The NFL Scouting Combine is in the books and it is now less than two months until the 2018 NFL Draft commences. Sure, there's free agency on the immediate horizon, and the flurry of news that will generate, but make no mistake: We are smack dab in the middle of Mock Draft Season. And this year, Buccaneers.com is going to get in on the fun.
Below you will find the first edition of our very own mock of the draft's first round, created via alternating picks between me and Carmen Vitali. We'll update it every two weeks, because these things never stay static. College pro days will provide another burst of numbers, information (and misinformation) will leak out of team headquarters and trades will potentially affect the draft landscape. By the last week of April, Carmen and I will hopefully have this thing figured out. (But probably not; very few mock drafts get more than eight to 10 predictions right.)
I drew the honor of picking first, which also means I was picking for the Buccaneers at number seven. And let me tell you, I was pretty excited about the options available to me. If a strong quarterback run develops early, as was the case in our first mock draft, Tampa Bay could be in a very enviable situation.
Before we begin, we must repeat our usual caveat. 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 are our guesses, Carmen and Scott. Blame us if you don't like them. Oh, and for at least this first version, we're not mocking any trades. Every team stays put.
And now, I'm on the clock for the Cleveland Browns!
1. Cleveland Browns: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State (Scott Smith)
I had been trying to talk myself into this pick for more than a week, with the knowledge that we were about to do a mock draft and I was going to be first on the clock. Logically, I loved the idea: If the Browns have relatively similar grades on several quarterbacks, in what seems like a group of indeterminate order, wouldn't it make sense to take a potential game-changer like Barkley at #1 and then still get a quarterback of the future at #4? I was probably going to chicken out on this pick, however, until Barkley stomped through the Combine like Godzilla. My goodness! Now I say this is the first running back taken first overall since 1995 and the Browns get their QB three picks later (Carmen willing). Might as well take the can't-miss player first and then roll the dice on your QB, just like you would be doing at number one. (I think it's highly possible, however, that this pick changes in future editions of this mock as Cleveland starts to hone in on one particular quarterback.)
2. New York Giants: QB Sam Darnold, USC (Carmen Vitali)
Had I known you were trying to talk yourself INTO this pick over the past week, I would have surely attempted to talk you OUT of it. You've now blown up any 'plans' I had for this mock draft and with trades not on the table here, am I really about to suggest that the Giants pluck from the group of indeterminate quarterbacks you just mentioned? Short answer: yes. It also may be a bit selfish because if the Giants don't take a quarterback, I'm afraid of the precedent it sets and therefore who ends up available for the Bucs at seven. I want as many quarterbacks taken in the first six picks as possible. Yes, I realize that's not exactly how this works when making picks and we're supposed to be 'objective' yadda-yadda-yadda but just let it happen, okay? Either way, I say the Giants give Eli some competition by taking the most NFL-ready guy in USC's Sam Darnold. Though I'm not thrilled with his decision not to throw in the Combine, I think he is still the best pick-and-plug prospect among quarterbacks this year.
3. Indianapolis Colts: DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State (SS)
This reminds me of the 2016 draft, when the Rams and Eagles traded up to the first two spots and everybody knew they were going to take quarterbacks. There were a lot of different theories as to who would go third to San Diego, but in the end the first non-QB off the board was the best pass-rusher, Joey Bosa. When it's all said and done, there's a good chance QBs go 1-2 again this year, and I fully expect Chubb to be the first non-passer selected. Top-notch pass-rushers are too valuable of an asset to pass up, the and Colts happen to have a need there.
4. Cleveland Browns: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA (CV)
With you taking Barkley first overall (which I'm still grumbling about), Scott, this was a no-brainer for Cleveland's obvious need at quarterback. I was tempted to throw Josh Allen from Wyoming to the 'Dawgs' but the Browns are going to need someone to start and start fast. I just think Rosen is a little more polished than Allen, though both had great Combine outings this past weekend. The only wild card here is if Cleveland decides to make the sequel to Blank Check starring Kirk Cousins in free agency with their plethora of cap space.
5. Denver Broncos: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming (SS)
See, Cleveland only missed out on one quarterback, so as long as they didn't have Darnold as there clear top choice, the "Barkley First Plan" ™ worked. And you also get your deep QB run, Carmen, because I think John Elway will like the idea of adding a passer of Allen's size and talents. Some people I spoke to at the Combine think Allen is going to be a fast riser in the weeks ahead.
6. New York Jets: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (CV)
Heck yes I got my QB run! Jets need a QB and I have to be honest – I was flat out impressed with Mayfield at the Combine. The order of the positional drills allowed for a direct comparison of him and Josh Rosen and they went toe-to-toe. And listen, I may be grumbling about your (trademarked??) "Barkley First Plan," but that in no way means it doesn't make the most sense. No matter which way you swing it, taking a quarterback in the draft is always going to be a gamble, and missing out on one in a group like this doesn't warrant missing out on a game-changing player like Barkley – just get ready for the Darnold vs. Rosen comparisons to come. We're still hearing about Winston vs. Mariota.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame (SS)
No, we didn't purposely set up this mock draft so that Nelson would fall to the Buccaneers, but we might be just a bit too optimistic on the size of the quarterback run. If this did happen, the Bucs could easily help the secondary with either Minkah Fitzpatrick or Denzel Ward. I'm sure that would be tempting, but Nelson seems like the kind of offensive linemen that doesn't come around very often. Pair him with Ali Marpet in the middle and the life might return to the Bucs' rushing attack.
8. Chicago Bears: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama (CV)
The Bears need someone – anyone – for Mitchell Trubisky to throw to. Sure, they have other needs too, but Calvin Ridley is the real deal. He should be a Day 1 starter. Plus, with how deep this year's draft is in offensive linemen, I think the Bears nab one later in the draft to help block for the Bears' young backs, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and ultimately balance out the offense.
9. San Francisco 49ers: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama (SS)
This feels like a total steal for the 49ers. I haven't seen too many mock drafts in which Fitzpatrick lasts this far and, again, I think that's a function of our early run on quarterbacks. Cornerback is one of San Francisco's biggest needs, so this is a home run if the 49ers believe that Fitzpatrick can definitely play that position, as opposed to safety.
10. Oakland Raiders: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia (CV)
Despite the fact that his Combine was cut short, we know what Roquan Smith is capable of from all his tape at Georgia. He's a hard-hitting linebacker that is especially effective against the run because of his ability to go sideline to sideline. Plus, he can blitz like nobody's business. You have to think Coach Gruden appreciates a player like that. Also, I got to this guy before Scott Smith did. That was fun.
11. Miami Dolphins: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech (SS)
It's true. I had Roquan all queued up to go to Miami before Carmen swiped him for Gruden's group. However, the more I thought about it, the more satisfied I became about this pairing of Edmunds and the Dolphins. Miami's 2017 starting LB trio of Rey Maualuga, Lawrence Timmons and Kiko Alonso was a bit…shall we say, long in the tooth? The Phins did spend a second-round pick on Raekwon McMillan last year but he tore an ACL in the preseason opener and was lost for the year. Assuming he returns to man the middle, Edmunds can man one of the outside spots and probably even add some value as a pass-rusher. The Virginia Tech product is very tall for a linebacker but he ran a 4.54 40-yard dash at the Combine. It's an unusual combination, but an intriguing one. Edmunds plus McMillan gives Miami the instant youth infusion they need in the middle of their defense. Roquan who?
12. Cincinnati Bengals: T Kolton Miller, UCLA (CV)
Whatever you need to say to make yourself feel better, Scott. I do like Edmunds, though, and actually went back and forth between the two before settling on Smith. As for the Bengals - they need offensive linemen. While I'm usually a little wary of Pac-12 offensive linemen, Miller impressed at the Combine. The plus side of West Coast tackles is their athleticism, usually, and Miller fit the mold by running a sub-5 40-yard dash at 4.95 seconds, the third-fastest of the linemen. Oh, and he set the Combine record for broad jump by an OL with 10'1". The main concern with him was his ceiling, but I think the Combine showed that ceiling is actually a lot higher than people think.
13. Washington Redskins: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State (SS)
I think the Redskins wanted in on one of those two linebackers above; it's a big team need, but now I think they wait and grab someone like Ohio State's Jerome Baker in the next two rounds. Instead, Washington takes advantage of that QB run pushing a potential top-10 talent down to #13. Cornerback might not be their #1 need, but after trading Kendall Fuller to Kansas City to get Alex Smith, it is a need. This value is just too good to pass up.
14. Green Bay Packers: DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA (CV)
And you couldn't resist getting me back for the Roquan Smith pick, knowing the Packers need corners. Fine. I like Davenport, anyway. He's a great edge rusher who is extremely athletic. That athleticism will come in handy in Mike Pettine's system, who just took over the Green Bay defense from Dom Capers. Traditionally, the Packers have been a 3-4 team under Capers, but Pettine's system seems to be a little bit more flexible and fluid, calling for his defensive players to share the same characteristics.
15. Arizona Cardinals: T Connor Williams, Texas (SS)
If Larry Fitzgerald had retired, I would have been sorely tempted to force a receiver into this spot, with the belief that Arizona would at some point add a quarterback to their roster and he'd want someone, anyone, to catch his passes. But Fitzgerald is back and the Cardinals have a lot of needs on offense. They have poured plenty of resources into the line but it sort of fell apart last year. D.J. Humphries, a 2015 first-rounder, hasn't yet developed into a strong left tackle and right tackle Jared Veldheer had a rough 2017 and may retire. I'd say offensive tackle was Arizona's biggest need…you know, if it weren't for that quarterback-sized hole on the roster. (So should I draft a quarterback here, then? Maybe. If we were doing trades in this thing, I might have the Cardinals moving up for Baker Mayfield.)
16. Baltimore Ravens: T Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame (CV)
His Notre Dame teammate Quenton Nelson may be getting all the hype, coupled with the fact that offensive linemen are underappreciated as a whole, but make no mistake – McGlinchey is a solid prospect. Like the Cardinals, these birds also have a lot of offensive needs. They need a receiver, yes, but with Ridley off the board, I think they can wait until the second round and grab someone like D.J. Moore who just so happens to already be in the state. Running back? Same deal. I think you solidify the line here so that when you do bring those players in, they can be effective.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: DT Vita Vea, Washington (SS)
This is my favorite pick in the round (among my selections, that is; no offense, Carmen). I think people are sleeping on how close the Chargers were to being a playoff team last year. They need to do a little work on the two lines and they could be a force to be reckoned with. The one thing the Chargers did not do well at all in 2017, however, was stop the run. Plug this 345-pound wrecking ball in between Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and now opposing O-Lines are getting demolished from every direction.
18. Seattle Seahawks: S Derwin James, Florida State (CV)
None taken, I love that guy. I also love this guy. Can you imagine a secondary that includes Derwin James, Earl Thomas and a healthy Richard Sherman? The Legion of Boom is in full force with the Seahawks getting this guy in a steal that is probably also related to the aforementioned quarterback run Scott and I optimistically took you on.
19. Dallas Cowboys: WR Courtland Sutton, SMU (SS)
Dez Bryant just isn't the same anymore and the Cowboys need a new number-one pass-catcher to get the most out of Dak Prescott. Sutton is big and doesn't mind contact and he can make contested catches like a young Mike Evans. (Note: Mike Evans is also a young Mike Evans.) I'd be completely sold if Sutton was just a tad faster, but this is the primary need for Dallas and Sutton is just the second receiver off the board.
20. Detroit Lions: DE Harold Landry, Boston College (CV)
This is just a natural fit. The Lions are in need of some pressure, especially with Matt Patricia taking over the coaching reins. Patricia's defensive coordinator hire, Paul Pasqualoni, will be especially familiar with Landry, given that he coached the kid for the last two years at Boston College. Landry is a great prospect in his own right, even without the coaching connection. Landry had the same vertical as DE Bradley Chubb at the Combine (36.0) and was even one-tenth of a second faster than Chubb in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.64 seconds.
21. Buffalo Bills: DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan (SS)
I agree. Landry to the Lions is probably my favorite of your picks. It's tough to get any predictions right this far down the board, but that doesn't negate this great match of need and available talent. As for this Bills pick, I could see Buffalo going for wide receiver or even trying to find their QB of the future. But Buffalo also picks #22, so I'll let you worry about that, Carmen, and fill another need with what I think is better value for this spot in the draft. The heart issue discovered at the Combine is an issue, but the same thing hasn't stopped Carolina's Star Lotulelei from having a nice career. Kyle Williams is getting up there and Marcell Dareus was traded away, so Buffalo needs some new muscle in the interior.
22. Buffalo Bills: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville (CV)
And for Buffalo's QB of the future… I present Heisman Trophy Winner Lamar Jackson. Listen, he is an absolute freak athlete and I know he doesn't want to move to receiver now, but I think that's a heck of a Plan B if his NFL quarterbacking doesn't pan out for the Bills. Who knows? We could be looking at the next Russell Wilson, or even Cam Newton (Jackson is between 6'2" and 6'3" depending on who you ask), with this guy. One thing I really like about him is his experience under center. It sets him apart from most quarterbacks these days and I think the Bills benefit from a versatile signal caller in the end.
23. Los Angeles Rams: C Billy Price, Ohio State (SS)
Acquiring Marcus Peters made cornerback less of a pressing concern, and they tagged versatile safety Lamarcus Joyner so the secondary is in decent shape. That's why I have them addressing an offensive line that looks to be losing starting center John Sullivan to free agency. Price is a mauler with an attitude. The pec injury he suffered at the Combine was unfortunate as it kept him from putting his skills on display, but I don't think it will hurt his draft stock too much.
24. Carolina Panthers: WR James Washington, Oklahoma State (CV)
The Panthers need more targets for Cam Newton to throw to and I really like Washington. He's as athletic as they come and though he may lack the size of some receivers Newton was used to throwing to, he has speed. He is a former track and tennis athlete, winning the triple jump and 100-meters in the Texas state track meet as a senior in high school. He finished his senior season at Oklahoma State with 1,549 yards on 74 receptions and scored 13 touchdowns for the Cowboys. It was good enough to name him to multiple All-American lists and he was a finalist for the Biletnikoff award, given to the nation's best receiver.
25. Tennessee Titans: RB Ronald Jones, USC (SS)
I would have jumped on Landry here if he was still available, and I did give some thought to adding a guard, but I'm basing this pick on the notion that the Titans move on from DeMarco Murray but still want to pair Derrick Henry up with another back. Henry is the big bruiser, so while I think LSU's Derrius Guice might be a more talented player, Jones fits a bit better as a speed complement to Henry.
26. Atlanta Falcons: DT Da'Ron Payne, Alabama (CV)
The thought of Da'Ron Payne in Atlanta is scary. Trust me when I say I would not be thrilled about the Bucs having to face a Falcons' defensive line twice a year that includes this guy plus Adrian Clayborn and/or Dontari Poe, provided the latter two don't depart in free agency. The free agency factor is exactly why the Falcons go with the Alabama product though, provided he falls this far. Four of the five Falcons defensive linemen that are set to be free agents are defensive tackles and keeping Poe will be expensive.
27. New Orleans Saints: WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M (SS)
It's a little irritating how few glaring needs the Saints appear to have heading into this draft, at least on paper. That's thanks in large part to their insanely good haul from last year's draft. We all know, as well, that Drew Brees will re-sign in New Orleans, but it's reasonable to think they might go after the heir apparent to begin his grooming for the inevitable. I contemplated that, as well as the tight end and edge-rusher positions, but in the end I think they give Brees yet another dangerous weapon at receiver.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State (CV)
This guy has size, which I think fits in well with Mike Tomlin's Steelers. Pittsburgh has a need at linebacker with Ryan Shazier's football future in question. Vander Esch is 6'4", 256 pounds and was productive against both the run and the pass in college at Boise State. He was the Mountain West Championship game MVP last year after recording 16 tackles and the game-sealing interception. In a town like Pittsburgh known for its defense, you can never have too many weapons in the middle and I think Esch fits right in to become a starting every-down linebacker they'll need.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina (SS)
Well one thing is for sure: They don't need to draft on defense. The Jags are just loaded on that side of the ball after several good drafts and last year's free agent haul. They also gave a new deal to Blake Bortles, so I think they try to help him here with a big target who can block and also be an outlet valve. I strongly considered Georgia guard Isaiah Wynn here, too, because that's a bit of a weak spot for Jacksonville, too, but Hurst seems to be in his own tier at the tight end position and the line can be addressed later. Hurst can help get the most out of second-year back Leonard Fournette.
30. Minnesota Vikings: G Will Hernandez, UTEP (CV)
I like a tight end for Jacksonville – especially one that can help block for Fournette, like you said. The Vikings also likely don't need much help on defense and I really like the small school guy here. I'm going to be honest, Hernandez wasn't on my radar until the Combine where he put on a heck of a show. TBD on who Hernandez will be protecting as the Vikings still have question marks at the QB position, but regardless of who it is, he'll benefit from having Hernandez on the inside.
31. New England Patriots: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa (SS)
Why do things like this just work out for the Patriots? I feel like Jackson, who has good size and is a big-time playmaker at a key position, was beginning a slow climb up the draft board, perhaps into the top 15 or 20. Then he failed to crack 4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine and that may have hurt his draft stock. So now he just sits here, totally available to the Patriots at pick #31, filling one of their real needs. Aggravating! Maybe Jackson will burn it up at the Iowa Pro Day.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: RB Derrius Guice, LSU (CV)
This balanced 2018 Philly offense brought to you in part by: LSU's Derrius Guice with Jay Ajayi. With both LeGarette Blount and Darren Sproles becoming free agents, the Eagles will need more help in the ground game to maintain an effective offense, especially when the date of QB Carson Wentz's return is uncertain (though, given his absence in the postseason, who are we kidding? Whoever is under center may not even matter). Guice has the 'juice' to be a heck of a complement to Ajayi and with most of the defense under contract for next season, Philadelphia somehow stays scary going into their Super Bowl 'hangover' season.