The Super Bowl is over, thank you Eagles and Patriots for an entertaining end to the season.
Other than in Philadelphia, where they are still cleaning up a mess after a first Super Bowl win, and to a lesser extent Foxboro, the rest of the league is wondering just how they can re-tool in the off-season to get there.
Or, in some cases, just win a few more games than they lost in 2017.
Part of re-tooling means drafting wisely and for 20 teams who missed the post-season, the first round picks need to be solid.
Especially if that team is the 0-16 Cleveland Browns. They not only hold the no. 1 selection in the draft, they also have the fourth pick, courtesy of the Houston Texans (who dealt The Land this pick so they could take Deshaun Watson 12th overall last year).
What they do with their second straight no. 1 pick is up for debate, which we will do here with a list of 20 players who could be destined to go no. 1 to no. 20. They are in order of 20th pick to — drum roll — no. 1.
20. Detroit Lions – RB Ronald Jones II, USC
The Lions narrowly missed the playoffs last season and part of the reason for that was a lacklustre ground game. While Matt Stafford was able to throw the ball with alacrity to the likes of elite receivers Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate, he didn’t get that much in the way of offence from RB Ameer Abdullah (552 yards, four TDs). And going forward, Abdullah is, in our opinion, a second stringer who can spell a more polished runner or come in on crucial third down situations in place of a raw rookie. That guy could be USC’s Ronald Jones II, who is taller and more explosive, if his college stats are to be believed. He finished ninth in the NCAA in rushing yards with 1,550 and scored 19 TDs. Out of the backfield he also caught 14 passes for another 187 yards and a score.
19. Dallas Cowboys – DL Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
The Cowboys, who also suffered the indignity of missing the playoffs by a hair, need some help on their defensive line, which could use some depth after Maliek Collins and David Irving. Alabama’s Payne, who declared after his junior season, might fall to this spot and give the Cowboys a defensive lineman who will make life miserable for opposing offensive counterparts. He had his best season in three for the Crimson Tide in 2017, registering a career high 53 tackles in 14 games, along with a sack, three pass defences and an interception. That pick, the first of his three-season career at Alabama, came against Clemson in the CFP semi-finals and the big man returned it 21 yards, too.
18. Seattle Seahawks – CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
Richard Sherman‘s tenure with the Seahawks is now in doubt. The four-time All-Pro ruptured his Achilles tendon and missed the final seven games of a disappointing season in the American Northwest. The tendon was surgically repaired, however, it may continue to be an impediment in the future. For that reason, Seattle should target Iowa’s Jackson, who led all college defensive backs in interceptions with eight. Jackson has the height at 6’1″ that makes pro scouts drool, as well as elite speed and pro-ready coverage skills. In his junior season statement game, which was a 38-14 loss to Wisconsin, Jackson had two of his eight interceptions, returning both for TDs. Wow.
17. Los Angeles Chargers – S Derwin James, Florida State
After Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, there is no better college safety available in the draft than the Seminoles James. An athletic “freak”, James has been compared to Kam Chancellor in how he attacks the ball and has enough versatility to play in multiple schemes. His season got off to a slow start as he was rehabbing a knee injury, but he cranked it up later, finishing with 84 tackles, a sack, 11 passes defended and two interceptions, one for a touchdown. It was a fitting end to a college career marred by that knee ailment, which caused him to miss most of his sophomore season after he had a standout rookie campaign in 2015.
16. Baltimore Ravens – WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
The Ravens’ receiving corps needs a youth injection and should NCAA leading receiver James Washington be available at no. 16, they should scoop him up. The youngest of Baltimore’s top trio is Jeremy Maclin, who is 29, while yards leader Mike Wallace is 31 and Benjamin Watson 37. Washington is a big (6’0″, 205 lbs.) receiver who, while not the most graceful leaving the line, has better-than-average acceleration and tracks down balls with laser sharp focus and soft hands. He hauled in a college career high 74 passes for a NCAA high 1,549 yards and 13 TD. At 20.9 yards per catch, average, it would be hard to ignore Washington mid-first round.
15. Arizona Cardinals – RB Derrius Guice, LSU
After David Johnson went down to injury last season, the running game in Arizona looked bleak. The team acquired Adrian Peterson, but he didn’t solve the problem either. Having missed a whole season with a wrist injury, it might make sense for the Cardinals to get a little insurance for Johnson in the form of one of college football’s two most electric running backs. Guice was Leonard Fournette’s teammate at LSU and equalled some of the New Orleans Saints running back’s school records. Guice ran for 1,251 yards in his junior season, including a SEC record third game with over 250 yards, along with 11 touchdowns. He also caught a career high 18 passes for another 124 yards and two more scores.
14. Green Bay Packers – DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA
The University of Texas at San Antonio isn’t likely high on most pro scouts’ list of schools to visit during a hectic NCAA fall season. But, UTSA’s lanky (6’7″) defensive end Marcus Davenport made the trip worth it. Seen as a project, he is an athletic edge rusher who has been compared to similarly sized former four-time All-Pro DE Jason Taylor. Playing in Conference USA, Davenport had 55 tackles in 11 games, along with 8.5 sacks, four passes defended and three forced fumbles. He pushed his name to the forefront in a game against the SEC stalwart Texas A&M, recording 1.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. Green Bay will eventually need a replacement on the pass rush for Clay Matthews and drafting Davenport would be a move in the right direction.
13. Washington Redskins – DL Maurice Hurst Jr., Michigan
Washington’s defence suffered from a distinct lack of pressure from its defensive line, particularly at the tackle position. Neither starter Ziggy Hood (25 tackles, 0.5 sacks in 15 games) nor back-up A.J. Francis struck fear into opposing offensive lines. For that reason, a surprisingly quick Hurst, who never takes a play off, would be an ideal fit on the Redskins’ D-line. In his senior year with the Wolverines, Hurst had 55 tackles in 13 games, along with 5.5 sacks, two pass defences and a forced fumble. The Redskins could certainly use a playmaker like Hurst who also consistently hustles to run down plays on the outside.
12. Cincinnati Bengals – OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
With how many times he’s been sacked in the last two years, it’s a wonder Andy Dalton is still standing. The Bengals offensive line allowed opposition edge rushers and sundry defenders drop Dalton a total of 80 times, including 39 in 2017 (which was sixth most). The lack of premier linemen (management allowed good ones to leave) also resulted in holes being opened enough for just 1,366 rushing yards, which was second worst in the NFL. Should the Irish’s Nelson be available at 12 — and he could very well be, depending on the run on quarterbacks — the Bengals ought to strike. Nelson is mean, athletic and a great blocker suited well to the NFL game.
11. Miami Dolphins – QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Of all quarterbacks who have declared for the 2018 draft, Allen is the most intriguing, yet most polarizing. He’s a big guy (6’5″) with a big arm and good tools, but regressed severely in his junior season, casting doubt on why he’d even get picked in the first round. In his sophomore season with Wyoming in 2016, he threw for 3,203 yards and 28 TDs, as well as using his big body to run for 523 yards and seven more touchdowns. In 2017, his passing yards were nearly cut in half to just 1,812 yards and 16 TDs (six INTs). But, numbers don’t do him a lot of justice, as he has a cannon for an arm (which was on display at the Senior Bowl) and he also throws well on the run. His name has been tossed around mock drafts as going anywhere from top 5 to late first round. The Fish could make him a solid project arm to apprentice under Ryan Tannehill at no. 11.
10. Oakland Raiders – LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
Jon Gruden is back, baby, and the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders will undergo a sea change. While many have predicted that the Raiders might go for offence in the first round, their defence, specifically the linebacking corps, needs an upgrade. Outside of Bruce Irvin, the rest of Oakland’s linebackers are OK, but not near All-Pro caliber. Enter Georgia Bulldogs LB Smith, who excels at dropping into coverage to thwart pass attempts, as well as run down plays on the outside. In 15 games, including the loss to Alabama in the CFP national championship game, Smith had 137 tackles (fifth in the nation), 6.5 sacks, two passes defended and a forced fumble. Of note, this pick might be San Francisco’s, as the Niners and Raiders will flip a coin at the 2018 combine to determine the no. 9 and 10 picks.
9. San Francisco 49ers – WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
Now that the 49ers have a live arm in New England cast-off Jimmy Garoppolo, they’ll need more sure-handed game-breaking wide receivers like SMU wideout Courtland Sutton. He could have entered the draft after a great 2016 season where he caught 76 passes for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns in 12 games, but decided to return to school. In 2017, he wasn’t as prolific in passes caught (68) and yards (1,085), but he did score more TDs (12). Some say he is the best wide receive prospect to come out of SMU since Emmanuel Sanders and if taken by San Fran would join former Mustang Aldrick Robinson there. Sutton finished his NCAA career third on the Mustang’s all-time receiving yards list behind both Sanders and Robinson.
8. Chicago Bears – OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
The City of Broad Shoulders needs some wide ones on its offensive line. Why? Because Mitch Trubisky, the quarterback of the future, was sacked 31 times in just 12 games last season. Some draft predictors have slated McGlinchey’s teammate Quenton Nelson here and they may not be wrong, but we like McGlinchey’s good guy persona, size (6’8″, 312 lbs.) and all-around ability to block for the QB and open up holes for runners. He is versatile enough to play right or left tackle and has good overall football intelligence and athleticism honed from being a former tight end. Plus, his cousin is Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, giving him good football pedigree.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Having the national spotlight, on two occasions at least, has not hurt Minkah Fitzpatrick. In our estimation, he is the highest rated defensive back in the draft and could possibly go higher, if teams ahead of the Bucs decide they don’t actually need a quarterback (at least in the first round). Fitzpatrick is a two-time national champion who recorded outstanding stats playing for a major program in arguably the nation’s toughest conference (SEC). He played 42 games, had 171 tackles, five sacks, 24 pass defences and nine interceptions (four for touchdowns). Tampa needs a safety with his instincts and football IQ to make the big plays they have been lacking for a while. He’s also a non-controversial guy who gets raves from coaches, teammates and foes alike.
6. New York Jets – QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
New York desperately needs a quarterback and should Josh Rosen be available after the top 5, he is a good place to start. Coming from a major program that often played to a national audience, Rosen would be well suited to the New York market and has the tools to step in right away. The NFL draft profile says he has “terrific mechanics” and that his throwing style is “effortless.” The downside is that he is a bit frail, but given his obvious gifts, a shoo-in to be a top 5-10 selection. In his final year with the Bruins, Rosen threw for 3,756 yards in 11 games, with 26 TDs and 10 INTs. Many think the crosstown Giants might grab him at no. 2 and we could see that happening as well.
5. Denver Broncos – QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
We believe there will be a run on quarterbacks in the top 5 and the nation’s top thrower (yards-wise) could be a good fit in the Mile High City. The Broncs had a second straight miserable season and a little of that blame can be shared with QB Trevor Siemian, who, after a hot start (seven TDs in four games, three of them wins) faded into oblivion. After tossing four interceptions in his first four starts, he chucked 10 in his last seven. With Paxton Lynch seemingly not ready for prime time, bringing in a Rudolph might push Lynch to greater heights (or even usurp the starting job himself). Rudolph had a superb season at OK State, throwing for 4,904 yards in 13 games, along with 37 touchdowns (against 10 INTs).
4. Cleveland Browns – RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Barkley was not the nation’s top runner in 2017, finishing 28th in rushing with 1,271 yards. What is lost in the numbers, however, is the fact he is extremely nimble for a 5’11”, 230 lb. back and has the ability to be a game-breaker. Proof of that came when he reeled off a season high 92-yard dash for a TD against Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, helping the Nittany Lions beat the Huskies 35-28. In addition to his 1,271 yards rushing and 18 TDs, Barkley added 632 receiving yards on 54 catches and another three touchdowns. Cleveland’s incumbent back, Isaiah Crowell, took a step back during the Browns miserable 0-16 campaign, thus not drafting an elite talent like Barkley at no. 4 would be a gross mistake. The Browns can thank Houston for this pick, too.
3. Indianapolis Colts – DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
Chubb is, according to just about every draft forecaster out there, the top defensive prospect and an easy pick in the top 5. The North Carolina State edge rushing terror will be an easy fit on a Colts team that was near dead last in the NFL in sacks with 25 and also gave up the third most yards against the pass (5,873) and seventh most against the rush (1,927). Chubb, the 2017 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, recorded the most tackles of his four-year NCAA career with 72 and equaled the personal best 10.0 sacks he posted in 2016. He’s solidly built at 6’4″ and 275 lbs. and deceptively fast. He ticks all the scouts boxes as edge rushers go. The Colts might decide to take offence with this pick, but would be better served by shoring up a lacklustre D.
2. New York Giants – QB Sam Darnold, USC
Most NFL draft literati have UCLA’s Josh Rosen going to the Giants. We say it’s going to be Darnold, who others think will be the no. 1 selection. We’ll split the difference and call the pivot needy Giants as taking the Trojans’ junior at the deuce instead of Rosen. Eli Manning and the Giants are at loggerheads and the star QB has regressed, so the team needs to find his replacement, like yesterday. Darnold is not the nation’s strongest arm, best playmaker or most polished, but he’s not a headcase and combines enough of those QB traits to be a solid, solid pick. In 14 games for the Trojans, Darnold completed 303 passes for 4,143 yards and 26 touchdowns (against 13 interceptions). Darnold is also equipped with the size (6’4″, 225 lbs.) to withstand the punishment of the NFL game.
1. Cleveland Browns – QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
The 0-16 Browns have a chance to erase years of futility at the draft — and the still rotten taste of drafting Johnny Football — by selecting a pretty darned good quarterback in Mayfield. He does have a bit of a checkered history, but doesn’t project to be a Manziel-like distraction off the field like Manziel. He isn’t the tallest prospect available at 6’1″, but he is a leader on the field and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. What Mayfield did with the Sooners this past season — and for three seasons with Oklahoma — can’t be discounted. He was second in the NCAA in passing yards with 4,627, second in TD passes with 43 and owned a superior differential with only six interceptions. Since transferring from Texas Tech in 2015, Mayfield registered 12,292 yards, 119 TD passes and just 21 INTs. The Browns could use some spunk under center and Mayfield wouldn’t be the worst first pick here.