Croston is an unknown and LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming remain unsigned. McGlinchy is a good clone for Solder: a tall but flawed former tight end who is respected by teammates and coaches alike.
32. Philadelphia Eagles — Stanford S Justin Reid
Another trade-down candidate, the Eagles aren’t slated to pick again until Round 4 and finances are tight. At this spot, they could go with a running back such as Derrius Guice or Sony Michel, or a tight end such as Mike Gesicki to add a little juice to the offense. Safety isn’t the most pressing need, but Reid might be good insurance for Malcolm Jenkins, who turns 31 next season and has a salary-cap hit approaching $10 million in 2019.