The road to the 2018 NFL season gets some much needed traffic starting this Friday.
The marathon known as the entry draft kicks off Friday night at 8 p.m. with Round 1 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the first time ever at a NFL field. Rounds 2-3 go Saturday starting at 7 and then the remainder kicking off at noon on Sunday.
The 0-16 Cleveland Browns are first on tap, and have another at no. 4 soon after. The horrible Browns have five picks in the first two rounds.
Predicting just who among this year’s draft class will go where can be a fool’s game — but fun. There are all kinds of parameters to consider, like draft day trades — there were 12 such deals in the first round last year — as well as who picks who when.
For instance, of the 20 projections we made for the 20 non-playoff teams last year, only two fell where we thought.
That folks, makes this exercise a bit futile.
But, we are gluttons for punishment and are giving this yet another go. Here are our projected picks for each of the 20 non-playoff teams, by draft order (through two rounds with second round picks based on needs in italics). The Houston Texans have no first or second round picks, so Cleveland gets their slot too (since the Texans off-loaded their first rounder to the Browns).
20. No. 1 Cleveland Browns (0-16) – QB Sam Darnold, USC
The Browns, forever on a quest for a no. 1 pivot — like the demented Monty Python Knights in search of the Holy Grail — will most likely take a QB at no. 1. Many of the NFL literati have opined on just who among six almost pro-ready quarterbacks might go numero uno, and really, it’s a giant toss-up. We say Cleveland opts for the safe pick here, tabbing USC’s Darnold as their future no. 1. Why? Because they traded for Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor as the starting bridge QB, that’s why. Darnold isn’t a great runner, but had solid passing stats, with an uneven turnover track record. In two seasons as starter with the Trojans, Darnold threw for 7,229 yards in 27 games, with 57 TD strikes. However, he turned the ball over 37 times, including 22 interceptions. Second Round Picks: No. 33 CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado; No. 35 OT Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame); no. 64 CB Greg Stroman, Virginia Tech.
19. No. 2 New York Giants (3-13) – RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Orleans Darkwa, the Giants leading rusher with only 751 rushing yards last year, is gone. That leaves Wayne Gallman as the only real threat out of the backfield and his numbers weren’t mind-blowing (476 yards, 0 TD). So, unless Cleveland has a brain cramp and takes Saquon Barkley first overall, the Giants have a no-brainer in picking him second. He represents the kind of game-breaking threat they need out of the backfield, as he racked up 3,843 yards on the ground in three seasons with the Nittany Lions, along with another 1,195 yards in the air. He also scored 51 touchdowns in 38 games. He’s a proven competitor, too, having shredded Washington for 175 combined yards and two touchdowns in Penn State’s 35-28 victory in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl. Second Round Pick: No. 34 DE Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest.
18. No. 3 New York Jets (5-11) – QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Even more so than the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets need a future franchise quarterback and in Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, they might get him. None other than former Jets great Joe Namath has weighed in on Mayfield and the rest of the elite college QB draft class. Broadway Joe thinks Mayfield is the most “outrageous” pivot in the draft, which he meant in positive terms. What the scouts love about Mayfield, who threw for 14,607 yards and 131 touchdowns in four college seasons (48 games), is his quick release and his accuracy. While he is the smallest of six top-shelf college quarterbacks at 6’1″, Namath pointed out that many in the know thought Drew Brees was too small and look how he’s turned out. Mayfield may not be the safest pick, but his game might be well suited to the Big Apple. Second Round Pick: None.
17. No. 4 Cleveland Browns (0-16), from Houston Texans – DE Bradley Chubb, N.C. State
The Browns need all kinds of defensive help, particularly in the defensive backfield. But, at no. 4 they will likely have a shot at a dynamic edge rusher like Chubb, who would be too good to overlook. The Browns do have 2017 no.1 Myles Garrett on one side of the defensive end solution, but could use some depth on the other side — maybe even a starter to usurp duties from Emmanuel Ogbah or Carl Nassib. Chubb was a sack-master at N.C. State, registering 10 in each of his last two seasons with the Wolfpack. In addition, he logged 198 tackles and forced six fumbles in four seasons. He is the top rated non-offensive player in the first round and the Browns would be remiss not to add him to their defensive mix. Second Round Picks: See above.
16. No. 5 Denver Broncos (5-11) – WR Courtland Sutton, Southern Methodist
With the arrival of QB Case Keenum, the need for a replacement pivot is off the table in the Mile High City, for now. Therefore, the Broncs, who were 20th in passing yards last year, can help surround Keenum with a high profile target like SMU’s Courtland Sutton, who is also the fifth rated prospect (according to CBS Sports). At 6’3″, 218 lbs. he is solid enough and comes with a vote of confidence from current wideout and also former Mustang Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos’ second leading receiver in 2017 says Sutton is a “good kid” and that he has “it” — as in the tools to get the job done. Sutton piled up 3,220 receiving yards, most of them in his last two of four seasons, along with 31 touchdowns. The needs of the Broncos are few, so taking Sutton wouldn’t be a difficult decision. Second Round Pick: No. 40 OT Tyrell Crosby, Oregon.
15. No. 6 Indianapolis Colts (4-12) – OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
All the chatter pertaining to the draft and what the Colts might do with their pick seems to revolve around Indianapolis dealing the no. 6 pick for a passel of later round picks. However, proposing that Indy doesn’t off-load its selection, they do need help on the offensive line, which gave up a NFL worst 56 sacks in 2017. If the supposedly returning Andrew Luck is to be kept from being a tackling dummy in 2018, taking the best offensive lineman in Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson would seem a slam dunk. Nelson is the first ranked offensive lineman and third rated player (according to CBS, again) going into the draft. He’s a beast of a man at 6’5″, 325 lbs. and has been touted by NFL scouts as an elite offensive guard prospect with rare power. Second Round Picks: No. 36 RB Ronald Jones II, USC; No. 37 DE John Sweat, Florida State; No. 49 CB Holton Hill, Texas.
14. No. 7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) – RB Derrius Guice, LSU
Can lightning strike twice at the running back position for LSU? Much as former Tiger Leonard Fournette filled a huge hole in Jacksonville’s offensive backfield, his former stable-mate Derrius Guice could do just the same for the Buccaneers. With Doug Martin gone to Oakland, Tampa Bay’s backfield is decidedly no-name with Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers not wowing anyone with game-breaking ability. Guice, who was Fournette’s understudy for one season and then surpassed him in another (2016), had an outstanding three-year career at LSU. He played in 35 games, running for 3.074 yards and catching 32 passes for 250 more. Guice also scampered for 29 rushing touchdowns and caught three TD strikes. In his last game with LSU, the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame, Guice had 122 combined yards and two TDs in a 21-17 loss. Second Round Pick: No. 38 FS Justin Reid, Stanford.
13. No. 8 Chicago Bears (5-11) – CB Joshua Jackson, Iowa
Assuming OG Quenton Nelson is gone — Chicago’s greatest need is an elite offensive lineman — the Bears should shore up their defensive backfield by taking eighth ranked player and no. 1 ranked CB Jackson. The junior corner copped Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year honors with the Hawkeyes and was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award, too. Jackson was also an unanimous All-American, First Team All-Big 10 and the Jack Tatum award winner in 2017. Jackson was actually a wide receiver in his freshman season and appeared in eight games as a defensive back in 2016, making 10 tackles. It all came together for him last year, as he played in 13 games, registering 48 tackles, eight interceptions (two for a pick six) and 18 successful pass deflections. Second Round Pick: No. 39 OG Braden Smith, Auburn.
12. No. 9 San Francisco 49ers (6-10) – LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
Even though his team ended up on the wrong side of the score in the college football championship game against Alabama in January, the Bulldogs Smith had himself a heck of a game. The junior linebacker had a game high 13 tackles and a sack as the Crimson Tide came out on top in overtime, 26-23. It was a fitting end to Smith’s collegiate career, his 2017 campaign easily his best. He played 15 games and registered 137 tackles, 14 for a loss, had 6.5 sacks and two pass deflections. Overall, in three seasons, Smith had 252 tackles, 20.5 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three passes successfully deflected. He was the MVP of the SEC championship game, the Butkus award winner and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. The 49ers have a great need at linebacker and Smith fits the bill. Second Round Pick: No. 59 WR Tre’Quan Smith, UCF.
11. No. 10 Oakland Raiders (6-10) – FS Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
The Raiders, who have lately struggled against the pass, can use versatility in their defensive backfield and if Fitzpatrick falls to no. 10, he should be their pick. Fitzpatrick, a two-time national champion with the Crimson Tide, can play either safety position, both corners and even linebacker, he’s that flexible. The New Jersey born Fitzpatrick, along with being a two-time champ, was also a two time consensus All-American, two-time First Team All-SEC, and the 2017 Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe awards winner. In 42 games over three seasons, Fitzpatrick had 171 tackles, five sacks, 24 pass deflections and nine interceptions, four for touchdowns. In Alabama’s victory over Georgia in the CFP national title game, Fitzpatrick had five tackles, one for a loss. Second Round Pick: No. 41 DT Harrison Phillips, Stanford.
10. No. 11 Miami Dolphins (6-10) – DT Vita Vea, Washington
With all the quarterbacks in play early, but not nearly the need for at least a few of the worst teams, no. 18 rated prospect Vita Vea fits right in here. The Fish, who lost Ndamukong Suh this off-season, could use depth at defensive tackle and Vea, easily the biggest tackle among all rated prospects at 6’4″ 347 pounds is hard to ignore. The native of Milpitas, CA was this year’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year with the Huskies and in 12 games he had 43 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, 3.5 sacks and four pass deflections. His draft profiles says he has NFL worthy size — uh, yah — and can be “very intimidating at the point of attack”, again “duh!” Those same scouts say he has some footwork issues and is a bit slow off the snap, but still has the ability to be a Pro Bowl caliber defensive lineman. Second Round Pick: No. 42 TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State.
9. No. 13 Washington Redskins (7-9) – ILB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
The Redskins have been bereft of an athletic linebacker for some time now, and with needs in the defensive secondary, Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds is the top pick here (providing Roquan Smith doesn’t fall to no. 13). NFL scouts are very high on Edmunds size (6’5″, 253 lbs.), speed, lateral quickness and elite traits. The book on him from one NFC scout says he can’t really be compared to anyone else in the draft, or previous ones. The three-year member of the Hokies played in 32 games, had 213 tackles (33 for a loss), 10 sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles and five pass deflections. He is an affinity for the spotlight too, having a great game against rival Virginia in his second last game in a Hokies uniform. He registered a team high nine tackles (three for losses) and two sacks as they beat the Cavaliers 10-0. Second Round Pick: No. 44 DT Tim Settle, Virginia Tech.
8. No. 14 Green Bay Packers (7-9) – DE Marcus Davenport, UT San Antonio
He could stand to put a little weight on his 6’6″ frame and he is a raw talent, but for the Green Bay Packers, DE Marcus Davenport could be their man at no. 14. Playing in the mid-major Conference USA, Davenport was its Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 for recording 55 tackles (17.5 for a loss), 8.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four pass deflections. While he didn’t get an elite rating from NFL scouts, Davenport is said to have huge upside. The San Antonio native could stand to gain some more weight in the form of muscle to augment his tall body and scouts say he has the appropriate aggressive demeanor and the quickness needed by a great edge rusher. On the negative side, those same scouts say he needs “a runway to get to top speed” and has below average instincts, for now. Second Round Pick: No. 45 WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama.
7. No. 15 Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
This is a long shot and predicated on teams preceding the Cardinals to pick according to their needs. If Rosen (or any of the six top rated quarterbacks) falls to 15, the Cards would be stupid not to take him or one of the others. We think Rosen is a fairly safe, but dynamic, choice at this spot — if the Cards can get past his concussion history. Add to that the fact Rosen has courted controversy with his outspoken ways and the fact he believes their is life after football (read: he’s not focused enough). That said, Rosen is a highly rated pivot with an ability to deliver great passes under pressure (he completed 63 percent of his attempts while under a blitz) and is the “best back shoulder thrower in the game.” Over three seasons with the Bruins, Rosen played 30 games, tossing the pigskin for 9,340 yards and 59 touchdowns. He was Second Team All-Pac 12 last year. Second Round Pick: No. 47 CB M.J. Stewart, North Carolina.
6. No. 16 Baltimore Ravens (9-7) – WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
There are some who say that James Washington, the Fred Biletnikoff Award winner as the NCAA’s top receiver, isn’t quite ready for prime time. Well, scouts say he is the second rated wideout in the nation after Courtland Sutton and the 19th rated prospect overall. Seeing as the Ravens have never drafted an elite receiver since going to Baltimore two decades ago, Washington might be a good place to start. Washington had an outstanding senior season for the Cowboys, catching 74 passes in 13 games for 1,549 yards and 13 touchdowns. He hooked up with highly rated QB Mason Rudolph for a 65-yard touchdown pass in the Cowboys 30-21 victory over Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl, part of a five-catch, 126-yard day. The knock on him is that his hands could be better and his routes crisper (for the NFL at least) but there is no denying his in an elite level deep threat who can be worked on. Second Round Pick: No. 52 TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State.
5. No. 17 Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) – QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
The Chargers most pressing draft needs are actually a good inside linebacker and offensive lineman. However, they haven’t drafted a starting quarterback since taking Drew Brees umpteen years ago and could really use one of this year’s crop to learn the ropes from Philip Rivers. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who the Chargers are said to be interested in, could be that project pivot. In his final two seasons with the Cardinals, Jackson threw for 7,230 yards in 26 games, along with 57 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He also has blinding speed, running for 4,132 yards in 38 total college games, scoring 50 more TDs. That makes him a solid bet to be a Cam Newton type quarterback, providing he is groomed properly (no problem of that not happening as understudy to Rivers). Jackson won the Heisman in 2016 and was a two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year. Second Round Pick: No. 48 ILB Rashaan Evans, Alabama.
4. No. 18 Seattle Seahawks (9-7) – CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State
The Seahawks, unfortunately, need to re-tool big time after losing stars such as CB Richard Sherman, DL Michael Bennett and TE Jimmy Graham. And with just an 18th overall selection to start with, and no second rounders, they have to hit a home run with their no. 18 — or package him up for more picks later this weekend. If the Seahawks do keep this pick, and with a huge hole at corner, they could take Ohio State’s Denzel Ward. The First Team All-Big 10 corner became a dynamic force in the Buckeye’s backfield in 2017. He played in 11 games — but sat out the Cotton Bowl with the draft looming on the horizon — registering 37 tackles, two interceptions and 15 pass deflections. Tabbed as “an instant starter” by NFL scouts, Ward has great athletic ability and allowed just over 32 percent completions over the last two years. Second Round Pick: None.
3. No. 19 Dallas Cowboys (9-7) – WR D.J. Moore, Maryland
Dez Bryant is gone. Which means QB Dak Prescott needs a good wide receiver to throw downfield to and one who can take some pressure off RB Ezekiel Elliott. While there are higher rated wide receivers on the draft list, it’s unlikely that Courtland Sutton, James Washington or Calvin Ridley will be available at no. 19. But, fast-rising, speedy wideout Moore will be and the Cowboys could do worse than to pick him. In three seasons with the Terrapins, Moore improved greatly year-over-year. To the point he caught more passes in his junior year (80) than he did in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined (66). Moore also gained 1,033 receiving yards and scored eight touchdowns. Rated the 70th highest prospect in the nation, Moore’s draft stock increased immensely with a great showing at the combine. Second Round Pick: No. 50 OT Connor Williams, Texas.
2. No. 20 Detroit Lions (9-7) – DT Taven Bryan, Florida
The Lions were oh so close to making the playoffs last year and don’t have a ton of glaring needs on their roster. One place they may want to add some youthful zeal and future starting potential is at defensive tackle. One guy they could target who falls within the latter third of the draft is Florida’s Taven Bryan. The 6’5″, 291 lb. tackle out of Casper, Wyoming is already drawing comparisons to J.J. Watt. Something to live up to, we say. For a guy his size, he runs a blazing 4.98 second 40-yard dash and has a vertical jump of 35 inches. Scouts say that he plays with the kind of flexibility and agility seen in elite defensive ends and that Bryan has “rare pursuit speed and closing burst for an interior player.” He broke out big in his junior year with the Gators, registering 37 tackles (six for a loss) and four sacks. Second Round Pick: No. 51 RB Nick Chubb, Georgia.
1. No. 21 Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) – OT Orlando Brown Jr., Oklahoma
Given that the Bengals dealt the 12th overall pick for Buffalo’s 21st, it makes sense in this space to take an offensive linemen, since they have a need there. The best one available, according to the folks at CBS Sports, is Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown (1st in his position, 26th ranked overall). His late father, Orlando “Zeus” Brown played in the NFL for 11 seasons, so the kid has good pedigree, for one. He is also a gigantic guy at 6’8″ and 345 lbs. who scouts say does really well blocking against the pass rush and keeps his feet moving well in pass protection. With the Sooners, Brown was a two-time First Team All-Big 12 and a two-time Big 12 Lineman of the year. He upped his game considerably from the Combine to his Pro day, cutting his 40-yard dash speed from 5.85 seconds to 5.63 and his vertical jump from 19.5 inches to 25.5. Second Round Pick: No. 46 C Frank Ragnow, Arkansas.