The 2018 NFL Draft is almost upon us, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht knows exactly which players his team wants and in what order he would take them. If only Carmen Vitali and I had the same level of certainty.
Since March, I've been combining efforts with Carmen, a Buccaneers.com contributor, to produce biweekly first-round mock drafts. In each of our first four versions, we alternated making picks, with me choosing for Cleveland at #1, Carmen making the Giants' decision at #2 and so on. However, since this is our last chance to get it right (ha ha!), we decided to put our heads together for Version 5.0. Every pick below was made after we hashed it out and came to a two-person consensus. That wasn't as easy as it sounds.
The problem is, there is still a lack of consensus about what is going to happen at the top of the draft. There are plenty of rumors, of course, some of them by prominent members of the national media who cite "trusted" inside sources. These can't be dismissed because where there's enough smoke there's often fire, but they can't be considered fully reliable, either, because part of the game is team's sowing disinformation for their own gains. The Browns love Josh Allen. The Browns have decided on Sam Darnold. Wait, now the Browns want Baker Mayfield? Some believe the Browns won't pick a quarterback at all with the first pick and will wait to do so at #4. And so on.
But enough of my whining. Mock drafting isn't easy – well it's not hard to do, but it's hard to do right – but it is fun, so let's just get to it. Just know one thing for sure: Like we do every year on Buccaneers.com, we will absolutely revisit our mock draft after the real picks are made, either to gloat about our mastery or take our lumps.
Before we start picking, we should note that we have projected two trades in this final mock. Here are the details:
- Buffalo trades with Denver**. We've had this 12-to-5 move for the Bills in a couple previous versions, but we've revised the details a little bit. In our original deal, we had the Bills giving up #12 plus second and third-round picks in this year's draft. The numbers add up, using the old Cowboys draft value chart, but now we think the Bills are going to have to go over the top and surrender their other 2018 first-rounder. That's #12 and #22 for #5. The difference in value between the fifth and 12th picks is 500 points on that chart and the 22nd pick is worth 780, so this is clearly an overpayment but the Broncos hold all the cards so that's now the price of business. With Sam Darnold now available at #5 (spoiler alert!), the Bills have to believe they'll be competing with other teams trying to move up and they'll do what none of the rest can do: Throw in two 2018 first-rounders.
2. Miami trades with Tampa Bay. If the early run on quarterbacks doesn't quite materialize, would the Bucs listen to offers to swap with a team that wants to grab one of the remaining passers at #7. We think so, as long as it's not too big of a move. The Dolphins have the 11th pick, so this one seems relatively safe. Miami has to make up a 250 point difference, and their third-round pick (#73) doesn't quite make it there. So we think the Dolphins sweeten the deal with a 2019 third-rounder as well.
Finally, our usual caution: Though you are reading this on Buccaneers.com, none of this is meant to reflect the strategy or thinking of Jason Licht, Dirk Koetter or any others involved in the Buccaneers' actual draft decision-making. These musing belong solely to Carmen and me.
1. Cleveland Browns: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
(Scott Smith) In our four previous mocks, I only had to convince myself on this one, and I was basically working on inertia in the last two. That is, I had put Allen here in Mocks 2.0 and 3.0 and wasn't going to change it until I saw a concrete reason to do so. This time, however, I had to convince Carmen, too, as we were determined to come to a consensus on each pick. I don't think I truly succeeded, and I have to admit that there are so many mixed signals coming out of Cleveland the surrounding media that this seems like a toss-up to me. I would feel almost exactly as confident (which is to say not very) if I had picked Sam Darnold here. Oh well, it's only the very first pick that is going to affect everything that follows.
(Carmen Vitali) Is Darnold the best QB in this draft? I think so. Should the Browns take Darnold with the first pick overall in this draft? I think so. After talking it over with Scott Smith, do I think they take Darnold with the first pick overall in this draft? I… don't think so. I kind of understand the thinking here, too. You have Tyrod Taylor so you have room to develop someone. If Allen can get his accuracy under control with that cannon of an arm, he would be extremely successful in this league, which I think is what Cleveland is banking on with this pick.
- New York Giants: DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State**
(CV) Look! Sam Darnold is still on the board and all you've been hearing is how much the Giants love Darnold and it's what you've been predicting three of your four mocks. So WHY are we going with Chubb here? Well, Scott and I both agreed that after quarterbacks, the most highly coveted position in the NFL is an edge rusher. The Giants have retained Beckham, they reinforced their offensive line, so now if they really want to make a run with Eli still at the helm – address the defense and get the best pass rusher available a.k.a. Chubb.
(SS) We didn't entertain a trade here, either. This pick is too valuable for the Giants. They are one of only a few teams that can guarantee itself a shot at Chubb or Saquon Barkley.
3. New York Jets: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
(SS) This is the first time we've gotten to this point with Darnold still on the board, but I'm sure the Jets have mocked that exact possibility. So should we switch and give them the player who is going #1 in a lot of mocks? We said no because we believe the "Jets love Mayfield" rumors have a lot of truth to them.
(CV) There was almost no hesitation.
- Cleveland Browns: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State**
(CV) With Barkley on the board and their franchise QB already taken, no way the Browns trade out of this. How often does a team have TWO picks in the top five? Take advantage of this, Cleveland. We're all rooting for you.
(SS) I think this is a really tough decision if the Giants defy us and take a quarterback, leaving both Barkley and Chubb on the board.
5. [PROJECTED TRADE] Buffalo Bills via Denver Broncos: QB Sam Darnold, USC
(CV) With Darnold miraculously still available, we thought Buffalo gives Denver the hard sell here to trade up so they can nab him. For the record, I think this exact situation happens if Darnold is taken first and Allen is still on the board. For some reason I think Elway just loves Allen. Call it a hunch – or buying into all the draft chatter on the interwebs.
- Indianapolis Colts: G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame**
(CV) Well, people know the Colts aren't going to take a quarterback, so after Buffalo makes a deal with Denver for five, I think the Colts' phones stop ringing and they are kind of forced to take Nelson. Not to say anyone is forced into a generational talent like that. Nelson is available, you take him. End of story. Especially with an injury-prone Andrew Luck.
(SS) And yet we have a trade into the very next spot. I think those phones are still ringing in the Colts' draft room, but they don't bite. It's like the story Jason Licht told last week about getting a big offer for the spot at which he eventually took Mike Evans. He couldn't sleep with the thought of missing out on Evans. The Colts don't want to pass up on Nelson.
7. [PROJECTED TRADE] Miami Dolphins via Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA(SS) I think the Cardinals will be on the line, too, if this scenario plays out, and they could ace out the Dolphins with a better offer. But I think the Buccaneers would rather move down just four picks rather than all the way to 15, as it would make it more likely they could still get one of the two or three best players remaining on their board. The Bucs would know that the Dolphins are moving up for a quarterback so they would only have to worry about the next three teams raiding their short list. It's a tough decision for the Dolphins, but in the end they choose to start over at the most important position instead of committing to Ryan Tannehill for the long term.
(CV) FINALLY I get to comment on our pick. Well, what WAS our pick. To be totally transparent, Scott kind of had to sell me on the trade down. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense with Nelson, Barkley and Chubb off the board. There are a multitude of secondary players the Bucs could go after and 11 isn't too far of a drop to not see at least one of those prospects available.
8. Chicago Bears: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
(SS) We've been filling this spot with Vita Vea up until now, and still could, but I convinced Carmen that Edmunds stock is going through the roof, and since the Bears could easily plug a new starter into any level of their defense, he's just as useful to them as Vea.
(CV) I still think Vea would be a great pick here but you have to think that after the linebacker glory days of just a few years ago that Chicago is itching to get another defense-altering talent at that position, which Edmunds is.
9. San Francisco 49ers: DT Vita Vea, Washington
(CV) And San Fran says, "Thank you very much, we'll take Vea now, thanks."
(SS) Vea, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead? That's a line made up entirely of first-round picks in the last four years.
10. Oakland Raiders: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia (CV)
(CV) I don't think I've seen one recent mock draft where this doesn't happen. Far from Scott or I to be the contrarian. Heh.
- [PROJECTED TRADE] Tampa Bay Buccaneers via Miami Dolphins: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama**
(CV) Look at that, all the Bucs' potential secondary prospects are still on the board. Judging from what happened last year and the rotation the secondary seemed to be on due to injury – I think getting a guy like Fitzpatrick who is extremely flexible and versatile makes the most sense here.
(SS) It took me a while, but I'm finally sold on this pick because I've been convinced that Fitzpatrick can play outside cornerback. There was never any doubting his elite level of talent.
12. [PROJECTED TRADE] Denver Broncos via Buffalo Bills: DE Harold Landry, Boston College
(CV) I am SO on board the Landry train as Scott can attest to. That is all.
(SS) I'm just amazed Carmen didn't find a way to shoehorn Landry into the top 10. She is, shall we say, bullish on this player.
13. Washington Redskins: S Derwin James, Florida State(SS) This was a new development for us, as we've been all over the board for Washington in our five versions, though always on defense. We've gone, corner, linebacker, defensive tackle and now safety. But as we near the draft, this is the prospect that seems least likely to keep falling.
- Green Bay Packers: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State**
(CV) I repeat: Packers always need corners.
(SS) Yeah, I think this is a really satisfying result for Green Bay.
15. Arizona Cardinals: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
(CV) Yes, Larry Fitzgerald is coming back for another season but other than that… who is there to throw to? I've been hearing great things about this kid's route-running ability, so Arizona sees the value in him at 15.
(SS) We were thisclose to putting Lamar Jackson here but just couldn't pull the trigger. In fact, we contemplated Jackson at about four different spots from here to the end of the round, but he remains on the board going into Round Two.
16. Baltimore Ravens: T Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
(SS) We've come full circle on the Ravens, as McGlinchey was the pick in Version 1.0 but we later contemplated a receiver and even Lamar Jackson. Connor Williams is still on the board, too, but the thought here was that McGlinchey is a good fit at right tackle, where the need is stronger. Ronnie Stanley, a first-rounder from two years ago, is at left tackle.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: DT Da'Ron Payne, Alabama
(SS) For the record, I kind of pushed Carmen to agree with me here. She might have preferred Maurice Hurst. We both think the Chargers' best move is to dip into the deep well of DTs in this draft.
(CV) The Chargers need someone to stop the run and fill gaps that even I could probably run through. Ok, that's a total stretch but you get my point.
18. Seattle Seahawks: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
(CV) We had Derwin James falling this far actually in our previous mocks. The obvious need for Seattle is secondary, though, so they still fill a piece in with the guy out of Iowa whose draft stock continues to rise.
(SS) James always felt like a luxury. This is a direct hit on a big need.
19. Dallas Cowboys: WR Courtland Sutton
(CV) Sutton is a big body that will be a nightmare for opposing corners. And no, it's not just you – Prescott to Sutton does sound like a high-end rustic furniture line.
(SS) What could I possibly add to that?
- Detroit Lions: DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA**
(SS) This is initially where Carmen had the prized Harold Landry going, but he has since moved into a higher-rent district. The Lions instead get a player that may be a bit more of a project but also has that most classic of draft characteristics…say it with me…upside!
21. Cincinnati Bengals: G Will Hernandez, UTEP
(SS) Hernandez is another player whose stock seems to be on the rise, and if you need a guard he's the second one on most boards (albeit a relatively distant second) to Nelson. We've largely been pairing the Bengals with a tackle, but now we think they try a little longer with the somewhat disappointing Jake Fisher (or give the somewhat disappointing Cedric Ogbuehi a shot) at right tackle and beef up the interior instead.
22. [PROJECTED TRADE] Denver Broncos via Buffalo Bills: T Connor Williams, Texas
(SS) So Denver trades out of the fifth spot – where Quenton Nelson was probably the best available player (non-quarterback division) – and ends up getting a pass-rusher and a player who could quickly unseat trade acquisition Jared Valdheer. I think that's a pretty good haul.
23. New England Patriots: T Kolton Miller, UCLA
(CV) Patriots lose Solder only to immediately replace him with a super athletic and successful prospect because they worked out a fantastic deal to get two first-round picks the year after playing in the Super Bowl somehow yadda yadda yawn.
24. Carolina Panthers: CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville(SS) This is one spot where I think we finally got it right after the end after flailing around a bit for the past two months. We've matched Carolina up with a deep-threat receiver and a tight end to pair with/eventually replace Greg Olsen, but isn't cornerback a bigger need. They drafted three corners in 2016, right after letting Josh Norman walk, but one (Daryl Worley) was traded away and one (Zack Sanchez) is just a reserve. James Bradberry has worked out well but they could use an upgrade on Keyvon Seymour or someone they can plug right into the slot.
25. Tennessee Titans: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State (SS)
(SS) Pass-rushers tend to rise as we get to the real thing, so Vander Esch could be off the board by this pick. But if he's there, the Titans rush the card to the podium.
26. Atlanta Falcons: DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan
(CV) I was still a little hesitant on Hurst even after he cleared his physicals but I think he's a great player. And yes, that does pain me to say about a Michigan Wolverine (Scott and I are both partial to the Wildcats of the Northwestern variety).
(SS) From the standpoint of matching a team's perceived need with an available prospect at that position – which is what the back half of a mock draft essentially consists of – this is one of the easier calls to make.
27. New Orleans Saints: TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
(SS) it's a run on Hursts! You could say there's a real thirst for Hurst at this part of the draft. You could, but then your kids would probably roll their eyes at you and say, "Nice one, dad."
(CV) This guy can block. This guy can catch. This guy can give Brees another big-body tight end to throw to. It just makes sense.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
(CV) So, they don't get Vander Esch, but I don't think this is a consolation prize at all and Evans is still a blitz-happy linebacker with eyes on the quarterback.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR D.J. Moore, Maryland
(SS) This is the first time Moore has cracked the first round in our mocks. His stock seems to be on the rise. We took him here over Texas A&M's Christian Kirk, who is a little smaller with similar speed.
30. Minnesota Vikings: G Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
(CV) We had Will Hernandez going here every other mock and the fact of the matter is all the rumors swirling around say nothing but an offensive lineman to the Vikings. Currently, I can think of 84 million reasons why.
(SS) And all 84 million are guaranteed.
31. New England Patriots: CB Mike Hughes, UCFLike the Broncos, the Patriots end up with two first-round picks and very successfully hit two glaring needs. In New England's case, we have direct replacements for the departed Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: RB Derrius Guice, LSU
(CV) I think this is one of only two picks that has stayed consistent across all our mocks. They were both my picks, for the record. I got the 'juice.'
P.S. If I find out Guice's nickname or something he goes by is actually 'Juice' I'm never letting it go, Scott.
(SS) Two things. 1. I'm not sure that a pick staying "consistent" is actually a victory of some sort. The idea is to get it right. 2. I'm so glad this is over so I won't have to hear anymore Guice-Juice jokes.