NFL mock draft 2018: First round's post-combine fallout

Nate Davis
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Wyoming Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen throws a pass during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

INDIANAPOLIS — The scouting combine is supposed to provide one final, level playing field — theoretically — for NFL draft prospects to compete while being evaluated by all 32 teams. But Saquon Barkley, whom we pegged as the top pick in our mock draft a month ago, proved to be a man among boys during his workout at Lucas Oil Stadium and somehow managed to elevate his lofty stock. Asked if the Giants should take the Penn State star with the second overall selection, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock replied, "Saquon Barkley — if he’s there at two — is the most obvious choice in the draft. He’s special. He’s different. He’s all those things."

And based on what we saw and heard during the combine, we think Barkley may wind up atop a lot more mock drafts — and, just maybe, the actual one.

1. Browns — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Some draft observers suggested his combine performance might have been the most impressive ever. The NFL Research Twitter account provided this context for the 6-foot, 233-pounder when comparing his numbers against those posted by recent all-pros in Indianapolis: Stronger than Joe Thomas, quicker than DeSean Jackson, faster than Devin Hester, jumps higher than Julio Jones. As crucial as quarterbacks are, how do you pass on talent like this, especially when you also own the fourth overall pick? Barkley's persona also suggests he will have little trouble assuming the mantle of "face of the franchise," and he embraces the challenge of turning around a franchise like Cleveland's. He should be every bit as good as recent first-round backs (Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette), and placing Barkley in a backfield that's about to lose leading rusher Isaiah Crowell to free agency alongside a rookie quarterback — remember what Elliott did for Dak Prescott in 2016 — could be the optimum way to ease a young passer's transition. Take this to the bank: Cleveland will only get one crack at Barkley, and this is it.

2. Giants — Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California: He didn't throw at the combine, which could make him a perfect candidate for the Giants, who probably wouldn't need him to throw a regular-season pass in 2018, either. New GM Dave Gettleman would probably love to get a shot at Barkley and will probably be tempted to add Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson, one of his beloved "hog mollies," to what may be the league's worst offensive line. But at the end of the day, it's rare for the Giants to be in position to draft a franchise passer — they haven't had a top-five selection since they wound up with Eli Manning in 2004. Though Manning, 37, may have another year or two in his tank, this is too good an opportunity to enact a bona fide succession plan, especially considering Darnold's estimable upside and a low-key demeanor (like Manning's) that would probably work well in The Big Apple.

3. Colts — Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State: With all signs pointing toward Andrew Luck's return, they're one of the few teams at the top of a quarterback-rich draft that doesn't appear to actually need one. GM Chris Ballard will almost certainly be fielding calls from teams like the Cardinals and Bills  for what could be a very coveted spot. But Ballard also badly needs to reload a supporting cast — Barkley and Nelson would be ideal fits — that had too often let Luck down in recent years. Chubb looks like the pre-eminent pass rusher in a draft that seems deficient at this highly coveted position. And if Luck can revert to form and start putting points on the scoreboard, a guy like Chubb — remember how Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis did this back in the day for Peyton Manning — is the type of defensive game changer who can protect leads.

More:Doyel: Colts will draft Bradley Chubb. But only if we’re lucky.

4. Browns (from Texans) — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: Good luck finding better arm talent, and Allen put his hose on display to the world with a 70-yard hook-up during Saturday's passing drills. Now arm strength isn't necessarily a good indicator of success in the pros — just ask JaMarcus Russell — where decision making and accuracy are far more valuable attributes. However a big arm does count for something in Cleveland's windy, lake-side atmosphere (not to mention tough conditions that arise in every other AFC North city), and new GM John Dorsey is the guy who traded up to get Patrick Mahomes' howitzer for the Chiefs a year ago. Allen drew positive reviews in Indy, and his workout may have started to ease concerns about his 56% completion rate in Laramie, where he ran a pro-style offense but didn't benefit from a ton of checkdown throws and was victimized by more than his share of drops.

More:40 things we learned from 2018 NFL combine

More:NFL combine winners, losers: Saquon Barkley, Josh Allen create big buzz

5. Broncos — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: Few teams appear as poised to win immediately as Denver, home to a championship-caliber defense and a pair of Pro Bowl wideouts — if GM John Elway can solve the quarterback dilemma that has existed since Peyton Manning retired two years ago. Rosen is widely viewed as the most NFL-ready passer coming out and seemed to allay some fears at the combine that his personality won't mesh in a pro locker room, though a veteran-laden one like Denver's might be a plus for a 21-year-old assimilating into the working world. Rosen's football arrogance and belief he can make any throw — think former Broncos QB Jay Cutler — may be the bigger issue for him to work on at the next level.

6. Jets — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: This might be a good spot to pause and acknowledge that the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes — the Jets, Broncos and Browns are all expected to be serious suitors — could greatly influence the top of the board, as free agency generally will shape the draft once veterans can begin switching teams March 14. But the Jets, who have five different leading passers in the decade since they moved on from Chad Pennington, are still searching for a long-term answer to what's become a perennial problem. Mayfield's fiery persona and willingness to lead would theoretically fit well on a young team that needs an alpha male on offense. 

7. Buccaneers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama: No team was worse at stopping the pass in 2017 than Tampa Bay, which is also set to lose CB Brent Grimes and S T.J. Ward in free agency. Enter Fitzpatrick, part of the breed of versatile young defensive backs who can roam deep like a safety, blitz like a linebacker and cover like a corner, especially in the slot. He'd definitely be a valuable asset in a division where the ball is so frequently in the air.

8. Bears — Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame: Per Mayock, Barkley and Nelson are the two best players in a draft dominated by the quarterback conversation. Chicago has a Pro Bowl-sized hole on its O-line after declining G Josh Sitton's option for 2018. Nelson will almost certainly be an upgrade, even when compared to an accomplished vet like Sitton, and has vowed to make a roomier pocket for his next quarterback, something Mitchell Trubisky would certainly appreciate in his second season. 

More:'Nasty' Quenton Nelson could break offensive guard mold in NFL draft

9. 49ers — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia: He can run all day and would form a nice three-down tandem with 2017 first rounder Reuben Foster as San Francisco transitions to a 4-3 defense that emphasizes rangy linebackers. And with 6½ sacks last year, Smith (6-1, 236) should also be an effective blitzer.

10. Raiders — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech: At 6-5, 253 pounds, he's bigger than Smith yet nearly as athletic. Edmunds racked up 30½ tackles for loss over
the past two seasons and is just the kind of asset a disappointing Oakland defense, ranked 23rd in 2017, badly needs. Only 19, Edmunds' upside is insane.

More:Top 10 NFL free agents in 2018: Which players will spark spending sprees?

11. Dolphins — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State: The latest entry from a Buckeyes corner pipeline that's produced three first rounders (Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley and Eli Apple) in the past two drafts. Miami's vulnerability at corner becomes apparent in games when opponents aren't running the ball incessantly. And it always helps to have good cover guys in a division ruled by Tom Brady.

12. Bengals — Connor Williams, OT, Texas: It's criminal that Cincinnati finished last in total offense in 2017 given the talent at the skill positions. The obvious reason for those struggles was horrific O-line play, especially at tackle, in a division where staunch defenses make it virtually impossible to mask such a problem. Williams may be a slight reach here, but that's the position Cincinnati finds itself in at this point.

13. Redskins — Vita Vea, DT, Washington: No team gave up more yards on the ground last season than Washington, which was also gashed for a ghastly 4.5 yards every time an opponent handed off. Teaming Vea (6-4, 347) with 2017 first rounder Jonathan Allen, who only played five games as a rookie, would go a long way toward remedying this weakness, especially with D-line guru Jim Tomsula around to shepherd the youngsters' development.

14. Packers — Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio: Despite having OLBs Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, Green Bay collected a pedestrian 37 sacks in 2017.  Worse, opposing quarterbacks had a collective 102.0 passer rating against the Pack, the worst showing by an NFC defense. Davenport will be making a big jump from UTSA's competition level, but in this scenario he could focus early on showcasing his pass rush ability in sub packages.

15. Cardinals — Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: Arizona desperately needs a quarterback but doesn't presently have the cap room to make a serious play for Cousins and probably lacks the requisite draft position to get one of the top prospects. Maybe they can find a way to trade up, or maybe they move back a bit to get Louisville's Lamar Jackson. But if they hold at No. 15, Payne could be the right value, an immensely strong player who would inject youth into an aging front, eating blocks that free guys like NFL sack champ Chandler Jones and former first rounder Robert Nkemdiche.

16. Ravens — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: He appears to be the best of what seems to be a relatively weak crop of receivers — and even the best at this position usually struggle adapting to the NFL. Ridley is probably equipped to step into the slot, but it's probably a stretch to earmark him as a No. 1 target on Day 1. Regardless, Baltimore needs the help. 

17. Chargers — Derwin James, S, Florida State: The Bolts are probably about to lose S Tre Boston in free agency. And GM Tom Telesco admitted the team needs more production at linebacker, a spot James could man on passing downs (unless he's playing deep or in the slot). Also, the value is too good. James swore at the combine he won't fall outside the top 10 and might be right.

More:Florida State's Derwin James to Cowboys fans: 'I feel like they gotta trade up' to get me

18. Seahawks — Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida: Whether it's planning for life after Richard Sherman or simply replacing Byron Maxwell, Seattle could use corner help. And with no picks in Rounds 2 or 3, the Seahawks only have one shot to get a good player at a premium position.

19. Cowboys — Arden Key, DE, LSU: Demarcus Lawrence had a breakout 2017 with 14½ sacks but is basically on a prove-it deal after being franchised. Key also has doubters after leaving Baton Rouge but made a good impression at the combine when he weighed in at a sculpted 238 pounds, though he'll surely need to add some weight back to hold up in the NFL.

20. Lions — Derrius Guice, RB, LSU: Fournette's former backup at LSU could be just the physical presence needed by a Detroit team that has ranked 28th or worse running the ball over the past four seasons and was dead last in 2015 and '17.

21. Bills — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama: Buffalo seems likely to lose leading tackler Preston Brown in free agency. What better way to offset such a loss than with an athletic, instinctive player from Tuscaloosa?

22. Bills (from Chiefs) — James Daniels, C, Iowa: A neck injury forced reliable C Eric Wood into retirement after the playoffs. Fortunately, the Hawkeyes are known for producing NFL-ready linemen, and Daniels has the chops to step into the vacancy left by Wood's departure.

23. Rams — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville: He was one of the combine's stars after blazing a 4.38 40-yard dash. But aside from the speed, he thrives in press coverage and isn't afraid to hit. Good fit for a team that opted not to franchise CB Trumaine Johnson a third time.

24. Panthers — Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford: He's strong (combine-high 42 reps on the bench), scheme versatile and highly intelligent after graduating early with a double major. Phillips also comes with an ever-revving motor for a team that will probably be replacing Star Lotulelei.

25. Titans — Sony Michel, RB, Georgia: Derrick Henry will take over as the primary back in 2018, but Tennessee could use a shiftier outside runner who's likely to be more of a factor in the passing game. Michel, who averaged 8 yards per touch last season, seems to be in the mold of Alvin Kamara.

26. Falcons — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Atlanta's roster isn't lacking much. But a new slot receiver would help Matt Ryan and, perhaps, Julio Jones if Kirk can make an immediate impact in the short passing game with his sub-4.5 speed.

27. Saints — Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama: Kenny Vaccaro's disappointing tenure is coming to an end. Harrison is the instinctive, reliable tackler Vaccaro rarely was and could be another nice addition to a blossoming secondary.

28. Steelers — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa: He has excellent ball skills (8 INTs in 2017). None of Pittsburgh's corners had more than two picks, and the pass defense as a whole still looked too vulnerable in big games.

29. Jaguars — DJ Moore, WR, Maryland: Jacksonville opted not to tag Allen Robinson, increasing the need for them to reload at receiver with Marqise Lee also poised to leave. Moore is one of the risers coming out of the combine after posting a 4.42 40, the kind of speed that could also create space for the league's top-ranked rushing attack.

30. Vikings — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: For a team that will be making some kind of re-investment at quarterback (Cousins? Case Keenum?), improved O-line play is probably imperative. McGlinchey represents a nice value and would allow Mike Remmers to kick inside to guard.

31. Patriots — Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, Boise State: A long (6-4, 256), athletic player who would be a nice addition to a New England defense that obviously needs help given its most recent performance.

32. Eagles — Brian O'Neill, OT, Pittsburgh: Jason Peters is 36 and only lasted seven games last season. Philadelphia would be wise to begin eyeing a next-gen blind side bodyguard for Carson Wentz.


Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis

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