GREEN BAY - The National Football League’s 83rd annual player selection meeting, as the NFL draft was once more commonly known, gets underway Thursday evening at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Green Bay Packers come armed with more selections than any other team in the league and a bevy of needs. Speculation abounds about general manager Brian Gutekunst and how aggressive he might be during his first draft calling the shots.
For this particular mock draft, there won’t be any trades, but you can bet there will be plenty of wheeling and dealing Thursday night. Will Gutekunst be involved? Stay tuned.
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Before the madness starts Thursday night, here’s one way things could play out.
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, Quarterback, USC
John Dorsey and company have done a good job of muddying the media waters the last few weeks, but I expect this pick to come right around to where conventional wisdom was before the silly season of draft over-analysis began, and that’s with the Browns taking the prototypical Darnold.
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, Running Back, Penn State
The Giants absolutely should select a quarterback here, but new Giants GM Dave Gettleman is as old school as they come. If he thinks Barkley is the premier talent he has been made out to be, Gettleman won’t have any reservations taking him, despite having an aging quarterback in clear decline. Barkley will need to be a generational talent that rarely leaves the field to live up to this selection. The odds of that happening aren’t great.
3. New York Jets: Josh Rosen, Quarterback, UCLA
Jets GM Mike Maccagnan gave up three second-round picks to Indianapolis to jump up just three spots, which tells you he’s most likely to draft a quarterback. Rosen is pro-ready and can step in right away if need be for a team and fan base that have been starving for a legit talent at the quarterback position. There has been some talk in draft circles of a Rosen selection possibly costing people jobs, but on the contrary, Rosen should help keep everyone employed for at least a year or two more in New York.
4. Cleveland Browns: Bradley Chubb, Edge Rusher, North Carolina State
Dorsey and company should send former Browns GM Sashi Brown a thank-you note for leaving them with two top-five picks, the second of which allows them to take their pick of the best defensive players in this draft to complement their previous quarterback selection. Pairing Chubb with last year’s first overall pick Myles Garrett will give opposing QBs nightmares for years to come.
5. Denver Broncos: Baker Mayfield, Quarterback, Oklahoma
Free-agent acquisition Case Keenum isn’t the long-term answer to anything at quarterback in Denver. Yes, Mayfield doesn’t posses prototypical size, but the last time Elway tried to draft a conventional-looking QB in the first round, he basically wasted a pick in Paxton Lynch. Mayfield is a gamer and will bring some much-needed life to a moribund Broncos offense.
6. Indianapolis Colts: Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Ohio State
After allowing league highs in 20-plus-yard completions (64) and yards per attempt (8.0) last season, the Colts need to be able to cover somebody downfield and Ward should be a big help in that regard.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quenton Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame
The Bucs have been linked heavily to Florida State safety Derwin James lately, but looking at the state of their offensive line (left guard Ali Marpet is in the last year of his deal and right guard J.R. Sweezy has been a big free-agent disappointment) it’s hard to see them passing on arguably the best player in this draft in Nelson.
8. Chicago Bears: Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Georgia
The Bears would probably hate to see Nelson taken one spot before their selection, but they console themselves by taking one of the best defensive players in the draft. Danny Trevathan hasn’t played 16 games in a season since 2013 and has started to show signs of slowing down. Time for the Bears to recharge in the middle of their defense.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech
With Reuben Foster arrested on felony domestic violence charges and his future with the team in doubt, the 49ers may already be looking for a replacement. Enter Edmunds, who has All-Pro upside and an ability to play all over the 49ers defensive front.
10. Oakland Raiders: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Safety, Alabama
The Raiders set an NFL record by not making an interception until Week 12 in 2017. Fitzpatrick should help make sure that bit of history doesn't get repeated. He is a playmaker who will always be around the ball and who can bring heat from the slot when asked to blitz the quarterback. A real chess piece for new Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
11. Miami Dolphins: Da’Ron Payne, Defensive Tackle, Alabama
There’s been a lot of quarterback speculation when it comes to the Dolphins pick, but I buy their faith in Ryan Tannehill. Payne will solidify the middle of the Dolphins' defense after the departure of Ndamukong Suh. Washington’s Vita Vea is another option here, but my hunch is the Dolphins go with the Nick Saban-coached player.
12. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, Quarterback, Wyoming
The Bills are happy to find Allen after trading former starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor early in the offseason and then trading Cordy Glenn and the 21st overall pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for pick No. 12. Allen is talented and has a rocket arm, but accuracy issues keep him from going in the Top 10 of this draft.
13. Washington Redskins: Sony Michel, Running Back, Georgia
Michel is not only an outstanding runner but he has the potential to be truly dynamic in the passing game. Washington also has a quarterback in Alex Smith who never met a checkdown he wasn’t ready to take. It was easy to see how Kareem Hunt helped elevate Smith’s play in Kansas City and Washington tries to replicate the formula by giving him Michel in the backfield.
14. Green Bay Packers: Derwin James, Safety, Florida State
The Packers could give pass rusher Harold Landry and defensive tackle Vita Vea consideration here, but James’ skill set fits the team’s need for a versatile slot defender perfectly. Not only can he cover pretty much anyone, anywhere on the field, but James also helps bring juice to a dormant pass rush with his ability to blitz from the slot. (When it comes to the actual draft, Packers fans may not want to hear it, but there’s a decent chance they move down here if a team calls looking to jump up to get a quarterback.)
15. Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Louisville
Cardinals starter Sam Bradford is the furthest thing from a long-term solution at the quarterback position and Jackson is the most dynamic player in this entire draft. Jackson certainly needs time to work on some mechanical issues and Arizona can afford to go the route the Chiefs went with Patrick Mahomes: Let him sit and learn for a year while he adjusts to the NFL game and then unleash him.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, Wide Receiver, Alabama
The wide receiver spot in Baltimore is kind of like the cornerback position in Green Bay. The Ravens keep throwing bodies at it but it doesn’t seem to get any better. Ridley should start to change that. The best route runner in this draft by far, Ridley can play both outside and in the slot. Joe Flacco finally gets a legit target to help him out.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Connor Williams, Offensive Tackle, Texas
Much like the Ravens and wide receivers, the Chargers seem to always be looking for people to put in front of Philip Rivers to help keep him upright. Williams can step in at right tackle and transition to left tackle down the line if need be. A knee injury took away much of Williams’ 2017 season and his overall play took a dip, but his previous play projects a quality NFL starter.
18. Seattle Seahawks: Isaiah Wynn, Offensive Line, Georgia
Another team that has been throwing bodies at a problem, the Seahawks continue to look for guys to put in front of Russell Wilson. Wynn was a left tackle at Georgia but projects to guard in the NFL. He’s a physical guy who can not only help keep Wilson clean but get the Seahawks back to some of the smash-mouth ball that was their offensive signature when they were going to Super Bowls.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Christian Kirk, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M
One of the Cowboys' pre-draft visits, Kirk could quickly become quarterback Dak Prescott’s best friend. He has the ability to play outside, though he worked almost exclusively out of the slot at A&M. Yes, the Cowboys have Cole Beasley, but he is entering the last year of his deal and with last year’s fourth-round selection Ryan Switzer coming along slowly, Kirk would be a wise investment. He would also add a dynamic presence to the return game.
20. Detroit Lions: Vita Vea, Defensive Tackle, Washington
After losing Haloti Ngata in free agency, the Lions pick up the player in the draft that most resembles him. The Lions could also consider Marcus Davenport here, but Vea still being on the board is too much value for them to pass up. Vea hasn’t come close to maxing out his potential yet and could be a disruptive force in the middle of the Lions' defense for years to come.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Mike McGlinchey, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame
The Bengals were an absolute mess up front last year and they would most likely be doing cartwheels to find McGlinchey here. After trading for Cordy Glenn earlier this offseason to man the left tackle spot, McGlinchey could slide into right tackle for the Bengals and the edges of their offensive line would be instantly improved when it comes to keeping Andy Dalton upright.
22. Buffalo Bills: Mike Hughes, Cornerback, UCF
The Bills could use a wide receiver, but they don’t find value at the position here, so they address their cornerback group instead. Vonate Davis was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, but they are in need of help across the board at corner. Hughes is a great disruptor at the line of scrimmage and would add physicality to Sean McDermott’s defense.
23. New England Patriots: Kolton Miller, Offensive Tackle, UCLA
I’ll be absolutely shocked if the Patriots don’t end up trading up and grabbing a quarterback, but keeping with our no-trades format, the Pats stay put and grab Miller to fill the spot vacated by Nate Solder when he left for the Giants in free agency.
24. Carolina Panthers: Hayden Hurst, Tight End, South Carolina
Hurst is the most complete tight end in this draft and with 33-year-old Greg Olsen’s time in the league winding down, GM Marty Hurney grabs another weapon for quarterback Cam Newton. His huge catch radius will serve him well when dealing with Newton’s tendency to sail some throws.
25. Tennessee Titans: Marcus Davenport, Defensive End, UTSA
Opinions on Davenport are a bit all over the place when talking to scouts, but no one denies his potential. Brian Orakpo turns 32 before the start of the season and at the moment, Jurrell Casey is the Titans’ only real disruptor. Davenport is a freak athlete with huge upside who will help some right away, but the real return on this pick is most likely a year or two away.
26. Atlanta Falcons: Taven Bryan, Defensive Tackle, Florida
The Falcons continue to add to their pass rush. After trading up for Takk McKinley last year, they stay put and add to their interior rush. Bryan has a great first step and would complement stud defensive lineman Grady Jarrett nicely.
27. New Orleans Saints: Mike Gesicki, Tight End, Penn State
The Saints reportedly were very interested in bringing back Jimmy Graham before he signed with the Packers. Gesicki may not be Graham, but he can get downfield and would be nice red-zone weapon for Drew Brees.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, Linebacker, Alabama
The loss of Ryan Shazier due to spinal injury was the scariest moment of the NFL season. While Shazier is making strides in his recovery, he obviously won’t be playing again any time soon. His absence was acutely felt in the middle of the Steelers' defense. Evans would step in and bring versatility and physicality.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Donte Jackson, Cornerback, LSU
Losing Aaron Colvin was big and the Jaguars' most likely on-hand replacement, D.J. Hayden, doesn’t look up to the task. Jackson played all over in LSU’s defense. He could very easily step into the nickel role in Jacksonville from Day 1.
30. Minnesota Vikings: Harold Landry, Edge Rusher, Boston College
The Vikings obviously had an outstanding defense last year, but Brian Robinson is on his last legs and Danielle Hunter is more of a rotational player than a full-time starter. Enter Landry, who very well could be the best pure pass rusher in this draft. The Vikings would be thrilled to see him on the board here.
31. New England Patriots: Jaire Alexander, Cornerback, Louisville
The Patriots were picked apart by Nick Foles in the Super Bowl after masking inefficiencies in the secondary all season. Alexander is on the short side, but would instantly upgrade the secondary and would bring a physical press man game to the Patriots' defense.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Ronald Jones, Running Back, USC
The Eagles watched LeGarrette Blount bolt for Detroit in free agency and Jay Ajayi has one year left on his deal. Holdover Corey Clement is obviously in their plans as well, but Jones is a threat to score every time he touches the football and brings incredible upside in the passing game.